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 partner has recently come out as nonbinary and bisexual. They have discovered this about themselves (or perhaps just been more open about it) the last year or so. I’m glad they are finding their truth, and I have tried to be supportive of them, helping them learn to do makeup, buying them nice heels and helping them pick out clothing, defending them to a few members of our families and other bigots.
What’s really frustrating me, is lately, or the last year or so, they’ve made comments about lack of sex to our mutual friends and even around our families: how they never get sex, or that it’s vanilla and boring. When I try to have sex with them—pretty much daily—since they claim they aren’t getting any, I get rebuffed or told “that’s OK, I’m not feeling it” or they get very angry after sex and refuse to speak with me. I don’t force it, because it’s their choice. Last night, they admitted that I cannot do all the things they’d like me to do, as I don’t have a penis, and they’re a bottom who prefers to be with men. (I had guessed there had been relationships with men or at least sexual contact, but they never shared that until last night.) I am an asexual cis woman, so there are certain things I cannot biologically do. I suggested, if that’s what they’d really like, then perhaps we should look at separating, so they can find a fulfilling relationship with a man. They said they wouldn’t leave me and that they love me. But they are getting increasingly frustrated with our sex life, and my inability to be a man. I think I’m a security blanket for them, because I give them the space to be themselves, but I’m not sexually fulfilling for them anymore. I have told them we could remain friends, even roommates; I could still provide the same support, but allow them to go and be happy with a man. The more and more they tell our friends and family that I’m not sexually fulfilling, the more upset I get.
Dear No Penis,
The situation you’re in sounds stressful. I’m sorry you’re going through it.
The two of you aren’t a sexual match. You know this. You’re asexual and still initiating sex daily to try to please them; your partner wants someone with a penis. Your instinct to separate as a romantic couple feels appropriate. It makes sense: They can get their sexual needs met, and you’ll still support each other emotionally.
Your partner doesn’t see this as a viable option, but you can’t continue the way things are. Get ready to be very clear about what is and isn’t OK moving forward. Public sharing of your sexual details is not OK for you. Leaning on you for emotional support is very OK for you. Make lists. Know what’s a firm boundary, what you’re happy to engage in, and where you’re uncertain or willing to compromise.
Pick a time when you’re both calm, alert, and able to focus. Start by establishing whether talking about something serious is welcome at that moment—a simple “Is now a good time to talk?” will probably suffice.
You might inquire what love is to them, and ask them about the specific connections between their concept and your relationship together. Ask them how they feel about the gap between ideals and reality. Is monogamy something they require? Is there a different relationship structure that would work for both you? Is a clean break—an option neither of you seem to want—worth considering? Work together to figure out if you can functionally fit in each other’s lives moving forward.
Dear How to Do It,
Me and my boyfriend have an awesome sex life. Recently, we started spending more time together, working from the same place, etc. I love it. It’s going really well—I feel very connected to him, and sometimes I want nothing more than to snuggle in bed with him.
And that is also the problem. I usually want a lot more than snuggling. (Well, it can end there, but I do want fireworks before!) I am a very sexual person, and I enjoy that aspect of our relationship a lot. But I find it harder to connect to my kinky side when he and I spend more, not necessarily romantic time together. I LOVE spending that time with him; it makes us closer, and it makes me feel safe, connected, and loved. But my level of kinkiness definitely takes a hit. I am less sexual, less unabashed perhaps. This has not been a problem so far, but I don’t want it to become one. Do you have any tips on how to switch easily from “looking into your eyes and saying I love you” to “spit on my face, spank my ass”?
—I Want It All
You might need a midway point of arousal—and you might need to give yourself more time to get from romance to arousal, and from arousal to wild abandon.
In her book Urban Tantra, Barbara Carrellas describes various ways a person can prepare themselves to be fully present for a sexual encounter. You might take a bath, put on a meaningful item of clothing, or do some breathing exercises. Maybe some combination. You’re looking for a practice that will clear your head, “ground you,” or otherwise focus you on the current moment.
You might encourage your fantasies by imagining favorite kinky scenarios until you find new angles on them, or by consuming media—erotic or otherwise—to see if someone else’s perspective sparks something for you. If your partner is kinky, or curious, his desire or interest could be compelling. And if he isn’t, that might have something to do with your decreased interest in that area of sexuality.
