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 straight, divorced woman in my late 50s. I’m not actively seeking a relationship or sex partner, but I would definitely not be opposed to either if the opportunity presented itself. My last sexual relationship was two years ago, when my ex-husband and I attempted to rekindle things after having been divorced for six years. It limped along for a while, but he broke it off. When we got back in bed during that time period, I was surprised to find that he had shaved the hair on his genitals—not a very happy surprise, I must add. He was never very hairy, but we’d been married for 19 years, and it wasn’t something I’d expected to find. He was pleased about it, and asked if I’d ever considered shaving my pubes.
The answer is a resounding NO! I used to shave to put on a swimsuit, but the regrowing process was always itchy and painful, and besides, I don’t mind my bush, so why should I shave just to please others? I had also been in a long-term relationship, following our divorce, with a man who didn’t groom, and I actually liked it that way. Here’s my question (finally): How do I approach this with future (if any) sex partners? I really hate hairless genitals on both men and women, and I honestly prefer things the way they are—however hairy. It seems crazy that this should even be an issue, but in recent years it seems to be the trend. I don’t want someone telling me to shave, but I also don’t have the right to tell someone not to. But if I’m turned off by it, how do I express my feelings?
Dear Bush League,
You’re allowed to have preferences. You’re allowed to have likes and dislikes. Some people are very attached to their pubic hair style, but others are flexible. Be upfront about it. Around the time that you’re ready to talk about sexual chemistry, whether that’s five minutes into the first date or two months into the relationship, bring up pubic hair—and your taste for it—along with STI testing, recent STI statuses, and anything else you feel you want to discuss beforehand.
You can be pretty blunt. For instance, “I prefer natural pubes” or “Do you manscape? Are you willing to stop?” You might get questions in response, so you might want to think through why you prefer hair. You’ll also want to be able to answer specifics, like how groomed is too groomed, or whether you mind if they at least shave their balls, and you can forewarn the potential partner that you don’t trim your triangle. You know, in case he has preferences of his own.
Mostly, I think you’ll find that people are pretty willing to accommodate the tastes of people they find attractive. And if you have a few mismatches along the way, well, you’ll get to practice bringing up the subject.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband is an amazing partner—supportive of me, great dad, etc.—but he has the libido of an elderly turtle. We had sex three times last year, and I got shot down more times than I can count. Whenever we talk about it, he feels terrible and guilty, and then I feel terrible for badgering him about it. I try to do non-sex-based intimacy things, like kissing or patting him on the back or thigh, but when I ask if he wants to have sex and he counters with snuggling and watching a movie, it’s hard not to get deflated. I’ve lost 15 pounds in the past year and spent way too much on clothes and skin care out of a need to feel attractive. He tells me how nice I look, but nothing comes of it, and it’s very frustrating.
My main issue is that now when I fantasize about being with a guy, I mentally pick guys who aren’t him. In the fantasies, the guys actually want me, and because I’m constantly wound up with no outlet, I fantasize a lot. It’s starting to spill over into my non-sex-based daydreams—when I picture the future, I am often on my own. I don’t want that. He’s pretty much as close to perfect as you can get except for the libido, and I know if the shoe were on the other foot and I was uninterested because of menopause or whatever, he would be supportive. It feels like I’m mad at him for something as intrinsic and unchangeable as if I wanted him to magically grow taller. I know you’re big fans of open marriage, but I can’t picture not getting overly attached to someone else, and I don’t want that either. Any advice on how to feel bonded to someone who still loves you but doesn’t want you anymore? We’re only in our late 30s and the future seems bleak.
Has your husband talked about his low libido with his doctor? Sometimes low interest in sex is natural, and other times it’s an indication that something is off. That conversation is at least worth having.
Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are, a favorite of the column, talks about different arousal styles. The book is written for women, but it has tons of insight on men and genderqueer folks as well. It might be worth a read, because it might help you find ways to grow your husband’s arousal in the moment.
For nonsexual connection with your husband, snuggle a lot. Give each other massages. Find ways of connecting and feeling intimate that aren’t sexual. Spend time actively thinking about how wonderful this man you’re married to is, look for memories that feel intimate, and then do more of what you recall. Try not to do these things only as a pretext to sex.
As for your fantasies, entertain them. Take date nights with yourself and let your imagination run wild. Fill up the bathtub and read an erotic book. Get a vibrator you adore—try a few different kinds to see what you like. Make taking care of your own sexual needs a ritual you derive the utmost possible enjoyment from. Build a robust sexual inner world to turn to when you’re feeling frisky.
If you find yourself still frustrated in time, you can reconsider how important this is to you relative to other things in your life and explore your options. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a divorced middle-aged woman and, while I’m still doing the online dating thing and hoping for some sort of permanent or semipermanent thing, I’ve often thought about pursuing some NSA sex. The problem is that as a woman looking for a man, I’m pretty concerned with safety-related issues (as I presume most women—and men—are).
