How to Do It

I Just Left My Religion and Am Ready for Sex—but I Already Have a Problem

I can’t even think about it without gagging.

Woman with hands over her mouth, with a flashing eggplant emoji in the background
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by diego_cervo/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’m a woman who recently left a very conservative religion where there was no sex before marriage. I’m in my mid-30s and a virgin. Super fun! As COVID calms down and I start dating more, I’m open to having sex, but there is of course a catch.

My day job involves data analytics, so I’ve been doing research. I’m reading a lot and watching selected porn to help me play catch-up. But my issue is around male come. It disgusts me. And I like dudes! And I feel like a jerk saying that. I don’t want guys talking about how parts of women are gross. Jokes about it make me queasy, and watching blow-job videos make me start to retch. I want to be reciprocal with partners, but just writing this has my gorge rising.

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I’ve always been a quick gagger, though it has gotten worse as I get older. I know it is like 90 percent mental, but I can’t seem to get over this. I don’t see penis-in-vagina grossing me out, and porn involving come there doesn’t set me off. So what the hell? I’m so mortified that on top of late blooming I’m being so closed-minded, but I physically cannot even think about it too much.

—Gaggy Gal

Dear Gaggy,

You’re far from the only person to be put-off by semen. Many heterosexual women report a similar reaction, and others have little feeling one way or another. Another recent letter writer shared your distaste for blow jobs.

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I’m curious about blow-job videos causing you to retch. Is this only when ejaculation is imminent? Or does the whole thing gross you out? Is any pre-ejaculation response due to the likelihood of semen or because of the idea of a penis being near the back of your throat at all? It’s worth getting some more details about what’s off-putting for you.

You’ll want to communicate with your partners and let them know beforehand that you’re sensitive to the idea of male ejaculate. They’ll then have the opportunity to decide whether to proceed sexually with you, and they may prefer not to. If they do decide to proceed and you feel comfortable exploring, you might consider asking to check out their semen before you write off the substance entirely. This doesn’t have to mean immediately swallowing it. You can get some on your hand and let it sit there for a few moments. You might find it more tolerable in reality than you imagine it to be. You also might find that your disgust ebbs slowly and that further exposure increases your ability to be comfortable.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m wondering what your thoughts are on masturbating when a partner is home and how to go about communicating you would like that time. Masturbation for me has always been more of an enjoyable quick process and physical release than a time to fantasize. I have always masturbated throughout my relationship with my partner, usually when I’m physically aroused but know there’s no time for or when I don’t want to be bothered with the physical and emotional intimacy of partnered sex. Throughout our relationship we have had an unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about masturbation: Neither of us (I think) mind that the other does it, but I know he waits till I’m at work, and I’ve always done it in the other room while he’s gaming or working.

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However, I have been wanting for a while to explore more porn and toys, and just now bought a subscription to an ethical porn website—but it’s very new to me, and I want my exploration of videos and these toys to be done in private before I introduce them to our partnered sex life. However, it’s COVID, and he is always home when I’m home!! How do I go about this in our small apartment? Announce I’m going to go masturbate and lock the door? Wait until he’s on a call with friends? A part of me also feels guilt because I have a much lower libido than he does, and I know he would happily have partnered sex more than we do now, even though he never pressures and always reassures me. How do I deal with feeling selfish for using my limited times of arousal for my own solo pleasure?

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—Embarrassed Masturbator

Dear Embarrassed,

Masturbation and partnered sex are two different things. It might help for you to take a moment when you find yourself aroused and ask yourself whether you want partnered or solo sex, and why you want that in the moment. What does masturbation do for you that partnered sex doesn’t? Understanding what you enjoy about self-pleasure will help you think through the difference between the kinds of sex and will hopefully alleviate your feelings of selfishness.

Tell your partner that you find him attractive, that you enjoy the sex the two of you have together, and that you want some private time to explore on your own. It might be worth thinking through some potential solutions before you broach the subject. Maybe this looks like them taking extra long at the grocery store or going to the park. Maybe you each masturbate in your own spaces simultaneously. You’ll have to work out what works for both of you.

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Your partner might be relieved that you’ve brought this into the open. I imagine with a higher sex drive and the same lack of privacy, he’s had similar thoughts about how to carve out time by himself.

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I (cis and hetero) have been married for many years. Our relationship and sex life overall are really good, but we’ve stopped having spontaneous sex. My wife says she doesn’t like being put in a position where she has to make a spur-of-the-moment decision about whether she wants sex or not. So we set aside Saturday night for sex, and if it doesn’t make sense for one or both of us on a particular Saturday, we usually just wait until the next Saturday. It’s fine, but I do miss the occasional spontaneity.

