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 are both divorcées who married young into a conservative religious faith, and each got a bad sexual roll of the dice in our first marriages. However, apostasy and divorce allowed us to make up for lost time, and a few slutty, audacious years of dating led us happily to each other. From the very start, sex has been fiery, frequent, fulfilling, fun and … very, very vociferous. Our bodies shake the bed and rattle the windows. Her orgasms are operatic. She comes long and hard, and it’s no secret to the neighbors on the block that she’s sexually satisfied. We’ve been together for 2½ years, and the commotion has not ebbed in the slightest.
The problem is that together we have six kids between the ages of 8 and 15, and increasingly, our regular thumping, bumping, yawping, and yelping happens under the same roof as our kiddos. They hear it. They imitate the vocalizations. They joke about the ruckus. They sometimes seem annoyed. It even keeps them up at night. Recently my 10-year-old son, whose bedroom is unfortunately positioned directly beneath us, confided to me that the racket makes him uncomfortable. He told me that there have been nights when he has had difficulty sleeping and felt powerless to make it stop. Our hearts broke when we heard that, and we have both done everything we can to validate his feelings, repair with him, and empower him to voice his concerns.
Some sound abatement is possible. We attempt to keep the volume down until after the children are all tucked in their beds and sleeping. We moved the mattress onto the floor. We play music in the background. And we try to reserve the most raucous sex for when we are both kid-free. Nevertheless, some nocturnal noise is totally inevitable, and we’re resigned to the racket. In general, we have wonderful relationships with these amazing kiddos, and we’re conscientious parents. We just hope that love, trust, strong relationships, and an open line of communication will prevent any damage.
The sound of parents thumping and humping away in the night is a classic childhood nuisance, but I’m seeking advice on behalf of kiddos of blended families. What about children who overhear their parent with a sexy new partner? How important is it that our sex life remains a mystery? What damage are we doing by being so audible? What hang-ups are we creating for their future therapists to unravel? We’re modeling a healthy sex life, right? Or do we have a blind spot about this? For the benefit of the children, do we really need to keep it down?
—So Much Bedlam
You know the zeal of the convert? Your letter is making me wonder if that’s true of sex positivity. You seem very proud of yourself, which is understandable—but you may have gone too far.
Teenagers often express themselves through humor—mockery, mimicry, sardonic comments—especially with tricky, complicated emotions like embarrassment over the fact that, as you say, the neighbors on your block can hear exactly how sexually satisfied your partner is. The neighbors themselves are presumably adults who can be expected to communicate directly if it bothers them. Your children are not.
And yet your 10-year-old found the courage to let you know that this bothers him. The noise is keeping him from sleeping at times! Various sources suggest that children his age need between nine and 11 hours of sleep per night, and he felt powerless to stop something that was interrupting that sleep. And I think the blended family aspect is a red herring. Regardless of biological relation, newness, or sexiness, you’re prioritizing your coital carnival over the comfort of your child. They can’t just leave. They’re minors. You’re responsible for them. You should not be “resigned” to anything you’re doing that your 10-year-old tells you makes him feel uncomfortable.
You say you attempt to keep the noise level down and wait until they’re sleeping, but that clearly isn’t sufficient. There’s a difference between keeping your sex life a mystery and keeping the noise to a level that doesn’t disturb them. There’s also a difference between overhearing and having your nose rubbed in it. You get several blocks of time per month where you and your partner can be together and your children aren’t trapped in your vicinity. Feel free to scream your heads off then, presuming the neighbors don’t speak up, and either keep it quiet the rest of the time, work to find other ways to keep the noise down, or practice patience. You might shift rooms to position yourself over, say, the kitchen, or maybe try an unoccupied room in the basement. Depending on cash flow, you might consider a couples’ resort as a way to let off steam occasionally. I want you to have fantastic, earth-shattering sex, but I also want your kids to get a good night’s sleep and not feel uncomfortable in their own home. Make it your mission to find the balance.
Dear How to Do It,
I have been dating my wonderful girlfriend for two years, and the sex between us is absolutely wonderful. That said, I struggle very hard to orgasm from her attentions, be it vaginal or oral sex, even though I enjoy them both greatly. I never feel displeased from the acts, however, and as long as I get her to orgasm (which she does several times), I feel content and complete. She has started to feel like I am unattracted to her or that she is doing something wrong. Do you have any insight on what could help me alleviate those worries from her?
—Loving and Caring
Dear Loving and Caring,
Lots of people, usually assigned female at birth, rarely orgasm with their partner. People who were assigned male at birth also report this phenomenon. Some of these people want their partners to try really really really hard to get them to orgasm. Others want to enjoy the journey of sex without putting extra pressure on their partners to deliver or on themselves to perform. And all those societal messages about orgasm being the goal of sex don’t help the situation.
You might have some success framing your preferred sexual role as “giver.” If there’s any power dynamic at play, you also might use the label of “top.” Something like: “What I get off on is seeing you get off, being a part of your pleasure. Giving you orgasms fulfills me in a way that my own orgasms don’t.”
You also might give her the space to share her own feelings. She may be dealing with some insecurity, or the shadow of a previous relationship may be affecting your current one. You can be there to listen, and you might have some questions as she talks. Sometimes speaking about our feelings helps us untangle them and move forward. And even when that isn’t the case, being heard can be healing on its own.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a woman in my mid-20s. My male partner of five years and I are both busy grad students, and our sex life has taken a dip—from multiple times a week to about once a week. We’ve talked about it, and we’re both fine with it. We’re busy and exhausted, and neither of us are really craving more sex, and we don’t really feel like we have the capacity. However, I personally am craving better sex. Because our sexual encounters have dropped in number, I suppose, he now comes extremely fast. As in, within a minute. He always goes down on me first to make sure I get to come too, which is appreciated. But I miss coming with a dick inside me! And I miss longer penetrative sex! Sex toys or fingers are just not the same to me. It’s an experience. He masturbates regularly, so I don’t think more of that would help. Is something like Viagra our only option here?
