science of us

11 Sex Therapists on What Their Clients Tell Them About Oral Sex

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One of the more unexpected lessons the universe offered up last week is that the spectrum of male attitudes toward cunnilingus is anchored by DJ Khaled on one end, with the Rock holding down the other.

In case you’re not up-to-date on your DJ Khaled news, allow us to catch you up: Last Friday, an old interview surfaced in which he declared that he does not, as a rule, go down on women, adding that his ban on oral sex doesn’t go both ways: “It’s different rules for men,” he said. “There’s some things that y’all might not wanna do, but it got to get done. I just can’t do what you want me to do. I just can’t.”

One of the many people to weigh in on this news was Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, who tweeted simply: “I take great pride in mastering ALL performances.” The website YouPorn, meanwhile, reported that searches for both men have skyrocketed over the past week, proving that America does indeed have some pretty complicated feelings on the subject.

Which is something sex researchers already knew well, at least when it comes to heterosexual relationships (a study published last year in the Journal of Sex Research found that both men and women in same-sex couples have oral sex more frequently than those in opposite-sex couples, and that women, in particular, were more likely to enjoy it). According to the National Survey of Family Growth, a nationally representative survey of adults in the U.S., 86 percent of women and 87 percent of men have had oral sex with an opposite-sex partner at least once before — but in a similar survey, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, men were significantly more likely than women to say that receiving oral sex was a part of their last sexual encounter with any partner.

And other research adds some more caveats: In a 2016 study in the Journal of Human Sexuality, about a quarter of women in the study said that they’d given but never received oral sex, compared to 10 percent for men (the study focused on people who identified as heterosexual). When it came to who enjoyed giving oral sex, though, things flipped: More than half of men found it “very pleasurable,” while less than a third of women said the same. (In a study published last year.)

We talked to 11 sex therapists about gender imbalances in oral sex, what they hear about it from the people they see (particularly among heterosexual couples), and the advice they give when they see it causing an issue in relationships.

Kimberly Resnick, certified sex therapist, associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine

As misogynistic as DJ Khaled’s remarks are, I have to admit I’ve heard similar sentiments over my 25 years as a sex therapist.  There are certainly cohorts of men who feel entitled to oral stimulation, yet are unmotivated to return the favor. These are the guys who tend to have traditional notions about gender roles and are generally less sensitive to their partners’ overall sexual satisfaction. They may also expect (or demand) a woman to swallow their semen.

Most of the men I treat, however, are highly invested in pleasing their partner through whatever means possible. Rather than knocking cunnilingus, I hear men lament that giving oral sex is “off-limits.” They want to give oral pleasure, but women are the ones who shut it down. It’s not uncommon for women to feel self-conscious about receiving oral sex due to potentially offensive smells, appearance of their genitals, or a belief that oral sex is dirty.  Many women feel that receiving oral sex is the most intimate sexual act, much more intimate than intercourse.

Jennifer Wiessner, certified sex therapist, licensed clinical social worker

People carry around baggage and self-esteem issues with this part of sexual play: It brings up concerns with body image, intimacy, hygiene, and trust, to name a few. Some clients I see can get hung up with hearing constructive feedback from their partner about what they perceive to be their skill level in giving oral. I educate them on how to communicate feedback in a way that doesn’t sound demanding or shut down the moment. If you find there’s more tension around this topic than pleasure, see a sex therapist to find out what is getting in the way.

Courtney Watson, licensed marriage and family therapist, sex therapist

I primarily work with Queer People of Color (QPOC). The majority of my clients understand that oral sex is an integral part of their sexual experience, whether as foreplay, dispersed throughout the sexual experience, or to end with orgasm. Folks I work with are usually very enthusiastic about providing oral sex to their partners. I see folks across the gender spectrum, and I don’t see a difference whether the client is cis-male, trans-male, non-binary, or femme. I actually find clients have more hesitancy around receiving oral sex, for a variety of reasons, more so than giving oral sex.

Emily deAyala, certified sex therapist, marriage and family therapist

Conflict can arise in a couple when one person wants to explore different sex acts, like oral sex, but is limited by their partner’s inhibitions. A lot of my work focuses on managing expectations, and, within reason, gently challenging automatic reactions. For example, I think many women assume that the kind of oral sex men enjoy receiving is similar to the aggressive, demeaning oral depicted in porn. The truth is, most men are happy with gentler oral sex that involves manual stimulation as well. Often times, once I work with the couple on education and communication, they are able to negotiate sex acts that opens the door to a wider variety of pleasure.

Laurel Steinberg, clinical sexologist, relationship therapist

Most of the women and men in couples that I treat view oral sex both ways to be an enjoyable part of a healthy sexual relationship. The idea of “special rules” (that women are the givers and men the receivers) is antiquated, chauvinistic mumbo-jumbo that is unfair to both parties — male believers miss out on this great opportunity to give pleasure, and female partners miss out on both enjoying the experience and feeling valued in the same way that she (likely) values him. On occasion, I have seen some women’s feelings get hurt because their partners don’t want to go down on them due to smell or taste. This has negatively impacted these relationships, and resulted in feelings of rejection, low self-esteem, and sadness.

