You Need Help: Why Don’t I Like Going Down On My Girlfriend?

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Q:

Hi! I’ve been dating my girlfriend for almost a year and I love her a lot and I love our sex life. She really enjoys going down on me and I enjoy it, too! I really really want to like going down on her, but I don’t. (I’ve never had sex with anyone else.) When I try to go down on her it feels overwhelming — the smell, the taste, the trouble breathing. I don’t know if I like the smell and taste of her vulva or not. (I feel like I don’t like the smell but I like the taste which doesn’t make sense, and I feel terrible about it.)

I feel like I’m not a good lesbian (and I know that’s silly and ridiculous) for not liking going down on my girlfriend. It doesn’t bother her, but it bothers me. Is the answer to just go down on her until I get accustomed to it? Or are there any other ways I can get used to the smell/taste? What should I do?


A:

Hey girl. Let’s take a deep breath. Okay? Okay.

If everything you say is true, and your girlfriend truly doesn’t care whether you go down on her, there’s an easy solution: don’t. There are lots of ways to be intimate that don’t involve putting your face on someone’s genitals, like using fingers, vibrators, dildos, kink or non-genital stimulation. If you decide you don’t want to give oral sex, you are allowed to set that boundary and still call yourself a lesbian.

It sounds, though, like you want to enjoy going down on your girlfriend and you want to feel more comfortable with it because it’s important to you. So let’s dive in.

I used to work as a professional sex educator and spoke at colleges and universities across the U.S., and I was asked questions about how to make oral sex taste, smell or feel better almost everywhere I went. This seems to be a fairly common concern.

Vulvas are a body part that serve utilitarian functions as well as being sex organs. There’s a persistent stereotype that lesbians have an insatiable lust for the vag. The pussy. The muff. The clam. (Never mind that not all women have vulvas and not all vulvas belong to women.) Don’t get me wrong: most of us enjoy a fun time with a vulva. But we’re also attracted to whole people, not their body parts in isolation. We’re attracted to other women as complex and interesting and sexy human beings, not as owners of genitals.

a person holding two large sea shells over their pubic area

SUPER SEXY LESBIAN ALERT. This headless woman has TWO vulvas. (via Shutterstock)

Deeply desiring and getting sexual satisfaction just from looking at, touching and tasting a vulva does not define being a “good lesbian,” and is not the only source of sexual gratification. What’s more important is making our partners feel good, helping them orgasm or reach sexual release if they want to, and affirming them as sexy and desired. Sometimes oral is all about the receiving partner’s pleasure, even if your neck is sore or tongue is tired or face is sweaty. Going down on a vulva can be hard-ass work!

Let’s talk for a moment about vaginal smell. Vaginas have a scent. It’s a human scent. Like all human scent, it’s organic and smells nothing like an ocean, a beach, a forest, fruit, or even fish. It just smells like vagina, and each vagina smells (and tastes) unique. Some smell or taste more strongly than others. There’s some belief that what you eat can affect the taste — citrus fruit or chlorophyll supplements might make vulvas taste “fresh” — or that smokers or meat-eaters taste worse. Really, though, vaginas just have a totally normal scent. Some people are turned on by it. Some people just feel, “that’s fine.”

a vibrant pink rose up close

This came up under a search for “vulva” and the description is “showing a vibrant pink rose up close.” (via Shutterstock)

If your partner has a really strong, unbearable smell or unusual discharge, there’s a good chance she has a bacterial infection or sexually transmitted infection and should get to a gynecologist, ASAP. Otherwise, your girlfriend smells just how she naturally smells. Since cunnilingus is for her pleasure, as long as it’s a smell you can live with, it’s fine if you don’t like it or want to bottle it and dab it on your temples.

