Oct 242011

So here’s a question I get pretty regularly:

I can’t make my partner come from oral sex. They say they’ve never come from oral sex and that they aren’t particularly interested in it. But I really want to make them come from oral sex. What can I do?

And I get it from everyone, regardless of the genital or gender construction of the asker or their partner.

And part of me is like… “YOUR PARTNER SAID NO! NO MEANS NO!! FOR EVERYBODY!!!!”

And part of me is like, “What is this magical power that orgasm has over people?” I mean, what *is* it about orgasm? I concede that it has powerful sway, culturally; these days, your partner’s orgasm is held up as the holy grail of Competent Lovemaking. And I’m the last person to argue that such a feeling is purely socially constructed. Orgasm definitely is a kind of physiological destination, particularly for the male-bodied among us. Beyond a certain point of arousal, when you’re just a few steps away, your body really does push you along toward orgasm, and arriving at orgasm really is a different kind of experience from non-orgasmic sexual pleasure. All of your physiology changes, with tachycardia and waves of entrained muscle contractions that change your breathing patterns. Orgasm, physiologically, is an EVENT, no question.

And after orgasm, you’re likely (though not guaranteed) to experience yet ANOTHER physiological state, the recovery and/or refraction period of relaxation and general sense of wellbeing – yet another kind of pleasure that sex can bring.

So I get that orgasm is A Thing for people, and that it’s a thing we want to give our partners, the way we want to give them pretty flowers and delicious chocolate treats and jewelry and any other thing that we think is a pleasurable thing to have.

But all these lovely things – orgasms as well as flowers, chocolate, jewelry, and the rest of it – are lovely only if your partner is interested in receiving them, and no amount of You Being Interested in Giving It to Them will make them more interested in receiving them.

Let’s use a metaphor: Suppose you LOVE giving flowers. You LOVE it! You love shopping for them, buying them, carrying them to your partner, handing them over, and seeing the look on their face. You love seeing them in the window the next time you come over. And then suppose that your partner is… well… kinda tired of receiving flowers. They know you love seeing the flowers, so they keep them out, even though they’d really rather just chuck them. The pollen is getting to them and they’re considering taking allergy meds so they can tolerate all this flower-giving. And they’ve tried to hint gently about the things you could bring that might be more relevant, meaningful, or tolerable to them, but you’re just so STUCK on giving flowers, that they can’t get the message heard without feeling rude.

It’s like that with orgasm. There are lots of beautiful ways to give pleasure. And orgasm, though a lovely destination, is not always easy to get to, and if it’s difficult to get to, sometimes you’d rather just go someplace that also lovely and not such hard frickin’ work. (Another metaphor: the Cape! A lovely place, but is it worth a 3-hour drive in Labor Day weekend traffic, when you could just stay home and watch Netflix? You see what I’m saying?)

“I want to make my partner come,” is this very sweet and beautiful sentiment, but it’s only really relevant if it’s accompanied by “… and my partner wants me to make them come.” Otherwise it’s just creating a dynamic where they feel obligated.

I mentioned in a recent post that insisting that making a partner come is a purely generous sentiment – “I want to make them feel good!” – is either delusional or misguided. If you really just wanted to make them feel good, you can do that LOTS of ways that don’t necessarily involve orgasm. If you want to make them feel good, lick them until their toes curl, by all means, OR give them a back massage or do the dishes for them or tell them what makes them the awesome, heart-stopping person they are.

If you want to make them COME, that’s something else. That’s wanting to make them come. That’s your desire. Try not to confuse your desire with theirs.

emily nagoski

  16 Responses to “I want to make my partner come.”

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  1. ” They say they’ve never come from oral sex and that they aren’t particularly interested in it….
    And part of me is like… “YOUR PARTNER SAID NO! NO MEANS NO!! FOR EVERYBODY!!!!” ”

    I totally understand your point, Emily. But when I first began having sex (with other people) that person would have been me. I found it nice but not amazing and didn’t see what all the women’s magazines got so worked up about. Now, however, it’s an essential part of my sex life, and I’d be extremely deprived if I was with a partner who wasn’t into it. Tastes do change.
    Which is all to say that I sympathise with the people who write in with that issue.

