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,
My ex left me pretty confused about sex. I genuinely liked him, but I got the vibe he was desperate just to be with someone. He confessed that he didn’t lose his virginity until he was 20 to the first woman who asked, and he was still frustrated and embarrassed about that. When I met him, he told me he was very into sex—kinky, open-minded, high sex drive, etc. I thought I’d met my match. Not so much. He was average in bed but didn’t take new direction well, and he only did what I asked once. He only wanted to have sex in two positions in the morning or at night and only in bed. He thought oral sex was the kinkiest thing ever. He wanted nothing beyond that. Anal sex was “gross,” sex toys were out, watching porn was “weird,” having sex in public made him nervous, etc. We did have sex a few times a week, but he turned me down a lot. Things got tense when I called my ex vanilla. I mean, he is, right? There’s nothing wrong with vanilla, but I wish he’d told me that in the beginning. Well, he didn’t think so and he was furious with me. He blamed me for wanting sex too much and making it less fun because I wasn’t a “challenge.” I’m wondering if, despite being a 40-something man, my ex still has these inaccurate ideas about sex that so many teenage boys have that never get corrected.
“Very into sex,” “kinky,” “open-minded,” “high sex drive,” and “vanilla” are all highly subjective. Some people think once a week is a lot of sex. Oral sex absolutely is kinky for some. Vanilla can mean anything from “without a power dynamic” to simply passionless. You’ll be better off in the future defining these terms more specifically through follow-up questions. If someone says they’re kinky, you might inquire what their favorite quirk for partnered sex is. If someone says they have a high sex drive, you might ask how often they prefer to engage in sexual activity, and how frequently they like that activity to be partnered. You can also describe fantasies and preferences of your own and see how they respond.
Vanilla is sometimes used as a judgement to mean “boring” or “bland,” so you may have touched a nerve with that. His blaming you for not making sex a challenge is concerning. It’s possible that he’s got an ill-articulated kink for ravishment. His reaction could certainly be a sign of immaturity. Regardless, the two of you clearly aren’t a match. Take some time to breathe and reconnect with yourself, and then look for someone who is a better fit.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a woman married to my best friend for over 20 years. We have similar interests in everything from politics to hobbies to movies. We have been through cancer, job loss, family deaths, raising three teenagers, and are now stronger in our 40s than ever before. We have regular, loving sex, and have never gone long without. Although we were young when we started dating, I had a varied sexual history and he didn’t (just a couple people). I also am attracted to women, although generally more to men. Sexual exploration was a part of my identity to me when we were younger, but I wanted when kids, my career, and just being a young couple trying to make ends meet took center stage.
After I hit my early 40s, around the time my already pretty easy kids started to become more independent, I started to explore who I was again, and with that, my sex drive and interest in everything sex skyrocketed. Like 10 fold. My husband is a great lover, but is rather vanilla. I’ve known that for years and have never been lacking in physical satisfaction. But my increased interest has prompted us to communicate more (we have taken some serious kink/fantasy quizzes, talked through certain things methods/techniques in detail), and that has made things more exciting.
He was recently honest that he wasn’t really interested in some of my more kinkier fantasies and doesn’t like lots of dirty talk or sexting. He’s not into porn, is OK with some toys, and doesn’t care if I dress up. He has never really needed anything more than me naked (although he may be open to a threesome with another woman, but isn’t sure yet, which is fine—no rush!). Recently, we have rekindled some friendships with an online group, which was a saving grace for me as an extrovert and was something akin to a “date” for me and him during COVID. The group is comprised of married men, some are friends of ours for decades and some are newer. With my husband’s knowledge, I have initiated flirting/sexting with two of them. He is very cool with this because he likes to see me happy, I am not hiding anything, and it has made our sex hotter. He has been clear there is to be no physical contact, which is 100 percent fine with me. I dig fantasy, anticipation, and novelty. I’m loving it! One guy I’ve known forever has told me he and his wife have a similar arrangement (I know them both so I believe it) and that he “likes being married and never plans not to be.” Spousal boundaries are important to me. The other guy is the newest member of our group, and while the flirting has been more tentative and only via voice, has the potential to be more intense.
Here’s the problem: My girlfriends, who are an important part of my life and are usually supportive and sex positive, are not only sure the sexting/flirting will lead to an affair that will ruin my marriage (??), but that if I must continue down this path of “self-destruction” I need to be sure this new guy’s wife that is OK with our discussions. They are also worried I am in love with him (sure I am high school crushing on him, but I ONLY love my husband). I don’t know his wife at all, and so far, it has just been innuendo and flirting, so it feels mega awkward to say “in case this might turn into something hotter, I need your wife’s permission.” I finally feel like I have reached this great point of sexual self-actualization and my husband is super supportive, but my girlfriends are making me wonder if I am being naive. Can this work? Is this all too good to be true?
—Wanting All the Good to Be True
You’ve found something that revitalizes your sexuality, and I think that’s wonderful. I’m glad you’ve had conversations with your husband about this and are proceeding with his blessing. There is absolutely a chance that he will be less comfortable with your sexting in the long run, so that’s something to keep communicating about. I think your girlfriends, supportive and sex positive as they usually are, may be less familiar with non-monogamy. We’ve got a deeply entrenched two-partner ideal, and configurations beyond that can be alarming at first.