I’m a little concerned you’re having trouble breathing. (Then again, it’s called muff-diving for a reason.) If you’ve been spending a lot of time exploring the labia and vagina so your whole face is right down in there, here’s a tip: most people with vulvas most enjoy direct tongue stimulation of the clitoris during oral sex. Penetrating the vagina with your tongue and licking around the labia can be fun play, but almost all people with vulvas get off mainly via direct and constant clitoral stimulation. If you are latched on, stimulating the clitoris with your mouth, your nose should be above sea level so you can breathe more easily. If there’s hair in your way, squish it down with your free hand.

If your bodies just aren’t lining up in a way that makes breathing accessible, try different positions. Elevate her hips with a pillow or wedge so you have better access to her vulva. Try having her lean back in a chair, sit at the edge of the bed or sit on your face. Or invest in some snorkeling gear. It’s also okay to take a break and switch to another sensation if you need to catch your breath.

You mention that your girlfriend is your first sexual partner and it’s possible that some of the “overwhelming” feeling comes from the nervousness of being newly sexually active combined with unrealistic expectations about sex. I’m guessing that because you love this woman a lot and because she’s your first sex partner, you want to be a rockstar lover. It’s normal to be a little anxious, or to wonder, “Am I doing this right?” when you’re with your first partner or when you’re with any partner for the first time. It’s normal to have your face in your girlfriend’s vulva and feel totally overwhelmed by it.

The best way to get over this is to talk to your girlfriend so you can become more confident when you’re going down on her. Ask her what she likes, and have her show you how she likes to be touched. When you’e going down on her, try different things and ask her which she likes. Try up-and-down movements with your tongue on her clitoris, and then circular movements. Ask her which she prefers. Use different speeds, pressures and rhythms. Try something else. Ask her to give you feedback as you explore what she likes together to let you know when she wants more of something or when she wants you to stay in the same spot. Over time, you’ll figure out precisely what she likes and doesn’t like and you’ll feel more confident.

At the end of all of this, if it turns out cunnilingus just isn’t your thing, that’s okay, too. I promise. No one will take away your gay card. You can still sit at our table. It sounds like your girlfriend is okay with it, too.

KaeLyn is a 35-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating carbs, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 204 articles for us.

56 Comments

  1. I super-relate! As not only a queer woman but a butch-y, top-ish kind of queer woman, I fully expected to love going down on partners and considered it an essential part of my identity. Instead, the first time I went down on a girl I was so turned off I almost tossed my cookies. I had a whole entire crisis of gay-th right there lol.

    Now, having had a bit more experience, I’ve found there are plenty of other things I enjoy. Love being inside someone, love kissing them all over, and I’m sure if I could afford strap-ons I would love those too. But I do not love sticking my face in someone else’s junk. I do not. I have hopes it’s a taste I’ll one day acquire, but also trying to tell myself it’s okay if I never do.

    My biggest fear is that it will be a deal breaker for someone I really want to be with. Most of my sexual encounters have been pretty casual, so it hasn’t mattered, but I could see how you might worry in a relationship as serious as this one. So I’m glad to hear your gf doesn’t mind, gives me hope haha. 😛

    (And, FWIW, I’ve heard dental dams can help if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the taste and smell? Even if you don’t need them for safety’s sake in this case.)

  2. Really solid advice!

    Don’t feel bad! It’s unlike most other things you do! I definitely had a mental leap when I started going down on women, and there have def still been times when I’m into what’s going on but my head is not entirely in the game and there’s a mental shift from “we’re talking, we’re laughing, ha ha ha, blah blah blah” to “okay, sexy face crotch times” and sometimes I’m like “yeah! let’s go!” and then my brain’s like “oh hi wow this now okay.”

    You’re okay. <3

  3. I really like eating pussy so this might not be as affirming as possible but I do have some advice. Sometimes I’ve found that people have this expectation or understanding that cunnilingus should happen under the covers rather than out in fresh air or on top of the covers. That can especially make you super hot, sweaty, and compressed leading you to feel like it’s hard to breathe. Situation should like that in general cause me anxiety. But if you’re doing this under any covers I would recommend not doing that. The fresh air around you can really help with the smell and feeling like you can breathe. It will also let you see more of your partner while eating her pussy and watching her face can help with your negative feelings about it.