  2. In some cases there may be a hidden impulse for domination in the desire to make someone come. It isn’t always about just “giving” someone an orgasm, but sometimes about forcing them into an experience where they lose control over their experience. As long as that desire is made overt and mutually shared then there’s no problems at all from my perspective.

  3. I agree with you that no means no, but it’s also possible that this person simply isn’t comfortable enough with their partner yet to allow this to happen. I know that, for me, I need to be in love with my partner to be able to let myself go enough for them to be able to get me to come with oral sex. So it’s not that it’s not possible *ever*, it’s just not possible yet at the time that I say no.

    I hate it when guys keep saying over and over again “Well, I want you to come too.” Maybe if you didn’t keep saying that so insistently, I would let you help me come!

  4. I’ve never made anyone come.

    I don’t know what the proper term is.I don’t want to go too far the other way and say “oh, I just happened to be in the general vicinity when she spontaneously had an orgasm for no reason I could see”; I think I have more responsibility than that. But not 100%.

    That’s not just a self-righteous semantic thing. If her (in my case) orgasm is metaphorically entirely on my shoulders, that gives my succeeding — my even being allowed to make the attempt — takes on great significance and import that can be avoided by simply reminding myself “this is supposed to be fun, not work, and it’s supposed to be fun for both of us, and outside of masturbation an orgasm is a collaborative effort.”

    At least in relatively vanilla contexts, I guess.

  5. Ooh, what Mike Lewinski said about imposition and domination! Not everyone experiences it but it’s definitely an issue.

    That said, there’s also the frustration (even aggravation!) many people (women no less than men) feel about being “left hanging.” Again not everyone experiences it but it’s definitely an issue.

    Being on the receiving end of anyone’s “but you didn’t have an orgasm!” domination, or anyone’s “but I didn’t have an orgasm!” aggravation can be… unpleasant.


  6. I’m afraid you lost me at the point where you say men in particular can’t have spoiled orgasms, and seem to be implying that male ejaculation must necessarily be accompanied by orgasm. Which isn’t my experience, and I’m sensitive about it because so many people vehemently tell me that I’m misunderstanding my experience (which may be the case, it just seems unlikely). So I’d like to hear your expert opinion on the matter. Is male ejaculation orgasm; usually accompanied by orgasm (and vice versa?); or are they two related-but-different things (as they often seem to be for women)?

    • Huh? Where did I say men can’t have spoiled orgasms?

      • physiological destination, particularly for the male-bodied among us. Beyond a certain point of arousal, … your body really does push you along toward orgasm

        Perhaps “can’t” is too strong a term. But IME many men struggle to reach orgasm and for them ejaculation can be a physical experience quite distinct from orgasm. You seem to be conflating the two in what is, again in my experience, an unhelpful way. I have not heard of men who feel physically impelled towards orgasm without ejaculation, making me wonder whether you mean ejaculation in your post. Perhaps this is one of those things that’s different for women, but again, IME women who ejaculate can E without O (rarely, but then they rarely try to do it), and obviously most can O without E. The two are often combined , of course.

  7. I think you may have missed the point with the question. The partner isn’t necessarily opposed to orgasm or to oral sex but is incapable of achieving orgasm through oral sex. Consent doesn’t seem to be the issue.

    I’m not sure what the issue for women not being able to achieve orgasm from oral sex would be assuming they can achieve orgasm in other ways, I’d like to suggest a cause for why even men who enjoy receiving oral sex can still have trouble achieving orgasm from it (aside from or in addition to Anonymous’ valid point above).

    The act of thrusting is a major (and sometimes necessary) orgasm trigger for men. This is why men tend to thrust harder and more quickly as they near orgasm. If they cannot thrust, many men cannot achieve orgasm.

    I’ve heard similar complaints from women about how they cannot make their male partners orgasm when they are on top. That’s a bit easier to deal with as the woman can usually just lean forward to give their partners space to thrust. However, if part of the desire to make their partner orgasm is control or domination as Mike Lewinski suggests above, this may also be disappointing to the woman as her partner is no longer passive. Oral sex is obviously less accommodating to thrusting for most people.

