How to Do It

I’m a Childless Woman Suddenly Caring for My 12-Year-Old Nephew

What do I say to him about sex?

Photo illustration of a boy and woman talking in front of bird and bee neon.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Nattakorn Maneerat/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to Nothing’s too small (or big).

Dear How to Do It,

My older sister died about two years ago. My husband and I adopted my nephew. He’s now 12 years old. I can tell he’s started puberty, as he’s having to bathe daily and use deodorant or he will be a stinky, greasy mess. I know he’s at “that age” where I should have the talk with him, or already beyond the age where I should’ve started having the talk.

I have no idea how to go about this. I have no other children and never really wanted them, so I didn’t have a plan about how to start the talk, and this is so uncomfortable the thought alone makes me blush. We have very lightly touched on the subject of birth control in that if it doesn’t go on your body or in your body, it’s not birth control. How do I start the conversation about this whole huge subject? I want him to be healthy, safe, and have as few complexes surrounding sex as humanly possible while making sure he doesn’t wind up on Teen Mom.

—Talk Terror

Dear Talk Terror,

You must have some idea of how to go about this because you already had a discussion with your nephew about birth control. Can you replicate the circumstances in which the topic came up? If that’s too tough, a lot of literature on the subject of “the talk” suggests that media—TV shows, movies, news stories—is a good jumping-off point. If you happen to watch something with him that has some sort of sexual content or discussion, you can comment further on what you just saw.

You could even go as far as to choose programming that reliably discusses and/or portrays sex. Have you seen Euphoria on HBO yet? It’s great. It may be pretty mature for a 12-year-old, but if watching it together leads to a conversation that helps him make informed decisions, maybe mature programming is what he needs. (On the other hand: It is an intense show!) That said, when my father tried to strike up a conversation with me in the movie theater bathroom immediately after we watched My Stepmother Is an Alien (the 1988 movie in which Kim Basinger plays an extremely horny, human-like alien, and Joan Rivers plays her sassy handbag), I totally froze. The very idea of having that conversation overwhelmed me.

There’s likely to be at least a bit of awkwardness, which you’ll have to absorb if you have any shot at maintaining the conversation. He’s 12, he’s got awkwardness coming out of his pores at this point, so it’s up to you to soldier on. Dr. Anna-Barbara Moscicki, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine and professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, provided a few tips on this matter in 2015. She advised to keep your own sex life out of the conversation. So speak broadly, not specifically. Also, do not accuse or confront. Respect the kid’s privacy. She suggests positioning yourself as a resource—“Do you know where to get condoms or get birth control?”—rather than a judge.

These conversations are important—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites multiple surveys and studies highlighting the importance of communication about sex between parents and their kids. Some experts believe that teens who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to wait to have sex. Another study found that teens with high levels of general communication with their parents were more likely to discuss things like pregnancy and STIs with their partners. It’s a great time to start, too. A Temple University professor of adolescent psychological development wrote that “10- to 12-year-olds are less likely to take the discussions personally and react defensively and more likely to say what is on their minds.” If media doesn’t provide a good entry point, check out this list of questions that high school teacher Al Vernacchio says he’s received in his Sexuality and Society class. They could also provide decent entry points. Ideally, there won’t be “the talk” and then nothing else; hopefully you can foster a dynamic of open communication that keeps him informed and ensures the topic of sex something that isn’t fraught or embarrassing for him.

Dear How to Do It,

I can’t come except by my own hand while I fantasize about a woman coming as I do. Not blow jobs, not doggy style, not missionary, or her on top—and not her hand, either. I’m 57 years old, divorced after a 30-year, childless marriage. Sex was never great, but we were young, so we did screw a bit back then. Then antidepressants threw a wrench in the works, and then my wife didn’t want to, and then I didn’t want to, and boom, before you know it, 25 pretty much sexless years evaporate.

