How to Do It

My Husband Won’t Reciprocate Our “Hall Pass” Agreement

I happily gave him some sexual leeway so he could make up for his inexperience. But what about me?

Unhappy husband and frustrated wife with flickering "HALL PASS" sign between them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Ranta Images/iStock/Getty Images Plus and yacobchuk/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,

I’m pretty open-minded about sex and grew up in a “free spirit” kind of home, as opposed to my husband, who grew up very Christian conservative. I was his first and only sexual experience until recently. I gave him a “hall pass” so he could experience human sexuality without the cloud of shame that he was brought up with. He’s had a few really good experiences and recently not so great ones. Basically, he’s experiencing the highs and lows everyone goes through in their teens and 20s, but in his mid-40s. Anyway, I asked to venture out myself ’cause … hey, it’s fun! He flipped out on me. He’s a very regimented, black-and-white kind of thinker, and part of the “hall pass” was never contingent on me going out. He now feels under pressure and obligated to reciprocate and said he would never have agreed to it if he had known that. He tried to give me a chance, but then had an emotional meltdown when I went out on a dinner date with a potential partner. I decided to just let his pass run out, but I hate that he can’t get to a place of security to be OK with me going out. How do I get past this?

—Good for the Goose

Dear Good for the Goose,

Remember that everyone has their thing. His appears to be needing monogamy. You love this guy. It’s likely worth compromising to keep him as your partner. But what can you do to help yourself when your thoughts turn to what you can’t have or the unfairness of the situation?

Try to get back in touch with the spirit in which you initially made the offer to open things up with your husband—to allow him to see what sex with other people is like. He’s seen that, and partially enjoyed it, and now the two of you can get back to being monogamously fluid bonded and never worrying about gonorrhea again—not even in the throat. Remember the context in which this double standard occurred.

Make a list of all the reasons you married this man. I imagine there are a number of significant good qualities he has. When you start to think of the double standard you’re on the disadvantaged side of, turn your thoughts to one of those positive traits or behaviors.

Think back on all the dates that sucked. Putting yourself out there and meeting a string of new people can have its downsides. Recall the worst five encounters of your dating history when you start pining for the unknown.

Dear How to Do It,

I’ve had a couple of casual hookups with a guy I met through an app. He’s in town once a month for work, and we’ve gotten together for the last couple of months. I find him very attractive and really enjoy the foreplay. He does a really good job getting me worked up for the main event. The problem is when we get to the actual sex, he finishes very quickly. I’m talking like a few pumps and he’s done. Which is disappointing on my end. He seems aware of his … limits (for lack of a better phrase) and even a little embarrassed. Both times he’s quickly mentioned afterward it’s been a couple of years since he’s slept with someone. I want to take him at his word, but his level of awareness with his limits makes me think maybe the time between me and his last partner isn’t the issue. I’m secretly wondering if he may have an issue with premature ejaculation.

It’s clear that neither of us is looking for anything serious to come from this. His job doesn’t put him in a place to make commitments (he travels for work weekly and isn’t local to where I live), and I’m not emotionally available. I got out of something long-term earlier this year and need time to work on myself. That said, knowing that I need to be single doesn’t remove the desire for physical intimacy from time to time. This is exactly the kind of arrangement that fulfills my physical needs without requiring commitment, so I’d like to keep seeing him when he’s in town.

What I’m trying to figure out is if there’s a way to prolong the actual sex part of our hookups. Is there something I could subtly do to help him last longer? Or is this something that I need to talk to him about? If so, is there a way to bring it up without hurting his pride? Or should I consider just calling it off since there is literally nothing lost by doing so? He’s a nice guy, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

—Oh, Already?

Dear Oh, Already,

Oh! I love the early ejaculators. I’ve found a number of them are quite capable of a second or even third round and that second and third rounds tend to last much longer.

There are a few ways to approach this. You can feel out whether he’d be interested in learning about some basic tantra—a practice which tends to touch on orgasm control pretty early in the training process. You can mention edging as a practice some people enjoy. You might suggest the two of you explore edging (a practice where the person brings themselves, or is brought, to the brink of pleasure over and over again without orgasming) together; edging can be fun for people without early ejaculation, like you, too.

I do advocate for speaking frankly about sex, but there is something you can do without having a discussion. You can get on top and control the thrusting yourself. If you pay attention, you’ll be able to notice when he’s getting close and can hop off or stop moving until he calms down. You might be able to make a fun game out of this.

Yes, you might hurt this guy’s feelings by broaching the subject directly. But you also might be the person to give him friendly feedback and help him be a better lover in the future. You’ll have to make a choice here, and there is some risk involved either way.

If you do decide to bring it up, you don’t have to frame it as him having a problem. You can say “Hey, I’d like more penetration. Do you think you could have sex with me after having a quick orgasm in my mouth first? Can we try that in the future?” or “I’d like to explore tantra. Would you be my partner for a class or two? Or read Barbara Carrellas’ Urban Tantra together?” or, finally, “I read about edging, and I’d like to give it a shot. Are you down to try it with me?”

Another thing you can do is try to reframe penetrative sex from “the main event” to “a nice punctuation mark.” Penetrative sex doesn’t have to be the goal, nor is sex without it some kind of failure.

Dear How to Do It,

Longtime fan, first-time question-asker. I’m hoping you guys can help me answer a question that feels simple but is not easily Google-able (whenever I Google it, I get a lot of Fisting for Beginners advice that I promise I am beyond). I’m a woman with a vagina in her 20s in a fantastic queer relationship. Honestly, it’s great, and we have a lot of mind-blowing sex, but one of our fave things to do is vaginal fisting. It’s intense and fun, and we both love it! However, it seems to happen super regularly that when I am, ahem, receiving, I get a yeast infection a couple of days later or right after. Yeast infections aren’t super bad, and a little over-the-counter medication clears it up (I live in a place with good free health care). But they’re uncomfortable and put a little bit of a damper on the fun when I feel like I have to plan for an infection in the week after partaking of a whole-hand meal.

