With any given beej, things can deteriorate quickly. Smooth sailing leads to choppy waters in a split second; one minute you’re slurping that popsicle, and the next you could totally hurl.

It’s not your fault. Giving a blow job is an inherently gag-worthy experience—not because it’s gross per se (though it certainly can be, depending on the penis in question, and the person it’s attached to), but because there is a dick going in and out of your mouth straight back to your gag-hole, a.k.a. your throat.

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First of all, every other thing that goes back to that same spot in your throat—like a strep test swab, that tonsil depressor thing doctors use, any hair, ever—generally triggers gag time. And some people just have terrible gag reflexes! I did, for the first thirty years of my life. For a long time, giving oral sex—all that motion!—required some mental workarounds to bypass that plateau period. You know that mental wasteland of repetition in between a job’s thrilling start and the buildup to the big finish? For a while, I thought about cold, sweet ice cream, and it worked.

But this was not a satisfactory solution. I wanted to be able to do it and enjoy it, because otherwise, really, what’s the point? And over the years I thought not just of the pleasure it gave, but the pleasure it gave me to give that pleasure, and like so many activities one can pursue in life, as I got better at it, I liked it more.

But even so, this can’t change the fact that sometimes, mid-blow job, you just gag super hard and have to fight your way through it. Even when you like it! Maybe it’s because you’re kneeled on a bed leaning over a dick, and the contents of your stomach feel like pushing themselves out. Maybe it’s because the dick is not hygienic, which can be straight-up sickening. Maybe it’s because you’re going down on a dude post-intercourse, and the concept of consuming your own bodily fluids throws you off-course. Maybe the guy is fucking your face rather than letting you control the speed and depth—often a bad idea. Or maybe it’s something seemingly minor, like getting a hair stuck in the back of your throat (and if anyone here can work through a hair-in-the-throat situation and keep performing, you’ve earned my lifelong respect).

Point is, it can be a real wild card, this blow job business.

But it’s hard to tell exactly how often people are throwing up while doing it. I asked some friends about their experiences with blow jobs and queasiness, and how often they had gagged or out-and-out barfed trying to get the job done—and in case it’s not clear, I mean the accidental barf, not the on-purpose kind featured occasionally (yep) in porn.

Many had almost puked. Wrote one friend:

“I probably have like gagged and been real worried for a sec that I might throw up, but it’s only as bad as when you gag yourself for any reason.”

Another said, “I want to confirm that I am very good at blow jobs. But it’s happened. It’s not an “about to puke” gag and I have to hold it back, it’s more of a throat-clearing gag? Also I have never really been able to make myself throw up, even when I’m sick and really need to.”

A third answered:

“The worst is when you get a hair back there. It’s impossible not to gag at that point. But it’s never really forced me to stop completely. I’ll just pause for a sec.”

“Yeah, exactly, that same kind of thing, like a cat,” chimed in another. “All you really have to do is re-adjust.”

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One interesting response that arose among the ladies I spoke with was that, as a reaction to the porny culture wherein gagging on a dick is a thing you do to make your man feel big and powerful, they didn’t want the dude to claim responsibility for their gags.

“It’s like, ‘Don’t be proud of this sound, I promise it is not you,’” one shared. “I gag on my toothbrush too. So basically your dick is like a toothbrush. You are exactly as intimidating as Colgate. This is as fun for me as when I brush my tongue for social reasons. My body is rejecting this act, FYI. It’s kind of like hacking up a hairball, like a cat. So imagine your dick is cat hair.”

But sometimes there’s no holding it back, and barf you must—which makes sense if you’re in the midst of a drunk hookup. Here’s the story of one woman who fully threw up mid-blow job during her freshman year of college:

“I really had a crush on this guy and wanted to hook up with him. Drank way too much at the pregame, and continued to drink way too much throughout the night. We started hooking up, and I definitely had the spins and knew I was going to puke but thought it could wait (I was wrong). Right at the end of the BJ I just started puking. I tried to pretend I wasn’t, but, I mean, you can’t hide that. Then he turned on the lights and saw the scene, and ran to the bathroom to puke. We were both simultaneously puking. I ended up hooking up with him on and off for the rest of the year, so...I guess he liked it?”

