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 (cis-male) and I (cis-woman) share many kinks, including an affinity for hentai—specifically tentacle porn. Yes, it’s jump-the-shark ridiculous, but there’s something about being held that way and consumed in pleasure that stokes our imaginations. However, we’ve come to feel squeamish about the near constant use of rape in hentai. Honestly, we hadn’t thought too hard about it before since it was just ridiculous animation, but now my husband in particular has decided we should no longer indulge in any hentai given the medium’s predisposition toward forced sex.
I appreciate where he’s coming from, but I still dig tentacle scenes, and I want them to stay creative and giddy about sex. I pointed out he still likes role-play in which I am tied and forced to orgasm (while making an ahegao face, no less). Neither of us believe that sort of fantasizing means we’re monsters if it’s contextualized as fantasy only, but he is drawing a hard line with hentai. Do I need to accept this art form is exploitative and move on, or should I continue to advocate for it with my husband?
—Ahegao-Faced and Loving It
Dear Loving It,
Somewhere in the middle! Ahegao face—an expression of intense enjoyment involving rolled eyes and a protruding tongue—seems to be about pleasure. It makes sense that a husband who is sensitive to nonconsent would enjoy seeing his wife extraordinarily pleased. And, in a role-play scenario with you, he’s well aware that you’re enjoying yourself and a few layers of active consent are likely present. So with that, carry on. But you need to accept that traditional hentai turns your husband off intellectually and look for new forms of content. You might consider Iron Circus’ Smut Peddler series of graphic novels, or Liara Roux’s sexy comic strip, or the OnlyFans (or similar website) of a performer who is into tentacles themselves. And while you’re looking for happy, healthy hentai to share, you can continue to watch the aggressive tentacle stuff on your own time. Respecting his wishes about what he sees doesn’t need to curtail your consumption.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 38-year-old woman. When my partner and I first got together, I noticed he was more vanilla than I was, but didn’t seem wildly so. Our chemistry was never amazing, but we want the same things, fell in love and moved forward pretty quickly. Two miscarriages later, and a whole lot of rejection on his part (he shuts down when he’s upset or stressed and won’t have sex with me), and we’ve now settled into a routine of scheduled sex that happens maybe about half the time we’ve planned for it because he’s tired or working late or whatever. He’s become squeamish about toys and masturbation on my part and doesn’t like trying new stuff, but early on was accompanying me to sex parties and wanting more!
Now that the sex is planned, I don’t want it anymore. Like, at all. I’ve gone along with it for the sake of the relationship, because I’m the one who insisted we had to schedule it. But the idea of it all is such a turnoff. I want to feel wanted, not penciled in. Among ex-boyfriends, it’s a running joke that I was like the Energizer sex bunny. I don’t really recognize myself now. I’m no longer in any postpartum phase, I’ve done my grieving over the pregnancies, and we aren’t currently trying to get pregnant until we work through the issues between us. And in past relationships, rough patches have made me want to have sex even more, as a kind of emotional glue to help reconnect. What does it mean that I don’t want to sleep with him? Is it me, or is it because we just aren’t compatible? I don’t want to be in a relationship for the rest of my life where the sex part simply doesn’t work. But I care about baby-making and -rearing more than sex, and he’s a wonderful partner with respect to trying to make pregnancy an equal burden and will make a wonderful father as well. He has been a rock through some very tough times. And the clock is really really ticking.
—Horny, Not Horny
If biological children are something you actively want out of life, I can see how you could feel pressure at 38 to get moving on that project. Freezing eggs is expensive in terms of money, time, emotion, and hormonal upset, but it might be a possible option for you. I applaud putting pregnancy on hold until the relationship strain is sorted. It sounds like you weren’t that attracted to him at the start of the relationship, and you prioritized stability. According to Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity—and plenty of anecdotal experience—that stability can have a dampening effect on arousal. Starting with a low level of desire, then decreasing the temperature even more puts you in a frustrating position.
When you say he’s squeamish about you masturbating, is that about watching you or about you generally doing it? If it’s the former, I can think of a few reasons—self-consciousness, embarrassment, fear of pressure to reciprocate—that he might be responding that way. If it’s the latter, I question whether you’re comfortable being partners with someone who judges your self-pleasure. This is a genuine question that you’ll have to answer.
