How to Do It

My Shy, Sexually Naïve Husband Has Become Great in Bed—but I Just Can’t Do What He Wants Now

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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 husband and I have been together 10 years. He was inexperienced and sexually nervous when we first met, but now, we have a very satisfying sex life. Credit where credit is due: Over the years, he really opened himself up to things that made him initially squeamish, and it’s been an incredible journey. Recently, my husband expressed an interest in having me be dominant toward him (how do you say that?) in bed. I am not against this idea, but I am exhausted. I’m a teacher whose district just returned to in-person learning and we have one preschooler and one nursing baby. I cannot fathom being in charge of another thing or telling someone what to do in a moment that’s meant to be relaxing. I tried a bit, but I was really overwhelmed by having to think of what to do or say next. He’s really hurt that I’m not doing it this for him after all he’s done to become more sexually adventurous for me. I’m trying to explain that I’m just so tired, and could we try in the future? But it’s falling on deaf ears. What’s my path forward?

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—Tired Dominatrix

Dear Dom,

Not all explorations are equal. There’s a difference between “I haven’t tried this this because I have no internal motivation to do so” and “I haven’t tried this this because it doesn’t seem like something I’d like” and “I haven’t tried this this because I physically cannot.” Your partner has requested something that requires creativity on a narrative level, thereby tapping into an entirely different skillset than that which you may naturally associate with sex. Your husband’s conception of fair trade seems at least askew; this request might be along the lines of him saying, “I just cleaned the garage; now would you please write the great American novel? For me?” Sometimes you just can’t conjure what isn’t there, and it’s hard to fake your way through a scenario that requires the amount of engagement that domination does. It just might not be right for you.

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If you want to press ahead, regardless, you can look into BDSM scenarios and scripts for ideas (a Google search will put you well on your way), or perhaps mine his desires to determine scenarios that please him without burdening you. And you can limit this to the occasional session so you don’t start to feel like sex is one more thing to manage. But this may be a dead end, a dom dam if you will. It’s great that he participated in sexual activities he was previously closed off to, but he doesn’t get carte blanche in exchange. He gets a human who is open to fielding requests and fulfilling them within her abilities and comfort level. He simply is not entitled to more than that.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a married gay man in my late 30s. I met my husband about seven years ago when I was facing some serious housing insecurity (I was homeless and relying on Grindr hookups and rental cars for shelter). He was so kind and helped me get on my feet, and we married after a year. But now I am facing a dilemma. My husband has what I think is undiagnosed OCD. He is scared of germs. Our sex life took place almost exclusively in the shower with running water, accompanied by weekly STD checks. Over time, he wanted sex less and less, and proposed opening the relationship because he knew I wanted more sex than he did. I grew up in an extremely conservative religion and had never considered an open relationship, but the idea made sense logically. I started traveling frequently for work and was away from home for months at a time. I agreed to open the relationship, but I’m the only one that has had other sex partners.

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Now my relationship with my husband has become more like best friends and financial partners. Since COVID, I have been working from home. My husband’s fear of germs has intensified to the point where he won’t even be in the same room as me without a mask. He won’t eat from a dish I ate from even after I wash it. He hangs his head outside the car window when we drive places. We haven’t had sex together in more than two years, and I haven’t hooked up with anyone since right before COVID. Is it too late to reintroduce sex into our relationship? Beyond sex, I’m realizing that I crave intimacy, cuddling, sharing a bed, holding hands, kissing. I’ve suggested that he talk to a doctor or therapist about his germ issue, but he doesn’t think he has a problem, and says everything is fine. He tells me to watch porn until the pandemic ends and I can go hook up again. The thing is, I don’t think I want to just keep hooking up. I don’t want to give up on the relationship because I love him, but more and more, I dream of waking up in the same bed as someone and kissing them good morning. Can I renegotiate the terms of our relationship? How can I convince him I’m not going to make him sick? I feel stuck.

—Gay, Married, and Celibate

Dear GMC,

You can negotiate the terms of your relationship, but not without your partner’s participation. Your challenge is getting him to come to the negotiating table, of which he is wary as metaphorically as he would be if it were an actual table, for it would require personal proximity—and don’t even get him started on surface germs.

