Actually, It’s Perfectly Fine for Men to Not Want to Go Down on Women

Men who refuse to perform oral sex on women are often labeled sexist or selfish, but everyone has a right to maintain their own boundaries

July 19, 2021 6:38 am
Photo of DJ Khaled and a cat
Not all men who won't go down are DJ Khaleds.
Paras Griffin / Stringer, zhuyufang

Back in 2018, DJ Khaled’s legacy was forever altered from “guy who can usually be heard yelling his name on at least a few Top 40 tracks at any given time” to “sexist jerk who proudly refuses to go down on women.” This shift occurred thanks to resurfaced comments from a mid-2010s interview in which the star claimed he does not perform oral sex on female partners, but expects those women to go down on him, because, as he explained, “a woman should praise the man, the King.”

Khaled was swiftly put on blast, largely because his comments seemed to prove two of the most pervasive narratives about men and oral sex: straight ones don’t like going down on women, and it’s probably because they’re sexist assholes who believe they don’t have to bother caring about a woman’s pleasure. 

As efforts to close the orgasm gap have given more space and attention to conversations about women’s pleasure, pressure on men to perform oral sex on female partners has increased, in large part because this type of stimulation is a primary method by which many women reach orgasm. Unfortunately, this seemingly progressive approach to closing the orgasm gap also carries a significant stigma against men who aren’t interested in performing this particular sex act, reinforcing the presumption that any such aversion is rooted in sexist, Khaledesque beliefs about gender dynamics in the bedroom or still-pervasive misconceptions about the smell or taste of female genitalia. Any woman concerned that her male partner isn’t interested in performing oral sex doesn’t have to look too far to find multiple articles explaining in great detail why she should absolutely dump his ass as soon as possible, because he is most likely sexist, selfish and fundamentally bad in bed.

In even more recent years, however, conversations about consent and respect for boundaries have also become a bigger part of the broader sexual discourse, challenging the idea that anyone, of any gender, should ever feel obligated to engage in a specific sex act they don’t want to do, for whatever reason.

“Society is shifting towards more gender equality. People aren’t relating to one another based on real, or assumed, gender differences,” says International Educator and Sex Hacker Kenneth Play, creator of the Sex Hacker Pro Series. “In this case, it becomes more important to treat both sexes with the same rules. If we assume that women should be able to say no to [performing] oral sex, we should confer the same rights to men.”

Of course, as Play notes, theoretical musings on equality are rarely so simple in practice. “I’m not sure if it matters how woke you are; if a person with a vulva/woman is willing to give head to a penis, but the person with a penis/man won’t return the favor, the first person is likely to be pretty bummed, no matter what political ideology they subscribe to.”

So where does that leave us? When, if ever, is it okay for a man to refuse to go down on a female partner?

The short answer is easy: whenever he feels uncomfortable doing so. “It is completely OK for [a] man to refuse oral sex simply because he doesn’t want to,” says Taylor Sparks, Erotic Educator and Founder of Organic Loven, one of the largest online organic intimacy shops. The long answer, however, is much more nuanced (and, yes, much longer). 

Do men actually dislike going down on women?

Before we go any further, it’s worth noting there’s evidence to suggest the real-life incidence of men being reluctant to go down on women is a lot less common than the sizable body of work detailing why women should definitely break up with such men suggests. 

In his own practice, sex therapist and author Ian Kerner, PhD, LMFT, says he actually sees the opposite much more frequently: men who want to perform oral sex but whose female partners are reluctant to receive it. “So while I wouldn’t say there isn’t a small percentage of men who are reluctant [to perform oral sex on female partners], it’s also quite common for men to be interested and for female partners to be disinterested, or hesitant or reluctant,” he tells InsideHook.

Likewise, after asking the men of Instagram why they may feel reluctant to go down on a female partner, Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, NYU professor of Human Sexuality and a sexpert for LELO, received relatively few responses. “Apparently 94 percent of my male audience likes going down on women,” she tells InsideHook. Furthermore, Vrangalova cites a nationally representative 2017 study that actually found women were more reluctant to both give and receive oral sex than men. 

“It’s funny how much we criticize men for being opposed to giving oral to women, but there are actually significantly more men than women who like giving oral,” says Vrangalova. “That 2017 nationally representative study of Americans found that 77 percent of men said giving oral was very or somewhat appealing to them, compared to only 58 percent of women. Furthermore, there were just as many (in fact slightly more) women who said receiving oral sex was not appealing to them (27 percent) as there were men who said they didn’t like going down on women (23 percent.)” 

Are there men who don’t like going down on women? Sure. Sex comes in many flavors and varieties, and just as there are people who are into things you’ve probably never even thought about, there are plenty of people who aren’t into things that are considered common or even, in some misguided cases, obligatory. What both this anecdotal evidence and research-backed analysis suggest, however, is that the pervasive narrative of men refusing to go down on women might be overblown.

Why might some men be reluctant to go down on women?

Of course, while they may not be as common as we’ve been led to believe, men who are reluctant to perform oral sex on women certainly exist, and for a wide variety of reasons — not all, or even most, of which are rooted in sexism or neglect for a woman’s pleasure.

Sure, as Vrangalova notes, “There is the toxic masculinity narrative around it, with many men being socialized to think of going down on women as a submissive act incompatible with their idea of masculinity as dominant.” The common accusations of selfishness hurled at such men — whether real or imaginary — might also carry some weight. “As another aspect of hegemonic masculinity, men are also socialized to be more of a taker and women to be more of a giver in relationships,” adds Vrangalova. And if women, likely due to their own socialization, don’t ask for oral sex, “it’s easy for men to fall into the habit of not offering it.”

