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,
Sometimes my boyfriend smells bad. Not all the time, but enough days that I’ve found myself here. The funny thing is that he actually told me about this column. Anyway, I think it’s a point of pride for him. He was the stinky kid in middle school that didn’t get the deodorant hint and was subject to years of teasing followed by years of insecurity-driven meticulous grooming. That was until he reached a point of nirvana where he had fully accepted his body and all the smells that come with it, the present. That sounds great, unless you run 14K every day without deodorant. He’s nice, smart, funny, sexy, and has a great zest for life. But he’s OK with his undies smelling like pee when he doesn’t shake his biddy out enough, and he’s OK with his armpits being riper than brown bananas. This is all to say that I feel grossed out when I smell it in bed, and it turns me off. But how do I say it without tearing down the prideful confidence walls he’s built up for the love of his body? I’ve definitely hinted at it, and it did not go over so well. For example, this morning things were starting to get frisky until I poked my head under the covers and breathed in through my nose. I tried to ignore it at first. But as we kept at it, all I could think about was the sweet, sweet smell of urea that was permeating my sheets. I lifted my head up and said, “Baby, ya gotta shake a little more.” It was a nonstarter. He felt I was being mean, and that cuddle foreplay was not the time to make these pointers. When is the time? I don’t think I could’ve kept going. I love him and I love his body, but I don’t love the very, very preventable smells that’ve made their way into my life.
Have the conversation when you aren’t about to have sex, and lead with compassion. I don’t think that asking him to shake a little more is severe or insensitive, but he did, so if you want him to work with you, you’re going to have to work with him. He clearly is aware of what it is to be judged for his odor; he knows what it is to stink. But I think he’s got an extreme, “You’re either with me or against me” attitude that’s actually not particularly reasonable. Many people enjoy their partner’s general smell without wanting to set up camp under their foreskin and make friends with smegma. Tell him that you love him and you love his body, but like all bodies, sometimes his gets a little too rank for your taste. Frame it as just that: your taste. There are people out there who would gladly accept his unshook biddy, but you aren’t one of them, and relationships are negotiations right down to the level of funk we wish to receive from our partners. Between his stink and your sensibilities is a zone where you can both feel comfortable.
Dear How to Do it,
I’m a gay white man in his mid-20s, fairly liberal, and have been both disgusted and inspired by the ongoing reckoning with America’s racism (I attended protests when they were going on in my area, I gave some money to anti-racist organizations, have been educating myself, and so on). I know that it is a process, and there is no “one moment” when you suddenly become a good white person. My issue is this: I am really into race-play BDSM, specifically as a dominant party. A Black FWB introduced me to it a few years ago. I feel as though this is a bad look in the current climate, or that my turn-ons reflect a deeper problem with my thinking. Is race play as a white man a no?
—Out of Touch
Dear Out of Touch,
Once again, I have turned to the aid of the venerable Mollena Williams-Haas, an actress and BDSM expert who describes herself as an “award-winning executive pervert.” (She is also the subject of the documentary The Artist and the Pervert.) For years, she has been writing and speaking about her own experiences with race play, and I thought that her perspective as a Black woman who has been submissive in race-play dynamics could provide insight and clarity. I emailed her your question and below is her response. Soak it in.
Ain’t that the ultimate quandary? Our desires often eschew manners, political correctness, common sense, and sometimes even our own moral or ethical compasses. Most people with edgy or darker desires do not wake up one day and say, “Hey, you know, today, I will be really turned on by a rape fantasy, even though such a thing has never occurred to me before!” These are aspects of ourselves we discover, unearth, stumble upon and then must reckon with … or not. For the vast majority of people, the Very Dark Stuff remains firmly in the realm of fantasy. And that’s great. A solid deposit into the “spank bank” is never a bad thing. But for some folks, that fantasy isn’t enough, and giving room to the fantasy in the real world becomes a goal.
I do not know if you held this dark fantasy as your own prior to meeting a Black FWB who trusted you enough to reveal this fantasy and flesh it out with you along for the ride. One of the aspects of this type of play that I stress when lecturing is that it is absolutely vital that the person who is living in a body that leaves them vulnerable to racism and bigotry absolutely needs to take the lead on these scenes, ESPECIALLY if they are “bottoming” (receiving) the sensation or consensual “abuse.” The reality is, consent and trust are absolutely vital to BDSM scenes. If, for example, I am approached by a white man who has decided that “I’ve always wanted to do race play with a Black girl” is his way into my heart, my concern is that this person has placed their desires above my real life lived experience. My preference is to get to know someone, know they are trustworthy, and critically, that I am comfortable coping with potential aftermath should deeper issues arise in the scene.
It needs to be our idea, our fantasy, our needs and wants and desires as person of color exploring race as a fulcrum for play. This type of play is a hybrid fantasy/reality. The POC isn’t fantasizing when it comes to living with racism, so these scenes have an additional visceral weight that most fantasy scenes do not carry.
Race play as a fantasy is absolutely fine. Fantasies are our own business. However: If you, as a person with privilege (of any sort), are invited by a person with less privilege to explore this dark edge, that partner dance is something that may well be beneficial and healing, and your desire and pleasure needs to be subject to and respectful of the reality of the journey of the POC who ought to be the focus of this scene. So, indeed, race play can be a “Yes, thank you.” When and if you are bidden to the journey by a POC who has granted you a brief visit to the darker side of human nature, explore safely. Consensually. Respectfully.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 22-year-old girl dating a 22-year-old boy. We started dating this spring while we were still at college together, and now we’re doing long distance. He’s pretty new to everything sexually and just had sex for the first time with me this spring. As for me, I was pressured into things with a guy I liked when I was a fairly young teenager. I’ve had several sexual partners since then (all much more consensually, thankfully), and I’m fairly confident now. The difference in experience doesn’t bother me. If anything, I was worried he would judge me for my past relationships and hookups, but he’s been more than understanding. I’ve given him an overview of my past and also talked about sexuality with him (he’s straight and I’m bi), and it’s all gone really well.
