How to Do It

My Wife Has Surprised and Thrilled Me With Something New During Sex—but It’s Getting Out of Control

Man and woman kissing next to fireworks.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by HD91239130/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 about a decade. Our sex life was good at first, then as soon as we moved in together and got married, it fell off. Pretty common, I imagine. Life became about bills and chores. We picked it back up and then, oops, immediately got pregnant.

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While my wife was pregnant, we sat down to talk about what life would be like with a kid. Our sex life came up, and I mentioned that I thought it was best that we both accept that sex once the baby was here would likely slow down quite a bit—that it would be a tunnel we would have to pass through and then pick back up to some degree later. Now that our son is older and our parents are vaccinated, we have had the opportunity lately to have a night off here and there. A few months back, I asked her to think about what she wanted from our sex life. Prior to our getting pregnant, when our sex life was picking up steam, she was mostly focused on my needs (because our sex life had stalled, and I was the one who mentioned that we should be having more fun). A couple weeks later, she surprised me by telling me she was very turned on at the idea of a dom/sub sex life.

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At first, I really thought I wouldn’t be into it—I’ve never in my life viewed myself as dominant whatsoever in our relationship, and it was very hard for me to even visualize. But to my surprise, we both have really taken to it, and it has made many things in our life better and brighter. She recently told me she wanted to expand it out toward more of our day-to-day life: cooking me meals, doing my laundry, bringing me coffee, etc. I’m slightly uncomfortable with this because the idea of being “served” at home is just so bizarre to me. But she insists she really likes it. I asked her to rub my back the other day and she got so turned on at the suggestion that we immediately had sex instead after like three seconds of a back rub. So I’m willing to do that because she likes it. I think my hesitance is because I’ve always been very self-sufficient. I was raised by a single mother, so I have taken care of myself since I was very young. I assume I’ll get over some of the hesitancy over time, especially because I really enjoy seeing my wife happy and enjoying her newfound sexual expression.

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Here’s the problem. I am a do-er. If I see a chore that needs to be done, I do it. I don’t like to spend too much time game-planning for small stuff, I just get it done so I can move on. My wife is a list-maker. She will craft out a whole list for her day first thing in the morning, even including small stuff like “take a shower” or “put on clothes.” Seems weird to me, but it works for her, so I’ve always been supportive. But in this new dynamic it causes problems. Because it will be 7 a.m. and I will make a pot of coffee because … I want some coffee. She’ll be lying in bed waking up and making her list, and then she gets upset because I’ve already made coffee and fed the dogs and started laundry or whatever. She pouts a little because she thinks I’m not committed to the new dynamic. But … I really want that coffee. I want to help around the house too. I want to make her happy, or to let her make herself happy, but it’s also hard for me to see a sink full of dishes and think “that’s my wife’s job” when I could just do them in five minutes. I like doing things for her, too, it’s just that now she wants me to pick out her clothes for her and tell her not to wear panties to work instead of cooking and cleaning. How do I convince her that I can still be “dominant” while also doing my part around the house?

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—Reluctant Dom

Dear RD,

If your wife is dictating your shared life and is not amenable to adjustments, I’ve got news for you, buddy: She’s the dominant one. She is “topping from the bottom,” as they say. (“They” include people into BDSM, queer people who adhere to top/bottom positioning, and fans of the Fifty Shades series.) And you are going along with what she says—a submissive top, if you will.

You have options from which you should select based on what you predict will be her reaction to them. If you suspect she really wants to be dominated and will respond best to a suggestion posited within that framework, see her decrees and raise them with a firm rebuttal: “I’m the dom, so we’re going to do things my way. I’m wiping my own butt because I want to.” If you think that she’ll respond better to talking than demonstrating, you might have better luck pointing out the structural faultiness of your current dom/sub arrangement to at least give yourself some wiggle room. Perhaps if you bring to her attention that she’s not nearly as submissive as she’d like to believe she is, she’ll be more open to looser restrictions. We’re all just making up everything as we go along—it doesn’t have to be so by the book. There is no book!