Perhaps more commonly, however, male reluctance to perform oral sex on female partners may be rooted in something else entirely, including — as both Kerner and Vrangalova suggest — their own insecurity or performance anxiety. 

“I would say that one of the main reasons is a fear of a skills deficit,” says Kerner, “a feeling of being unsure about their skills, sort of an anxiety around their ability to provide cunnilingus well and pleasure their partners.” 

Vrangalova agrees. “I’d argue this is one of the major reasons for some men not wanting or feeling comfortable going down on women,” she tells InsideHook. Why? “No one ever teaches men how to be good at giving oral.” Porn is most men’s only real resource for learning how to perform any sex act, and unfortunately, the lessons learned from that kind of sex ed do “little to nothing for the vast majority of vulva-owners,” according to Vrangalova. Meanwhile, “due to our own socialization to be sexually passive and not hurt the male ego, most women never take the time to instruct their male partners in what they like.”  

Other forms of performance anxiety may also be at play. For men who have trouble maintaining an erection, there may be “a fear if they have an erection going into cunnilingus that they may lose their erection and might not be able to get it back,” says Kerner.

There are other reasons, too. Yes, there are plenty of gross, harmful narratives that men (and women) typically internalize at a young age about vaginas looking, smelling or tasting bad. But there are also legitimately unpleasant encounters with an unhealthy vagina that could sour the cunnilingus experience for men. “There are certainly all the myths around what healthy vaginas smell and taste like, and that they are somehow gross, or that certain types of clits or labia are ‘unkempt’ or ‘unattractive,’” says Vrangalova. “But there are also past experiences with unpleasant smell and taste. Many women are unaware when they might be dealing with a yeast infection or BV [bacterial vaginosis],” she tells InsideHook, adding she herself has had the unpleasant experience of going down on a woman who didn’t know she had an infection. Naturally, she says, “that could turn some men off,” especially if they don’t know that an easily cured infection is the culprit. 

But what if they just don’t like it? 

Yes, there are also men who just plain don’t like performing oral sex on women, the same way some people might not like anal sex, doggy-style sex or any of the many sex acts and positions that everyone is well within their right to abstain from.

“I think everyone, regardless of gender, should have the right to refuse to perform any sex act — oral included — simply because they don’t want to,” says Vrangalova. “‘I don’t want to,’ or ‘I don’t like that,’ should be a perfectly acceptable reason to refuse a sex act.”

Regardless of the sex act or the gender of the parties involved, there’s no right or wrong reasons to refuse sex. “I don’t think that there’s a priority of reasons not to do something,” says Kerner. “I’m not going to put a value judgment on the reasons for not doing something, so I would never encourage someone to engage in any kind of sexual behavior that they’re uncomfortable with.” 

As Kerner points out, rather than subverting a gendered stereotype, the supposition that men who are reluctant to go down on women are sexist or selfish merely flips that double standard on its head. “Maybe women feel more pressure to perform fellatio than men do to perform cunnilingus,” which is, he adds, the result of unfair gender standards, “but I don’t think anybody is really going to say that a woman who doesn’t want to perform fellatio is a ‘selfish feminist.’ So I think it would be unfair to label a guy a selfish, sexist misogynist, or whatever.”

That said, while everyone has a right to say no to sex they don’t want to have, no one is under any obligation to continue having sex with someone who can’t or won’t provide what they desire in bed. “It is not up to us to convince someone to please us,” says Sparks. “If oral sex is a very important part of pleasure [for] the receiver, they should look for a partner [who] also enjoys what they enjoy.”

As Play puts it, “It’s any man’s right to have any boundary he chooses. But it’s also women’s right to decide not to be with someone who doesn’t offer [oral sex, or, really, whatever it is she wants] to her.”

And while “I don’t want to” is always a perfectly good reason not to do something in bed you don’t want to do, it may also be worth investigating the reasons why. 

“It’s important to examine the reasons behind our preferences and limitations, when and if we’re ready to do so,” says Vrangalova. “It’s good to push ourselves outside our comfort zones and examine where our behavioral patterns and preferences come from, and if we’d like to change them.” 

While it’s important to understand and interrogate our own sexual preferences and boundaries, it’s also important to take the time to fully understand those of our partners before writing them off as sexist or selfish. “We should try to understand the different possible motives for individual people not liking a particular sex act, rather than immediately assuming they are sexist assholes or something, and then see if they are interested in overcoming that limitation,” says Vrangalova. “If they are, we should work with them on finding ways we can support them in that journey in a way that’s helpful for them, rather than coercive or judgmental.” And if they aren’t, and if that particular sex act is important to you, then you’re free to stop seeing that person and/or consider opening up the relationship, if applicable. 

Like literally any other sex act, oral isn’t everyone’s thing, and not wanting to go down on a woman does not necessarily mean a man is a sexist piece of shit. Regardless of gender, the onus is not on anyone to be anyone else’s ideal sexual match. If you and your partner want different things in bed that the other person isn’t on board with, then seek those things elsewhere. As Sparks puts it, “Life is too short to go without having the sexual pleasure you want.” But that doesn’t mean we should shame entire groups of people for not wanting to provide that specific kind of pleasure.

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