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 recently married to an otherwise wonderful man who has lots of sexual hang-ups. We only had sex once before we got married, and he insisted we get married if we were to continue a sexual relationship. I would have been happy to just live together (I escaped a disastrous young marriage a few years ago and had intended to never marry again), but I love him deeply and it took me quite some time to get him to have sex that first time. Now that we are married, he willingly and joyfully initiates sex, but is still a little uneasy when I initiate it. And he has strict and limited rules of what we can do. If I get on top, he will roll me over to be on the bottom. He fondles and kisses my breasts and sometimes caresses my vulva, but that is it, and he won’t let me touch his penis. When I went down on him once, he reacted in horror and wanted to know where I learned to do such a disgusting thing. That surprised me, and I was not tactful in saying I thought men like blow jobs, which just made him angry because he hates to think about my past sexual encounters.
He was married for 20 years (he is considerably older than me) very happily until his wife died of cancer, and he never talks about what their sex life was like or any other past relationships. I think this is all part of his very strict religious upbringing which I don’t see changing, especially at his age. I do enjoy the sex we have together for the love and intimacy, but it is not as sexually satisfying as I have had with other partners, including my jerk of a first husband. Is there anything I can do to stimulate his interest in trying new things? Or anything I could suggest to enhance the spark with the few things we already do so I can get off with greater intensity and satisfaction?
—The Puritan’s Wife
Dear Puritan’s Wife,
A few weeks ago, I received a question on overcoming purity culture indoctrination, which led me to reach out to Karen Richter, director of spiritual formation at the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix. Richter oversees Shadow Rock’s sex ed curricula, Our Whole Lives, and though OWL is considered to be a secular program, something that she said during our conversation I think is useful to mention here: “Sexuality is a gift from God.”
I wonder if reframing sex along these lines might help your husband, whose religious upbringing I could sense before you mentioned it explicitly. The idea that oral sex is “disgusting” isn’t even specifically biblical, which is frustrating here because if it were, one could point to any number of the Bible’s teachings (like wearing blended fabrics being considered a sin) to dismiss the blatant fallacy. (Of course, whether he’d be open to such rationale is another matter.) I can’t imagine you getting much further without a frank discussion. Tell him that some things are important to you, he is your sole sexual outlet, and so he should hear you out. You can’t coerce or expect him to do anything he isn’t willing to do, but sometimes exposure to an idea can crack open a mind. Can he put into words what makes him so uncomfortable about oral sex or you being on top? Can you reassure him that you’d like to experience these things with him because you love him and want to intensify or vary your expression of love and lust for your husband? Is this an important enough issue to you to think through what it would be like to leave the relationship to pursue more satisfying sex, or even voice that consideration to him? I think it’s always reasonable to have a discussion about dissatisfaction, but you can’t really expect more than to be heard. You have to meet him where he’s at, and if it’s a very limited approach to sex, this is your life. Can you accept that?
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 34-year-old cis man, and the term hetero-flexible might apply to me. I don’t have any particular hang-up about men and their bodies, but am very rarely attracted to cis men.
There have been times when I hooked up with guys, mostly in my wild 20s—with mixed results. Once (that I can remember) I’ve been romanced by a man who spoke my language. That led to fun and consensual one-nighter that included receiving anal. More frequently, however, encounters have felt a little gross. There were times someone got me drunk and had their way with me when I didn’t bother objecting. There were otherwise sweet dudes who got a kick out of leaving their fluids in places I didn’t want them. There were times I inadvertently led someone on and got chastised for it. There were times that clear and explicit “I’m not interested in anything romantic or sexual here” were ignored. There was some awkward gay-for-pay stuff when I was broke in San Francisco for a few months. I don’t harbor any resentments—we’ve all had good hookups and bad ones. However, the dominant theme was being objectified, which at this point in my life is a major turn-off. If I’m going to be someone’s drunk subby boy toy we better have a rock-solid foundation of respect first. (To be fair, I’ve also had some really great times partying it up at gay nightclubs and at LGBTQ-hosted events where I felt safe and welcome and included.) In the last 10 years, I’ve had fulfilling, monogamous, hetero relationships and dated women and haven’t given that stuff a second thought.
Fast forward to today—I recently broke off a four-year partnership with my girlfriend and have been dating around again. In the last year of our relationship, we were getting more open about butt play (among other things). I had received but never given anal, and we worked up to that and we both had an amazing time. My endowment (generous) means that it took a decent amount of time and trust and work together to get it right—and it’s not something I want to get wrong and leave someone averse in the future. It would be cool to learn more about both the giving and receiving and how that can be fun for both parties.
