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,
I am a heterosexual male in my mid-30s who a year ago got divorced from the only sexual partner I ever had. I eagerly got back into the dating scene and met someone I was really into. Before having sex, we discussed that we were comfortable with not using condoms because of my sterility. However, when we were actually doing the deed, and things seemed to be going VERY well, I ejaculated inside of her vagina. And she was furious! She said that I should have never come inside of her without her permission, and it was just like rape. Needless to say that this ended the night—and the relationship. With COVID, I have not been back in the dating scene. But now I am kind of freaked out. I had always thought that if both parties consented to penetrative sex without a condom, that ejaculating in her vagina was implied. Was I wrong to think that?
—Fire in the Hole
Dear Fire in the Hole,
This is a case of disparate expectations, and I think you both faltered in your communicative responsibilities. It’s standard protocol to discuss ejaculation in terms of how and when—your decision to abandon condoms for sex would have been well punctuated with a verdict on where you’d come. During sex, you also would have done well to announce that you were getting close and ask where she wanted you to shoot. This is just something people do, and it saves a lot of grief. Agency: It matters! That said, she had a responsibility to designate such a strong boundary—surely, she was aware that there was a possibility that you’d come in her, by accident if nothing else, and she should have been clear that she was absolutely opposed to that. I would think that she would want to do what she could to avoid a situation that is “just like rape,” given the distinct possibility for entering that territory here.
Assuming that she used the words “just like rape” to describe consensual sex that ended in internal ejaculation that was not consensual, I’m of two minds. From your behavior, she may have deduced that you are not particularly well versed in matters of consent, and so she simplified things for you. That said, I think there is a big difference between what you described and what constitutes rape, even if they both exist on a broader continuum of consent violations. I think it is important to call things what they are—I especially love Sarah Schulman’s writing on this in Conflict Is Not Abuse. It’s complicated but essential.
In other words, I affirm your partner’s broader point but not necessarily her words. I absolutely think that moving forward you should have some kind of conversation about where you’re going to come. It only takes a second and it saves you the hassle of a guilty conscience and having to write into an advice column for guidance.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m pregnant and have been told by my doctor that penetration is off the table for a few months. My partner and I have been having fun fooling around without penetration. I love giving blow jobs and have always given more than average. The problem is that I suddenly cannot stand the taste of his sperm. It’s foul. I don’t know if it’s from my hormones or him, but I’m gagging at the end. Have you ever heard of pregnant hormones causing this problem, or is it more likely him? Is there anything he can do? I’ll get over it if not. I don’t want to bring it up if there’s no hope—it took a long time for him to be sexually comfortable, and I don’t want to lose that for no reason.
—Sucking It Up
It could be either or both of you. As a result of hormonal changes, many pregnant women experience dysgeusia, or a change in taste. The taste of sperm can also vary, depending on what the owner of the balls that are making it is putting into their body. You can have your partner experiment with potential different methods of changing the taste of his sperm (refraining from too much alcohol and smoking, or ingesting things like cinnamon, celery, lemon, or pineapple). If this is a result of dysgeusia, though, it may be something you have to endure until you have your baby. So there is hope! You won’t be pregnant forever, and if you are, that’ll be a way bigger issue than foul-tasting sperm. In the meantime, just have him ejaculate somewhere that isn’t your mouth—whatever you’re both comfortable with. Swallowing is never mandatory.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bisexual female in my 30s who will be newly single post-pandemic, and I need really specific, realistic advice on how to have safe sex. I know all the usual information but I don’t know how actual people navigate this stuff in real life—I’ve had multiple STD-related traumas (which I discuss in therapy, no worries there) despite being on the way more conservative side compared to my friends, so I feel like all the advice I get from them is completely useless. I’ve had unplanned unprotected sex once—oral, with a casual acquaintance whom other friends had also hooked up with—and got a case of oral HSV-2 that my doctor called “the most severe” she’d ever seen. The first time I had planned unprotected sex, I got chlamydia (because my partner was too scared to get tested and lied about it). Despite having my Gardasil shots, I got a type of HPV that causes constant abnormal pap smears. So how do you go about being a responsible, casual sex-haver—and how is it that my friends have had multiple drunken unprotected one-night stands without any side effects? How often should you be getting STD checked? Is oral sex off the table until I’m fluid bonded to someone, or do people actually use dental dams? Should both partners be getting tested regularly, since you can’t really trust anyone? How regularly? I’m just so confused and frustrated because I’ve been brought up in the most loving, open, sex-positive community, and every time I’ve tried to explore, it’s like I get STD-punished. How can I get an act-by-act safety breakdown for real-life situations?