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It is completely reasonable for you to draw up your own boundaries. You should not have to abandon your own routines for your wife’s gratification. While extreme dom/sub relationships do exist and are in some cases consistent in many facets of a couple’s shared life, I have to believe that more often, these arrangements tend to only inform some aspects of the lives of those who practice them. Life thrives mostly in gray areas, and getting along with a partner generally requires give and take. If you’re more comfortable confining the dom/sub stuff to the bedroom, you have every right to say that.

Read Prudie’s response to this question.

Dear How to Do It,

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Do dicks ever smell? I’m in a pretty lusty relationship with my girlfriend, and we have great oral. Every so often her lady parts can get … not overly pleasant, in an aromatic sense. Could be from a long day of activity, exercise, or taco night, but whatever: I charge on. The question is … do dicks ever get that way? Does it get off-putting? Seems like they live in a comprehensively different environment (humidity, moisture, butt remnants, etc.). I groom often and put my best, cleanest foot/dick forward as much as possible, but hate to think it might not always be ideal for my partner.

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—Foul Balls

Dicks definitely smell … delicious! At least I tend to think so about a lot of them. I love a sachet of crotch. The sweat glands located around the genitals can give dick (as well as the area around it, including the balls) a distinct musk. Whether this constitutes a pheromone or not has been debated for years (definitive proof has yet to materialize). Maybe there’s something even simpler going on for those of us who are into eau de down below: association. We like the smell of dicks because they smell like sex. Or maybe it’s even simpler: We like the smell of dicks because we like dicks, period.

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People have their particularities, but in general, getting along with another human means accepting them as such. Humans have odors. Your dick is going to smell different depending on whether you just got out of the shower or were wrestling alligators in a swamp all day. Five o’clock dick is one thing; days’ worth of smegma built up under a foreskin is another. If you’re keeping up with your hygiene and haven’t heard any complaints, you can assume you’re doing just fine. If you want to be conscientious, don’t have sex without cleaning. You can, of course, always talk to your girlfriend about this—she can tell you better than I can if your dick smells and whether it’s good or not.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’ve been married for going on 26 years, and I love my wife. She’s a great mom, and I am still attracted to her. The problem is I don’t think that feeling is reciprocated anymore. It started once we hit our 40s. She’s never been adventurous in bed, and since we’ve only been with each other, I feel I have missed out on a lot of sexual experiences one should have in life. I have never in our 26 years of marriage or during our dating years had any kind of oral sex to completion. Nor have we sexted, talked dirty, or done anything even remotely outside of the most vanilla of vanilla experiences. Then once I hit 40, despite me being an extremely generous lover (I’m perfectly fine with an oral-only session for her and I am sure she climaxes when I give her oral), she just started telling me no. Until it got to the point I just stopped asking. We never were hot and heavy after we had kids, but I think that once or twice a month isn’t overbearing or needy. My love language is touch, so it’s not just the sex I miss. I haven’t been kissed since before the pandemic. I haven’t had a sexual situation initiated by her since the first Obama presidency, including on things like my birthday and anniversaries. I’ll plan dates, do the little things that I know make her happy, and none of it seems to make me any more attractive.

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I am not the guy who says a husband should be able to have sex when and where he wants or anything outlandish. I just want to be wanted. We’ve had these discussions and usually when I bring it up, I am told I am ridiculous, or shamed for wanting something outside of missionary and the occasional birthday doggy style. I’m not getting any younger, and I am afraid I may have had sex with someone who wanted to have sex with me the last time in my life. It just leaves me hurting and desperate. She was very big on telling our kids to wait until marriage, but I went the extra mile to tell them to make sure they were sexually compatible before tying the knot, otherwise you will end up like me.

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—Mr. Blue

Dear Mr. Blue,

What you present is reasonable, but your wife isn’t reacting reasonably. It doesn’t seem like she’s taking you seriously or offering much explanation in exchange for the sexless turn your marriage has taken. It’s fair to say that you’ve hit a wall, so evaluate from there: Can you live without sex if it means holding onto the wife that you love, or is it time to leave this relationship in pursuit of pleasure? Each option has its pluses and minuses, and I don’t think that you should feel bad for choosing either. If you’re going to stick this out, it may be worth investigating if your wife is amenable to any sort of alterations. Could you reintroduce affection back into your relationship? Would she be OK with cuddling or holding each other, to help satisfy your need for touch? You could propose this as a definitively nonsexual activity: Tell her you just want to hold her, nothing more, and that it will not lead to sex. She might need some overt recognition of her boundaries.

