How to Do It

Years Ago I Made a Huge Mistake, and It’s Ruined My Sex Life

My wife has never been the same sexually since then.

Underwear in front of some smelly lines in neon.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Yulia Lisitsa/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 wife and I have been together for six years. I love her dearly and go out of my way to make sure she knows how much I love her every day. The sex in our marriage has been consistent but awful. When I first met my wife, she was very open sexually and very confident. In one of our early lovemaking sessions, she asked me why I never went down on her. The honest truth was I had never gone down on any woman before and didn’t have an experience with giving oral sex. When I did go down on her the first time, her smell was very foreign and off-putting to me. I told her she didn’t smell so fresh down there and gave that as the reason why I never went down on her. This was obviously a huge mistake. Years later, when I finally got her to talk about it, she told me I destroyed her confidence and that’s why she’s never giddy about sex now. She has never been the same sexually since.

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Over the years I have come to absolutely love her feminine smell, and I constantly ask to go down on her, but she never wants me to and always tells me that she feels dirty. She’s even caught me masturbating with a pair of her panties held to my nose and now has started changing her panties constantly so as to not leave an odor on them for me to find. The only times I’m ever allowed to go down on her now are right when she’s fresh out of the shower. She has also lost, for the most part, all of her sex drive. When we met, she would masturbate on her own, and now she never does. I think I just ruined sex for her in general, and when I look back, I cringe and feel like such an asshole. Is there any way to earn her trust back and for her to get her sexual confidence back? I tell her constantly how beautiful she is and how much I genuinely love her. I’d do anything for her, including having boring, passionless sex for the rest of my life to stay married to her.

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—Willing to Do Whatever It Takes

Dear Whatever It Takes,

Have you told her that you feel like an absolute jerk for what you said to her and regret it every day? Have you told her that you’re worried you ruined sex for her and regret your words deeply? Have you apologized for sniffing her panties—after demeaning her vulva’s taste—and the shame and confusion you likely caused in her?

Ideally, the two of you should find a couples counselor to work through this. I think, at this point, you need to have an expert in the room to help you dissect this hurt and communicate effectively. If she’s willing to go to counseling with you, and willing to work on the sex issue you’ve caused her, you’ve got a chance of saving the situation.

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In the meantime, you might want to work on your phrasing and thinking. “I’d do anything for her, including having boring, passionless sex for the rest of my life to stay married to her” is fairly sulky. Maybe “I’d do anything for her, including backing off sexually until whatever time my wife feels comfortable being sexual with me to stay married to her.” Or “I’d do anything for her, including the work of being vulnerable and apologetic and accepting that she may never be over what I said to her to stay married to her.” “Beautiful” isn’t a great compliment, either. It can feel like anything from “I like looking at you,” which is pretty meh as far as praise goes, to “Your looks are the best thing about you,” which sucks. And she might have a strong reaction to anything sexual coming from you. I suggest you focus on her intellect, sense of humor, and other personality qualities for your compliments moving forward—something that has to do with her, not just genetics. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am a cis woman in my late 20s. My partner and I engage in frequent anal play, ranging from “regular” anal sex, to fingers, to dildos. The anal sex is usually unprotected (as we’re monogamous), but we are careful: no vaginal sex after anal (or, if we want to go there, we’ll stop for a shower in between). However, I have been getting a lot of UTIs lately—five in the past six months or so. They will start usually two to three days after our most daring experimentations (like using a really big dildo or, more recently, fisting—all anal), so I can’t help but wonder it these are related. Does (careful) anal sex makes it more likely for me to get an UTI? It’s worth noticing that even if we are being careful, there are plenty of fluids going around. Any tips to help prevent those?

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—Just Wanna Have Fun

Dear Wanna Have Fun,

You should see a gynecologist about this, so they can run tests and make sure that it’s a UTI. It’s possible that your anal adventures are causing your symptoms, but not certain. In fact, I so strongly want you to see a doctor that I’m not going to say anything else.

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I have been together since we were 18 and are now in our mid-40s. She has had one sex partner, and I had a brief relationship before her that was my first. Both of us came into our relationship inexperienced. We have a great home and a wonderful family. However, I think we are missing something in our sex lives. Over the years we have experimented a little—erotic couples massages, toys, watching porn, etc.—but it is always at my pushing. If we talk about fantasies, that generally is also a one-sided discussion. Our sex lives are vanilla and infrequent. My wife is aware that I watch porn and masturbate, she’ll watch only when I bring it up, but I don’t believe she masturbates herself. It’s never been something she is comfortable with.

