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 am in my late 30s and have been married to my husband for five years. I love him very deeply, and we are compatible in many ways. He was a virgin when we first got together so, to my knowledge, his only sexual experiences have been with me. I am a larger woman compared to his smaller frame. We are both overweight, but I am considerably heavier than my husband, due mostly to our differing heights. I have always been extremely aware of my weight issues, and I allow my body image to negatively impact my life. I don’t allow myself to dance (I wouldn’t even dance with him at our wedding) or do anything that might highlight my fatness. I have never felt “sexy” a single moment in my life, but I have a healthy sexual appetite. My husband often watches porn, and he attempts to hide this from me. It often hurts my feelings that he is looking at other women, but I understand that is my issue, not his.
We have never once talked about our sex life. He has never expressed any fantasies to me nor has he indicated that there is anything he would like to try. I haven’t brought it up because I am afraid that he wouldn’t be interested in having me attempt to satisfy any of his fantasies because of my weight. I also want to be more open with him about my needs and desires, but he has never been open with me before, so I don’t want to make him uncomfortable. He is a man of few words and is extremely introverted. How can I make sure his needs are being met? And how should I attempt to bring up the subject of spicing things up a bit? Is there something I could do, instead of say, to let him know I am open to new things?
—Big and Insecure
Dear Big and Insecure,
I think you should try talking about talking about sex to see how that goes. Being direct with words should reduce the possibility of missed clues and further frustration. Pick a moment when you’re both calm and not rushed or distracted. When you talk with him, you might gently point out the fact that the two of you have never conversed about coitus and inquire whether there’s a reason for that. You might state a desire for discussion: “I don’t ever remember us talking about sex, but I’d like to talk about sex with you: the sex we’re having, the sex we want, and the sex we will have. I’d like to spice things up, and I want to hear about your needs and fantasies.” You don’t mention whether the sex you’re currently having is satisfying for you, and if it isn’t, I encourage you to think about what you’d like to incorporate, too, and to share that with him. As always, listen actively. Make space for your partner to think and to express himself. Let pauses sit. Ask questions delicately. Do your best to answer questions he might have, and be prepared to share without direct questioning if it feels appropriate. If he needs time to reflect, that’s fine—ideally this will be an ongoing conversation across many weeks, months, and years. I hope it’ll be pretty intuitive from there.
If you can’t talk about sex, you’ll have a stickier situation. So sticky, in fact, that I’d recommend couples counseling to get the two of you to the point where you can have a frank discussion about your desires. It’s the only way to get the kind of intimacy and connection you’re looking for.
You don’t ask me how to work on your negative self-image, but it’s heartbreaking to hear you won’t even allow yourself to dance. I think self-acceptance could be a crucial piece to getting to a place of healthy sexual communication with your husband, and that may require some solo therapy on your own. So in addition to having this conversation, I’d urge you to try to work on your relationship with your body. The more you love it, the easier it is for others to love it too.
Dear How to Do It,
I love to masturbate. It’s my primary form of sexual gratification—my partner and I have sex maybe twice a year. I watch porn while I masturbate, which I find relaxing and an escape from my very challenging job and constant home responsibilities. I can mostly stay in the moment during the buildup, which I often like to draw out for a while, but when the orgasm comes, right at that moment, so often my mind goes to my stresses. When I can avoid that, my orgasms are so much more intense. But it’s relatively rare. I am on anti-anxiety meds, I’ve tried CBT and therapy (for general stress management), and I do some mindfulness (though not at that precise moment). But it’s like I can’t really allow myself to let loose—and on top of that I think some guilt comes out right at that moment. When I have sex with my partner, this is not a problem. How can I do better at staying in the moment during orgasm?
—Just Want to Cum in Peace
Dear Cum in Peace,
Rebecca West, in her Yugoslavia travel masterpiece Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, has a line about adding good things instead of subtracting bad things. There’s a lesson here about proactivity: focus on your orgasm. Add focus on the sensations emanating from your genitals. Purposefully turn your mind to the feelings you’re experiencing—the overwhelming pleasure, the physical contractions, the release of muscle tension. It might be enough to keep your brain occupied and away from burdensome baggage.
Another thing you can do is lean into what you’re experiencing. When the stresses pop up, say “OK, tell me more.” Especially since you say you suspect there’s guilt involved, accepting those less than sexy feelings might help you understand and process them. I imagine you might feel guilty for taking the time to give yourself a nice experience. Or you might have been told that masturbation is wrong. You might have some strife over your fantasies. I don’t know. You don’t know. But you can invite further knowledge.
