How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m dating a new man whom I like very much. When we became intimate, I was pleasantly surprised that he was very well endowed (about 8 inches). The sex is solid and getting better, but I’ve noticed his erections are not particularly, well, erect—he’s definitely hard and penetration isn’t a problem, but he’s not rock-hard like many men I’ve been with in the past. I raise this question because it reminded me that another very well-endowed man I was with in the past also had this issue; he’d be hard, but he was never going to cut a diamond. Is this common? Is there just not enough blood to power the biggest guys? More curiosity than a problem, I admit!
Since I’m not a doctor and am only moderately interested in playing one on the internet, since I don’t encounter much soft wood in the wild, and since a Google search for such boner-based issues yields a flood of ads and spam-con, I consulted an actual professional to get you a real answer. Dr. Charles Welliver, director of men’s health at Albany Medical College and an American Urological Association member, tells me that these functional, less-than-full-mast dicks are “pretty common.”
“People think you either have a perfect erection or no erection,” he explained. “In reality, it’s a continuum. This guy probably has mild E.D. He’s not getting the proverbial diamond cutter, but he’s most of the way there. Some urologists use a grading scale out of 4, where 4 out of 4 is fine and 1 out of 4 is a chub, to use a goofy term. Three out of 4 is like a banana with a peel off, which I guess it sounds like this would be.”
He added that size doesn’t really factor in here—that is, the blood demanded by a monster plantain isn’t much more than that which is used to fill an average-sized banana (maybe about an ounce more). Thus, that you encountered limp-ish dick in multiple hung men is “probably a weird coincidence.”
I detect from your optimistic though far-from-rave review of the sex that you have chosen to include in your query that this may be somewhat vexing you and/or affecting your sex life, even if you didn’t explicitly say so. Whether your new man pursues treatment is a matter of preference, according to Dr. Welliver. “All this is entirely ‘patient bother’ and function,” he told me. “If a guy or his partner is bothered by it, it would warrant consideration of treatment. This guy would probably go on a low dose of something like Viagra and be at full diamond-cutter status pretty easily.” He said a cock ring isn’t something generally recommended by the medicinal community, by the way. It’s more “recreational,” and cautioned that if kept on for too long, it could do damage.
And Welliver wouldn’t be an over-achievingly responsible doctor/media source without a potentially useful PSA about erection health, so here goes: “If it is a younger guy with E.D., particularly unhealthy guys in their 30s with bad E.D., I make a point to say, ‘Hey man, you have to start taking care of yourself here. Your penis is going to stop working. It’s a canary in a coal mine.’ It’s an opportunity to get on these guys about their overall health. Sometimes there are other vascular issues going on.”
I hope this has helped manage your curiosity; I learned something, at least.
Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I have been together for two years. For much of the relationship, we have been long distance—though we see each other several weekends a month and throughout the summers. Frustratingly, though, our sex life is nonexistent when we are not together. I’ve brought up masturbation, and he seems interested enough in me doing so, but he never contributes. I asked him about his experience, and his response was just that he didn’t talk about it.
I’m not sure how to make this better. Sex is good when we’re together but always takes a day or so to get used to being around each other again. How can we remain intimate while not together if he doesn’t seem willing to talk about his own masturbation?
—Remember Phone Sex?
I’m not exactly sure what you’re looking for. Are you? You say, “I’ve brought up masturbation,” but what does that mean? Conceptually? Philosophically? As something to do together via FaceTime? As something to do separately and talk about? It seems like you’re assuming some sort of expected course of action here that I’m not sure exists—I’ve had relationships that have had intermittent (and occasionally prolonged) periods of proximal separation, and when I jerk off during those times, it has been and remained my business. If my boyfriend “brought up masturbation,” I wouldn’t know what to do with that, either. If you’re looking for your own personal cam show, it could result in unease on his part about the possibility of being unknowingly recorded. I’m not saying you’d do that, but people are paranoid out here.
