How to Do It

Soft Spells

I’m only 36, and I keep having the same problem with men in bed.

A woman in front of a flashing eggplant.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Wavebreakmedia/iStock/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’m a 36-year-old single straight woman, and I really didn’t think this was going to be an issue until later in life. I’m a very sexual person (just reading about sex in your column is enough to turn me on) and I’d like to get married one day, but for the past few years, I haven’t even been able to manage halfway decent sex, much less great sex or a relationship. The problem I keep experiencing in the dating world is the same: men with all kinds of erection issues.

The most recent guy could get hard but would lose it after a few thrusts, saying sex doesn’t do it for him these days (he preferred mutual masturbation or blow jobs). Guy No. 2 was good in bed but refused any touching outside of that 20 minutes. Guy No. 3 required 20 minutes of me going down on his flaccid penis before possibly getting hard enough to have intercourse for three minutes (most of the time, he wouldn’t get hard at all). Guy No. 4 hadn’t had sex in years so he’d either come in 30 seconds or he’d stick it in and barely move so he could last five minutes (I could have worked with him sexually, but we broke up for other reasons). Guy No. 5 completely ignored his problem, continuing to thrust even after I told him he was soft (I suspect he had a porn addiction).

The list goes on. I’ve barely had any good sex in the past six years. I don’t know what to do. These guys are all my age or younger. I try to be patient and understanding, asking if there’s something they’d like me to do or offering up a menu of things they might like, but most just shrug awkwardly and avoid talking about it. None of them sound like they’ve made any effort to get help. I get that it can be embarrassing and men might feel ashamed, but these guys keep cropping up in my dating pool. I can orgasm on my own, but I crave and miss sex, and I know I wouldn’t be happy in a relationship without it. So I’m stuck in a lonely, sexually frustrated land and I can’t get out. Any suggestions?

—Elusive Wood

Dear Elusive Wood,

You’ve found yourself in a perfect storm of bad luck and other people’s sexual dysfunction. The good news is: This isn’t your fault! The bad news is: Because this isn’t your fault, there isn’t much you can do about it. I’ve heard people complaining about stretches where so much of the D they encounter comes saddled with ED—let’s call them soft spells—but in the words of Janet Jackson, tough times don’t last for long. Hard dick will swing your way, and it’ll be enough to erase your memory of this sad blip in your adventurous sex life. You could attempt to vet for functionality ahead of time, if you’re coordinating this sex via apps, and look for sexually voracious partners. (Take such assurances with a grain of salt: Just as one’s eyes can be bigger than one’s stomach, an active mind can be felled by a rogue dick.) You could carry around a cock ring in the event they need some extra support (clean it between partners). Otherwise, all you can do in a situation like this is be supportive in an attempt to mitigate the stress that often comes with ED, itself frequently a product of stress: If you’re attempting to salvage the sex, playing down the dead dick as “no big deal” can be crucial to get him past it. Stress on top of stress is only going to keep a soft dick soft. Something to keep in mind is that people are generally harried given the state of the world, and there’s some evidence that ED could be a consequence of COVID. Nonetheless, I have faith that your current hardship (I mean softship) is circumstantial.

More broadly speaking, you’re up against a fairly common issue in dating/making intimate casual acquaintance: basic incompatibility. It doesn’t always manifest itself in the spongey tissue of the penis. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. At least you’re collecting data that makes you able to identify the dick you don’t want.

Dear How to Do It,

Lately, I’ve been getting blow jobs from a gay guy. We met by chance and it became clear he was interested, and I was horny, so I let him blow me. I don’t like touching his dick or even seeing it, but I love the head he gives me. I’m fond of sex with girls, and I have a girlfriend, but I keep going back to him. Is this going to affect me in the future? I live in a country where this is very socially unacceptable, but I’m not sure if I’m doing damage to myself.

—Heady

Dear Heady,

It doesn’t sound to me like you’re doing any damage to yourself. If by “affect me in the future,” you are wondering whether you are on a slope so slippery you’ll zip into the extreme world of gay fisting, I doubt it. You mention a girlfriend but not whether she knows about this, so you may be cheating, and taking a moderate STI risk at that—if that’s the case, you should be honest or stop. But the blow jobs are just blow jobs. To stave off anxiety, accept this for what it is: good head. You’re certainly not the first guy to discover that some men are gifted at sucking dick. There is no way for me to determine whether your love of this oral sex will intensify or leave open the door for further adventures in dudesex, but know that there is certainly a possibility that this is as far as it goes. You can set your own limits; if all you want to do is receive head from guys, you’ll likely be able to find plenty who are cool with that. If all you want to do is receive head from this guy, well, that’s fine too. Be careful and enjoy the blow jobs.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a mid-30s woman in the middle of moving to a smaller country than the one I grew up in, a few thousand miles away, with the attendant cultural differences. I have a few friends there—people I’ve known and been emotionally vulnerable with for years—and one person in particular who is especially close. He’s a big part of my support system over there, and we met through work. I’ve had a crush on him for years despite a completely platonic relationship. Two weeks ago, he kissed me.

