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 recently orgasmed during a typical massage at a massage therapy chain. It happened during a thigh massage, but no boundaries were crossed. I am married and monogamous, and I get massages for stress relief, although I prefer male therapists both for the hand strength and the added titillation. I wasn’t seeking anything in my sex life—our sex life is good—but the orgasm made me wonder how I can incorporate that experience in our sex life. I don’t want to tell my husband what happened, but I want him to do it to me.
—On the Table
Dear On the Table,
Does your husband know that you prefer massages from men because it titillates you? Or is that why you don’t want to tell him?
I know, the situation is risky. Your husband might have feelings that you don’t want him to have. He might be jealous or upset that you’re at the edge of the monogamous commitment you’ve made. He might not care about what’s happened but be worried about the fact that you didn’t tell him immediately.
But if you hide the genesis of this urge from him, he might find out later and feel betrayed. Do the scary thing: Tell him. Go to your husband and explain that you had an accidental—unplanned, unasked for—orgasm that you enjoyed very much, and want to see if he can do that for you himself. Then get your awesome thigh massage on and see what happens.
Dear How to Do It,
I just started exclusively dating this great person. We have fun together and enjoy each other’s company. In many ways, we’re very similar. We handle conflict calmly and logically. To get to the point, everything outside of the bedroom is going well. She’s very experienced, she’s been to sex clubs, been with “orgasm experts,” and had many partners. I’m no rookie, don’t get me wrong: I’ve had a lot of partners myself, who have never expressed dissatisfaction with our sex life. I’m the kind of partner that will talk with you after about how I could do better to get you off. I’ve done this with her, and she’s given me some notes. But I fear the problem is that she’s more disappointed in my equipment than my ability. I’m pretty average in that department, and I’m guessing she’s been with guys that are 8 inches or above. With me, she can only reach orgasm when she’s on top.
For me, this is a new experience as with other partners this has never been an issue. The other day she said that our sex life is “very vanilla, but vanilla can be good.” I’m her first serious partner in about three years. She was hooking up with people who didn’t matter, but she’s expressed how much she likes me and is enjoying our time together. I’ve asked her how we could spice up our bedroom life, and she hasn’t really given me a real answer. My questions are, what should I do to go from vanilla to birthday cake? Is there something that I’m missing that I’m not seeing because I’m too close? Or am I overthinking this?
Dear Vanilla Spice,
There’s bargain-basement vanilla, and there’s Häagen-Dazs vanilla. It sounds like you’re serving the fancy stuff.
She likes you. Vanilla-worried-about-birthday cake you. Take it from me, a woman who has done many, many sexual things in many, many contexts: Sometimes vanilla is wonderful. Sometimes vanilla is what you crave. Sometimes you get tired of all the bells and whistles—or belts and whips—and just want pure physical connection.
Remember many women can’t orgasm from pure penetration at all. Your girlfriend’s need to be on top to orgasm is solidly normal (needing some specific way or touch or accouterment, that is, not specifically needing to be on top). She might not be giving you a “real answer” about what can be done to spice up your bedroom life because she doesn’t want any more spice. If you want spice, that’s one thing—if there’s something you’ve been yearning for or curious about, you should absolutely bring it up. But if you’re perfectly happy aside from this concern that there aren’t enough sprinkles on your penis, relax.
Don’t get hung up on dick size, either. If your girlfriend says it’s enough, take her at her word. Which is really the core here, isn’t it? Believe what she says to you.
Dear How to Do It,
What would you suggest a liberal, vanilla, suburban, nonreligious Jewish, heterosexual couple in their early 40s tell their 8- and 12-year-old sons about pornography on the internet to keep them safe?
—The Other Talk
I don’t have kids. You should know this and take everything I say with that grain of salt. Erika Lust, who is known for pornographic work that centers on female pleasure and is generally made for the female gaze—and who does have children—has a project called the Porn Conversation. I think this could be very useful for you. It has sections for children under 11, between 11 and 15, and 15+. You’ll know far better than I whether the age groups are appropriate for your own progeny, and if they don’t quite fit, you can go up or down an age group. Check it out for yourself first before introducing any of the material to your children.