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She also might need some overt recognition of her interior life, period. I would assume that in your discussions, you’ve asked her about her lack of interest in sex or what is going through her mind now regarding your sex life. If you haven’t, you should. It could be related to any number of things, including menopause. If she remains tight-lipped, you can respect that and choose your fate of dissatisfaction. At some point, though, you’re going to have to answer this question for yourself: Will you continue working with someone who won’t work with you?

Dear How to Do It,

My partner is a transgender woman. We both hope that within a few years she’ll be able to get a penile inversion vaginoplasty. What’s standing in the way is the usual—finances, schedules, getting electrolysis down under to prepare for surgery, etc.

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Recently, I saw a post on the internet that said that it’s important to make sure that penile skin doesn’t atrophy before the surgery to get good results. I’m not sure if this is true—my Google “research” didn’t confirm or deny it—I couldn’t comprehend the most reliable medical sources, but I’m skeptical of the pop-science websites that were dumbed down enough for me to read. Assuming it is true, we both want her to get good vaginal depth results from surgery,. How much does she need to use her penis? Our sex life is pretty dead because she isn’t comfortable with her genitals and prefers not to use them. About once or twice a month, we’ll do butt stuff and at the last second, she’ll use her hand on her penis to come. These are the only times she’s getting erections—HRT and antidepressants pretty much keep all other boners away. I’m trying to be respectful by not touching her penis, but it’s a repeated pattern in our relationship dynamic that she’ll sacrifice future happiness for present-day comfort and enjoyment. I want her to use her penis more, either to masturbate or let me give her a handjob or blowjob. I’m frustrated that she won’t deal with some mental discomfort for a year or two to get the best possible results from surgery that will be with her for the rest of her life. How much can I pressure her, if at all? Am I the victim of WebMD syndrome and it’s bogus advice? How frequently should she be getting woody? Is it bad if I start trying to initiate way more make out sessions and stuff to try to trick her into getting an erection?

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—Penis Problem

Dear PP,

You can’t pressure your partner at all. What she does or doesn’t do with her penis is her choice, and there’s no room for coercion or trickery in a supporting, affirming relationship. I would have gladly told you as much without any science to back me up, but I have enlisted expert help to show you just how wrong you are. In an email, Daniel D. Dugi, the surgical services director for the Oregon Health & Science University’s Transgender Health Program, told me that your concerns about penile “atrophy” from lack of use are misplaced. “The potential depth of the vagina after surgery should be related to the anatomy of the pelvis and has nothing to do with the penis,” said Dugi, who also provides gender-affirming vaginoplasties, and is also an associate professor of urology in the OHSU School of Medicine.

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Dugi explained that if there isn’t enough skin from the penis alone to construct the vagina, he and his team use skin from the scrotum—he says this is the case in nearly every such surgery he’s performed. “A surgeon using contemporary techniques for vaginoplasty will not be limited in making the vagina by whether or not there has been some loss of length of the penis,” he wrote.

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Dugi said that blocking testosterone may indeed lead to loss of penile skin length, but that “while I am not aware of any scientific studies, my thought is that is likely more related to the effects of change in hormones rather than ‘lack of use.’”

So your influence over your girlfriend’s use of her penis is not needed. I detected selfish interest, too. It seems like you want your girlfriend to use her penis not for her good but for yours. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You didn’t mention whether or to what degree she is experiencing dysphoria, but that can contribute to her lack of interest in her genitals in their current state. That condition may not be ameliorated until her surgery. If you want to be with her long enough for her to have that surgery, my suggestion is you back off and respect her boundaries.

More How to Do It

My husband and I married young and have been together for 15 years. We have two small children together. I’ve never been intimate with another man. The sex has always been … fine. He is very into performing oral—although I think his enthusiasm outstrips his skill—but I prefer penetration or manual stimulation to get off. He’s average size and has never been a marathon man. My tastes have started to run less vanilla, and all I want lately is really rough sex with a big, hard dick operated by someone who really knows how to use it. To further complicate matters, I’ve recently started chatting online with a sexy, well-endowed man …

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