Hello all you pervert people of the intertubes, and welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the time-jaunting dating advice column that helps you avoid mistakes before you make them.
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This week, we're going to be engaging with traumas past and present in hopes of a brilliant and happier future. How do you overcome a spectacular fail during sex and learn to get back on the metaphorical horse? And what do you do when your body is… imperfect, in a very noticeable way?
Time to fire up the pocket watch and jump back to the start of the day. Let's do this thing.
This is the story of the one time I tried going down on a girl. Spoiler: Lots of tears.
My first girlfriend and I had been dating for nearly a year when she first starting giving me head (we were both virgins and pretty timid about sexual activity in general). A few months later, I figured I should return the favour and try reciprocating. What neither of us knew at the time was that she had a yeast infection, and thus things did NOT smell or taste good down there. I involuntarily made a repulsed face in the act, according to her, and quickly gave up. Next thing I know, pants are back on, she's sobbing because she feels disgusting, and I'm sobbing too because I feel like a monster for making her feel that way. The rest of the night and the next few days were kind of tense, as you might imagine.
We eventually moved past it, but for a long time I blamed myself for the incident, along with unrealistic expectations I may have picked up from porn stars who attack pussy like it's full of gumdrops and ice cream. Our mutual high school friends just reconfirmed that I was foolish to expect things to taste good down there. That said, when my then-girlfriend found out about her infection, that eased some hurt feelings on both sides as we realised it wasn't entirely my fault. Since the infection was long-term and she was somewhat prone to UTIs, we decided it was for the best that I not try again. We later lost our virginity to each other, and our sex life for the rest of the three-year relationship was adequate for a couple of shy, high school sweethearts.
We broke up about five years ago, and I haven't had a girlfriend or been sexually active since (for different, confidence related reasons, but that would be another email entirely). The more I learn about sexuality and women's pleasure, though, I feel like I should be willing to try oral again. On some level I think I am, because I now know that our shitty night was probably an anomaly. Still, after how traumatic that night was, the thought of trying again is nerve wracking because I never want to hurt someone like that again. And occasionally hearing in podcasts or internet comments that some women consider lack of oral a deal-breaker doesn't exactly help my anxiety on the matter. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself since I'd need to put myself out there dating-wise first, but when the time comes, how should I address my fears with future partners/significant others?
Lickless in Larryville
Hoo damn, LiL that's… one way of getting introduced to oral sex. But damn, there's a lot to unpack here, and hopefully getting a little perspective and understanding will help get you ready to dive back in (er… as it were).
So this is going to be a tad harsh, but I want you to realise: The biggest problem is the state of sex-ed and the way we as a culture have been taught to believe about bodies, especially women's bodies.
We'll start with what you said about hearing that women consider a lack of oral sex to be a deal-breaker. This is true and there's a reason for that. A study published in Articles of Sexual Behavior found that straight and bisexual women had the fewest orgasms in partnered sex, while lesbians had far more. The difference: Dick. Specifically: How guys tend to make everything in sex about it.
Most women — upwards of 75 per cent — can't reach orgasm through penetrative sex alone. Women as a group tend to require clitoral stimulation — both directly and indirectly — to reach orgasm. However, women as a group almost always — 80 per cent for straight women and 91 per cent for bi and lesbian women — climax through a combination of oral sex and digital stimulation, even when cock is completely uninvolved in the scene.
Unfortunately, a lot of dudes tend to think sex looks like it does in porn: Play with the nipples, get a blowjob and then it's off to the races, where their partner climaxes almost instantly because of the magic of cock. Because everything in porn is for the benefit of the camera, rather than their partner, any foreplay tends to be perfunctory at best; it's a way of getting to the jackhammering as quickly as possible.
But no matter what porn has taught you, if your magic wand doesn't say "Hitachi" on the side, it's almost certainly not going to get the job done on its own.
On top of this, men and women tend to have different arousal patterns. It takes men and women about the same amount of time to reach peak arousal — 10 minutes on average — but different arousal patterns mean that men start off earlier than women do. While men have "boner-from-the-clear-blue-sky" type of horniness, women often have a responsive form of arousal. That is, while guys get aroused and start touching and kissing their partner, women tend to be aroused by sensual contact. So, when it comes to a lot of heterosexual sex, guys are often halfway to the finish line before women have even gotten to the starting line.
