How to Do It

My Husband Hated a Racy Burlesque Show We Attended

Now I’m questioning his sexuality.

A man looks sad and bored while a woman wears burlesque-style clothing.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash and Image Source/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

Recently, my husband and I accidentally attended a burlesque show. We knew there would be a few burlesque performances, but the advertisements suggested more of a variety show. Of the 10 performances, only two didn’t involve a striptease. My husband offered to leave after it became clear that the remaining show was only going to be stripteases, but I was enjoying myself, so we stayed. I was a little surprised to realize at this point that during the performances he was closing his eyes and listening to the music, but whatever. We weren’t expecting such a sexually charged show.

It wasn’t until we left that I realized how far apart we were in our experiences. I found the burlesque inspiring, and spent most of the show thinking about ways I could incorporate elements of performance into the bedroom with things I already own. My husband absolutely hated it and went on for some time how ridiculous he thought it was. Basically, everything I loved about it—the costuming, the goofiness, the elements of camp and drama—he hated. He never shamed or suggested the women involved were lowering themselves (though he skirted the line with some quasi-feminist objectification comments), but I was a little annoyed to have even the fantasy of bringing some burlesque play into the bedroom shot down so quickly.

Frankly, this is bringing out something ugly in me and I find myself questioning my husband’s sexuality. I know human sexuality is more complex than naked woman = horny man, but still. I haven’t said anything to him about these thoughts and don’t intend to. I do want to explore burlesque further. I know doing a sexual performance for someone who isn’t into it would be no fun for either of us, so I’m trying to find an outlet that would be acceptable for us both. I am planning to start a burlesque class. I’ve been frank in telling my husband that my final goal is to do a stage performance at least once. But I almost find myself changing my mind about taking the classes because I wonder if I might be borrowing trouble and begin to resent that this won’t be something I’ll be able to “use in the bedroom.” What do you think?

— If You Could See Her

Dear If You Could See Her,

I have to deal with the beginning of your third paragraph first. It’s a low blow. Don’t try to classify your husband as not-straight because he doesn’t enjoy burlesque camp. That thinking is retrograde and, to use your word, can get quite ugly. You can do better.

It seems like you’re fighting an urge to force your husband into participating in something he doesn’t like. Good. Fight that fight. Keep your less-constructive reactions to yourself, and try to figure out why this is getting to you so much. Ask yourself: Why do you need your husband to be involved in your exploration of burlesque? Why do you need him to be an appreciative audience? Why do you need to use it in the bedroom for it to be worth the energy and cost of classes?

I’ve never been married, but it seems perfectly reasonable for spouses to have hobbies the other dislikes or doesn’t care about, even if they might involve a racy performance. You’re still individuals. Linked, intertwined, but still individuals. Handle yourself and—unless he brings it up—assume your husband is handling himself, too.

If you decide to go through with a show, and your husband pulls out his vaguely feminist objectification framing again, you can tell him all sorts of things. For one, isn’t self-objectification a way to reclaim our bodies and autonomy in a patriarchal world? It’s your body, it’s your choice, and it’s yours to exploit as you see fit. Or, you know, go to your classes and tell him it’s something you’re doing for you—as long as that’s the case.

Dear How to Do It,

Why are men so bad at fingering? Frustration is leading me to exaggeration here, but I really can’t believe how many men don’t seem to understand the need to be gentle, halting, and slow, at least at first, when he’s coming at you with his fingers. It’s gotten to the point where I nearly threw a guy out of bed last night because he practically bruised my clit. I’m sorry to be blunt, but what can I do about this? Make my partners take a seminar and pass a test before I’ll let their hand near me? I’ve tried guiding them with my hand, but it seems to correct them for about five seconds; I’ve tried telling them not to do anything to my vagina with their fingers they wouldn’t want me doing to their butt. Nothing works!

—Callous

Dear Callous,

Repetition.

Seriously. When men take direction well but default back to their (too fast, too hard, too early) standard, repeat yourself. Be blunt with them. Be as blunt as you’ve been in your letter. Show them that moment in Chicago when Roxie is making fun of her husband for treating her nipples like a radio dial—“I love ya, honey, I love ya!”—and tell them to stop doing the same thing to your clit.

You could send your partners to a seminar, but unless you’re the one teaching it, you’re probably going to have to provide additional guidance. Every person—every vulva and vestibule—is different and requires a slightly different approach. So try to help out your partners. Words like gentle are subjective. It helps to give more detailed feedback to your partner so he can dial in on what gentle and slow actually mean to you. Be clear, and remember that there’s not a Golden Rule of Fingering—your preferences aren’t everyone’s.

This isn’t necessarily a man-specific problem, either. I’ve found myself defaulting to an oral technique that isn’t what the person in question prefers and needing a reminder to be slower, faster, or watch those teeth. I’ve touched women the way I like to be touched, and needed feedback to improve.

Alternately, maybe you’re a bit burnt out on dating. You might consider taking a break and logging some quality time with your vibrator until you’re ready to work through the communication difficulties that occur when two people are learning how each other’s bodies work.