I’ve also recently become really interested in dicks and balls. I want to handle some. I’m turned on by the idea of giving pleasure and also the (imagined) sensual joy of interacting with them. I’m curious about that experience. I might even consider putting my mouth on some, if it felt right. Regarding anal sex, I don’t want to rush into it, and certainly don’t want there to be any expectation I’ll take it. I already know how to get fucked. I’m just craving some hands-on time and an idea of what is out there. I’ve seen probably 50 or 100 vulvas in my life, all different and unique. How come I only get to see my own junk? I am pretty well-endowed myself, fit, and have been appraised as an attractive partner. Definitely not a charity case. I understand that frequently, dicks and balls are attached to male presenting bodies, which is … fine. It’s not the masc vibe that turns me on particularly. I just want to get up close with some low hanging fruit in a way that is open-minded, fun, and safe and doesn’t involve sleezy bars or playing out some stud’s fantasy about converting/railing a straight boy. I’d like to give some attention and receive some feedback.
This is a sensitive area (no pun intended). Communication, empathy, and respect are basic criteria for all my connections, particularly here. I live in a midsize college town that is progressive but has a pretty limited dating scene. 50/50 chance any given barista or work colleague has seen what’s on my Tinder profile. I know a few folks in poly lifestyles, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable texting them and asking if I can borrow some dick—especially in this smallish town. How do I proceed here? It seems like maybe what I’m looking for is another hetero-flexible or bi guy with whom I can have a good conversation, and also wants to experiment. Too bad I find about one-in-a-million attractive. Or maybe I’m looking for an individual with male parts and some experience who is willing to meet me where I’m at and would tolerate (enjoy?) me bumbling around their nooks and crannies for an hour with no guaranteed outcome. I’ve entertained the idea of hiring a sex worker but I’d prefer to start with options that don’t require a lot of travel or expense. Any pointers?
—Is There an App for This?
I’m having a hard time pinning down what it is exactly that you want, and given all the words about yourself that you have shared, I suspect you are as well. Just how important is attraction to you? Do you need a nice face to go with the dick, or can you just focus on the dick? Another way to look at this: Can you really say that someone with whom you have a connection based on “communication, empathy, and respect” is someone you aren’t attracted to? Intellectually or emotionally, at least, that level of chemistry would qualify as attraction by many standards. There are several different types of attraction, and just because you seek certain qualities in men that you might not in women (and vice versa) doesn’t mean that you aren’t attracted to them, per se. I suspect that in order to preserve your masculinity/hetero status, you are taking pains to distance yourself from certain hallmarks of queerness. However, I’m not saying that you should immediately reframe your desires or work actively to understand them differently; you may find that your somewhat rigid criteria of what this all means may dissipate with the comfort that comes from experience.
Keep in mind, too, there are many ways to objectify, and I don’t believe that all of them are necessarily toxic. You were taken advantage of because, indeed, partners did not recognize or respect your humanity. However, hooking up with someone for his dick is its own form of objectification. Luckily, you will find guys who are into being objectified for their dicks, and that kind of consent can foster connection, even if it’s ultimately fleeting and superficial.
I think you can spell all of this out on an app that allows for detailed profiles, like Scruff, or even via the Craigslist personals replacement Doublelist. What you are looking for is highly specific, and you carefully map it out. It is completely reasonable to seek connected, casual sex. Will you find other “hetero-flexible” guys who are looking for that as well? It might be tough. Masculinity’s grip on queer culture (and beyond) means that you’ll have to get in line behind everyone else who’s looking for a straight-ish guy who’s happy to sit back and be serviced. Will labeling yourself as “hetero-flexible” or even bi prove to be an asset in online cruising? It may, but of course, it opens you up to being objectified for it yourself. It seems most people are looking for some highly specific configuration of parts in these no-strings contexts. It’s the nature of the game.
If you’re attracted to dicks, but not the people attached to them, a gloryhole might be right for you. The caveat is the person on the other side of the wall is almost certainly expecting you to put your mouth on it and minimal discussion will take place. But I think that what you’ll soon find is that you can’t have everything, and so you should be open to something that scratches the general area of your itch rather than gets at it entirely. Few things ever will, and those are the real keepers.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 50-year-old cisgender female with a long history of sexual abuse. I was molested from an early age, and later, I ended up in an extremely abusive situation with a man that would make Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs look like a good guy.* I was raped and tortured for 20 months by him. I was able to get away and eventually married and had kids. I never discussed any of this with anyone because of the profound shame I felt. I later divorced, and during a subsequent unhealthy relationship, I was in such emotional and mental pain I started masturbating thinking about some of the things that happened during those 20 months because the thought of physical pain was a release from all the mental pain I was feeling. It’s now the only way I can orgasm. I have eschewed sex with another person because being in my head and using my hand were the only times I felt safe. One therapist said it is a way for me to process what happened and to control it, since I obviously didn’t have any control then.
