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Why do I struggle with receiving oral sex?

IMAGE VIA @parfemme/INSTAGRAM
WORDS BY SADIE THOMAS

“Are you pursuing pleasure or going along with what you think you ‘should’ be doing?”

The oft-glorified act of giving and receiving ‘head’ (as it is so blatantly called) can be synonymous with fabulous highs and uncomfortable lows. If your body tenses up and your mind races every time an intimate partner makes their way to go down on you, what I’m about to share hopefully provides some comfort: you’re not alone. 

Like a lot of deeply personal and subjective preferences in the bedroom, oral sex is one of the aspects of an otherwise saucy encounter that can send someone into a spiral of panic and self-criticism. Giving it, receiving it and just ‘it’ in general – it can be difficult to feel confident or comfortable enough to enjoy.


For more sex advice, head on over to our Life section.


At first, it might be totally inexplicable. Why don’t I like the thing that is meant to be so desirable and pleasurable? What is wrong with me? But a little deeper reflection may be needed to get to the bottom of the ‘ick’ factor.

We often vilify those who don’t instigate or reciprocate when it comes to oral sex, classifying them as selfish, boring or even inexperienced. But for some, the singular thought of some oral foreplay is enough to stir their anxiety, indefinitely killing the mood and leading to hard-to-have conversations. 

Explaining yourself to someone (when you don’t actually know the reasoning behind your thoughts) can feel incredibly stifling and un-sexy. But perhaps, when you’re not quite at ease or familiar enough with another human, letting them go down on you is simply not an option. That, reader, is completely okay. 

What isn’t okay is feeling incredibly frustrated and confused when you stop someone from going there for reasons connected to body insecurity or superficial, self-debasing thoughts. I’ve been tangled up in sheets with people I genuinely like and am into, but for some reason, I have a repeat tendency to halt proceedings when they intend to ‘return the favour’, if you will. 

I asked seasoned sex therapist Laura Miano for some perspective on the issue, in the hope that she can decode and explain a bit of what I’m feeling. When I told Laura about my frustrations, I was particularly curious to know why I couldn’t just ‘relax’ with someone I am truly into and feel respected by. 

“Sex has a funny way of playing up when you’re with someone you care the most about. This is because anxiety and stress are higher when you are with someone you like – when you like someone you are more likely to value their opinion more than the one night stand that you never see again. If you experience self consciousness about your vulva then naturally your worries will increase with people you like,” she explains.

I often feel like everyone (my friends) think I’m mad when I tell them I’ve actively stopped someone from doing this to me in the bedroom, but Laura is adamant the total tense-up is a very common occurrence. 

“In my work, I come across this specific thing [an aversion to receiving oral sex] every now and again. However, generally, I come across sexual self consciousness almost with every client, but it just manifests in different ways for different people,” she says.

On embracing vulnerability in the bedroom, Laura has a few pieces of salient advice for getting out of your head to get head. She prompted me to question how I can make sex feel “safer” for me. “Maybe it’s hard to be vulnerable because the circumstance isn’t quite right and you find it hard to let go. Are you being true to what you want?”

These are all valid starting points for internal discussion, or even a discussion with your bedfellow. What I hate to admit is my biggest barrier (I think) to pleasure would have to be body image. It’s insecurities, ingrown hairs, the desire to be invisible with the lights off and deny sex in the daylight. Sometimes, I get so hung up on the superficial stuff that it totally wigs me out and hinders what the experience is meant to be all about: pleasure. How can I change these thoughts and relax?

“Are you pursuing pleasure or going along with what you think you ‘should’ be doing? Are you communicating how you feel? Does it need to slow down? I could keep going! I’d also suggest trying ways to be more vulnerable in your daily life and then see if you can carry that over to sex,” she suggests.

Laura likes to send her clients to the Labia Library, a website that collates images of a wide array of vulvas. “Have a look through the vulva gallery and appreciate all the cute variations of vulvas that exist,” she says.

The Vulva Gallery is also a great Instagram account that does a similar thing. People have been taught from porn and other pop culture media that they need to look a certain way but it is so far from the truth. Vulvas are multicoloured, moist, lopsided, different shapes, wrinkly and hairy. That’s why we love them, baby.”

Brb, I have some labia to look at.

For more advice on how to relax during oral sex, try this.

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