Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Help, I Find Sex Disgusting!

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am a straight man in my mid-twenties who had had absolutely zero dating experience until relatively recently. In part thanks to inspiration from your blog, I started working towards self-improvement and tried putting myself out there more, and I finally began to get a few dates. Eventually, I had my first (and so far only) sexual experience involving another person, which ended badly. I brought a woman back to my place after a second date, and she said yes to sex (I had never done more than make out). I started going down on her, which she seemed to enjoy, but I threw up on her. Quite understandably, she asked me to stop and drive her home. I sent her a text the next day apologizing again for what had happened, but unsurprisingly I never heard from her again.

This incident was a stumbling block in the path of the confidence and momentum I’d been building up, and I haven’t been able to get a date since. Given that I only have this one experience to draw from, I have no idea whether this was a one-time reaction or something likely to recur. On the one hand, it’s possible I simply ate something that didn’t agree with me (I don’t think alcohol is the culprit, by the way, as I’d only had a single drink with dinner). On the other hand, this could easily be something that happens again. I am a picky eater who sometimes gets nauseous from food with off-putting tastes, smells, or textures, so that could be the reason. Her vulva smelled pretty bad to me, and I kept getting pubes stuck on my tongue. Since I have nothing to compare it to, however, I have no idea whether most women would be similar or if I was simply dealing with a case of unusually bad hygiene.

Also, I feel bad saying this, another possible factor is that she was… I wouldn’t say unattractive, but approaching the limit of what I would find physically attractive. She was a nice person, and I try to keep an open mind and not have too high standards for physical appearance, just as I would hope others would do for me. Still, I wonder whether I would have had the same reaction if it were with someone I were more strongly attracted to. Finally, a contributing factor was probably the fact that I was nervous. It was my first time getting naked with someone else, and I had thought I was about to lose my virginity. The irony is not lost on me that if nerves were playing a major role, then that makes me nervous it could happen again, which in turn makes it more likely.

I’m at a loss for how to approach this the next time I find myself about to get sexual with a woman. Presumably, saying “I’ve only done this once before and I puked on her” would send most people running for the hills. However, it also feels unfair to a potential partner to not warn her that I’m concerned that I could vomit on her, since I don’t know which of the aforementioned factors were involved and which ones could arise again. I feel really bad for the last woman and wouldn’t want to put someone else through that. How should I handle this going forward?

Weak Stomach

DEAR WEAK STOMACH: There’s a lot to unpack here, WS but I’m thinking maybe we just toss out the suitcase entirely. But before we get to the part that’s going to lead to a LOT of discussion in the comments section, let’s talk about what happened, first.

I’m sorry your attempt at a first time went catastrophically badly. If it helps, you’re not the only person who’s thrown up during sex. In fact, puking during the act — including during oral sex — is common enough that a quick Google search brings up more “It Happened To Me” essays, forum posts and Reddit comments than I care to think about.

(I don’t recommend actually doing more than a cursory search, by the way. You will see things that will make you wish you could take a melon baller to the portion of your brain that retains such information.)

There’re a lot of reasons why this could’ve happened. The most obvious is nerves; you would hardly be the first person who was so keyed up about the possibility of losing their virginity that you got a queasy stomach and did the technicolor yawn at the worst possible moment. Alcohol probably wouldn’t have helped either. Even if you had only one drink, if you were already on the nauseous side, that could tip things from “ok, unpleasant but I can work through it” to “ooooh that’s not good” when you least expect it.

And then there’s the fact that you have texture and sensory issues when it comes to food. That might also cause problems, especially when combined with other factors.

Now somebody call Sir Mix-A-Lot because there’s a huge “but” coming.

BUT.

You bring up issues regarding the way her vulva smelled and issues with pubic hair… and honestly, I don’t think you realize the size of the rake you’re stepping on here. While I don’t think you intended this, “Wow, vaginas smell BAD” is an old, offensive and honestly sexist trope and joke that’s been around for decades. It’s been fodder for hacky “jokes” that are about as welcome and funny as Andrew Dice Clay’s “dirty nursery rhymes” material. People have been stigmatizing and literally pathologizing women being “not so fresh” since the ’30s, when women were told to use Lysol as a douche for “feminine hygiene”.

No, for real. They used to run ads about it in actual magazines.

Even now, you get dudes — and it’s almost always dudes — who are performatively disgusted or repulsed by the smell of a woman’s vulva. That Google search I mentioned earlier is rife with grown-ass men making comments about “coochie stank”, and they’re about as mature as you would expect.

Now, while it’s possible that there was an actual medical issue that was causing an unusual odor, or she wasn’t rigorous about cleanliness, the odds are much greater that the problem is… well, that this was the first time you’d ever gone down on someone.

The fact of the matter is that bodies have smells and scents; that doesn’t mean that they’re automatically foul or awful. If it’s your first time going down on somebody, then it can be unusual or unexpected. It’s part of the learning curve, something that you get used to as part of the package. Sex is, after all, a full-contact sport that involves a host of body parts, secretions, fluids and scents. That’s part of what’s going to happen. And it’s not just vulvas that have an odor. Balls are gonna have their own smell, especially if it’s been warm and they’ve been sweating. Uncircumcised penises, likewise, tend to have their own scent; having foreskin increases odds of odor-producing bacteria. You learn to roll with it and — as many folks do — learn to appreciate it as part of the smell of sex.