The big question, though, is which priority is higher when you compare positive qualities as a co-parent and passion as a lover. That’s another one that only you can decide. Will your life feel empty if you don’t have children? Is adoption an option? Do friends and family have children whose lives you can be involved in, and would that be enough for you? And what about sex? What if you never have compelling copulation again? Will you have the privacy to masturbate? Will that be enough for you? If you’re able, it might be worthwhile to talk these questions through with a therapist or a trusted friend after you’ve done some reflecting yourself. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
Here I am with yet another Bartholin’s cyst, something I used to deal with once every couple of years and now has become a more frequent occurrence, despite my attempts to avoid it. It now happens several times a year. I keep my cooch clean, I keep my toys clean, and I currently only have one partner (thanks, COVID) who keeps himself clean. Sometimes I change my underwear a couple times a day just to make sure it’s never too damp downstairs. (I tend to have a lot of discharge and get randomly wet constantly.) Every soap I use is fragrance-free, dye-free, pH-balanced, the whole shebang. Still, I get painful cysts on both sides of my labia that make me cry from pain. I’ve gotten to the point where I can recognize them early and clear them up in a couple days rather than a week, but I don’t want to get them at all anymore. Am I doomed to deal with this forever?
—I’m Barthollering With Pain
I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. From what I hear, Bartholin’s cysts can be very painful.
There are a few procedures that could provide relief. Have you talked to your gynecologist? Does he or she listen and explain treatment options? If not, find a new gynecologist—one who takes this condition and your pain seriously. (If you’re in the U.S. and don’t have health insurance, contact your local Planned Parenthood to see if they can offer guidance.) Ask around for recommendations and come armed with questions. Bring a friend for support if you’d like—one who can take notes and help with follow-ups.
But sometimes our bodies do things that are inconvenient, uncomfortable, or flat out hellish. Sometimes there’s no fix. It sucks. There’s no way around the frustration when our bodies fail us. Try to enjoy your body when that’s possible, and try not to beat yourself up for something that’s out of your control.
Dear How to Do It,
I am an extremely sex-repulsed asexual dating a sex-neutral demi person. We have a very happy nonsexual and loving relationship. We do make out. I have very complicated and mostly negative feelings with nudity and genitals. My partner is much more comfortable with these things.
A few weeks ago, my partner asked if I wanted to make out in the shower. (I realize some people will say that is sexual, but for us it’s not.) I was very nervous, but I thought it sounded pleasant and relaxing. We started kissing, then their dick was pressed against the outside of my leg because of how close we were. They didn’t have an erection or anything, and I know they weren’t trying to do something. However, I had to clench my teeth and force myself not to gag and step back. Other than that, it was nice.
I really don’t want to make my partner feel like they’re gross and disgust me. That organ is a part of their body like any other. But due to my reservations about nudity, they’ve expressed some concern and insecurity about scaring me and making me uncomfortable. They’ve also said that they liked being naked and fully themselves around me without concern that I’ll objectify them. My partner has asked if I’d like to make out in the shower again, but I’m not sure what to say. I’ve said I need a little time to sort out my feelings, but that’s all. What should I do?
—A Stressed Asexual
So kissing isn’t sexual for you, but being poked with a penis is, and that makes you uncomfortable. That’s OK. The fact is that their penis does make you uncomfortable. It does disgust you. That’s how you’re wired.
Give positive reinforcement, then express your boundary: “Kissing in the shower was really nice—until your penis entered the picture, and then I wasn’t interested anymore.” And ask for help figuring out what to do in the future: “I wasn’t sure how to end the interaction once I became uncomfortable. Do you have any ideas?” Or “I was scared, because I didn’t want to make you feel bad, but I didn’t know how to tell you that I wanted to stop.”
Meanwhile, your partner enjoys being naked around you because they can do so without experiencing sexual pressure, but you don’t like that. Your needs and theirs have to be balanced, and it sounds like you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. Stating our boundaries can be scary. And it can be tempting to rearrange ourselves in order to meet a partner “halfway” when that isn’t always the best option for ourselves. This person might be wonderful and not a great fit for you. It’s worthwhile spending time thinking through these bigger questions, but in the meantime, you can start by talking to your partner about the shower.
More How to Do It
I am the guy who did the stupid thing from a hundred overheated online stories: I slept with my straight roommate when we were both drunk. I am the only gay guy (seemingly!) in a shared house of five guys, and this was very much unplanned. I was totally fine with it, and he acted like he was too, but it’s clear he’s not. A month later, I now hear him having loud sex with women regularly, which I definitely never heard before. He’s not hostile, but he won’t really look me in the eye either. The other roommates have asked me if I’ve noticed him acting strangely. Is it wise to bring this up with him, or should I just let it go? Again, I know I am dumb.