You have to be clearer if you want results. You may be aware that our puritanical culture has a way of making people feel bad about feeling good, so shame could be keeping your boyfriend from opening up the invites to his party of one. He might never be down with whatever you’re trying to get up to, but luckily intimacy takes many forms: love letters, fantasy swapping, sincere conversations about how this whole long-distance thing feels and your mutual resolve to make it work. Poke around and see if he’s interested in participating in any of those things, or ask him directly how he envisions fostering intimacy from afar. You write, “Frustratingly, though, our sex life is nonexistent when we are not together,” but that seems perfectly natural to me—the further your genitals are from each other, the more difficult it becomes to have a sex life with your partner. You’re just going to have to get creative and stop assuming that these things are a given.
Dear How to Do It,
The last person I dated and slept with had genital herpes. Maybe relevantly, they had the HSV-1 (typically oral) version. Transmitting HSV-1 sexually seems to be pretty rare, the person hadn’t had an outbreak in years, and we were good about condom use on the handful of occasions when we had sex. I did an STI screen after we stopped seeing each other, which came back negative on all counts, but it did not check for herpes. When I brought this up with my doctor, she wasn’t particularly concerned and said that she would only order a test if I exhibited symptoms and that I would see positive results on a standard blood test for HSV-1 if I have a childhood history of cold sores, which I do.
The question is, how should I ethically and thoughtfully explain this to future partners? How would you bring it up and discuss it?
Dear Full Disclosure,
You could explain you what just did in the same words that you just used. You were clear, efficient, nonthreatening, and it wouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Of course, “I might have herpes” is something virtually every member of the sexually active population could say (especially since a lot of people who carry the virus are asymptomatic), and guess how many people actually do? Very few! While your situation is unique in that you’re aware of possible transmission, this kind of admission is somewhat redundant. To signal this, you are essentially putting a mark on yourself while so many of your less concerned brothers and sisters in genitalia remain mum on the topic and eat the profits. This is the price you pay for being a conscientious person. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be as good.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t discuss your potential HSV-1 of the genital region, I’m just trying to put said disclosure into perspective. You do have HSV-1 in your mouth, no potentials about it, so that’s something you could disclose, as well, since you’ve got the fever for the fessin’. And you know that daily valacyclovir use greatly reduces the risk of herpes transmission, right?
This level of care and concern suggests you have the makings of a good partner. And anyway, I don’t quite understand why people get so bent out of shape about herpes—I guess because it’s forever? If you go outside, you might get rained on; if you go to bed with someone, you might get herpes. At this point, the risk should be assumed, but I applaud you for your openness and desire to communicate about an infection you might not even have. That’s big.
Dear How to Do It,
After an incident of sexual abuse as a child, I always equated my desires with disgust and shame. Somehow, I managed to eke out a rudimentary sex life through my late teens and into college, though it could usually only happen when my inhibitions were drowned with alcohol. So I was never able to really develop a healthy sexual relationship.
Fast-forward to my mid ’30s. Frustrated with an overactive libido and still haunted by my abuse—despite years of therapy—I called my first prostitute. I decided to fight shame with shame. And it was amazing. For the first time, there was not an iota of shame. Having sex with nothing hanging over me (other than the social risks) and no emotions or guilt weighing me down was an epiphany. And when I returned to the nonprofessional world of sex, I was able to enjoy exciting exploratory sex with women that I could be with without shame—to have sex with the lights on!
