How to Do It

My Husband’s Weight Is Killing Our Sex Life

He’s a good man and I love him, but I’m turned off by his body. Is there any hope for us?

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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’ve been married to a man for 18 years. We are both in our mid-40s. We have four children, and we have a great relationship overall. He is my best friend, and I love him very much. A big issue I am struggling with is that I am not attracted to him anymore. He is a handsome man, but he keeps putting on weight. I find his body a huge turn-off. I’ve tried to tell him this many times and in many ways. Sometimes as gently as possible, other times a bit harshly, and more than I’d like passive-aggressively. I do have sex with him, but not as often as he would like. I have never had an orgasm without a toy, and I don’t like when he touches me too much. I prefer when he is behind me so I don’t have to look at him. I feel horrible about this. I don’t know if the weight is an excuse or if we aren’t sexually compatible. I only enjoy sex when I’m using a toy, solo or while he is inside me. Otherwise, it’s a total chore. I don’t get anything out of it, and my mind often wanders to very nonsexy thoughts. I’ve only had one other sexual partner, so I don’t have a lot to compare him with, but I don’t think he is a very attentive lover. I don’t want a divorce at all, but I do want a better sex life. How do I get across to him without being horribly mean and hurting his feelings? He never does anything about his weight—even though I’ve been telling him for years he needs to do something about it. He always has an excuse not to exercise. He is not horribly obese, just very flabby around the middle. My body isn’t perfect, but I exercise five to six days a week and try to stay fit. Any advice would be great.

—Body Blues

Dear Body Blues,

I’m assuming you’re female, and it is deeply common for female people to need stimulation of their clitoris in order to orgasm. The most efficient way to do this is to use a vibrator (which is the kind of toy I’m assuming you’re referring to) on the glans, which is that little hooded nub in between the tops of your outer labia. So the orgasm issue itself isn’t necessarily a sign of incompatibility or lack of attraction.

But you do have some worrisome signs. So I’ve got some questions. Did you always prefer when your husband is out of your line of sight, or was this a new development after he started gaining weight? And the same for not liking when he touches you too much—was that always the case? If so, there might be something inherently nonfunctional in your relationship. If not, I think you’re safe assuming that it’s because of his current size.

Sex is a tactile experience. Touching each other is fairly inherent to the practice—we qualify nonphysical sex with “phone,” “video,” “sext,” etc. Some of us don’t like the feel of squishy flesh. Sex can also be very visual. It’s hard when our lover becomes unattractive to us. It is understandable that you might find your desire decreasing as your husband’s body goes through changes.

I think you try one more time to have a conversation. Write out what you’ll say beforehand so you’re precise about your language and statements. First tell him that you don’t want a divorce: “I want to keep being married to you. I love you, we have a great relationship, and you’re my best friend.” Then directly address your problem. Something like “I want a more fulfilling sex life, and I can’t do that on my own.” Make sure he knows that you need toys to enjoy sex at all. Tell him that while it’s his body and thus ultimately his choice, you do find the shape it’s currently in unattractive, and that causes you immense emotional strife. Take advantage of your ability to really work on phrasing. You’ve got almost two decades of experience speaking with your husband, and you’ve had this conversation with him previously, so you should draw on all of that knowledge to craft your words in ways he’ll find easiest to hear.

If you’d be interested in other lovers, put that in as an option too.

If you aren’t opening up the relationship, and he’s still unwilling to exercise, you do have the option to up your toy game. You might find teledildonics with your husband in a different room a way to connect sexually.

Dear How to Do It,

I’ve been with a number of guys, all shapes and sizes, and have been sexually active for years. I’ve more recently been getting into anal and had it successfully with my ex and a few other guys. I’ve recently met a wonderful guy, average but thick in the penis department, but he just can’t get all the way in there. We’ve tried twice, and there’s some sort of ridge that other guys don’t hit but he does. It’s been frustrating, and while we haven’t given up yet, I wonder what the ideal angle is. I’ve tried ass-up, on my back with my butt propped up on some pillows. Next time I plan to propose trying a cock ring—he hasn’t said anything about not enough steam in the engine, but that’s what it feels like. Any other ideas?

—Deliver to the Back

Dear Deliver to the Back,

Are you warming up beforehand? Some adult performers use butt plugs (always make sure it has a flanged base) to get the rectum and anus basically stretched out and relaxed before anal sex. The wedge shape is your friend, and you’ll want to start small and slow.

If this partner is finding their member a little too soft for easy penetration, a cock ring is absolutely a trick to try. You also might want to check in with him about how into anal he is. Sometimes wilting willies are a sign that their heart isn’t in it. Asking “Do you actually want to do me in the butt? Because it’s OK if you’re not super interested in that” will suffice.

Also try a sideways spoon position in both directions.

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Listen to Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins discuss their feelings about hot men in bad movies.

Dear How to Do It,

My boyfriend and I are both in our 30s, have been together for two years, and knew each other for years before that, during which we had a couple of flings. We love each other and have a wonderful, goofy, charming relationship where we support and admire each other on a daily basis. The sex has always been good, adventurous, and frequent … which is great! Except that he has a much higher sex drive than I do—he will happily do it five times a day, and I’m more in the camp of “sex is great when it’s on offer but I very rarely crave it on my own” (or so I thought until it was on offer every minute of every day).

