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,
How do I deal with men who don’t want to do certain things in the bedroom because they “respect [me] too much”? I’ve run in to two men specifically who’ve said this to me (a straight woman) over what I consider to be fairly garden-variety stuff, like if they wanted to come on me versus just in their hand. I’m not asking for anything extreme. I’m now engaged to one of those guys, who admittedly is a little vanilla and low sex drive in the bedroom. He’s absolutely amazing, and I’m with him for more than just sex obviously. However, this is something I’d like to work on. I’m just not sure where to start. It feels like a Catch-22: I can talk with him about it until we decide to move forward with one of those “disrespectful” things, but I’m concerned that this Madonna-whore issue will then truly make him not respect me in a weird way. He’s a porn watcher, but won’t share what. I am also a porn watcher and will be like “Hey, here’s what I like” (covers the gamut, so I’m not trying to shame—more open the convo). So I can’t really even get a beat on what else he might like that I’m not doing. We communicate pretty well otherwise. I get that some things might just be reserved for fantasy, but how can I be respected and also have a little fun every now and again?!
—Find Out What It Means to Me
Dear Find Out What It Means to Me,
Have you directly inquired about your fiancé’s sexual tastes? If you haven’t broached the conversation at all yet, start slow. The specifics will depend on you both, but here are some ideas: Tell him you’re curious about what porn he watches because you want to get to know his sexuality. Explain that showing him your favorite videos was an attempt to communicate about sexual desires and where you overlap. Ask him if there are things he fantasizes about but wouldn’t want to enact in real life. Ask him about his relationship to porn—how he uses it. Ask him if he’s worried you’ll judge him. Ask him if he fears losing respect for you. Voice your own concerns about what makes you worthy of respect, and what doesn’t. Share your own feelings and fantasies.
Once he’s opening up, you can have detailed conversations about turn-ons. Remember, one person’s kinky is another’s vanilla. Ejaculating on your body or face may seem degrading to your fiancé, while pulling your hair or spanking you hard feels completely do-able, or even appealing. You might want to prepare yourself for this conversation by making a list of acts and scenarios you want, and considering which are necessary and which you can live without.
Have these conversations now. Before the wedding. Find out whether you can have the kind of sex you want before you marry this person. Find out whether that kind of sex will demean you in his eyes—and all that might imply—before you tie your lives together legally.
Dear How to Do It,
I love being intimate with my boyfriend. However, within a few hours of shaving his face, he has very prickly stubble. Kissing him leaves me with red splotches and breakouts. Unless he is freshly shaved, he leaves my labia with enough tiny cuts to keep me from being able to enjoy that area for up to three days. He takes hot showers before shaving, uses shaving cream, and tries to get a close shave, but none of it helps. It limits spontaneous kissing. We have to plan everything from making out to sex around his shower/shave session. What can I do to strengthen my skin against his stubble? Is there anything he can do to stay smoother longer?
Is there a world where this guy can have a well-treated beard? That might work wonders. Speaking of growing hair, a fluffy bush might provide a buffer between your vulva and his face. Dental dams are another way to insulate your labia from his stubble.
As for kissing, you might find some exquisite tension in experimenting with ways to touch lips without friction. Or realistically, with as little friction as possible. You might find you enjoy the tease, or you find a more refined focus in that moment.
Otherwise, you could ask a dermatologist for help with your skin, and a barber for advice on a closer shave for him. Maybe he just needs a straight razor.
If readers who have dealt with this issue want to offer their own solutions, we’ll put them in the How to Do It newsletter.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bi woman in my late 30s, and I’ve been with my husband for nearly 20 years. Though not without occasional issues, most of the time we have been incredibly happy—he’s unequivocally the love of my life.
My problem here is a little complicated, or it seems so, at least: My husband is disabled. His disability is one in which he deals with chronic pain, and it will only get worse over time. Because of this, our sex life in the last few years has withered to practically nothing. We do have sex in various ways, but even the things that don’t overly pain him are sometimes a struggle. I really miss it.
Recently, I became very close to a female online friend, “Sharon,” and thought I was falling in love with her. I didn’t say anything about it until she confessed to feeling the same way, and then I immediately came clean about it with my husband. He was wonderful. After I assured him that I loved him no less and had no desire to leave, he said he would be fine if I wanted to explore things with her, sexually or emotionally.
