How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to email@example.com.
Dear How to Do It,
My girlfriend and I have been dating for about two months. She is not on birth control and doesn’t have an IUD. I went out and bought a bunch of condoms, and I used a condom for our first time. However, after this, she asked me to go without and finish on her rather than inside her. Despite this being a very bad idea, I did it (and avoided having an oopsie inside her) three more times.
After this very first weekend together, she was late by several days, giving us an excruciating pregnancy scare. I read up online, seeing that having sex multiple times without washing the penis in between could lead to pregnancy. She eventually had her period. This cemented in me that the “pullout method” was a really bad idea and that we would need to use condoms. (I also doubt my ability to always be able to pull out in time.) The last time we were together, she was on her period and convinced me again to do the pullout method, but this time she attempted to get me to finish inside her (literally by trying to reinsert my penis after I pulled out). I told her that the CDC said you can get pregnant on your period. She said there’s no way that is true.
She says she hates condoms. She says they don’t feel right and that they “hurt” like being cut. I told her it is either condoms or birth control. She has shot down using pill-based birth control, saying it affects her hormones, mood, etc. She says she would rather have her “tubes tied” than have an IUD. (She said only fingers and my penis belong in her vagina.) When I brought up an IUD a second time (when she talked about me finishing inside her) she implied strongly to never bring it up again. When she talks dirty, she talks about me “filling her up” and feeling my cum inside her. I feel like I’m in some upside-down world where I, as the man, am trying to use condoms and she adamantly doesn’t want me to. She says there is only a 24-hour period each month where a person can get pregnant. This seems like bullshit based on everything I know or have read. I know I can’t control her body and her use of birth control, but if she wants me to finish inside her, she would need to take some precaution (pill, patch, or IUD). If she won’t, then I need to use condoms. We’re both disease-free. Any ideas on how to frame the discussion, given that while she enjoys receiving oral sex, she also really wants penetrative sex but has also put up all these barriers around safe sex?
—Glove Doesn’t Fit
Dear Glove Doesn’t Fit,
Oh, this one is sticky. Pregnancy can definitely occur more than one day a month and can occur during menstruation, depending on the woman and where she is in her cycle. The rhythm method can be used, especially if the woman in question has a regular cycle that she’s tracking extensively, but it isn’t foolproof. Relying on pullout alone, without that kind of fertility tracking, is very risky.
You’re correct when you say you can’t control your partner’s body. If she doesn’t want an IUD, and doesn’t like the way hormonal birth control makes her feel, it is her right to decide against both methods. But she also can’t control your body. If you’re not comfortable having penetrative sex without some kind of birth control, that’s your right.
Safer sex (the only safe sex is abstinence and solo masturbation) involves layers of harm reduction. We use condoms to reduce pregnancy chances and STI transmission. We use the HPV vaccine to reduce our chances of acquiring genital warts or strains that cause cancers. We get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, and use whatever hormonal birth control we can tolerate to reduce pregnancy. Absolutely none of these methods is 100 percent effective. Nothing will keep you 100 percent safe from whatever you’re trying to avoid.
I’m inclined to believe your girlfriend when she says condoms hurt. The first thing you can do is bring home an assortment of non-latex alternatives. The polyisoprene ones are definitely worth a try, and if you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship, lambskin should be OK as well. Space them out—don’t try every kind in a single night; do roll them out (on?) over a series of evenings.
Another thing you can do is sit down with your girlfriend and find out how deep her semen fetish goes. Would talking about ejaculation during sex without actually doing it be enough for her? Could you rip the condom off the end and douse her? You’ll have to get some answers from your partner before you can figure out what might work best. I can’t determine from your letter whether this fetish is playing a role in your girlfriend’s aversion to condoms, but you should talk to her about it, and you should both be respecting each other’s boundaries.