Since the divorce, I’ve been visiting escorts. Most experiences are so disappointing that they’re almost funny. Gotta say, though, getting off would have improved each of them. About 12 times now, over the last two years, 12 women—some beautiful, young, bright, sparkling. Just one orgasm for me, in a revolting tryst. I think I’ve trained myself to only get off when a woman does, by masturbating to porn where women climax. It’s the thing that turns me on the most. Maybe that’s it? But I can hardly expect escorts to come and come and come. I got a remote-controlled prostate massager last week. Was hoping for something special, but so far, feels mostly just like something up my ass. Any other suggestions?

—Ladies First

Dear Ladies First,

Make sure you’re getting your testosterone levels checked regularly by a doctor. It seems like your main issue is orgasm, but T levels affect libido as well (in addition to antidepressants, as you point out). If you think you’ve “trained” yourself to climax in a certain way that yields unsatisfying sexual encounters, refrain from masturbating. “No Fap”—a practice of abstaining from jerking off so as to “reboot” your system that has many vocal supporters on the internet—is controversial and very much unproved by science, but there are guys who swear by it. I think changing things up, letting your body crave sex after force-feeding it with no second thought, is generally a good thing. Even if our sexual practices aren’t as corrosive as some would have it, the human body can fall into habits in any type of activity. Shaking yourself out of routine is, by definition, exciting. On the other end of the masturbation scale, you also have the option of edging: You can masturbate without climaxing over the course of several days, perhaps building yourself up to an irrepressible orgasm, regardless of context. Worth a shot.

I have to wonder why you’re paying good money to have unsatisfying encounter after unsatisfying encounter. I hope it’s not because you feel obligated to be sexually active, that sex is somehow fueling your identity as a man. If that’s the case, it must be a real blow when things don’t go well. I’ll assume you have a will but are stumbling when it comes to finding a way, so here’s yet another: If you’re so into women’s pleasure and jerking yourself off, you could lean into it and become the straight equivalent of a cocksucker. There are guys who only want to suck other guys off to such an extent that it defines their sexual identity. Try being that with women. Just eat women out while you masturbate yourself to orgasm. It’s not exactly orthodox, but so what?

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a trans man who is pre-everything and cursed with a body that would be extremely nice if I were a cis woman. Because of dysphoria, I’m viscerally uncomfortable with the amount of touching of places that don’t feel like they belong on me that orgasm requires. It makes me feel like I’m wearing a particularly poorly fitting flesh suit. Not a sexy feeling. I’ve never even been able to get myself off—it’s that bad an experience. Orgasms sound pretty great, but it seems they’ll have to wait until my body matches me better.

However, I’d love to get someone else off, and I’m not keen on the idea of waiting until my medical transition to do so. The idea of making someone else happy and fulfilled sexually is just … amazing, to me. I love when I can make people happy, and this is a whole new kind of happy that I want to be able to give. I might not be a star at first, but I know from what I read on here and elsewhere that the fact that I actively want to communicate with my sexual partners is going to go a long, long way. Feedback: You can’t improve without it.

The problem comes in with how to communicate this to potential partners without making them feel like I don’t want to have sex, or that I’m not going to get anything out of it. I do, and I would! Being aroused is awesome, touching someone and being touched is awesome, and giving someone joy is awesome. I’m just going to have some unusual boundaries. There are plenty of places to caress and hold that won’t make me uncomfortable. Do I just tell people that? Or is that too weird, considering how people seem to think sex equals/requires orgasm? I certainly am not going to put up with being touched in ways that make me unhappy. I deserve to be comfortable, and I refuse to be shy or ashamed over it. But I don’t want to make others feel shy or ashamed as a consequence of my words and actions, either. I can verbally run over people if I’m not careful, so I want to be careful. I want to give pleasure, not unhappiness.

I might be worrying about this too much. I’m certain there are people out there who are totally comfortable with the idea of not getting their partner off. I’m not quite sure how to find them, though, given that the stereotype is nonreciprocating partners are unfit to have sex. Is there a place to look for this? Do I swipe through dating profiles until I see someone identify themselves as pillow nobility? To sum up: Socially inept trans man seeks good way to tell people he’d love to give them orgasms, but doesn’t want any.

