How to Do It

I’ve Learned My Boyfriend Views Our Sex Life … Very Differently Than I Do

A woman in ecstasy, with fireworks around her.
Photo illustration by Slate Photo by Lighthaunter/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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 partner and I have been seeing each other for a year. We have a really good thing going on, in all aspects really. The sex is great, and even though there is some mismatch in our libidos (I generally think more about sex, and want it—and him—more often), I don’t believe that to be a problem. He makes it very clear that when he is not in the mood, that does not reflect on me, and is often more than willing to pleasure me even if we don’t have “full” sex.

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So I generally don’t feel like I need more sex at all. But lately I have been thinking about the differences in our relationship with sexuality. Whenever we have a particularly awesome session, I can think of little else in the following days. All I do is think about how good it was, how good it felt; all I want to do is talk about it to him, how connected we felt, how much pleasure that was involved. This pleasure, this physical connection, this giving and sharing—this is so important to me. It’s such a big part of who I am; I just want to celebrate that amazing expression of feeling.

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I don’t think he feels this way. I am absolutely sure he enjoys the sex. I know he feels very connected to me. But to him, this is no expression of our divinity, it’s just … a good thing we do together. Like cooking perhaps, or hiking, or cuddling. And I wish he could feel so overwhelmed by connection as I feel when we have sex. And I just wanted to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think that you and your partner need to be on exactly the same wave length on the big things—including sex, for me? Am I being selfish in presuming that something is lacking just because he feels things differently than I?

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—Up All Night

Dear Up All Night,

I scrolled through the mental Rolodex of romances I’ve observed, and every single one has some mismatch or another that the people involved have to work around. They all involve compromise. Sometimes it’s libido; sometimes it’s how to raise children, or how to handle finances. What does your partner relish in that you don’t quite get? What’s awe-inspiring for him and “meh” for you? Is it a TV show? A certain dessert? My point here is that these differences are common. It sounds like you’ve got a match on most issues, and that’s worth something.

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Subjectively, though, it might be a different story. You want your partner to understand what you’re experiencing. You want to share the joy that sex gives you—that transcendent feeling. That’s valid, whether we’re talking about sex, food, or a hobby. The reality is that we can strive to understand each other for our entire lives and still not truly know what someone we love feels sometimes.

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So you have to decide for yourself if this is a deal-breaker. When you’re weighing your options, remember that perfection probably isn’t out there. Is a great guy who is happy to give you pleasure even when he doesn’t want to have “full sex” worth an unknown person who experiences sexuality in a spiritual way but certainly has some other mismatch in the metaphorical bush? If you decide you need that specific kind of connection, then you should move on. If you can enjoy the sex he offers and be satisfied, you should stay. Good luck.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a man married to a bi woman for 26 years. It’s only been in the past two or three—thanks to some good counseling and a better understanding of myself—that I’ve accepted and understood that I’m bi too. Repression and conditioning kept me closeted, but my wife has encouraged me to accept and integrate this. I’ve begun to open up to her about what men I find attractive and why, and I’ve been open to describe the sexual fantasies I’ve had involving men. Outside of watching bi porn, do you have suggestions for how I can explore this safely, through online communities or organizations?

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—Better Late Than Never

Dear Better,

I’m not sure what safe means to you, and that’s the first thing we need to establish. I’m assuming, since you said online communities and we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, that you aren’t referring to STI reduction or airborne pathogen control.

So, are you concerned about being recognized by someone you know? Are you thinking about your emotional safety, as you try to form new connections with people you inherently won’t know that well yet? Or are you worried about destabilizing your marriage as you begin to explore?

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Recognition is an easy concern to alleviate. Keep your full name, exact location, and image private—just like you’ve done here. Think “Texas” instead of “Austin near the Driscoll.” You can talk about your coming out journey, your reservations, and your hopes, sharing who you are on the inside without sharing information that will make you easy to find.

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Emotional safety is more difficult. Connection requires vulnerability. When we’re vulnerable, we’re open to being hurt. Remember that vulnerability can be a scale—it doesn’t have to be an on/off switch—and that you can be more vulnerable with people as you get to know them and establish a rapport.

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As for the risk of destabilizing your marriage, keep having the talks. Check in with each other about how you’re feeling, what you’re comfortable with, and how that’s changing as time progresses. Remember to read the room—if your wife seems out of sorts, you might want to slow down. If you’re feeling out of sorts, you might want to slow down. Nobody can revoke your Bi Guy identity for prioritizing the 26-year relationship you’ve already built, regardless of the gender of your partner.

