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 have been with my significant other for over five years. We take care of three kids and are currently about to have another. I always knew that he didn’t like oral sex, but I am a person who used to get oral sex, and I really do like it. I feel like I’ve settled just to please him: I will give it to him, I please him all the time, but I never get it back, and over the years I’ve stopped asking because I know how much he doesn’t like it. It always bothered me, but I never said anything because of the confrontation and defense. When we do have a conversation about it, I usually say, “I don’t want you doing anything you’re uncomfortable with because it is not going to feel right.” Our sexual behaviors have reduced in frequency in recent years. We have had infidelities, including when I stepped out because of not receiving that oral attention.
I try to explain my desires to him—“I want you to actually be enthusiastic about it and care that you’re doing this for me just as I do for you”—but at this point our sex life is just not what I want. I don’t like it, but I don’t want to cheat on him again. Am I wrong for feeling like this, or am I wrong for wanting more than what he’s offering? Because I feel like I’m just settling just to please him.
—Hot and Bothered
Dear Hot and Bothered,
You’re in a sexually one-sided relationship with a person whom you share the care of three—soon to be four—children with. And, when you try to broach this subject, you’re met with defense. In two paragraphs, you describe yourself as “settling just to please him” twice. You’ve stepped out, returned, and still aren’t happy with the sex you’re having. I assume there are reasons you are still partnered with this man and that he has positive qualities that attracted you in the first place. Make an actual list, and make a list of your points of resentment. Does one list feel shorter or less significant than the other? Maybe he hasn’t exhibited those good aspects in a while, or maybe you’ve become so focused on this oral sex issue that you aren’t noticing them as much now.
Is it possible for you to see a therapist individually for a few months to get some help understanding your position and what you need changed? I think it’d be very useful for you. Other questions to work through: Can you be happy this way? Do you need the ability to engage in sex with someone who pleases you? Would you want to leave entirely or work out an open arrangement? A few sessions of couples counseling also might help you and your partner have a productive conversation about oral sex.
I don’t think you’re wrong for wanting your partner to enthusiastically want to give you oral pleasure, but I do think you might be at an impasse. Whatever it is that puts him off, your dude doesn’t like performing cunnilingus, and there isn’t anything I know of that can change that. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve let dating go until late in life—38, to be exact. I had a boyfriend throughout high school and considered marrying him, but when we went off to our respective colleges, he let me know he was gay and had been using our relationship as cover. After him, I went on a number of first dates but never got past them. I seem to attract men not for me: married and looking for a side piece, those only looking for sex, and guys looking for a new mommy in a partner. Everyone says it’s because I’m fat, old-fashioned, a caregiver to my mother, and boring. I want to date. I’d love a partner in life. Someone to share moments with, to travel life’s up and downs, and be companions. I just don’t know how to. At 38, women are expected to not only have experience dating but experience with sex too. I have neither, and I’m not looking for a hookup or one-night stand. How does one start dating in her late 30s and overcome the hurdle of being an almost-40-year-old virgin?
Dear Old Fashioned,
You may have a hard road ahead of you. Societal expectations are real, and there are absolutely men in the world who will look at you and pass because you’re different. And, regardless of age and experience, most heterosexual women deal with their fair share of guys who want little emotional interaction or are looking for a caretaker. It sucks, it’s frustrating, and it’s part of dating.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying or that you need to compromise on your wants and limits. Your body is your body, your preferences and boundaries are valid, and your care for your mother is wonderful. When you say you’re boring, is it that you don’t have time to pursue any interests or that you don’t think others will find your interests interesting? If you have some obscure passion, you’ve got a point of possible connection with others, and it becomes a matter of finding someone who shares that fascination.
When you disclose your inexperience is up to you. I’d err on the front end, but I like to get these sorts of potential impasses over with quickly. You’ll alienate some, and you’ll find others who are a little too into your virginity. You might find someone who is just right within the first couple of dates, or it might take a while—it’s impossible to know, but it’s worth trying.
Dear How to Do It,
I am 26, and I have been in a nine-month (very) serious relationship with a 25-year-old girl. We’ve lived together since day one of our relationship, and we recently decided to get married. However, we have never had sex, and not for religious reasons. This is the longest period of abstinence I had since I became sexually active 10 years ago.
We never had any penetration because it is painful for her. We came to the conclusion she suffers from a severe form of vaginismus that might be linked to past traumatic events. At the beginning, she would just say something like, “This month, if we have some weed, I should be relaxed and it will work.” Six months in, we’ve tried everything, but not only nothing worked, she even stopped trying around the fourth month of the relationship. I had a frank discussion with her, because it is frustrating to have expectations that are just not going to materialize. I am perfectly OK with waiting indefinitely, I just need to know instead of going around town to look for dealers. She said in the past, she forced herself to have sex, and sometimes it would work, but mostly not, and that it is related to traumatic experiences linked with her first boyfriend. She has not had the opportunity to get medical advice, and she plans to do so after the summer.