One danger with children being able to access pornography is that they don’t yet have the critical thinking ability necessary to parse fantasy from real life. Some adults don’t have that ability either. Teach your kids how to do that—with porn, with romance movies, with action flicks. Take the opportunity to point out this distinction when you see it.
Another problem is that they may take porn scenes to be a how-to guide for sexual interactions and even flirtation. Counter this with a big dose of consent culture. Talk to your kids about touching—any kind of touching, sexual or not—and impart to them the need to ask permission first. Whether the touch in question is a handjob or a hug, they’ll be well-served by a tendency to ask first. Model this behavior for them. You could ask friends if they’d like a hug before you hug them. You could ask your kids if you can snuggle them, or whatever physical contact parents have with 12-year-olds. In any way that makes sense for you, let your kids see consent as a natural part of interacting with other humans, with their own eyes, through your actions.
Tell your kids that porn is a fantasy—an entertainment medium—and then get them useful, science-based sex ed. If you’re at a loss for what to teach them and want to be hands-on about it, Rutgers has a program called Answer that provides sex education. Yep: It teaches people—say, gym teachers in Iowa who just got handed the responsibility of teaching sex ed—how to teach about sex. It’s geared more toward that straw gym teacher I just mentioned and isn’t too great about some specific queer experiences, but it’s better than wading in without preparation. The classes do cost something—$150, last I checked—and there are nine of them. You can pick and choose which ones seem most useful to you.
Build a solid relationship with your kids so they feel comfortable coming to you with their dating woes as they age, even their questions about pornography—because they will have questions, and you don’t want them to wait until they’re adults to ask. They’ll have questions I can’t anticipate. They’ll have questions you can’t anticipate. That open channel of communication will be invaluable.
Dear How to Do It,
I am married to a man who recently declared that he is gay. We have been together for almost 15 years, married for six with zero sex life. Earlier, I thought it had to do with his childhood trauma, abuse that he mentioned, or that there was something lacking in me. So I kept waiting for him to feel comfortable. I love him, and he says he loves me too. We have been trying to keep things working and often talk about having a child. But then I recently discovered him cheating on me during his work trips. Broke my heart into a million pieces. His coming out did not hurt me as much as him cheating on me after I accepted everything he shared.
I really don’t know what to do. I want things to work because I understand sex is part of a relationship and not all of it, but I do have desires, and each time I close my eyes I imagine him with someone else. I want to forget, but it’s so damn hard. I love him and don’t want everything to collapse. But what do I do to move on? Can I ever move on? Can I ever have a sex life with a husband who expresses the desire to have a kid with me but shrugs each time we get even slightly intimate?
Dear Marriage Story,
You can love someone without having sex with them or remaining married to them. Go to couples counseling with the specific aim of navigating your husband’s newly out-in-the-open sexual identity and what that means for your relationship.
That said, you can’t have a healthy sex life with a person who doesn’t find your gender attractive. Be prepared to sever the sexual aspect.
You’ve invested a lot of time in this relationship, but the sunk-cost fallacy is real. Be prepared to sever the whole thing if that’s what it takes for you both to be happy. You can move forward in life, meet new people, and find a mate that wants to, well, mate with you. But you’ll need to look forward and let go of relationships that don’t meet your needs first. Best of luck—you’re not alone in this experience.
More How to Do It
I am a 29-year-old straight guy who’s been sexually active since I was 18. I am running into a problem I’ve had since I first had sex, and it feels like it’s getting worse. I really, really hate going down on women. I just don’t like to be that up close and personal with vaginas—even very clean vaginas. Something about staring the anatomy that close in the face just puts me off. I’ve often pushed past my dislike of this with new partners because I want them to enjoy themselves too. In my two relationships, I eventually told the truth and we worked around it. I also love receiving oral sex and I’m not sure I’d be OK with a partner taking that off the table. But no matter how many women I’m with, I still hate giving oral sex, and my aversion is only getting stronger. What can I do?