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).
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have had passionate, fun, frequent sex since we met seven years ago. However, I am six months pregnant and feel turned off, plus sex is sometimes painful. All common, I know. What’s confusing is a new repugnance for his romantic affection, and an equally strong desire for only rough sex when it does happen.
I am coddled in pregnancy in the best ways. I am taking things slowly and carefully, and my loving husband does a lot for me. But this protectiveness of myself and my baby has made me feel untouchable and fragile. It’s driving me up a wall. Pre-pregnancy, our sex life was a great mix of rough and romantic, empowering and vulnerable. Now the romance skeeves me out. When he kisses me softly, my stomach turns, and I want to pull away. This is so unlike me. I’m a romantic at heart!
In a recent encounter, I was demanding, dictating what I wanted, while also being generous in return. Afterward, I asked if he was OK and he said yes, but he seemed weird. We haven’t had sex frequently since, which I’m kind of fine with, but I don’t want to lose our wonderful, fulfilling intimacy. He is very emotional about the birth of our first son. I am too, but I just need to be pounded by someone I trust not to hurt me, you know? He is extremely sensitive, so if I say something about the soft kissing and petting not doing it for me these days, I know he will be injured, especially since he has tried so hard to be the best husband and dad-to-be. Should I speak up and risk hurting him, or just pray this passes when I give birth?
—I Want It That Way
Dear I Want It That Way,
I am so out of my depth here that I was tempted to turn this entire question over to someone—anyone—who has been six months pregnant. To make sure this was the communication issue it seemed to be, instead of anything else I might be missing, I asked Nicole Cliffe, of Slate’s Care and Feeding column, who wrote back: “It’s absolutely all communication. And find other stuff to do, other ways to be intimate. Just remember you are wacked out on hormones and facing the most massive life change and be gentle and soft together.”
I imagine pregnancy to be a much longer, heightened version of the hell my hormones wreak on me monthly. If your pregnancy experience is anything like my PMS, you might feel like you’ve lost control of your own brain. If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure that’s a reasonable reaction to what’s happening inside your body right now.
Before you resign yourself to a lackluster sexual dynamic for the rest of your term, have a talk with your husband. Find out how he felt about that rough sex you two had. Keep Nicole’s words in mind and try to be as neutral as you can. Something like, “I’m curious how you felt about that one time we did [sex act].” If he was upset by it, you might be able to talk through his qualms together, and he may arrive at a point where he’s comfortable giving you the sex you currently crave. If he shuts down or freaks out, you’ll need to use the intimate knowledge you have of him to deescalate and may want to wait it out and see if your sexual desires return to their pre-pregnancy state. There’s another possibility: He might have enjoyed it and not known how to ask for more, out of respect for what he may perceive as a delicate state. I do think it’s worth finding out.
Depending on your husband’s responses, you might want to share yourself. You might say, “Well, I really loved the rough sex we had and would like to know if we can do that more.” Or “The way you wrangled me the other night hit the spot in a way that surprised me. I’d like to explore that together.”
Remember, your whole body is going through immense changes, and that includes your brain and vulva. Take it easy on yourself. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I—a mid-20s woman—have a pretty basic question: what are the general norms concerning female pubic hair in the U.S.?
A bit of background. I was taught growing up that God made women first and foremost for male sexual pleasure, and so women are morally obligated to make their bodies conform to a very specific sexual ideal (weight, hair color, clothing style, even the way we walk). I’m disabled and otherwise don’t fit the ideal, and I was sexually assaulted by an immediate family member when I didn’t seem sufficiently worried about this. Naturally, this situation has left me with a lot of healing to do, but I’m hopeful about eventually finding a partner with whom I can share my life and enjoy having sex.
There are, of course, all sorts of basic sex-related things I’m having to (re)learn for myself, and pubic-hair norms are proving unexpectedly tricky. Internet searches have yielded gynecologists saying that pubic hair is perfectly natural and healthy, feminist blog posts celebrating the variety of female bodies, and lots of advertisements for Brazilian waxes. I know any partner worth having could discuss pubic-hair preferences without shaming me for having the “wrong” amount or style, but there are so many other intimate and emotionally fraught things I have to navigate in potential relationships that I’d like to start on this one in advance. Do you have a sense of how different grooming choices tend to be perceived by people who haven’t consciously considered it too much (i.e., those who are aren’t gynecologists or feminist bloggers)? Shaving hasn’t worked logistically for me, but I’m reluctant to commit to regular waxing unless there’s a reasonably weighty social bias in favor of it.
—Confused by Carpet
It isn’t so much that there is a single norm around pubic hair. It seems to me that people who think there is a norm are projecting their own desires or uninterrogated assumptions about how things should be as hard guidelines. So you may run into people who react as though you’re violating a social norm if you make one choice or another, but they’ll be in their very own society of one. Unfortunately, you can’t really control this—you can only screen for it.
I think you ought to figure out what’s most comfortable for you. For instance, I like to shave the undercarriage every once in a while to cut down on pubic hairs getting glued to my underwear when I’m menstruating. However, I don’t like to keep that area shaved too regularly because I also appreciate the way the hair diffuses sensation. I shave instead of trimming because scissors near my inner labia make me nervous.
