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 straight 54-year-old happily divorced woman and thrilled to be exploring sex after many years of a sexless marriage. It’s both fun and scary as I go against my conservative Christian upbringing. I’ve managed to figure out how to hook up, and more recently I’ve been in a relationship where the sex is fabulous. The downside is that while he’s willing to try new things, it’s just not where he is. It’s mostly vanilla. We’re now friends with benefits.
I’m ready to explore my submissive side once it’s safe COVID-wise. (It’s taken a long time to be able to admit and state that clearly.) I’m interested in bondage, spanking with and without props, blindfolding, and gagging. Since it’s mostly new, I don’t know what level of intensity I am interested in and would like to start lightly and work my way up. That said, I don’t think I’m interested in a lot of pain.
My question is how to describe what I’m looking for on dating apps. I don’t want people in my community to know what I’m up to in my private life. In addition, I still love vanilla sex, just looking for a lot more in addition to it. Right now one of the adjectives I use to describe myself is “sensual.” I’m thinking about revising it to read, “sensual, sub” or “sensual, BDSM,” or something similar. What’s the best way to convey what I’m looking for while using the least amount of words? Also I don’t want to imply that I have experience that I don’t. Trying to balance being discreet with being clear about what I want without misrepresenting myself. And are there better apps that I should be on outside of Match, Tinder, etc. for my interests? I live in a rural area, and the more specialized the app, the less likely it seems like I’d find partners.
—What’s in a Word?
Making a dating app profile is a bit like going fishing. You pick the hook, dangle it in the water for a while, and hope a fish takes the bait. When they do, you reel the line in and see what you’ve caught. Details of sexual proclivities can be part of the reeling in portion. The hook—how does “sensual, kink-curious” feel? Or maybe “sensual, vanilla proficient, interested in other spices”?
Before you put any of that in your profile, though, I want you to think through the privacy factor. Sometimes mystery breeds gossip and rumor. By listing “sub” or “BDSM,” you’re letting anyone in your community on the app know that you’re into something kinky, and that may bring questions you aren’t comfortable answering—or even be ready to answer, since you’re very much in the exploring stage. Code words and small signals—the hanky system, wearing an earring on a specific ear, the term vanilla—are all easily Googleable now. So anything you might list in your profile is something a member of your community can look up.
I think your best bet is to keep your profile vague—“sensual”—and take a more active role in your app use. Swipe until you find someone interesting, and then let them know privately that you want to explore these facets of BDSM and kink after you’ve exchanged a few messages.
As for which app to use, you’re correct that the more specific the app is, the fewer people are on it, particularly in rural areas. I say try a few, just in case, but set your expectations low to avoid disappointment. You also might look into BDSM communities in your area—or maybe a couple of towns over—that may be holding online events during the pandemic. Maybe someone in one of these communities is interesting, maybe they know someone interesting, or maybe you just make some new friends to talk through your desires with and learn from. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m at wits’ end. My husband’s minimal housework responsibilities include keeping our bedroom clean. Unfortunately, he only bothers to clean up if he thinks he’s going to have sex with me that night. The rest of the time, he leaves laundry piles that cover the entire floor (clean, when he bothers to do the wash, and dirty when he can’t be bothered), and his personal detritus in piles on every available surface. I am sick of it. I have used my words repeatedly to ask him to please clean up. It doesn’t work. His priority is always something else—gaming, napping, talking on the phone, online shopping—until he thinks I’m sexually available. I feel like I have to pay for a clean bedroom with sex. It’s gross. My sex drive is nosediving. I fantasize about living alone or about having sex with fantasy men who care about my needs. Please help.
—Dirty Bedroom but Not in a Good Way
Dear Dirty Bedroom,
Nonconsensually transactional sex sucks. It’s one thing when everyone is on the same page—“You hand-wash my underwear, and I spit in your mouth while calling you a worm” or “We’re in Nevada, and I’m paying you for a sensual experience”—but when a household task becomes something that the person feels entitled to sex in exchange for, without an agreement or in spite of a different agreement, it’s awful. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.
You’ve used your words to ask your husband nicely. Have you used your words to explain to him how his lack of action affects your libido? “Honey, you aren’t regularly doing your cleanup duties in the bedroom. It’s not OK, and I’m less attracted to you because of it. I want to be attracted to you, and I need your help to protect our connection.”
I’m curious about how your bedroom is arranged. Are there baskets for laundry that he fails to use? Do you have places for all his personal detritus that he fails to store his things in? If not, you can start by asking him to help you figure out a storage solution that works for both of you. But if you’ve already done this, I think counseling is the next step. Some people aren’t good with time management or organization, and a qualified professional can judge whether your husband needs some help in those areas. They might also help you two get on the same page in terms of expectations and communication.
