RECENTLY, I WAS IN BED with a guy whose sheets I'd wanted to get tangled up in for a while. It was our third date, but I was hoping for a thousand more, and we were having the kind of intense and passionate sex that makes you believe that might be possible. I felt so close to him with our eyes locked and our bodies bendy from red wine. But suddenly he pulled away and disappeared beneath the covers, diving headfirst between my thighs.
"I could do this forever," he said, his voice muffled by the blanket. All I could think was, Please don't.
Let me be clear: It's not that I hate oral sex. A tongue feels good anywhere it roams, and I'm not bothered by the fact that bodies don't exactly taste like cherry soda all the time. But oral sex demands total surrender to the moment and the person you're with. Unfortunately, I am often stuck in my own head. Instead of being lost in ecstasy, when a guy goes down on me, I'm worrying about loose hairs, whether or not his jaw is getting exhausted, and how I look down there. Or my mind wanders to things that have absolutely nothing to do with sex: I fret that I'm late with the cable bill or that I left the iron on. I worry that I will never reach orgasm, which usually ensures that I won't, because nothing detracts from erotic abandon like performance anxiety. All too often, receiving oral sex spirits me away from a universe of pleasure and into the troublesome territory of overeager den mother: Are you sure you're OK down there? Do you need anything to drink? Would anyone like cookies?
It's too bad I feel this way because the men I date seem happier than ever to go down on me. I figure it's a power thing. Decades of feminism and accessible porn have made women more comfortable with their bodies and more sexually aggressive, and guys may find it thrilling to make a woman vulnerable, to have her thighs trembling on either side of their face. It must be a huge rush to transform your partner into a puddle of id—which I completely understand because that's how I feel when I go down on a guy. Don't get me wrong: Many women adore oral sex, and I consider it a sign of sexual progress that a man's oral skills now give him bragging rights.
However, I'm not the only woman I know who feels ambivalence toward oral sex. When I asked female friends for their opinions, many gave less than stellar reviews: It takes too long. Guys don't know what they're doing. It requires a shower. One friend was obsessed with the notion that bits of mealy toilet paper could be stuck down there. Another simply said, "Meh." And pop culture reflects our ambivalence. When television shows and books portray a woman receiving oral sex (and it's a rare occurrence), it's often clumsy and unfulfilled. Take the much-talked-about scene in the HBO show Girls, in which a sexually inexperienced character squirms while a guy goes down on her—I can relate to that full-body cringe. Meanwhile, the heroine in Fifty Shades of Grey is so out of touch with her body that she doesn't masturbate, and the whole book reads like wish fulfillment for women unable to articulate what turns them on. Voil—a best seller.
In the end, the real trick to enjoying any sexual act is to know what you want and how to ask for it. So here is what I need: a dark room. Occasional giggles. Occasional quiet. A finger in the right spot helps. A vibrator can be fun. I've found that oral sex is not casual for me, which means that—I'm sorry, sailor—you can't show up at midnight, jump under the sheets, and expect to blow my mind. What I need more than anything is someone I trust and am comfortable with. Maybe that just won't happen by date number three. Till then, I'd prefer if my lovers kept their heads above the covers.