This is why foreplay in general — and oral sex in particular — is key for having great, bed-rocking sex — it eases the differences in arousal levels and helps ensure that your partner is going to have the same mind-blowing orgasm you're all but guaranteed to have.
Now, with that in mind, let's get back to the curious case of the vaj at the wrong time and the immediate aftermath, because this is all going to play into how things are going to go for you in the future.
You're worried about hurting another person the way you inadvertently hurt your girlfriend, which is great. The thing you have to recognise is why it hurt so much. What you didn't realise at the time is that you basically poked your girlfriend in a cultural insecurity that women have dumped on them all the damn time.
Bodies are bodies — they're going to have smells and scents and tastes. But there's a metric fuckton of massively incorrect messaging out there about what bodies should and shouldn't smell like — especially women's bodies. Women get bombarded with the message that something totally normal is actually a crime against man and God and they should be ashamed of it. I can all but guarantee that your ex grew up hearing endless numbers of jokes about "rank pussy" and references to dead fish, tuna and so on. Hell, there's a literal industry born out of telling women that their vaginas should smell like a field of flowers instead of the nasty sinfulness that they were born with.
You write, "Our mutual high school friends just reconfirmed that I was foolish to expect things to taste good down there." That's a great example of what I'm talking about: Oral sex isn't going to taste like ice cream, no matter whether you're talking penises or vaginas, because hey, skin ain't gonna be flavoured like Americone Dream. This doesn't mean it tastes or smells bad (absent medical issues, like a yeast infection), but your crotch isn't necessarily going to smell like lilacs and taste like strawberries, either. So when you, presumably the first person she ever let go down on her, come back up making a Mr Yuck face, that's hit her straight in a massive insecurity.
Cunnilingus has an undeserved reputation of being one of the trickiest sexual acts to perform well. I think this characterisation is grounded in cultural judgements of women's genitals as being 'complicated' and 'mysterious'. Let's lay this unfair reputation to rest with some straightforward advice on performing some awesome cunnilingus.
This brings us to the present and the question of: Where do you go from here? And you have a couple options. There are a number of women for whom oral is no big deal or who actively don't like it. If the memory of that first time is so powerful that you can't get past it (and hey, memory-induced revulsion is a thing; I gag at Swiss rolls) then seeking them out is an option.
But what I would honestly suggest is taking a deep breath and getting into the habit of going down on your partners. While the smells and tastes may be disconcerting at first, that's only because they're not something you're used to. You'll get familiar with it soon enough and it won't be an issue (again, outside health or serious hygiene issues). The other thing to keep in mind is that every woman is going to be different. Some require direct, intense stimulation, while others will need more indirect or gentler or faster contact. Having an open mind, a can-do attitude and a willingness to take direction will help you far more than any technique tricks.
So I've read your articles a bunch over the last few months and decided I'd finally see if I could get some sound advice on an issue I've had for quite a while.
To put it bluntly I'm terrified of being naked in front of someone. I'm 22, fine enough looking, but my issue comes down to the fact I have a deformity in my chest. The technical term is pectus carinatum, some people call it pigeon chest. Essentially the sternum sticks out irregularly, and I have it on one side which creates this really hideous unbalanced look that goes from the top of my chest all the way down about halfway into the abdominal area. It's not as extreme as some cases, but regardless, I hate it, and when it developed when I was still at school I was made well aware by peers that I was "a freak", and occasionally things became physical. I started working out two years ago in an effort to correct it but that hasn't worked like I wanted it to, and while I look better and more muscular in some areas, my chest is still hideous to look at.
I never want to take my shirt off in front of people, which obviously can make intimacy very difficult. I haven't slept with anyone in about two and a half years since writing this, and that was only after a month of trying to muster up the courage to explain the issue to her. The only reason I did in the end was because I was pretty much completely enamoured with her and she made it somewhat difficult to back out for the fourth or fifth time. Every previous encounter bar that one, I had sex with the shirt on which made things, well, weird.
