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,
Before my (F) husband (M) and I were married several years ago, I got him a little butt plug as a gift, not knowing how’d he react, as we had never explored his butt together. When we went to use it, he said he’d rather use one of his toys and pulled a big ol’ bag-o-dongs from the closet. As it turns out, he really loves receiving anal!
I’ll try anything once, or in this case 50 times. We’ve tried butt plugs, dildos, and pegging with a harness and all. We don’t do it very frequently and only when he asks. Since he loves it, I’ve been trying to keep an open mind and learn to like it, but it finally dawned on me that I’m just not into it. I can’t seem to get over the ick factor of butts (poop comes out of there!), even with gloves or in the shower. We could be in the middle of a great sex romp, but the second he wants me to go in the back door … ugh. Butt plugs are ok, but once there’s in and out action, I just can’t. Instead of being turned on, I’m turned completely off. Whatever sexiness I was experiencing is now gone, and all I’m left with is the desire to get him off and get it over with. I’m sure he notices my hesitation, and I feel like a jerk for saying no. I should have broached this with him years ago, but now my fake smile (and fake dick) have been on so long it’s weird to bring up. Is there an expectation that sex should be mutually pleasurable, or at least not a complete turn-off? Should I draw the line at the perineum? Or should I view it as a gift to him and keep on strappin’ it on?
It’s very polite of you to have misgivings about reneging on something you had agreed was in your mutual sexual toolbox, but it’s really not at all weird to do so. You’re allowed to take your time figuring out how you feel (even if it’s over the course of years), and you’re allowed to change your mind. That’s just personal evolution. How much we should give of ourselves to our loved ones can be an ongoing negotiation, and it’s true that a lot of people come out on the side of grinning and bearing their way through certain acts for the sake of their partner’s pleasure. Sometimes this generosity is taken as mutual interest, but as you point out, sometimes the contrivance is palpable. Personally, reluctance or apathy on the part of my partner can sap even my favorite activities of their allure—the fun is not merely in the act, but the interplay of it.
So while not a unilateral ethos, it’s completely reasonable to expect mutually pleasurable sex and have that determine your boundaries. He might not like how that changes things, but you already don’t like the current situation, so it’s fair to at least let your comfort level dictate for a while. He was obviously already exploring anal play without you when you suggested it, so it’s not like you’re depriving him entirely by tapping out. He’s a big boy and can handle his own prostate.
Dear How to Do It,
I have had an on again, off again fling with an older man (in his 50s, I’m a woman in my 20s) for about a year and a half. Right now, we are at the place of hooking up once every few months. He likes to be rough, and for the past few times, it’s especially been a problem. He likes to have anal sex, and he’s the only person I’ve done it with. He doesn’t want to use lube, and so every time, I’m left sore and sometimes bleeding for a few days afterward. One of the last times, it hurt a lot, and I said no, but he didn’t stop for a few seconds, until I started crying. The next time, he was very apologetic when I told him he hurt me.
But a couple of nights ago, he told me he still wants to have anal sex because that’s pretty much what he thinks about when he thinks about me. I kept saying no and resisting all night. But it got to the point where giving him a blow job really messed with my gag reflex, and he told me anal sex would make him come faster. I agreed, but it was again painful at first, so I said no, and he again didn’t pull out immediately, saying, “Just a second more.” He pulled out, and then I said OK to go ahead with anal again because I figured he won’t be done until he comes, and he finally came. The whole thing left me feeling frustrated and angry at myself that I didn’t enforce respect for my body. I kept telling him he needed to respect me, and I don’t think he took it that seriously because he said I had always enjoyed anal in the past (I didn’t). He also said he likes the feeling of me being helpless under him, which I told him feels creepy. He’s also told me on multiple occasions that I’m fat and I don’t try hard enough because I don’t shave my body hair.
I hate that I keep letting him come over. I guess I just need validation that this might be an abusive situation with sexual assault, and that I absolutely should not give him another chance. I wish I could handle anal. I wish I could be cool about the rest of it. But I can’t.
—Is He Abusive?
Here’s your requested validation: This is an abusive situation with sexual assault, and you absolutely should not give him another chance. The very suspicion that you are being abused would be enough to demand action, even when you are in a scenario that doesn’t necessarily constitute textbook abuse. When your gut is telling you something is damaging you, you need to get out. In your particular case, though, this guy isn’t just a textbook, he’s an encyclopedia. He’s not listening to you when you say no or when you tell him it hurts. He has disregarded your actual feelings about anal in favor of a narrative that serves to allow him to get what he wants. His contrition is conditional and insincere, for replication of an offense rescinds apology.
