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 and I have been married for over 30 years. Our four children are finishing high school or are in college. My husband has always allowed me freedom to be me, although he is also extremely arrogant and dismissive and has made a variety of bad financial and personal decisions. Our sex life was always good, and I was the dutiful wife and mother in every aspect until almost 11 years ago. Attempts at couples counseling only revealed my blunt anger for him and his passive-aggressive behaviors. Our family moved, and my husband was admittedly distant and “checked out.” I met a man in a similar situation. Our kids are the same age, and we dealt with so many parallels. I had never been unfaithful or even thought about it. Our affair has lasted over time and great distance. We haven’t lived in the same area for over eight years and see each other only on rare occasions. Our intimacy is of the highest level, and our sex life is always hot. We want to finish raising our children and then be together. We are no spring chickens, and I feel the clock ticking to be happy with the person I feel most comfortable with in this world. My husband and I have not had sex in over six years.
Are my lover and I being completely selfish? Will the wake of destruction to our (almost all) grown children, spouses, and extended family be worth the personal happiness? We feel that our kids would not be surprised if we left our marriages. I do know the grass is not always greener on the other side. We are truly best friends, ready to throw all caution to the wind. We are both very strong and able to accept consequences and risks.
—Ready for a Second Life
Dear Second Life,
You’ve already been having the affair for over a decade. You’re already being selfish and continuing in a disingenuous relationship that you’ve emotionally moved on from out of avoidance of upheaval in your family. Your kids might already know, or have suspicions, that their parents’ marriage is unraveling. But divorce happens. Plenty of people have divorced parents and manage to live happy lives; establish healthy, trusting relationships; and generally succeed. There’s a chance that your children—and other people in your life—will be upset with you. There’s also a likelihood that you can repair those relationships over time.
I cannot answer your question of whether it’ll be “worth the personal happiness”—that’s for you to weigh and decide. Would you want to leave even if your lover weren’t in the picture? What if he chooses not to leave his marriage after all? You’ve survived long distance, disagreements, and disappointments, but you haven’t experienced monotony or seen each other every single day for weeks, months, or years. Intimacy is about deep emotional sharing, and sometimes a euphemism for sex, but is also about hours logged. You say you’re both very strong and able to accept consequences, but you seem to fear what you describe as a “wake of destruction.” Upheaval is the likely consequence. Can you accept it?
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 26-year-old cis female. I’m now in my first sexual relationship (with a guy with a penis). It’s been pretty fun getting to play around sexually, and he’s been really wonderful with letting me explore however slowly and cautiously I need. Emotionally I feel great about it. Physically not so much. While I was never really interested in having sex, masturbating was always fun, so I kind of assumed the penetration part would just work too. But as it turns out, penetration is at best uncomfortable but manageable with enough distraction, and at worst unbearably painful. I kind of suffered through it in the beginning because I thought it would get better, but it hasn’t by much. We’ll sometimes try for penetration now, but a lot of times we have to give that up, as it gets too painful. For the most part sex is just a lot of fingers and hands and such.
I don’t get very wet naturally, so we use lots of lube (and get the most nonirritating, everything-balanced stuff possible). I’ve also looked into vaginismus, and that’s not my problem (fingers or menstrual cups and totally fine). As far as I can tell I just seem to have this really tough ring of tissue at the opening of my vagina, and pressure or stretching it causes an awful radiating burning and tearing sensation. Is this just the leftovers of my hymen? And if so shouldn’t it have stretched or torn by now (he’s been inside me maybe a dozen times, and I’ve used tampons and menstrual cups for years)? Am I just being a wimp?
Please see a qualified, trusted medical professional as soon as you can. Only a doctor has the training to look at your nether regions and figure out what’s going on, and someone with those skills needs to assess your situation in person, before you reach any other conclusions.
Sometimes we think of a hymen like a barricade of construction warning tape—one swish through and the whole thing crumbles. That isn’t necessarily the case. Hymen remnants are a frequent feature of adult, sexually active vulvas. They don’t usually cause awful burning or tearing sensations, but sometimes they do, and hey, that’s why you’re going to see a physician. Your use of menstrual cups makes me wonder about that factor, though. I don’t know how you get yours up next to your cervix, but I have to get at least three fingers of my right hand, plus the thumb, plus the cup itself inside my vagina to get it properly positioned. Maybe your dude is super wide—you don’t say—but I’d even go so far as to measure his girth and the girth of your cup insertion finger arrangement.
I am certain of one thing: You are not a wimp. When your body is giving you pain signals, that’s a sign that something isn’t OK. That’s a sign to back off, to treat yourself more gently. Chill on the penetration until you can get to that doctor—yes, I’m harping, because it’s important—and maybe look into oral sex as a way to expand your options while respecting your body’s reactions.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a heterosexual woman who’s been dating my first boyfriend for a few months now. I enjoy being physically intimate with him, but I’ve only ever been able to orgasm in his presence a couple of times—and those times were only because we brought in my vibrator. Penetrative intercourse and fingering feel nice, but never take me over the edge. He performs oral sex on me occasionally, and I’ve inched toward orgasm when he does that, but he tends not to do it for long or with regularity. Meanwhile, he manages to orgasm every time and doesn’t seem concerned if I don’t. And sex always ends for us whenever he finishes. I know this is an unfortunately common problem for heterosexual women, but I’d really like to figure out how to bridge the orgasm gap here and make every time 100 percent satisfying for both of us. How can I communicate this to my boyfriend and steer him in the right direction toward what actually satisfies me? And how can I figure out what will bring me to orgasm during sex without a vibrator?