There’s also the chance he might simply not care, or feel entitled to a sexual reward for doing less than the bare minimum. If so, leaving is absolutely an option. Somewhere out there is a person you find attractive who can keep their living areas clean and care about your happiness.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 25-year-old woman who recently started dating a guy, and everything is going really well. He’s my first sexual partner, and I’m his fourth. So far, our sex has been pretty vanilla. I don’t want to complain because what we’ve done has been great, but I want something more. I feel like we’ve fallen into a routine now that we know what will make the other person come, and we basically kiss for a while, get down and dirty, and are done in 20 minutes. It’s starting to get boring. We tried to spice it up by taking BDSM/kink tests together, but we both got vanilla/switch as our top results and just weren’t turned on by the prospect of trying any of the mentioned kinks. We’ve also discussed trying role-plays or other things together, but often we find it hard to be serious about them in the moment and just decide to stick to our quick-and-easy routine of what works. I’m not sure if this is just typical nervousness because it’s the first time or if it just isn’t something we’re into. How do I spice up our sex life when I don’t really have any kinks (that I know of), and neither does he? Are we just destined to have fine but boring sex the rest of our lives?
—Bored in Bed
You’re not alone in feeling silly about role-plays. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding the role that fits, and sometimes it’s a matter of not being into role-play at all. If it’s the latter, that’s 100 percent OK. And it’s OK to not be into BDSM or any of the kinks that come up on these lists and quizzes.
You don’t have to get kinky to spice up your sexual relationship. You can set a timer—an hour—and caress the other’s body while trying not to cause an orgasm. You can try different positions—many magazines like Men’s Health and Cosmo can give you some ideas to start with—and try modifications on the standards. For instance, you can take cowgirl (penetratee on top, facing their partner’s head) and twist your lower body so one of your legs is between his and one of his is between yours. You can have oral-only days. You can incorporate toys, like vibrators, and anal stimulation. You can play with sensations, like stroking each other with a piece of silk, fur, or a feather. You don’t even need props for that. You can use your fingertips, the backs of your hands, the backs of your nails, and—gently!—the edges of your nails. You also might consider a warming lube.
Repetition can get boring, and it can be an opportunity to get granular about the details. Does the idea of refining your routine appeal to you? Figuring out how to make your partner orgasm as quickly as possible, or figuring out the exact spot that makes their left big toe twitch and doing that until they can’t stand the anticipation any longer? How about thoroughly describing what you’re feeling to each other? I think you’ve got a lot more options than it sounds like it feels like. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I think I’m a selfish lover. My partner is the love of my life, and in the beginning we had amazing sex all the time. But then life happened. Work got busy for both of us. Then pandemic depression and no work bummed us out. We gained some weight and didn’t feel sexy. Medication side effects. You know, the usual. We’ve been trying to get back in the groove. I love having sex with my partner, and I’m lucky as a woman to orgasm easily. But without an orgasm, or at least serious foreplay, penetration is really painful for me. My partner loves going down on me, but I can tell he wishes I reciprocated more or that we could have spontaneous sex. Physically, it’s very hard for me to give head—I’ve vomited a lot when trying. Even if I don’t puke, I’m so physically uncomfortable that my nether bits shrivel up. For medical reasons, the prostate is out, and for awkwardness reasons, I hate hand jobs. Also I can’t get off on top, but I’m willing to give it a try sometimes. Basically I feel like my partner provides so much foreplay, and I don’t even know how to reciprocate. I love this man so much, and I want to appreciate him and celebrate him as much as he does me.
I’ve got sensitive knee joints. One doctor diagnosed me with arthritis. I’m rarely on top, and when I am, it’s in one of a few positions that take the weight off of those joints. I am, quite literally, a pillow princess—my head is almost always on the actual pillow. Am I a selfish lover? My point here is that—especially as we age—most of us have something to work around. Yours is lifelong and involves your gag reflex. I don’t think that’s selfish. You aren’t choosing to gag or vomit. You aren’t choosing to have a vulva that dries up when you’re feeling oral discomfort. This is your body, and it isn’t OK with oral penetration.
Have you considered masturbating before you have sex? You could give yourself that needed orgasm, and be ready for penetration when your partner enters the picture. If he wants to be involved, he can hold you or watch.
Hand job awkwardness is something you can probably work through. You might start with a massage and think of the cock-stroking as a continuation. You might ask him to communicate what he’s feeling and what he would like more of. You might ask him to masturbate for you so you can see what he does to pleasure himself. You also might be able to jerk him off with your hands while licking the head of his penis without penetrating your mouth with it.
And you can demonstrate your affection in nonsexual ways. You can give him the aforementioned massage without a hand job. You can cook his favorite dishes, or write him notes expressing your appreciation of all the foreplay he gives you, or do some of his chores every once in a while. I think you’ve got this.
More How to Do It
I’m getting divorced from my second husband and remain friendly with my first. While babysitting my granddaughter and having my ex over for dinner, the subject of getting naked came up. He knows how miserable I am, and his wife has lived several states away for years. Both of us could seriously use a good roll in the hay. Fast-forward to a couple nights later when we tried. Let’s say Mr. Johnson did not show up for work. I was very understanding: He is of the age where that could happen. I finally convinced him to get some little blue pills to see what comes up, so to speak.
W hat I want to know is what can I do to help wake things up, if you will? He is very afraid that the pills won’t work (it turns out he took one he got from a friend the one time we did try, and nothing happened). I understand not wanting to be embarrassed again, but I would never humiliate him as I know he can’t help it. I just want to know if there’s anything I can do to facilitate things. Sure, I have an ulterior motive, but we’d both be the beneficiary if we get things going. Any suggestions?