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 afraid there’s something wrong with the way I orgasm. I’ve heard multiple experts describe how longer foreplay, edging, and being more turned on result in a stronger orgasm, but for me it seems to be the opposite. If I’m not particularly turned on and basically bully my clit into having an orgasm, it always feels a lot stronger than if I take my time, watch porn, or do lots of foreplay. It feels like the more turned on I am, the less noticeable my orgasm is. This has made it really difficult for me to come with a partner in the past. I’m worried that maybe it’s partly because I have been masturbating the same way since I was a little kid and I may have trained myself to only come under very specific circumstances. Or it’s related to tension and my orgasm feels stronger when I’m not as turned on because there’s more tension in my body? I’ve also never felt like my orgasms have been that great, they’re usually nice but not earth-shattering. Am I missing something?
—Driving in Reverse
Dear Driving in Reverse,
I have no idea why your orgasms are stronger if you force them out. I think we might be able to get some more data to work with, but you’ll have to masturbate. Using the same masturbation technique you’ve been relying on your whole sexual life, masturbate a few times, trying both your cold-start method and the leisurely warmup method, and pay attention to the tension in your body at various points. After that, try your cold-start method with less intentional tension, or purposeful relaxation. Do the same with the leisurely warm up. Is any of this loosening up your sexual response or increasing the benefit of your orgasm? If so, you know what to do more of.
Meanwhile, start touching yourself in different ways—like, all the ways. Try laying on your stomach, on your back, on each side, sitting, standing. Try firm pressure with the flats of your fingers, try hard swirls with a fingertip, try gentle light flicks. Try touching all the sides of your clitoris. Try feeling between your inner and outer labia, try pulling gently on them, spreading them open, squeezing them closed. Try feeling around your insides. There’s lots of clitoral tissue that can be stimulated through the vaginal canal, including the area known as the G-spot a few inches in on the front wall, just behind your pubic bone. Get creative. If any of that feels interesting to you, incorporate it into your masturbatory routine.
You also might go into masturbation with the intent to make yourself feel good but without the intent to make yourself orgasm. Sometimes taking that pressure off helps us discover wonderful things about ourselves while we’re exploring.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a bisexual woman in my late 30s who is married to a wonderful man. I have known since I was 12 that I am attracted to both men and women. I have had several intimate encounters with female friends throughout my years, but I have never been in a relationship with a woman. Very few people know about my orientation; most of them are the women with whom I have had sexual encounters. I had devastating experiences with two women I engaged with sexually. Both of them attempted to “out” me to our circle of friends before I was ready for people to know. I trusted them because we were friends. I lost my trust in women after these two experiences—not only sexually, but in general. The grand majority of my friends are now men.
My husband and I were together for four years before getting married, and these nine years have been some of the best of my life. However, my desire for female contact has not abated. My husband has no idea that I am bisexual. I don’t think he would think less of me for it, but I fear my same-sex attraction may be “fetishized” should I ever choose to tell him or that he will think I am not attracted to him. I am not interested in asking him for threesomes or anything of the sort. And I would never consider cheating on him in order to fulfill my desire for female interaction.
Part of me feels guilty for not disclosing this part of myself to him. I should be able to tell him anything and everything. We have never once had a conversation about our sex life in our nine-year relationship. I am uncomfortable talking about sex, and he seems to feel the same way. We don’t communicate verbally at all during our sexual encounters either. I had the idea of suggesting that we begin mutually watching porn while having sex so that I can voyeuristically indulge in my attraction to women while maintaining our monogamous relationship. But considering that he doesn’t know about my sexual orientation, I don’t know how to bring this up to him. What should I do?
Dear Closet Case,
I’m a firm believer that it’s generally better to share our sexual desires with our partners, especially in deeply committed, entwined relationships. But sharing can be difficult, especially when we aren’t used to conversing about sex. You have nine years of foundation to draw from and trust built up, and you probably have some experience with handling tricky issues together. Plan your approach accordingly.
As for what to say, I think you already know—it’s simply a version of what you told me. I’d change “I would never consider cheating on [you] in order to fulfill my desire for female interaction” to “I’m only interested in interacting sexually with [you].” And I’d really emphasize that what you’re asking for is incorporation of pornographic images of women, which seems easy to back out of if it isn’t working.
If the thought of a one-on-one conversations feels overwhelming, it might be easier to write a letter. You could articulate yourself thoroughly, and he could read at his own pace. You’d want to make yourself available for discussion after. It might help to dim the lights or turn them off entirely while you talk. I hope this is the start of more conversation, both inside and outside the bedroom, between you two about your sexual needs and desires.
Also, you don’t mention masturbation. Self-pleasure can be a wonderful pursuit and would be a great way for you to interact with sexual material of women with your full focus.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 49-year-old woman who recently started seeing a 39-year-old man. We met a few weeks ago, and he pursued me from the first meeting. He’s a quirky person, which I like. It’s been a few years for both of us since we were last in relationships. We are still getting to know each other but I like him very much, and the feeling is mutual.
