Is “can I go down on you?” an Offer or a Request?

Years ago I heard a simple idea about how different people communicate that changed how I saw many kinds of interactions:

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture. In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes.

If you want to dig deeper into the topic, there’s more in the original MetaFilter thread, and this Atlantic article rounds up a number of other takes and links.

Since I heard this distinction, I’ve regularly used this “are you an asker or a guesser” question to start conversations with roommates and partners. We often assume that others share our cultural norms. It just never occurs to us that they could be operating off a fundamentally different set of expectations.

This can lead to issues in all kind of places, like asking to stay with a friend while visiting town, taking the last piece of food at a meal, or expressing what you want in the bedroom.

This comic focuses on how we communicate sexual desires and agree what sexual activities we’ll do with a partner. The distinction I’m making here is a little different than asking and guessing. Here I’m talking about requests and offers, which can sometimes sound very similar. Both can be presented as a question, like “can I go down on you?”