How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 35-year-old married mother of two small children, and I’ve never had good sex. I do not have orgasms from intercourse alone, which I have gathered is not unusual. None of the men I was with when I was single in my 20s were interested in learning about the clitoris. Neither is my husband. I used to think that women who cheated were being ridiculous because the only thing I’ve ever gotten out of sex is ego gratification. Why risk the stability of your marriage and family for something as ephemeral as that?
Recently I’ve begun to think that this may not be all straight women’s experience of sex, and maybe some straight women cheat because they’re having orgasms with their affair partner. I want that. I wonder if it’s really possible. I’ve long assumed that when straight women say they like sex, they’re lying. But what if they’re not? What if I can experience that, too? I want to. Yes, I know about touching myself during sexual encounters—but I don’t think masturbating during sex is very exciting. It’s like tickling myself. Kinda dull.
Yes, I am in marriage counseling—but our marriage counselor is uncomfortable talking about sex. He’s great with helping us communicate better, but he just does not cover that area of things. Yes, I know there is such a thing as a sex counselor, and no, my insurance doesn’t cover any that I’ve been able to find. Yes, I’ve tried to teach my husband where my clitoris is. We’ve been married for five years, and he cannot be dissuaded from thinking it’s my urethra, which, ow. Yes, I’ve tried teaching my husband to touch me gently, but anytime he tries, it’s not only NOT my clitoris, but it’s also way too rough. He will not learn.
My question is whether all men are like this—because in my dating life, they all were—or whether it’s worth it to try to have an affair. For me, sex has always been all risk and no reward. I have become deeply cynical in this area. But there is a little tiny sprig of hope that makes me wonder: What if there is a reward to be had? What if some straight men are interested in the clitoris and understand how to operate it? What if I can have an orgasm with someone else before I die? That reward would be worth the risk.
Dear Cynical Cindy,
I’m not going to condone cheating.
I imagine you’re frustrated. You’ve tried to communicate to your husband about how and where you like to be touched, and you aren’t getting the results you want. You’re wondering if everyone else is having a great time coming all over the place, and maybe feeling a bit left out. It sounds like you’ve had a rough time go of it.
A couple things to consider: Communication skills do generalize. What I mean here is that better communication in other aspects of your relationship should make it easier to communicate about sex, too. Apply what you’re learning in therapy to build a better sex life. You might get somewhere. You also haven’t mentioned the open option at all. Do you have a kink for subterfuge? Have you already discussed opening up the marriage and gotten a hard no? Or maybe it simply didn’t occur to you? Open arrangements may be a tall order in many marriages, but they can be a great way of navigating sexual mismatches in established relationships. Because, after all, you do have kids and stability to think about, and you don’t mention wanting to leave.
But mostly I’m concerned about the way you seem to be outsourcing your pleasure. Your pleasure is your responsibility. If you want to have mind-blowing sex, you’re going to need to be able to tell people exactly what to do to you, for how long, and with how much pressure. Masturbation is one of the easiest ways to learn what you like. I find it difficult to assume that you’ve tried all the techniques and toys and still feel like you’re tickling yourself, even during sex. Read some Betty Dodson and some Barbara Carrellas. Take charge of your own orgasm.
To try (again) to tackle your husband’s reputed lack of ability to find the clitoris, you can do the gentle thing, go for the nuclear option, or something in between. You can keep repositioning his finger, or moving around on his face, to get the right spot. Or you can tell him you’re so frustrated you’ve considered cheating, and he needs to get with the program. (That’s the nuclear option.) You’ll have to decide for yourself which move is the best for your situation.
To directly answer your question, yes, many men (and women, and nonbinary people) are capable of using gentle touch and finding their partner’s clitoris. It’s likely still possible for your husband to become one of them.
Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I (straight couple) have been together almost two years and really enjoy our sex life, but we’re interested in trying new things. He’s my first sexual partner, and his previous relationships were pretty limited in what they did in bed, so we’re both a little inexperienced regarding the realm beyond “vanilla.” Recently, he’s been expressing an interest in me dominating or “punishing” him sometimes. I have no particular desire for dominance or submission, but I’m not opposed to trying it for him either. We both seem to like pain because we do an awful lot of biting, so maybe that can play a role in it too. But I don’t really know what dominating or punishing him would look like—like, what do I do or say? I need ideas, but I’m not really into watching porn, so I’m looking for another resource. How do we start trying this, and what do we need to know about safety (physical, emotional, such as the references I’ve seen you make about aftercare, etc.)? Is there a particular book or website or other resource that you like?
Dear Power Pupil,
Look around in your area for classes, demonstrations, and parties thrown by kinky people. Many groups have tiered levels of intensity—munches with more of a mingling focus are common, as are play parties where exhibitionism is encouraged and sex may be allowed. Munches are a great place to talk theory, and play parties are a great place to watch the praxis.
If that’s too much, read. Go to the sex section of your local bookstore (especially if there are any left-of-center spots in town) and flip through some guides. Pick two or three that seem appealing to you. Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns might be a good one. Read together, or show each other passages that you find interesting. Use the books as conversation-starters. The goal here is to get you two thinking and communicating about what you might want to try.
