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 heterosexual cisgendered male in my 30s. I have Hansen’s disease (but you’re probably more familiar with the common name, leprosy). I am cured by WHO standards and do not actively medicate anymore, and my neural damage was minimal. Generally, my physical health is good. However, the psychological and social ramifications of the condition were more wide-ranging. I was diagnosed about five years ago, and most of my relationships have been short, abortive things, ending within 24 hours of a partner finding out about my “condition.”
I’ve recently met a nice woman, “Jacqueline.” Extremely uncommonly, she is not afraid of my medical history. Recently, she shared a “persistent” fantasy she has: that we’ll be having sex and my penis will fall off and it stay inside her forever. Needless to say, I find this extremely disturbing, and the fetishizing of a condition that has seriously influenced my life is kind of insulting. And now that the cat’s out of the bag, she’s become much more vocal and open about it. I do not like it at all, and although I’m not sure I want to break up with her, I do want to get her to stop with this thing. However, I’m not sure the best way to bring it up or how to communicate it while still affirming that I do still desire her and want to be with her.
—Irritated About Being Fetishized
Your reaction to objectification is valid. Spend some time with your feelings. What does your comfort zone look like, and what are your boundaries? How comfortable are you with her getting near that line? Think through what you’d like to share with her. Then, pick a low-stress time when you’re not rushed to tell her that you like her and want to be with her. You might include a few words on why. Give her space to respond. Then say that you need to set a boundary around her fantasy. Again, leave room for her to listen and reply. If she hasn’t asked, you’ll want to state your limits. She might want to apologize. She might need time to understand what you’ve said. She might be curious about your feelings.
Presuming that conversation goes well, I’m wondering if you’re comfortable asking about other aspects of her sexuality, as well as talking with her about yours. This fantasy is likely to come up, but are there other fantasies both of you would like to explore? Think through some scenarios, and pay attention to your physical and emotional reactions. If something is a hard no, that’s important to know. Get an idea of what you’re interested in and what you’re open to. When you talk, whether it’s directly about this one fantasy or about others, look for areas of overlap and proactively find acceptable avenues to explore. If the conversation does not go well, then you have all the data you need to tell you it’s time to move on.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 51-year-old newly out (to family and friends), newly single lesbian. I haven’t dated in 27 years and have only been with two people sexually: my ex-husband and a woman. The divorce was not amicable, and I am not emotionally ready for a relationship. But what I am ready for is sex. Between COVID, being out of the dating scene for 27 years, and being new to the LGBTQ community, it’s not that easy to find no-strings-attached partners. Or maybe I’m just bad at searching. I’ve been on multiple apps and have met some women, but most of the ones I connect with live thousands of miles away from me, and it seems everyone else is looking for a soul mate. I’m trying Tinder now, but I’m still struggling to connect with the women I’m interested in. The fear of being catfished is constant, as well.
I think that finding a professional sex worker who could satisfy the horny teenager who has suddenly taken over my libido would help me be a bit more Zen about my inability to connect with anyone. Also, with a professional, I wouldn’t be as self-conscious about my body or my inexperience and wouldn’t be shy about asking about health testing. I also wouldn’t have to answer the never-ending question, “But how did you not know you were a lesbian until you were 50?” But choosing someone off a Google search seems incredibly risky, and I would prefer to have a professional who is a lesbian. Where do I start?
—No Strings Attached
Dear No Strings,
There’s a women-only escort service in Amsterdam that seems to be exactly what you’re looking for, or if you’re in the U.S., you might consider Nevada. There are a number of brothels, mostly in rural areas, and you can call ahead to ask about the availability of women who prefer sex with other women. However, travel—particularly overseas—is still heavily restricted due to the pandemic, and a trip can add a number of costs, including flights, hotels, and food—so that may not be a practical option. And sex work is still largely criminalized in most of the United States (and the world). But many providers have social media presences and have turned to websites such as OnlyFans (disclosure: I have a page there) during the pandemic. These types of accounts can be a great way to get a feel for a person’s professional identity and how they prefer to present themselves.
You’ll want to think beforehand about the kinds of experiences you’re hoping for and ask questions to discern whether the providers being recommended are appropriate for you. Spend some time imagining your ideal experience. Is it sensual? Abrupt and aggressive? Educational? Do you think you’ll want a quick single hour or a lengthy block of time? Are there any specific acts you’ll want to engage in? All of this is useful to know before you begin the booking process.