—All For You

Dear All For You,

Yep, lead with what you like. The absolute best way to get what you want is to ask for it. If you’re into other guys, I can assure you that this conversation is commonplace on gay apps (“What are you into?” is practically a salutation). I’d imagine at this point, anyone who’s actively seeking out casual sex, regardless of gender, is used to such arranging. Don’t feel embarrassed about having discussions that only lead to more satisfying sex. It may take you a while, but you’ll surely find potential partners who are into the idea of being serviced. Believe me, there are a lot of them out there. You might be better off going for a cruisy app if cruising for sex is what you’re doing (as opposed to an app generally reserved for dating, which will have its share of horny users but also ones who are looking for something that’ll last longer than a hookup). Maybe try a fetish app that will allow you the profile space to specify your interests, or even something like an online cruising board, like Doublelist.

While you do have rather specific criteria from what you’re comfortable with having done to you, I have no doubt that you’ll find people who aren’t put off by your boundaries. So much of what you say about where you are in terms of receiving pleasure is very reasonable, and thus reassuring. I believe you when you say, “I deserve to be comfortable, and refuse to be shy or ashamed over it.” You sound like you have a really good head on your shoulders; so much so that I feel like I should be asking you for advice.

Dear How to Do It,

Now that my on/off relationship with a very giving and understanding partner seems like it may be officially off, I’m thinking about wading back into the dating pool. I have been absolutely spoiled by having a partner who was happy to give me pleasure and got off on my being happy and enthusiastic during sex. The caveat is that I have never had an orgasm with a partner, and it’s not a priority for me. I find sex fulfilling in other ways. I can’t come without the use of toys and have no real desire to introduce these into a sexual relationship (at this time anyway, not saying my mind is set). The thing is that in the past partners have made my orgasm the endgame, and I don’t know how to get around this. It completely sucks the joy out of sex for me. I have also had problems in the past with people thinking that because I won’t come, they don’t have to try, and this also sucks the joy out of sex for me. Is there a good way to start a dialogue about this? Should I be upfront before we get to naked? I don’t know where to start anymore.

—Here for the Journey

Dear Here for the Journey,

I wish I could introduce you to the writer of this week’s Letter No. 2; I feel like you might get along well.

However, because this is a website and not an app, I won’t try to play matchmaker. If the only conceivable choice you have is between a partner who tries too hard because they think they’re going to get you off, and someone who doesn’t try at all because they’re sure they won’t, go with the former and don’t disclose your sexual makeup until after you have been sufficiently diddled. At least if they think they can get you off, they’ll still have the gusto to make you feel good. You are particular, so own it and specify. If you’re comfortable being verbal during sex, that’s probably going to get you to where you want to be most efficiently. You can tell your partner when you want them to lay off/fall back, and then when it’s over, explain that this is just how you are and what you like to do during sex. It might take some good old educating, in which case you could illustrate it like so: Some people build to a climax and that’s it for them, while the entire sustained experience is your climax. It’s just a reframing of what constitutes pleasure, which any open-minded partner should be able to grasp.


More Advice From Slate

My husband and I have been married for about 15 years. During that time, I’ve gained about 30 pounds. My husband has found it really sexy, which is great, but the problem is how much he likes to talk about it before and during sex: how much he likes my weight, how hot it would be if I gained more weight, how he’d like to feed me desserts until I’m “fat,” etc. I don’t find this talk sexy. I’m mostly happy with my body, but I still don’t like this conversation as foreplay. I don’t like feeling pressured to agree to gaining weight. I would like to start exercising more for health reasons, and when I hear his comments, it makes me feel like if my body changes again, it would be unwelcome. I’ve tried discussing this with him when we’re not having sex, and he reassures me that he’s going to love my body no matter what, but when it comes time to get sexy again the weight talk starts up. I’ve also tried to discern whether he just wants me to go along with it in the moment as a sort of role-playing thing, but his responses have been ambivalent. What bothers me most is that when I go along with it, in the absence of knowing for sure whether it’s just playing around, I feel like I’m making empty promises. Any ideas for how to address this?