How to Do It

My Boyfriend Expects Me to “Work From Home” in More Ways Than One

Woman and Man working from home on a couch surrounded by up and down arrows in neon.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by shironosov/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 boyfriend and I have been together over six years, living together for almost four. Our sex-life is ever-evolving; however, we’ve recently hit a snag. Our sex drives are in two completely different places. I’m at a low, due primarily to endometriosis flare-ups that can make sex uncomfortable or even painful. On the opposite end of the spectrum, he’s at a record-high. Because of COVID, I now work from home 3-to-5 days a week and, between both of our schedules, he gets virtually no time alone for self-pleasure. We are very open about masturbation and, pre-COVID, he would masturbate almost every weekday. Going from five times a week to zero has him desiring to have sex far more than usual for us (we average once a week). He’s against masturbating if I’m also home and instead encourages me to give him a blowjob or hand job if I’m not in the mood for sex. He doesn’t ever pressure me to have sex, but he is always visibly disappointed when I turn him down and can get a bit pressure-y about me doing the other things to pleasure him instead.

Now I feel guilty if I turn him down for either sex or other activities, and I’m starting to resent not only feeling guilty, but also being personally responsible for all of the orgasms he’s not having because he can’t masturbate. I don’t mind doing non-sex things maybe once a week … but if I’m not in the mood, that means I’m not in the mood for any sex acts, even if I’m strictly giving. It’s incredibly difficult for me to do them enthusiastically, especially as often as he would like them. He also wants me to dirty talk during hand jobs, which I’m not really great at in general, but especially bad at if I’m not in the mood. I really need help coming up with a compromise. How can we both be good, attentive partners when our libidos aren’t on the same page?

— Polarizing Libidos

Dear P.L.,

Your boyfriend can’t get everything he wants. No one can, and as a grown man, he should be well aware of this. I’d love to hear his rationale for not masturbating while you are home, just because I’m nosy and judgey and predict it’d give me a chuckle, but this self-imposed rule is obviously too stringent. That you participate in any sexual contact that you aren’t interested in is already giving so much of yourself. You are under no obligation to do that, and I think his visible disappointment is its own sort of coercion, as it seems tailored to create an emotional response in you: guilt. Of course, getting “a bit pressurey” is just straightforward coercion. He’s wrong for all of this, and he’s barking up the wrong tree. He’d have better luck with … an actual tree.

If your schedule can accommodate it, I propose you start leaving the house for a period of time every day. Go to the gym, take a walk, drive somewhere. Give him time to masturbate in the privacy that he prefers. Again, this goes beyond your obligations, and I wouldn’t blame you at this point for not wanting to do anything to facilitate his sexual pleasure, but getting some fresh air (and some low-impact exercise) sounds better to me than giving a reluctant blow job or having to invent some dirty talk to appease him. People do need their alone time, so I’d concentrate more on creating space for that.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a man in my late twenties who happens to be dating and having sex for the first time in my life. Why I’m such a late bloomer is a bit complicated, but the simple explanation is that I had acne which was, or at least felt, disfiguring from the time I was a teenager until two years ago, when I pursued medical treatment for it. Since then, I have had a surprising amount of luck finding dates and romancing women. However, the two times I’ve gotten sexually intimate with a woman I had … problems. To be blunt, I found my erection shriveling up once we got past flirty kissing and petting. The first time this happened, I actually gave her head before I even took my pants off, and when she offered to reciprocate, I found myself completely without an erection. I demurred at the time, saying I was tired and didn’t think much of it. But when we next got physical again, I found that basically as soon as we were in my bedroom, I couldn’t get an erection. I ultimately awkwardly asked her if she wouldn’t mind me just taking her home, and I broke up with her later that week, partly out of embarrassment on my part and partly because we had clashing lifestyles.

But now I’m worried about making a terrible impression with someone who I see myself having a long-term relationship with. I don’t think this is a health problem; I’m in shape and find myself getting aroused and erect normally, either around flirty women or when masturbating. I don’t know if the latter is the problem—I normally get off reading erotic fantasy rather than porn, so I expect I’m not as “visual” as some men. Should I be asking a doctor for drugs over this? I think I could probably work up an erection manually, but is whipping out my cock and stroking it in the middle of foreplay going to freak most women out? Especially if I’m not hard at the time? I’m just not really sure what to do.

— Not Even at Half-Mast

Dear N.E.H.M,

To put the practical matters upfront: ED drugs could certainly help here. You may not have any issues biologically, but your psychology is another matter entirely, and it just might be what’s inhibiting your performance. Popping a boner pill can engorge you with confidence, thus, in a roundabout way, tackling your psychologically derived ED. In terms of manual stimulation: Go for it. You have to do what you have to do, and masturbating during a sexual encounter is quite common (for example, during sex, many people need to masturbate to bring themselves over the edge to orgasm). Anyone with experience will know this and understand what you’re doing if you stroke yourself during foreplay. (For gay men, it’s not at all unusual for a guy who’s giving a blowjob to also masturbate while he does it.) If your partner has some sort of idealist view of erections—they must only spring up hands-free and have her name written all over them—she’s in for a rude awakening and though it may be awkward, you may ultimately be providing a service in showing her how some bodies work.

