How to Do It

Magic Finger

I became a sex god to please my wife. Now she won’t let me do the thing she loves most.

Two people getting ready for sex with a glowing X in the background
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by JackF/iStock/Getty Images Plus and koya79/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. Nothing’s too small (or big).

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I are in our 50s and in a wonderful, 28-year monogamous marriage. When we were in our 40s, she started losing interest in sex and blamed herself and possibly early menopause. I decided the problem was me. I dove into studying sex techniques and beliefs about women and sex. I realized she wanted to do more exciting things, but she needed me to lead in the bedroom. I started my never-the-same-sex-twice philosophy. I taught her to squirt, have multiple orgasms, extended orgasms, sensory play, light bondage, etc., plus I started taking her away for three-day sex weekends.

My transformation fixed her interest problems. Early on this adventure, when she was hanging on the edge of a PIV orgasm and having difficulty getting over the edge, I slipped a finger one knuckle deep in her anus, and this tripped her over the edge with a loudly expressive, convulsive orgasm. For several months, I only occasionally used this when she was needing a little more spice to get off. Then suddenly she said she did not want me touching her back there. She admitted it had felt good but said it was dirty and gross, even though there had never been any incident that could be described as such. I told her that it was just touching, and it did not have to lead to PIA, which I knew she strongly opposed. With her insistence, I stopped and just used other things to enhance her orgasms. Fast forward to now in her 50s, and she actually does have a little libido or menopause issue occasionally, and a little spice helps. I know there are lots of things I can do to add spice to get her off, but I would still like to play with this again. But if I get near there she quickly says, “No, I don’t like you touching me down there.” I get it—no means no—but when something was so effective, it makes me want to push her boundaries a little. I can’t get her to budge. Any ideas to warm her up to the idea again, or am I being unreasonable?

—Backward

Dear Backward,

You say no means no, and then follow with a desire to push her boundaries, then say you’ve been unable to get her to “budge”—all suggesting that you acted on that desire at least a little. Don’t do that.

Anal sex, thanks to the inadvisability of using strong cleaners in one’s rectum, is inherently unsanitary. You don’t need a fountain of diarrhea to make it so. Your wife is being reasonable when she describes anal as dirty, even without either of you encountering any visible fecal matter. Now, cleanliness or lack thereof doesn’t stop many of us from engaging in anal sex, but it is stopping your wife, and as a caring, supportive partner, you should respect that.

It might help to reframe the anal play you’ve already engaged in as a special sexual windfall from the universe. Keep those memories close. Savor them. Pull them out when you masturbate, or when you need something to tip you over the edge yourself. Those images you remember are yours forever. And you’ve got all these other sex games to play—squirting, multiple orgasms, BDSM. You’ve got a partner who is willing to experiment with you and engage in all sorts of sexual activities. I know it might feel like you’ve lost something, but I think you’ll do best to focus on the great sex you are having with your wife and appreciate what you do have.

Dear How to Do It,

After years of being cold-bed single, I’m now in a meaningful relationship with a man. As you can imagine, after such a long dry spell, I was excited to get back into my sexual groove. But immediately, I learned that direct clitoral stimulation is not only no longer pleasurable, but uncomfortable instead—sometimes even mildly painful. (My own masturbation technique never involved direct contact, so I had never put this together on my own.) It feels … scratchy, sort of, but also too stiff. Oral sex—something my boyfriend has in the past loved providing for long stretches of time, and at which he has serious game—well, it ranges from quickly irritating to immediately excruciating.

We don’t do that anymore, obviously, but it frustrates him. So imagine how much it frustrates me! Despite all the reams of info online about sex, there’s remarkably little about clitoral pain. A couple of sites suggested the discomfort might arise from discharge residue beneath the hood, and that soaking in a warm tub and massaging lightly could break it up, but I’ve tried that, to the point I have to assume that’s not the issue. Since I was single for so long, I have no idea when exactly this began. There’s no injury I can think of that could explain it, either. What could be going on? I can’t even find out whether this is something a gynecologist would or could look at. My boyfriend is learning my stimulation methods, so my immediate satisfaction isn’t at risk, but I still feel like this isn’t right and that I want to fix or heal it, if I can.