Dating, if you’ll remember a couple of decades back, is frequently awkward. And there’s no guarantee that our boundaries will be adhered to. Still, we continue to make connections, feel out possibilities, and navigate these issues. You’ll work out the most comfortable ways of describing your parameters. Maybe that’s “I want to flirt with you more explicitly. My husband is OK with that, and I need a similar permission from your wife to feel comfortable.” Or more of a direct, “How would your wife feel about a sexting relationship between us?”
You’ll want to be prepared for a variety of reactions. They might be completely on board, to a degree that surpasses your desired level of involvement. They might be concerned or judgemental like your girlfriends currently are. They might not know what to say and need time to process what you’ve suggested. Listen closely and proceed.
Dear How to Do It,
I had my third baby six weeks ago and finally got the OK by the doctor to have sex. It’s been a very long six weeks, and I was more than ready. But when my husband and I tried, I was so dry and it was so painful. I was really surprised since I was very turned on. My husband took his time to make sure I was ready, but nothing was helping. So we used lube, but it was still so painful. This never happened with the first two pregnancies. Is there anything I can do? We spend a lot of time on foreplay, and I really enjoy that. But I want to be able to have PIV sex. Maybe there’s a specific kind of lube I could try? I’m nursing, so I don’t think the problem will go away anytime soon.
—Like the Desert Misses the Rain
Congratulations on your third child. Vaginal dryness six weeks after delivery, especially when you’re nursing, is a pretty common postpartum experience. It may be related to lower estrogen levels after the delivery.
Your instinct to use lube seems wise. If you’re using condoms, go for water based or silicone lubricant. Stay away from anything warming, scented, tingling, and especially numbing. I’m a fan of Pjur’s Eros for silicone. You want to be able to feel what’s happening with your body. Try a finger first. Fingers might be too bony, in which case you’ll want to start with incredibly slow penetration with your husband’s penis. If fingers are OK, spend some time adjusting to that girth first. The key here is to proceed slowly and gently, paying attention to sensations, and see what’s possible right now.
If you aren’t using condoms—and remember, you can get pregnant again even after a few weeks—you have oils like coconut as an option for both moisturizing and lubricant.
It’s worth speaking with your OB/GYN about possible treatments. A vaginal estrogen cream is a common option, and seems to work well for many. Your hormones are likely to balance back out when you’re finished with breastfeeding, so this probably isn’t a lifelong problem.
Dear How to Do It,
I started seeing an ex-boyfriend after nearly 25 years of being apart. He moved to another state to finish college, started his career, and moved home after his father’s death. We are both 48. I’d always felt as if he “was the one who got away”, and I was shocked to hear he was moving back home. We’d seen each other off and on throughout the years when he came to visit his folks.
The biggest issue we always had was unfortunately he has a smaller then average-sized penis, and in the past didn’t exactly do much to make up for it in bed. I never complained, but it wasn’t hard to see that obviously our romp in the hay wasn’t always satisfying for me. I tried faking my excitement/orgasm, but he’s a pretty smart guy and knew when I wasn’t being truthful.
After moving back over 3 years ago, his entire persona in bed had completely changed, and only for the better. Rather then his usual five minutes of foreplay followed by pretty awkward sex, he’s become the master of all things involving his hands. He’s able to hit every single part of me that is capable of feeling pleasure, and when toys are incorporated, I’m lucky not to soak his bed. I feel comfortable w/him & trust him in every way possible.
Now after he’s made me scream multiple times, I usually will end up blowing him. I’m not sure I’m quite up to his level anymore. I have definitely upped my game in that department since being in our 20s, and I’ll go to town for quite a while. But most of the time he’ll move my mouth away, and take over manually. He always says, “isn’t your jaw getting sore?” I then will usually dart my tongue over the head or will lick his frenulum while he’s stroking away. But I’m becoming worried that my oral skills truly suck … not in a good way! Or maybe possibly it’s because he’s not been in a relationship in years, and is used to taking matters into his own hands.
I just worry because IMO if I have the choice between masturbating and having him work his magic on me, I’ll choose him every time. Why doesn’t he feel that way?
—Not Feeling It
The easiest way to find out the answer to your question—-the only way to really know, even—is to ask. You’ve got a long history together, you feel comfortable with him, and you trust him. You have so much set up in your favor. Have a conversation.
Pick a time when both of you have your basic needs met—you’ve eaten, slept well enough—and have space in your schedules to let the conversation go on for as long as it needs to. Minimize distractions and look at each other if possible. Then ask.
Figure out what you want to communicate and be as direct as possible. Maybe you want to practice what you’ll say first. Maybe that’s writing it down, typing it out, or rehearsing in front of the mirror. Let him know that you’re curious, and—if it turns out there’s some critique—that you’d like to learn how to more proficiently provide pleasure. Keep in mind that some men enjoy but don’t come from blowjobs, and this may have nothing to do with your technique.
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