How to Do It

My Boyfriend Is, Uh, Huge

How can I make this work … physically?

Woman meditating in front of a glowing neon eggplant.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by 4FR/Getty Images.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com. Don’t worry, we won’t use names.

Dear How to Do It,

My boyfriend is, uh, huge. Long and thick as my wrist. We go slow and use lots of lube, but my vagina has a tendency to get really tight when I’m close to coming (and I’ll be close for like 10 minutes before it happens) and it leaves us both quite sore—though because of endorphins, I tend not to feel the pain until the next day. And we’re currently in that new-relationship period where we just want to screw nonstop as often as possible. I see sex tips about how to make a vagina feel tighter, but what can I do to loosen things up a bit? And what can I do to soothe my junk after a long weekend bang-a-thon?

—Big Problem

Dear Big Problem,

Tension in the vagina and groin is usually integral to the process of orgasm—Kinsey’s cyclical contractions and all that. Since you’ve done the usual lube-and-patience routine, you may need to ration your dick-delivered orgasms until your body adjusts to your boyfriend’s endowment. If you’re able to orgasm from digital or oral sex, try doing that before you get penetrated both to loosen up and to achieve gratification.

Do you do Kegel exercises? Even though your goal is to relax those muscles, Kegeling can provide a physical awareness of your lower insides and help you get a better idea of exactly which parts are in pain. Pay special attention to the relaxation step, since that’s the direction you want to go in.

Once you’ve got the hang of both clenching and release, incorporate breathing. You’re about to see me go full hippie, so stay with me. Breathe past your chest, through your belly, and all the way into your pelvic floor. Relax everything—including your jaw and toes and fingers if you can, but definitely every part of your groin—and then contract, starting with the muscles around the opening of your vagina, as you exhale. On every inhale, imagine your hips becoming more round and your vulva developing a wide, welcoming smile. If it feels silly, you’re probably doing it right. Practice this for a few minutes every day. You want to be able to reach that state of internal relaxation at will during penetrative sex. I want to underline that the very thing that may allow you to accept your boyfriend’s penis with less pain will probably also mean deferring orgasm, or achieving it another way, but you have to take care of yourself first.

As for the aftermath, get a (small!) dildo made of glass, metal, or really anything that can go in the fridge and then inside you. Actually icing your vagina is probably too much, but a cool internal compress can help with swelling and pain. Over-the-counter pain relief is also an option. Soaking in a warm bath seems to help, too.

One last tip you didn’t really ask for: To accommodate superlative length, you can wrap your hand around the base of your boyfriend’s penis and squeeze or stroke while he’s penetrating you, so he doesn’t go too deep. Best wishes on your big adventure.

Dear How to Do It,

Since a crummy breakup, I’ve felt a little off sexually for the past month or two, despite a sex drive that is normally much higher than average. In that time, I’ve also reconnected with a man I used to see casually and who is also going through a hard time. Our hangouts have been platonic and commiserate-y, but the other night, I got that feeling and kissed him, and we started having sex. I felt safe with him. But then, suddenly, he slapped me. Then he slapped me again, hard, and again. (For context, I am a 5-foot-2 woman, and he is a tall muscular man.)

I was too stunned to say anything at first—this isn’t off the menu for me with consent, though we’d never done it before—and then I just pushed him off and started bawling in the bathroom. He seemed really taken aback and apologized. I told him this is not OK without communication, and he said he misread the mood and continued to apologize. But he really violated my trust when I was feeling especially vulnerable. We have a very close connection that I don’t want to cut off over this—he does seem genuinely contrite—but is having sex with this man again a terrible idea?

­—Stunned

Dear Stunned,

Right now? Yes. Having sex with this man again without some recovery time and a couple of serious conversations is, I believe, a terrible idea.

Decide whether you value the connection the two of you have for platonic reasons or solely sexual reasons. If you value the companionship, make that clear first and be that much more cautious with the sexual aspect. Permanently removing sexual interaction from the table—or walking away entirely—would be perfectly reasonable courses of action, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what you want.

So, be as direct as you’ve been with me. Tell this man that his mistake still has ramifications no matter how apologetic he is, that your trust has been damaged, and that you’re going to need some space before you can consider sex again. If he balks or tries to negotiate, stop the interaction and prepare to rethink the potential of having this person in your life in any capacity.

Presuming that first talk goes well, spend some time together outside of the bedroom rebuilding trust, and give your body a chance to recover from any trauma you might have internalized. Have a second discussion, this time about what level of active consent you need to feel safe, and how you’d like any escalation of kink to be handled. If he grumbles about feeling like he’s in an HR meeting, or goes into “but I already said I’m sorry” mode, move on.

When your interactions have normalized, if you still want to try sex again, proceed incredibly slowly. Your reaction to the initial slap sounds alarmingly like a freeze response, and those can be dangerous for people who experience them—freezing sometimes means the person can’t get the words out to call for a stop. You might want to talk with him, or really any future sexual partner, about what the freeze response is, what it looks like specifically for you, and how to navigate the situation if it happens. (Full stop to sexual activity—including genital disengagement—and a “squeeze my hand if you’re here” are a good start.)