Once you’ve got what you prefer figured out, ask how potential sexual partners feel. You can say: “I’m dealing with all this pube angst. Do you have specific ideas about what people’s genital hair ought to look like?” You’re looking for two kinds of answers: anything along the lines of “whatever feels best for you” or specific taste that matches with yours. I consider it a positive sign when a partner expresses an appreciation for pubic hair. If you prefer the sensation of bare skin, you might be hoping to hear the opposite.
If you want to have sex, you’re going to have to deal with your share of people who are rude, brusque, opinionated about things they have no right to be, and even controlling. You’ll have to stand up for yourself at times.
And now for the question you didn’t ask: The gynecologists are probably right. Pubic hair is probably better for vulvas. Shaving causes small cuts that can be an entry point for HIV, HPV, or herpes. Waxing can cause ugly and painful ingrown hairs. I think there’s more to consider here than aesthetics, or what other people desire.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve been without sex for close to 15 years. I’m a straight woman who used to have a normal sex life, and I like sex a lot! I had my heart broken pretty badly, then I got really sick, and in the course of that yearslong period, I didn’t have the energy or the desire to date. I also gained a lot of weight while sick. I’ve been significantly healthier for years now, and I would love to get back out there, but I have no idea how. Dating has changed so much since my mid-20s, when I was last active, and I haven’t clicked with anyone I’ve met in a dating app.
Part of me would love to have casual sex, but I’m super self-conscious about my body—I have seriously lopsided breasts and a lot of scars due to my surgical history, and that plus obesity has me doubting anyone would be interested. I also don’t know that I can go the casual sex route with complete comfort.
I guess what I’m asking is, how do I dive back in? How do I find someone who might be attracted to me, and do I have to admit I haven’t been having sex for longer than I was sexually active? I’m of the age where I don’t meet many single men in the wild, and I quite literally don’t know how to do it anymore (both the meeting and the sex).
—Back in the Game
Some people love the dating apps. My business partner loves OkCupid. My roommate found a nice ongoing arrangement through Tinder. One of my roommate’s friends is super into Hinge. I tried a few and found them painfully awkward. Since you have qualms about going the casual route and haven’t clicked with anyone yet, I think you’d be better off meeting people in the wild.
What is your life like outside the medical and health issues? What do you enjoy doing? What activities are you interested in? Grab a friend—the kind of friend who can read a situation and back away unobtrusively if there’s chemistry brewing—and start putting yourself physically out there in the world.
Set manageable expectations, like “I will attempt to flirt with one person today,” then get out there and follow through on those goals. If you’re nervous about flirting, you might try practicing in the mirror.
Dating can be described as the process of sorting through whether people are a good idea to have sex with or attach our lives to. We’ll focus on the first part. The dates are where you decide whether the person in question values you and treats you with respect. Are they looking you in the eyes? Is their attention focused or wandering? Are they responding to what you say? When you do find someone who you have a rapport with, feel free to take some time to get comfortable. When you’re ready, be direct. Say, “It’s been a while since the last time I had sex, and I’m not sure how I’ll respond,” or “I’m nervous.” Their reaction will tell you more about whether you want to proceed to sexual interaction.
I’ve found that you have to learn how to have sex all over again with each partner. You have to learn how to kiss together, no matter how many people we’ve kissed. Try to keep that in mind in moments where you feel awkward or clumsy. Good luck out there.
Dear How to Do It,
I’d like my wife to dominate me, sexually. Not all of the time, but most of the time. We’ve done it on several occasions, and it was sexually charging. I’d like her to take it a step further and include pegging and cleanup. Nothing would be more of a turn-on than for her to command me to clean her vagina after we finish. I do it on my own now, but it would be the command that would spice it up. I’d like for her to give me instructions, such as “edge three times today, but don’t come.” I’ve asked her to play in this way, but it would be a lot nicer if I did not need to ask and was just told.
I must say that this new sub/dom fantasy/fascination is new to our long marriage. Do you have any suggestions on how to move the process forward? It’s a turnoff if you have to ask for something on more than one occasion.
Dear Mystery Spice,
Kinky sex is not an amusement park. You aren’t entering a magical world that is set up to cater to your exact desires. Communication and consent must happen. If you want a zipless fantasy, you have to lay down more groundwork on the front end.
Go to your wife and tell her that you want extensive psychological domination. Ask her if she has fears, concerns, or qualms. Negotiate boundaries, and establish a safe word for both of you to use if the scene gets to be too intense or if anyone otherwise feels like the situation is headed off the rails.
Remember that the dominant one gets to have boundaries, feelings, and needs too. You’ll need to accommodate them just like she should accommodate yours. Presumably you’ve got a good foundation of communication after all those years of marriage.
You’ll still need to check in with each other periodically during your play, and you’ll want to have aftercare talks—a practice that comes from the BDSM community and involves checking in after BDSM play to process what happened. This is also a great time to address anything concerning that occurred, and to simply say thank you.
More How to Do It
I’m a late-20s woman. I recently went on few dates with a “nice” guy, and we hit it off enough that I invited him up after the third date. When we started having sex, all was fine until he started saying pretty horrible things to me. First it was “whore,” then “you like that, you stupid slut?” and then one other thing I’m not even going to type. I was extremely turned off and wish I had said so immediately, but I didn’t. He is now texting me as if he’s confused why I am being distant. Others have told me this is more of a “tic” than anything for a lot of guys. Is it?