I got this question in my inbox just last week, and I bumped it to the top of the queue because my heart goes out to the person who wrote this. Again, we’re going to publish almost the entire letter because the context here is very important:
Hi Ali. I stumbled across your article in a nervous google search about oral sex. I have recently “come out” as bisexual (a label that has followed me for years, but I have only just now accepted) and I have my first girlfriend. She is incredible, and I adore her. We have been friends for years and recently told each other of our feelings — I mean, it was a lesbian Nicholas Sparks moment and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
But here is what I hope you can help me with. She’s going to come visit me in a couple weeks, and I’m so excited to have sex with her I can’t stand it. I’ve had female sexual experiences before, but I have always been on the receiving end. I want to go down on her, but I’m afraid that I won’t like it. I’ve heard so many horror stories from guys (…even guys I’ve dated, who have been referencing me) about how gross vaginas taste. I will wash myself and drink cranberry juice and keep as healthy and hydrated as possible, but some guys still think I’m disgusting. Based on those experiences, I’m terrified I’m going to think the same way about her or she may think the same way about me. I’m so scared, Ali. I want her to be happy, and I would just die if I made her feel anything less than beautiful.
Please, when you have a moment, could you offer me some advice on the subject? Anything would help. Thank you so much.
Oh, honey, let’s chat.
This Whole Thing Tastes Like the Patriarchy
And I don’t mean your vulva tastes like the patriarchy, or that vulvas in general taste like the patriarchy. I mean the idea that vulvas inherently taste bad tastes like the patriarchy. It’s no secret that the world hates women, and while your ex-boyfriends or guy friends might not hate women themselves, we’re all part of a system that shits on women and anything remotely related to women. Traditionally female-dominated professions are constantly deemed less than traditionally male-dominate professions (nurse v. doctor, for example). Motherhood is constantly undervalued even though parenting is really difficult, and men get flack if they’re the primary parent because that’s generally seen as women’s work. And vulvas are constantly portrayed as icky things that bleed for five days. Though not all women have vaginas and not all vaginas are attached to women, there is a pattern here and I feel like this is part of it. And to illustrate how that pattern may be dictating the way people think about vulvas and their merits as a taste, I would like to tell you a story about grapes.
I was babysitting this kid and his best friend at school didn’t like grapes. So he decided out of the blue that he thought they tasted yucky too — his mother was super frustrated because it was like a light switch, one second he liked them and the next he didn’t. I’m sure he actually believed that they tasted yucky. Like, I’m sure it wasn’t just he thought his friend was cool so he pretended he didn’t like grapes. I actually think his best friend convinced him that they truly tasted bad, and so they began to taste bad for real. But pondering whether or not he was pretending didn’t solve the problem; he couldn’t live on bread and cookies, he actually needed to eat some fruit and grapes were easy and not messy. To get him to just eat the darn grapes, I rebranded them (this kid was young enough where this still worked). I was in college at the time and he was obsessed with going to college one day too. So I sat down with a giant bowl of grapes and started eating them. Except I didn’t call them grapes. I called them “college kid fruit.”
We were eating grapes within fifteen minutes.
I tell this story here because I think if we as a culture rebranded this particular taste the way I rebranded grapes, a lot less people would have “but it tastes bad” in the back of their mind when they first experience it. Think about it — people are unwilling to try foods their particular culture deems weird. Like Americans have this strange hang up about escargot? It’s actually really tasty if you eat things that were once alive, but so many people won’t go near it because everyone else is telling them that it tastes bad. The shit part is that people talking about the taste of vulvas aren’t as easily persuaded that they’re wrong.
This is all well and good, but it doesn’t solve your particular problem or answer your particular question. I just wanted you to know that this idea isn’t without its context, and that its context is might be distorting these horror stories you’ve heard. Which brings me to something way more specific…
Your Ex-Boyfriends Are Total Jerks
Yup. This heading speaks for itself and I don’t feel the need to expound upon this any further. Telling you that you taste bad is, like, super mean. End of story. Discount everything they said on the topic right now.
Personally, I Don’t Think Vulvas Taste Bad
I just don’t. I think they taste pretty wonderful, actually. I understand, though, that it’s a brand new thing you’re about to do and it’s the unknown punctuated by the mythos that’s getting you down. It would help if you knew what was coming, right? The thing is, I can’t describe for you what you’re likely to encounter for a few reasons. The first is that vulva generally doesn’t taste like anything I can compare it too. Vulva just tastes…like vulva. It’s a unique thing that is all in its own category. And the second is that not only does everyone’s vulva taste different, but one person’s vulva can taste different each time you put your tongue on it. Once I was going down on my girlfriend at the time and I shit you not, she tasted like a strawberry-banana smoothie. That was not normal for her and we don’t know what happened that day to make it so, but it happened. And that’s okay. And it’s okay that it never happened again after that. It’s true that what you eat and drink can impact how you taste, but so can a lot of other things. Your mood, your stress level, the goddamn weather. Okay, maybe not the weather, but your unpredictable environment can impact your body in all sorts of unpredictable ways, and not everyone’s body is affected by the same things. It would be crazy-making to try to eat and drink only things that make you taste like a popsicle, especially when that’s not guaranteed nor is that necessarily desirable. Like I said, I like the taste of vulva. I also like the taste of popsicles. I don’t really want them to be one in the same.
