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’ve been married to my husband for more than 10 years, and we have a wonderful sex life. He’s attentive, generous, good in bed, and very good at going down me—he almost always does so prior to intercourse. The problem is that I have developed a pretty intense gag reflex over the past few years. I’m not sure if it’s because of medications that I take—I’ve been on several at different times throughout our marriage because of a chronic condition—but other than that, I have no idea what could be causing it. I’ve had a deviated septum since I was a teenager, which can make giving head difficult whenever I can’t breathe through my nose, but in my 20s, I never had any problems going down on any lovers. Now, I’m close to 40 and feeling in my sexual prime, and yet I often don’t initiate performing oral on my him because I’m so prone to gagging. I gag nearly every time I brush my teeth these days and have even thrown up a few times while doing so. I just can’t bring myself to possibly puke on my husband while giving him head. (Granted, after more than a decade together, we’ve had all sorts of embarrassing situations happen while we’re having sex, so maybe it wouldn’t be as horrifying as I imagine.) I’m worried that I’m being a selfish lover by not regularly reciprocating. He would NEVER tell me that I was being selfish, but he also can struggle with asking for what he wants and needs. He’s got a fairly average-sized penis, so I don’t think that’s the issue, nor is he lax whenever it comes to hygiene and personal grooming. I have absolutely no reason to think it’s something about him or something he’s doing or not doing.
He’s never really asked me for head, and he seems totally fine with the imbalance of receiving versus giving that exists between us, but the times when I AM able to go down on him, he really enjoys it. I’d like to be able to do it more, but it fills me with so much anxiety. As soon as I start gagging, I can’t stop, and I don’t last much longer after that. He’s always very sweet and understanding about it, and even seems to feel bad for me whenever I start gagging. But I don’t want him to feel BAD. I want him to feel GOOD! Should I just talk to him about my fears knowing full well that he’d most likely just say that it’s not a big deal to him? Is there anything I can do to counter this gag-reflex issue that I’ve developed over the past few years? Can men really be OK giving oral and not receiving it? Like, possibly forever?
Definitely start with telling your husband what’s going on with you, physically and mentally. He’s probably well aware that your gag reflex is sensitive, and may have noticed an increase in sensitivity. This is as good a place to start as any.
The next thing to talk about is your inner world. Let your husband know that you’re struggling with the situation. Tell him about your feelings and fears. Share your emotions. Leave plenty of space for him to respond, and—this is key—believe him when he tells you what he likes and wants out of sexual interactions with you.
Now for the mechanical aspect: Wrap your fist around the bottom of his cock and use your fingers as a stopper to prevent penetration past what you can comfortably experience. If that’s two inches, so be it. Once you know how much room you have to maneuver in, and a barrier to prevent going too far, you may be able to feel more freedom within those bounds.
As an alternative, you can also spice up your hand jobs with lubricant and penetrable sleeves—sometimes called pocket pussies—or feel out the possibility of anal, if you haven’t. He’s already suggested he doesn’t miss blow jobs too much, and there are other ways that you can make him feel good. In general, your sex life sounds healthy and generous in both directions, so if all else fails, try to focus on the great pleasure you’re already giving each other.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a nonbinary person assigned female at birth who pegs partners a few times a week. It’s a good time for everyone, but after all the excitement, I notice that I’m really sore around my pubic bone, and sometimes bruised. This happens less frequently in doggy style, somewhat frequently in other positions, and always when my partners are on top. The harness I use is just a cheap one from eBay with a triangle of neoprene and an o-ring, and I use silicone dildos with flared bases. I love pounding my partners, but I also love not being in pain—do you have any advice or product recommendations for this problem? Additionally, I’d love any tips you have on positions for comfortably pegging tall men.
Dear Top Trouble,
You need padding of some kind. I would get a ballerina’s pointe cushion—they’re curved and already have a divot in the middle. You could probably use a fluffy sock folded a couple of times. You just need something in between your bone and the relatively hard silicone.
As for comfortably pegging tall people, they can do frog stretches—face down, knees bent, pushing the pelvis closer to the floor—so they can keep their pelvis lower in doggy, and you can keep your knees together, which might be easier if you stretch the fronts of your thighs. Take an hour to get silly about it and see what combinations you can come up with between your bodies and your furniture. Remember, some positions are only good for a few minutes—but those minutes can be pretty spectacular!