—Quality Over Quantity
How long is his refractory period? Can the two of you have penetrative sex for that minute, focus orally on you for a while, and then bring you to orgasm on his second erection? Obviously, there’s a timing question here, but it’s worth considering and trying. As is having him masturbate to orgasm shortly before penetrative sex.
Viagra and similar medications are an option. They can have side effects such as dizziness and headaches, which are mood-killers, and there’s a very, very small (411 cases reported to the Food and Drug Administration since 1998) risk of priapism, which can destroy his ability to get erections in the future. If you go that route, your partner should speak with his physician about risks and what to watch for.
There’s also the possibility of your partner gaining a greater awareness of how close he is to orgasm and slowing down or pulling out before he goes over the edge. From what I understand, this can be achieved through focus, and may be something he can work on while he masturbates as well.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 39-year-old queer femme cis woman who primarily dates masculine people. Over the last few years, I’ve dated several people who’ve left me for younger women. These are people I dated with eventual monogamous commitment in mind; they never ended up committing to me but were able to commit to their new partners. The last person I really fell for is 33, and he stopped seeing me to be monogamous with a 23-year-old.
I’ve also had an unpleasant streak of dating people who eventually tell me that they were never physically attracted to me, that they just thought I was kind or interesting or fun and thought that would be enough. I’m not unusually unattractive—I used to be paid a decent amount of money for jobs that were heavily looks-based—but I’m not exactly a stunner, either. Getting older gives me a lot of anxiety. I’d really like to get married before I’m out of energy and libido, and it feels like my time is running out.
I recently met someone who seems great. He’s kind and smart, and we have a lot in common. But his most recent ex is 27, which stirred up some insecurity, and when he was scrolling through his phone to show me something, I saw a picture of her in a swimsuit. She’s gorgeous and has a super tight, fit body. I used to have that, too, but it seems like in the last two or three years, my body has changed despite working out and eating healthy. He texted me tonight asking if I wanted to see the porn he was watching, which is normally something I love and find romantic. But what he sent me was legal teens and young-20s girls, and I immediately shut down. I don’t think I can keep sleeping with him. I feel a lot of guilt and insecurity around not looking like those women, and the thought of being in a bed with him makes me want to put more clothes on, not take them off. I don’t want to talk about it with him, because the other guys I’ve tried to talk about this with have told me they don’t like insecure women.
Is this just the fate femmes who date masc people have to face at this age? Is it best to get comfortable with the idea that I don’t have any real romantic or sexual value anymore and be happy with casual hookups instead of looking for a relationship?
—I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a MILF
Dear Not a Girl,
I hear that you don’t want to talk about your insecurity with the guy you’re currently seeing, but I think you owe it to yourself to find out how he’ll react. In the absolute worst-case scenario, he rejects you, and then you know, for sure, that he’s not the one for you to be monogamous with. There’s a best case, too, in which he accepts you as a human with valid feelings, comforts you, and you make each other feel good and supported for many years.
As cis women get closer to menopause, we experience hormonal shifts that affect our bodies as drastically as puberty did. The average age of menopause is 51, and those shifts leading up to it usually start in our mid-40s. So, brace yourself for further physical changes. These include an increase in visceral fat—fat surrounding your organs—that can cause an increase in your abdominal measurements. Sure, some women retain the figure they had in their youth for longer than others, but that’s a combination of work and genetics. To be clear, a lot of work, and rare genetics. And you’ve likely encountered some pretty toxic messaging about when a woman’s prime is and which aspects we value as a culture. You are so much more than a baby-making machine, and your brain is so much more valuable than a flat midriff.
I thought through the romantic lives of my male friends, and I don’t have any comforting examples for you. You say you’re queer, so I’m wondering why you don’t pursue androgynous people or femmes, but maybe that’s your own aesthetic motivation coming to bear. I’m also wondering if men in their late 40s and 50s might have matured to a degree where they appreciate the personality and intellect of a woman in a way that might feel fulfilling for you.
You sound pretty tired, and you say you’ve had a string of upsetting experiences with partners, so a break might be in order. And a therapist might be able to help you sort through the guilt and insecurity you feel. You’ll want to be upfront about what you’re hoping to work on, and ask them if they have skills in that area. Good luck.
More How to Do It
I don’t like to be touched in a sexual way by my husband. I am trying to get to the bottom of this in therapy, but it’s hard to talk about. At least for our first few years together, we were very physically intimate, with lots of sexual and non-sexual touching. But after the first few years—say, in the last year or two—I don’t enjoy the same frequency of intimacy. I’ve gained weight, and it’s impacted my already less-than-stellar body image, and I don’t want him to look at and feel my body with any kind of admiration. Additionally, a close friend of ours sexually assaulted me about six months ago, and I think that has sometimes left me feeling very icky when my husband touches me intimately. Even though I’m devastated to react this way, it’s automatic.
My husband has tried even harder in his attempts to touch me as I keep putting distance between us. I know he just wants me to feel turned on/relaxed/safe when he initiates sexual contact, but I often freeze and shut him down. When I realize I’m doing this, I fight the impulse to shove his hands away, but I still feel no pleasure in being touched. We talk about it and he is very supportive, but it’s hard, especially since physical intimacy is a large part of what makes him feel loved, desired, and secure. In the times where I relax enough and we do have sex—maybe once every one or two months—it’s absolutely amazing. I know that sex drives change and relationships change, but I would give anything to be able to have an uncomplicated, enjoyable sex life with my wonderful, sexy husband. Do you have any suggestions for coping with this?
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