Dear Beloved MKE SEX,
I have a question that I think only you can answer. I’m having a frustrating argument with my boyfriend. I have a superpower sense of smell. It’s a huge problem actually. It feels crippling sometimes. I’ve been actually trying to get in to a neurologist about it but the medical system is just overloaded right now. I can’t live in cities, it’s torture sharing a bathroom, I’ve not been able to fuck some (most) people because of it. I always make weird excuses not actually saying what my issue is because I don’t want to embarrass them. And sadly this is mostly an issue with vagina havers. Occasionally a dude’s nuts smell like French cheese to me and I can’t go there either. I literally can’t have sex with someone unless they are right out of the shower. My fella has a vagina, and I’ve explained (and it was torture to do so) to him that it’s not about being repulsed by his smell. It’s that I can actually smell him better when he’s clean—if he’s funky it’s too overwhelming. That said he’s not making any effort anymore to do this as he says we’re “out of the honeymoon phase”.
My boyfriend also says this is slut shaming and misogynistic. This could be because last night I told him that after his Dom fucks him I can tell because he smells different. And it’s not a pleasant experience for me. But to be really clear, I LOVE that he has a Dom (extremely covid safe) and relish hearing every detail about their play. And I’ve told him that!
So my question is—am I being a misogynist and slut shamer? Also, how do I tell this to future (post-pandemic) dates without embarrassing them?
The condition you’re describing sounds like hyperosmia (heightened and hypersensitive sense of smell), which can be caused by a variety of things, including migraines, pregnancy, Lyme disease, and others. It’s great that you’re trying to get in to see a neurologist, because you’ll need a doctor to actually diagnose this. Hopefully they’ll have some long-term suggestions or therapies for you. Additionally, getting a diagnosis can help legitimize the situation—for both of you. Having a name for something makes it a real thing, and not just some hang-up.
As for your question: I don’t think you’re slut shaming. And it doesn’t sound like misogyny either. However, since your boyfriend also has a vagina, it’s understandable that he might feel that way about the situation. Our culture is so thoroughly steeped in stigma about vulvas and vaginas: what they smell like, what they look like, who should get to touch them, how they should be touched. In this case, perhaps your fella is having a knee-jerk reaction based on living in a misogynistic culture, instead of recognizing that you have a physical limitation that requires reasonable accommodations. It’s reasonable to expect those accommodations throughout a caring relationship, not just during the “honeymoon phase.” For example, if you explained to your partner that you were allergic to scented products, it wouldn’t be okay for them to suddenly start wearing perfumes a year into the relationship after respectfully abstaining in the beginning. Your situation is very similar. Though it may feel like a familiar round of patriarchal vagina-shaming to them, the reality is that you have a real need based in medical fact and you deserve consideration.
I think this is one of those things that is just going to be worked through with interpersonal communication and compassion. As I mentioned before, getting in to see a neurologist and (hopefully) finding a treatment plan may help him understand what’s happening with you. Still, it sounds like it might be a difficult journey to understanding, so having a mediator could help. A sex-positive therapist might be in order as you navigate this together.
Going forward into future relationships, I think the best bet is going to be to talk about it right away—before sex is even on the table. Saying, “I have this thing, I have it with everyone, it’s definitely not personal,” and then go from there. I think planning for ways to include clean-up in your play could be helpful. Can you shower with someone before sex? Do you have any kind of big soaking tub or hot tub available to you? If you’re kinky, can you tie into a scene or ritual about clean-up or hygiene?
It’s also a good idea to build in an out for yourself as new sexual relationships are developing. Discuss fun, sexy alternatives so folks are ready because you’ve already talked about it. If you can’t bring yourself to fuck someone when they smell strongly, can you be in the room while they jerk off? Can you get yourself off in front of them? Are there types of sex play that are appealing to you that don’t require you being all up in their business?
There are a few other things to try for this relationship, future relationships, and your life in general. Many people with hyperosmia can tolerate and utilize real peppermint because it sort of resets the olfactory nerves. If this is true for you, keep peppermint gum or breath mints with you, and use them as soon as you encounter a smell that is overwhelming to you. At home, using peppermint oil on cotton balls around high traffic areas can keep other odors at bay to some extent, and they can be easily disposed of quickly if they’re not working for you. Weather and air quality permitting, keeping a window open (even cracked) can be helpful for “blowing the stink outta there,” as my mom used to say. Also, think about getting a really good air purifier that not only has a HEPA filter but also uses UV for cleaning. Running one in your bedroom (or wherever you are) during sex play might pull some of the ambient smells out of the air enough to manage even if things get a little funky.
Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll get back to you with an answer.