How to Do It

My Stupid Face Is About to Ruin My Sex Life With My Wife

Man with stubble next to some neon shocks pointed at his chin.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Deagreez/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,

I love going down on my wife. She loves when I do. It’s the most reliable way to get her over the edge, or give me a break during intercourse. But for the last few years, she’s been too sensitive for my face—my facial hair specifically, even when I’m freshly shaved. I am capable of a very close shave. Having tried the usual cartridge razors, I usually use a double-edged safety razor, but even going against the grain with a straight razor leaves her raw (and me dealing with bumps and ingrown hairs for days after).

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I’m about ready to go for chemical or laser hair removal, unless you have any ideas.

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—Too Scruffy

Dear Scruffy,

You mention a lot of different shaving options, but you don’t mention whether you’ve tried growing your beard out past an inch in length. I understand beards aren’t an option in some professions, but if they’re possible for you and you haven’t tried it yet, that’s where I’d start. And I’m curious about your wife’s pubic hair. Does she have any? Is it also more than an inch in length? If not, and she’s willing, pubic hair might provide a buffer between her sensitive vulvar tissues and your facial hair or stubble.

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Meanwhile, if you’re using aftershave or any “spicy” moisturizers, cut them out of your routine and go for a product meant for sensitive skin instead. What seems like a sensitivity to hair could be a sensitivity to manufactured chemicals or natural ingredients in products. Natural isn’t always good—cayenne is natural, and gastric acid is produced by our own bodies. You’ll also want to consider what you eat beforehand—the aforementioned cayenne and other kinds of peppers, peppercorn, and garlic can all cause skin irritation. Brushing your teeth about half an hour before oral should suffice, but you’ll want to skip any alcohol-heavy mouthwash—that’s another common irritant.

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Chemical hair removal can cause similar contamination issues. If you decide to go that route, give the area a good wash as soon as directions allow for it, and wait at least a few hours before your face comes in contact with your wife’s genitals. Use a product meant for beards—specifically faces—to prevent your own irritation issues, and thoroughly read and follow the instructions.

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Laser hair removal is a big step. It can be painful, particularly if there’s a bone—like your jaw—or a lot of veins close to the surface of the area being worked on. As an example, when I underwent laser treatment, my calves and thighs didn’t hurt very much, but shins and kneecaps did. It takes several treatments, spaced out over the course of a few months, to remove most of the hair, and you’ll have a certain patchy look during the process. You may also have some odd reactions—I developed pus-filled pimples around each hair stub in my groin and armpits as it worked its way out of my skin, which was pretty unsightly for a few weeks. You’re likely to have a few follicles still producing hair after the full course of treatments, which you’ll probably want to shave or tweeze for aesthetics’ sake. Do your research, and make sure that the laser being used is appropriate for your skin tone and hair color combination.

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Lastly, has your wife spoken to her gynecologist about this? If not, it seems wise to do so before you embark on a semi-permanent solution like laser hair removal.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a woman in my early 30s. I have spent my life thinking I would never experience an orgasm. I have had fulfilling sexual relationships and I have had awesome sex sessions and a lot of pleasure, but I had never gotten to the bottom line, and I was fine with that. Except that last year, I bought a vibrator and it changed my life. I still haven’t orgasmed, but I never felt so close. I didn’t think I could feel this much physical pleasure!

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So what is stopping my orgasms? I feel like to get close to orgasming I need a really intense vibration or motion—so intense that it becomes too much before I can get there! Everything else is there: the weak legs, the abandon. I feel myself getting so close … and then I stop getting close, because it’s too much!

I am so happy to discover new awesome things about my body and even without orgasming. I have had so much pleasure that I don’t feel frustrated at all. (I do feel often on edge … ) So my question, at last: Any tips for finally getting me over the edge? What do I do? How do you manage intensity versus time?

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—Very Nearly There

Dear VNT,

Using Masters and Johnson’s Human Sexual Response Cycle as a model, you might need a different kind of sensation once you reach the plateau stage to get you to the orgasmic phase. Since you say that you need intense vibration or motion to get close to orgasm, and that the intensity becomes too much before you orgasm, I’d start with decreasing the speed just before it becomes too much. You also might find that stimulation of your clitoral tissue inside your vagina feels better at this stage than it does when you’re getting yourself aroused. Do a web image search for “internal structure of the clitoris” to get an idea of what I’m talking about—essentially the clitoris is an inverted Y shape with an extra, thicker set of arms, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

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You might also benefit from a different kind of vibrator. Finding the best vibrator for our bodies can be an expensive process, and—as I’m strong-vibration averse—I’m unable to do the research for you. I can recommend Piph’s heyepiphora.com as a resource. She’s been reviewing sex toys for more than a decade and has an extensive archive.