Well, I did. But it became incredibly complicated, incredibly fast, because of her other relationship. Though Sharon’s girlfriend agreed to let her explore and they decided they and we could be poly—a term that, for some reason, made me very uncomfortable; I’m still trying to figure out why—it felt very much to me like reluctant agreement on her girlfriend’s part. This sapped most of my sexual desire and made me feel terribly guilty as well, and when I ended up asking if we could take a break, she—or her girlfriend—decided we needed to break things off completely. I miss her deeply, and I’ve lost someone who was one of my best friends. I’m not sure how to fix it.
To make matters worse, I’m not sure where all of this leaves me on the sexual exploration end of the spectrum. I enjoyed casual sex when I was a teenager, but have since realized that trust and intimacy matters to my physical pleasure. I got the strong feeling from my husband that part of his willingness to let me explore was that I wanted to do so with a woman (my attraction to men and male-presenting people tends to be stronger), which might be significant. So do I approach him about having a one-sidedly open marriage, but promise not to sleep with men? And if I do and he agrees, how do I go about finding someone, while leaving out the emotional factor that screwed everything up with my friend? I want to be sensitive and feel like I’m in completely uncharted territory. Any advice would be much appreciated.
—Brokenhearted and Horny
I’m sorry things worked out the way they did with Sharon. What you describe sounds messy, complicated, and disheartening. I empathize deeply with relationship turmoil being a turn-off—even when it’s a partner’s other relationship. Your reaction to less than enthusiastic consent on the part of Sharon’s girlfriend is beautifully sensitive.
You might not get to return to friendship with Sharon. Which sucks. That’s a big part of the reason so many of us are reluctant to shift from friendship to dating—we’re risking a whole relationship that we value, and sometimes we lose that connection entirely.
The source of your husband’s comfort regarding your relationship with Sharon absolutely could be rooted in the idea that women aren’t competition to men. Have a deep conversation about this. Find out how your husband feels. Ask him what he thinks he’s comfortable with. He could ground himself in the knowledge that he is—as you put it—unequivocally the love of your life. That might be enough security for him. He might be wary of you starting another relationship at all because he’s seen how hard this one was for you. He might simply want to be the bearer of the only penis you touch. You won’t know until you talk. Remember that you’ve loved and supported each other for two decades. You can work out a compromise that meets your needs, his needs, and leaves space for the needs of any third (or eighth) parties.
Once you’ve figured out what you want, what your husband is comfortable with, and settled on the new terms of your marriage commitment, you have a wide variety of options for meeting people. Poly meetups—where you might find the source of your discomfort with the term—hobbies, volunteering work, web forums, dating apps and sites, and, you know, the sidewalk or whatever.
As for leaving out the emotional factor, I don’t think you do. You say you need trust and intimacy to enjoy sex at this stage in your life. I suspect you need mutual respect, too. Exploring emotional relationships with others—even when they aren’t sexual relationships—means opening yourself up to, well, emotions. And sometimes those emotions are tough. Being open to the soft, fluffy ones means being open to the spiky, painful ones as well. I think the rewards are worth the risks, but you have to make your own decision there. Remember that you can wait until you’ve had some time to heal.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 61-year-old woman, and my husband of 10 years is 72. We’ve had considerable ups and downs throughout our relationship, before and during our marriage. There have been situations where I’ve had to dig deep in my heart to exercise forgiveness. The vast majority of the responsibilities fall on my shoulders. I would say he’s high maintenance, moody, and inflexible. He says he loves me and loves having sex. Even so, his requests for sex proceed as demands. There is nothing romantic about his approach. Similarly, I too do nothing to ignite the spark in our relationship. My heart is just not in it. But I do acquiesce most of the time. We both experience pleasure. When I don’t give in, he sulks for a couple of days and makes me feel miserable. I can honestly say that I’m not in love with him but care for him very much. I always put my best foot forward to maintain a peaceful home environment. Is it possible to live like this the rest of our lives?
Dear Spark Plug,
It’s possible—you’re doing it right now—but you don’t have to.
At 61, you are definitely an adult. I assume there are reasons you stay with your husband. My advice to you is to make a list of those reasons and compare it with what you wrote to me. Weigh them against one another. Is what you get out of this relationship worth what you tolerate? You’re the only person who can make that choice.
If you continue to choose to stay, you can ask for romance. You can be blunt. You can tell your husband that if his desire for sex is not articulated as a request, it will not be catered to any longer. “An orgasm is not consent” could be a new concept for him. It might be useful to imagine some examples of romantic behaviors that would make you feel happy, aroused, or amorous to help your husband get started.
He sounds awfully set in his ways at 72, but there’s a small chance this wake-up call could make a difference. If not, remember your list, and make a hard choice.
More How to Do It
I have found myself recently in a position where a man who I know has a girlfriend (I am also female) has 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. 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? How responsible am I for someone else’s relationship?