Is it okay to only want to give and not receive during sex? Read my advice about dynamics during sex, consent, power, and non-simultaneous sex.
Hello! I’ve tried to find someone who can answer my questions, but I feel a bit uncomfortable asking something like this from a school nurse or whatever, and the internet couldn’t provide answers. I would appreciate it a lot if you could help!
I’m a 17-year-old bisexual girl, currently in a relationship with a girl. Whenever I have sex, no matter if it is with a guy or girl, their pleasure always comes before mine. With my current girlfriend I like to do masturbation and oral on her, but whenever she tries to return the favor I feel kind of uncomfortable, and rarely get pleasure from it. I don’t think it’s a self esteem issue or anything, I just get enough satisfaction from making someone else feel good, sometimes enough to reach orgasm just from pleasuring my partner.
Honestly, I’m content with that. I just want to make my partner feel good, that’s all I care about. Watching them come apart before me is way more enjoyable than any sex toy. However my girlfriend has expressed that she feels guilty about not doing enough for me, which is understandable. How do I make her understand that I really don’t mind it? Is this even normal, or is there something wrong with me? Is it bad that I only want to give and not receive?
Thank you so much, and apologies if my english is bad, it’s not my native language 🙂
Thanks for your question. Your English is great and way better than my [insert any language other than English here].
I think this is normal and fine and there’s nothing wrong with you. Getting pleasure from pleasing people is really common and totally legit. All I would say that it’s important to be clear about the dynamic and what you want from the sex. Consider how you can talk about things more to make it even more consensual. There are a few questions for you here about when you feel kind of uncomfortable and what that means. Also you might want to think about other aspects of your life too.
Be clear about the dynamic
I think that it might be useful for you to have a bit of clarity for you and your partner(s) about this. Currently the dynamic (vibe) between you and your girlfriend is ‘you give her pleasure: your pleasure is giving her pleasure.’ Also it’s ‘you don’t get pleasure from her doing things to you.’ This is also a dynamic that you’ve had with other people and it sounds like it’s the only one that works for you.
It’s fine for this dynamic to work for you, but it’s also got to work for her too. So it’s probably a good idea to explain the vibe to your girlfriend in the way that I have just now. If your pleasure is to give pleasure, but you don’t get pleasure from her giving you pleasure, I think she should know.
Whenever you are doing things to her in the way you describe, she can’t do things to you. You’re in control, which gives you more power. If she’s not able to reverse the dynamic and do things to you in the way you can do things to her, she should probably know.
Perhaps you are in a dynamic where you are the person that likes to give and she is the person who likes to get. But what if you’re wrong? What if she likes to give as much as you do, but you take up all the giving space in your sex life? Is there a chance that even though you are the giver you have actually made the sex really just about meeting your needs?
It’s also better for you from a consent perspective. When she’s doing things to you, and you feel uncomfortable, are you able to stop? Does she get that it’s not really doing it for you? You should both be relying on sex talk and communication during sex but you could also be doing a bit more communication about the dynamic.
Wheel of consent
At this point I’m going to refer you to an idea called the Wheel of Consent which is by a sexologist called Betty Martin. Loads of people find this useful, including my mate and colleague Meg-John Barker, who wrote this article about why they are a fan. To be totally honest, I’m not a huge fan but I might also just be wrong about this. Have a look at it because it might help you process it a bit more. To me it looks like you are doing both the ‘serving’ and the ‘taking’ and not doing any ‘allowing’ or ‘accepting’. Anyway, there’s a bit of extra reading for you if you are a keen student.
‘Returning the favour’
As you probably know, there are many different kinds of sexual activities. How we categorise these usually is down to where on the body it’s happening. But another way of thinking about it might be ‘is it an activity that you are both doing to each other at the same time’ or ‘is one person doing something to another person’.
It sounds like the kind of sex you’ve been having is this latter kind, with you doing the licking, touching, handling etc. When people do this kind of sex there is a cultural expectation, or a ‘should story’, that one person does it for a bit and then the other person has to do it to them. Why? My theory is that we we have to make non-simultaneous sex be as much like ‘simultaneous’ sex because that is more like ‘proper sex’. Anyway, it’s bollocks and I hate it. Like with all should stories it tells us to do what is considered ‘normal’ rather than what we might like or feel comfortable doing. Not very consensual is it?