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I want to caution you not to put too much pressure on yourself to perform. That tends to backfire, from directly delaying orgasm to fostering feelings of frustration. As for feeling on edge, you might find exercise after a self-pleasure session helps give you an energy release.

Your last question—how to manage intensity versus time—might hold a clue. Are you giving yourself enough time to masturbate? Are you squeezing it in between other tasks? The pressure of other obligations might be an impediment to your ability to relax and focus on your body. If you feel like doing some homework, Betty Dodson’s Sex for One is a widely lauded resource. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a man in my late 30s. My wife (same age) and I have been married about two years, and I’m starting to have major concerns about sexual incompatibilities between us. Vaginal sex has always been painful for my wife: I have to go extremely slow, I can’t go too deep (no more than two to three inches), and we usually stop after a few minutes because of her discomfort. I’m pretty average in the penis department, and we use lots of lube, but nothin’ doin’. This was also an issue when we dated, except we were long distance for most of that time, so we didn’t have sex that often; my wife assured me that this pain had happened in her past relationship (she had only had sex with one other person before me) and that after we got married, lived together, and had regular sex, she would “loosen up.” Hasn’t happened yet, to the point where we haven’t been able to have a “full” penetrative sex session (>5 minutes) in more than nine months.

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I suggested we try other forms of sex, mainly oral. Unfortunately, oral for or on her is a no-go, because she is super sensitive down there (again, it was a “it’ll get better with more regularity” thing that I trusted, but it hasn’t improved despite many, many attempts). And it turns out oral for or on me is a no-go, because she is too “grossed out.” She has suggested hand jobs, and they’re OK, but they’re just not enough for me on their own. Understandably, my wife has also said that anal is not something she’s willing to receive (or give).

My wife has been to see several medical professionals, all of whom swear that there’s nothing medically wrong “down there.” The few times we have been able to have penetrative sex successfully—i.e., depth/speed/intensity that is pleasurable for both of us—is after she has had some alcohol. Not so much as to compromise consent or anything (I’m always drinking with her as well), but the fact that my wife says sex is pleasurable for her during these periods suggests to me like the problem is psychological, not physical.

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We’ve tried talking to a couples counselor about this issue a bit, but I feel like we’re spinning our wheels. We’ve also talked about having kids, and my wife thinks that having a baby will “stretch her out” enough down there so that sex is no longer painful. But I can’t help but wonder if this is just another “trust me, this’ll happen” thing that I’ve gone along with several times already. And of course, if these problems persist after children are on the scene, I think it would complicate our situation further.

My wife is a loving, caring person (as am I, I would like to think), and I’m upset at myself for being upset about this issue. I just don’t really see a path to improvement here, short of A) divorce, B) her mental blocks suddenly disappearing, or C) us stumbling on just the right professional to do or try something that all of the others haven’t already. But I’m not an expert, maybe there’s a Door No. 4 I’m not seeing. I should also add that opening our marriage is not something that either of us are comfortable with. Any thoughts on what we should do?

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—At Wit’s End

Dear AWE,

You are correct that children will complicate your situation, and I agree that it’s wise to put procreation off until—or unless—the two of you can work out your very apparent sexual incompatibility. Especially since opening up your marriage isn’t an option.

When your wife drinks alcohol, she says that she experiences sex as pleasurable. It’s possible that she experiences some sort of anxiety that affects her physical ability to relax, which alcohol alleviates. It’s also possible that she experienced pain during sex early on and now her mind anticipates that pain in a way that causes signals of physical discomfort. If one of these possibilities, or something similar, seems likely, your wife might benefit from some individual sessions with a sex-positive therapist. Her interest in engaging in these sessions is crucial—if she doesn’t want to, you shouldn’t try to coerce her. If you’re in the United States, you can check the Kink Aware Professionals website or look in the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists’ directory.

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You, like a lot of other people, want sexual satisfaction with the same person you’re building a home with and intend to have children with. And digital stimulation—hand jobs—doesn’t work for you, or at least doesn’t work for you with the person you’re currently married to. I don’t envy your position, but I want you to know that your desires are pretty standard. So try not to be too hard on yourself here. The two of you love each other, and are presumably compatible in other areas, which means I think it’s worth at least suggesting the individual therapy route before you seriously consider divorce.