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Bisexual men don’t have nearly the community that gay, lesbian, and queer people do. The only online communities I’m aware of for bisexual men are Facebook groups and subreddits. You also might consider an app like Feeld as a way of connecting with other bisexual men. Say in your profile that you’re there for companionship—looking for friends to talk about bisexuality with—and get to swiping and messaging.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m coming up on the 10th anniversary of my last long-term relationship dissolving. There’s a long story there about why it happened, but basically, I was using his laptop—with his permission—to search for something that I didn’t understand because he is a native speaker of Dutch. I noticed that his email was open and there were recent emails to someone from Craigslist where he gave them his phone number and address and asked to meet for casual sex. Some other pertinent information to know is that he is 12 years older than me, and had recently finalized a divorce when we first met. I have never been married. We are both childless.

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Between the dissolution of trust between us and the inability to rebuild it for a “casual relationship,” as well as the fact that I was approaching 30 and he was approaching 40, we ended things. He said that at least part of it on his side was that he didn’t want to be responsible for my biological clock ticking and not getting answered. The sex was good throughout the relationship, and I found him very sexually attractive, but I am a lot more adventurous and probably experienced than he is. I still don’t have the amount of experiences that I have fantasized about and would like to have.

Regardless, here we are now 10 years later, reconnecting casually. He has been pretty flirty, and I have engaged, at least partially because I am lonely like a lot of people during the quarantine. For example, he invited me over on Valentine’s Day, because I said I was cold. I didn’t go. I should add that I work in a hospital and am immunocompromised, so I am already fully vaccinated.

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I keep thinking that I should reconnect with him and see if we could try it again, but I don’t know if that’s a good idea, or it’s just my loneliness and desire for a partner that’s making bad decisions for me. Do people really change? I’m now in my late 30s and he is in his late 40s, and I know that means our sex drives would be different, but I’m worried that he won’t be able to keep up with my sexual demands. I do know that whatever sex was had would be competent and satisfying, which I have struggled to find in the last decade.

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—Is Good Dick Worth It?

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Dear Good Dick,

I say go for it—carefully. Trust can be given gradually, and I’d like to believe that 10 years later, he may have grown. Divorce often does weird stuff to people’s heads. People make mistakes. They do change.

Be clear about what you want out of the relationship—friendship and sex—and what your boundaries are. If him meeting up with people off of the internet is beyond what you’re OK with, state that. Ask him for his boundaries and desires, too. Expect him to adhere to whatever agreements the two of you make. Insist that you both get screened for STIs, and use condoms.

Worst case, the sex isn’t what it used to be, or he undermines your trust again. But you’ll know—and if the sex turns out to still be good and he has changed, you’ll be in a pretty spiffy situation.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a woman in a healthy monogamous relationship with a man. He treats me wonderfully and I’m content with our monogamy. I knew my boyfriend was more vanilla than me, but he has been willing to engage in some of the BDSM that I’m into. My trouble is aftercare. My previous partner was exceptionally attentive to that, and I don’t know if it’s lack of knowledge, but my current boyfriend has a different version of what aftercare is. I miss the emotional connection I got from it and struggle with how to make these needs known without coming off as weak or needy.

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—Caring About Aftercare

Dear Caring,

So you have needs. I have needs. My roommate has needs. Every single person I’ve ever dated has had needs. You’re human, and it’s OK to have needs and try to get them met.

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There’s a difference between weakness and vulnerability. Vulnerability can feel weak at times, but I think it takes courage and strength to exercise. You can start slow, and you don’t have to ask for everything at one time. Do you know what you need and aren’t getting? Can you choose one aspect of aftercare that would do the most good? Can you explain it succinctly, and do you know why that particular thing helps you?

Let’s use verbal humiliation as an example. “I love when you verbally demean me during sex. I know you don’t really think that way, but it gets me off. Afterward, though, I need to come out of the fantasy and back to reality. Can you hold me and tell me I’m good for 15 minutes afterward to help me return to our regular lives?”

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Or maybe it’s about the post-sex processing. “I’m having a great time during the foreplay and sex we have, but I need more emotional sharing during the cuddling portion. Is that something you’re willing to do with me? How can we carve out space for that?”

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However you phrase it, and whatever the details are, keep the focus on your current partner. You might draw inspiration from what worked in previous relationships, but you’ll want to be careful around anything that might bring up comparisons. As always, choose your time wisely—when everyone is sufficiently fed and rested, with plenty of time to talk. And you might consider preparing what you’re going to say beforehand. Good luck.

More How to Do It

For as long as I have known her, my wife has been interested in “incest” role play. While it isn’t my cup of tea exactly, I have been willing and happy to support her in her exploration of this kind of fantasy. Recently, though, things have started to move in an uncomfortable direction. My wife is very close with her older brother, with whom we often speak very openly about sex and sexuality. A few nights ago, and after a few drinks, my wife got to talking fairly explicitly about some of the “family” role-playing that she and I are into, and her brother—who I thought would be horrified—was not only supportive, but vaguely expressed interest in exploring this kink with us. When we got home, I expected my wife to make it clear that her brother ever joining us in the bedroom was entirely off the table—instead, she seemed to think it was a really good idea.

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