Dear How to Do It,
Recently, I’ve come to realize that even though I have always considered myself bisexual, I may actually be a lesbian. I find myself idealizing a relationship with a man but being repulsed by the idea of sex with one. I can imagine myself being sexually involved with a woman but not actually having a long-term relationship with one. I’m a 25-year-old woman with no sexual experience, so I cannot say for certain what’s true for me. I want to start dating and having sex, but I’m not sure how I should broach my apparent preferences with a prospective significant other. Please help.
Do you want sex, or a relationship? Sex can grow from relationships, and relationships can grow from sex, but it does help to have some idea of which one you’re aiming for. If you’re looking for sex first, you’ll want to search the pool you find more sexually attractive: women. If you’re looking for a relationship, it might make sense to go on friend dates with men and see if one strikes your erotic fancy at some point. Or you could chuck the whole binary, look for people who seem rad, and see what develops sexually. Up to you.
As for broaching, how much information do you think you owe strangers? You’re 25. You’re just figuring yourself out. I think it’s perfectly fine to say just that: “I’m young and I’m figuring myself out,” or “I don’t know what my sexual orientation is yet,” or “I like you but I’m not sure if I want to have sex with you.” You’ve got time. Some people have great realizations about their sexual orientation in their 60s. You don’t have to have all this stuff figured out yet. Take it easy on yourself.
While we’re here, and before you put yourself out there, have you had your HPV vaccine? It prevents some of the more prevalent strains of HPV, including some that can cause cancers. It’s worth a trip to the doctor if not.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a cis woman who started having (penetrative, heterosexual) sex about six months ago. It was deeply painful the first time, which I was prepared for, but it’s still deeply painful, which I was not prepared for. It feels like I’m getting stabbed from the inside. I’ve seen a gynecologist, a women’s health care practitioner, and a pelvic floor physical therapist. They all say that my pelvic floor muscles are clenched, which is in part due to my general anxiety, and at the doctors’ recommendation, I’m using dilators to relax my muscles in hopes that I’ll stop having pain with penetration.
The emotional pain is a lot worse than the physical pain, though. Because it hurts so much, sex feels invasive and unnatural. It feels like I’m trying to jam a foreign object inside my body and my body is telling me it doesn’t belong there. When I use the dilators, it feels wrong too, like I’m training my body to adapt to being stabbed with a weapon. Penetrative sex brings me absolutely no pleasure. I enjoy other nonpenetrative sex acts, and I have a fantastic and understanding boyfriend who enjoys these other sex acts too. But I would really like to enjoy penetrative sex, both for his sake and mine. If the dilators work and I stop feeling physical pain, how can I stop associating sex with mental pain too?
Dear Mental Block,
I mention it often, but Jen Gunter’s great forthcoming book, The Vagina Bible, has a chapter on vulvodynia (vulvar pain) that suggests a range of options, including dilators, as you’ve been prescribed. Topical lidocaine, oral medications for nerve pain, physical therapy massage, and biofeedback are all mentioned. Most interestingly, she mentions a pain psychologist, who would seem perfectly suited to help you navigate the emotional and mental ramifications of what your body is going through.
So, I recommend you go back to your doctor, armed with this list, and ask for further help. See if you can get some lidocaine or a nerve-pain blocker to help you through the dilation. And see if you can get a referral to a pain psychologist for some help processing the pain you’re feeling. I’m glad you have an understanding boyfriend who will give you time as you work through this—it shouldn’t be a rush.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m trying to wrap my head around a sexual experience I had a few days ago and I don’t know whom to talk to about this. I’ve been seeing this man (I’m a woman) for a few weeks now, although I’ve known him casually for more than a year. On our first date, he told me he’s poly, and I said I was interested in dating casually and not getting into a monogamous relationship. My divorce was finalized six months ago, I’ve only ever had PIV sex with my husband, and our marriage could accurately be deemed to have been “sexless.” So we had sex on the first date and multiple times (I’ve had more sex in the past two weeks than the past five years!) and it’s been good, even great sometimes.
