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,
My boyfriend and I (late 20s straight couple) have been together for a little more than a year, and I’m having a hard time determining the line between his fantasy and actual desires around anal play, and I’d like some advice about how to ask him about it. When we’re in the moment, he’ll often talk about how eating me out turns him on so much and how he wishes he could rim me, and how hot it would be, in dirty, beautiful detail. He occasionally also brings up prostate play.
As a person who enjoys low-key kink, when we’re not in the moment, I will often open a conversation about things I’d like or not like to try, and he listens but doesn’t usually have much to add. He says he just doesn’t have fantasies. When I’ve asked in the past if he’d like to play with rimming or anal (I’ve pegged exes before, and am cool with reciprocal rimming if a dental dam is involved), he says it’s “gross” and that he wouldn’t enjoy it. I’ve taken that as a firm no, and it’s a sex act I feel neutral about, so I’m not missing it. But he keeps bringing it up in bed. What’s going on here? Is there a way I can ask and get a clear answer?
Dear Butt Out,
Isn’t it telling that even “in the moment,” things don’t progress beyond the verbal? He “wishes” he could rim you, but he wouldn’t need a genie and a lamp to make that happen. He’d just have to scoot a few feet and perhaps crane his neck. And yet! It seems pretty clear that, at the moment at least, he’s more into talking about this stuff than doing it.
The disgust he’s exhibiting afterward when not turned on is typical—arousal has a way of lowering our threshold and making us amenable to things we wouldn’t dare consider in the light of day. In Perv, Jesse Bering presents multiple examples of clinical findings that show disconnect between sex brain and not-sex brain, and he writes about it from an evolutionary perspective, as well: “When the system works smoothly, sexual arousal can serve to anesthetize the otherwise adaptive disgust response long enough for people to get on with the Darwinian business of reproduction.”
It seems like your boyfriend is giving you a pretty clear answer already—if he actually wanted to experiment with this stuff, he’d be able to with the naked body intertwined with his. But next time he brings it up in bed, why not ask him if he’d like to try it out? See if he’ll put his money (and by that, I actually I mean your anus) where his mouth is.
Dear How to Do It,
My partner and I have been dating for almost four years and living together for just under three. We have an amazing relationship and plan to get married someday. But our sex life has not been great for quite some time, and I’m worried it will affect our marriage and future relationship if we can’t get it sorted. I’m 26 and he’s 30, just for perspective.
I enjoy penetrative sex the most and can come two or three times from penetration if done well. Prior to dating my boyfriend, I was used to sleeping with guys who could last long enough to get me there multiple times and knew how to throw me around and move into new positions to keep it interesting. Unfortunately, my partner finds it extremely difficult not to come relatively quickly (within a minute or two) after beginning penetrative sex even when we were having sex quite regularly. He also doesn’t feel comfortable “throwing girls around” into new positions as much as I’ve tried to show him. At the beginning of our relationship, this was fine, because I was enjoying being with him and we still had some of the best sex I’ve ever had. But over time, I got frustrated with the quick penetrative sex and the lack of changes in position. I started not being sexually fulfilled and wasn’t enjoying sex as much. Slowly we started having sex less and less (we now do it once a week), and it became more of a chore for me than something I truly enjoyed. I can’t remember the last time I truly came from penetrative sex.
My boyfriend and I have tried everything to get me back to where I was at the beginning of the relationship. I’ve tried to tell him exactly what to do in foreplay to turn me on; he’s taken Viagra to help him last longer; we’ve used sex toys and stimulants; we’ve had countless conversations about it. But unfortunately, all this talk and planning have only made me dwell more in bed. I used to be able to let myself go during sex and truly enjoy the experience. Now I overanalyze everything and can’t just let myself enjoy the foreplay, which means I’m not as horny when we get to sex, which means I don’t enjoy the penetrative sex or just can’t come when we get to it. The few times I can get really horny and into it, he is unable to stop himself from coming relatively quickly and I am left sexually frustrated and unsatisfied and we end up in the loop again. I have my toys to get me to climax, but it is not the same, and I want to have those sexual experiences with him and not some toy.
Is there anything that my boyfriend and I haven’t thought of that will help us have a healthy sex life again where we are both fully satisfied?
