My more-than-friend, Marissa, and I were intimately entwined on my bed. The sheets were the color of lipstick lesbians. Her big eyes never left mine.
“Can I touch you here?” she asked. “Is this okay?”
“Yes, please,” I said.
Where others charged ahead, she took her time. Every touch buzzed with pleasure.
So, why did I freeze up when she said, “I want to go down on you.”
I must have made a face ― that blank stare I get when I’m stuck in my head. Noting my discomfort, she apologized. I was mortified by my reaction. What was wrong with me?
I kept revisiting the moment in my mind.
Though many women and people with vaginas feel empowered when receiving oral, I’ve never been one of them. In part a result of childhood molestation that involved coerced oral sex, I’ve never been able to just focus on the pleasure while receiving.
But I was also raised to believe my vagina was dirty, that men were supposed to dominate women in the bedroom, and that women seeking pleasure through sex was (still is) taboo. All of this made cunnilingus a naughty word.
I left that dogma decades ago and have since come out as kinky, genderqueer and pansexual. Now, I’m comfortable visiting dungeons to let out my inner mistress. But this particular artifact from my past ― my bias against oral — still bubbles up and at the worst moments.
Being queer hasn’t inoculated me from living in a patriarchal society, and I still sometimes fall into heteronormative assumptions about pleasure. I reasoned that penetrative sex, which could make me come fast, hard, and in multiples, was all I wanted. And I’ve blamed my dislike of oral sex on my hypersensitive clit and my self-consciousness around my own scent and taste.
But, as I entered middle age, I was waking up to the fact that fear was under those more superficial anxieties — fear of losing my power. That recently changed when, for the first time, I asked for oral sex.
A few months after my mortifying reaction to Marissa’s offer, I came across an article about latex undies that promise safe, pleasurable oral sex. They sounded like a major upgrade from the more-than-a-century-old dental dam. Still, I scrolled past the ad. Just another product made for those head-loving goddesses, I thought. But my experience with Marissa had wormed its way into my brain. I felt like I was missing out — like I was letting myself down. A few hours later, I went to the undies website.
In bold, white lettering, the landing page read, “Say Yes to Intimacy.”
I haven’t always been so up front about my oral sex anxiety. In the past, when lovers expressed their interest in going down on me, I’d let it happen even though it wasn’t what I wanted. It was a way I could show my love, I reasoned.
“In the past, when lovers expressed their interest in going down on me, I’d let it happen even though it wasn’t what I wanted. It was a way I could show my love, I reasoned.”
There was, for instance, the sit-on-my-face lady. To keep from smothering her, I had to squat, and within minutes, my muscles were cramping and quads burning. The kicker was watching our margarita mix of saliva and vaginal transudate (that’s fancy speak for fluid) seep up her nose. No, thank you.
Then I met a man who loved oral sex so much, he essentially had a PhD in giving head (actually, it was in mathematics). He spread my labia so taut, I felt micro-tears. Used to ignoring my discomfort by then, I said nothing. His tongue was like an exacto knife, splitting open my ultra-exposed clit, but he just mistook my cries of pain for delight.
And who can forget the man who saw cunnilingus as mandatory? He responded to my distaste for it with, “This isn’t going to work if you don’t let me go down on you.” Worried he would end our relationship on the spot, I spread eagle. While he did his thing, I lay there, embarrassed, waiting for it to end. The relationship left me feeling used and even more disgusted by oral than I had been before.
In those encounters, I lost a sense of autonomy because I wasn’t showing myself love. So, despite being someone who enjoys intimacy and is sexually adventurous, I began refusing oral sex altogether.
At first, it was empowering. I felt like I had finally begun to own my “no.” I was proud of myself for upholding my boundary in a culture where women are expected to say yes. But what if I was letting my fear keep me from more intimate and pleasurable connections with people who care about me? Like my partners who don’t have a penis and don’t feel comfortable donning a strap-on. To them, oral was sometimes their preferred way of getting me to the big O, and my anxiety was preventing that deeper level of intimacy.
My spouse is one of the most caring and non-coercive people in my life. One example of that is our open marriage. So, after my Marissa let-down, I decided my first foray back into the world of oral would be with my spouse.
With one thrilling click, I bought the latex undies. When the discreetly-sized box arrived, I hid it away in a closet. How could I explain to my spouse that, after 10 years together, I wanted them to perform the forbidden (for me) act?
I didn’t explain. Instead, I led them to our bed, tied a rope harness around their chest, and snuck into our bathroom to open the package. There was a light vanilla scent. The dark material felt like an extra light exercise band. It stretched like one, too. They slid on smoothly. I paired them with a mesh crop top and checked myself out in the mirror.
Was I ready for this? The answer came immediately: Yes... Well, I hope so.
I returned to our bedroom, where I stalked around, flogger in hand, building up my confidence.
While I’m topping (e.g. the dominant partner in BDSM), it’s common for me to keep on some clothing. So, even though I kept the undies on as things heated up, my spouse didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary.
Being empowered by the light BDSM and intentionally staying present in my body, I felt something shift in me. A tension I didn’t even know I was holding released.
But, as their tongue made contact, I felt the usual constriction in my chest.
You’re in control, I thought, and after a moment of reconnecting to my body, it was true.
Still, I braced myself for the inevitable over-stimulation, but it never came. The layer provided by the undies let the good-feeling pressure through but protected my clit.
I felt a pleasant, anticipatory sensation flutter kick in my belly — my body’s way of saying mmhmm — then, shortly after, climax.
Afterward, I ran my fingers through my spouse’s hair, providing some after care. I caught their eyes and held them. I never thought enjoying oral sex was possible for me. Now, I wanted to ask my spouse for a second round.
“The transformation from hating to loving oral sex wasn’t straightforward or immediate. It took years of owning my 'no' before I could say 'yes.'”
Painting the picture this way makes it all sound simple, but the transformation from hating to loving oral sex wasn’t straightforward or immediate. It took years of owning my “no” before I could say “yes.” There have been many awkward moments and missed opportunities with many Marissas. I still have moments of doubt.
The magic behind it, though, is this: I had changed my relationship to myself. First, I recognized that my hate for oral sex was rooted in fear. To understand my fear, I had to demystify it. This meant thinking about a topic I had long-ago sealed in a box marked, “don’t even bother,” and hid on a shadowy shelf in my mind.
I took it out, dusted it off, and without judgment, revisited every want, need and worry. It’s true that, when receiving oral, I’ve felt exposed and disassociated. That I shoved my needs aside in favor of conforming to cultural and gender norms. But, moving forward, I had a choice. I could stay stuck or write a new narrative. I could break my old pattern of pleasing others, and instead, listen to my body tell me how I wanted to be pleased. And hoo-boy, did I.
Rachael Quisel is a freelance writer who specializes in health and fitness. Their short story, “Departure,” was nominated for the 2022 Pushcart Prize. Their short story, “The Clan of Good Cats,” was a finalist in Under the Sun’s 2021 Summer Writing Contest. You can see more of their work at rachaelquisel.com.