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 thirtysomething woman in a happy 10-plus year cis-het marriage, but I find myself often wishing I’d have had the chance to have sex and/or a relationship with a woman. I’ve never dated or had any sexual experience whatsoever with a woman, yet about 90 percent of my masturbation fantasies involve imagining what it would be like to be with a woman. I started having mild crushes on women when I was 18, but I chalked it up to just being “bicurious” and never pursued anything. These feelings keep getting stronger as I get older. I also don’t feel totally comfortable embracing a “bisexual” or “queer” identity, since at this point I don’t know if my fantasies are just fantasies or if they’re more than that.
I’ve talked about this with my husband, and he says that if I feel this is something I need to explore, I can do so, but I have no idea how to go about that. We hardly ever have sex due to a variety of reasons (it’s physically difficult for us, he is on medications that kill his sex drive, etc.), but our relationship has never been based on sex, so it doesn’t bother me much. He’s my best friend, and we have a lovely little life together, and I have no intention of leaving him.
Even though he says he’d be OK with it, how do I navigate this without hurting him? Where does a kinda fat, married, thirtysomething lady go to explore a sexual encounter with another woman? How do I embrace a queer identity if my relationships and experiences so far have been 100 percent hetero? Or should I just count my blessings and leave this in the fantasy realm?
—Titillated by Tits
You don’t have to declare an identity—even to yourself—at this stage or any other. You might think of yourself as exploring, seeking understanding, and gaining experience. You might find that bisexual feels more appropriate as a descriptor at times and pansexual or queer do at others. This is all OK, and it might shift as you learn more about your sexuality.
I can’t promise you that you won’t hurt your husband. Even with all possible caution and a deep desire not to, you might. You can minimize the risks by erring on the side of communicating—does he have fears about opening your relationship? Have you shared yours? What feels uncomfortable or potentially upsetting for each of you? Another question to answer is how you’ll take care of each other if a difficult situation arises while you’re exploring. You’ve got years of supporting each other to draw on, and you’re presumably navigated other hard situations. Spend some time now thinking about what the warning signs are and what you should do to support your partner when things get tough.
As for how to hook up, what are you comfortable with? Is walking into a lesbian event and making eye contact with strangers an option? Would you feel comfortable picking someone up at a gathering that isn’t explicitly sexual? Are there apps with lesbian and bisexual usage in your area, and are you interested in evaluating people based on a short profile and a few texts? Keep in mind that you can have a few video chats first—something that was always possible and is more common during COVID. If you live in a bigger U.S. city, you stand a decent chance of meeting an interested, interesting woman if you simply spend more time interacting with people in a way that makes you available for flirtation.
I encourage you to be upfront about how new this is for you. You haven’t dated in more than a decade. How much you share is your choice, and you’ll absolutely turn some off (and others on a bit too much), but it’s better to know these kinds of reactions early. You’ll want to do the same with how serious you’re looking to get. Are you open to being significant friends? Do weekly meetups sound nice to you, and is dinner a part of those? Is this more of a three-times-and-you’re-done scenario? You’ll want to be able to clearly communicate your boundaries and limits. Keep in mind that you’re likely to build emotional rapport and care over extended interactions. It won’t necessarily be romantic.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a cis female in my early 30s, and I just recently learned how to orgasm. (Yay!)
I am definitely having orgasms. There’s the buildup, there’s the release and pleasure and wetness, but in general my orgasms are just really underwhelming. No earth-shaking stuff happening around here. I just shudder a little, I feel it in my low abdomen and genitals, and that’s it. Can you teach yourself to have stronger orgasms, like a full-body thing? Or should I just be happy with how I react and accept that that’s it?
Kegel exercises may increase the intensity of orgasm, and that’s where I think you should start. You’ll want to isolate your pelvic floor muscles. Some recommend you do this by imagining that you’re stopping your stream of urine while peeing, others suggest you picture picking up a marble with your vulva, and still more say to simply tense parts until you figure out what’s your pelvic floor and what’s the side of your butt cheek. Once you know which muscles to engage, do quick squeezes and long holds. Make this a daily practice, and pause or stop if you feel muscle fatigue or other discomfort.
Another thing you can experiment with is edging. This is where you bring yourself close to orgasm, wait for the imminency to abate, and repeat the process. Many people report stronger orgasms with this technique. You can also work on being more fully present in your body by purposefully paying attention to your extremities and taking breaks to stimulate often neglected erogenous zones, such as the backs of your ears or the insides of your elbows. And, if you haven’t already, exploring your vulva for areas that you might have overlooked seems useful. I think you’ve got this.