Dear How to Do It,
I know a lot of people masturbate simply because they like to, even if they are having partnered sex regularly. But for me, it’s mostly a substitute. When I’m getting all the partnered sex I want, I have no urge to masturbate. My husband is sometimes away for work for months or weeks at a time, and I’ll maybe break out my vibrator a handful of times in his absence. My complaint is, I orgasm so quickly with a vibe it just makes me more frustrated than when I started. And I find my own hand nonintriguing, so I give up quickly. Am I doomed to hate masturbating? Even as a horny teen, I sucked and barely bothered, so I’m feeling pretty out of my depth.
Betty Dodson, who passed late last year, worked with sexuality for over half a century. She wrote a book called Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving that I think might be useful for you. She wanted to encourage women to masturbate, which isn’t your issue, but I think her tips for creating a mood and getting into it may help. And that’s the crux of it—without desire, there’s nothing to be satisfied.
You might try delaying gratification. When you feel the urge to reach for your vibrator, you might put it off for a couple more days. When you do start to pleasure yourself, take your time. Leave the vibrator for later. Tease with your fingers. Run fabrics that feel nice across your skin. Touch your erogenous zones. If any erotic thoughts cross your mind, embrace them, but it’s OK if that doesn’t happen, too. You might watch or read sexual media, whether that’s a romance novel or a hardcore porn video. You also might focus purely on sensation. See if you can orgasm without the vibrator at all, or only bring it in toward the end. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have been married for almost a decade. His sex drive has always been pretty healthy, whereas mine had been really low for a long time because of depression and other health issues.
Now, with new medication, my sex drive is back to normal—maybe past normal, and into overdrive. I’m excited and feel like a new woman! The downside to this is that I’m realizing that maybe my husband and I are sexually incompatible. I’ve known since we dated that I was a lot more kinky and adventurous in the bedroom than he was, but he was uncomfortable with it, so I didn’t pursue any of the kinky stuff I was interested in (such as dominance on his part, bondage play, etc.) Now I’m realizing it’s beyond just that. He’s just kind of … lazy in bed? We always do the same three or four positions like clockwork, with almost no foreplay. He’d be happy getting a blow job or having penetrative sex with me on top for the rest of his life. When he goes down on me, he pressures me to 69—not cause it feels better for me (it doesn’t), but because it’s easier for him and he likes getting a blow job at the same time.
There are “different” things we’ve done before that he said he enjoyed—anal, fucking my face, rimming me (he won’t let me rim him), a little bit of rough sex—but I always have to be the one to initiate it, plan it, and goad him every step of the way, which takes the fun out of it for me. He doesn’t want to tease, play, or engage in foreplay—he just wants to go straight to sex, or go straight to laying on his back and getting a blow job, where I’m like, “Wait! Can’t we make out and roll around and do sexy stuff for a while?”
The other issue is he’s super weird about me having a vibrator—he’s really insecure about it “replacing” him, and he’s averse to engaging in any toy play on himself (even me running my wand on his dick). Like, he won’t even think about TRYING sex toys for himself and is grossed out by the thought of me using a vibrator on myself. He also kind of mocks or makes fun of some of the kinkier stuff we’ll do—he seems into it at the time, but will make passive aggressive “jokes” about it outside the bedroom (“well YOU want my DICK on your face,” etc.). That makes me feel ashamed.
Every time I try to talk to him about all of this, we fight. He seems perfectly fine with three regular positions, no foreplay, and blow jobs—why reinvent the wheel? I feel really frustrated and unsatisfied with that being the extent of our sex life. I’m also frustrated by how inconsiderate he can be, and how it feels like he only focuses on his pleasure even when I tell him that I’m unsatisfied, feel insecure 69ing, haven’t come yet, etc. What should I do? Neither of us are interested in opening up the relationship or being anything other than monogamous, so please don’t recommend us being a throuple or anything.
He’s insecure about your vibrator—he fears replacement by a small electronic device. He’s grossed out by the thought of you using it. His sexual tastes are very narrow, and yours are fairly varied. I don’t have much context for the passive-aggressive comments, but they’re certainly a red flag. If you’ve spoken to him about them and they’ve continued, that’s a big red flag. The fighting is another concern.
Significantly, you don’t mention a single positive in your lengthy letter. My instinct is: Move out, move on, move into a little nest where you have privacy, and maybe get another vibrator or two.
That does not sound like the advice you want. Maybe there are good parts to your decadelong marriage you left out. If so, consider a sex-positive counselor to help you and especially your husband have the conversations you can’t on your own. If he absolutely refuses, well, it’s time to have a different kind of talk.
More How to Do It
I’ve been with my guy for two years. While we have fantastic sex, one thing I love is missing. He has an extraordinarily long, fat penis, and, uh, that makes one particular thing difficult.