How to Do It

My Ex-Boyfriend Emailed Me a Jaw-Dropping Confession

What do I say?

Photo illustration of a man frustratingly rubbing his head. Neon arrows pointing left and right, like a turn signal, glow in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.comNothing’s too small (or big).

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 27-year-old straight woman. I recently dated a man for several months who was odd about sex—he frequently mentioned that he had a small penis (which he did) and that oral sex was what made him a good lover. I don’t particularly care for oral sex, but I cared for him very much. There were a lot of problems in the relationship outside of sex—he had a bit of a cruel streak, and then there would be an apology spiral—and we eventually broke up. I have moved on and am dating a lovely man, but yesterday my ex sent me an email saying that he was bottoming for men he met online the whole time we were dating. He said he’s straight but curious, and he felt he needed me to know, and wanted me to accept him. (I didn’t get any STIs from him, and he said he used protection.) I’m sort of floored: I’m not sure why he told me, and what this meant about our months together, which loom larger in my mind than they probably should. I think he should embrace his sexuality, but how am I supposed to respond to this information? He was an asshole and made me feel terrible as a girlfriend, but I’m thinking that he has a lot of repressed sexual shit and I want to be there for him to realize it. What do I say?

—Some Personal News

Dear Some Personal News,

If you want to respond, tell him you accept him as he is—questioning, mistake-making, and human. Then tell him how you feel. Tell him it hurt to be treated the way he treated you (including the sex you’ve just learned he was having without your knowledge—you didn’t get an STI, but that was still a risk he took on your behalf), and that you don’t quite understand why he’s bringing this to you now. Ask him for clarity. And, please, write back and let me know. I’m curious. Forgive him, if you feel forgiving, or omit it if you don’t.

See how he responds. If he’s working through his internal mess, contrite, and treating you decently, by all means continue to be there for him if that’s what you want. But don’t allow a return to the kind of behavior that caused you to break up just because he’s having a hard time or you see potential in him—and don’t hesitate to cut off contact if it goes there.

Dear How to Do It,

I’ve been with my wife for 10 years this year (married for five), and we are poly. She’s in a committed triad with a married couple I like very much. I have a girlfriend of my own. On the poly front, things are good. But things are difficult in bed between the two of us. She constantly needs to use lube when we have sex. She also says that I don’t do foreplay well enough, I’m not romantic enough, and oral sex from me isn’t pleasurable anymore (she used to love it—or at least claim to). I try to talk to her about all this, but she just wants any discussion to “be over,” and when we do get into it, she just gets frustrated that I want to keep talking about it and says that’s just making her more angry at me and to leave her alone. I’m very confused. I’ve gained a bunch of weight (like 50 pounds) over the last couple of years, so I’m worried she’s just not attracted to me anymore. She says that’s not the case, but I’m not sure I believe her. We used to have an amazing sex life, but now it’s almost always awkward. Do you have any suggestions for a way forward? Proper questions I can ask her? Proper poly questions I can ask her? Oral sex techniques I can watch to get better? Suggestions to be better at initiating sex? She says I’m “too forward, like an on/off switch,” but that never used to be an issue. I want to have good sex with my wife again. Any guidance is greatly appreciated.

—It’s Me

Dear It’s Me,

As a merely non-monogamous person, I have yet to get my hands on any official Proper Poly Procedures documents to refer to for Proper Poly Questions. So let’s see what other parts of your compound issue I can help with.

Relationships tend to hit a lust dip after several years. Maybe it’s familiarity, maybe it’s routine, maybe it’s adult responsibilities. I’d say take a break from sex with your wife for a while. Whatever amount of time feels significant without being onerous. Give her a chance to de-ruffle and miss you. When you do approach sexually again, be extremely slow about it. Like, three times as slow as you think you should be. This is to make it as likely as possible that your wife will have an opportunity to desire you again, and you both can relearn what you love about sex together. This method is drawn from Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are—she’s mostly writing about orgasms, but it might be worth a read for this technique. (My co-columnist would also recommend Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity.)

On your oral sex question: Does your girlfriend have any issues with your performance? You’re in a position where you can get this kind of second opinion. Use it. Rather than an awkward, possibly jealousy- or strife-inducing “My wife says I suck at head, what do you think?” try to be more general with something like “I want to keep improving as a lover. Is there anything I can do better? How about in the cunnilingus department?”

Now let’s talk about your wife wanting the conversation to be over. This is concerning. Have you made it clear to her how important this is to you, and that you want to reach a point of open communication regarding sex between the two of you? If you haven’t been able to, figure out the way she’s most likely to receive information. Would it be better to write it in a letter, or to tell her verbally during a calm moment? You’ll have to make the call on that one, but explain that this is something you need to talk out, and ask her to make time for a real discussion soon. If she doesn’t soften, there might be larger relationship issues at play.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a heterosexual woman who just turned 30, and I’m about six months into a relationship with the man (28) I plan on marrying. We’ve both struggled to find partners with high libidos, and we’re thrilled that not only do our respective needs for sex and intimacy align, but we love everything else about each other. He is much more well-endowed than any other man I’ve ever been intimate with. I’m 5’0”, and he’s 6’4”. That, in combination with the amount of sex we’re having (2–3 times a day during the week, more often on weekends) brings me to our problem. A month or so after we started having sex, intercourse slowly became more and more painful for me—so much that I had to put a stop to it for a few days so I could see my gynecologist. She informed me that I had pulled a muscle in my vagina (I had no idea this was possible). After learning how often we were having sex, she said that in order for the muscle to heal, we’d need to cut back to once every other day for a few weeks. As difficult as this was for us, my boyfriend was very supportive, and we stuck to the rules. We also saw this as an opportunity to explore other means of satisfying each other, which ended up working wonderfully.

