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,
My husband and I married young and have been together for 15 years. We have two small children together. I’ve never been intimate with another man. (He had one partner before me.) The sex has always been … fine. He is very into performing oral—although I think his enthusiasm outstrips his skill—but I prefer penetration or manual stimulation to get off. He’s average size and has never been a marathon man, but lately he’s had a hard time, well, getting hard, and if he does, he can only handle a minute or maybe two of intercourse before he comes, and then he’s done, whether I am or not. In contrast, as I’ve gotten older, my tastes have started to run less vanilla, and all I want lately is really rough sex with a big, hard dick operated by someone who really knows how to use it. We still have sex a few times a week, but sometimes when it’s over, I’m so frustrated I could cry. He shoots me down about half the time I try to initiate, and when he doesn’t, he has performance trouble about one-third of the time. I’m an attractive woman and in great shape. I try lighting candles and wearing sexy lingerie, etc., and I still feel like part of the furniture as far as he’s concerned. To further complicate matters, I’ve recently started chatting online with a sexy, well-endowed man in a similar marriage situation, and that initially very innocent friendship has gotten increasingly inappropriate. It is now pretty much just sexting, and it’s so tempting to have an in-person affair. I don’t want to blow up an otherwise comfortable life over my desire for a big dick. (For the record, I have no interest in being in a relationship with this other man—just sex.) What can I do to fix this before I literally die of horniness?
Dear Sizing Up,
It sounds like your husband might be having issues related to erectile dysfunction, which, unfortunately, are so wrapped up in shame that many men find them virtually impossible to discuss. (His short hang time could be related, in fact—some guys with E.D. tend to ejaculate quickly for fear of going soft during an extended session.) But his issues affect you, and you are justified to initiate a discussion about them. You aren’t satisfied, and you won’t be any more so if you just wait around for change to happen.
I’d start with a gentle conversation with your husband during a non-sexual moment when you have the time to talk. Tell him you’ve been frustrated in bed. Mention you appreciate his oral enthusiasm, but that you prefer manual and penetrative simulation. Tell him you feel he doesn’t prioritize your pleasure at times, particularly after he finishes. Tell him that you desire longer sessions. Ask him if there’s anything else he wants to try in bed. See if he’s concerned about performance issues, and ask if he’d be open to trying to E.D. drugs to help. You may want to do this over time, after you’ve initiated the conversation, and not lay it all on him at once. You could both read Come As You Are, and frame this as a sexual journey you’re on together, not a correction. Open communication and working together in bed should improve things in a life you otherwise want to preserve.
The only way you’d get my blessing for pursing the big-dicked object of your fantasies is if you did it ethically, which is by opening your relationship (and ensuring that your stud in waiting has done the same with his). A conversation about this with your husband also could be useful, even if it doesn’t result in the outcome of a non-monogamous arrangement. It could at least convey to him the seriousness of your situation. It could also very much hurt his feelings, but the way I see it is you’re already dealing with hurt feelings, and it’s unfair for you to have to shoulder the burden of an unsatisfying sex life and an arrangement that makes attaining one impossible. This, too, might be something to broach after the first couple conversations.
Could a large dildo be a sort of compromise that allows you the sensation you’re looking for without resorting to cheating? A stopgap, if you will? Worth a try, I think, while you figure this out.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 39-year-old straight man, a gym rat with nerd hobbies, successful, post-graduate-educated, with a decent middle-class lifestyle. I own a decent house, decent car and travel a lot, and I’m living a life that I’m so grateful to have. The only issue in my life that worries my family and friends is that I don’t have a partner. The thing is that, when it comes to girls, I’m a shy guy and never had any play. I only had one girlfriend for two years in my mid-20s, and I never dated after that. In fact, I just don’t want any woman in my life. I’m just happy with watching porn, masturbation, the strip joint and, once in a while, prostitutes or erotic massage parlors. To me, the distress of talking to a woman and asking her out isn’t worth the headache. I’m not a good-looking dude and I cannot say something cool, like other guys; I’m a nerd whose hobby is learning quantum physics. I don’t know how to talk to a woman and keep her attention. I’m also afraid that if a partner enters my life at this point, she could simply imbalance my lifestyle. I never had the experience of moving in with anyone.
But the pressure from my parents and family is annoying me and makes me wonder maybe something is really wrong with me. My question is, does this whole situation—porno, self-pleasure and purchasing sex—make me a bad person? Is it something wrong with me psychologically that I do not want to have a romantic relationship? (Which, by the way, I have no idea how to do anyway.) I’m not sure if any girl even likes my style, an academic nerd who still plays PS4 at 39. People around me look at me weird when they learn that I’m still single at this age with no children and also no plan for it. I would appreciate your input on this, whether I should consider seeing a therapist or if I should accept I am what I am.
Dear Dr. Solo,
I’m of two minds about your situation. I truly believe that you should pursue the life path that feels true to you, ignoring the pressures and critiques of “society” (in this case, embodied by your presumably normative parents and family). This isn’t easy, and many just aren’t able to block out the noise and blot out the imagery of what normalcy looks like and thus get caught up in despair when their lives fall short of what they “should” be. But when possible, ignoring the noise and just doing you is so rewarding. This is a cornerstone of queerness. I’m not saying that you should start identifying as queer, but you could find some inspiration in the queers who have been able to reject the pressure to contort their lives into anything other than what they actually are. You could very well be somewhere on the asexuality spectrum (in the aromantic vicinity, perhaps), but again, how you identify is up to you.