  4. thank you for writing this! it gives me a lot of anxiety to think about someone going down on me because they feel like they have to, that they aren’t actively enjoying it — i’d be way happier with “i’m just not big on giving oral” than “i don’t like giving oral but i’m gonna do it anyway.” that said, sometimes vag is just an acquired taste!

    i second the above commentator’s rec. for trying out dental dams, and i’ll add that it can be super pleasurable for the receiver if you put a little bit of lube on someone’s vulva, then a dental dam on top. experiment as needed to find your perfect fit!

      • What brand of dental dams do yall use? I’m a sexual health peer resource at my college, and I’ve been looking everywhere for NON-FLAVORED dental dams (cuz I’m not about banana- or mint-flavored dams, and I’m not alone in that)…

        • @truegrit: The only unflavored ones I know of are the ones actually made for dentists. However, you can buy them wholesale online for relatively cheap. Even cheaper is teaching folks how to make them out of unflavored, unlubed condoms with a pair of scissors. Or using saran wrap. Just my thoughts, one sex educator to another!

          • Thank you for the tips! Ugh literally all the made-for-dentists ones I can find seem to be currently out of stock. I’ll keep my eyes open though!

            The dental dam market (or lack thereof) is so sadly telling about attitudes towards (queer) women’s sexual health.

  5. FWIW, I prefer having myself and a partner with any type of junk hop in and out of the shower for a quick rinse before this activity. Like ten thorough seconds, not even getting hair wet. So my preference for no sweat taste doesn’t have to do with my orientation or queer credentials. Note: I am not saying it’s a good idea to make people feel gross or ashamed, and I think it’s important not to frame it that way. Usually me being nice + my partner realizing they will get infinity more of this = success.

    • And I just wanted to add vulva can be an acquired taste. Once I solved the sweat problem I still thought the taste might be weird, but whodathunk – now I can just be walking down the street and miss it! That’s fun 🙂

    • My husband and I frame it as taking care of each other. I wash my lady bits and he brushes his teeth and mouthwashes. ‘Cause germ transmission could go either way, you know? And nobody has to feel gross or shamed or whatever, we’ve all got our little microbiomes. Much better to just let any use of mouthwash by either of us be a cue for some eyebrow waggling and come-hither looks. And there’s always the option to make the shower part a little more than a quick rinse, since you’ve got your preferred cute company right there and all.

  6. I wanna add two pieces of advice that have helped me a lot:
    A) you don’t have to be down there forever, especially in the beginning. Due to a variety of reasons I had kind of stopped going down on my lady bc I had this aversion to the idea of spending 30 minutes down there with all of the neck pain, tired jaw etc. I spoke to my girlfriend and she much prefers some casual licking as foreplay than no licking at all
    B) this is more technical, but a friend suggested “making out with the clit,” which I guess may be similar to the suggestion in the article of circular motions but this small mental adjustment has helped a lot and the act really turns both me and my girlfriend on!

  7. KaeLyn touched on this, but I just want to put my voice out there for limits/saying no to things you don’t want to do.

    Some people just don’t like going down on people! I am one of those people. It’s ok to say no to stuff you’re not into! It’s even good.

    If you find scenarios in which you are more comfortable exploring – I HAVE gone down on a partner in a pool, for instance, where the textures and experience was less overwhelming for me – then do explore, when it feels happy and sexy and good, but please don’t think that you have to do something you’re uncomfortable with just because it’s something that certain other people like to do!

    I definitely didn’t feel that I had the same agency to say no to certain things when I was younger, so I just really can’t stress enough: sex is about doing things that you enjoy. If there’s something you don’t want to do, don’t do it. <3

    • Thank you for stressing the importance of enjoyment! I remember being overwhelmed looking at a partner and telling her, “You just look like all you want to do is make me feel good.” And she said, “Is that not what we’re doing right now? Why else??” It was, unbelievably, a breakthrough moment.