—Looking for Equality in the Bedroom
Most women don’t orgasm from penetrative sex or do so rarely. You probably need some form of clitoral stimulation, whether that’s his mouth, his fingers, your fingers, or a vibrator. It sounds like you’re getting some of that, but not enough. And I don’t like that he doesn’t seem concerned when you don’t orgasm. Are you sure you want to stay with this person? As Alana Massey wrote, “Dick is abundant and low value.” Especially when it’s attached to a guy who doesn’t seem to care about your pleasure—when it’s just the dick. I assume he’s great in other areas, but we’re talking about your sexual partner here. The quality of the sex you have together, and his level of consideration regarding your satisfaction, is pretty germane.
You can absolutely try telling your boyfriend that you aren’t satisfied sexually, and that you need more clitoral stimulation. You can take the gentle approach: “Hi, sweetie, [loads of praise to soothe his ego]. Do you think you could work on giving me orgasms sometimes when we have sex?” Or you can deliver an ultimatum: “You orgasm every time we have sex, I rarely do, and I want this to change if we’re going to keep seeing each other.” Maybe you want to land somewhere in the middle. You presumably know how he responds to difficult topics and will have a better chance of crafting an effective statement than I do with only the knowledge that he’s a pretty selfish lover. And you know yourself better than anyone and can judge what you feel comfortable saying. You might write what you’re going to say out or rehearse it in the mirror first.
As for how to orgasm without a vibrator, get to masturbating. Use your fingers. Stroke the various parts of your vulva, in different ways—softly, firmly, slowly, quickly, all the -lys. Make note of what feels good, what feels really good, and what feels like you’re getting close to orgasm. Keep in mind that a certain sensation might feel good as you’re getting aroused, and too delicate once you’re super turned on. Conversely, something might feel too strong early on but just right when you’re fully engorged. Get experimental, gather data, and be prepared to tell whomever you have sex with what works for your body. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a cis woman who’s currently single and trying to figure out what I want in a relationship, and I think one of my biggest obstacles is that I have anxiety about sex. I’ve never had it, and I think I want to, but the idea of sex, or at least penetrative sex, makes me anxious, and I’m not sure why. I think this anxiety or fear or whatever it is is getting in the way of me pursuing relationships. (What if things go well? What if sex comes up? How do I deal with stuff when it does come up? You get the idea.) I’ve wondered if I’m somewhere on the asexual spectrum, but I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I get horny and have fantasies, and that just makes everything even more confusing. How can I get past these mental blocks and get over my fear of sex? I know that wanting a relationship doesn’t always lead to sex, which is fine, so why do I worry about it always ending up there?
—Horny yet Hesitant
Asexuality, as you said, is a spectrum. Some asexual people experience sexual desire under certain circumstances. Some masturbate. Some even watch porn, though the only asexual I’ve spoken with about this describes their experience of it as more of a curiosity indulgence than a libido-stoker. Angela Chen wrote an enlightening book called Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. I think it’s worth a read to get a better idea of what asexuality is, so you can think through whether it’s a part of your identity.
Relationships don’t have to lead to sex, but there is the relationship escalator that society—in the general sense—assumes we’ll ride: First you meet and like each other. You go for coffee or a drink, then maybe dinner. Next, you’re in a private space with a soft, horizontal piece of furniture, and you start with kissing … You’re worried about this because it’s real, and I think because of the anxiety you feel around engaging in sexual activity.
Have you tried kissing? I think it might be a good data point if you haven’t. If you’re going the dating app route, say something like “here for kissing.” If you’re meeting people the analog way, you might ask someone you find attractive if they’d like to kiss. Be direct and clear. An open-ended invitation to your place might imply more than you’re comfortable engaging in. Try, “Hey, would you like to kiss?” on in front of the mirror and see how it feels.
Penetration is a whole extra layer to the experience of sex. Phalluses and fists are somehow different from a couple of fingers. It’s intense, powerful, and kind of invasive sometimes. You don’t have to try it unless you want to, and you don’t have to until you feel ready. If a partner doesn’t respect your timeline and tentative exploration, they aren’t the one for you. Good luck.
More How to Do It
I’m a hetero woman in her early 30s. I started seeing a new guy after a bad breakup. I expected it to be a fling, but I’m starting to get real feelings for him. The best thing about this is also my problem: The sex is incredible. Specifically, he is incredible at sex. I very rarely come from oral sex with new guys but I did with him the first time, in minutes. He knows exactly how to touch me and where, he is very responsive to my body—he’s just really skilled. So much so that I almost feel shy having sex with him! I am pretty experienced and confident in my body, but when we have sex I feel lazy, like I’m doing less than he’s doing. (He comes from a Christian background and didn’t have sex until he was 25, and he also has a smaller than average endowment, so I think he accepted the card he was dealt and stepped up his game.) He’s a good guy and I like him a lot, but I feel a weird pressure to up my game with him because he’s so good, and that in turn makes me wary of sex sometimes. I wish I could take this as a challenge, but instead it’s making me feel inadequate, probably for no good reason. How do I get over this?