In the meantime, sex for one is a great way to take the edge off and get deeper in touch with our own bodies—and our fantasies, which might help you answer the questions above.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a cis, heterosexual woman with a cis, heterosexual male partner. We’re ready to start trying to get me pregnant. Unfortunately, I don’t like, and have never liked, having things or body parts put in my vagina. I find it boring and uncomfortable at best. If it’s not supposed to be fun (like a Pap smear), I just grit my teeth through it and it’s not a big deal, but my partner and I aren’t interested in grit-my-teeth-and-get-through-it sex. I don’t have any history of trauma or medical issues—I just feel about my vagina the way many people feel about their butts.
We have an active sex life without vaginal penetration, which is great, but if I’m going to get pregnant, something is going to get stuck in there sooner or later. I’ve read about dilators, but they seem to kind of miss the point. Getting pregnant via sex is our first pick (it’s free!). Any tips for making the process of penis-in-vagina sex more comfortable and maybe even fun, beyond lube or weed? I’d love it if it were fun!
You’re correct that getting pregnant through sex will require some kind of penis-in-vagina interaction. If it weren’t for your goal of procreation, I’d be saying, “Your sexuality is beautiful exactly as it is! Celebrate it!” But, I agree, you’re in a pretty complicated predicament here.
Starting slow seems useful here. You can ease into the edge of discomfort in the hopes that your body will adjust. And clitoral stimulation while you’re being penetrated seems likely to help. If your partner is willing to work through this with you, I don’t see a need for a dilator. In fact, the firmness of them might make penetration more uncomfortable. The same goes for dildos and may also be true for fingers.
I feel comfortable assuming that clitoral stimulation is fun for you but otherwise am in the dark about what you enjoy. I’m wondering if squeezing your partner’s penis with your pelvic floor might fit your definition of fun and reduce discomfort. I’m also curious about whether focusing more on grinding your pelvises together than thrusting would be helpful. And I think you might set yourself up for insemination success by moving to penetration as close to orgasm for him as the two of you can manage.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a happily partnered cis gay man in an open relationship. This past year has been wonderful for us in regards to intimacy, romance, togetherness, and love, but anxiety and isolation have turned us both into weird little sexless hermits. Now that vaccinations are happening I’m finding it hard to restart the engines. I’ve forgotten how to flirt, and so has he! We do want to get back out there and meet interesting people (and sleep with them), but I’ve forgotten how to do that! Any advice or pointers, or should we keep being hermits for a while longer?
—Post Pandemic Lovin’
I think practicing flirting on each other is a great place to start. You’re in a safe space—the two of you have a strong relationship that includes intimacy, togetherness, and love—so you can brush the rust off in a comfortable dynamic. And, after a year of stress, it might do your relationship good to incorporate those sweet and endearing moments that flirtation can bring. If further interaction feels daunting at this stage, you can make agreements beforehand about how far you’ll go down that path.
Yes, flirting with a stranger is different than flirting with your partner. But imagine yourself flirting with people: Remember the feelings and the times you’ve felt completely yourself during previous experiences. If you’re anxious about something, think through the possible worst-case scenarios and decide whether they’re worth the risks. You might find it helpful to remind yourself how to handle rejection, too. A recent study indicates that many of us are feeling more intentional about our relationships and looking for more intensity with fewer people. For me, it’s recalibrated my risk assessment when it comes to sharing fluids with others. So you might be turned down more often than before the pandemic and even find yourself less inclined to approach. Remember that we’re all stumbling through figuring out what new best practices are.
I think now is a good time for everyone to remember that COVID isn’t the only risk involved with sex. Vaccines, PrEP, and condoms are all ways that you can reduce the potential harm of a sexual interaction. A combination of all three, with regular screening, is ideal. Ask your doctor about PrEP and vaccines, and condoms are readily available in the United States. Good luck!
More How to Do It
My girlfriend of nine years and I are opening our relationship, slowly and with plenty of communication. From this communication I’ve learned she wants to see both men and women, and I’m happy for her to do that. When I mentioned that I wanted to do the same—that is, try things out with guys for the first time, as well as with women—she seemed taken aback and finally admitted that the idea of me with guys made her uncomfortable. She acknowledged the double standard but said the thought of me with a man really bothers her. She pointed out that I already knew about her interest in women but I had never mentioned any interest in guys, which is true. (I doubt I’m more than bi-curious, but this seemed like a good time to find out!) We both know there are a lot of retrograde ideas at work in her reaction, and she wants to get past it. Do you have any advice for helping her get over it?