I know the most obvious advice would be "get over yourself" but considering the way it was treated when I was at school I find it difficult to do that. Obviously things are different now I'm an adult, but I still get incredibly anxious and have, if you'll excuse the choice of words, pulled out at the last second on multiple occasions because I'm afraid of the reaction of the person I'm with. Basically I don't want to waste my youth. It's not like I want to have sex with everything that moves but I only get one shot at this life thing and spending it being essentially afraid of sex is not ideal.
I'm hopeful you can give me some advice. If it is as simple as "get over it" so be it. But is there anything else you think I should do or try? Counseling, for example? I just feel like, if I ever do sleep with someone again, then doing it with a shirt on is not at all practical. Any advice you can give me is greatly appreciated.
Sex is Scary
Hey, SiS, I feel for you. It's understandable that you're going to feel insecure over issues like this. A physical abnormality can make you feel like it's the only thing that people will ever see or know about you. It also isn't true.
The thing you have to recognise is that a lot of people have unusual or imperfect bodies to varying degrees. Some folks have issues like yours, with protruding chest cavities. Others have sunken chests, with major indentations at the breastbone. Some people have an arm or leg that's shorter than the other. Some women have a breast that's a full cup-size smaller than the other. Some guys get gynecomastia and develop breasts. Some women end up with male-pattern hair growth, including full facial hair at times. Many people — including a number of well-known actors and actresses — have asymmetrical faces, with features that are visibly off-true. It's part and parcel of being human: We're going to have weird shit going on.
Some of it is stuff we can correct for; other times we have to accept that it's just part of what makes us unique. And that uniqueness… actually can benefit us in the long term. While conventional good looks and attractiveness helps in the short term, the impact they have over time actually fades. A study found while the consensus of whether someone was attractive was relatively uniform at first, it disappears over time. After three months, uniqueness becomes the most desirable trait in a partner and the consensus over who is or isn't attractive vanishes.
So while you may not be a perfect physical specimen SiS, your differences aren't going to condemn you to a life of celibacy. Your biggest drawback, ultimately, is going to be the way you see yourself. That, more than anything else, is going to affect how others see you. People tend to take their lead about how to react to us from us. When you convey the message of, "I'm hideous and deformed, don't look at me," they tend to respond accordingly. On the other hand, treating your uniqueness as no big deal — "hey, just FYI, my chest is built a bit differently" — then they will tend to follow your lead and realise that yeah, it's just part of what makes you, you.
One thing to keep in mind is that what is obvious to you isn't necessarily going to stand out to everyone else the same way. To you, it's a massive abnormality, something that can't possibly be ignored — driven home by the bullying you experienced as a kid. However, we all see our flaws because we know them intimately. We zoom in on them when we look in the mirror. Other people, on the other hand may not notice or, for that matter, may not care.
It's easy to get caught up in feeling like nobody could possibly find you attractive because of your chest. But attraction is a holistic issue. We're attracted to the total being, not just one thing. This is doubly true when sex enters the equation. Once you're at the point where clothes are coming off, it's usually fait accompli and even a little strangeness isn't going to kill the moment. Getting comfortable with being naked and accepting yourself can go a long way to making you feel more comfortable with a partner, especially someone who may be a potential long-term relationship.
To be fair: There are arseholes out there who're going to talk shit, no matter what. You can do a google search for "toe thumbs" and find a horde of arsehats talking shit about Megan Fox. Arseholes are gonna arse. But this is one of those times when they're doing you a favour. If they react badly to one part of you, they're telling you everything about them — and in doing so, filtering themselves out of your dating pool.
With that all having been said: This one of those times when you may want to talk to an actual doctor, not a fake doctor like me. Pectus carinatum can be corrected medically. While it's easier to treat children, doctors can reshape and adjust the breastbone surgically. The procedure is minimally invasive, has excellent results and few side-effects. This could be something to discuss with a surgeon, especially if your condition is having physical effects on your health.
Do you or your partner have an unusual body type? Did you have an awkward or embarrassing moment with your first time? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. We'll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.
Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.