Can You Trust People Who Don’t Like to Give Head?

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What were you doing on January 14, 2011? I was sitting on the edge of my bed in Denver, Colorado in front of some guy, naked, legs spread, squinting at him in disbelief. It was the first time someone had refused to go down on me.

“Go down on me,” I said. He looked down at the floor as if he didn’t know how to say what needed to be said. “I don’t do that.” After he’d confessed, my mind was blown (unlike his dick). Wasn’t head kind of expected? I do you, now you do me—isn’t that how this works?

Not when you don’t give head. For many people of all genders and orientations, oral sex—meaning fellatio or cunnilingus—is simply off the table for a spectrum of reasons ranging from the perfectly valid to the completely ridiculous. My guy’s excuse was that we’d “just met.” He’d wanted to put a part of his body inside my pelvis for a good five or six minutes, but somehow cunnilingus was too intimate.

This is where the line between sexual preference and blatant selfishness gets blurred. It’s okay not to give head if you have a good reason; otherwise it’s selfish to withhold it, especially if your partner needs it to get off or to enjoy a full sexual experience. Poor communication can exacerbate this—when you’re not clear about why you won’t put your face in your partner’s crotch, pain, resentment and rejection can follow. After all, asking someone for head isn’t the same as asking them to tie you to a tree stump, call you a “bad, bad baby” and beat your nipples with wet spaghetti. Head is easy. When it’s done correctly and consensually, it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t lead to pregnancy, it has a lower STI-transmission rate than genital sex, and it doesn’t force you take part in a complicated fantasy involving grave moral or physical sacrifice. Because of this, head is often considered basic, a 101-level activity that the majority of us not only enjoy but expect. And many women require it to reach orgasm: According to a national survey published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 81 percent of women can come from oral sex, while only about 25 percent can climax from vaginal penetration alone.

So can—or should—you trust someone who won’t partake in something as simple, fun and necessary as oral sex? Furthermore, what does it say about a person if he or she lacks the desire to give pleasure where pleasure is due? To find out, I consulted two sex experts. I first spoke to relationship counselor and sex educator Susanna Brisk, who says it’s her goal in life to “coach people to get most of their needs met, most of the time.” When it comes to head-haters, she’s on team “Can’t trust ’em.”

“People are allowed to have preferences,” says Brisk. “The only thing I don’t trust is when they assume intractable positions about sex. There are boundaries, and then there’s just being an asshole and expecting your partner to put up with it.” What makes such a person especially unworthy of trust, she says, is the fact that verbalizing and then acting on your sexual desires requires trust in the first place. Even when that desire is as fundamental as oral sex, you need to establish trust to tell your partner what you want, to hear what they want and to be vulnerable enough to build intimacy with them down the road. If you don’t trust your partner to care about your pleasure, to not judge you when you talk about it or to honor a compromise—well, we’re in asshole territory now.

“I understand that licking pussy and giving blow jobs are not for everyone,” says Brisk. “But if your partner’s crawling the walls waiting for clitoral stimulation and you’re still only willing to provide the same old pounding, I have three words for you: supermarket bag boy.” In other words, if you can’t meet your partner’s needs or find a compromise that does, someone else will.

“There have to be places where you can figure out how each of your desires can overlap,” she continues. “It’s fine if you’re polyamorous, for example, and other lovers can provide that for you, but mostly it would concern me long-term if someone wasn’t even willing to explore their disgust with a sex act to figure out how to turn it into a positive.” Of course, Brisk gives you full license to disregard this message if oral sex, or sex in general, is low on your priority list. Many people can do without it. However, for those who rank sex and sexual compatibility as highly important, Brisk recommends visiting a professional like herself who can help negotiate a compromise that works for everyone.

And compromises don’t always have to be sexual.

A sex and relationship expert and educator widely credited with the invention of the “grapefruit blow job,” Auntie Angel believes trust isn’t necessarily the issue here. “You can trust them,” says Angel by phone. “Everyone has a reason why they don’t want to please their mate in that way. The real issue you need to get at is why.” According to Angel, the main reasons people don’t enjoy oral sex are related to our senses: The taste, smell and texture of genitalia turn many people off.

While each of these roadblocks can be remedied—ginger and cinnamon can improve taste, a different soap can improve smell, and increased hydration helps with semen’s gelatinous texture—people tend not to discuss them with their partners for fear of offending them. Has a woman ever told you your semen tastes like rotten eggs? Probably not—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t. Rather than solve the problem, many choose to refuse oral sex instead. Simply put, people are insecure. “It’s possible they haven’t gotten the best results from past partners,” Angel explains. “Maybe it’s killed their confidence. A lot of people don’t do it because they lack the knowledge or technique, and it makes them feel unworthy or afraid of rejection. Also, many people don’t orgasm from oral sex, and some may internalize that as failure and avoid the whole situation. That doesn’t mean you can’t trust them, just that you have some talking to do.”

Both Brisk and Angel agree there are legitimate reasons for not wanting to go down on your partner. If either of you has had a trauma or a history of abuse, or has a sickness that would make oral sex dangerous (bacterial vaginosis, a yeast infection or an STI), then it’s fine—healthy, even—to take head off the table. In those cases, Angel says, it’s often not that people don’t want to give their partner pleasure; it’s that they can’t or aren’t ready. And that’s okay. That’s why both head professionals think it’s important to have a cards-on-the-table talk with your partner.“

The conversation about what you will and won’t do in bed is one you should have before you get into a relationship,” says Angel. “That way you can eliminate this type of drama. People need to have honest and vulnerable conversations that get to the root of why they won’t do certain things.”

So where did my guy from January 14, 2011 fall? Looking back, I think he had a right not to eat me out. Nobody owes anyone else an orgasm, after all, and when somebody is honest with you about their preferences, doesn’t that make them more trustworthy? That’s certainly the case with BDSM, where the line between safe pleasure and abuse is expressly dependent on understanding boundaries. It may turn out the other person’s boundaries make him or her the wrong partner for you, but it’s always okay to assert your own boundaries, no matter how ridiculous they may sound to someone else. Compromise is great, but everyone deserves to have their needs respected. If you prefer to keep your mouth off vaginas, you need to find a woman whose world won’t be thrown off-kilter by your refusal. I’m not that woman—but she’s out there, somewhere.