Also, he denigrates your appearance. What are you even getting out of this? Your letter reads like a functional exercise in power disparity, right down to the considerable age gap. I know it’s a hard time to be having casual sex, given the varying personal quarantine restrictions and many people’s general inaccessibility, but I promise you can do better than this. Even being alone is better than bleeding. Don’t give this guy another second of your precious time.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 48-year-old man in a committed relationship with another man for almost 20 years. Like many long-term couples we had amazing sex at first, then opened up about 10 years ago. Our sex with each other now mostly consists of very occasional nonpenetrative play or threesomes with another bottom. Our country has weathered COVID pretty well, so we are still—cautiously—slightly active. We have navigated being open pretty well with just a few moments of jealousy (on his part) and unspoken, pretty fluid guidelines. For example, he used to not want me to bottom, but became more relaxed about that as long as he doesn’t have to watch. However, he absolutely insists on condoms for anal sex. I have broken that rule in the past with regular friends I felt I could trust, but recognized the risk. I have always been religious about testing through a government program and recently decided to go on PrEP with their assistance.
Since then, I have been doing bareback more often, always with other regularly tested, on-PrEP men. I have brought up the benefits of PrEP with him with regards to controlling the pandemic, but he says it is scary because of the side effects and still fears sex without condoms. That is his choice, but hiding my PrEP use and activity from him feels wrong. Because we don’t have penetrative sex, I feel I am not putting him at risk and I also don’t necessarily agree with his definition of safe sex, which includes oral with strangers. I’d like to be honest with him and also maybe share some of the freedom from fear I have felt from my decision. I know I just have to bite the bullet and have the conversation, but any ideas how couples can manage this new wrinkle that PrEP has created? Are different ideas of sexual safety a deal breaker in open relationships?
The wrinkle here has less to do with PrEP than with your deviance from the parameters of your open arrangement. The time to voice your disagreement with your partner’s too-narrow-for-you definition of safe sex is before you go against his wishes, not after. I understand that sometimes in the heat of the moment, people end up transgressing beyond their rules, but what you’ve described is an intentional pattern of violating your partner’s wishes, and I’m not down with that.
It’s not like I don’t see your rationale. If we take PrEP out of the equation, sure, it does make a certain sense to be more amenable to condomless oral sex than anal (HIV is transmitted far more frequently via the latter), but these distinctions become a bit more arbitrary-seeming when other STIs are the only ones of concern. Also, not taking PrEP because of its mild-to-nonexistent side effects in the vast majority of its users is like never swimming in the ocean out of fear that a shark might brush up against you. Pretty ridiculous.
All of this said, I think it’s important to respect your partner’s wishes when it comes to your open arrangement. Because of their host of variables, every prospective open relationship is effectively uncharted territory, and guidelines help keep parties on the same page. They help organize what can seem at first like an invitation to chaos (and, sometimes becomes actual chaos once underway). Unless your partner is sadistic or a straight-up dick, he’s likely attempting to exercise some control, and because he’s human, this may come at the cost of reason and be borne of ignorance. It’s OK to point logical fallacies out, but such an argument is more likely to persuade in the early stages of your open-relationship building than it is after a rules breach, when you could be interpreted as just trying to save face. He should definitely know you’re on PrEP—even if your sex life is a shadow of what it once was, he’s still your partner and your overall sexual health maintenance is pertinent information. And I just don’t think it’s cool for you to be misleading him. He’s your life partner and deserves respect.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 66-year-old guy who has had a terrible sex life. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 32.
I have only had intercourse with about four women, including my ex-wife. The women I had intercourse with wanted strictly vanilla sex and wanted nothing to do with experimenting with toys, positions, etc. I’m now getting ready to start dating again after a terrible last two relationships … I haven’t had sex in about four years. I’m nervous about having a physical relationship with someone new when I don’t feel experienced. At my age women obviously expect a lot of experience, and I don’t have it. Women have loved my oral skills but for somebody new, I’m definitely lacking in knowing positions and feeling confident in my skills. How do I navigate this with someone new?
— Feeling Like a Virgin
Don’t assume anything about partners’ expectations, especially when the partners are hypothetical and the expectations are even more so. Even decades of steady boning can leave people unequipped for the exact needs of their partner. Some guys, for example, never learn how to give head. If you’re confident about your oral skills, lead with those. Sex is an exchange, and one way to facilitate it is by knowing what you want. It’s good to invest in pleasing your partner, but don’t neglect your own desires. A little bit of faking it until you make it goes a long way to project confidence that isn’t quite there, but if you’re trying to impress someone with an advanced position just for the sake of it, a savvy partner may detect that and get turned off. It’s better to be honest with yourself and your body. Start with what feels good and right for you. Think of sex as expression, not projection.
More How to Do It
When my boyfriend does anything sexual—talk, touch, a certain look, a certain noise, just me thinking of him—it makes my uterus convulse, and then my whole body stretch. It is a fantastic but potentially embarrassing issue to have, as location doesn’t play a factor. He suggests that I’m having small involuntary orgasms. Could this be true? I think that’s strange, as I have a very difficult time, during the actual sexual act, reaching orgasm. I’m mostly curious!