Now, we’re both careful and clean up a lot before and after fisting, but is there some piece of aftercare I’m missing here? Or something I could do to make this happen less? What is the tier-two fisting knowledge I cannot find by Googling? Please, help someone who just wants her girlfriend to put her whole hand in her without having to have an awkward conversation with a pharmacy staff member every week (and I really don’t want to tell my poor doctor about this, though I guess I probably should if it keeps happening).

—Filled and Foiled

Dear Filled and Foiled,

I reached out to fisting activist, expert, and delightful acquaintance Jiz Lee. They co-ran an international fisting day for a number of years to raise awareness of fisting as a practice. Here’s what they had to say:

Chronic infections could lead to increased health risks, so I would absolutely recommend she see her doctor. It’s telling that many people feel more able to consult the internet for advice than their health care practitioner. It should be recognized that in her case, a doctor’s visit has the risk of homophobic and judgmental reaction, particularly as a queer female patient engaged in a sex act that is widely misunderstood and stigmatized. However, if her doctor is a good one, this could be precisely the step needed to resolve her situation.

If she doesn’t want to see a doctor (which is understandable and her right), then she might consider reviewing her safer sex practices to see if there are any areas where bacteria and micro-tears can be prevented. It is probably worth it to check anyway, since she didn’t mention it. What kind of lube and barriers is she using? A common culprit of vaginal woes is simply the use of a glycerin-based lubricant. Yeast feeds on sugar. If it’s not that, then perhaps she is using a natural, organic lube with ingredients that have meddled with her flora. Silicone-based lubricants are renowned for being nonreactive and could be a good alternative. It is also a slick, long-lasting lube that can reduce friction—especially when paired with clean, smooth nonlatex gloves. (Latex gloves are equally effective, but some people have or develop latex allergies, so many go with nitrile.) If she isn’t already, I’d recommend she try using gloves and silicone lube next time she has sex to see if that helps.

To echo Jiz (who also recommended this helpful CrashPad blog post for more info), yes, you should probably discuss this with your doctor. A doctor can run a test to verify that this issue is, in fact, yeast. See, Jen Gunter points out in The Vagina Bible that a lot of issues get misdiagnosed as yeast infections when really there’s something else going on. So you really ought to talk with your primary caregiver or gynecologist. Good luck, and good fisting.

Dear How to Do It,

A few years ago, after talking to my friends about my many letdowns in bed, they recommended I take a break from sex for a while and get a vibrator. I tried half a dozen, but didn’t particularly like any of them. The one perk was that I climaxed far more quickly, so I used them for about six months. After telling my friends about my disappointment with the vibrators, one of them mentioned using my detachable shower head. Oh, my God, I almost passed out when I climaxed! I ditched the vibrators and started using the shower head a lot.

I moved a few months ago into a new apartment and threw away all my vibrators. I didn’t even notice my new place didn’t have a detachable shower head. After all the stress of the move, I needed a little pick-me-up, so I resorted to pleasuring myself with just my hand. The results were terrible. The buildup was normal, but when I actually climaxed, it felt like my pleasure just fell off a cliff. Before using the vibrators and shower head, my climax was insanely strong. This wouldn’t be an issue (I quickly went to the hardware store and replaced my shower head), except I started dating someone new. I’m really turned on by him, but it just took me forever to climax. I’m now really worried my nerves are damaged. Is this a thing? I didn’t like vibrators, so I don’t really want to try to find one that would work in the bedroom, nor would hopping in the shower help, since the best position is me standing directly up, not bending over. Is there anything I can do to get my powerful climaxes back?

—Under Pressure

Dear Under Pressure,

I don’t think your nerves are damaged. I do think you’re habituated to orgasming in a certain way.

Dan Savage talks about the death grip when it comes to penises—specifically people with penises who report trouble orgasming with a partner and use a very tight grip when masturbating. His advice is to table that three-button move that always works and retrain your body to orgasm, well, flexibly.

So no shower heads for you for a while.

While you’re taking a break from your favorite masturbation method, try breathing. Focus on your breath, and let it bring your awareness deeper into your body. Use a simple in-through-your-nose for 4 counts, hold for 7, out for 8 through your mouth to get you started. You only have to do the breath four times in a row, but if you find yourself wanting to breathe for longer, feel free to do that. On the inhale, feel your breath going all the way through your chest, into your gut, and down into your pelvic floor. If you can do a Kegel clench during the breath hold, do that. You can try other breathing techniques as well—really anything that encourages you to focus on your body, and specifically that brings your awareness into your genitals.

The hope here is that focusing on your body and staying in the current moment will make your other orgasms more robust, or at least more pleasurable again. And you can always throw in a shower head session every once in a while as a treat. I think you’ve got this.

—Stoya

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I have been together about eight years and have just had our third child. I had a couple small issues during the pregnancy that had me on pelvic rest for much of it, and by the time restrictions were removed, he said I was “too pregnant” to have sex. Then I had our daughter via emergency C-section. Recovery was hard, but I’m healed now and have been given the green light by the doctor to resume normal sexual activity. My husband still won’t. It’s going on a year since we’ve had “normal activity” for any length of time, and I’m ready to take my body back and feel some intimacy (and reassurance after the whole ordeal), and my husband practically cringes at the thought. I’ve already lost almost all the baby weight, but it’s not helping my tender self-image right now that he’s so standoffish. My feelings are hurt, and I’m scared that he no longer sees me the same way as he did before the kids. Is this a phase? Why?