    • Yes! It’s totally OK! Also, there are people out there who don’t like it when others go down on them. I’ve had partners who are like that. It goes both ways–all ways, infinite ways!

      There’s no wrong or right way to get it on, as long as everyone is consenting and communicating!

  8. I know that not everybody is the same as me, but I think my sex life is too important to me to be dishonest about my wants and needs. I know that for some people it can be scary (it is for me too sometimes) and I know that just being easy-going sometimes feels easier than hard truths–but I bet when your partner says she doesn’t need you to go down on her–she doesn’t need you to go down on her. Because if that is a need of hers, then any resentment down the road is on her.

    All you can do is trust that your partner is communicating her needs.

  9. Great response from KaeLyn and great discussions in the comments. I used to be so afraid of being A Bad Lesbian for this exact same reason.

    I think when it comes to oral sex in particular the fear of making your partner feel undesirable is really hard to ignore, though, just because of what a HUGE stigma there is about the smell/taste of vulva. Even if both partners communicate well and trust each other’s intentions, it’s hard not to worry about that thought being in the back of their mind.

    The patriarchy wants us to think women taste awful, so I want to tell my partner she tastes amazing, right? Only, that’s not really how I feel, and “you taste fine it’s just not something that turns me on” is not a very romantic thing to say.

    Something that really helped me with this was actually a different article on AS a while back about oral sex and smell/taste which recommended being just that much more verbal about what IS sexy to you about your partners body, how it feels/looks/etc. I made a conscious effort to start doing that and it helped take my focus off of this misplaced guilt I was feeling over the issue…also it helped me discover my partner was very much into Talking in Bed, so, you know, bonus 🙂

    • Yes! I tried going down on my wife pre-srs and it was okay because I loved her and wanted to make her feel good, but wasn’t really a big fan. After her surgery I wanted to make her feel good, but it was tricky because her body didn’t/doesn’t always respond the way it use to nor the way she wants it too. So I tried oral again and still wasn’t much of a fan. It did make me feel like a bad lesbian. I wanted to give her validation, but the whole going down on someone is just not my favorite. There are other ways of making her feel good that I much prefer.

  10. Thank Goodness someone finally asked this question!
    You know, I had my first kiss at nineteen.
    This means that my teenage years were spent largely on romantic novels, movies, and notions.
    When THE FIRST KISS came around, however, there weren’t violins playing, stars weren’t shooting out of the sky.
    Same kind of anticlimax happened with the cunnilingus thing.
    Years of fanfiction, later, I kept expecting this celestial, intimate, transcending moment, but let’s face it, my nose was in someone else’s crotch and I had no effing clue what the f*** I was doing.
    Awkward.
    What really helped was reading up on it.
    Stuff like that is kind of hard to look for without stumbling into porn, but interestingly enough there was this Men’s Health article which was a total help.
    Knowing what I was doing with a plan and everything, really changed the entire experience for me.
    I’m still a bit doubtful when two characters share that “very special moment”, and not exactly a member of the cunnilingus fan club, but well, it’s ok.
    I’m really grateful for whoever asked this, because I always felt like the-worst-lesbian-ever.
    Like, someone would tear the “Lexa deserved better” T-Shirt off of my shoulders, with a “How dare thee wear this!” if only they knew!

    • Yes, research is so helpful! Crashpad was really helpful for me – it helped me to reclassify sex from some sort of sacred choreographed dance where the steps are all the same and everybody knows them, to a grab bag of fun activities that are about sensation and connection – and mostly naked. 😀

  11. As a person who enjoys going down on my wife and someone who enjoys being gone down on, but never gets the privilege…. I love my wife and she just doesn’t like the idea of going down on me. I have accepted this fact of my life and accepted her right to say no. I respect her too much to make her feel that she’s being anything but my perfect soulmate. Boy, but there are times I want her gorgeous mouth on my happy place. Great advice above for those who don’t appreciate cunnilingus… Dare I ask what about those who desire it but don’t get it, except maybe on their birthday and love their women so much they live without the regular feeling of bliss the act brings them?…remember ladies being Lesbian, Queer or Gay is not a fashionable choice. It’s who I am and whatever I experience and feel does not make me a better Lesbian, Queer or Gay person.