—Don’t Press the Button

Dear Don’t Press the Button,

Unexplained pain in the vulva is often diagnosed as vulvodynia, and it can have a lot of different causes. Gynecologists’ expertise covers the whole vulva, including the clitoris. You might have a bit of difficulty finding a gynecologist who prioritizes female pleasure over reproductive health, but I do think you’ll be able to find a good one, and that’s definitely the kind of expert you should talk to first. I can only get you so far from my perch.

In the meantime, indirect stimulation is the way to go. It’s great that you already have ways of masturbating without directly stimulating your clitoris and that your partner is learning those methods. Even with the pain you’re experiencing, you’re lucky to still be able to enjoy yourself sexually. Try to keep that in mind as you work through this.

I’m wondering what happens if you try to stimulate your clitoris through the hood. I’m also wondering if there’s enough saliva on your partner’s tongue when he goes to lick you, whether you’re aroused enough when he starts, and whether the sensitivity you’re feeling changes as your body goes through the range of sexual response. These are all worth experimenting with, and you should keep notes so you’re prepared for any questions the doctor might have about what you’re experiencing. If you don’t like the first doctor you see, or if you feel like she isn’t listening to you or taking your problem seriously, you can always try a different one. It’s your body. Get out there and advocate for it with someone who has the medical education to help you through this.

Dear How to Do It,

I have a problem that I’m not sure how to deal with. I’m a 38-year-old woman, and until about nine months ago, I thought I was more or less asexual. Then I came off the antidepressants I’ve been on since I was 20, and it turns out that I have a sex drive after all. I think this is great, and I’m looking forward to finding someone, either as a long-term partner or, assuming I both trust and am attracted to them, for something short-term, lighthearted, and fun. What little sexual experience I have has been with men—though I am primarily attracted to women—largely because I’m too shy to give out signals that I’m interested in women, and men are more pushy. On the subject of pushiness: I have a bigger problem. Alongside that historic lack of sex drive is a history of trauma. From the time I was 16 until I was around 28, I had a series of sexual assaults, so many I cannot count them, from both strangers and men I’d been semi-interested in, and the first of the only two dates I’ve ever been on ended in rape. This has left me with a fearful reaction to both giving and receiving sexual touches that I was hoping might go away by itself, but it hasn’t. I am fine with, and enjoy, making out, but any attempt at anything further (or even the suggestion of it) makes me panic to the point that, in the past and with men, I have forced myself to give them a blowjob purely so that they don’t have the wherewithal to rape me.

More recently, and with my newly invigorated sex drive, I met a nice woman at Pride as keen on me as I was on her. She was looking for a mutually enjoyable weekend, nothing more, and I was very keen on that too. Unfortunately, it turns out that that fear is still there, and it isn’t just restricted to men. What triggered it this time was actually when she asked me what sort of things do and don’t turn me on, because no one has ever asked me that before, or ever cared. It’s particularly frustrating that I still get that response even when the person is clearly into enthusiastic consent, even when I knew I had nothing to fear from her. I ended up panicking and mumbling something about a history of trauma. We went home together, but just slept in the same bed (in itself, a big step for me).

So, I’m left with a fairly-new-to-me sex drive, a complete inexperience with consensual sex, an attraction to women I have never acted on, and a history of sexual trauma at the hands of men that makes me panicky when the idea of sex, or any sexual activity involving nakedness, comes on the scene. How can I get over this irrational fearful response? Do I simply look to meet someone nice, take it very slowly, and then ’fess up the lot at some stage, hoping then to be able to overcome the fear (and the shyness from lack of experience) in the context of a loving and trusting partnership? I’d have thought that would be quite off-putting to someone—I don’t really want to be the “possible partner who has issues you’ll need to deal with”! I’d like to be free, really, as free as the woman I met, comfortable in both body and sexuality.

—Do-Over

Dear Do-Over,

That’s exactly what you do.

Let’s rewind: I’m sorry you’ve encountered so many horrific situations and experienced so much assault. That’s a lot to live through. I’m impressed that you’re still open to dating—that’s a mark of resilience.