If you’re getting spontaneous erections outside of sex and your dick is staying hard when you masturbate solo, your erection issues during sex are most certainly deriving from your psychology. Perhaps because of your relative inexperience, you have anxiety, which can be inhibiting. Emily Nagoski writes at length in her book Come As You Are about the “dual control model” of sexual response, which conceives of a person’s sympathetic nervous system as their accelerator and their parasympathetic nervous system as their brake. Though Nagoski’s book is mostly concerned with women’s sexuality, there is much for anyone to absorb in the way sexual response manifests. It’s clear that something is hitting your break during sexual contact, and a fear of performance failure is a common cause of that break triggering. Reading the book might help you understand more about your inhibitions and how to work through them. From what you’ve presented, I think some confidence and comfort with your partner is going to be useful. Just know that it doesn’t make you any less of a man if you aren’t knocking over knickknacks with your giant boner as soon as a woman makes eyes at you. Some people have heightened sensitivities that impact their ability to perform, and it’s all about managing those, not living up to some impossible standard. You’re a man, not a machine.

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Dear How to Do It,

My new girlfriend is a squirter, which I LOVE. Love the intensity, the feeling, the sounds, the constant changing and washing of the sheets, love it when she squirts on my stomach while she’s on top, etc., etc … LOVE it. Here’s my problem: She also squirts when I’m eating her out, and I gag when she squirts on my face/tongue. I don’t have any conscious problem with her gushing all over my face—did I mention how much I enjoy the hell out of her orgasm?—but I apparently have a strong subconscious gag reaction. Any ideas (that aren’t dental dams) about how I can get over this? Is this something that I can just get used to with exposure training?

For the time being, I’m just switching over to digital stimulus as she’s about to cum, and she hasn’t yet noticed (or, at least commented) that I’ve stopped staying with cunnilingus as she’s orgasming. But I really want to get to where I can keep eating her out all the way through orgasm (which, I also love the feeling of). Thoughts?

— My Beard Smells Funny

Dear M.B.S.F.,

Have you tried changing positions? Try eating her out from behind while she’s in a doggy style position and her urethra is positioned so, at the very least, it isn’t aimed at your mouth. You’re just going to have to be strategic here. As far as I know, there isn’t data on how gag response may evolve in exposure to female ejaculate, but I’d be interested to hear how yours does if you want to take this on as an experiment.

I’m not recommending gagging per se, but I’ve certainly gagged several times on a single dick for the sake of bringing my partner to orgasm and that is something that I have gotten used to (even if you I haven’t entirely ridded myself of my gag reflex). Where I’m from, gagging once is a small sacrifice for the sake of someone else’s orgasm.

Dear How to Do It,

A while ago, I hooked up a few times with a good friend “Nick” that I had developed a crush on. Things were rocky between us afterwards for a bit, but I got over it quickly, and we’re very close friends still. However, in the aftermath, I did what ladies sometimes do and got a drink with some of the girls and vented. They are also friends of his. I disclosed, to my remembrance, two personal bits of info about Nick: one, that he kept a detailed list of women he’d been with, including number count (above average), and two, his dick size (above average).

Cut to the other day, when I was with those women again and my one friend “Amy” was very drunk and wanted to call him and see what number his list was up to. I was much less drunk but laughing some. A short convo ensued, he provided a number, and the call ended. I later felt bad because I assumed I had spilled the beans about the list a few years ago and sort of started all this by letting them know about it at all, and just felt like we’d been joking about a friend’s sex life. I wanted to apologize, but before I could, he sent a message to me and “Amy” saying that due to the call, he didn’t want to be friends any more or come to events in our group. He says he won’t change his mind and doesn’t want to talk. I felt terrible and apologized profusely, as did Amy, who reminded me that Nick had told her (and I think some others) about the list himself. I went from feeling extremely guilty about sharing something personal, to feeling that while we fucked up and definitely needed to apologize for joking around about it and not do it again, that this was an extreme reaction.

— Bean Spiller

Dear B.S.,

Nick felt humiliated, perhaps betrayed, and he reacted emotionally, not rationally. It’s one thing to know that people gossip, it’s another to find yourself the topic of conversation of a bunch of giggling people sitting around a table. When he told you and Amy about his list, it may not have been in strict confidence, but it was in a different context (at the very least, in all likelihood it wasn’t preceded by the announcement that he’d be providing the entertainment for the evening). To hear it echoing back to him through your drunken amusement was understandably jarring.

Do I think he’s taking himself too seriously? Yes, but I also think it’s his right to do so. Keep in mind that his extreme reaction may subside in time and your effective penance is to wait this out. As it stands, you remain at fault—his reaction was one of deep sensitivity, not aggression.
He did not return a counterstrike that superseded what he interpreted as your offense, he did what a mature adult does when confronted with a situation that bothered him: He walked away. If you really care about salvaging this friendship, take the L. Let him cool off for a few weeks and approach him again with absolute contrition. It doesn’t matter that you think he should have reacted differently; what matters, for the sake of reparations, is that he had a reaction, period. Apologize for what you did without any criticism of his reaction to it. That would just serve to push him further away.

— Rich

How to Do It

My husband and I have been married for five years and have a 3-year-old. When we first met and started dating, the sex was fantastic and continued to be that way after the wedding until our son was born. Ever since then, it’s become harder and harder for my husband to climax, to the point where sex seems like a long, exhausting process, and not in a good way. I’ve tried everything from new positions to new toys to old standbys and back again. He is always very giving, and I am always able to finish, but then I have another 30 to 45 minutes of work ahead of me, and it always ends in him getting close, then getting further away, and then eventually giving up. He has issues with anxiety, and I think the idea of having another kid (which we’ve always talked about and said we would do) is maybe killing his buzz in the moment. The idea that he will not be able to finish could be a self-fulfilling anxiety prophecy at this point as well. My question is, knowing all this, how can I help?