    • Since our sex lives have matured to the point of non existence over the last 25 years of our 39 years of being a couple, I can relate to what you’re saying. The reasons for our mutual abstinence are varied and many, not the least of which have to do with age and mobility problems but I do still miss, at least occasionally, the intimate expression of our love for each other. I find fantasy some help in this situation. It may be a help to you too, during other forms of sexual expression. Minds are very powerful. Humour is also very helpful. We often laugh about our “lost” sex life and joke about where we think we might have put it down and forgotten it. My best bet is that it’s down the back of the sofa with the remote control.

  12. I can imagine you’re struggling and feel all kinds of pressure that can make you quite insecure. However, the experience in giving and taking cunnilingus taught me that it’s only fun to receive if the giving party is having fun doing it.
    I can definitely recommend having a shower just before you jump in bed.
    And make sure the position is comfortable and that you’re getting enough fresh air down there under the blankets.
    Try breathing through your mouth, that can help getting accustomed to the scent.
    It might help you to give tour gf oral pleasure first, otherwise she might be all wet from eating you out.
    Make sure her hair doesnt bother you, ask het to shave or not to- whichever you prefer.
    It’s mostly a matter of communication, so ask questions and find out what she likes. It’s not unreasonable to make some demands.

  13. I think all the comments here about caring for what you partner wants and feels comfortable to them is paramount. Sex (love or fun) should be a shared enjoyment, so both parties should want to do something. Feelings can be hurt in this process, but it is worth it and, if you’re still together post it, will be stronger and happier for it.

    Diet, drink or food intake was mentioned, and I think this isn’t too far from some of the problems related to smell/taste or both. If we believe what we put into our bodies is what we get out in looks and appearance, then we surely can relate that in some degree to taste and smell. While I undertsand some of the smell our body gives off isn’t all within our control, most of our diet consumption is in our control. Something that I’ve discussed with female friends (that are straight, perhaps Bi too if I don’t know) is how their boyfriends’ bits and sperm smells and tastes, and whether oral with them not always be likeable is linked to diet. We, generally, thought it did, and I think the same could be said for the scenario of w|w relationships sometimes.

    Bodies smelling (within sex) is not immune to women couples. When a man and woman have sex, there is a combined smell that can sometimes (not always) be very notable (during and afterwards). I learnt from a friend that was cheated on how the smell of sex made her realise her boyfriend had only recently just had sex with someone else! So, smell is just something that happens to lots of us, male, female and whatever sexuality, but what what we smell like as individuals isn’t always something that just happens, as in, we can lessen or try and help differenciate the smell. As I would agree, not all smell is within our control, but I would think it more common sense to eat a diet that isn’t so filled with processed food to help with the situation, whilst also detoxing your body when you can. I was told that dairy, on it’s own or within combined food ingredients, can be a bit of a smelly resulting intake, esp if done just before sex. Strong foods apparently can also equate in an immeidate effect too.

    This is more ‘old wives tales’ than scientific proof of smell tied in with body odur, but if we know that certain foods can smell incredibly strong or say unique before they go in the body, then their working through our body before outage may well have a part to play in how we smell during sex and what the linger after smell is as well

    Also, no woman will taste/smell the same as another woman. I know I shouldn’t bring up sex with men on a queer/bi/lesbian site, but just as another example, not all men smell the same (as also discussed with friends), so neither will all women. I have friends that don’t enjoy oral sex with their boyfriend (despite their undeniable love and fancying), but still do it regardless to impress or bei nice, regardess of the dislike of feel, taste and smell. They’ve found it more tolerable depending on the individual they’re with at the time, so I suppose if you’re single or just dating casually, you may not be stuck with this sexual smelling predicament.