It’s Also Okay If You Need to Acquire the Taste
In the true spirit of boiling things down to a binary as society so often loves to do, I also hear from many the opposite sentiment: that vulvas are the food o’ the gods, that it tastes like a mix of ambrosia and rose petals and that a choir of angels with alternative lifestyle haircuts serenades you every time you taste it and if you think anything different you are neither gay enough nor feminist enough. Also not true. Like I said, vulva tastes like vulva, and sometimes you’ve got to try it a few times to really appreciate it. The first time I experienced wine, I didn’t finish my glass. It was too weird and bitter and alcoholy for me. And now it’s one of my favorite things. I love wine. And it wouldn’t hurt to point out that my love of wine really took off when I lived in France, steeped in a culture where wine is not only a normal part of a meal, but important and valued. Just food for thought. So if you taste it for the first time and you’re like, meh, that’s okay too. So let’s talk about what you should do in the moment — keep in mind, these are only “in my opinion” and I’m sure our commenters will have other, different ideas. Keep in mind also that you are different from me and I am different from that reader over there who is different from our senior editors — this advice is merely one opinion and it may work for you or not. But it’s all options to think about.
Your Vulva Tasting Checklist
1. Reframe this experience in your mind so you’re a little less terrified going in. I can see doing this one of two ways — first, you can try reframing it as nothing more than trying a brand new food. That’s a fairly low-stress experience for most because the worst that happens is — nothing, actually. Because even if you’re meh on the taste, you’ve had a miniature adventure. There is no bad thing that happens. Well, I mean, unless you’re allergic to the new food but the odds are in your favor that you won’t be allergic to her vulva. Or you could reframe it as an opportunity to connect to this wonderful new person in your life. Now that has the potential to backfire in a way — some people get super stressed by the that. But you’re into her and this is one more evening you get to spend together and one more thing you get to do together.
2. Hygiene is always good. And cleaning yourself should happen all the time, even if no one’s gonna be downstairs that night. Make sure you wash behind your ears, too! But seriously, don’t scrub or be self-conscious about it, just do as you normally would. Here are a few vagina hygiene tips and tricks. Also keep in mind that if you find either one of y’all has an extremely pungent smell or taste to the point where you’re like, “hmmm, that doesn’t really seem normal for me,” you want to talk to your gyno. You might have something like bacterial vaginosis, which can alter the way a hoo-ha tastes and smells.
3. If you’re scared because you’ve never done this before, remember that she hasn’t either. It doesn’t matter how many other vulvas she’s put her tongue on, none of them have been yours and vulvas are like snowflakes. No two are exactly alike.
4. If you find you really like the taste, feel free to compliment (I mean, if they’re the type to like talking during sex, not everyone does)! If you find that you need to acquire the taste, compliment her on any number of other things that are awesome. Just because in every porn or movie with a sex scene we hear someone say, “Oh baby, you taste so good!” doesn’t mean that phrase is obligatory or even expected. Other possible things to compliment include but are not limited to:
-that sexy noise she just made
-how good she feels on your lips/tongue
-her completion of her thesis/her promotion at her job/how smart she is in general
-how she just gets you and makes you feel so at ease
-her choice of date outfit
-her choice of pubic hair style
-how beautiful she/her vulva is
Just keep in mind that you don’t want to be your jerky ex-boyfriends, so if you find you need a couple of tries to really get into the taste, just focus on how good she’s making you feel and how good you’re making her feel when you comment on the sex you just had/are having.
5. I know it’s tempting to substitute vulva taste for something you’re familiar with on your first go, but please steer clear of flavored lubes. Firstly, they all taste like that weird blue medicine and they never ever ever taste what they say they’re going to taste like so you’re more likely to be thrown off by it than not. Second, most of these flavored lubes contain glycerin, which many vagina-having folks are sensitive to because it’s basically a yeast infection invitation. There was one flavored lube that came up in the comments of our Lube Guide as being okay, but I can’t fully endorse that one because it contains aspartame and I’m sensitive to that. Basically I have yet to find a flavored lube that I can recommend, so I just don’t recommend it at all.
6. Keep in mind that not every sexual encounter needs to include oral sex. And I know you super want to do this, but if either or both of you aren’t into it that night, don’t stress it. It’ll happen when you both really want it.
7. If you discover after a few tries that you’re not into oral sex, remember this Venn Diagram, courtesy of Intern Geneva:
Pick from the bits that intersect!
Darling reader, I wish you the best of luck and amazing sex. And remember, if we just never tried things because we were afraid we won’t like them, life would be very boring indeed.
Oh, And One More Thing—
Could someone please explain Nicholas Sparks to me? I just don’t get the appeal but everyone else does so I think I might be weird/missing something? Reader, perhaps you could do an advice column for me re: Nicholas Sparks.
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