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 woman in a wonderful, long-term relationship with a man. Our relationship is happy and easy, we communicate well, we have lots of common interests, and we also have a mutually satisfying sex life. It mainly takes the form of penetrative sex, occasional mutual masturbation, and me giving him blow jobs.
While I really enjoy giving oral sex and my boyfriend really likes receiving it, he dislikes giving it, and I’m indifferent to receiving it. It’s not a turn-off, but it also doesn’t really do anything for me. Some of my friends insist that our oral preferences create an imbalance in our relationship, and that his dislike for giving oral is some sort of subtle, maybe even unconscious, expression of selfishness or misogyny.
My knee-jerk reaction is that I don’t agree—I’m happy with our sex life, and over several years together, my boyfriend has never given me any reason otherwise to think that he has a problem with women in general, let alone me. Since I don’t really like getting eaten out, his aversion to doing it doesn’t feel like a problem. Am I wrong, though? Does my boyfriend’s dislike of giving oral create an inherent inequality in our relationship?
Dear Friendly Fire,
On paper, technically speaking, yes, your boyfriend’s receipt but not gift of oral—and your gift but not receipt—is an “inherent inequality.” I’m sure there are other inequalities, too. For instance, my roommate and I have a deeply unequal relationship. He’s taller, and I almost always ask him to deal with the top shelf rather than climb up there myself. Maybe one of you prefers the dishes and the other handles the floors. Maybe one of you does more emotional labor than the other. Probably one does more in certain areas and the other in other areas. My point being that unequal does not necessarily involve selfishness or misogyny.
You’re happy. Your partner is happy. You’re both satisfied with the sex you’re having, and nobody is doing anything they don’t want to. This is good. You’re in a relationship with someone whose sexual desires and preferences match up with yours, and that relationship is something you describe as wonderful. This is great. Fantastic, even.
You’re happy with your sex life. If you weren’t happy, I’d be encouraging you to ask for what you want. But you are happy. So that’s all that really matters here.
Dear How to Do It,
My wife has had an orgasm greater than 94 percent of the times we have had sex, but she says it is closer to 70 percent. She doesn’t give me credit for oral- or digital-induced orgasms. Additionally, she grades her orgasms on a curve. I think there is no such thing as a bad orgasm, and I should get a score of 90–100. She says since they are all good that they are all average, so again she scores them at about 70 percent. This is impeding my ability to perform, because I don’t think I’m being properly credited for my work. Am I missing something?
Dear Stats Major,
I’m not sure if you’re missing something, but I certainly am. I’m missing the link between orgasm frequency and score. Is each orgasm scored? And then the overall penetrative act? Where do you keep this data?
In any case, there’s definitely such a thing as a bad orgasm. Sometimes your body goes through the motions of something you don’t want, or it’s so strong that there’s pain. I’ve never conversed with a person who scores their sexual experiences this way. I’m glad the two of you have found each other. I do wonder if you might enjoy sex without scoring, sometimes. If you might find fun in fornicating for pure pleasure, without a goal or task to complete. Maybe try it once and see how it goes?
Dear How to Do It,
My wife and I are exploring nonmonogamy (yes, we’re waiting until it’s safe out there), but we still have some kinks to work out. There are things she wants to do with other men but not with me. I’m feeling insecure about it, and she doesn’t understand why.
This all started when she was on a trip and slept with an acquaintance who lives in another country. While I was upset she’d kept it from me, I realized I was turned on rather than jealous. She recalled the rough sex they’d enjoyed, and I was surprised, because it was something I’d fantasized about but didn’t think she’d be into. We’ve been married just more than 10 years. After a few weeks, she said rough sex with me just wasn’t working for her. She liked other men to, say, pull her hair, but not me. I understand intellectually that the way she’s attracted to me is specific and probably well-worn over the years, but I can’t help feeling unsexy over this.
We’ve talked about it, but she just gets exasperated, won’t engage with my concerns, and says “maybe we shouldn’t do this.” I like the idea of her being with other men, and she’s even open to me watching if we find someone who’s comfortable with it. I really want this to happen, I just don’t like feeling like she’s holding back part of herself from me. I’m not really into cuckolding—I want to feel like an equal partner.
I’m free to sleep with other people but 1) I’ve been striking out pretty hard on dating apps and 2) After all this time together, my sex fantasies all revolve around my wife. Am I being unreasonable? Am I just not cut out for nonmonogamy?
Not engaging and defaulting to “maybe we shouldn’t” are bad signs. Opening up a relationship when there are communication issues—especially around the subject of being open—can cause a lot of trouble.