Remember to listen to your gut in addition to your vagina, and you’ll be well-equipped to evaluate whether it becomes a good idea to revisit sex with this particular man or not.

Dear How to Do it,

I’m a 28-year-old mostly gay trans man. I have a fetish that is the only truly consistent way for me to get aroused, and frankly, although I don’t think it’s wrong or gross or bad, it’s annoying and logistically inconvenient: The only thing that really gets me horny consistently and without a lot of work is really dramatic makeovers, but most of all, really dramatic hair makeovers. For some reason, I especially like seeing very long hair cut into bobs.

As much as I don’t judge myself for this particular arousal pattern, it’s obviously not something I can really fulfill in any regular way. (I like my own hair long, a bob would be too feminine for me, and even if that wasn’t the case, a haircut every couple of years is sort of … unsatisfying, and finding a supply of people who want their long hair cut short on a regular basis seems unlikely.) Even beyond the difficult-to-fulfill nature of this particular fantasy, it’s so specific and repetitive I don’t want to ask for dirty talk about it from my boyfriend. Even for me it gets a bit boring. I have other kinks, but this is almost always the one I use to push myself over the edge, and I’m like “Ugh, this again?” What would you do here? Is there any way for me to expand my palate sexually so I don’t have to masturbate to the same thing every time?

—Hairbrained

Dear Hairbrained,

The DSM-5 suggests that fetishism is only a disorder when the fetishist finds their desire problematic or distressing. I agree—fetishes are fine, as long as they’re fun for the people involved—and it sounds like you do, too. But this particular predilection does seem to be bothering you. If you can afford it, I’d proceed directly to a sex-positive therapist and work this out with an expert over the course of a few weeks or months. The Kink Aware Professionals directory may be able to help you find one, and video chat might be an option if you have difficulty finding someone in your area.

In the interim, I think you’re on the right track with expanding your palate. Does fantasizing about your other kinks more deeply make them more appealing? It could lead to some tantalizing ideas, or at least a deeper understanding of what makes your body respond. Are there interests of your boyfriend’s that appeal to you? Can you sexualize his enjoyment of something that isn’t naturally in your repertoire?

More practically, you’ve probably thought of this, but just in case you haven’t: Do wigs work for you? If so, get some inexpensive long wigs and chop them to your heart’s desire.

Dear How to Do It,

My boyfriend is the only person I’ve ever slept with. When we first started having sex, I didn’t really know what I liked or wanted. My boyfriend has always been attentive, so I always had multiple orgasms. As time went on, I started having fewer orgasms, but still more than one. It mostly seemed like the initial excitement had died down a bit, and we had really a more normal equilibrium. As I started to realize what I liked or didn’t like, I started making suggestions during sex (go slower, where to touch me, etc.).

However, I’ve run into a problem. The “default” way my boyfriend handles foreplay isn’t actually what I prefer. He goes with direct and fast, whereas I prefer slow and teasing. It took me a while to realize this. I can ask him to go slower or change something specific in the moment, and he will. The next time, he always drifts back toward his default. The thought of just sitting down and explaining to him what I want versus what he does is scary. The alternative, constant correction during sex, doesn’t seem good either. But we’ve been sleeping together for six years, and I feel like I only recently figured out what I like. Now that I’ve realized this, I want to act on it to avoid frustration in the future. My boyfriend never asks for anything—when I ask him how to make it better for him, he says everything feels amazing and he doesn’t have any particular preferences. This makes me feel more uncomfortable about asking for something, because it feels one sided But I know that if we have this talk, sex will get better. How do I start?

—Tongue-Tied

Dear Tongue-Tied,

I’m inclined to push back on your framing of this as “one-sided.” I don’t see that. Here’s what I do see: Your boyfriend’s sexual needs are being met, and yours aren’t. Your sexuality has changed and bloomed as time has gone on—as you’ve grown, and as the relationship and your experience have progressed—and you need a way of gently communicating this to your partner. Because you say he’s always been attentive and takes direction well during sexual activity in the moment, I think it’s safe to assume that he wants to get you off and have the best sex possible.

The return-to-default mode that you describe is incredibly common with straight men, and probably many of us. And constantly saying “No, softer. No, less direct stimulation” can begin to feel like you’re stuck in no mode.

After six years together, you’ll know how to pick a time when you two can give each other your full attention for an hour or so. Start with “You’re good at listening when I ask you to do something specific while we’re having sex.” Tell him you enjoy the sex the two of you have, the orgasms are great, and you think the sex could be even better. Then move into it fully: “One of the things I’ve learned about my sexuality is that I love gentle touch. I’d like to explore that further with you.” If you can give specific examples, like that one time after cleaning day or a particular thing he does really well, point those out.

Try presenting it as a game or a challenge—the “How Softly Can You Tease Me?” game—if that seems like something that would engage your boyfriend. Or directly sexualize it with, “Let’s try to wind me up, and then give me an orgasm so hard it knocks me off-balance.” The goal here is to get him to internalize how much you enjoy teasing, and letting him reap the benefits of your pleasure. Broaching new sexual desires with an existing partner can be scary, but I think you’ve got this.

—Stoya