Has mindfulness helped? If it has, you should absolutely try more. Even if it hasn’t, it might be worth trying a second method. Barbara Carrellas’ Urban Tantra has a number of sexually focused breathing exercises, and it’s a soothing, sex-positive read that I hope can be useful to you. (I’ve taken one of her breathing courses and found it enlightening.)
Dear How to Do It,
I’m absolutely in love with my best friend, and I have no clue what to do about it. We’re both queer women, I being lesbian and her bisexual. She basically lives with me—she’s over every day, and she’ll stay the night about once a week, us falling asleep sort of but not quite cuddling on my couch. She sends so many mixed signals, and I know I’m doing the same thing. We have a very, very flirty relationship and have drunkenly made out a few times (and almost joined a couple orgies before chickening out), but that’s about the extent of the romantic aspect of our relationship. The thing is that I could see myself being with her for a really long time. She’s so amazing, and we never get bored of each other or fight, but I don’t know if or how to approach the idea of a relationship. I just came out, so dating is very new to me. I don’t want to risk losing her friendship, but I don’t know how to deal with the pain of not being able to do simple things like hold her hand or kiss her. It’s especially worse in that we both have severe anxiety, so communicating romantically or sexually is really hard for us with anyone.
—Queer and Confused
Dear Queer and Confused,
One of my close friends once declared their romantic affection for me. I responded that I thought aromanticism might be a thing like asexuality—and that that’s how I was feeling generally, toward the world at large. Last year I stood up on their side of the aisle at their wedding. What I’m saying is that being upfront with your feelings, even if they aren’t reciprocated, can be OK. It can also destroy the friendship, but so can hiding feelings and ignoring love. I think it’s worth the risk to broach the subject.
I hear you on the anxiety and difficulty communicating being hard for both of you. How do you feel about a letter? You could take your time. You could sleep on what you’re going to say. You’d have to work up the courage to give it to them but then the act of sharing would be complete on your end, aside from—ideally—follow-up questions and discussion. You could also rehearse what you’re going to say and deliver your sentiments personally. If you go that route, turning off the lights while you’re talking might help. You’ll want to let them know that you think darkness eases your anxiety and ask them whether that’s OK for them.
Find your fortitude. You can do this.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in my mid-30s, and I thoroughly enjoy giving fellatio. I want to take it to the next level with deep-throating, but my gag reflex is quite sensitive. If my toothbrush or tongue scraper goes back too far, I’ll puke. Don’t get me wrong, I get the job done, but I want more fun! I’ve tried numbing sprays, pressure points, and even visited sex toy shops to only be told “a dick shouldn’t be in your throat if you can’t manage it.” Any advice?
—Yearn to Make Him Squirm
Get a dildo. Don’t mention to the sex toy shop that you’re getting it so you can practice deep throating—just walk in and buy one. Go for the softer and squishier variety, and ideally go to a place that has samples out where you can squeeze them yourself before you buy. If you can’t visit this kind of erotic emporium, go online to a site like Hey Epiphora and dig through the reviews.
Then practice, practice, practice. You might want to do this in the bathtub at first, as you’re likely to overshoot at least a couple of times. You also might want to try breathing through your nose as you slowly increase the depth of the penetration. Good luck.
More How to Do It
I’m a mother of two lovely and happy kids, both in their early 20s. We’re very close and talk frequently. We started talking about sex early, and positively, and consciously kept an open line so they knew they had support if they needed it. My son had a long-term girlfriend in high school, and I came to realize they were having sex, so I just made sure he had the facts about safety. My daughter is beautiful but very shy, and I essentially knew she was a virgin through college. She’s now living in a big city after graduation and is “blooming,” I guess you could say. I am happy for her, but the problem, to be blunt, is that she won’t shut up to me about it! She tells me fairly graphic details about every man she dates, and even one time about a man she met in a bar and had a one-night stand with.
I’ve registered mild objections to these conversations, but 1) I don’t think she has close girlfriends to talk about this, and 2) I don’t want to make her feel ashamed or like she can’t talk to me. How do I support her, remain positive, but at least set up some boundaries? I’m worried that when she finally brings a man home, I’m going to know about his endowment before I even meet him.