Many women have a complicated relationship with their own sexuality: They don’t know what they like, what feels good or what actually gets them off. And that’s just when they’re on their own — throw a partner in the mix and it’s all the more confusing. For that reason, some women experience the tendency to push their partners off them or crawl away, sometimes even literally “climbing the wall” behind them when their partners attempt to go down on them.
This kind of body language would seem to pretty clearly indicate that she’s not having a good time, and yet men often still interpret it as pleasure: On Reddit, people cite making a woman “climb the walls” as a sign of a job well done. Instead, it’s often a sign she’s uncomfortable, either with your performance or with her own body and sexuality.
“I hear about this all the time, and it’s definitely caused by both intensity and shame,” says Shannon Chavez, a psychologist and sex therapist. “It’s a cause of so many internal messages of shame around the body and female pleasure. Instead of focusing on pleasure, she’s preoccupied with thoughts around how her genitals smell and look to her partner, whether or not her skin is smooth and shaved or if she looks sexy enough. Women have been programmed to focus on looking attractive rather than letting go and being in their pleasure. They want to feel desired and tend to focus more on their partner’s experience rather than their own.”
Sometimes, the phenomenon is caused by a lack of masturbation, and thus an unfamiliarity with one’s own pleasure. “If that’s the case, she may feel out-of-control when receiving pleasure and not knowing what to expect,” says Chavez. “If women masturbated more, they wouldn’t only enjoy sex more, but also be able to direct their partner to pleasure them the way they want, rather than what the partner thinks is the right way.
Even for women who are familiar with their own pleasure and masturbation, the experience of being one-on-one with a partner can feel overstimulating. “There’s an internal sense for me where I’m like, ‘Alright, this is taking too long and that’s embarrassing. I think I’m just overstimulated from this and not necessarily going to cum,’ and that’s when I tell them to stop or push them away,” says Ava, 23, from Vermont.
“I feel like I definitely overthink with oral,” says Jade, 24, from Seattle. “I’m often too overstimulated to truly lean into it and enjoy it.”
“We’ve heard the saying the clitoris isn’t a DJ booth,” says Chavez. Many of her clients have reported similar feelings to Jade and Ava, “that partners are using too much pressure and intensity too soon, rather than letting the body warm up and slowly building arousal,” she says.
Both Jade and Ava feel comfortable communicating their pleasure with partners, either encouraging them when something feels good or ending the act when it doesn’t. Unfortunately, not every woman feels able to do this. “Many women feel uncomfortable giving their partners feedback because it’s ended badly before, or hurt egos lead to awkward sexual situations,” says Chavez. “Women need permission to be assertive and free during sex and to focus on her pleasure first. This is one of the first steps in sex therapy. I give women permission to figure out what her needs are before having sex, when she is having sex and after she’s had sex — and to get those needs met.”
Climbing the walls can also be indicative of the worst-case scenario of consensual oral sex: Not only does it not feel good, it actually feels bad. “Sometimes the ‘pleasure’ they are receiving from oral sex is so far off from anything pleasurable that it creates a jerk reaction,” says Chavez. “Partners are using their tongues in the wrong places and too intensely. I’ve heard it all: It feels like a slobbering dog licking your face, biting or nibbling that makes your body want to tense up (but not in a good way), or being so far off from the clitoris that she wishes her partner had a map.”
This isn’t necessarily the partner’s fault. People of all genders can be confused about female anatomy (I recently had to explain the difference between a vulva and a vagina to my 30-year-old sister, who has a child). Only 24 states require that public schools teach sex education, and only 20 of those 24 require that this education be medically accurate. “There’s such a lack of education around female anatomy that most partners really don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to oral pleasure,” says Chavez. “Women report feeling turned off by having to give their partner an anatomy and technique lesson.
Beyond anatomy and technique, part of oral sex feeling bad can be linked to trauma. “Sexual trauma conditions women to feel shame and disconnect from their own sexuality,” Chavez explains. “Trauma can include being shamed, humiliated or assaulted during sex. These messages and experiences stay in the body and can inhibit her ability to let go, trust her pleasure, and be embodied. Trauma programs the nervous system response and requires good therapy to help re-establish an effective mind-body connection.”
Fortunately, all of this is fixable. While trauma usually requires therapy with medical professionals, many of the other reasons women push away from pleasure can be fixed by communicating as a couple. Chavez recommends that orgasms aren’t viewed as a “race to the finish line”: Orgasms take time and patience, and don’t necessarily have to be the goal of a sexual encounter, at all. And though many women lack the confidence to express their desires through words, the body language of climbing the walls says something of its own. “Pulling away or squirming can definitely be communicating to slow down,” says Chavez.
In short: No, she’s not trying to get away from you because she’s having such a good time.