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,
The first time I (34, female) saw my boyfriend (40, male) have an orgasm, I thought he was having a seizure: For a solid 10 minutes (not exaggerating), he alternately writhed around like he was being electrocuted, barked like a walrus, got stiff as a board, started to drool, etc., etc. It scared the hell out of me until he finally came out of it and said, “Oh, yeah, I have intense orgasms sometimes. I should have warned you. Sorry … ”
The thing is, he has orgasms like this every time. It is simultaneously the most beautiful and hysterical thing I’ve ever witnessed. That said, I know this isn’t normal, and it can be quite limiting in some ways: It means that his orgasm almost always marks the end of sex because, frankly, by the time he’s done, I’m not really in the mood for anything else. It also means there’s no such thing as a quickie for us, and some other games—covert sex in public places, for example—mean he doesn’t get to come.
It’s not that he isn’t a generous lover: He makes sure I orgasm hard and often, he’s happy going down on me or using his fingers, and he has plenty of stamina. But sometimes I’d like to end with a cuddle together (before I’m no longer turned on) or something other than holding him while he writhes around and I try and hold back a giggle. When we visited his parents early this spring, we agreed to try and see if he could “rein it in” a little bit, and while he avoided the usual walrus bark noises that would have tipped off half the retirement community, he did spent five minutes looking like Edvard Munch’s The Scream trying to hold it in.
We’ve discussed having more sex where he doesn’t come, but I feel really cruel taking that away from him. But I’d also like to be able to do different things that require some modicum of control over himself when he orgasms. I’ve thought about suggesting he see a doctor, but I have no idea what he’d say. “Hey, doc, I have these mind-blowing, full-body orgasms every time I come. Can you help me with that?” I guess I’m just looking for ideas and thoughts.
For a previous column about a woman who orgasmed so hard she thought she was having a seizure, my co-columnist Rich spoke to Dr. Tami Rowen, the director of the sexual health program at the University of California, San Francisco. She told him that while climaxes like your boyfriend’s are “unusual,” “orgasms involve muscle contractions, so there are all kinds of manifestations of them.” It’s true: Some orgasms are barely felt. Others are earth-shattering.
Your boyfriend’s orgasms sound like they might destroy the solar system. But one thing conspicuously missing from your letter is discussion of how your boyfriend feels about them. Your quote from him seems very matter-of-fact—this is his body, this is how it reacts—but you don’t mention whether he’d like to change his orgasms or whether he wants to engage in sexual activities that require a quiet, modest orgasm from him or whether he needs to have an orgasm during those activities.
It seems like he’s willing to forgo his own orgasm sometimes to provide you with the post-coital snuggles you desire. Accepting his willingness seems more like functional problem-solving than an act of cruelty. If he wants to investigate ways to change his sexual response—maybe he’s in pain or otherwise not enjoying himself—that’s one thing, but if he doesn’t, then I think you should try to be happy with what you have.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve been with my boyfriend for around six months now, and we recently started having sex and exploring our sexualities together. While it’s exciting for the both of us, I’m usually the one that’s holding back: I’m deeply self-conscious about my *ahem* lady parts. Whether it’s my labia, smell, hair, or just my privates in general, I’m always hesitant to take off my underwear, and I usually need lots of coaxing and reassurance. My boyfriend never forces me to do anything, and he’s always understanding when I push his hands away, but I can tell he’s disappointed.
I was sexually abused during childhood, and it’s given me very warped perceptions of what sex is and how it “should be done.” I’ve grown to be ashamed of my body and especially fearful toward men, but I’m going to therapy for it and have been making significant progress mentally. Physically, though, I still have issues with my appearance. I guess it doesn’t help that I’ll occasionally watch porn and wish to look like the girls on-screen, even though I know it’s dramatized and most actresses receive cosmetic surgery to appeal to the male audience. I don’t want to harm the “natural flow” of things down there, like pH levels with fragrances or douching, or even labiaplasty, but I want to be confident in what goes on in my vagina. I’m hesitant to explain why I’m self-conscious to my boyfriend because I feel like most men just don’t understand the female anatomy and how to care for it. Is there anything I can do for myself? I feel like I’m burdened with this, and I want to be free with my sexuality.
—Naked and Afraid
Dear Naked and Afraid,
There’s a book from Cleis Press called Healing Sex that I think might help you embrace your body and sexuality. It has exercises like rocking your pelvis in a sexual manner and sitting with the feelings that come up. You can also ask your therapist for help around this issue. You might feel self-conscious, but what a great way to practice talking about sexuality, right?
As for the labia in pornography, I’d like you to stay with me for the whole paragraph, please. Most of the women who perform in pornography are walking around with the vulva nature gave them. There’s this idea that’s been circulating for my whole time in the adult industry, probably longer, that all of us have labiaplasty and anal bleaching done, and that just isn’t true. Sure, there are a couple of cases, but it isn’t the norm. Now I’d like you to go to fleshlight.com/stoya and look at my Fleshlight. See those inner labia? See how one side is longer than the other, and they’re both pretty protruding? Those are the labia of a woman who won awards from most of the porn industry award shows and consistently has one of the best-selling Fleshlights. Take a look through the rest of the featured performers under the Fleshlight Girls tab. You’ll see plenty of variation. Protruding inner labia are not only fine, they can be quite popular. And while I’ve been offered boob jobs, no one has ever suggested I change my lower anatomy.