Dear How to Do It,

I’ve been single for about a year now after leaving an entirely sexless marriage (I’m only 27!). I find myself with an odd issue: a majorly fluctuating libido. It doesn’t matter the gender of the partner (I’m a bi woman): I find I go from the early “honeymoon” phase of wanting to do it as often as humanly possible to complete disinterest, seemingly overnight. I’d previously put this down to the classic “lesbian bed death,” as my last few partners were women, but then once single, it happened again. Newly single, about three months of wanting to bone everyone in sight and a hell of a lot of masturbating, and then, click. Nothing at all for the following nine months. Any idea why? It’s been an issue in previous relationships! Hence the sexless marriage, when I was going through a long “maybe I’m just asexual” patch. Do I just need to be on the lookout for a partner with an equally low sex drive and go back to wanking furiously when the mood suddenly arises?

—Mercurial Drive

Dear Mercurial Drive,

I think you should speak to a medical professional to rule out, well, I’m not exactly sure what. I was wondering if you might be idealizing your partners and losing interest when you begin to uncover flaws, but if you’re experiencing the same dip when you’re not in a relationship, that doesn’t seem like the most likely culprit. So speak with your doctor and see what medical explanations there might be.

If the answer is that this is just how your sex drive works, you absolutely could find a partner with a low sex drive and masturbate furiously during your three-month frisky phase. Another possibility is an open arrangement with someone whose drive matches your high end, with them getting their sexual needs met elsewhere during your less-interested stretches. Depending on where you live and what the casual sex and poly scenes are like in your area, you might also consider short, recurring partnerships. I’m sure there’s someone out there who would love a temporary secondary partner, lavish on you all the sex you want at that time, and be fine when your well of wantonness dries up, putting things on hold until the following year.

I’m not sure if this is in your head at all, but something in my gut says it’s worth mentioning: Family is what we make of it. You don’t have to be married to be living with community. Platonic domestic partnerships can be beautiful, too.

Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have been married for 11 years and dated for 14 years before that. We are very happily married and adore each other in many ways. We have no children by choice. I am 67 and he is 56. In our early years together, we partied an awful lot. We also had great sex and had it often. Then around 15 years ago, things began to change. I noticed that we were making love far less often than in the past. Then I noticed that the only time we made love was when he was sloppy drunk (and I wasn’t). The last time we made love, in about 2003, I was sober and he was very drunk, fumbling and smelled of stale beer. I pushed him away, said, “I can’t do this” and cried myself to sleep.

We have never made love since. I attempted many times to have conversations with him about whether there was a problem, an issue we needed to work out. I never got an answer, and eventually stopped asking. I asked again and again if the problem was that I’d gained weight. He swore is wasn’t. I then lost 70 pounds down to below the weight I was when we met. Still no lovemaking. We went to Paris. One night I strolled out of the bathroom wearing some lacy black lingerie and he literally screamed at the sight. Said not to spring things like that on him. We ended up laughing about it. (It’s OK. You can laugh, too.)

Flash-forward to now. We have both been making noises about how we’d like to try again making love. I would be thrilled! I’m not sure how to get things started, though. And since I am now quite a lot heavier, I’m not even sure how to work out the logistics of lovemaking. I believe my husband when he says my weight is not a turn-off to him or a problem for him. Where do we start? (He doesn’t enjoy receiving oral sex.) What should I try? We both want our sexual life back. Back massages cause him to fall asleep. Should I switch things up before he gets to that point? What other suggestions can you offer?

—Back at It

Dear Back at It,

It’s beautiful that you’re able to believe your husband’s words about your body and lovely that the two of you are trying to rekindle your flame. Jessica Drake’s Guide to Wicked Sex: Plus Size can help you with the physical logistics part using video—that’s the easiest way to demonstrate arrangements of bodies. Drake is known for having a deft sex-ed touch, and I’ve seen positive feedback from plus-size people.

Given your husband’s startled response to lingerie, you definitely want to leave the props, implements, and costumes at the store. When it comes to praxis, focus on being physically present together, breathing in tandem, inhabiting the same space. Start with kissing or even just staring into each other’s eyes. Rehash fond memories from your glory days together. Talk about how much you want to want each other. Focus on your love, the qualities you admire about each other. All of this is an intellectual and emotional sort of foreplay. Follow your impulses and pay attention to any positive sexual feeling you experience—those whispers of libido can light the path toward full-blown desire.

You said your husband doesn’t like oral sex. There are many other ways of engaging in teasing or warmup contact. You can lie together, heart to heart and genitals to genitals. You can always use your fingers (unless he doesn’t like that, either), and you can try kissing erogenous zones outside the crotch region like his ears or neck.

Hopefully some of these tips help. Remember you care for each other and want this, and I think you’ll have a great time.

More How to Do It

I live in an apartment with stereotypical “thin walls” and with frequently noisy neighbors. This isn’t a complaint. I actually enjoy hearing them have sex and commonly masturbate while listening. I recently had a friend over, during which time we overheard the neighbors going at it. My friend commented that it must be so annoying to have neighbors like that, but I confessed that I enjoyed it and would sometimes masturbate to it. My friend was very offended by this—she thought it was a massive invasion of the neighbors’ privacy and equated it to hiding in their closet. My belief is that since the neighbors would understand the limited soundproofing of the building, they then concede the right to auditory privacy when they’re very loud. So as long as I am within the confines of my own apartment and not trying to actively record them or use some sort of sound-enhancing equipment, I have not invaded anyone’s privacy. Have I overstepped, or am I in the clear?