—In the Loop
Dear In the Loop,
In addition to what you mentioned, desensitizing sprays or creams and pelvic-floor exercises on his part can help delay ejaculation. But it sounds to me like your partner may never give you the marathon dicking that you desire. A lot of guys come fast from penetrative sex, period, and it seems like you got lucky early on by encountering dudes with stamina. (Another way of looking at this is that you were unlucky to find partners who were uncommonly equipped to satisfy your exact desires, for they set a high bar that your current partner is failing to clear.) Things like foreplay and toys are often prescribed by experts to extend sex beyond relatively brief intercourse. Unfortunately, this compensation does not satisfy you sufficiently. When the relationship was young, this was forgivable because of the intoxicating qualities of new relationship energy. Now you’re wedged in reality, which isn’t always so fun. You have your workarounds—toys, for one thing—and you’re able to get off, which is more than many people who write into this column can say. You could take up meditation to help control your “overanalyzing” thoughts, continue communicating about foreplay, and try to be happy with what you have. If that’s still not enough for you—and it’s OK if it isn’t—you may just need to chalk this up to incompatibility and move on, as sad as it may be.
Dear How to Do It,
I need a reality check to see if I’m normal. I usually can’t orgasm unless I’m thinking about something, usually porn I’ve watched or a particularly hot TV or movie sex scene. I’ll be enjoying the act of sex with my partner, but when it comes time to actually orgasm, I find I usually can’t unless I visualize a scene, and think about it intently. Is this normal? I’m a woman, and if it matters, I usually have a hard time orgasming no matter how much I’m enjoying it so I usually think about a hot sex scene to hurry things along.
Dear Spank Bank,
What you’re doing is fairly common, at least anecdotally. You gotta do what you gotta do. Personally, I prefer connected sex—so connected that nothing else in the world matters at the moment, including the very concept of time—but I’d be a liar if I said I’d never done this myself to just get things over with. I’d rather have the kind of sex that doesn’t require my mind to wander from what’s in front of me—the partners that I can get lost in are the ones I cherish. This will not necessarily be the same for you. You may find that you just need to fantasize in order to get off, regardless of your partner, and that’s OK—but unless you’re extremely busy, wanting to “hurry things along” is a fairly withering review of the sex you’re having, even if you don’t realize it. Has this been different with other partners? Could it be? Might be worth finding out.
Dear How to Do It,
A few months ago—pre-COVID—I hooked up a few times with a friend I’ve been attracted to for years, and it was great, but then it seemed like we immediately went back to being “just friends,” so I wasn’t sure what the chances were of it happening again (especially once quarantine started). Eventually, I reached out to them about it, and they were very honest with me that their feelings are pretty complicated at the moment so they’d rather take a step back and keep things mostly platonic for now until they’re more certain about what they want. I’m totally on board with this, but still have one concern that I thought you might be able to help with.
Over the past few months, memories of the times we had sex—plus fantasies about what might happen next time—have been a big part of what I think about when I masturbate. I felt OK about this when we had a poorly defined friends-with-benefits arrangement, but now that we’ve explicitly agreed to put sex on the back burner, I feel as if I’m crossing some kind of boundary. On the other hand, it feels like a pretty victimless crime as long as I don’t actually mention it to them. Normally I err on the side of talking to people directly, but I feel like it’d actually be a lot creepier to send someone a message saying “Is it OK if I still jerk off to you?” than to just continue without saying anything. What are your thoughts? Is there ever an ethical way to fantasize about a real person who you’re not currently sleeping with?
—Morally Muddled Masturbator
Fantasizing is inherently a solo activity, so the only real ethical concern here is how it affects you. If you aren’t inflicting demonstrable stress on yourself by ruminating on something that could never be (and it seems like you aren’t), go ahead and keep rubbing them out to this. I understand that many people today are hung up about matters of consent from a humanist perspective, and I think this is largely a good thing. But what you’ve described is fundamentally a revisiting of memories. You’re allowed to remember. You’re allowed to think thoughts! Don’t let anyone guilt you into believing the contrary. Fantasizing is not a crime. Just keep it to yourself, because telling someone who isn’t interested is indeed creepy, at the very least.
More How to Do It
I’m dating a new man whom I like very much. When we became intimate, I was pleasantly surprised that he was very well endowed (about 8 inches). The sex is solid and getting better, but I’ve noticed a problem, and it reminded me that another very well-endowed man I was with in the past also had the same issue.