It’s her body, not mine, so I am OK with whatever she decides. But at the beginning we would touch each other, having oral sex, petting, and so on. All of that has now disappeared. The only thing that’s remained is me giving her oral. But after our discussion on traumatic experiences, she refuses my touch, nor wants me to go down on her, as she feels uncomfortable with her body
I don’t know what to do. She says she wants me, but I get only refused and she never even tries to touch me. I masturbate four times a day thanks to porn, which I have to keep secret because she’s very jealous to keep at bay my sex drive now and try not to feel anything. What should a good boyfriend do? How should I address this problem? How should I keep this alive? I think she just does not like me sexually and she does not want to admit it.
—The Highlander of Sex
You say you’re OK with waiting indefinitely. Let’s think through that. If you marry this woman, and the pain she experiences with sex never decreases, and the discomfort she feels talking about sex never dissipates, and the two of you never have enjoyable sex again, will that be OK for you?
Sometimes people aren’t in the right place to have an emotionally significant sexual relationship. Sometimes people aren’t in the right place to have any kind of sexual relationship. This could be temporary or permanent, and there’s no way to tell. Your girlfriend might be reluctant to begin sexual interaction with you because of her feelings around the pain she’ll experience if the two of you attempt penetration. She also might have other reasons to shy away from sex in addition to that pain. I think it’s less about liking you sexually and more about complex internal conflict in one of these areas.
I also think it’s less about what a good boyfriend should do and more about whether you actually want to continue in this relationship. It seems like sexual interaction is pretty important to you, and you already sound resentful when you talk about your relationship to pornography. You’re right that at the end of the day it’s her body, and it seems that for the short term your best bet is to support the methods of tackling her vulvar pain that she’s interested in trying. At minimum, I’d hold off on any legal entanglements until you get some clarity on her long-term prognosis.
Dear How to Do It,
My partner and I have been together for more than 10 years and have had our rough patches, but always have great sex when we do have it. At the start we were hot and heavy, and after I had some surgery that altered my body image, it slowed down. This led to stress in our relationship and eventually my partner had a monthslong affair with another guy. I suspected and found out and confronted him, but we have long since reconciled and repaired the relationship.
Now my body image is much improved, and we do have sex still and we’re both very satisfied and connected when we do. But my libido is much stronger than his, and I masturbate every day, most times to porn. I talked with him recently about exploring different ways to have sex, and he was very receptive. We ended up getting really turned on and went at it! But neither of us bottom, me due to my medical issues and he’s pretty tight, but somewhat open to it. But I did explain that I miss topping and being inside someone and he said he wouldn’t mind if I hooked up with someone just for that. He said he didn’t want a threesome, so that option isn’t there.
I’ve always been somewhat conservative when it comes to marriage and never considered cheating or getting a pass to have sex with someone else, so I don’t know how to get my head around looking elsewhere for that particular need. But with this newfound honesty and openness with my partner, which is amazing, I’m not sure how to come to grips with the permission to fuck someone else. Part of me thinks a threesome would be better because I’m not totally comfortable going off and having sex with someone other than him. Plus, I think it might be hot to have him watch. I’m not sure what to do.
—Wanting to Top Again
In one paragraph you state that your partner said he doesn’t want a threesome, and in the next you’re saying you think a threesome would be better and listing reasons why. Come on! Your partner, out of a desire to solve the tension between his lack of interest in bottoming and your interest in topping, has suggested a way forward and let you know his boundaries. Adhere to those boundaries!
Otherwise, this sounds like a great way to get your desires met. I’d like some more clarity on what he meant by “just for that” in the context of meeting someone to top: Is there a boundary there about going for lunch after? Is texting outside of arranging liaisons problematic for him? And what happens if one of you starts to develop feelings for the other? And let’s dig into your discomfort with going off and having sex with someone other than your partner: Do you suspect that he isn’t as open to this as he’s saying? If so, follow-up discussion is in order. Are you struggling with the idea because society largely still judges nonmonogamy? That’s worth doing some introspection around so you can understand your feelings better. If there’s something else, like concern about STI transmission, you can look into the risks and manage them well.
You might find that writing out your thoughts and feelings helps. Some people have success with the shower or long walks. Whatever helps you sort through your inner experiences will be useful here.
More How to Do It
I live in an apartment with stereotypical “thin walls” and with frequently noisy neighbors. This isn’t a complaint. I actually enjoy hearing them have sex and commonly masturbate while listening. I recently had a friend over, during which time we overheard the neighbors going at it. My friend commented that it must be so annoying to have neighbors like that, but I confessed that I enjoyed it and would sometimes masturbate to it. My friend was very offended by this—she thought it was a massive invasion of the neighbors’ privacy and equated it to hiding in their closet. My belief is that since the neighbors would understand the limited soundproofing of the building, they then concede the right to auditory privacy when they’re very loud. So as long as I am within the confines of my own apartment and not trying to actively record them or use some sort of sound-enhancing equipment, I have not invaded anyone’s privacy. Have I overstepped, or am I in the clear?