How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to email@example.com. Nothing’s too small (or big).
Every Thursday night, the team responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have been married for five years and have a 3-year-old. When we first met and started dating, the sex was fantastic and continued to be that way after the wedding until our son was born. Ever since then, it’s become harder and harder for my husband to climax, to the point where sex seems like a long, exhausting process, and not in a good way. I’ve tried everything from new positions to new toys to old standbys and back again. He is always very giving, and I am always able to finish, but then I have another 30 to 45 minutes of work ahead of me, and it always ends in him getting close, then getting further away, and then eventually giving up. He has issues with anxiety, and I think the idea of having another kid (which we’ve always talked about and said we would do) is maybe killing his buzz in the moment. The idea that he will not be able to finish could be a self-fulfilling anxiety prophecy at this point as well. My question is, knowing all this, how can I help? I’m starting to feel self-conscious and unattractive in addition to exhausted during the increasingly rare occasions that we do have sex.
Stoya: I’m wondering if Emily Nagoski’s brakes-and-accelerator model of sexual desire is useful here. In Come as You Are, she’s talking about cis women, but I’ve found that men identify with what she’s saying pretty regularly as well. The idea is that everyone has a brakes system that can be turned off by a number of factors (like stress) and an independently acting accelerator that responds to sexually relevant material or situations. But if the brakes are on, it doesn’t matter how far the accelerator is pushed.
Rich: So, all this effort, at this juncture, could very well be useless. Is the solution as simple as figuring out what’s triggering the brakes and correcting that, rather than keeping on pumping the accelerator, as it were?
Stoya: That’s one of the actions Nagoski suggests, yes. So I think our writer’s suspicion about anxiety related to another pregnancy is worth focusing on and digging into.
Rich: I wonder what, if it’s even possible to say, would account for the range of sexual responses to stress.
Stoya: I’m definitely a stress-banger. Unless there’s a serious problem, in which case everything tickles.
Rich: I’d say that sex certainly allows me to forget my troubles, so I’m leaning on that side as well. But I’ve also definitely been distracted by anxiety to the point where I couldn’t perform.
Stoya: I think taking the pressure off orgasm is useful here.
Rich: Agree 100 percent.
Stoya: I think they might do well to agree he isn’t going to ejaculate during sex for a month. All the sex they want can happen, but no orgasm for him (or at least it’s expressly not the goal).
Rich: So they’d essentially be getting in front of the problem by not even entertaining it as a possibility. Overall, isn’t it super encouraging that he’s hanging in there? That he’s finding pleasure or enjoyment or at least a worthwhile way to spend his time in sex that isn’t making him come? It’s not ideal, but it ain’t bad.
Stoya: Absolutely. He’s a potato. By which I mean a generous man.
Rich: While I understand the reflex to take his inability to orgasm personally, it really, really doesn’t seem like it’s about his partner.
Stoya: If I took every wilting willy or missing money shot personally, I’d have very low self-esteem.
Rich: Right. A lot of guys take a while to come. There are a variety of possible reasons for this in any given man, and my only failing is not being able to produce a magic wand that makes men shoot on command.
Stoya: I’m wondering if it would help if our writer tried to delay her own orgasms. I know if I have a bunch in a row, I feel kind of done afterward. Which can absolutely make the second half of the sexual interaction feel performative or like work (and usually I just tell my partner I’m done and we can revisit once my lady-refractory period is over).
Rich: Right, look at it like he switched from sprinter to marathon runner and try to be his running partner. It really seems like they have all of the care and attention on this issue that they would need to solve it; if they just relax a little, it could do wonders. And at least she’s getting to come in the meantime.
Stoya: So, address the second pregnancy issue in a nonsexual context, take the pressure off his orgasm, and reframe sex as more of a marathon than a sprint. I think that covers it.
Rich: My last thought is that she seems to be of the position that it’s her job to get him off. (“I am always able to finish but then have another 30 to 45 minutes of work ahead of me.”) Feeling that much responsibility for your partner’s pleasure is a lovely sentiment, but try letting him do the work. Have him masturbate himself to orgasm. It’s wonderful when you can make your partner come with some body part of yours, but your presence also counts as an aid here. Don’t think of it as a failing if he manually has to take himself over the top.
More How to Do It
My boyfriend totally avoids me during my period: I have a wonderful boyfriend who is very sexually generous (goes down on me, asks what I like during sex, etc.) but for one thing: He totally avoids me during my period. We don’t touch, kiss, and he doesn’t allow me to go down on him because he says he doesn’t want to be selfish. I’ve asked him what I can do to make him more comfortable and he says he just needs time because he’s always been “grossed out” by the blood and has never engaged in period sex with anyone. Because of the pill, I barely have a flow, and the little there is is still too much for him. For context, we are in our 30s and talking about marriage, and I am a little impatient at thinking of a future with 25 percent of the month off the table for sex. I don’t want to nag him or pressure him, but is there anything I can do to make him more comfortable with some (any!) contact during this time?