It’s been about three months, and we’re back to our regular sex routine, except that sex is still painful for me, although it’s unpredictable. Sometimes, there’s no pain. Sometimes, it’s extremely tight immediately after penetration, but if we relax for a few moments after he’s completely inside, we’re good to go. However, on bad days, I have to tell him to stop completely, which is disappointing and disheartening. He’s extremely understanding, is always concerned with whether or not I’m in pain, and never pressures me to have sex unless it feels good for both of us. But we’re both frustrated. I know the best thing for me is “rest,” but I’ve tried that option, per the doctor’s orders, and as soon as we’re back to our normal “schedule,” it gets increasingly painful all over again. I feel like we’re often caught up in the moment, but everything comes to a halt—he applies lubricant every time and has to enter me VERY slowly and wait for me to “relax” before he starts thrusting. I miss the part of our sex life where he could throw me on the bed/couch, and we could just go for it without any interruptions.

Do you or your readers have any suggestions? I’m so happy to finally have a partner who isn’t intimidated or annoyed by my sex drive, but sex is still difficult. We’ve tried several lubricants (except numbing—not an option), and we use one that runs around $30 a bottle (we go through an entire bottle every two weeks). We even take a day “off” from sex—we celebrate “Blow Job Mondays” to help me recuperate from our “busy weekends.” We’re both happy with our sex life, but we hate that there are so many rules in order for my body to handle it. When we have bad days, I start to despair and feel like I’m disappointing him, although because of his size, he feels totally responsible (even though he’s not). We’re at a loss and I’m hoping to find someone who can offer some advice.

—Rabbits

Dear Rabbits,

See a different gynecologist and a pelvic pain specialist. And another if that one doesn’t know what to tell you.

While you’re doing that, seriously, just lay off the sex. I’m glad you’ve found a libido match, but you might be harming your body further. I’m glad to hear you aren’t using numbing agents—those would be concerning since you might hurt yourself more if you can’t feel what’s happening. You really don’t need to bang all weekend. Your lube budget is astronomical. (Does it have to be this particular kind?) Giving your body a break now so it can finish healing would be the best course of action here.

Stick to oral-only. Explore other erogenous zones and ways of feeling physically connected—laying on top of each other, massage, contact improv, whatever feels interesting. Do something active together. Anything to let your body recover fully.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a heterosexual male in my early 50s. I don’t keep count, but I’ve had a fair number of sexual partners during my life. My problem is that although I love my girlfriend, I’m not very attracted to her sexually. She’s the most wonderful woman I’ve ever known, and I enjoy pleasing her anytime we’re in bed, or on the couch, or any place we get naked together. I always orgasm during sex with her, but she usually has to initiate our encounters just because I’m not all that excited about it. I have vivid sexual fantasies frequently, but I have a difficult time imagining her in my thoughts. Unfortunately, after I’ve engaged in sex with a woman a few times, I’m ready to move on to a new one. At times I’ve had (protected) sex with multiple women within days of each other. I even had sex with three different women in one day! Yet I keep looking for the next one. Do I need therapy? In spite of my age and gray hair, I hope to have many more years of fun in the sack, and I’d like to do it with the woman I love. I don’t want to hurt her and yet I’m constantly drawn to hunt for something new and fresh.

—Fresh Blood

Dear Fresh Blood,

Multiple partners within days of each other is a typical August for some people. As long as the proper harm-reduction methods are in place—and you say you have protected sex—there’s nothing wrong with that.

That said, we’ve got this cultural stigma against therapy. The youth seem all about it, but those of us over 30 remember when therapy implied to the world that something was wrong or broken. Get that out of your head and replace it with something more modern: Therapy is a place to discuss intimate issues in our lives and learn more adaptive skills with which to navigate them. You don’t need therapy—cue the Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist”—but you do have a chance to get an expert in people and feelings to look at this tendency you have that you say is getting in the way of fully enjoying the relationship you have with a girlfriend who you love.

Sounds like a pretty sweet opportunity. You might want to look for a sex positive therapist, given the sexual manifestation of whatever is happening inside your psyche. The Kink Aware Professionals network can be a great resource, but you can ask any potential therapist about their views on sex during your interview appointment. You can also ask what kinds of therapies they use, what their background is, and anything else you might want to know.

In the meantime, can you notice when it’s been a while since you two had sex and initiate an encounter yourself every once in a while? Even if you aren’t feeling particularly lustful, you know what to do—kissing, heavy petting, escalate as you start to feel your body getting into it—and it might help you avoid the possibility of your partner starting to feel unwanted or unpursued while you work out what’s happening on your end. Sometimes we have sex to feel connected and intimate. Try to foster that kind of dynamic.

—Stoya

More How to Do It

My husband and I decided not to circumcise our son, born in the early 2000s. We felt his body was naturally perfect and did not want a scalpel going at his precious newborn body. At the time, we felt the majority of parents were feeling the same way and arriving at the same conclusion. Since then, I have heard different opinions on this topic, but not enough to fully understand what our son will encounter when he becomes sexually active. On the positive, I have read that an uncircumcised penis experiences more sensations. Since he is now a teenager, it seems he is demonstrating a heterosexual preference. I mention this because I have read that sometimes women do not like an uncircumcised penis, and there can be complications during sex. Since the human body was designed in this way, my instincts say this is not true, but I do not know! As a parent, should I be worried about this decision we made for him 15 years ago?