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 are in our late 40s/early 50s, and we’ve been together for almost 12 years. I’m more of a homebody by nature, but I do love to travel when the bug hits (which tends to be in spurts). She’s more my opposite in that regard as she loves to travel all the time; sitting at home too long gets her antsy. So in that respect, our personalities balance each other pretty well. As we’ve grown in our relationship, so has our sex life, and I feel (and she’d agree) that it’s better now than it was when we were dating (and it was really good then). To put it plainly, it’s freaking awesome, and I have no issues whatsoever; the frequency (four-to-five times a week), the communication, and the penchant for experimentation/exploration is all great. Unlike many articles I’ve read about the pandemic having a sobering or debilitating affect on many couple’s sex life, it’s actually been pretty good for ours. And there’s the problem.
Before all of the lockdowns, we went out, traveled, did “normal stuff that couples do.” Since the pandemic started, we’ve had to become pretty creative in coming up with ways of entertaining ourselves to stave off boredom being cooped up. My homebody side loves it (I do miss the travel/hotel sex though) and for her part, she’s done OK with it as well. And I believe that in forcing us to be so creative, it’s really helped enhance and kick our sex life into another gear. My problem, or rather my fear, is—what now?
When the virus has been brought under some semblance of control and life can go back to some sort of normalcy, what happens to all of this great sex? I don’t want what we’re experiencing NOW sexually to wain or waver in ANY capacity. But the doors are going to open eventually and we’re going to be able to roam around as we once did. Two things can’t occupy the same space, so when we’re able to get out more, something has to decrease, right?
So I guess my question is what can we do to maintain where we are now sexually while picking back up those things that we enjoyed before the lockdowns? If I sound like a “horn dog” then I am; my libido has gotten stronger over the last year and I’m immensely grateful since it could very well be going the other way. I don’t think we’re anywhere near our sexual peak and I’m REALLY enjoying where we are. And for her part, she’s expressed the same. So how can we maintain and even build on this same level of “peak freakiness” once staying home is no longer the primary option?
—Not Liking but Liking the Lockdown?
Life is full of ups and downs. Usually one or more simultaneously, like COVID and your increased intimacy. Sexual desire, like energy, ebbs and flows.
I think your best bet is to enjoy the current moment as fully as possible. When your thoughts turn to possible decreases in desire, purposefully refocus on the bounty you’re currently experiencing. Save up those memories for the future, and relish in them to the utmost of your ability now.
And who knows—maybe you’ll find you’ve missed those other activities once they’re feasible again.
Dear How to Do It,
I married the first person I dated. I’m a civil servant, and the Trump administration has targeted my work. The stress of getting orders that contradict the law finally got me to therapy and medication for anxiety and depression. An unexpected side effect of Wellbutrin is that I Am Horny All The Time. About a year ago my husband suggested I find some additional partners. I appreciated his willingness to open things up, but it took me a while to get my head around that idea. I have a fair amount of social anxiety: Although I’m a 48-year-old woman, I’m an awkward engineer type. I recently made an account at Polyamory Date. It has a web version; any app I download immediately loads onto my children’s devices as well, and I’m not interested in discussing this with them any time soon. People are sending me messages, but I haven’t opened any of them. How the hell does this work? How do I not get COVID or STDs or simply robbed? How do I safely get to hot-and-steamy?
—Risk Averse but Horny
There is no such thing as safe sex, only safer sex. There is no such thing as airtight COVID prevention, only layers of precautions and harm reduction via monitoring and tracing.
I’ll use the microcosm of mainstream U.S. pornography’s PASS—or Performer Availability Screening Service—testing system as an example, since that’s what I’m most familiar with. Get settled, it’s a little complex. So, you want to have professional sex on a porn set. You go to one of the approved testing facilities, you give a urine and blood sample, and you get your results, usually within 48 hours. If they’re negative, you’re cleared to work. If something is positive or your test is more than a certain number of days old, you aren’t cleared to work. On the very rare occasions that someone tests positive for HIV, they’re asked about everyone they had sex with during a period of time spanning the window period (or time between exposure and reliably testing positive) before their most recent negative test until that day. Anyone who may have been exposed is asked to refrain from having sex, wait their own window periods if necessary, and get tested themselves. This is contact tracing. The tests don’t prevent initial infection; they prevent further spread. They are harm reduction.
COVID management runs on similar principles but is a lot more complicated due to a number of factors: scale, being airborne, and being new and therefore less well understood.
While we’re all waiting for a vaccine, you can focus on solo pleasure and socially distant communication, like sexting, phone sex, and steamy video chat. So start opening those messages! These sorts of lower-stakes interactions may have the eventual benefit of reducing your anxiety around hooking up when it finally is safer to meet in person.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m both modest and new to the dating scene, so I’m sure part of this is just me overthinking/being anxious about my lack of experience, but: Do guys actually find pussy pics hot? Especially now in the During Times, I’ll be sexting with someone and they’ll want more revealing photos, but it completely ruins the mood for me to try to figure out how to take an even moderately attractive picture below the belt.
Even in a longer, more committed relationship, I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I couldn’t figure out how to take one I didn’t immediately hate, so I don’t think it’s just anxiety anymore. I’ve begun telling guys my pussy is a vampire and can’t be captured on film. But I really like sexting and knowing my partner is getting off to me, so if this is a thing guys are generally into, do you have any advice for taking pictures of myself that I won’t hate sending? (And/or places to look for photographic porn of more realistic/fat/hairy/etc. bodies?)
