How to Do It

My Wife Is Terrible at the Thing I Enjoy Most in Bed

I don’t want to push her to do something she doesn’t enjoy.

Shirtless handsom man with a bored expression on his face.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AaronAmat/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,

My wife and I have been together for about 10 years and married two. For the most part, our sex is great—except for blow jobs. When we started dating in college, my wife was a virgin and did not like to give head. It wasn’t part of our sex outside of a few times when she initiated it, and it was usually quick, and then we started to have sex. The problem is I really like getting head, and prior to dating my wife I had a few girlfriends who were very skilled. About a year ago while discussing our sex life, I advised that I like getting head and wish my wife did it more. She indicated that she wanted to start giving it more because she felt I did much more foreplay for her and it was fair for her to reciprocate.

Well, she is just plain terrible at it. Her gag reflex kicks in, her jaw hurts, she doesn’t do anything with her hands, and there is no “show” or eye contact. To make it worse, I know she isn’t enjoying it, and I definitely get off more when I know it’s enjoyable for both parties. I’m OK with no blow jobs because the other parts of our sex life are great, and I don’t want her to do it if she isn’t enjoying it. I’ve told her before when she starts to go down that she doesn’t have to and we can continue with other stuff, but she says she knows I like it and insists on continuing. I’m not sure how to approach this. I feel that it’s very rude to say “I want more head” last year and then follow up with “you’re so bad I’d rather not have it at all.” I’m also not sure if I want to push getting better because I don’t want her to do something she doesn’t enjoy.

—Rather Be Headless

Dear Rather Be Headless,

There’s no need to bring up your wife’s proficiency with fellatio skills. The fact that you need her enjoyment of the act to enjoy it yourself is enough. And that’s the core of this—you aren’t going to be able to really embrace a blow job when you feel that your wife is only engaged in the practice to please you.

So tell her that: “Honey, thank you so much for trying oral sex. I really appreciate the effort you’ve put in and your willingness to cater to my desires. I’m not able to relax and take pleasure from what you’re doing because it’s in my mind that you’re only doing this to make me happy.”

And then listen. She might be nervous. She might genuinely not enjoy herself. She might be afraid of scraping you with her teeth or unable to get out of her own head. Whatever she’s stumbling over might be easily navigable. It also might be best to leave oral off the table. You won’t know until you have a good talk about it.

If she’s struggling to relax herself because of technique concerns, you can remind her that everyone has to start figuring out every new sexual partner from scratch and that good technique is all about communication and application. If she’s afraid of scraping you with her teeth, you can have a session where she explores how closed her mouth can be without hurting you. This’ll require a lot of verbal communication about how your penis feels at any given moment. If she’s nervous for other reasons, you can talk through those and might reach a resolution. And if she simply doesn’t enjoy herself, there’s your opening to suggest removing oral on you from the menu entirely.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a pre-menopausal, early 50s woman married to a late 50s man. We have been together about seven years total. I used to enjoy sex, but I am not interested anymore, and I’m tired of the guilt. Being around him 24/7, bored out of my wits with my remote job, angry at the state of our country and current president—all that and his need to take ED pills (which he tried to hide from me) have stomped out my desire. I bought the book Come as You Are. It didn’t have the answers for me or didn’t apply to what’s going on.

It seems we only have sex on his schedule, when he’s ready or not tired, and I resent that. I hate his damn boner pills, and I’ve told him that. Sex also has become a quick five- to 10-minute thing. No foreplay. It seems he’s forgotten what a clitoris is, and when I remind him, he gets mad. I go through with it to save the marriage. We have tried communicating, but it usually ends up with his feelings being hurt. How do I (or we) get this back on track? How do I want it again? How do I not resent him? Are we doomed?

—Too Young to Be Done, but …

Dear Too Young,

The decrease in arousal and libido you’re reporting are real phenomena. Your hormones are shifting around, and perimenopausal women frequently experience changes in sexual response in one direction or the other. You might have some success with regular use of a vibrator, or with an over-the-counter oil called Zestra. There’s also something called an Eros Clitoral Therapy Device, but at $250 I suspect you’ll want to try other options first. It might also be time to speak with a medical professional about hormones. They aren’t a boner pill, but some women do report a resurgence of libido when they undergo hormone replacement therapy.

I’m wondering if you might get something out of venting to a group of peers—other perimenopausal women—about the frustration you’re experiencing and listening to the challenges others in your position are encountering. Even though everyone’s body is different, there’s something that can be really efficient about problem- and solution-sharing. (You may also find relief in speaking to a therapist, either on your own or with your husband.)

Meanwhile, you communicate firmly. You say to your husband, “My vagina is changing, and I’m not sure what turns me on anymore. I’m hoping to figure out what sex in my 50s can be like, but I’ll need space and your help in the form of being present, communicating, and prioritizing mutual pleasure during sex. Can you do these things with me?” Or  whatever words, spoken calmly and clearly, feel right for you. If he makes everything about his pleasure or skips foreplay, have another—firmer—conversation about what you need to continue being in this relationship.