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We’ve both read Come as You Are, and there’s one idea that resonated for me: that most women need something to arouse them before they want sex (desire). On Saturday nights we’ll sometimes watch 15 minutes of porn, and this gets her past arousal into desire, so then it feels like we’re starting sex from the same place, which is really nice. (Side rant about porn: What she really likes is watching heterosexual couples who have their pubic hair and who seem to really like each other, having fairly realistic-looking sex that includes the woman getting oral sex. Fortunately, I like this too, but why is it so hard to find?)

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But if you’re with someone who needs to experience arousal before desire, does all sex need to be planned in advance? It’s not as if arousing events happen at random (except perhaps that one time we found ourselves watching that episode of Bridgerton that has nonstop sex scenes). I feel like the book doesn’t really address this.

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—No Spontaneous Combustion

Dear Combustion,

There’s your wife’s boundary about spur-of-the-moment decisions to have sex, and then there’s your question about whether all sex needs to be planned in advance when it involves partners who need to experience arousal before sexual desire. Your wife has expressed that she doesn’t want to have spontaneous sex. It doesn’t matter if that’s because of her sexual response. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a description of why in a book. It doesn’t matter whether an arousing event happens randomly. She doesn’t want this, and you should respect her stated limit. However, if you want to have a discussion about increasing the frequency of planned sessions, that’s OK to bring up with her.

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And you’re right that realistic portrayals of heterosexual pairings in porn can be hard to find. You can find performers who have the body types you’re looking for and sign up for their channels on various websites. You can sometimes get an idea of their content from free pages or Twitter previews before you join up.

Dear How to Do It,

We’re a 44-year-old man and 44-year-old woman who have been happily married for 17 years.  We have a very comfortable, simple marriage that is very close and loving. We are still madly in love with each other. We are both professionals with good careers that can be high-stress at times, but we have learned to manage it.

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We have had our ups and downs, primarily due to medical-related issues. While seeking fertility treatment six years ago, we found out that husband was infertile, primarily due to medically low testosterone and thyroid issues. Because of this, we decided to not have children, as husband never was able to produce enough viable sperm, despite any medical procedures that were performed. Husband did seek medical care and has responded positively to medication. This did boost husband’s sex drive, energy level, and mood.

In our 17th year of marriage, we want to spice up our sex life with things like role playing, kink, and related, all done monogamously with each other. We have talked about a few things, but we now are trying to determine which new sexual fantasies we want to have with each other. How do we overcome fear and being self-conscious, now that we seem to have certain parts of our lives under control and manageable? We want to have fun as a couple and explore sexual boundaries in the monogamous realm.

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—Couple Overcoming Fears

Dear Fears,

Have another talk. Maybe you do this snuggled up together in bed. Fantasize together, discuss the details of your desires, and decide which ones you’ll start with.

You’re almost certainly going to feel self-conscious at first. There’s no need to be alarmed—you’ll pass through the feeling eventually. You might choose the diversion that feels most comfortable for both of you to start. And you can begin slowly. If power exchange is interesting, you might have one person follow gentle instructions or simply taking a passive stance.

Fear, in the context of exploring kink, can be useful. You want to be cautious with what you’re doing, especially if it involves impact or restraint. Look into educational resources, and maybe even a class when things reopen, for anything possibly dangerous. If you’re afraid of feeling silly in front of each other, that’s surmountable. You’ve got 17 years of history together and plenty of knowledge about how to sooth each other and make each other laugh. Use those skills when you’re addressing this new subject. Remember that you’re doing this to bring joy to each other, and have a great time exploring.

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—Stoya

More How to Do It

A couple years ago—about 10 years into our marriage and amid our trying to fix some desire discrepancy issues—my wife confessed that she cheated on me with a good friend of ours, someone who was in our wedding party and has since made moves on her. This took place about a year before we were engaged, so a long time ago. While we have come a long way, it’s taken me a long time to get over this because of certain details. The biggest of these details is that she told me he performed a particular act for her, one that she enjoyed—an act she won’t let me perform on her. I’m very attracted to my wife; I couldn’t feel like a luckier guy. She is not the most (or least) sexually adventurous person; nor am I. I’m quite happy with our sex life, except that one thing. I’m slightly obsessed with it. She seems to enjoy porn that contains it, and she’s had it and liked it before, but doesn’t want it from me. She claims it’s a hygiene issue, but I feel like that is easy enough to solve. Simply put, I’m not going to do something she says she doesn’t want. At the same time, I really want to shed my insecurity about her getting freaky on the low with our old friend but not me. The male psyche is a little ridiculous, I realize. What should I do?

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