Swat Ed is the Phoenix’s biweekly sex education Q & A. We accept all questions and they are kept completely anonymous. If you’re looking for medical advice or a diagnosis for that weird thing on your genitals, get in touch with a medical professional! For everything else, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Today’s subject matter is vaginal penetration and roughness during oral sex.
I am in a lesbian relationship with my girlfriend of two years. It’s long distance right now, but we have a couple of issues that we’ve been struggling to work through and I want some feedback before we see each other again. I have had penetrative sex with other partners and I feel very comfortable with it. She has not had that experience with other partners and she wants to do it with me, but it hasn’t been going well. We try to go slowly, but she just says it feels uncomfortable or actually painful. It’s gotten a little better since we first started trying, but not by much. I don’t want our sex life to be stressful or unpleasant because of this, especially since we don’t see each other often. Thoughts?
-Good Enough Reason to Use the Word Penetrate
This is a great question and a common problem. There are a few different things that could be causing this, so let’s just go down the list and tick off the issues and solutions.
First: lack of lubrication. This is an easy one to fix, because it just means more foreplay. If that doesn’t work either, for whatever reason, you can just use lubricant. Since you’re concerned about stress, you can just have some on hand because it takes away the pressure to get wet. However, don’t make the mistake of substituting artificial lubricant for arousal — that’s essential for your partner to enjoy penetration.
Second: she might be tense and struggling to relax. Frequently, anxiety in female-bodied people manifests as muscle tension that makes inserting anything into the vagina very uncomfortable, if not outright painful. The extreme of this is a condition called vaginismus, which is when the vaginal muscles contract to such a degree that inserting anything is very painful and relaxing is extremely difficult. Vaginismus requires the attention of a medical professional, but it is absolutely treatable with physical therapy. Most of the time, muscle tension is not that severe and you can combat it with lots of foreplay, talking about how to make her more comfortable, and orgasming before trying penetration through oral sex or using your hands.
Third: her hymen might be getting in the way. The hymen is a very misunderstood piece of anatomy. It is a piece of tissue that can partially or completely cover the opening of the vagina. For most people, their hymens have a hole large enough for period blood and comfortable tampon use. Others have hymens small enough that they’re barely visible. Having penetrative sex stretches out the hymen (as can a lot of other activities — that’s why the intact state of one’s hymen is not a sure measure of whether they’ve had penetrative intercourse). A hymen stretching can cause pain or bleeding. In some cases, peoples have thick hymens that cover almost their entire vaginal opening. In those cases, they might need medical assistance. This could be your girlfriend’s problem, but it’s not too likely. For most hymens, they stretch just fine with patience.
Hopefully, identifying these potential problems and solutions give you an idea of how to work around this issue. The general gist is to emphasize foreplay, arousal, and comfort. As a final reminder, penetration is neither required nor needed for great sex, and if it ends up being something that you and your partner don’t feel strongly about, you are under no obligation to do it.
I’ve enjoyed going down on previous partners, but the guy I’m seeing right now gets kind of rough when I’m going down on him. He grabs my head and tries to control the movement and I end up gagging. I really don’t like it and I don’t know why he finds it so appealing. How do I tell him I don’t like it without upsetting him?
-Hate the Head Push
Okay, there’s a lot to break down here. This is unfortunately common and promoted in porn and the media. We might as well just take a moment here to say as a public service announcement that taking a person’s head and physically moving it up and down without previously establishing they want that is terrible. Not only is it uncomfortable and objectifying, it takes away one of the best things about oral sex: being in the driver’s seat with regard to your partner’s pleasure.
You can approach this one of several ways with your partner. You can be straightforward: “I don’t like that, I hate gagging and it doesn’t feel good at all.” Some people are into more rough activities like that, which is perfectly valid, but they communicate beforehand that they want it! Clear verbal consent is absolutely mandatory for something that involves you choking and struggling to breathe. For these reasons, I wouldn’t worry very much about upsetting him. I would, however, recommend that you follow up that statement with an alternative: “I’d rather you just run your hands through my hair, I really like that.” In general, that’s a good way to tell someone you don’t like something — always follow up with what you do want.
If you feel very uncomfortable being that confrontational, you can just say the second half with the positive alternative, but I think it would be better to be straightforward. Advocating for yourself sexually is intimidating, but like anything you get better with practice. It’s important for all of us to have this skill, but we only foster it by using it.