You’re correct that most men don’t understand the female anatomy. Most sex ed programs are woefully deficient, and learning about sex from porn can be problematic for a number of reasons. If you can find the courage, talking to your partner about your body is a great way to help him learn. If you’re feeling nervous about these conversations, you can practice in the mirror first and turn the lights down when you’re talking. You can also let him know that you’re feeling uncomfortable, and ask him to be patient and gentle with you. This can be as simple as “I’m sensitive about my labia and would like us to turn the lights off while we have sex” or “I feel concerned about how I might smell. Can we open the windows?” The idea is to get comfortable enough to start sitting with discomfort and getting accustomed to it, with the hope that you’ll begin to associate the smell of vagina with the good feelings of mutually consensual sex.
You also might try exploring your own body. You can get a mirror and a flashlight and take a look at your parts. You can sniff your underwear or insert a finger into yourself and smell that. And you can stop when you get uncomfortable and revisit the exploration later. Good luck. Remember your therapist is there to support you, your body is beautiful, and you deserve tenderness and care.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I (straight couple) have been together and monogamous for more than 20 years. We opened up a while back, although he isn’t interested in having other partners. I started seeing a mutual friend, and we ended up in something like kitchen table polyamory for about a year. Then my boyfriend decided he wanted to look for a monogamous life partner, so we broke up about a month before quarantine started. We have stayed friends, but it has been very difficult for me, emotionally and sexually. The boyfriend and I had amazing sex, while the sex life with my husband has always been lackluster (it has improved a bit over the last couple of years). We still see the boyfriend socially during quarantine; he is in our bubble because of his mental health right now. He has suffered a lot of loss in the past couple of years, and quarantine has been hard for him. I know that I have made choices to keep him close by, but it is really difficult for me to not want him sexually and to try to return to a platonic relationship. The breakup has been excruciating for me emotionally, given that we haven’t stopped our contact and he is in our social circle. He also doesn’t really want to talk about our feelings, because he thinks that doesn’t help him move on toward finding someone new. The depth of this relationship took me by surprise in some ways. I’m jealous. I want him to still want me (and I’m annoyed that he won’t still sleep with me since he clearly isn’t getting any during quarantine). And I am struggling to be his friend but not his girlfriend. Any additional insight is welcomed.
Dear Clean Break,
As you note, you made a choice to keep your ex-boyfriend close by, and you can choose to end that closeness. I get that your ex has social needs and is having a rough time with personal and global crises, but your emotional well-being matters too. You say you’re having emotional difficulty with the breakup. That’s valid. That deserves as much attention and care as your ex’s needs.
Sometimes what’s needed is a full and clean break to allow for separation and healing before attempting platonic relations, and it seems like that’s the case here. You aren’t dating any longer. You’re having a hard time separating the romantic and physical from the emotional, which is a completely understandable stage to go through during a breakup. Presumably he has other friends that he can spend time with, and if he doesn’t, he will have to pursue other avenues for a social lifeline.
What’s Welsh for bae? Listen to the women of Thirst Aid Kit discuss the appeal of Matthew Rhys.
Dear How to Do It,
A few months before the pandemic started, my boyfriend and I decided to open up our relationship by having threesomes with other people. This move was prompted by me—I felt our sex life had plateaued, and when my boyfriend expressed interest in having sex with other people, I thought it might be a great way to experiment and improve our own sex. For a while, it worked out really well. Our threesomes improved our sex life on the whole, made things more exciting, and even improved our relationship (we had something to talk about! we had a fun new thing happening in our lives!). But when COVID-19 finally hit and we stopped having threesomes for health reasons, our sex life reached a standstill again. We’re having sex less often and, worse yet, I’m not enjoying the sex as much.
Opening up our relationship (and having to close it again) made me realize that my boyfriend and I just … don’t have very good sex. He’s not very receptive to my wants and needs, even when I express them clearly. I didn’t realize this until we slept with other people who actually listened to what I asked for and what turns me on. Now, when we do have sex, I find it disappointing. My boyfriend is really wonderful—every aspect of his personality is amazing, and we get along great—and we have a wonderful relationship. I just didn’t realize how big of a problem our sex life was until I had sex with people who I was better matched with. I know this letter is long-winded, but I just don’t know how to move forward here. Can I fix my sex life with my boyfriend and hope that he’s more responsive? Do I just wait until we feel safe to have threesomes again? Or do I accept that our sex life is doomed?
—Open and Shut
Dear Open and Shut,
You describe the relationship as wonderful, but you say your boyfriend isn’t receptive to your clearly expressed wants and needs. I’m imagining that this is a purely sexual issue, but if it isn’t—if he ignores your needs in other areas of the relationship—I’m wondering how great this really is.
If it’s a sex-only issue, it should be pretty simple to sit down together for a talk and broach the subject of applying some of the tenderness and care he exercises in the rest of your relationship to your bedroom activities. You’ll want to pick a time when you’re both calm, alert, and have plenty of time to talk. You can start with “I loved how fresh and exciting all of those threesomes were, and I’m hoping we can bring some of that excitement into our paired play.” Give him space to respond and, if appropriate, bring up some of these wants and needs you have in a way that presents them as options for making your sex life spicier. You might want to make a list beforehand of things you fantasize about and would like to incorporate.
If he doesn’t get the hint, and you’re willing to walk away from the relationship, it would be reasonable to communicate where you are. Something like “I need a partner who pays attention to my wants and needs during sex, and you aren’t giving me that.” You’ll want to underline the depth of your feelings toward him and your hope that the two of you can make something work.
More How to Do It
I’m in a great marriage. But he’s slowing down a lot more than me—I’m female and about 10 years younger than him. Sex definitely takes more planning and assistance than it used to. But I am nowhere near ready to give up sex for life. My solution is for me to have a very discreet lover on the side and keep it to myself, but when I floated that, he was horrified and couldn’t believe I’d even suggest such a thing. I have an out-of-state friend who would probably happily agree to be secret lovers (I travel frequently so that wouldn’t raise any suspicions), and my husband could stay blissfully unaware that I can’t give up on sex. Bad idea?