Now I am at a point where I miss being touched, held, kissed, and generally the intimacy of having another human being around me. But what I’m having a hard time finding is someone, anyone, that wants to get to know me first and isn’t just some porn-obsessed horn dog. All the men in my age group seem to just want to fornicate, and I’m not in a place mentally or emotionally to just hook up. Ideally, I’d like to find someone to help me act out some of the things I experienced, but with aftercare that is nurturing and loving. I feel stuck and in need of love and orgasms that aren’t self-induced. Where do I go from here? Please don’t suggest dating apps. They are their own special hell. And none of the local sex clubs offer much in terms of the type of man I am looking for. The specialist websites seem to have a lot of tourists who read Fifty Shades and think they understand how it goes down, but they don’t understand respect, boundaries, and consent.
—My Arm Hurts
I’m sorry to read about the horrific abuse you have endured and I’m glad you have received counseling for it. I hope that you are continuing to work through the considerable trauma that was inflicted on you through no fault of your own. What your therapist told you about replaying your abuse via fantasies as a matter of controlling it seems like a fair assessment. (Demi Lovato recently shared her own experience with similar catharsis in her YouTube documentary Dancing With the Devil.) What I think you could do to pursue a partner for your needs is to look into a local BDSM group and attend a munch. A munch is a social gathering often in a public space with emphasis on socializing and not play. Such a meeting tends to attract people who are embedded in the scene (of course, munches are often open to first-timers as well). You, like your hetero-flexible letter-writing colleague above are seeking something extremely specific, which means that you will have to be patient. It means you might be frustrated a lot in the process. But it will make finding someone that much more rewarding. Good luck.
Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear How to Do It,
I love being intimate with my boyfriend. However, within a few hours of shaving his face he has very prickly stubble. Kissing him leaves me with red splotches and break outs. Unless he is freshly shaved, he leaves my labia with enough tiny cuts to keep me from being able to enjoy that area for up to three days. He takes hot showers before shaving, uses shaving cream and tries to get a close shave but none of it helps. It limits spontaneous kissing. We have to plan everything from making out to sex around his shower/shave session. What can I do to strengthen my skin against his stubble? Is there anything he can do to stay smoother longer?
— Loving a Porcupine
Ah, beard burn: more persistent than herpes outbreaks and far less stigmatized. We’re a hell of a species. To add to Stoya’s recent good tips for overcoming this issue, I reached out to a dermatologist. Dr. Anthony Rossi, assistant attending dermatologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, provided a host of suggestions for your boyfriend, which I like because so often in our culture, women are expected to solve men’s problems.
Rossi suggested experimenting with length. “When the stubble grows back after a really close shave it can be quite sharp and prickly,” he wrote in an email. “It may be better to let the hair grow and then just trim with a guarded buzzer or scissors. This way you are not creating fresh stubble each time you shave.” Additionally, he suggested conditioning with a beard oil, which will hydrate both the facial hair and skin below. (Note that washing the face before oiling will help prevent breakouts.)
Other suggestions include combing the beard to soften it, should your boyfriend choose a length that can be combed. Weekly exfoliation and steaming will also help the beard and skin below. Also, you might try a beard balm over his facial-hair area. One with aloe vera and/or oil should help with lubrication.
For your part, Rossi suggested protecting yourself with Vaseline. But be warned: “Dermatologists love plain old petrolatum because it moisturizes and protects the skin; however, the partner may not like that taste!,” he wrote. And as a final resort: “If all else fails consider laser hair removal!” Good luck!
More Advice From Slate
I have a friend who’s always been a little cheap with shared checks. If I throw my card down for ease and let people Venmo me, he’ll pay me, like, a conservative estimate of his portion (often short of the real total) and also not take tax or tip into account. I always kind of forget about this until he does it again. A few months ago, he estimated $25 when he owed me $40, and I was like, “Bro,” and he seemed perplexed and gave me the $40. I tell you all this because on our last hangout, it was just us, and through other conversation about COVID and his current joblessness, he reluctantly revealed he is an heir to one of the biggest family fortunes in America. He has virtually endless funds for the rest of his life. I had zero idea. I don’t think many people who know him do. His family seemed normal (they have a different last name than the famous one). I don’t really know how to react to this, especially in light of just thinking I had a pretty cheap friend. Instead, I was partly subsidizing an extremely rich person! What do you think is going on in this person’s brain? Do you think I should point out to him that he does this explicitly?
Correction, May 10, 2021: This article originally misspelled Hannibal Lecter’s last name.