    Obv if you’re in a long term relationship and not looking for another partner but don’t like oral with them, then there are, as well said already, other ways to enjoy and please each other. If you’re like some of my straight female friends, you may find yourself doing something to be nice, but I suspect your partner (like theirs) will sense it at some point if not already, so prob best to express you lack if interest, even if at the expense of her feelings. In the long run both you will feel better if you find a happy medium, rather than doing something to be nice.

  14. Re: the breathing, I have had issues breathing during oral as well, but it was because of a deviated septum and bone spur in my nose! If it’s not a placement issue and you have trouble breathing through your nose, maybe something to check out??

  15. I don’t know where to start a convo on this site but me an my girl we have a son who is 5 first off my girl has never been that sexual of a person even when on rare occasions I get her to want me is usually never it lasts for five mins then it’s hurry up an get off like if I would never ignitiate sex we would never have it I got to the point I stopped trying so it’s like it totally stopped I really feel like she never really liked sex an Just did it to basically get it over with an I mean we have sex like that but it just feel s strange while she lays dead telling me to get off like she says it’s just sex but to me it feels like it’s more than that sex is what separates relationships from the neighbor your friend anyone like I feel like I live with a roommate it really messes with the way I feel even if it shouldn’t like I don’t wanna cheat I don’t want to let go cuz we have a son . The worst thing is every girl I ever been with said I was amazing at sex or they didn’t even know it could feel like that like I been told my whole life that I’m good at sex better than anyone that they been with I know I got the equipment an have a decent strategy cuz I mean I feel like I ain’t another person saying as how they can’t do it as good as they want I’m great with everyone I ever been with is it possible for a woman to honestly just hate sex or could it be something that’s making her feel some sorta way about me like maybe I base to much a my life on sex like she says but I’m 27 years old I would like to have a descent sex life there will be a time when I can no longer we have a lot of problems a lot a the time I have left her multiple times for at least a month at a time an I was always begged to come back but the sex situation never got better. I don’t even know how to go about it it always causes more problems to get her involved when we do things. An it makes me feel worse she makes me feel that I am a bad person for wanting sex or being a sexual person . Like I been telling her I ain’t happy with her like this anymore I don’t think it’s gonna change anything I only feel important from her when I leave her an start talking to a new girl now I’m god I don’t really know what to do or if it’s hopeless I honestly feel like if I give up trying to have sex it will be the end of it in this relationship she doesn’t ignitiate it ever every thing is work did you do this can you do this bit***** all the time is it wrong to not be happy in a relationship over sex .an I’m sorry for bombing on people conversation I hope everyone’s gets to where they need to be .

    • I’m sorry I see now I was in the wrong section I read that boys problem with his girl but I couldn’t find a way to ask my question cuz the discussion was closed an I didn’t know how to start my own topic so I just entered the forum an posted to what ever I could find I’m sorry I posted it on this girls question An to you I’m very sorry hopefully we can all be satisfied one day have a great day to everyone

    • Dude, you need to be honest with yourself and honest with your girlfriend. It sounds like sex is important to you and you’re not happy with how sex works in your current relationship. You’ve already tried talking to her and telling her you’re unhappy and nothing’s getting better, right? Then it might be time to admit the two of you aren’t sexually compatible and part ways. If she’s not interested in having sex more don’t push the subject. If she’s not interested in having an open relationship, then don’t cheat. If the current situation isn’t working for you, you need to leave. Stop leaving and coming back. End your relationship with your girlfriend and transition to co-parents.

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  17. I would email someone on the Autostraddle team with the subject “You Need Help”, use the “contact us” option and pick a category that doesn’t quite work, or use the A+ priority contact box, since you have A+.

    @pianobug

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