The thing is, post-#MeToo, we can look around and get an idea how many people have experienced sexual assault, which is many. So, whomever you decide to date, you probably won’t be the first person they know who has been assaulted. The person you’re dating may have been assaulted themselves. You aren’t alone. This isn’t some unique problem that only a few people in the world could possibly understand; this is an unfortunately widespread experience.

I’m pro ’fessing up early, by which I mean somewhere around dates two to five, depending on how quickly things are moving and which specific thing we’re ’fessing about. To give you a concrete example, I tend to broach the subjects of mental health, porn, and nonmonogamy pretty quickly. And maybe ’fessing isn’t the best framing: You didn’t cause any of this. There’s no confession to be made on your part. Maybe we’d be better off thinking in terms of disclosure. Like, you’ll want to disclose your inexperience early, and you’ll want to give people a heads-up that you’re easily triggered during sexual activity and conversation, just so they aren’t surprised and are prepared for your needs.

So you meet someone you think is nice. And you say, “I need to establish a lot of trust before we become sexual,” and then their reaction lets you know if they’re as nice as you think. You don’t have to come out with the gory details early on, or necessarily at all, but you want to set boundaries so these nice people know how to treat you carefully. Or you say, “I want to take things slowly, like holding hands for today slowly,” and, again, you find out who they are based on how they react. If they can’t move at your pace or be gentle, they’re not a good fit. Move on.

As you get practice in healthy, sex-positive environments, you’ll feel freedom in sexuality. It’ll take time, and you might go backward sometimes, but I think you’ll get to experience a slice of that feeling.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a straight cis woman with a boyfriend of two-plus years. We are both 38 and have always had a very active sex life—four to five times per week, pretty much every week since we got together. Things are wonderful and good, except for something weird that has started happening in the past three weeks. He’s pretty much stopped having orgasms. He’ll finish maybe one out of every five times, but the rest of the time … nothing. He’s still getting aroused, he’s still interested—he’s just not having orgasms. And it is killing my confidence. I’ve asked if he’s bored; I’ve asked if he’s interested in someone else, if he’s not feeling well, etc. He says it’s nothing—he’s happy, it all feels really good, and he still wants to have sex with me a lot. But I’m just baffled by this sudden loss of orgasms from someone who was never like this until three weeks ago. The only thing I can think of is that he’s gained a little weight and he’s not working out like he used to, so he’ll get tired faster or get stiff or sore shoulders, but it’s happening even when he’s not the one doing the work. I feel like I’m descending into a real pit of anxiety, and I’m not sure how to deal with this. Is this normal? Does this happen? Should I be freaking out? Will we ever get back to me being able to get him off?

—No O

Near No O,

This does happen. You should absolutely not be freaking out. Your boyfriend will probably return to having regular orgasms with you at some point, but I can’t tell you when that’ll happen, and there is a small chance it might not.

We have this weird idea, culturally, that orgasms have to happen for sex to be good. Or that male ejaculation is the signifier of sexual satisfaction—the completion of the act. Orgasms don’t have to happen, and ejaculation does not always equal orgasm. Your boyfriend is saying he’s happy. Listen to him. Don’t put some kind of orgasm-expectation pressure on his penis. That won’t help either of you. Accept what he’s saying to you, just like you would with any other question about his happiness or satisfaction.

Sex can be about giving. It can be about fostering intimacy, feeling connected, or just relaxing. Reframe sex as a way you make each other feel good, without any end goal. Play with each other. It might even be worth deciding that he definitely won’t have an orgasm, or that neither of you will. Give his boner space to chill out. Take the pressure off.

As for your own feelings, remember that this isn’t about you. Believe your partner when he says he’s feeling fine and his emotions toward you haven’t flagged. Believe him when he says he doesn’t want anyone else. Focus on the things you love about the relationship and the “wonderful and good” feelings you have toward your partner. Think about what he does to make you feel cared for and connected.

If this is still going on in a couple of months, you might want to escalate to seeing a urologist. But in the meantime, take the pressure off and focus on feeling good together.

—Stoya

More How to Do It

I’m dating a new man whom I like very much. When we became intimate, I was pleasantly surprised to learn he is 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?