But we’ve slept together a few times, and it’s been unsatisfying for me. I hadn’t had sex in a very long time, so I don’t mind too much because frankly it’s great to get anything right now. However, I’m adventurous in bed, and I get the impression I have way more experience than he does (though I don’t know that for sure). I’ve been fortunate that my sexual experiences have largely been good and often spectacular. My new guy doesn’t want to say what he wants in bed and doesn’t seem curious about what I want. Sex lasts maybe 10 minutes and ends as soon as he comes. He doesn’t ask if I’ve had an orgasm. When I asked him what he enjoys and wants, he coyly replied that he doesn’t have to answer that question if he doesn’t want to. I don’t want to put pressure on him. I’ve never been with a man (or woman) who’s been reluctant to express what they want and who doesn’t want to try new things. I’m happy to satisfy myself after he’s done so that’s not a real issue for me at this point. How do I gently and slowly create that safe space where he feels comfortable enough to express his desires and fantasies?
—Puzzled and Unsatisfied
The sex the two of you are having is unbalanced. His orgasm occurs, and yours does not. You satisfy yourself when he disengages after ejaculation. I suppose you may be thinking that creating a safe space for him to communicate his desires and fantasies might help him appreciate sexuality more broadly, and the two of you might connect more deeply. But I worry that your focus on his emotional comfort is a detriment to your sexual satisfaction.
Have a firm talk about what sex is to you and what you need to be happy in a sexual relationship. Tell him what you like and want. Model communication of sexual desires, sure. But if that fails or stalls out, get your desires fulfilled elsewhere.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a queer cis woman who’s a virgin and rarely masturbates, and I’m not sure if that’s a problem. I was raised religious and indoctrinated in purity culture. As a feminist, I reject that whole mindset now and am working to become sex positive. I believe that I should explore my body because I deserve it and because it could benefit any future partnered activity. However, I’m also asexual. I’m not repulsed by sex but am hardly ever horny. When I do masturbate, I can only (rarely) come in one specific way. I’ve tried to explore myself, relax and set the mood, focus on having a good time even if I don’t come, use lube, watch or read erotic content, but 99 percent of the time nothing happens, and I rapidly lose interest. I think I may be selling myself short, like I should try harder. But I can’t separate what I actually feel from outside expectations. I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to be with someone who doesn’t know how to get herself off reliably or even want to. Is it OK to just feel “eh” about it all? Do I owe it to myself and my future partners to keep trying anyway?
—Tell Me What I Want, What I Really, Really Want
Dear Tell Me,
It is absolutely fine to just feel “eh” about sex, just like it’s OK to feel “eh” about things like cabbage or certain condiments. I love sex and spend about a week per menstrual cycle feeling pretty “eh” about it, at least compared to how I feel the rest of the time. Your tastes and preferences are yours, and they aren’t harming anyone else.
When you talk about it being hard to believe that anyone would want to be with someone who doesn’t know how or want to get herself off, I wonder if you’ve thought about forming platonic domestic partnerships or romantic relationships with other people who are (or are close to) asexual. It seems very logical to me that two people who aren’t interested in sex could find each other and create a happy, rich emotional companionship. I also wonder if you’ve considered being part of a poly structure. You might find allosexual people who have their sexual appetites met and are interested in a snuggle and romance partner.
It sounds like you’re spending a lot of time thinking—rejecting religious indoctrination, working to become sex positive, implementing feminist frameworks—and it might help to balance that with some feeling. Lay down in a quiet room with low light and tune into your body. What’s it saying? What regions are the loudest? Does your stomach want to be filled? Does your neck want to be rubbed? Your fingers and forearms stretched? Whatever that is, give it to your body. Because that’s what you really deserve—the physical stimulation and self-care that you want.
More How to Do It
I am in my mid-30s and happily married to my husband for five years. We have a toddler and a fantastic sex life—better even than pre-parenthood. I had an intense crush on my husband for a long time before we hooked up, and he still gives me butterflies on a regular basis. We are very open with sharing our desires and fantasies, and we communicate really well about our sex life. This has led to us trying things for the first time that were unspoken desires in past relationships, and just generally having a lot of fun together in bed.
One of the things we’ve discussed semi-seriously is my husband watching while I have sex with another man. He says this would be a huge turn-on, and I am certainly turned on by the prospect. We’ve also talked about our fears and reservations about actually following through with such an arrangement, so for now this fantasy is fulfilled by simply talking about it (what would turn us on, what I would do, what I’d want the guy to do to me, etc.). Where I’m struggling especially with this idea is that as much as I am genuinely turned on by my husband, I still find myself developing crushes/admiring other men. The biggest turn on for me in this whole fantasy is thinking about the rush of sleeping with someone new for the first time—basically the excitement that comes with the whole gamut of experiencing new sensations with someone unfamiliar to you. While my husband views this as perhaps a one-time thing, it has highlighted to me that I am regularly turned on by the thought of sleeping with someone else. My question is—why do I still develop crushes and find myself pretty strongly attracted to other men when my husband already ticks all of the boxes? Is this craving for novelty a sign that things aren’t as perfect as I think they are, or is this normal? If so, how do I remain happy in a monogamous marriage (I’m not open to opening up our marriage) when I crave this novelty?