When it came to going to bed with a straight guy who wouldn’t perform oral sex, there was no roadmap to articulate my experience.
In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.
Robert was shy before we went to bed together. We didn’t even kiss until our third date. But at the point of first contact, it was game-on: He gave my ass a firm squeeze and started stripping my clothes to the floor. With the lights off, he reached for a condom. His orgasm followed a few minutes later. Mine didn’t.
He apologized for the unexpected climax, but I was only a little disappointed: My first time in bed with a partner is rarely something to write home about. Besides, I liked him. So instead of pouting, I smiled and pulled him closer to me. In my mind, we had more than enough time for his sexual redemption. After some cuddling and pillow talk, I kissed down his body, moving lower, lower, lower. Then I rolled over onto my back.
“What do you want to do now?” Robert asked.
“You could return the favor,” I suggested, smiling in his direction.
“Oh,” he said. In the dark, I couldn’t make out his expression. He seemed even more hesitant than before we kissed. “I don’t really do that,” he said.
“Yeah,” he said. “I just don’t like it.”
He rolled back on top of me to do it in the missionary position. I let him. It wasn’t bad, but I was still turned on. Finally, I asked him if he was totally disinterested in going down. “I’m kind of scared,” he told me. He cited his experience with another girl who “tasted funny” and drove him away from trying it again. But as we continued to see each other, he insisted that if I gave him time to sort through his hang-ups, I would be rewarded for my patience. I agreed to wait and reasoned that he had to try it again sometime. Right?
While Robert had abandoned cunnilingus after one sour taste, I had no such hang-ups. But when it came to going to bed with a straight guy who wouldn’t perform oral sex, there was no roadmap to articulate my experience. As Robert worked through his issues, I consulted the experts. Over drinks and late-night phone calls, friends told me that healthy relationships are give-and-take, not a one-way street. But online, sex columnists advised me never to coerce or pressure anyone into a sexual act he wasn’t comfortable with.
I tried not to pressure Robert. Instead, I asked, regularly and often. But I continued to field the same tired refrain: “It could happen. Very soon. I’m thinking about it.”
When direct inquiry didn’t work, I tried physical strategies. Before sex, I’d rush to the bathroom to wash between my legs, making sure I smelled clean and soapy. I wore the kinds of panties that practically screamed to be removed with teeth rather than hands: satins, lace-covered bottoms, delicate and uncomfortable thongs. My hair was already trim, but in a vainly transparent effort to please him, I shaved every last bit of it. None of it worked.When Robert shook his head “no”—or worse yet, ignored my attempts to jump-start oral sex that went both ways—I felt ugly, rejected, and disrespected. I should have stopped going down on him, but I didn’t.
Neither one of us ever felt a strong calling to a monogamous commitment, so I managed to stick with our quasi-open arrangement for well over two years. In technical terms, we had agreed to date other people, but only have sex with each other. At least, those were the terms under which Robert claimed to operate. Privately, I saw things a little differently. In another city, I’d be hoisted onto a hotel sink without so much as a second thought. Sometimes, I’d meet with other partners in the same week I’d slept with Robert. And I didn’t feel guilty. I was desperate to have my body explored with eagerness rather than trepidation. I used protection and hoped that no one would feel betrayed.
As time passed, sex between me and Robert felt increasingly like a failed negotiation. My feelings of rejection subsumed any enjoyment I experienced from intercourse. I denied it for months. He cared about me, yet sensed that I would leave if he ever said “never” to oral sex. So he strung me along with half-hearted promises for as long as we could both keep up the pretense.
We broke up and got back together several times in those two years; there was always an excuse to hang out as friends and quickly reunite as lovers. But every time the on-again thrill wore away, I was left with a relationship totally lacking in emotional or physical depth. It became obvious that this was about more than just his distaste for oral intimacy. Let’s face it: Even his fingering was clumsy at best.
After we broke up for the final time, I realized I didn’t miss Robert as much as I did clitoral stimulation. Now I know that I should never have had to choose. Sometimes, the best way to get what you want is to ask someone else.
Illustration by Dylan C. Lathrop