“He ain’t this big at home,” the woman seated next to me joked, referring to her XL dildo—an item that was actually listed as a workshop requirement.

In New York, there’s a class for just about anything you could ever want to learn to do, and getting better at giving head is no exception. On a recent Saturday afternoon, I sat alongside 30 or so other women in a small room in midtown Manhattan, all gathered together in the name of upping our oral sex game. For the next two and a half hours, we’d go through a class agenda that included a section on deep throating, how to put a condom on using only your mouth, and 50 or so techniques to use when going down on a guy, from starter moves to “finishers.”

Why was I doing this, anyway?

I’ve been single for the past five years, and as such, my sex life has been… sporadic, at best. Ironically, writing about sex has been my side hustle for almost that entire time, but let me tell you, coming up with a roundup of quickie sex positions is vastly different from actually putting that knowledge to use—especially when you’re not getting in any kind of practice on the regular.

I hadn’t felt confident about myself sexually in a long time—to the point that whenever the opportunity did present itself, I couldn’t really enjoy it. I was so in my head about being sexually out of shape that nothing felt good.

But the big reason I was choosing to sit with a freshly acquired dildo in one hand, pen in the other, ready to take copious notes: I had just started sleeping with a close guy friend of mine.

Stick with me, here; I promise it won’t get sappy. This is a story about blow jobs—not happy endings.

For the past few years, the majority of people I’ve slept with have been acquaintances at best—men I wasn’t really invested in. Don’t get me wrong, I still put in effort. But knowing the chances of ever seeing them again were slim did take some of the pressure off.

Sleeping with a friend comes with higher stakes. Aside from worrying about risking our friendship or, at the very least, making things weird, my main concern was that I really wanted it to be good. Also, we’d talked about potentially going down this road for so long that it’d be a pretty big letdown for both of us if it wasn’t.

I figured that if this were any other area of my life where I didn’t feel prepared for something, I’d find a way to practice until I got it right… or even take a class in it. So, in an effort to learn how to have better sex—back to school I went.

Getting started

After some surprisingly light research (read: Googling “blow job class NYC”), I came across StripXpertease, a female-run company that offers confidence-boosting classes that run the gamut from pole dancing to fellatio. After I forked over $45 dollars to sign up (can you really put a price on a good education?), I received an email with a list of details about what to bring (a dildo, flavored lube, and condoms) and what to expect.

“You will be putting that cucumber/dildo in your mouth,” the email read. “Sucking it, licking it, and most likely gagging on it. Yes, seriously. Yes, everyone.”

Our instructor kicked off our class with a short speech on the importance of communicating with your partner. The main message: It’s critical to get on the same page with them about what they like and don’t like to have done to their dick. This is better than trial and error and will save you both some time.

After the pep talk, we moved on to a lube 101 section, testing out different types of formulas on our hands and learning which each one works best for. Contrary to all the porn BJs I’ve seen, it turns out that flavored lube is a more effective and delicious way to give head than continually hacking up wads of spit to keep things running smoothly.

I was learning new things already.

Learning new tricks

After we got familiar with lube, we suction-cupped our dildos to the table and rubbed them down with our formula of choice. Our instructor asked each of us to grab a flavored condom and showed us how to wedge it in our mouths so that our teeth were holding on to the tip of it. We watched in awe as she went down on her own dildo, took a deep inhale and basically suctioned the entire condom down the base of it using only her lips.

Picturing myself performing this for my guy friend, I knew it’d be the trick I needed to make me feel back on top of my game. I spent the next 10 minutes struggling to nail it, choking on my dildo once, and losing the condom near the back of my throat at one point.

I guess this would have to be homework.

Opposing directions

“If it were up to me, this class would be on just one technique: opposing directions,” our instructor told us.

We had been given a list of hand job and blow job movements and techniques to practice—ranging from starter moves meant to get things going, moves to do toward the middle, and techniques to finish him off. As we were practicing on our dildos, there was a common theme—creating one motion with your hand, mouth, or tongue while going the opposite direction with whatever you had free.

A major takeaway I had from this portion of class was that I had been underutilizing my hands in the whole blow job process. I’d usually rely on my mouth to do all the work—which would end up making my jaw tired and my blow job lackluster. Our instructor also had a solve for this: using your hips to do the back and forth motion instead of your jaw while you’re on your knees.

The class concluded with a deep throating section, where I watched our instructor disappear an entire dildo into the back of her throat in one fell swoop. I did not come even close to mastering this—but I did appreciate the very visual reminder that with enough practice, anything is possible.

Putting it to use

The afternoon before I had plans to see my guy friend, I spent an hour and a half with my dildo and class worksheet. I chose a starter move, mid-move, and finisher to focus on, and proceeded to have at it. Once I felt good about those three moves, I attempted my, ahem, magnum opus: the condom trick. It was slow going at first—I’d either get it not far enough down the shaft or so far down that I’d gag. But the moment that I got it right—and could duplicate it without error—I felt like I was back in the game.

Translating my new skills from dildo to dick was surprisingly seamless. I had gotten so used to grabbing for what I needed (lube, condoms, a paper towel to wipe my dribbling saliva with) that doing it in front of my friend didn’t phase me. I could see a different (better) reaction from him (opposing directions for the win!) this time around. But the look on his face when I pulled off the condom trick on the first try made the blow job workshop and hours of practice I had put in entirely worth it.

Also, it was fun—something I had kind of forgotten sex was supposed to be up until that moment.

Danielle Page is an editor, freelance writer, and self-proclaimed cat connoisseur. She lives in Astoria with her black cat, Nightmare. You can read other things she’s written by visiting her poorly maintained portfolio or just stalk her on Twitter @TheDaniellePage.