How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to email@example.com. Don’t worry, we won’t use names.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband wanted to try anal. I didn’t want to. I let myself be talked into trying. I hated it. We tried again. I hated it. We tried with toys of slowly increasing sizes. I hated it. We tried five different lubes, so much of it that the towels protecting the bed had to be thrown out. We tried different starting positions, going very slowly, the whole nine yards. He tried receiving it to prove that he’s willing to experience the same thing. He didn’t hate it or find it painful at all. I hate every minute of it. We try it now every few months at most.
Even thinking about it makes my skin crawl, and I inevitably cry during and after. My husband will say during the process that we can stop anytime, but I always figure that if I’ve already gotten myself this far, I might as well see it through so I at least get credit for having done it. My husband thinks that the pain I experience is purely due to tension from my own psychological issue with this activity, since he’s experienced it and not found it painful. He is right that I find it icky, and I suppose that’s an arbitrary hang-up of mine. But I still experience real physical discomfort, wherever it’s coming from.
I want to never ever do this again or even hear him ask about it, suggest it, or joke about it. He keeps saying he doesn’t want it to hurt, but thinks it’s fair for him to keep wanting it and keep asking for it without this outsize emotional response on my part. Our relationship otherwise is warm, loving, and full of healthy communication, but this topic makes me shut down, and thinking of my husband as the man who sometimes pesters me to go through this kind of pain on his behalf has done a lot of damage to my enjoyment of sex and intimacy in general. He says he needs some variety. An open arrangement is not on the table. Is one of us being unfair? Are both of us? I would rather be able to do this for him than not be able to, but I just can’t bring myself to go through it again, and I honestly think we’ve tried everything.
Dear No More,
You’re being unfair to your body by pushing through a painful and emotionally difficult experience to—as you phrased it—“get credit” for having done it. It seems like you might be minimizing your feelings, if anything. Your husband is being unfair to you when he invalidates your emotional and physical response, and when he expects your butt to respond the same way his does.
Rectums are delicate, and you should be very cautious with anal pain. While it is certainly possible that there’s a psychological component to your discomfort, neither of you can know for sure, and physical damage can be serious. Inevitable crying, crawling skin, and shutting down are all clear signs of distress. Your husband must notice these things. It sounds like you need a major break from the entire concept of anal, possibly for good, and your husband won’t hear that. Try telling him what you told me in a letter—it might make it easier for you to control your emotions, and he needs to understand how profoundly difficult (and potentially dangerous) this is for you. If you’ve been as direct with your husband as you were in your message, and he still insists on putting you through a painful, tear-filled ordeal, then I think you need to find a couple’s counselor sooner than later.
If you do get through to your husband this time, and he acknowledges what you’ve gone through, then perhaps you could explore other kinds of sex and start repairing your intimacy. I’m hoping your husband’s definition of variety is broader than a single orifice. Are there other kinds of sex he’s interested in that might be more palatable to you? Maybe there’s something you’ve been wanting to try out? Talk to each other—and please listen to yourself (and your body) as you explore.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a woman recently out of a long-term-ish relationship. I’m rebounding and sleeping with a few guys, and sometimes I return to my old habit of faking an orgasm to wind things down when I’m ready. I enjoy sex a lot, but it usually takes me a while to orgasm, especially with new partners. I’ve learned guys tend to internalize this and either take it as a challenge or feel like they left me unsatisfied, despite what I tell them. I experience their reaction as intense pressure to come, making it less likely I will eventually than if I just fake the first few until I get comfortable. I also generally don’t feel sexually frustrated if I don’t “finish” during intercourse, and when I do, I’m comfortable using my vibrator afterward even if my partner is still around. Besides, sometimes I honestly can’t tell the difference between a “plateau” and a small orgasm, so it doesn’t feel like a big deal to say “yes” if he asks if I come, or to moan just a bit louder during the act.