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I have major fear of missing out after reading stories on Reddit, watching porn, etc. She is always open to ideas I bring up and participates willingly, such as the couples massage, but I’m looking for more two-way communication, so it doesn’t seem like I’m selfishly getting only what I want. I’m not sure how to push her outside of her comfort zone and get her to open up. I’ve talked about the standard fantasy of wanting a threeway, but am also unsure myself if that would work well with our relationship or if I would even know how to handle it. Any advice you could give to helping us open up our sex lives more and escape boredom?

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—FOMO

Dear FOMO,

You want to push your wife out of her comfort zone? I’m open to the possibility that you’ve unintentionally chosen your words poorly here, but the way you’re representing yourself is raising red flags for me. You married a sexually inexperienced woman, while you yourself were sexually inexperienced. You made that bed, quite literally, and now you’re lying in it. You say “helping us open up our sex lives,” but the woman you’re describing doesn’t sound like she wants that.

Your choice to marry young and inexperienced didn’t give you the chance to find out what you like and choose a partner with a complementary sexuality. It’s unfortunate, and it’s common. But by your own account, your wife goes along with the activities you suggest and is open to your desires. That’s huge! I think you’re being more selfish by pressuring her for sexual interests she may not even have than you are by bringing your sexual interests to her and engaging in them if she consents. I also wonder if this is less about your wife and more about your own insecurities about your inexperience. You don’t say if you’ve tried to talk to your wife about this, so you could start there. Find a time when you’re both calm and unrushed, and tell her that you’d like to be more open about your sexual desires. She may be interested, or she may not be. Then you can accept your wife as she is—seemingly pretty great at being open—or you can leave and indulge your fear of missing out to your heart’s content.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’ve been married almost 43 years to the same man, with a three-year separation 20 years ago. For the 20 years after we got back together, I had absolutely zero interest in sex with anybody. In the past three months, however, it’s like someone lit a bomb under me. It’s all I can think about, and I’m driving my husband nuts—not that he minds, but it’s just tiring for both of us. I’m a 67-year-old woman, relatively healthy and youthful. I’m really into it, both physically and mentally, and seem to have uncovered (!) another side to myself. Can this be normal?

—Puzzled but Happy

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Dear Puzzled,

I can tell you that my beloved grandmother had, at one point during her time at the assisted living home in her 70s, three different men she called boyfriends. I’m uncertain whether sex was part of what they did together, and it’s too late to ask. But as a culture, we often don’t talk about the sexuality of older people. You rarely see it represented in media, and when it is, it’s usually part of a joke. It’s not as well-studied as other areas of sexuality, and even though many geriatric adults report being sexually active, it’s not a topic of conversation, even with their doctors. (I also apologize for the use of the word geriatric. I expect that you’re energetic and spry, but that is the technical term for people over 65 in a medical context.)

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I’m wondering if menopause is a factor here. We all know puberty’s hormonal changes tend to cause an increase in sexual desire and that menstrual fluctuations and menopause cause changes to our sexualities. It seems like a likely culprit. If you’re comfortable sharing this with your primary care physician or gynecologist, they might be able to provide further insight on whether what you’re experiencing is related to menopause, or if something else is going on here. If you’re not comfortable sharing this with your doctor, it might be time to find a new one.

Mostly, though, I want to encourage you to enjoy your renewed sexuality. If your husband can’t keep up, your fingers or one of a whole range of sex toys might be intriguing. Have fun experimenting and finding what works for you. And good luck.

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—Stoya

More How to Do It

My husband and I have been married for seven years. We started out very strong sexually, but over the past few years he has stopped bathing and brushing his teeth regularly. Nothing I say or do seems to compel him to wash. Sometimes he goes more than two weeks without bathing. He’s dirty (he works a manual labor job) and he smells awful. I don’t want to be in the same room as him, and the thought of kissing him or being intimate with him horrifies me. So we aren’t having sex and haven’t been in a while. I tell him that I can’t consider a physical relationship with him because of this, but he doesn’t believe me—he tells me that it’s my problem, that I lack confidence, or I don’t love him, or I’m not attracted to him. He is very angry a lot of the time and blames his attitude on me “withholding sex.” He sees a doctor regularly and is treated for mild anxiety, but nothing seems to get through to him about this. I want sex back in my life, but not with someone who is dirty and/or who is mean to me, and I’m not sure what to do.

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