I’ve thought of things like meeting in a bar or restaurant and then taking their photo—with their permission—and sending it to a friend, but is that a weird thing to ask? If it were me, I might think so or wonder if there is some other agenda behind it. That also applies for asking to see ID and sending their name instead, I guess.
I realize nothing is 100 percent risk-free and that having some elaborate process to ensure I don’t wind up as a cautionary tale can take the fun out of things. Danger doesn’t turn me on, though, and unless I felt pretty confident that nothing could go wrong except bad sex, I know I couldn’t enjoy myself. What do other women (people) do?
Dear ID Please,
Before you meet, get their legal name, take a screenshot of their online dating profile photo, and text those—along with your meeting plans—to a responsible friend. Ask the friend to check in a couple of hours after your meeting time, and to check in in the morning to make sure you made it home OK. It’s crucial that you stay in contact for this safety measure to work—if you’re having such a good time that you forget to look at your phone, you may send that friend into a safety panic, and the system may break down.
Meet in high-traffic, public spaces. You could even go so far as to make friends with the bartender at a place one or two neighborhoods over from you and make that your regular first-date spot. Note that I say one or two neighborhoods over—you don’t want to be giving strangers knowledge of the specific area you live in before you meet.
Leave before the restaurant or bar closes, when there are still people around on the street. Do the normal safety things—stick to well-lit areas, have your keys out and prepared before you arrive at the thing they unlock, and listen to your gut instincts.
While you’re doing all of this, remember that, mostly, people are nice, benign, and concerned about consent.
Depending on where you live, there might be a poly or swingers scene where you could meet people in a more organic context. There you’ll be able to observe them interacting with others, and—once you’ve made some friends—vet your potential NSA partners.
Dear How to Do It,
I have a full-time job, a 5-year-old, and a baby, and I am in the middle of a master’s degree. I have no time or energy for anything unnecessary. That said, my husband and I do have sex probably twice a week. The issue is that getting me off requires a lot of effort. So much effort. On his part, think patting his head while rubbing his belly while running uphill. On mine, my brain has to go along with it too, I get serious mental blocks, and I generally need to be mentally distracted until my body feelings take over (I think it’s the Catholic upbringing). It usually ends up like this: He comes before I am quite there, and I get off about once a month. I enjoy the sex even if I don’t come most of the time, though I get grumpy when it’s been a while.
Well, I asked him recently if he would consider just giving me massages instead of trying to make me come and using so much vigorous energy, and put that energy into relaxing me rather than getting me off. Now he’s upset because it feels like like I’m giving up on getting off, that he can’t pleasure me, etc. Is it wrong of me to ask for other forms of physical pleasure in lieu of orgasms? Are there ways of quick-fixing my brain to allow for orgasms without tremendous tons of concentration and energy? How can I get him to get over the masculine “you need to come or else I’m no good in bed” mentality?
—Rub One Out
Dear Rub One Out,
You need a conversation. Maybe multiple conversations over a few weeks.
Tell your husband that you don’t place the same value on your orgasm that he does. Tell him Stoya doesn’t either. Sex is a journey; it’s about feeling good. Thirty minutes of intimate connection with warm fuzzy feelings can be worth more than 30 orgasms. And it sounds like you feel similarly. Talk to your husband about the needs a massage would meet for you, and how much you desire it.
Ask your husband about his reaction to your request for massages over genital stimulation. Dig into it. Help him find his way to the root of why he’s reacting so strongly. Ask him about masculinity; ask him about where his self-worth comes from. Provide positive reinforcement around how important his touch is to you, and how much you love him.
That Emily Nagoski book I mentioned above in the column might be useful for you, too. She writes about different arousal styles and ways to make space for desire. You might find some insight into how your connection to sexuality works, and you might pick up tips for how to access your sexuality when you want to.
Meanwhile, is your husband opposed to vibrators? There are some very strong old standards on the market (the Magic Wand comes to mind) and some new innovations like the Womanizer, or something similar. They might be worth a try to help you get over the hump when you’re, um, humping.
More How to Do It
I found myself recently in a position where a man who I know has a girlfriend (I am also female) propositioned me for sex. I am very attracted to him, and I feel like I wouldn’t have much guilt if I slept with him. At this point I am looking just for sex, not a relationship, and this one-time tryst would be just sex. Obviously, I know that cheating happens, and I know that sleeping with him would not be a wise decision morally for either of us. But I can’t get him out of my head. Is there something wrong with me because I don’t think I would feel that much guilt? Shouldn’t I feel worse about this? How responsible am I for someone else’s relationship?