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 have never been able to orgasm quietly. As a woman, I feel aware of the “porny” noise stereotype, which is essentially how I sound every time I climax. Only when with a partner or completely alone am I comfortable with the way my body translates pleasure into sound. In an apartment setting, I find myself doing anything to try to muffle the noises: biting down on things, pushing my mouth into pillows, even ripping holes in things like blankets because there is just too much tension. Should I become more comfortable with the idea of being overheard? How do I handle the orgasmic response? This is full-on screaming, and I do not want neighbors to think I have been injured. Thinking about their response too much makes solo sex less sexy.
—Within Thin Walls
Dear Thin Walls,
I’m also an erotic expresser. Once, at the height of my porn career, the sound guy asked me if I could keep it down. I shriek, I scream, I giggle, I growl. I’m loud, I’ve been living in apartments for most of my adult life, and the neighbors have never checked in. That said, we’ve seen plenty of police interactions turn deadly, and a welfare check requested by a concerned neighbor could have serious consequences.
So to answer whether you should become more comfortable with the idea of being overheard, we need to think about what the potential ramifications are for you. Do you share walls with any particularly nosy neighbors? Can you ask for feedback on what you sound like, perhaps from a few former lovers or prior roommates? Getting some outside perspective on whether the sounds you make sound amorous or alarming can help you better judge the risk of a neighbor calling the authorities.
The other question is a little more difficult. Do you want to be more comfortable with being overheard? Some people are private, and that’s OK. It’s up to you to decide whether you’re comfortable with your neighbors hearing you while you masturbate. You might imagine some scenarios—a neighbor knowingly asking if you had a fun night or knocking on your door to ask you to keep it down—to get an idea of what your comfort zone is and how stressful stepping outside of it might be. It’s also worth thinking through the difference between partnered sex—where you’re comfortable making noise in close quarters—and solo time. What does the addition of a partner do that makes being loud more comfortable? Does their presence and enjoyment make it more palatable for others to hear your copulation chorus in a way that your own pleasure doesn’t?
If you decide you feel safer muffling your joy, especially when solo, focusing on your breath should help. Regardless, I hope you’ll have a raucous good time.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I are in our 60s. We have never had a great sex life—boring and vanilla at best. When I would want to try something new, he’d ask me why or where I heard of that but never complied. He has arthritis and psoriasis (the latter of which can affect his groin), but even if he is feeling OK, he has had erectile disfunction for years. I’ve gotten tired of spending an hour just to get a “rise” out of him. He’s also had four affairs or “secret friendships” or whatever you want to call them over the years. I had basically given up that sex would ever be good. But early last year, my best friend and I went to Hawaii for her birthday. We ran into an old school chum who had moved there some years ago and … three of the nights I did not spend with her. I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but it was simply amazing. He and I have kept in touch, but it was never going to be more than it was.
The issue is that he released the kraken. My libido has skyrocketed since then. My husband cannot or will not help. Am I supposed to be a saint? I am actually going to see him again in a few weeks, but what else can I do? Yes, I have used multiple devices, but there is no substitute for the real thing. Divorce is not an option right now.
—Definitely Not a Saint
Dear Not a Saint,
Your view of sex puts penises in pride of place, your husband struggles with erectile dysfunction, you’ve been unsatisfied with the sex the two of you have for the duration of the relationship, and you say divorce is not an option. That sucks. I’m sorry you’re in that situation, and I imagine that whatever you do get out of the marriage is pretty special to you. I don’t condone cheating, and you’ve neatly refused almost everything I’d suggest. Even though it feels like a long shot, I’m wondering if opening up the marriage would be possible—he’s had outside relationships, and the two of you desire different things. I can see how you might not want to rock the boat by diving directly into the subject of ethical non-monogamy, and without an understanding of the positives your marriage brings to the table, I think you’re the only person who can judge whether the potential outcome is worth the risk of upset. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
From my reading, I am like most straight women and penetrative sex, although extremely pleasurable, is not enough to put me over the top. Oral sex does it, but what is a “reasonable” amount of time to expect a guy to be working down there? Some men in my past (like, most) have not embraced the idea with enthusiasm, more like they were being exceptionally magnanimous by “working” on me. I am often self-conscious and worried about disappointing guys and taking too long, which doesn’t help speed up matters. It becomes self-defeating. Any ideas?
—Dead to Me
Dear Dead to Me,
There’s no hard and fast rule about “reasonable” amounts of time to spend engaged in oral sex. Nor should there be. You, with your wonderful body, which is joyfully and fortunately capable of orgasm, require extended clitoral stimulation. (You don’t mention if digital sex suffices.) What you need to orgasm is what you need to orgasm. And, yes, most women do require extended clitoral stimulation.
Dating is a process of sorting through other humans until we find one (or more) whom we match well with—in terms of lifestyle, intellect, and sexually. If the first person you like doesn’t like to eat pussy, they are not a match for your oral-loving eroticism. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either of you, but you don’t align on a very important aspect of allosexual romantic relationships. Hold out for someone who loves to give pleasure in the ways that please you best.