—Still Treading Disaster
With respect to your feelings and the work that you’re doing with your therapist, it might be useful to investigate why you consider your experiences with STIs to be traumas or punishment. Did they result in shunning? Have they been unbearably painful? Or is it something that’s less tangible, more ephemeral, and dictated by a culture that teaches us that STIs are something to be ashamed of? I suspect some combination. Remember that bacteria and viruses are amoral—it is people who decided they denote a breach in morality or reckless behavior. STIs are not nature’s condemnation—they’re more like a tax. Yeah, they’re sucky and we wish that we didn’t have to worry about them, but we do, and many sexually active people ultimately decide that they’re a small price to pay for satisfaction.
You’ve been very unlucky, but thus far, it doesn’t sound your life has been altered dramatically beyond some words on a paper indicating you’re positive. For sexually active, at-risk people, the general recommendation is to be tested at least once a year. I’ve seen recommendations for twice a year, and people on PrEP (like me) get tested four times a year, every three months. This does not strike me as excessive but useful, so consider getting tested often. I think it’s reasonable to expect the same of your partners. You can have conversations with your partners about your infections, which are quite common. Informed and mindful sexually active people know that they’re assuming the risk of contracting highly contagious viruses like herpes and HPV when they have sex. Dental dams are absolutely things people use; otherwise they wouldn’t be made. You can look into daily valacyclovir to reduce the chances of you transmitting herpes.
I don’t think an act-by-act breakdown would be particularly useful—assume anything you do without latex could be done with latex to reduce risk and understand that infection is one of the risks of sex but people do it anyway. The world runs because that chance is taken over and over again.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight man who has used a wheelchair since birth because of a disability. In many ways, I’ve succeeded more than others in my situation: I graduated college, got a job I’m good at, have relatives and friends who genuinely care, and enjoy an active social life (pre-pandemic). However, my age is the same as in a famous Steve Carell movie, and I unfortunately have the same level of sexual experience as his title character. This is not due to a lack of personal interest or stimulation on my part: The plumbing works. I’ve dated women before and fooled around with them, I’ve crushed on plenty of others, and porn (both written and visual) has given me a much-needed outlet for a very long time. Female friends I trust tell me I would likely be a good lover, as I care about what people need and want, and I listen well. But they aren’t available to or interested in helping for many reasons, which I’m fine with. I also physically can’t drive myself, and live with an older parent, which hugely complicates all types of dating, or even trying to find a professional. Is there a solution I’m missing? (People are often surprised I even WANT to have a sex life in the first place, which certainly doesn’t help my dwelling on it.)
—Disabled, NOT Disinterested
Do not despair—you have options. You should check out the work of Tuppy Owens—author of Supporting Disabled People with their Sexual Lives: A Clear Guide for Health and Social Care Professionals—who has formed several organizations to aid in this issue, including the Sexual Health and Disability Alliance and Outsiders, a “social, peer support and dating club, run by and for socially and physically disabled people.” At the very least, I think the peer support would help you a lot. You are not the only one who has gone through what you are going through, and I have a hunch that hearing how other people in wheelchairs found their ways to love and dating would be useful. You should also check out this piece Owens wrote for Disability Horizons. In particular, Owens lists two dating sites for wheelchair users: Wheelchair Dating Club and Wheelchair Dating. I can’t vouch for either personally, but they seem at least worth trying.
You should also probably have a conversation with your older-parent roommate. It might be awkward, but you have every right to want to pursue the sexual facet of your life, and while you don’t have to get too specific, you might need to at least hint at your need for privacy so that you can get the space or assistance you may need in pursuing this. If the choice comes down between not having a tough conversation and not having a sex life, well, I think the right option is pretty clear. Please let us know how it goes.
More How to Do It
I’m a straight, divorced woman. My last sexual relationship was two years ago, when my ex-husband and I attempted to rekindle things after having been divorced for six years. When we got back in bed during that time period, I was surprised to find that he had, um, changed things up—and asked me if I had considered getting with the times too.