So no, theoretically, there is not a problem with how you are pursuing happiness, and porn/masturbation/the employment of sex workers does not make you a bad person. That said, your reasons for not pursuing relationships are somewhat concerning, as they don’t seem to stem from an absence of feeling but from anxiety, a sense of low-self esteem, or a reaction to previous interactions. People of all walks of life—no matter how socially awkward or nerdy—find partners, and your letter reads as if you’ve given up to save yourself the grief of rejection. You say that talking to a woman isn’t worth the headache, but that’s far from the only outcome of such an interaction. I’ll let you in a secret: No one “knows” how to do a relationship. We’re all playing by ear day to day, and in the best-case scenarios, our ethics, integrity, and consistency create a harmonic score to low-key interpersonal chaos. Yes, this can be a headache, and the work relationships demand can be exhausting. But human interaction? Feeling understood? Knowing what it is to love and be loved and love because you are loved, allowing that cycle to take on a sort of perpetual motion that fuels a partnership? That can be deeply rewarding. There is nothing like it.
If you, as I do, suspect that you are capable of such a coupling but are rejecting it preemptively to preserve your own ego and keep your anxiety in check, it is absolutely worth talking to a professional and start working on underlying issues that may be obstructing you from living the life you deserve. But if you don’t, and your feeling of contentment never wavers, who is anyone to say that you aren’t living right?
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bisexual woman in my early 30s, and I’ve been in a relationship with an amazing woman for the past nine months. We both care about each other deeply, and it’s the happiest and most stable relationship I’ve ever been in. Here’s the thing, though: Before her, I’d only ever slept with and dated men, while she’s dated almost exclusively women. I feel painfully inexperienced compared to her, which is uncomfortable for me because I’m used to being the more experienced one. It kind of feels like being a virgin all over again. For what it’s worth, these worries are all coming from me—she has never made me feel bad about my bisexuality or my past relationships with men. But I can’t stop worrying. To me, the sex in our relationship is great—but what if she thinks something is lacking? Mostly, I worry that I might not be as good as her exes (several of whom are “gold star” lesbians). How do I compete with that?
Dear Silver Star,
You don’t “compete” with anything—you forge an entirely novel path with your unique partnership. No matter how seemingly well-reasoned, anxiety is anxiety, the worry about uncertainty over things that, in terms of your own perception, do not yet exist. Anxiety is about as close as you can get to literally chasing a dragon, since dragons don’t actually exist.
You say you feel inexperienced, but you have nine months with this woman under your belt. That counts as experience. While it is true that some lovers leave indelible marks in one’s memory, a healthy brain remains spongelike and able to canonize new experience. So make it your business to make new memories. Keep your communication open, too. I think a conversation that circles around your anxiety could be useful as long as you don’t lead with your fears and ultimately make the situation about attending to you. Your issues concern attending to her and her pleasure, so check in and ask if she’s happy, if there’s anything else you could do that she would enjoy, anything that you’re already doing that could use improving. There will be a fine line between having a discussion and making this a thing. The latter would effectively create an issue for both of you out of something that originated in your head as anxiety. You’d run the risk of manifesting a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, please, do not make it a thing.
Dear How to Do It,
My partner is immunocompromised and was staying with family across the country when COVID-19 hit. Due to being at risk, they likely won’t be back for many more months, despite many cities now entering reopening phases. I’m glad they are safe, and we are able to talk a lot, which has helped make the transition to distance easier. The one problem, however, is that I have never been super comfortable with phone sex, taking sexy pictures, or anything that would translate well to a long-distance relationship. My partner is very understanding, so has stopped trying to initiate. But now that weeks have turned into months, and there seems to be no end in sight, I would like to take initiative and work on growing more comfortable with long-distance sex. I have struggled with feeling unnatural, silly, as well as grappled with privacy concerns. Do you have any advice on how I can ease myself into this?
Get a piece of paper and make three lists: What you’re absolutely comfortable with right at this moment, what you’re open to or curious about, and absolute no-gos. Initiate based on the first list, discuss with your partner the contents of the second, and make clear the boundaries that comprise your third. I’m going to urge you not to go too far outside your comfort zone, and remind you that if you aren’t into virtual sex, it’s OK. You don’t have to like everything, and many people (including myself) find disembodied sex to be so far outside of what they enjoy about sexual encounters (human-on-human friction, for example) that they just aren’t interested in taking part in such communication, even if they have otherwise healthy and enthusiastic attitudes about sex.
Also, there has been a ton of content lately regarding quarantined intimacy. The New York-based poly group Curious Fox’s official podcast has focused a few episodes on this issue (check the “Redefining Dating and Sex During COVID-19” episode at that link), and early into lockdown the BDSM-themed podcast Safe Word did an episode called “How Has the Coronavirus Affected the BDSM Community?” Listening may give you ideas, or just help warm you to the idea in a more general way. Try it out.
More How to Do It
I’m a woman in my late 30s. Until about a year ago, all of my relationships were with “average”-sized guys. About a year ago, though, I started dating a wonderful man who is also quite well-endowed (around 9 inches). This should be great, but he keeps hitting my cervix, which for me causes a huge amount of pain. Sex with us is also not as spontaneous as it has been with previous partners because it requires more lube, foreplay, etc. I also find it hard to give him a sustained blowjob because he’s also pretty thick and my jaw gets tired much faster than it has with previous partners. I really like this guy (and he’s otherwise great in bed!), but I’d love to be able to actually appreciate his size rather than be annoyed by it. Do you have any tips?