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Dear How to Do It,

Recently, I had my IUD taken out, and as a result, my menstrual cycle is starting again. I’m currently feeling like a 12-year-old once more, fumbling with tampons and pads.

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Lately, I have been hearing a lot of hubbub about menstrual cups, and was wondering what advice, recommendations, and best practices you have in regards to them? I recall Stoya mentioning her having used them for years, and would love to learn more about why you chose those over the more mainstream products.

—There Will Be Blood

Dear Blood,

My menstrual cycle has always been irregular, and my menstrual-fluid situation can oscillate from full-on flood to drips and drabs multiple times in a single cycle. This has meant that at some impossible-to-anticipate times a super tampon gets soaked in under an hour, and at others, a light tampon remains fairly dry even after eight hours. The former is problematic because bleeding through clothing is uncomfortable and can cause disgust in bystanders, and, if the person menstruating has any blood-borne infections, can actually be unhygienic. And the latter is problematic because of guidance to never leave a tampon in for more than eight hours to reduce risk of toxic shock, which is a rare but serious bacterial infection estimated to affect 3 to 6 people per 100,000 per year—menstrual and nonmenstrual cases combined. I suspect most people with vaginas can understand why a dry tampon that must come out is an issue, but I’ll explain for other readers: Vaginal tissue is very delicate. Pulling what is essentially a wad of dry cotton out can cause a feeling similar to rug burn inside the vaginal canal. For readers with penises, if you have ever had your urethra or anus swabbed during an STI screening, you can probably imagine the feeling.

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I use the DivaCup because it’s what was available when I first started using menstrual cups, and because the ¼ ounce measurements are incredibly useful when trying to explain to a gynecologist how much menstrual fluid is being expelled in a given period of time. The DivaCup’s cup can be a bit firm for some people, and some struggle with the very short removal stem. I once got my period unexpectedly in Paris and ended up with what I believe was the Fleurcup. It worked just as well, although it didn’t have measurements, and the cup was less firm with a longer, bumpy—more graspable—stem.

There’s a learning curve to menstrual cups. I recommend using it only when you’re home or otherwise able to access a private bathroom and can change clothes if needed for the first few attempts. Getting the cup situated so it cups your cervix can take some experimentation, and if the cup isn’t covering your cervix, leakage is almost certain. Removing the cup can also be difficult. When I first started using one, I lost control of it as it was coming out of my vagina and ended up with blood so high up on the walls I had to stand on something to clean it. I’ve also dropped my cup in the toilet a few times over the years, and there isn’t enough boiling in the world to make me feel better about continuing to insert a device that has spent any amount of time in a train station bathroom’s bowl. I usually carry a spare in case of this event.

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It’s also good to have an extra cup because various manufacturers recommend that you wash with oil-free, unscented soap or thoroughly boil your cup between every insertion. And because even the most effectively positioned cup will eventually leak, I use another new-ish menstrual product—period panties—as a backup, and for when I’m too crampy to have anything inserted. They’re great as long as you follow instructions to never use fabric softener.

To use a menstrual cup, you have to be comfortable getting your hand bloody. I have to insert at least two fingers—usually three—plus my thumb to get the thing properly placed, and to remove it without losing control of it (because of that super short stem). In public bathrooms with multiple stalls, I’ll wipe my insertion hand off with toilet paper, get my clothes back on with the other, and proceed to the sink to wash. I also devote a significant amount of brain space to which of my usual cafés and restaurants have private or semi-private access to sinks, and plan my excursions accordingly.

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I’ve tried and failed to get the hang of menstrual discs, but they’re a product that many people like. Regardless, there are a range of low-waste, environmentally friendly period options. Good luck.

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—Stoya

More How to Do It

From 2018 to the beginning of the pandemic, I had semi-regular (maybe twice a month) sex with a friend and coworker, “Mark,” who is married. His wife also works in the same hospital as we do. She didn’t know. As soon as the pandemic happened, Mark and I stopped sleeping together. Now we’re all vaccinated and we have a bit of time off, and Mark suggested I join him and his wife to stay for a week in a cabin in the woods as they do every year. He’s told me before they pretty much just spend the whole weekend in bed. More shockingly, he told me it was actually his wife’s idea to invite me on the trip …

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