So, I’m having many new experiences with this man, and he’s been a good communicator—in fact, it’s a little scary at times, because he can tell when I’m holding back. He is so in tune, something I am unaccustomed to, and yet it can be wonderful. Jump to last week: We were kissing, and I felt it was so amazing and connected and he said he could feel me holding back, which confused me as I was enjoying myself. I realized that, the third time he said he could feel me holding back, what was happening for me was that I felt I loved him but was afraid to say it. And I ended up telling him I think I love him—and he said it back and we made love and the sex was deep and connected.
The next morning, he pulled me to him so I could feel how hard he was and he flipped me over onto my stomach. While I did respond sexually, this was so not connected at all, and he had hard fast sex with me in which he dominated me and I submitted. We had played with dominance and submission since the very first time, and I was up for it (though I’ve never done it before), but this was so different. No eye contact, no checking in, just hard sex, name-calling, and taking ownership of my body (ideas we had talked about before but not planned out). And I found myself zoning out during the experience and wondering when it would be over. It didn’t occur to me to stop it, as it seemed I lost the ability to speak. When it ended, I rolled over into fetal position and was doubled over in pain and nausea. I laid in bed immobile and he asked if I needed anything; I said nothing and he brought me water. I asked him to hold me, and he did, but then he left for work. When I left work and was driving home, I started weeping uncontrollably. I don’t know anything about this kind of play except what I’ve read about, and what I’ve done with this man and the spanking and hair pulling have been fun and new to me, but they always involved connection. There was no connection in the recent sex, and I am at a loss of how to make sense of it. He did come by later and I told him how I felt, and he said I should have spoken up and that he does not want to be a “bad guy.” Later, he said he thinks we’re moving too fast emotionally. And I wanted to throw him out of my house.
I need another perspective—what do you think? Was this assault? And is there a way forward? I don’t want to throw something away that is good over one instance. And finally, is this to be expected when one is learning what BDSM play is all about, to have less-than-ideal experiences when one is a neophyte?
This is so very less-than-ideal, and I’m sorry it happened to you. He should have checked in more, he should have noticed that you weren’t connected, he should have given you chances to stop what was happening; and ideally, he would have stopped on his own as soon as you started zoning out. He also should have waited for a day when he’d have time to provide aftercare (or processing after a BDSM experience, recalibrating toward equality after an intense power exchange, and plenty of snuggles) instead of needing to run off to work. This shouldn’t have happened at all without more discussion, even if you had dabbled in rougher play in the past.
This guy’s response to the encounter and what you told him afterward is a red flag. I really don’t like that he said he doesn’t want to be a “bad guy.” It gives me a shiver. Presuming you were as frank with him about your duress as you were with me, his comment about moving too fast emotionally is clear avoidance of the issue.
I’d walk away and block his number. I’ve walked away and blocked numbers for far less—a single slap that wasn’t asked about first is enough to put someone on my nope list if I don’t know them well. If you’re not ready to do that yet, you can sit down and attempt another conversation. Take care to explain what was so hurtful to you—the disconnection, the name-calling—and see how he responds. If he continues to blame you and distance himself, rather than try to help you be comfortable again, you have your answer.
The upside of this is that you’ve learned something about your sexuality. You like new experiences, but only with clear discussion and connection. This is stolen from my therapist: The kink scene is not Disneyland. You have to protect yourself just like you do on any other kind of date. You are in no way to blame for what happened, but since you are embarking on new experiences, know that people will be pushy, and they will prioritize their own desires. You want to be careful whom you play with, and keep an eye out for red flags, as I believe this guy has shown you. Based on your reaction and the confusion you describe in your letter, I think one last step is to talk to a therapist of your own to help you process what happened in more detail than I can here and plan for how to navigate future encounters.
More How to Do It
My mother is in her late-50s and has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. She tried one round of radiation, but now she is resigned to her fate and doesn’t want more treatment. She is still mentally alert and vivacious. I disagree with her decision, but I respect it. We are open with each other, and I know that she was dating and sexually active until her diagnosis. As a final gift, I would like to give her one last fling with a young stud. I talked to an acquaintance who is good-looking, fit, and willing to perform for a reasonable fee. Do you think that I will need to tell her he is being paid?