    • No, see, exactly. YOU have missed the point. When someone says, “I’m not interested,” that’s denial of consent. Done. Just because Person X wants something doesn’t magically transform Person Y’s lack of interest into just not knowing how. It is perfectly possible for there to be a person who hasn’t come from oral sex who WANTS to come from oral sex and says, “I’ve never done it before, I’m not sure I can and I definitely don’t know how, but I’m interested in trying.” That is a different scenario. That is not the scenario people ask me about because it is unproblematic for Person X.

      Can someone else please explain consent? I’m so tired.

    • She didn’t consent to oral sex. Not expecting to come that way appears to be the reason she didn’t consent, and we can reasonably postulate that if she felt she was likely to come that way she would have consented, but that doesn’t matter, because she didn’t consent. Otherwise it sounds an awful lot like “your reason for not being interested isn’t good enough.”

      • You seem to be a talking about a particular person when Emily said that this is a commonly asked question that she gets “from everyone, regardless of the genital or gender construction of the asker or their partner.”

        I think it’s pretty clear within Emily’s initial formulation that the oral sex is consentual (see below; I neglected to hit the “Reply” link on Emily’s response). Plenty of people engage in sex acts without an expectation of orgasm from every single one. Just because someone can’t achieve orgasm from a particular sex act does not mean that they do not enjoy it as foreplay. As Emily said in her original post, orgasm is not the only pleasurable thing about sex.

  8. In your own presentation of the question, it is stated “that they aren’t particularly interested in it.” The word “particularly” is important. Unless by “I can’t make my partner come from oral sex” they mean “My partner will not allow me to make them come from oral sex” then it is not denial of consent.

    Sure, just because someone wants to make their partner orgasm from oral sex does not entitle them to perform oral sex on a disinterested partner. If the partner is fine with oral sex but for whatever reason has some insecurity about achieving orgasm from it and asks that person to stop, that person is obligated to stop. These situations do constitute denial of consent, but judging from your initial formulation, these are almost certainly not the situations your questioners and their partners find themselves in.

    The people who ask you this question are almost certainly feeling insecure about their sexual abilities and are asking for either advice on how to improve those abilities or for an explanation as to why their partners simply cannot achieve orgasm in that way. Their partners have probably tried to assuage these insecurities and they’re probably thinking, “I’ve never achieved orgasm in this way so I don’t expect to. It might be nice, but no big deal.” The likelihood that their partners would feel in any way violated if they actually did manage to achieve orgasm from any consentual sex act (even one they aren’t *particularly* interested in), is so slim as to be negligible.

    I do agree with your point that people should be aware of their own motives and take care not to make their partners feel obligated.

  9. Interesting conversation about mutual and individual desires and motivations. In my own (obviously limited) experiences:
    1) I often find there is a subtle Dom/sub thing happening for me with a partner where I want to “force” her to lose control over her body (to be explicit: this is all consensual play to begin with, with safe words and all), and especially more so when she is hyper-sensitized post-orgasm and I keep teasing her while she writhes, screams, giggles uncontrollably, and other analogous responses. The notion of control over someone’s body is quite a personal turn-on.
    2) Equally, I quite love the switch scenario relative to (1). Again, this feels like it is about playing power/control/vulnerability games that is, in itself, a way of manifesting trust in the physical (and emotional) relationship. “I am willing to give my body to you; you are willing to give your body to me” creates a unique form of intimacy that – again, speaking solely from my experience – often translates into control over the orgasm.
    3) One partner was most upset that she couldn’t bring me to orgasm (orally, although I had brought her to orgasm, something that she rarely experiences, apparently, with other partners; in her case, it was all a matter of the time and attention in slowly warming her up). She felt that she was, in some way, being “unfair” (her words) in not being able to reciprocate what she had experienced, and I sensed that she took this as diminishing her “womanliness” in an interesting stereotype role reversal. During our next encounter, I guided her more explicitly and she gained the satisfaction (and, I believe, the validation, judging from her responses afterwards) of “making me come.” I realized that what was going on in her head was quite powerful, and consistent with insecurities elsewhere in her life. There seems to be considerable complexity that may be wrapped up in the desire to “make” a partner come that is often well beyond the context and scope of relatively casual sexual engagements (by which I mean, not in a long-term, committed life relationship).

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