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,
I’m a hetero woman in her early 30s. I started seeing a new guy after a bad breakup. I expected it to be a fling, but I’m starting to get real feelings for him. The best thing about this is also my problem: The sex is incredible. Specifically, he is incredible at sex. I very rarely come from oral sex with new guys but I did with him the first time, in minutes. He knows exactly how to touch me and where, he is very responsive to my body—he’s just really skilled. So much so that I almost feel shy having sex with him! I am pretty experienced and confident in my body, but when we have sex I feel lazy, like I’m doing less than he’s doing. (He comes from a Christian background and didn’t have sex until he was 25, and he also has a smaller than average endowment, so I think he accepted the card he was dealt and stepped up his game.) He’s a good guy and I like him a lot, but I feel a weird pressure to up my game with him because he’s so good, and that in turn makes me wary of sex sometimes. I wish I could take this as a challenge, but instead it’s making me feel inadequate, probably for no good reason. How do I get over this?
In the worst-case scenario, you are being lazy, but guess what? He doesn’t seem to mind! Sometimes it happens with sexual partnerships that there’s someone who does the bulk of the work—they even have a name for it, the “active” partner (also known as a top, though this designation is obviously more popular in same-sex pairings). In this scenario, your mere presence is enough to turn him on and get him to work—it’s like being a celebrity (or even a vaguely known influencer) in a bar and getting free drinks. You think Gigi Hadid is turning those down?
It sounds to me that your dynamic with this guy has been determined by chemistry. It’s how the cards fell, and if you’re both happy, there is really no need to change anything by looking for a problem. The only challenge at hand is enjoying yourself, so relax. Unless he tells you that you’re “inadequate,” assume that you are not—his gusto is great proof that you’re doing everything right, even if you aren’t doing very much at all. Some guys are givers, and regardless of how he is hung, this one sounds like a gift horse. Please don’t look him in the mouth (unless he wants you to).
Do check in and make sure he’s enjoying himself. If he says he is, believe him and lean in … to his face. You’re coming in minutes. Why fight it?
Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend (gay relationship) has been pushing for an open relationship for two or three years, but I’ve always been uncomfortable with it. We’ve been together for five years and it caught me off guard at first because we did not go into the relationship with this in mind. We started discussing it more and more recently, and I’ve grown more accustomed to the idea. We agreed on ground rules and went for it. But now my boyfriend is upset with me because I’ve been “holding him back” sexually for years but now I’m going from 0–100 in my own exploration. Am I doing something wrong? I’m operating within our rules, but not sure if I was supposed to take things slower. I feel like I’m being resented for how I felt in the past when I wasn’t ready to open things up.
I think you are doing everything right. Your boyfriend’s feelings are not your fault. You have complied with his wishes, and it meant leaving your comfort zone. And now that you’re having fun, he has a problem with it? And what is the problem, exactly? Is he actually upset over missing out on past opportunities to cavort with randoms, or is he afraid that you are enjoying yourself too much? Did he want you to be suffering through the pleasure? Ridiculous. By focusing on principle to this extent, he’s being impractical. There’s no reason for him to be dwelling on the past when he damn well knows what it took you to get to this point. If you two remain open, you potentially have so much no-strings sex in front of you both. The rest of your lives could be devoted to making up for lost time. It took you a while to get where you are, but that was your journey, and a journey that gets you to the desired destination is a worthy one. He should be happy.
But, clearly, he is not. It sounds to me like your man just came down with a case of the be-careful-what-you-wish-fors. I wish I could say that his realization that open relationships come with emotional expenses is his problem, not yours, but the fact of the matter is that if you want to remain in a relationship with him, it is your problem. If he needs to adjust the rules, and it sounds like he does, he should be doing this from a place of honesty and compassion that doesn’t involve castigating you for your sex life, but that reframes what he needs in his. Because open arrangements are the Thomas’ English muffins of love—teeming with nooks and crannies that ooze with heart-clogging emotion—some people just need to assess and reassess practically every step of the way. That may mean the rules change from time to time. As long as they stay equal (or at least, satisfying to both parties), I don’t see a problem with this kind of inconsistency, especially if it keeps you together. Every relationship is a work in progress, anyway, or it’s dead, so if you need to scale back from the abundance of anonymous BJs you’ve been giving, so be it. (Mind you, I don’t think you should have to do that, but hey, I’m not your boyfriend.)
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bisexual woman in her 40s, married to a woman who I’m deeply in love with. We both feel incredibly lucky to have found each other. But I’m feeling a lot of insecurity about how long it takes me to orgasm—10 minutes or so—and also embarrassment that I need to touch myself to actually go there. This has always been how it was for me, with men and women, and I’ve always felt ashamed of it. We’ve tried sex toys, but no matter what, touching myself is a key ingredient. She finds this to be a big turn-on, but I still wish I could orgasm from her touch alone. I’ve tried meditation to get out of my head, since now the self-consciousness makes it harder, but it didn’t work. I’ve read books about sex, which always say that quite a few women don’t even orgasm at all, but I still wanna orgasm more easily! My interest in sex has gone down because I pass judgment about myself instead of just being in the moment. What should I do?