Dear How to Do It,
I have recently started dating a guy whom I think is really wonderful, but I’m scared. He is about six years older than me (I’m 21) and only started to come out of the closet a little over a year ago. He also is a total top. I, on the other hand, have been lucky enough to feel comfortable with my sexuality since high school and have had plenty of sexual experiences. I would say I’m versatile, but I do love taking the submissive role and bottoming most of the time. I really want someone to have something substantial with, but when I date guys my age, I end up frustrated and sad—probably because they don’t know what they want. Part of me is really happy and satisfied in this current relationship, but a part of me misses being able to have casual sex with younger guys. I was thinking that if maybe every so often I topped my current partner that would satisfy it, which it did slightly. But I could tell he didn’t love it, and I still miss the dynamic of having sex with a guy my size and age.
I don’t want to end up cheating, and I don’t think he would be OK with opening up the relationship. I constantly go between wanting to be with an older stable guy who knows what he wants and wanting someone my age who would be interested in the same activities (drinking, partying, socializing, etc). I feel like I need a friend with benefits to fool around with, but at that point, shouldn’t I just be single? I don’t know what to do.
Under the current terms of your relationship, you only have sex with this one person. And he doesn’t enjoy bottoming. Make a list of all of the things that sound appealing within these sexual limitations. Now think about how much it might overlap with your partner’s interests. Now you’ve got a nice range of activities to try and that you might find delight in. Think about that list from another angle—can you be happy with only these options? And, while we’re at it, can you be happy with someone who wants very different recreational activities than you do?
The answer to both of these questions might be yes. If that’s the case, get as creative as possible with your partner. Invite him to collaborate with you on fantasies and scenarios you can enact. Have a great time with each other. If one is a no, is the rest of what you get out of the relationship worth the trade-off?
Let’s try to separate wanting to have casual sex with someone your age from wanting to be in a relationship. Do you want to be in a relationship? If you do, you’ve got as many options as you and your partner can come up with (and no, having a relationship with additional sexual partners is not the same as being single with casual sexual partners). If you don’t want to be in a relationship, then you should just be single. If you do want to be in a relationship but want to open it up, you can lead with that and approach your partner gently. Pick a calm moment with plenty of time, and ask how he feels about nonmonogamy. Find out what his position is and go from there. If it’s important to you, and you can’t find a compromise, there’s your answer.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a straight woman in my 20s. For the past year or so I’ve been having issues with irritation, itchiness, and burning (especially with penetration). After seeing three doctors and having every test come back negative, I’ve realized it’s probably vulvodynia. I’ve started looking into finding specialists for this, but I know there’s no real cure and it can last for years (it’s already been 14 months!). I’m feeling a lot of despair and hopelessness around this situation.
To make things worse, I’ve recently met someone I really like. So far it’s just been texts, phone calls, and one outdoor date, but now that we’ve both been vaccinated, moving indoors—and to the bedroom—is the obvious next step. But I’m not sure how to explain my medical issues to him.
Should I try using boric acid and coconut oil (the advice from the gynos I’ve already seen) and attempt to have vaginal sex anyway? That’s what I did this past summer, because the guy I was dating was going to move away and I really wanted to sleep with him. It was uncomfortable, especially at first, but still ultimately OK. But I’m worried the issue has gotten worse since then. And if I’m honest, there was a sense in the summer of “it’s only going to be for a little while longer, so I can put up with whatever discomfort there is.” I don’t want to have that attitude again, and it especially doesn’t make sense in the context of a new relationship. Or should tell him I can only do other stuff until it gets resolved, even though I have no idea when that will be? I imagine that this would be a deal-breaker—maybe not at first, but eventually. I like him so much, I don’t want to lose this connection, and I just want to have sex again, damnit.
—My Vagina Is Ruining My Life
I don’t know of any solutions for what you’re describing, and you should definitely book an appointment with a specialist to get a better understanding of all your options, which could include topical steroids or pelvic floor therapy. You can try soaking in a lukewarm (not hot) bath, make sure you’re wearing loose lower garments with plenty of ventilation, and avoiding scented soaps, tampons, and personal lubricants. I’m aware of boric acid as a treatment for yeast infections, but you say you’ve had multiple tests run and I assume at least one was for yeast, so I’m not sure why it’s in the picture. But if you used it over the summer and it helped, great. I’d suggest you go with one solution for one session, and another for the next, to better evaluate whether they’re having an effect. If both are, that’s wonderful. (Though, again, I’m not a medical professional, so add this to your list of questions for you next appointment.)
Do you have the same painful sensations during masturbation? If you do, you can experiment on your own. If not, you can involve your partner, and you should fill him in beforehand. And yes, you should tell partners about your boundary before you engage in sex with them. How much detail you go into is your decision, and a simple “I don’t receive vaginal penetration” will do. Or, if you want to tell him what you told me, you can do that. Another option you could explore is anal. But whether you’re feeling around solo or with a partner, you can go at your own pace and stop whenever you want to.
I’m sorry I don’t have better answers for you. Your frustration is valid.
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