Maybe the guilt that your girlfriend has that she can’t return the favour is just that this is an expectation. If it’s an expectation rather than what you actually want, then she shouldn’t do it. However, if she is wanting to do things with you because she wants to get pleasure from pleasing you (ie, to be like you), then there’s an issue.
Once you’re clear
Once you have a clear understanding of what you both want and don’t want, you will be able to work out the next bit. If your girlfriend wants what you want (for you to please her, to get pleasure from pleasing her, but she doesn’t do things to you) then great, off you pop.
If one or both of you aren’t totally happy continuing with this dynamic as it is, then don’t worry, there are things you can do. However, so that it is consensual you shouldn’t have to have sexual things done to you that you don’t want. If there’s a question of doing something or not doing something, we should always not do something. ‘Meh, let’s not’ should be the default setting.
Maybe the things that your girlfriend does to you when she ‘returns the favour’ aren’t what you want to do? Again, the should story tells people that you should do the same back for what someone has done for you – like an oral for an oral. Bzzzz wrong. It could be that your girlfriend could do some things to you that you might like. I’ve written an article to help you work out what kind of sex you might like. It could just be something quite small and low key that might give your girlfriend pleasure to do to you and might feel quite nice and pleasurable to you too.
You could also explore doing some activities that involve you doing things at the same time. Like kissing, mutual masturbation, or mutual oral or something like that? Maybe there’s a way for your girlfriend to look at you, or touch you, or speak to you that might feel to her like she is doing something to you at the same time.
‘Kind of uncomfortable’
You don’t have to have bad self-esteem or anything ‘wrong’ with you to find this difficult. Sadly, we live in a culture where it’s more okay for some people to have desires and for those desires to be met.
Read about solidarity and power
Should Stories play a large part in preventing people from asking for anything that might be considered ‘not normal’. Also gender often has a part to play here. Women are often taught (or get the message generally) that it’s not okay for them to have sexual desires and there are a whole bunch of insulting names that society has for women who do.
How does your body react?
Maybe, if it felt okay, you could also think about those moments when you feel uncomfortable that you mention in your question. Is it awkward, embarrassing, and a bit meh? Or is it more like a stressful and anxious kind of uncomfortable? Do you flinch, or freeze, or become disconnected from your body? If it’s the latter it could be a sign that your body is holding on to some kind of trauma. I’ve written about dealing with stress, and also how our bodies respond. Maybe something happened in your past that your body remembers but your brain doesn’t yet. If so, that’s a conversation you could have with a school nurse or whatever. A counsellor or therapist who knows about trauma might be able to help you.
If your uncomfortable feelings are more ‘meh’ and awkward then it might be worth thinking about a bit more deeply. Think of one activity that someone has done to you where it felt okay and think of the same activity but done at a different time (or with a different person) when it felt really rubbish. What were the differences? What were you doing before? How was your body reacting? Can you recall your senses? Was it slow or fast? Were the lights on? How comfortable were you? Did you talk about what you were going to do before? This might give you some clues about what you could ask your girlfriend to do for you.
Do you do this outside your sex life?
Lastly, think about what happens outside your sex life – is it the same? Do you only enjoy cooking for other people, or do you enjoy other people cooking for you? How about telling jokes or funny stories? What about supporting and listening? How did it feel asking me for advice and how does it feel that I am giving that advice to you? It’s good to think about this stuff because it’s not about self esteem but it is about you. Knowing and being able to talk about your wants and needs is really important because it gives you a better sense of who you are. So if you know that you don’t want your girlfriend to do things for you then that’s great. But don’t just default to doing things for others because you find it difficult to allow, or accept, other people doing things for you.
More BISHness that might help
Some of what you’re describing sounds like it could be a Top and Bottom thing.
How to ask is important and here’s how
Hope that helps!
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© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.