However, I still worry a lot about pushing him into things he’s not ready for. I really don’t want him to experience anything like what I did the first time. We are both really big on communication and consent, and when things were getting more physical, I made sure to always stop if the answer was ever “I don’t know” rather than “yes.” We started having sex right before school ended, and we’ve also been having sex when we visit each other. He seems to be getting a lot more confident and comfortable talking about things, which I’m really happy about, but he still focuses more on me than himself. He also takes a long time to finish and sometimes doesn’t at all. Apart from that, the long-distance aspect has pushed us both into new territory trying to figure out our comfort levels and preferences with virtual dirty talk and similar activities. One night he was talking about imagining me visiting him. I asked him to tell me what he was picturing (sex positions, etc). He did but then afterward, he said he just felt really wrong and dirty and covered his face with his hands. I started to tell him I was sorry, and I didn’t ever want to push him too far out of his comfort zone, and he kind of cut me off saying, “I know what you’re thinking and I don’t want you to worry, we’ve talked about this a million times.”
The thing is, I can’t stop worrying. I’m going to visit him soon, and I’m really excited to see him and be physically intimate again, but I’m wondering if maybe I should just hit the brakes on that. I want to talk to him about it, but I also don’t want him to feel like we’re having the same conversation a million times. Should I take him at his word that he really does want to keep doing everything we’ve been doing in terms of sex or should I try to talk to him about some of the things that make me worry (that phone conversation, him not finishing during sex)? He’s an amazing boyfriend, and I don’t want him to feel like his relative inexperience is a bad thing or something we have to talk about all the time.
Dear Bashful Boyfriend,
Your fears are reasonable, both in their own right and because these particular fears are supported by hard evidence you’ve seen from your boyfriend. However, I think you should take the lead here and put on a brave face. In a sense, you’re the guide, helping your guy through the path from inexperience to experience, and he needs you to be strong. If you infuse the situation with your own anxiety, it’s likely to make things more fraught for the both of you, and they seem fraught enough as is.
Continue to solicit enthusiastic consent from him during sex. Every time for everything, as long as you both don’t feel like you’re being redundant or annoying. Keep in mind that people’s response to sex, even in the abstract, can differ depending on how turned on they are, so him feeling a sense of shame or regret after having a conversation isn’t necessarily indicative of his general discomfort with sex—it could be more of a localized discomfort that shifts with circumstance. For some people, it is much easier to have sex than talk about it. That doesn’t mean that they can never talk about it, just that it might take more practice to work up to doing so than it does actually having it, as counterintuitive as it may be.
I think you have to be delicate here because you don’t want to make him feel pressured or judged, but you do want to foster an environment where he feels comfortable talking about this stuff. If there is any hesitation on his part, offer him an out. Don’t corner him. Make sure he knows that he has full agency and that you respect his right to decline sex. Another thing you might want to try is to leave the ball in his court when you reunite. During the first 24 hours, see if he initiates or talks about sex. If he doesn’t, use that as a conversation starter—focus the conversation more generally on his feeling about sex as a whole, not particular acts that a discussion of which might provoke embarrassment on this part. I think the safer he feels and the less obligation to perform to any standard, the more likely you are to have satisfying sex for both of you. I wouldn’t even really broach the topic of his not finishing at the moment—that’s common for someone new to sex and doesn’t mean he’s not enjoying himself. The situation is delicate already, and expectation can really hinder orgasm.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in my late 20s who only started having sex just under two years ago. So far, sex has been pretty blah because I’m just not feeling much of anything be it penetration, oral, or fingering. It’s not like I’m completely numb (I can feel pain when I start to dry out), I just don’t have any pleasurable sensations during sex. Online searches don’t really match what I’m experiencing, and when I went to my gyn for answers, all she did was suggest an app that covers sexual issues after childbirth, cancer, hysterectomies, trauma, or menopause. None of these apply to me, and I feel like giving up on sex. Is there anything I can try to fix this?
Dear No Feels,
Before you “fix it,” you should determine exactly what’s going on, and I don’t believe your current gynecologist is going to be any help in that endeavor. Unfortunately, the diagnosis for such issues generally sits under the umbrella of female sexual arousal disorder, which is in my opinion overly broad for a range of issues that may also include lack of sexual desire. The reasons you may lack sensation can be related to issues like stress, be hormonal in nature, or be indicative of rather serious conditions like multiple sclerosis and cauda equina syndrome, a nerve disorder of the spine. You should find a doctor that takes your symptoms seriously, as the care you have received is insufficient. If you have other symptoms associated with the conditions listed, you should report those as well. Sex therapy or a drug that treats hypoactive sexual desire disorder might be useful as well, but you just need more clarity from the matter from a doctor who knows what she’s doing to determine the next steps. Good luck.
More How to Do It
I’m a woman in kind of a classic millennial sex pickle: I’m really repelled by heterosexuality politically and personally, but I’m also really into dick. I’ve been thinking maybe I should look for bi dudes/ bicurious gay dudes, but I am not sure how best to do that. Rich, what would you think of a woman being on Grindr or Scruff? I do want to be respectful of gay men’s spaces and not horn in where I’m not welcome, but I really would love to find a guy with queer politics who would be up for casually dating a woman. If you were me, where would you look?