And it’s not just freshman n00bs who puke on dicks. The mother to your children might do the same thing, and what’s more, roll with it:

“When you’re 35 with two young children and a live-in sibling, finding time to keep things hot in the bedroom can be somewhat of a challenge. One afternoon, we achieved the holy grail of parenting: both kids were napping at the same time! We snuck out to the garage, closed the door, and I crouched down behind a marble table to perform my wifely duties–I know, how romantic. I think we were going for hot and risky. There I was pleasuring my husband when I started to gag. Gagging happens, though. You finish the job. Imagine my surprise when the gagging turned into honest to goodness vomiting…right there on his member. “Oh my god. Did you just puke?” he screamed. “Geezus. I think so. What do I do? What do I do?” I said. “Keep going!!” Raciest thing to happen to our sex life in quite some time. Luckily, we are both still laughing about it.”

If this seems horrifying to you, it’s probably because you don’t have a kid with someone, and so you haven’t yet reached that point in which previously appalling levels of grossness no longer faze you.

Jezebel managing editor Erin Ryan spoke with her friend Drew Grant, who had barfed on not one dick, but several, and who offered a great deal of insight into the experience. Here is their conversation:

Erin: ‪very weird question

Drew: ‪yes!

Erin: ‪HELLO yes this is very very weird, but have you ever barfed on a dick

Drew: ‪yeas. weird. i just answered this question last week in union hall. how did you know?

Erin: ‪oh perfect. i didn’t know

Drew: ‪i’ve barfed SEVERAL TIMES. on SEVERAL DICKS‪. it’s not like BARF barf, but come on. it’s literally a penis trigger in your throat! that’s how girls make themselves throw up so it’s totes natural that as soon as we feel a fleshy digit that far back, our body’s responses quick in.

Erin: ‪makes perfect sense

Drew: ‪but i guess. it’s just that girls know about it and are more sensitive to it

Erin: ‪also men fuck faces like they are totally unaware that a gag reflex exists

Drew: ‪most dudes don’t know about gag reflexes (unless they suck cock or have bulimia) well they LITERALLY DON’T. they have no concept of it. most have never made themselves barf or sucked a cock. so they don’t understand that even if it’s not choking us, it triggers a reaction of vomiting

Erin: ‪what about puke n rally

Drew: ‪nah. that’s when they’re naturally sick

Erin: ‪that’s a good theory

Drew: ‪i think guys know how to do it. most are VERY squeamish

Erin: ‪oh yeah men are wimps. 100% wimps.

Drew: ‪it’s like butt stuff: they don’t wanna think about it

Erin: ‪it is unfathomable to them that their dick could make another person sick

Drew: ‪it’s like “girl shit”

Erin: ‪”but dick for good! dick feel nice!”

Drew: ‪look, i don’t even think it’s a male privilege issue. i just think it’s male ignorance. like they don’t understand what it could feel like

Erin: ‪true

Drew: ‪and even if they did. i mean, probably not that second?

Erin: ‪do you think porn saturation has anything to do with it

Drew: ‪maybe we should get a clockwork orange thing where like, every time we feel sick or they face fuck someone they get REALLY ill. that would work.

Erin: ‪like they believe that because porn ladies like it then all ladies like it?

Drew: ‪yes, porn has def upticked it. but again, just because it’s not something they normally think of. and they see it and are like “oh! that’s a sex thing!”

Erin: ‪like how can it be pleasurable to shove their dicks down a person’s throat

Drew: ‪oh i bet it feels SO GOOD. come on. it’s like super tight and wet and contracting. it’s probably just like a pussy

Erin: ‪haha

Drew: ‪since your throat is all muscle membrane, right?

Erin: ‪oh right. of course it’s just orgasm nerves. those orgasm nerves that all ladies have in places where dicks can go

Drew: ‪right, which also happens when someone is trying to breathe, say, or vomit. so that spasm, which signifies “great job!” in the pussy means something TOTALLY THE OPPOSITE in the throat.

Perhaps some men will chime in and help us understand what’s going on from their perspective —are they really unaware that blow jobs are so dangerously gag-alicious, simply thinking “dick for good! dick feel nice!?” Do they actually want us to gag and/or puke?

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For what it’s worth, there are a number of tips out there to help blow job-givers not gag as much during oral, and they are good ones, like using your hands more, controlling the position, and employing other body parts. And the pros seem to employ an astonishing number of moves with their hands, saving their mouths a lot of trouble. Whatever it takes, right?

Illustration by Jim Cooke.