A minute or two into that kiss, I remembered he’d had a girlfriend the last time I’d seen him. I mentioned the girlfriend. He said he thought I had a number of boyfriends. Essentially, he brushed it off. He’s right—I’m generally in some open arrangement, even if it’s more monogamish. But declining my attempt to broach a conversation about this is a red flag. The next time I saw him privately, he kissed me again. I asked him if his girlfriend knew he had affairs. He said he wasn’t sure he’d call this an affair, and again, wouldn’t engage. I continued to kiss him for approximately four hours. There’s that red flag again, waving in the small city breeze. The trouble is, I love this man. So I’d like your help crafting one last attempt to have the conversation that needs to be had.

—Color Guard

Dear Color Guard,

I’m dizzy from that twist you threw in at the end. You love this guy? My drama sense is tingling, and not just from that. There’s also four hours of kissing and trudging on despite flags so red they could burn a hole in your cornea. I can sense your investment—and I suspect some of it comes from the thrill of the situation—but it seems to me that you have all the information that you need. This guy is either not talking about his arrangement with his girlfriend because he doesn’t want to explicitly own up to cheating, or he’s in an open arrangment and sadistically withholding that information from you. Neither bodes well for a shared future. If you want to go about this ethically, say just that next time you see him: “I can’t go any further with you until I know the score, because I practice ethical nonmonogamy.” Give him no choice but to engage, and if he refuses, he’s decided for both of you.

You could also choose the nuclear option: Tell him that you love him. If he drops everything for you: goal achieved. If it pushes him away, there’s a strong likelihood that it will end up saving you time and heartache anyway, given the shady behavior he’s exhibited thus far.

Dear How to Do It,

My boyfriend and I (gay couple) have been expanding our bubble and we have started going to some friends’ house every other Saturday. It’s not just us—a few other guys join—and it’s usually a very fun time. A couple of weeks ago, we went over there and ended up taking a certain party drug that makes everything feel great. It was a wonderful time, and the couple that owns the house invited my boyfriend and I into their bed. For a number of reasons, we never actually made it into their bed. But here is the problem I now face: I’m obsessively thinking about it. We never discussed it after the fact, and we missed our hangout this week because of some fire danger and the smoke. (We’re on the West Coast.) My boyfriend and I have discussed it, and he says he wouldn’t really want to do it and that he is glad it didn’t happen that night but has told me that he would be OK if I wanted to play with them on my own. I’m just not sure how to proceed. We were all high, and the feelings may not even still be there. What do I do? The FOHMO (fear of having missed out?) is so strong and it’s starting to impact my life. Should I just try and move on or should I bring it up with them and see where we stand?

—Helluva Drug

Dear HD,

Look at it this way: If the moment has passed, it’s probably for the best. You’re enthusiastic about this, but it turns out your boyfriend isn’t, so it wouldn’t have been an ideal encounter. In another scenario, I’d say to reach out to the couple point blank and say, “I was bummed we didn’t get to play—I’d love to make that happen.” But since nothing further on the matter has been discussed, there’s a chance that they’ve cooled off, and your persistence could push away some fun friends. So pump your breaks and wait for them to come back around, perhaps at your next Saturday hang. I’m all about going after what you want, but chillness can be extremely seductive, and I think you actually could use some conscious mitigation of your enthusiasm. At the moment, you’re building up this potential group sex in your head, and while it could certainly deliver, your high expectations could also be setting you up for disappointment—a ménage à blah, if you will. Staying cool and keeping your expectations in check is the best course of action to maintain the good thing you’ve already got going and avoid disappointment. I’d stick with that.

—Rich

More How to Do It

I have a recurring thought that might turn into a problem. I’m married to a man I adore, and we have an incredible sex life: passionate, fun, multiple orgasms per session. However, while my body is overjoyed, my mind is struggling. My husband is slightly shorter than average, and his dick is slightly smaller than average as well. This is something I’ve always known and has never impacted our sex life, but I had a friend complaining about a below-average-sized lover, and it got me all in my head. Now when I look at my husband in bed, I can’t not notice that he’s smaller than what society says he should be, and it’s making me feel less attracted to him.