When you do find someone who enthusiastically wants to pleasure you, you might find yourself stuck in your head or feeling more passive than you’re comfortable with. Remember you can always switch activities. You can say “Let me suck your dick for a while now” or “I’d like to ride your cock for a bit and then your face again.” You can work yourself up through penetration and hop off for an oral orgasm. You can get him off, snuggle for a few minutes, and request an orgasm. You can have interludes that are all about you and interludes that are all about him. If you’re not enjoying yourself because you’re worried about something, you can pause and address that.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 50ish man who has been separated and then divorced for about five years now. My decadeslong marriage was mostly monogamous and mostly vanilla, with the exception of a few years of experimentation that my ex and I did with people we already knew. These experiences showed me that I lean toward the monogamous side of the spectrum but a bit of poly-ness is in my wheelhouse.
I’ve been dating for a couple of years now, and so far all of these new relationships have also been monogamous and vanilla. I have no complaints and enjoy my dating and sex life. But I do have some friends (whom I know from other connections) who also are involved in poly and kink communities. Through Zoom parties with these friends, I’ve met a poly person whom I’m totally smitten with. She has expressed that the feeling is mutual. We are both interested in getting together once we feel it’s safe to travel again, maybe sometime later this year. However, I’m completely unfamiliar with the poly and kink scenes much beyond knowing that they exist. While I am totally comfortable talking with this woman about what she wants and doesn’t want, I don’t want to put her in the position of being my poly/kink mentor.
Can you suggest some books, sites, YouTube channels, or other resources that are particularly good for someone who wants to learn the terminology, spoken and unspoken norms, etc.? (I can Google, but the number of results are overwhelming.)
—Almost a Total N00b
I have issues with the two go-to books on polyamory, The Ethical Slut and More Than Two. I think they’re both fairly dogmatic for tomes that claim to encapsulate the ways (plural) in which people practice nonmonogamy. More Than Two engages in judgment of sex work on at least one occasion. And Franklin Veaux, one of the authors of More Than Two, has been accused by former lovers of a wide range of misconduct. The other author, Eve Rickert, has spoken out about her conflict around some of the advice in the book and continued promotion of the work. Both books can absolutely be useful if read very critically, but they can also steer you in a severely wrong direction.
Lingo can also be problematic. Use of shorthand for communication inherently reduces data. Language is a living, breathing thing affected by regional trends and the norms of each sub-sub-culture. For instance, “I like rough sex” is dangerously vague and needs clarification, as it can mean everything from a light smack on the butt cheek through to very risky activities like choking. Some people define “metamour” as a partner of our partners, whom we have a non-sexual and non-romantic relationship with. Other definitions specifically allow for sexual and romantic interactions between metamours. There’s no governing body of polyamory, or BDSM, to circulate standard definitions of various words and phrases.
Even though the results are overwhelming, set aside some time to Google. As you’re meandering around the internet, here are some things to keep in mind: Are these people prioritizing independence and choice? Are they encouraging people to develop their own boundaries and limits? Are they accepting of people who have other lifestyles, like monogamy, or who prefer vanilla sex? The wisdom and insight you’ve developed over the past 50 years should give you a solid shenanigans-susser.
I don’t know how your romantic interest will feel about the possibility of being a poly/kink mentor. But I do have some insight from my own life. I’ve been an adult performer since 2006 and a sex advice columnist for a number of years. I read a lot about sexuality, think a lot about sexuality, and talk to a lot of people about sexuality, all because I’m interested in the subject. I am usually the sex expert in my relationships. I’ve dated people who came to me for instruction, and I’ve dated people who came to me with thoughts of their own and questions that hadn’t occurred to me. The latter is really awesome—I’m clearly into sex, and having someone I think is sexy to talk about all this complicated sex stuff with is rad. So the first thing I think you should do is ask your potential paramour how much interest she has in discussing these things with you. There’s a good chance she’ll be happy to share. And you can share too—you’re the expert on what you’ve enjoyed and think you might want to explore.
More How to Do It
I am in my mid-30s and happily married to my husband for five years. We have a toddler and a fantastic sex life—better even than pre-parenthood. I had an intense crush on my husband for a long time before we hooked up, and he still gives me butterflies on a regular basis. We are very open with sharing our desires and fantasies, and we communicate really well about our sex life. This has led to us trying things for the first time that were unspoken desires in past relationships, and just generally having a lot of fun together in bed.
One of the things we’ve discussed semi-seriously is my husband watching while I have sex with another man. He says this would be a huge turn-on, and I am certainly turned on by the prospect. We’ve also talked about our fears and reservations about actually following through with such an arrangement, so for now this fantasy is fulfilled by simply talking about it (what would turn us on, what I would do, what I’d want the guy to do to me, etc.). Where I’m struggling especially with this idea is that as much as I am genuinely turned on by my husband, I still find myself developing crushes/admiring other men. The biggest turn on for me in this whole fantasy is thinking about the rush of sleeping with someone new for the first time—basically the excitement that comes with the whole gamut of experiencing new sensations with someone unfamiliar to you. While my husband views this as perhaps a one-time thing, it has highlighted to me that I am regularly turned on by the thought of sleeping with someone else. My question is—why do I still develop crushes and find myself pretty strongly attracted to other men when my husband already ticks all of the boxes? Is this craving for novelty a sign that things aren’t as perfect as I think they are, or is this normal? If so, how do I remain happy in a monogamous marriage (I’m not open to opening up our marriage) when I crave this novelty?
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