Let’s separate your going on dates with other people from your wife going on dates. These things don’t need to be one-for-one equal. If you’re OK with, and even aroused by, your wife having sex with other people but have no interest in doing that yourself, that’s fine.
If you are interested in sex with other people, let’s think though how you can set yourself up for success. OkCupid and Feeld are known for their poly communities. You might have better luck if you conducted your searches in places where the deck is stacked in your favor. I encourage you to be upfront about your situation and what you’re looking for. Something like “newish nonmonogamous person with wife, interested in exploring sexual relationships with [insert gender]” should suffice. Ask the people you’re interested in easy questions about themselves, and understand that online dating is a bulk numbers game for most users. You usually have to swipe yes on a lot of people to find one who is a good match.
As for your desire for equality, you’re going to have to find a way to communicate with your wife. I suggest you write a letter or formal email explaining your desires, your comfort zone, and what you need to feel secure in this newly open relationship. Tell her that open communication is crucial for such an undertaking and reestablish your love for her. Explain your fears and concerns. Then lay out what you need to feel safe and at ease in your relationship. Ask her to meet her needs, and ask what you can do to meet hers.
You might do some research into the ways hotwifing, cuckoldry, and swinging can occur, and do some thinking about what aspects of the norms for these practices works for you. Be prepared to let your wife know what you are and aren’t into. Negotiations should absolutely be done from a neutral meeting of two equal humans.
Dear How to Do It,
Do I really need to love masturbation so much? I’m a single, bisexual woman, and I keep hearing from other women in the feminist circles which I’m involved in that I should like masturbation more because it’s “empowering.” I like masturbation just fine. I know how to masturbate, and I know my body well. I think it can be fun and hot if I’m in the mood for it. I’ve tried the whole “put on lingerie, give yourself a massage, etc.” and honestly it doesn’t really do anything for me. I also feel some disgust around masturbation due to past trauma. I’ve had times where I’ve cried after masturbating, because I just feel disgusted.
Also, I’ve gotta be honest, I like having sex with another person! I’m a giver—that’s how I get off. But I’ve had more people in my life, specifically other women, tell me I should just learn to masturbate better. I’ve even had it implied that I don’t “love myself enough” if I would rather have sex with another person than myself.
I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not going to be having sex with anybody for a while. I also know that I have issues that need to be addressed because of my past trauma, but sadly therapy is not available to me. I am still seeking a therapist, but the fact is my financial situation makes it near impossible, and there’s a dearth of available therapists in my area. I’m at the point where I almost feel shamed for not being this independent, empowered woman who doesn’t need a partner because she can just get herself off. Do I really have to love it so much to be empowered? Am I really so wrong for preferring the feeling of another person’s body?
Dear Hands Off,
You don’t have to love any sexual practice you don’t love. There is absolutely nothing wrong with preferring the feeling of another person’s body. There’s something really beautiful about our ability to take pleasure from giving pleasure to another. If that’s what gets you off in your soul, that’s what you should spend your time doing.
Empowerment—especially sexual empowerment—is a personal, varied thing. What empowers one woman is boring to another. What demeans another makes the first aroused. Language that offends some makes others feel seen. These women probably have very good intentions. You might have an easier time navigating those moments if you can make firm statements about the power you feel when you’re giving pleasure to another. You also might prefer to change the topic of discussion or leave the conversation. That decision is up to you.
While you’re waiting for the right therapist—in the right price bracket—you can journal and do your own research. Everything from personal sharing on blogs to research papers. Be wary of diagnosing yourself with anything, but do look into what types of therapies tend to work for which sorts of issues, and read up on the experiences of others who’ve been through the mental health system. Think of the questions you’ll want to ask a potential therapist on an initial phone call. Start noticing your emotions and reactions now to get in the habit.
Good luck. I think you’ve got this.
More How to Do It
I’m a woman in her early 30s. I started seeing a new guy after a bad breakup. I expected it to be a fling, but I’m starting to get real feelings for him. The best thing about this is also my problem: The sex is incredible. Specifically, he is incredible at sex. I very rarely come from oral sex with new guys but I did with him the first time, in minutes. He knows exactly how to touch me and where, he is very responsive to my body—he’s just really skilled. So much so that I almost feel shy having sex with him! I am pretty experienced and confident in my body, but when we have sex I feel lazy, like I’m doing less than he’s doing. I wish I could take this as a challenge, but instead it’s making me feel inadequate, probably for no good reason. How do I get over this?