I kid—mostly. I wonder if anyone around you has noticed behavior that you suspect is related to undiagnosed OCD. I understand that this has intensified in quarantine, but perhaps family and friends have observed related particularities and could back you up. Regardless, you’re just not happy with the way the relationship is going, and with good reason—intimacy is hardly an unreasonable request for one’s partner. One way to get him to take you seriously is to state things plainly: “I’m not happy” might be a good place to start, blunt as it is. What I think you could really use is an impartial third party to weigh in, like a counselor. With things being only between the two of you right now, he’s clearly not seeing the problem, and you may need some qualified muscle to help convince him that he has an issue that needs addressing. (Sex in showers is fine; sex only in showers owing to germ fears isn’t—and weekly STI testing for people in a monogamous relationship is a galling waste of resources.) Naturally, these issues may wane upon a potential post-vaccination return to “normalcy,” but even if he relaxes the germaphobe tendencies, your sex life and intimacy aren’t going to spontaneously return. It will require work. So get to it.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m dating an awesome young woman my age (mid-20s). I have had a healthy and varied sexual history beforehand, but she was a virgin until we had sex once about two weeks ago. I have a somewhat large penis and she has a pretty small vagina, and afterward there was a lot of bleeding … like a lot a lot. It kept up, and so I went with her to the hospital, and they wound up having to give her stitches in there (we had used lots of lube and there was a lot of foreplay, we don’t think dryness was the issue). I feel absolutely terrible and responsible for the ordeal, especially with it being her first time. She can’t have sex for another month now, and we’re both more than a little scared that further injury will occur if we try again. Is this at all common? Is the solution just to take it so, so gently and slowly and maybe her body will acclimatize? Are some people just not compatible because of genital size? I just don’t know what to do. She is an amazing funny beautiful person and the sex was totally great until afterward, when there was a lot of blood.

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—Ugh

Dear U,

Given the wide range of genital size, it is certainly conceivable that a vagina would meet a penis that is simply too big for it. But I’m not sure that a “somewhat large penis” and “pretty small vagina” always make for such uncomfortable bedfellows. In a 2018 piece for the New York Times, OB/GYN, physician and all around vaginal virtuoso Dr. Jen Gunter wrote that much more common than size issues are more likely muscle issues: “Women for whom tampons and sex are painful because the vagina feels too tight or small almost always have a condition called vaginismus. This means the muscles of the pelvic floor that surround the vagina are inappropriately taut.” Kegel exercises are often recommended as treatment.

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Gunter didn’t specifically mention tearing or bleeding in that piece, but there is plenty of literature on the subject. Common or not, it is something that a number of people have experienced. Contributing factors include a lack of adequate lubrication. Just because there was “lots” of foreplay doesn’t mean there was enough to get things totally ready, especially with the heightened stress of her first time. Birth control pills and other medications can also contribute to vaginal dryness. A host of other health issues could also contribute to bleeding after sex, including cervicitis and uterine prolapse.

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I find it somewhat alarming that after vaginal trauma that landed your partner in the hospital, the cause of the condition is so mysterious that you’ve written into an advice column about it. If the doctor(s) who treated her at the hospital did not provide sufficient explanation or a plan moving forward beyond “don’t have sex for a while,” she should absolutely be examined by a gynecologist who can suggest a plan that fits her vagina better than anything else thus far.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am a 62-year-old man who divorced five years ago after being with my ex-wife for over 34 years, the last 10 of which I was celibate. During my celibacy, I still masturbated, though it was readily apparent that, starting around age 50, I began to experience erectile dysfunction. My general health is very good to excellent, though I could stand to lose 15 pounds. My libido was and is fine, and I masturbate approx. three to four times a week with the assistance of pornography. I do not recall an instance when, despite an inability to achieve a satisfactory erection, that I was not able to orgasm and ejaculate. It took me a couple of years to get over the hurt, sadness, and anger surrounding the dissolution of my marriage. That cloud eventually lifted a year and a half ago, and I started online dating and have had two relatively short relationships in that time that included sex. To my great disappointment, during the course of these two relationships, I was not able to achieve an erection hard enough for intercourse, even with the assistance of Cialis. I had a great time considering and received unsolicited compliments from both parties that I was otherwise a considerate, active, and skillful lover. (I wonder, with no evidence to bolster it, whether the woman in first relationship ended it because of the lack of penis-in-vagina intercourse, though I suspect—and hope—that is my insecurity talking.) I saw a urologist and had my testosterone was tested, and it is in normal range. I got a prescription for a penile suppository (i.e. MUSE), but have yet to use it. The prospects (and logistics) of using it are somewhat daunting, but frankly I would do naked cartwheels in Times Square if that helped me achieve a satisfactory erection. My question is: When and, more importantly, how do I bring up this issue in the process of online dating?

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—Hoping for P-in-V

Dear P-in-V,

Try out the alprostadil suppository that your doctor just prescribed by yourself to see how it works. If in fact you notice a firmer response than with the Cialis, this may boost your confidence to proceed. I understand that shooting something up your dick is daunting, but you’ll get used to it, especially if and when it delivers the desired results. If in fact the MUSE works, you won’t need to have a conversation about it up front or potentially ever with your partners. Ideally, if you find yourself in a legit relationship, you’ll fill that person in on your sexual issues and treatment of them, but if the suppositories are so effective they eradicate the condition, at least temporarily, you’re under no obligation to disclose your treated ED to someone with whom you’re seeing in a more casual capacity. It’s similar to how wouldn’t have an obligation to discuss your blood pressure medication while having lunch with a prospective business client. Discuss this issue only as it pertains to the current situation; if you’re taking care of it, it frankly isn’t relevant.

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