But my libido is still in high gear at 48. I have a healthy sex life, but I haven’t been in a long-term relationship in a couple years. When I hit dry spells, my libido really makes things uncomfortable, and I’ve been known to visit a local strip club. Recently, I befriended a dancer at my local club where I was a bit of a regular. For the most part, she would keep me company at the bar, and we would have long discussions while she waited for customers to get lap dances. But she would always come back to me, and she was always very physical with me, touching me and even sitting in my lap. I know her feelings were genuine because I would rarely get lap dances from her, or any other of the girls for that matter, and didn’t throw money around. When I would get lap dances from her once in a while, it was always incredibly hot, since we had spent so much time talking and had developed a bit of a connection. I know it’s naïve, but I’m sure she was aroused as well. So one night, I unzipped my pants and pulled out my penis while she was giving me a lap dance. That is probably most dancers’ worst nightmare, but I felt like she wanted me to, and when I did, she didn’t miss a beat and whispered in my ear that I was a bad boy. My entire body was engulfed in an erotic tingle. I’ve heard women talk about body orgasms; I’m not sure if that’s a thing for men, but it felt amazing even though I didn’t come. This went on a few more times until one night I couldn’t help but ejaculate. After that, it wasn’t quite the same between us, as if I had crossed an unspoken boundary.
I’m not looking for relationship advice or wondering what went wrong. What I am wondering is how this piece fits into the bigger puzzle of my history of abuse and shame around sex—how, while I have made so much progress conquering my shame (and have had relationships with lovely, sexy, and reciprocating women who care about me), I still resort to this, which seems like the actions of someone with no self-respect. Am I so damaged that I would consider a relationship like this meaningful?
Dear Damage Control,
With respect to your trauma, I want to acknowledge that what was done to you is unimaginable, and child abuse is among the most deplorable and devastating of social ills—it literally ruins lives. That said, what you describe sounds like run-of-the-mill shitty man stuff. Even if it was the direct result of your abuse—and I’m not sure that it was, and I’m absolutely sure that I’m in no place to diagnose this situation with such specificity—your abuse may explain your behavior, but it certainly doesn’t excuse it. The line that you crossed seems immensely clear to me. There are relationships that involve semen, and there are relationships that don’t, and never the twain shall meet unless it is explicitly stated. If it was unwise of your now ex-friend to tolerate you pulling your dick out, it was a matter of her being too generous. That was a gift that you squandered. She allowed you a few inches, and you took a mile. You shouldn’t have done that, you shouldn’t do it again, and I hope that you are still in therapy or actively seeking more of it if not. It’s unnerving that you say you “couldn’t help but ejaculate” because the context does not make this sound like this was a matter of spontaneous orgasm, but of orgasm through masturbation. With proper impulse control, you very well could have helped it.
Is it a sign of psychic damage that you considered your friendship with a stripper meaningful? Not necessarily. It was actually kind of sweet until you jizzed all over yourself. (At least I hope it was all over yourself and not her.) She’s a human. I’m sure that job gets enormously boring, and we people, we find connections in the damnedest of places. Even if it was transactional—you got the attention, she got a way to pass the time—it doesn’t make it any less real of an interaction and perhaps foundation for bonding. Even if it came from a sense of career duty, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t genuine as well. Things are often made of many other things, and that’s especially true when your job is in the complex trade of human desire.
But also, there’s that cliché (or something like one … I think I saw it on a T-shirt once) that goes, “I think that stripper really liked me.” The joke is: Men are dumb, and no she didn’t. She was just doing her job, and that’s all it was. In any event, she didn’t want your cum near her, which one can hardly fault her for.
Did you apologize? I’m way less interested in your perceived lack of self-respect (I don’t really see it—going to strip clubs is not shameful or degrading unless you make it those things) than the lack of respect you give others. If this relationship to you was so meaningful, take responsibility for your behavior and attempt to give back what you took from her. Break the cycle that you fear you have entered, and treat her as you would any friend.
Advice From Dear Prudence
I am a woman who has always liked the fantasy of rough, forceful sex. It’s not the only thing I think about when aroused, but occasionally the fantasy crossed my mind. I know that some might find it repugnant, but one doesn’t choose these things. The problem is that this week I served on jury duty of a trial of sexual assault. Not for one moment did I find the evidence enticing. But it has begun to enter my thoughts at home. I find I cannot engage in any type of sex without thinking about the trial and what the victim was forced to do. Will this go away?