Still: I feel guilty that I might be polluting these guys’ minds into thinking they can make all women come easily. Plus, maybe I’m short-changing myself by not insisting on more, even if I don’t feel like it all the time. Is it unacceptably lazy that I don’t feel like communicating the truth all the time? In relationships I’m much more open, but in casual situations, I’d just rather not.
Dear False Choice,
I think you are selling yourself short when you’re having sexual interactions in which you aren’t comfortable being honest. And while it isn’t your job to educate men sexually, you certainly aren’t helping them out by feeding them bad data.
You don’t have to get into the specifics or your life history with every partner, but I do think you’d have a better time and feel less guilt if you were a little more open and a lot more firm about what you’re after (and what you want to avoid). You know the old cliché of the husband who rolls over as soon as he comes during sex and begins snoring, leaving his frustrated wife staring at the ceiling? We’re in a new world now, where masses of hetero and bisexual dudes feel a need to prioritize female pleasure. This is an improvement, even if it comes with its own downsides, like conflating orgasm with enjoyment.
So let’s start with an appreciation of that desire to get you off. You can say, “I think it’s really great that you want me to enjoy myself. I want to be clear that my orgasm isn’t my focus tonight.” Follow up with what is your focus—the experience of pleasing your partner, the sensations of physical contact, whatever it is that you enjoy about these sexual interactions. Listen to how your potential partner reacts—if they don’t seem to be hearing you, move on.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve been in a serious relationship for two years now, but the last six months have been … frustrating. All at once, we stopped having sex. Later, she’d open up and tell me that she’s asexual and not interested in having sex with me or anyone else. Sometimes we’d try, but she looks uncomfortable, which makes me uncomfortable, so we stop. I need sex and am definitely not asexual, but am very much in love with her. She’s not open to having an open relationship either. What do I do?
—Sexless in Love
Dear Sexless in Love,
Love and sexual fulfillment don’t always line up, and if she’s not willing to open up the relationship, then your options can seem pretty binary—being in romantic love with your current partner versus the potential of sexual relationships with other people. But there’s a third way, which is to exercise patience. A compromise between your needs and your partner’s might not be achievable, but it could be worth staying open to the possibility for another few months because, as you say, you’re in love with this person.
Asexuality is frequently described as a spectrum. Realizing something as identity-informing as asexuality can be a lot for a person to process, and your partner’s boundaries might shift as she works through what this means to her. She might have fears, like you breaking up with her once you’ve established a sexual connection with someone, that become less of an impediment to opening up the relationship as security in her identity and your relationship builds. (Note that I say “might” and “could”—you should accept now that it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that you two won’t be able to work out a functional compromise.)
If you’re willing to give the relationship more time, communicate that and be respectful of her space and body. While you’re waiting, think in detail about what you need in a romantic relationship and what sex means to you. Is penetration necessary? Is being held while you masturbate an acceptable form of sexual interaction? How romantically entangled do you want to be with your sexual partners if you open the relationship? Having some kind of answer to these questions will help you when it feels like the right time to revisit this, and now is a good time to get a deeper grasp of your own sexuality and needs.
Dear How to Do It,
My mom was helping me and my partner move, and we saved our box of sex toys for the very last trip to the moving van. I tried to pick up the box, which we had very carefully sealed and concealed, but my mom helpfully grabbed it first. As we walked out the door, we heard a buzzing noise. My mom goes, “Hmmm, something’s moving around in here! Is there a Furby in this box?” I mumbled something about having probably accidentally dropped my cellphone in there and it was probably vibrating, and ran away to turn off the vibrator that had been jostled into the “on” position. My mom obviously knows that I don’t own a Furby. My question: Does she think I’m a pervert, and HOW CAN I EVER LOOK HER IN THE EYE AGAIN?
Dear Bad Buzz,
Since she was helping you move, I’m assuming you have a pretty decent relationship with your mom. And if she knows you don’t own a Furby, she probably guessed what was happening, made a joke to defuse an awkward moment, and didn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t think you’re a pervert, and she is aware you have a sex life. Take a cue from her grace and let this go—and next time, consider running the batteries down (or remove them, if they’re disposable) before you pack.