We hear from a lot of guys who are worried that they don't measure up in the bedroom. Well, you guys can relax. When it comes to pleasing your partner, penetration isn't everything.

"There are lots of ways to pleasure a woman," says Felice Newman, author of The Whole Lesbian Sex Book (Cleis Press, 1999). That's not to suggest that intercourse is a sloppy second, but for many women, cunnilingus (oral stimulation of the female genitalia) is the fastest route to orgasm. In the interest of orgasmic equality, we asked Newman for some tips on how to make the most of cunnilingus because, after all, if you want to know how to please a woman, why not ask a lesbian?

The following suggestions are a good place to start.

  • Ask questions. "Asking is the mark of a sophisticated lover. If you ask her what she likes, she will feel respected and cared for," says Newman. Some good questions include "Do you enjoy oral sex?" "What kind of stimulation do you prefer?" "How would you like me to do this?"
  • Show and tell. If your partner isn't shy, ask if you can watch her as she pleasures herself. Observe where she touches, how much pressure she applies to each area, and how fast she moves her fingers. That should give you plenty of ideas and may also get you pretty turned on in the bargain.
  • Know your likes. The clitoris (the very sensitive part of the female external genitalia) is similar to the penis in that it engorges with blood during sexual arousal. Before you jump in, think about your own oral sex dos and don'ts. Do you like it when a lover pays particular attention to the head of the penis, or is that too intense for you? Do you have a fear of teeth near your genitals? Perhaps your lover feels the same way about her private parts.

  • Genitalia 101. You don't have to be an ob/gyn to pleasure a woman, but it doesn't hurt to crack open that seventh-grade health textbook that's currently propping up your coffee table. Make sure you know the basics (for example, the clitoris is comprised of a glans, hood, and shaft, much like a miniature penis).

Basic Road Rules

  • Start with indirect stimulation. The clitoris, like the nipples, and the penis, for that matter, is highly sensitive. If you stimulate it right away, your partner may find it more irritating than titillating. Instead, start with the area surrounding the clitoris. After a short time of arousal, she'll be ready for you to hone in on the big C.
  • Be tentative. While you may favor a strong grip while you're choking the chicken, a woman is probably used to softer strokes and a lighter touch, at least in the beginning. And while we're on the subject, forget the diving tongue. Your tongue isn't a substitute penis, mimicking intercourse. Instead, think of oral sex as another color in the crayon box. Flicking, rubbing, nibbling, and nuzzling are the name of the game.

  • Use your fingers as well as your lips and tongue. Just because it's called oral sex doesn't mean you have to tie your hands behind your back. This isn't soccer.

  • Use your tongue (for talking). Many women are shy about having a guy's face between their legs. They may be hung up on how they look, taste, or smell. You can make her feel more comfortable (so she will be more likely to relax and enjoy the experience) by letting her know that you're into it, too. It never hurts to say, "You look so sexy," or "You taste so good."

Obligatory Buzz Kill While you can't get pregnant during cunnilingus, there is a risk of STDs, including genital herpes and warts. During menstruation, there is an increased risk of transmitting HIV if the woman is HIV positive. A barrier method of protection (such as a dental dam or square piece of latex) is recommended for any sexual encounter, oral or otherwise, to prevent transmission.

Resources:

Blank, Joani (ed.). Femalia. Down There Press, 1994.

Brungardt, Kurt and Jamie Goddard. Lesbian Sex Secrets for Men. Plume, 2000.

Newman, Felice. The Whole Lesbian Sex Book. Cleis Press, 1999.