Yes, it may sound weird or off-putting to describe body odors as something you get used to or even “an acquired taste”, but it’s honestly not different from other unusual scents or flavors. Most folks don’t like the taste of beer or alcohol the first time they encounter it. The smell of certain flowers, shellfish, food or fruit can seem weird when you’ve never encountered it before… but it quickly becomes something that people are used to or even enjoy.

Similarly, minor inconveniences happen during sex as well, because real sex doesn’t look like porn. Someone farts at an inappropriate moment. Somebody drops the lube and now the bed is a slip-and-slide. Limbs cramp up, somebody leans on someone else’s hair, one person moves into a position that ends up being incredibly uncomfortable… and yes, performing oral sex on someone — regardless of genitals — means that occasionally you’re going to get a pubic hair going astray. Part of being a good lover is learning how to roll with the little things without freaking out or letting it interrupt the proceedings. Anyone who’s gone down on someone with public hair has dealt with getting a loose hair in the wrong spot. The typical response is to pause for a second to spit it out or wipe it away before diving back in. Unless it’s actually hitting the soft palate or the back of your throat and making you gag, this takes less time to perform than it does to type it out.

Then there’s this part:

“Also, I feel bad saying this, another possible factor is that she was… I wouldn’t say unattractive, but approaching the limit of what I would find physically attractive.”

Part of what often gets people over the hump (as it were) of novel or unexpected issues during sex — especially the first time you do something — is that you’re turned on as hell by the act(s) and the person you’re doing them with. It sounds to me that, on top of nerves, alcohol and sensory issues, you weren’t actually attracted to the person you were hooking up with. The way you hedge your description makes me think you’re being a little generous; it sounds a lot like you really weren’t attracted to her and going along with it because, well, it meant you had a chance to hook up. If you were already having questions as to whether you actually wanted to go through with this with her specifically… well, that’s going to make it that much harder to push past other issues or be able to laugh off the slings and arrows that flesh is heir to during sex.

All of which leads me to “So… what do I do next time?”

First of all: you don’t need to tell people “hey, just FYI, sex makes me puke,” nor do you need to say “Yeah, I only kinda did this once and also I vomited all over the vagoo”. It’s understandable that you’re worried about it — you had a profoundly embarrassing and somewhat traumatic experience — but you don’t have reason to believe that this was anything other than a perfect storm of bad luck. Leading with “hey, I puke during sex” not only is going to chase away everyone except fans of Roman showers but also sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ll be so wound up and worried that you’ll give yourself a nervous stomach.

Instead, it’s better to simply acknowledge two things: this is your first time and you’re nervous. Neither of these are things to be ashamed of; in fact, many women will find it charming. The fact that you can be candid about being a bundle of nerves is more likely to make you seem adorable, and any partner worth sleeping with will want to help ease you into things. If she knows that you’re so keyed up that you’re about to vibrate straight into the Speed Force, she’ll know to take things easy with you.

Which actually brings us to the second tip: Slow your roll. Part of what will help you avoid the mistakes of your previous experience is to go at a pace you’re comfortable with. Trying to round the bases (as it were) all at once and fit all of the sexual experiences you haven’t had into one encounter is a recipe for a less-than-satisfying first time. Trying to do everything at once means you don’t have the opportunity to give any of it the attention it deserves. The first time you go down on someone — or have someone go down on you — for example, doesn’t need to be the same time you have penetrative sex for the first time. Instead, by taking things slowly and in stages, you’re in a better position to get to know yourself and your partner. You’re better able to appreciate all the sensations and give attention to both performing and receiving.

Not to mention, if you’re taking things slow, you have more of an opportunity to press pause on the proceedings if you are having a bit of a rumbly in the tumbly. When you don’t feel like “the deed must be done NOW, it must be done TONIGHT or else NEVER AGAIN”, then it’s easy to say “hey, I need a minute,” and getting a glass of water or taking a second to breathe without feeling like your window of opportunity is closing forever.

Plus, by not treating any one encounter as a make-or-break moment, you’re removing the pressure to perform. Instead of having to do everything right, you’re able to just be in the moment. You and your partner can take your time and just enjoy rolling around with someone you’re into, without the pressure of having to make it this epic, historic thing.

Which, incidentally, leads me to tip number three: don’t “settle”.

While I’m not a believer that somebody’s first time has to be “special” or “mean something”, I do believe that if you’re going to lose your virginity, it should be with someone you want to sleep with. By putting the emphasis on the act instead of the person, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. This doesn’t mean that it needs to be someone you love or someone important to you, but just someone you actually, actively want to bang. F

king someone just to lose your virginity and they’re the least objectionable option isn’t going to be a tragedy of epic proportions… but it ain’t gonna be that good either. If you’re gonna do it, it should be with someone worth doing.

And like I said: when you’re into somebody and they’re into you, it’s much easier to get past all the minor things. The desire to be with them, specifically, makes up for a lot of inconveniences. Not only are you going to be more focused on them, but you’ll be motivated to push past the little wibbles and wobbles because hey, it’s THEM and you’re not going to let yourself be distracted.

It absolutely sucks that you had this awful first experience. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to nausea every time the pants come off. Take things slow, be in the moment and be with someone you want to be with. You’ll be ok. I promise.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com