I teach couples that it’s really important to have a varied menu of sexual activities at their reach to keep things fun and exciting. Additionally, because most couples experience sexual dysfunction at some point or can’t have vaginal sex for other reasons, having oral sex as an option ensures that the couple can always have a great sexual experience, no matter what’s going on.

Vanessa Marin, sex therapist, licensed psychotherapist

We all get to choose our own sexual boundaries. But I do hear from a fair number of women who are frustrated that their partners won’t perform oral sex because the partner thinks it’s “gross” or “weird.” I don’t think it’s acceptable to shame your partner’s body or their desires. I also think couples need to have reciprocation — it’s not cool to ask your partner to perform a sexual activity that you’re not willing to do to them in return.

Gracie Landes, licensed marriage and family therapist, certified sex therapist

In any satisfying, healthy sexual relationship, it isn’t as simple as whether someone does or doesn’t want to perform a particular act. Sexual acts are governed by mutual consent. No one stays for long in any relationship that isn’t giving them enough of what they want and value.

That said, people have a lot of different feelings about oral sex. Some people like to give, but not receive and vice versa. Any behavior between two people needs to be negotiated. To get that to happen, I will ask each person to describe what having or not having a particular thing means to them, and what it would mean for them to get what they want. Most people want to be loved, appreciated, and respected. That’s hard to argue about. How to achieve it, not as easy.

Stephen Snyder, sex therapist, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine

I have trouble with the idea of “giving” someone oral sex. The erotic mind is fundamentally selfish. It doesn’t really understand the idea of “giving.” Much better to think of oral sex as a kind of “taking.” Only do it if you enjoy it — not just to give your partner an orgasm, or to hear them moan. If you’re not enjoying doing it, then go find some other way to make them moan that you actually like.

As a sex therapist, I think the idea that either sex should be automatically expected to give the other oral pleasure is just wrong-headed. No one should be automatically expected to perform a sex act they don’t enjoy. Sometimes people  try to accommodate their partners’ desires this way, out of generosity. But that’s almost always a mistake. Over time, it can build up negative feelings and interfere with your desire for the other person. For the most part, it’s best to stick to sex acts that you both enjoy.

Shannon Chavez, clinical psychologist, certified sex therapist

I have heard a concern that giving a partner oral sex will lead to cheating with a woman, or that too much oral sex will lead to out of control sexual desire by a partner. One partner said he limits the oral sex so his wife doesn’t lose interest in his penis.

But in my practice, I find that more men are comfortable giving oral sex with no expectations of receiving it in return. I think that most men I work with know that oral sex is pleasurable for her and want her to enjoy sex. I deal more with the concern that women don’t want oral sex. Some are dealing with genital shame or misconceptions around odor, appearance, or feeling dirty. Some women feel too embarrassed to talk to a partner about how to receive oral sex in a way that feels good. Most women I work with are not familiar with their sexual anatomy — it’s less of an “I don’t feel desire for oral sex” and more of an “I don’t know where I need to be touched” issue. Some women have never received oral sex in a pleasurable and sensual way.

Nagma Clark, licensed sex therapist

In my experience as a sex therapist, I have noticed that oral sex continues to be a controversial topic among heterosexual couples. On one hand, there are couples who absolutely love going down on each other and consider oral sex to be a very important part of their sexual repertoire. On the other hand, I see couples where one partner is really into oral sex and the other is not.

From women, I hear things like: “I hate blowjobs because he just takes forever to come,” or “I don’t swallow and he gets mad when I spit it out,” or “blowjobs are only for special occasions.” From men, I hear: “She doesn’t want me to go down on her” or “she gets frustrated when I go down on her and she can’t come.” And some will say: “That’s not for me/I don’t do that/I have never done that” (but they’re okay with getting a blowjob and not reciprocating)!

I find it very interesting how many women are concerned about the way they taste or smell and that is usually a big reason for them to not want their partners to go down on them. Men rarely report any concerns about how they smell or taste! Also, more women than men, feel obligated to engage in oral sex and will do it because their partner expects them to do so, and they want to please their partner.

Christian Jordal, licensed marriage and family therapist, clinical assistant professor of couple and family therapy at Drexel University

I work primarily with individuals and couples, as well as throuples or triad relationships. What I notice is that for many people, there is still a drive toward defining sex, or satisfactory sex, as intercourse, as opposed to thinking about oral sex as an additional, very enjoyable option. Oftentimes, it’s off the table in a way that limits the level of sexual satisfaction people can have in their relationships.

Ultimately, it’s not about necessarily saying that it should be brought back on the table, but I explore what it is that led to that decision. For many people, it’s about education: How it is that you talk to your partner about what you like? Has you partner talked to you about that? What are your past experiences around oral sex? Any type of sexual act?. It’s about sexual satisfaction: Okay, what else are you doing with your partner that’s enjoyable to you, and is there compatibility between partners about what they get turned on by and what gets them off?

11 Sex Therapists on What Their Clients Say About Oral Sex