How do I feel more comfortable with a new sex partner?

Dear Alice,

First, I'd like to thank you for this service! It's been so informative to read the advice you've given others. I'm a female grad student and have just gotten into a relationship for the first time. I have a few questions regarding oral sex: my boyfriend loves to suck my nipples and I feel great when he's doing it, but after a while, my nipples start to feel tender and actually hurt sometimes... is this normal? He's not rough when he's doing it, so I'm not sure why this happens.

Also, when my boyfriend "goes down" on me, I worry about what he thinks of my smell and taste. He says he likes it, but I can't be sure... is there some way of finding out if my scent is normal? Can he pass any infections (to my vagina) from his saliva? (He has had only 1 one-night stand affair and he used a condom that time).

Also, I masturbate him (I stroke his penis) until he "comes," but I'm afraid of tasting his "come." He hasn't asked me to, but I think he would like it if I did... how can I overcome this inhibition? Are there any risks for me? I appreciate any help/advice... Thanks a lot!

—Questions my mother never answered

Dear Questions my mother never answered, 

Congrats on being brave enough to ask your questions—others probably have the same questions but feel too nervous to ask. It is in fact possible to transmit a sexually transmitted infection (STI) to someone’s genitals during oral sex. That said, using a barrier method and getting tested for STIs STI may be the best way to help protect yourself against contracting one of these infections. Additionally, many of the other concerns you bring up—your tender nipples, the concern about your vaginal smell, and the taste of your partner’s semen—have one thing in common; communication! Taking the time to discuss these topics with your partner may feel awkward at first but know that having open communication can be a great opportunity to strengthen your relationship, as well as a way to make things fun for both of you. Read on for information about the many ins and outs of sexual exploration! 

You mentioned that your nipples feel tender and painful after nipple play (pulling, sucking, or biting the nipple). Human skin can be rather sensitive. The pectoral area—where breasts are located on the chest— in particular is filled with numerous nerve endings. Rough or not, any sort of friction around the area can irritate delicate nipple skin. It may even be interesting to note that during arousal and orgasm, your body releases oxytocin, which can cause the ducts to contract. This means even without touching them, you could experience some nipple discomfort simply because you were aroused. That said, some nipple sensitivity can be common, however, if the pain and tenderness persist for long periods, you may consider speaking with a health care provider to determine if there are any underlying causes. 

To prevent future nipple discomfort, you might try communicating this pain to your partner either beforehand or in the moment. You can do this by letting him know that while you enjoy it when he sucks on your nipples, they eventually get tender, and it may be time to take a break. Additionally, you might intersperse activities so he’s not sucking on your nipples continuously. Or you can develop a signal to let him know when it’s getting to be too much. As far as vaginal smells go, all vaginas have some scent, which varies from person to person and from time to time. Vaginal odor can depend on: 

  • pH levels. The vaginal microbiota is composed of bacteria that maintain a fragile balance with acidity levels. If pH levels become more acidic, there may be a sour or tangy vaginal odor, while a more basic pH level can cause a sweeter smell. 
  • Menstruation. Iron found in period blood may cause a metallic smell before, during, or right after menstruation. 
  • Dehydration. If there is an ammonia-like smell, it may mean that you’re dehydrated or that there’s urine residue. 
  • Lifestyle. If you’ve recently worked out or undergone a stressful event, sweat can cause a skunk-like smell. 
  • Diet. The foods you consume may also affect your vaginal odor or pH levels. Excessive consumption of meat, dairy products, and alcohol can cause a strong, sour smell. On the other hand, foods such as yogurt, cranberries, and citrusy fruits can cause the smell and taste to be sweeter. 
  • Medical conditions. Bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, rectovaginal fistula, or vaginal and cervical cancer can cause an unpleasant odor. 

If the smell is strong and pungent enough for concern, you may consider speaking with a medical professional. They can perform diagnostic tests to identify the cause of the smell and prescribe treatment, if necessary. If the origin of the odor isn't linked to a medical condition, they may suggest additional hygiene practices such as washing with a mild, unscented soap, wearing breathable clothing, staying hydrated, and avoiding douching. All this to say, your fragrance may just be a natural part of you. 

When it comes to oral sex and infections, it is possible to contract a STI in your mouth, throat, or genitals. These STIs can include syphilis, gonorrhea, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and human papillomavirus (HPV). Oral sex involving the anus can also transmit hepatitis A, hepatitis B, intestinal parasites, or other bacteria. Additionally, herpes can be transmitted from mouth to genitals and vice versa and unfortunately herpes can be transmitted even if you don’t have visible symptoms. For example, if your partner were to have herpes (i.e., cold sores) on their mouth or lips, it can be transmitted to vagina or penis through oral sex. To reduce the risk of transmitting STIs and other infections, you may consider using a dental dam or latex barrier to cover your vaginal lips or wearing a condom to shield the shaft of a penis. For added reassurance, you may also consider discussing both of you getting tested for STIs before your next sexual encounter. 

In terms of you tasting his cum, the choice is entirely up to you and your comfort level. Thereare risks when it comes to contracting an STI via unprotected oral sex. Letting your partner know your hesitations may also help open up the conversation about how you feel when he goes down on you. You may even find that neither of you is especially interested in the act, but you’re only doing it because you thought the other wanted it. 

Having open lines of communication with your partner to discuss basic needs, safety, and boundaries can be helpful as you begin this new sexual journey together. 

Happy exploring! 

Last updated Dec 08, 2023
Originally published Feb 01, 1994