It’s also possible you are simply not into it at the moment. Sexuality can change over time. It can also be responsive to the context of our relationships. Some people may feel dominant with one person and submissive with another. Or dominant in some situations and submissive in others with the same person. You may be in a less kinky stage of your life, and if that’s the case, that’s totally OK.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a recently realized bi woman who’s been married to an awesome guy, my best friend, for 20+ years. He is supportive, and fascinated, by my newfound interest in women, and he would love to be a part of that any time it’s available (for example, FMF or FFM threesomes). The problem is, a threesome’s not always available—and I want to explore more lady encounters. I don’t want to leave him out, but we tried this briefly once before, and it just caused conflict. A permanent threesome would be great, but then aren’t we unicorn hunters? The worst! I’d be thrilled with a female bestie I can make come, and if she ever wanted use of hubby too, all the better. But I recognize that’s a slim fantasy. So how do I get to have my pussy and eat it too and stay in my pretty awesome marriage?
—Have My Pussy and Eat It Too
Your fantasy is, indeed, a rare reality. You can still think about it, though, and have plenty of fun in your imagination. And if you’re willing to be incredibly patient and keep putting yourselves out there, it’s possible that you’ll be able to fulfill it.
Meanwhile, what was the conflict? And have you talked with your husband about whether he’s willing to give your hooking up solo another shot? Difficulty, whether that’s jealousy or insecurity, can be surmounted if the two of you choose. Often having a deep conversation helps and can provide clues for ways to handle negative feelings.
Some people have boundaries about emotional intimacy, romance, or gestures like sleeping over or having breakfast. Others find that their limits are more about time spent and priority given. A few brave relationship anarchists eschew hierarchy altogether. There are as many ways as there are relationships. You’ll have to work out your own.
If your husband is completely against the idea of you having liaisons on your own, you can still fantasize and enjoy browsing dating apps together. A place like Feeld, which caters to poly and nonmonogamous users, is probably your best bet.
Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend of nearly three years hasn’t touched me in almost two of those years. When we first started dating, I couldn’t keep him off of me. Now add to this a couple complicating factors—he is nearly 25 years my senior, and we are currently long distance due to my career. I thought distance would mean we would be all over each other when we see each other, but that has NOT been the case. He still kisses and hugs me, wants to snuggle at night, and is all-around sweet to me. He just won’t have sex with me!
I’ve tried initiating in many different ways: toys, lingerie, love-language tests, recommended couple’s therapy, tried getting him to talk about if it’s a health issue so we can try to solve it together, asked him if he’s no longer attracted to me (he swears he is). I’m at a loss, since he won’t talk in any meaningful way or do anything to help solve this at all. I feel like I’m too young to deal with a sexless relationship but love the stability we do have. I miss feeling wanted and desired as well as intimate physical touch. There’s only so much a vibrator can do for me, and I’m becoming resentful and my eye has started to wander. I’m so desperate I’ve even considered talking to him about letting me have a sanctioned side piece to fulfill my sexual needs. All that being said, I do love him, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough. What to do?
You say your boyfriend won’t talk in any meaningful way about sex, and that your level of sexual interaction has been low for a long period of time. Do you want to be in a romantic relationship with someone who won’t collaborate with you on working out a fulfilling sex life? You say you love the stability the two of you have, so the answer could very well be yes. But if it’s no, something has to give here.
Do you think you can get him to have a conversation about opening up your relationship? If so, do all the things to set yourself up for success. Pick a time when you’re both rested and relatively unstressed. Ideally, you’re able to have this talk face to face. Think about what you’re going to say beforehand so you can be clear about what you’re asking for. You might also spend some time imagining the responses they’re likely to have. What do you want to say if he asks why? Would you be happy with monogamy if he were willing to have significant discussions about sex? How about if he became more involved in your masturbation by holding you or even simply sitting in the room? Walk yourself through some scenarios and make note of what seems like it’d help.
If you don’t think you can get him to have a conversation, I don’t see a way forward. Good luck.
More How to Do It
I am a straight female in my late 20s. In previous relationships, after I become comfortable with a guy and where we are sexually, I have wanted them to come on me: My face, my tits, my stomach. I love the act and love how it feels. I am currently in a relationship with a wonderful man. We are compatible in almost every way, but he absolutely refuses to do this because “it’s demeaning.” When we discussed this further, he said, “It’s demeaning and I don’t think you understand why.”