(I do find solicited dick pics hot, but I rarely ask for them. I get off more to the text parts of it, and I’m pretty submissive and I do just genuinely like pleasing the men I’m chatting with.)
It sounds like you want to push through your discomfort, for the purpose of being able to please your partners, because you get off on that. Super. I want to support this.
Photographic porn can be pretty difficult to come by these days, especially if you’re looking for more “average Jane” bodies or anything like fat or hair that bucks the mainstream male gaze. Old issues of On Our Backs magazine come to mind, but they’re difficult to find. For videos, though, the world is your oyster. You can start with CrashPadSeries.com, and look into associated Pink & White Label’s VOD platform. You might check out Morgana Muses specifically. You can find performers who look like you on OnlyFans—a platform I use as both content creator and consumer—and subscribe to their pages (usually for a fee) to see how they document themselves or how their photographers and videographers capture them.
Start with a mirror and a good light, and just look at your vulva from various angles. Move the mirror around. Try small shifts and extreme positions. Get familiar with what you look like. Make a note whenever you find something flattering. When you feel ready, move to the front facing camera on your phone so you can see the image. Use the light to correct any distorting shadows. Remember you can always crop later. Do crop, or apply other postproduction techniques, later.
Some people get it right once and then keep that image somewhere easily accessible for future use. Good luck.
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Dear How to Do It,
I feel like my body rejects sex in every way it possibly can. Mentally, I feel arousal: I’m attracted to my boyfriend, I feel sexy in lingerie, I read erotica occasionally, etc. But physically, nothing works properly. I’m a cis woman who has been having sex (with the same partner) for the past two years, and since the beginning, I’ve had several types of pain with penetration. There’s pain around the opening of my vagina upon insertion; when the penis goes deeper, my vagina gets stretched to the point of soreness; and thrusts feel like punches to my cervix. Lube doesn’t make a difference. The pain is better when I’m more aroused, although I’ve gotten stuck in a feedback loop where my body anticipates pain and I can’t get aroused or relax enough to alleviate any of it.
As a result of the pain/my stress around sex, I’ve never been able to orgasm with my partner, even from oral or digital sex. Neither of us likes this. (Note: My partner is wonderful about the pain issue and wants to do anything he can to make it easier for me. He says he wants me to tell him whenever anything hurts so we can change it, but literally every form of penetrative sex hurts, so I don’t tell him every time, because that would feel cruel.) I do masturbate occasionally, and I can give myself orgasms, but they’re not anything earth-shattering. The combination of factors has significantly lowered my desire to have sex, to the point at which I feel like it has forced me onto the asexual spectrum—a spectrum that I don’t fall on naturally. This upsets me a lot. I’m 20, and I don’t want to spend my whole life fearing and avoiding sex.
I’ve tried every solution I can think of. I’ve seen three gynecologists, all of whom say there’s nothing wrong with me physically; one (a woman) said that it’s normal for women to feel pain during penetrative sex. I’ve also tried pelvic physical therapy and used dilators, which did help, although not completely. I recently read Come as You Are and have a better understanding of women’s arousal but couldn’t find much that applied to me. I’ve also considered limiting my sex life to oral sex, but giving blow jobs isn’t especially pleasant for me either—my throat gets sore and my nose waters. The blow job issues are annoyances rather than serious pain, and I’m very happy to give blow jobs despite them, but I really hope that “only an annoyance” isn’t the best sex I’ll ever be able to have.
Do you have any other solutions? I don’t believe in “being broken,” but I don’t know how else to describe the extent to which my body does not work.
—Honestly, at This Point I’m Just Sad
If the pelvic physical therapy and dilators helped, it seems worth continuing those practices for a longer period of time. More importantly, I’m asking you to do the scary thing and tell your partner that all penetration hurts you. I understand that you feel it would be cruel to let your partner know this, but stating the reality of the situation is necessary. You can’t work on it together if you’re shutting him out.
I think it’s wise to take any kind of penetration of you—even with the tip of a tongue—out of the repertoire for a while. He can masturbate alone, masturbate while you hold him, masturbate while you help him, masturbate into your mouth, onto your butt crack, etc. The hope is that taking that pressure off of you will enable you to relax enough to orgasm with your partner at all.
He might not be OK with this. You should be prepared for that possibility, and ready to end the relationship if he can’t fully respect your needs, whatever they end up being.
Blow jobs are something you can experiment with, too. For the throat soreness, you want to relax and breathe through it—it can be tempting to hold our breaths or do a constricted half swallow kind of reaction, and you need to lean directly away from that impulse. For the sinus reaction, you get used to it over time. You can also minimize your time with the penis in the back of your mouth by using all that slippery stuff to give a sloppy, spitty hand job on the body-ward half of the shaft.
You’re only 20, so I want to encourage you to keep at this—both in continuing to pursue medical options and in working out a sex life that works for you. Plenty of women—myself included—have gone through periods where our bodies rebel on us. It took me 20 years to find a gynecologist who took my issues seriously and had a functional solution. Don’t give up.
More How to Do It
A friend of mine had been bugging me to catch up in person for the last few months, and she asked that we try to get together before it gets too cold. Her friend was also in attendance.
Lots of strong drinks later, I get too drunk and wind up having a threesome with my friend’s friend and her man. I didn’t regret the sex because it was fun, but I regret that I forgot my scruples about me and that there’s a pandemic going on. After it happened, I quarantined and got tested. The girl I had the threesome with is now looking to get together for us to hang out again. How do I tell her that I don’t feel comfortable doing so?