If you don’t want to invest in books quite yet, Sinclair Sexsmith—a respected sex writer, sex educator, and top—has a great blog at Sugarbutch. They have a whole essay section, Kink & D/s, that might help you get insight into various styles of topping, and a Dirty Stories section that might give you some ideas.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a cisgender gay man. My boyfriend is a transgender gay man who hasn’t yet had bottom surgery. He insists on waiting until after he’s a father because he wants to carry his own children. I would hope it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that means he still has female genitalia. (Technically, he does have a penis, but a very small one that grew because of the hormones.) We have been together for a little under a year. The first couple times we had sex, he asked me if it bothered me and, back when we had just started dating, it genuinely didn’t, even though I am a gay man and I do love sucking dick. (I am a top, so I don’t enjoy getting penetrated.) But now that we have been dating for quite a while, I miss it. I’ve asked about an open relationship, but he said he would not do it.
Also, a few things I think are worth mentioning: He gets horny a hell of a lot more than I do, which can get annoying sometimes, and the last few times we’ve had sex, I’ve had trouble climaxing with him; I find myself having to resort to my own hand. And, here’s the big one: We’ve already promised ourselves to each other. We’ve bought rings and everything. There have been multiple instances where he gets scared that I’ll leave him because he doesn’t have a penis, and I’ve assured him that I wouldn’t. That what we have together is more important to me than that. But like I said, I miss it. I love him so much and, besides the whole penis situation, we have a great life together, and I do want to marry him. I genuinely don’t know what to do. Can you help me?
You’re in a tough spot. Libido mismatches and love make frequent and frustrating bedfellows.
I have one—possibly terrible—idea. Look into strap-ons. With enough imagination, you can feel like you’re sucking a fat dick, and he can feel like he has a giant one. Trans men report very different reactions to strap-ons, so approach this gently. Some companies also make dick extenders in case the strap-on feels like it’s undermining your boyfriend’s gender identity.
Meanwhile, encourage your boyfriend to masturbate when he gets horny and you aren’t. Offer to hold him or observe him if that helps him feel connected to you and, well, sexy. You also might revisit the open conversation, especially in light of his higher libido. Emphasizing how he can get his needs met might help him see the value in open relationship structures.
You love him so much, by your own description. I think you can work this out.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight woman and a virgin in my late 20s. I’ve had bad luck with relationships, lots of missed connections, and some anxiety around partnerships, as well as struggles with generic anxiety and depression. I went to my first gynecologist appointment last year and had something of a traumatic experience, which included not being able to handle the actual examination because of tightness and pain. When I asked about it, the doctor said it wasn’t abnormal, but when I was ready to have penetrative sex, I might try using vaginal dilators to help with the adjustment.
I internalized this as an inherent inability to have penetrative sex, and eventually as brokenness. I know, that’s not how it works. It took over a year to sort through my feelings about it, and eventually, I decided to take the doctor’s advice and try dilators. It’s an ongoing process, but to call it an emotional revelation isn’t being dramatic. I feel like I am in control of my body, like I’m alleviating future anxiety if I ever do find a partner, and even if I don’t physically enjoy it yet, I’m enjoying the process without any external pressure. It’s not really just about being able to take someone’s dick—or at least, not anymore.
I am the only person I know who’s ever tried this. When I tried to look online for other people who might have had the same experiences, I found many articles decrying Mormons for the practice of premarital gynecological exams, part of which includes offering dilators to women about to get married. I am not Mormon and think the church’s general attitude toward sex is abhorrent, but my doctor is. I feel strange about what I’m doing, worried about whether it’s buying into something harmful, and almost alone. Some of my friends encourage me to talk openly about it, which is a godsend, but even my therapist thinks what I’m doing is a little offbeat, though she supports me. Is there a community somewhere I’m missing? Have I done the wrong thing?
Dear Opening Up,
If there is a vaginal dilation community online, I’m also using the wrong search terms. You might have better luck in spaces where menopausal, post-menopausal, and trans women who’ve had bottom surgery hang out, and you may need to broach the topic yourself.
I want to underline the fact that vaginal dilation is more than a Mormon thing.
I get being squicked out by the aspects of Mormon culture, but I think you’re overthinking this. The dilators are working for you, and they’re helping you connect with your body. Keep using them. The questionable Mormon connection doesn’t seem relevant to your experience. There’s no need to throw the dildo out with the bathwater here.
More How to Do It
I’m a woman in my mid-30s, and my boyfriend is in his mid-20s. He’s a dom and I’m a sub in bed. I have a collar and leash set we use quite frequently. A few weeks ago, my mother was taking care of my pet and my plants. My son, who is 10, was with his father. Before I left, I double-checked the door lock on my bedroom. It was locked. When I got home, my mother came over because she said she had to speak to me about something important. While I was away, she went into my bedroom and “stumbled upon” my toys and was incredibly angry that I let my boyfriend abuse me! She is adamant I need to leave him because she doesn’t think it’s good for my son to see the abuse. My son hasn’t seen or heard any of the “abuse.” My mother has since told most of the family that I let my boyfriend abuse me in bed, so now I’m getting “you should leave him now” from all sides. How can I kindly tell my family my sex life is none of their business and to drop it?