In addition to the physical component, he derives a lot of comfort and a sense of intimacy from sex in a way that I don’t feel nearly as strongly about. When we were just hooking up or dating early on, all the shagging was fun, but now that we’ve settled into the relationship and are spending days and weeks together rather than single nights, I’m just exhausted by it. While he’s very conscientious about my pleasure, and we include a wide range of sex acts (including lots of nonpenetrative ones) in our bedroom, his constant horniness and my comparative lack thereof mean that I’m up for sex most of the time but by the third round in one day I’m going through the motions. I find myself thinking that most of the sex we have feels like it’s about getting him off and making him feel loved and appreciated, and I want him to feel loved and appreciated! But it also feels like I’m spending a lot of time and energy on performing for him while not getting the same boost out of it myself, and I would prefer other ways of showing he cares. (The idea of asking him to be better about doing the dishes or something in exchange for more blow jobs seems like a slippery slope to bad things, not to mention a horrible sitcom cliché.)

He’s never, ever pressured me into sex, and most of the time I go along with it happily (like I said, it’s good sex) but then afterward wish I’d had more time to spend working on a project or just watching a movie. The fact that he takes a long time to get off by any method, even if he’s been abstaining for a few days, means that sex of any kind can be extremely time-consuming, and I sometimes resent that any day we spend together ends up being more banging than anything else. I know the advice when one partner is physically or mentally not up for as much intense sex as the other is often consists of things like “watch or hold them while they jerk off,” but that’s already part of what we’re doing, and it’s one of the things I am least into because it’s usually round three of a multihour session, by which time I’m ready to go watch Netflix. I think it’s more the amount of attention that he wants that really wears me out, rather than the amount of physical interaction.

We normally communicate well. I’ve brought up that my sex drive isn’t always up to constant fooling around, and I’m very clear (and he is understanding) when I’m physically at my limit, but in the moment, I usually end up going along with it because it’s easy and again … good sex! I’ve also pointed out that he often interrupts other conversations we were having to talk about or initiate sex, and he’s apologized and gotten better about it. But I don’t know how to tell him that I want to have less sex, when it’s not that I don’t enjoy it but I just don’t prioritize it as much. We’re looking at moving in together in the next year, and I’m afraid I’m going to be signing up for a 24/7 boinkfest that I have little interest in. If we were a decade younger I’d just figure things would calm down after the honeymoon phase, but we’re at an age where whatever sexual plateaus we’re on are long and wide, not to mention that he’s as horny now as he was when I first met him most of that decade ago. Are we too mismatched? We’ve talked about open relationships, and I’d be fine with him seeing other people (as long as everyone is safety-conscious), but he’s only interested in it in the context of a mutual/group arrangement, and the idea of adding even more sex to my life makes me want to take a nap.

—Netflix and Actually Chill

Dear Netflix and Actually Chill,

“I think it’s more the amount of attention that he wants that really wears me out, rather than the amount of physical interaction.” We talk a lot about mismatches of sexual appetite, but attention and affection appetites can be just as varied. You have big gaps in how much sexual interaction and attention you want to participate in each day. You’re cool with nonmonogamy, but he requires your involvement, and you don’t want more sexual activity—you want less.

It’s great (really, super great) that he hasn’t pressured you into sex. I do wonder if you’re pressuring yourself a bit, out of a desire to make your partner feel good. And I hear that you have a great, supportive relationship otherwise. Dating is less a process of sorting people into “good” and “bad” and more a process of seeing if you match. I’m not sure you do.

Moving in with someone is a big deal. If you decide to proceed, make sure the rent is inexpensive enough that one of you could conceivably carry the whole rent for the remainder of the lease. Or, if you own property or both of you are property owners, keep your place just in case.

How transparent have you been about this with your boyfriend? Have you been as frank with him as you are here? If so, you might consider being very blunt about why you’d like him to have other sexual partners: to take the pressure off you to fulfill his voracious sexuality.

Another thing you might do is take breaks from sexual activity—an agreed-upon day, weekend, or week where there won’t be any sexual interaction. And you can work on politely declining sex when you don’t want it. Boundaries are important, and we get better at using them the more we practice.

Lastly, once your boyfriend understands your boundaries and the limits on your attention, he might be more open to opening up.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 31-year-old asexual man who has been in a relationship with a woman my age for about 10 months. After years of therapy, I realized my orientation and came out to my girlfriend about a month into our relationship.

Here’s the issue: She has a very high sex drive, and ever since I realized I’m not a sexual person, it’s been tough for me to engage with her. We’ve tried to have sex a few times, but she recognizes that I’m not enjoying it (and in fact I hate it), so it’s not enjoyable to her. This has really hurt her self-esteem. I really care about this woman, and I feel terrible that I’m unable to satisfy her this way. Can we do anything aside from using toys? Are there any supplements I can take to trick my mind and body into being sexual?

—Uncertain Ace

Dear Uncertain Ace,

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

This note is almost entirely about her. Make your asexuality about you. Embrace it. Read the writings and forum posts of other asexual people. Spend time with yourself introspecting on what you want out of relationships and what kinds of relationships you want to participate in. Is kissing sexual? Do you want someone to hold hands with? Do you want a romantic relationship of any kind?

Coming out is a process, and it often involves layers of realization about ourselves.

Hopefully she’ll come to realize that your asexuality is not a reflection on her sexual appeal. And hopefully you’ll come to terms with your degree of sexual interest. But please don’t take a bunch of strange herbs in the hopes of making yourself something you don’t want to be. If you two are just sexually incompatible, better to discover that now and move on.

—Stoya

More How to Do It

I am a woman who’s begun dating a man who it turns out is a virgin. He went to Catholic school his entire life. He’s focused on reading up on how to please a partner while he’s spent his time alone, and I’ve gotten the benefit of that, but he also didn’t know that you don’t need to be literally inside of a woman to get her pregnant when you ejaculate or otherwise get semen around her vagina. Are there any basic sex education materials freely available online? Is there somewhere that has the basics readily available? What does he need to know?