—Touch of My Hand
Dear Touch of My Hand,
So, there is a motif in the first three questions this week of people not being happy with what they have. The human condition is funny, isn’t it? We tend toward mild misery, not letting ourselves enjoy ourselves. In the summer, we blast the air conditioning so that the temperature plummets far lower indoors than we would tolerate in the winter; in the winter, we incinerate ourselves.
Let me start by saying: Congratulations. You’ve got it all. Reading your question, I was waiting for the catch, the part where all the smooth sailing suddenly halted and forced you to row against the tide. But no! You come in 10 minutes! And you know exactly how to make that happen! And your wife is turned on by that! Sometimes I think the captivity humans have imposed upon ourselves is resulting in a species that sits around looking for problems.
So I’m sorry that your orgasmic self and your salivating wife are causing you stress, but, uh … I don’t see why they should be! Ten minutes is not a lot of time to orgasm. I don’t even understand why you want it to be faster. Are you just perpetually on the go? Do you have restless leg syndrome? Do you not enjoy the (by most standards) brief sex that takes place in those 10 minutes to facilitate your orgasm?
Yes, while it is nice to be able to spontaneously orgasm on command, not everyone is like that. Instead of focusing on the perceived inadequacy that comes from your needing your own manual stimulation to get there, look at it this way: You have an intimate knowledge of yourself. Not everyone is so aware. Since masturbation being the key ingredient of your sex has become such a hang-up, why don’t you experiment with incorporating other stimulation? What if your wife were to put her hand on yours as your masturbate to climax, or kiss around your pubic area (including your inner thighs, perhaps even eating your butt) while you get yourself off?
This is all a long-winded way of saying there is nothing wrong with you, and for that reason I think you should be happy with what you have. Nobody’s perfect, but you seem sexually efficient. Not many people can even say that, so cherish it.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a trans guy in my late 20s. Aside from some drunken fumbling in college, the only person I’ve ever slept with is my husband and partner of nine years, a cis gay guy. In 2016 I had complications from a transition-related surgery. I was ill for about a year and a half, which compounded the shock of surgically induced menopause. During that time, my husband—who was previously very against an open relationship—started to have frequent Grindr hookups, and has continued to do so. I was upset, because I hated being unable to meet his needs, but I also thought it was fair. Since then, he has tried to respect my physical limitations, but done so by being a passive recipient of pleasure, never offering to reciprocate in any way. I have frequently raised the prospect of trying different things, to no avail. He’s not very sexually adventurous, it’s awkward, everything hurts, and I think we both find it easier to default to blow jobs or nothing.
Part of me never wants to have sex again. I feel dried up, neutered, broken, and empty. But another part of me is screaming for a connection. I can’t spend the rest of my life/marriage like this. So, I decided to try sex with other people. I’ve been on quite a few dates, but what’s my angle? “Hi, I’d like to sleep with you at some point, but I’m not sure if I can, as I feel terrible, and I’ve never done this with someone other than my husband, and also, I have no dick. Ladies, form an orderly queue!” That’s not what people are looking for, and also, it doesn’t seem fair to ask of someone. It’s clear that I have a lot of work to do in order to fix this. Where do I start?
I’m sorry to hear about your rough time, and really sorry to hear that your husband isn’t more game for satisfying you. It’s just not fair to you, and it sounds like you’ve been so fair to him. If you haven’t in the most explicit terms possible told him you want to try to figure out how to please you, it’s worth a shot. But I do not feel that you should give up or that you’re anything close to a lost cause. By virtue of the fact that you wrote the letter that you did, you’re hanging in there. Your negative feelings don’t have to be permanent, and I think you’ll find they evolve as you become more comfortable, potentially through enjoyable intimacy.
Start by conceiving a goal. I’m not sure exactly what you want, and I think that’s because you aren’t either. A therapist, if you aren’t seeing one, could help you out here. Do you ultimately want a guy to give you oral sex? Do you merely want a connection—something that might, but does not necessarily include sex? Do you want to even the score with your promiscuous husband, just on principle?
The angle that you hypothesized telling potential partners isn’t really a bad one. It is your truth, and you are worthy of satisfaction. Nothing at all there to be embarrassed about imposing on anyone. You can make this request with ease ahead of time, too. Brokering sex on apps can feel about as personal as ordering takeout via Seamless, but it also gives you the opportunity to spell out your needs in no uncertain terms. Conveying exactly what you did to prospective hookups may be exactly what you need to do. Yes, your situation is rather intricate, and guys just looking for a quick cis lay may not have the patience, but they wouldn’t be any use to you anyway. People are complicated, and you can’t help that you’re human. If you don’t advocate for yourself, who will?