Help us keep giving the advice you crave every week. Sign up for Slate Plus now.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 38-year-old, queer, nonmonogamous woman married to a wonderful husband. We have a great sex life, and I want to continue it. However, I was diagnosed about a year ago with a degenerative disease that will eventually leave me with limited us of my hands, and that is how I orgasm. I was late to the orgasm game—for years I would have intense orgasms in my sleep, then I was gifted a vibrator at 25 and figured out how to give myself orgasms while awake. I’ve only ever had orgasms from stimulating myself with a vibrator, save a few hand-done ones accomplished after a long time when I was extremely aroused. My other partners have tried using vibrators on me, but I feel like it’s such a small or specific spot, or I’ve become accustomed only to the way I do it, that usually I become numb before I can orgasm. I’ve been told I can stay fairly sexually active once my condition progresses, but I fear (and so does my husband) that I won’t be able to orgasm anymore if I can’t do it the way I’ve always done it. I have a few years before this sets in, so my question is: Can I teach someone else at this point to make me come, in the eventuality that I can’t do it myself? Is only using a vibrator the female equivalent of death grip, and I’ve ruined myself?

—Ham-Handed

Dear Ham-Handed,

I’m wondering if agency is a factor here. As the person holding the vibrator, you’re in control, and I think that might be worth exploring further.

One easy thing you should try is holding your husband’s hand with your hand as he holds the vibrator. Another thing along the same lines is directing the action verbally. I’d also suggest you start masturbating with purpose and pay attention. Ask your husband to watch close up with the lights on. See if you can articulate what you’re doing in minute detail. Try to give him a really thorough picture of what you’re doing to yourself. Then get really turned on. As intensely as you can muster. Work yourself up. When you’re very close to the edge of orgasm, have your husband take over. Practice this, slowly increasing the gap you leave open to his ministrations.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a 40-year-old straight female. My partner of eight years suddenly left me at the age of 33. Our sex life was nonexistent before he left, as he was having an affair. After we separated, I reclaimed my sexuality and happily had many positive sexual experiences, but without commitment. Recently, I met a man who I want to be monogamous with. Here is my dilemma: I have several friends with benefits that are actually my friends. If I tell them that it’s no more benefits, just friends, they’d be fine with that. However, I don’t know if I should mention this to my new beau when he eventually meets said friends in the future. I think most people would find it strange that I have stayed friends with more than one past lover. Like “here are all my guy friends, and I have had sex with a bunch of them.” I don’t want to cut these men out of my life, but is that the only option here? Do I need to disclose my sexual history with these men to my new partner?

—Sexy Friend Dilemma

Dear Sexy Friend Dilemma,

It’s less about the “with these men” part and more about your sexual history. You’ve formed these lovely relationships that have included sexual interaction for some portion of their existence so far. These people are still in your life. Unless you censor yourself, some funny moment or story of how you met is going to come up. If you want to omit these anecdotes, that’s one thing—I won’t understand it, but it’s a valid choice. But if you want to be open about your sexuality and sexual experiences with this person, I think it’d be odd to entirely withhold the context of who the people involved are to you.

Everybody has stuff about them that some others would find strange. You’ve got your network of genuine friends who you’ve been having sex with. I’ve got my porn career. Other people have strong fetishes, meaning that their kink must be involved for arousal or orgasm. Some are entirely vanilla, but shouldn’t that be disclosed too?

Your beau might experience a bit of jealousy, and you’ll have the chance to see if he works through that in a healthy way or reacts by trying to control you. And remember, the more calm and matter of fact you are, the more he is likely to respond similarly.

—Stoya

More How to Do It

My husband and I have been married for 16 years. We have sex about once a month, after kids and lots of life stuff, and that’s fine for me. I think he’d like a little more, but he’s seemed OK with our current pace. I know he masturbates pretty frequently—he goes to a particular room, and I know what’s up—but I try to respect his privacy. Recently, I was cleaning in that particular room and I brushed his laptop, which was not password-protected. You probably know where this is going: He had left some porn up on the screen. The thing is, it was bisexual porn. And the guys were definitely the focal point of this particular one from what I could tell. I was sort of shocked and I only looked for a second before I shut the laptop and left the room.

My husband has never mentioned a sexual interest in men in any way, and I never would have guessed he might have one. This ate at me for a couple weeks before I finally mentioned it to him in a clumsy way. He turned bright-red and said it was just porn, nothing more. I should have let it go, but I pressed, and he eventually said he prefers bisexual porn but would never want to try anything with a guy in person. I asked him if he would if I gave him my blessing. He seemed super flustered and said he didn’t know. He denied he’s bisexual and said it’s just curiosity, but I could tell he was a little unsure. He seemed happy to change the subject and I finally let it go, but I feel really uneasy about what I found out. He would die before talking about this with a couples’ therapist. I also have no idea if I’d be OK with letting him explore, but I definitely can’t just forget about this. What should I do?