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’ve been married for nearly eight years and prior to that both my wife and I were virgins. We also grew up with very little useful sex education beyond the typical threats of STDs or unwanted pregnancy, so I can still recall our first night together when we failed miserably to “get it in” and were both left pretty frustrated. Luckily, we discovered the power of lube and were able to figure it out. However, I’m still having a major problem whenever my wife wants us to have sex without a condom. I certainly like the idea and obviously see the need to when we start trying for kids, but whenever we “go for it” unprotected I feel very uncomfortable and queasy. The first two times we did this, earlier on in our marriage, I passed out immediately afterwards, which has led to very few attempts since, yet I can’t seem to determine the issue.
Multiple online searches make it seem like this is not an issue any man has ever experienced before, but actually what men prefer, and it’s incredibly frustrating. In most situations I would say I have an average amount of sensitivity in my penis, but when it comes to “going at it” without cover, for some reason I’m fully aware of every little thing and, despite the lube, it feels rough and uncomfortable, and even thinking about it now creates this feeling of dread and discomfort. I feel terrible about this, and worry that telling my wife about it has made her self-conscious about her body. I don’t understand why I have this issue, but would really love to find a solution so I could be normal and finally give my wife the experience she desires with a less concerning outcome.
—Every Man’s Dream Is My Nightmare
My hunch is that the root of your apparent anxiety has to do with the way sex was presented to you from a young age: as something to be feared. Yours is a strong response, but it is not without rationale. You are perhaps an extreme example of what believing deeply that condoms are a cure-all can look like. I don’t see you overcoming this without therapy, but I think the process somewhere down the line will probably involve you facing your fears. I think you’re actually primed to do so. If you’re fully aware of every little thing during condomless sex, you’re actually practicing mindfulness. If you could during those moments turn your mind to how good things feel, the wonders of the human body, how sexual intercourse is such an ingenious and effective method of bonding and emotional expression, perhaps you can reframe the experience.
Something to keep in mind is: You already have a solution. You are squeamish about sex without condoms, and so having sex with condoms is for you. I understand that you want to be on the same page as your wife here, but unless there’s irritation or other health issues deriving from the condom use, the “problem” here is one of principle and failing to live up to notions of “normalcy.” If “most” guys prefer condomless sex, well, you aren’t like most guys. Join the club! If you’re worried that this is making your wife feel self-conscious, explain to her that it seems to be a force beyond your control that she should not take personally. And talk to a sex therapist about it. This seems workable to me.
Dear How to Do It,
About six months into my first relationship, my girlfriend and I discovered that I am capable of orgasming solely from nipple stimulation. I was completely surprised, as I’d honestly thought stories about “nipplegasms” (ew) were made up. This discovery completely changed up our sex life, and it’s been very fun exploring this together. The orgasms started off fairly weak but lasted very long, and were easily distinguishable from a clitoral orgasm. Now one year later, my nipple orgasms have become stronger than my typical clitoral orgasms, and my nipples have become incredibly sensitive. While there are obvious benefits to this increased sensitivity (my girlfriend can make me come in seconds!), it’s not always great. There have been spans of a month or more where my nipples were too sensitive to touch, and even the slightest stimulation (a shirt brushing against them, hugging someone, etc.) was simultaneously pleasurable and unbearable. During those times, my orgasms from nipple play have been painfully strong and brief, and I didn’t get much pleasure from them. Other times, my nipples have become incredibly itchy for days, and I’ve had to avoid touching them. I’ve also had times where I felt a painful stabbing sensation in my breasts. Having been loosely keeping track of the timing of my nipple and breast discomfort, there doesn’t seem to be a connection to any particular point in my menstrual cycle. I know nipples evolved for some pretty rough handling, and my girlfriend doesn’t have to do much more than stroke them lightly to set me off. But I’ve been experiencing more periods of pain or discomfort lately, and I’m starting to wonder if there are any health risks or risks of sexual dysfunction associated with nipple play. Is what I’m experiencing “normal”? Is there anything I can do to reduce my sensitivity when it’s uncomfortable? And should I be concerned that the changes in sensation over the past year could be connected to any major health concerns, like cancer?
—Nip It in the Bud
Dear Nip It,
You’re noticing changes in your body, some of them painful—this means you should see a doctor. That is technically the best thing I can offer you. But! Since I hate the idea of offloading my work without doing any of my own, I have some insight on breast sensitivity gleaned from … contacting a doctor. See how that works? Follow suit! Do as I do! I am the change I want to see in your world, etc.
Via email, Dr. Patricia Rae Kennedy, clinical director at Saratoga Hospital Center for Breast Care, told me that “there is no data indicating a link between nipple stimulation and cancer.” So you can maybe rest a little easier for the moment. There’s also a lack of data regarding the “nipplegasms” you report, though. “Most of the literature on female orgasms is relative to clitoral and vaginal stimulation,” wrote Kennedy. “While acknowledged, nipple stimulated orgasms have not been well studied.” That said, nipple stimulation is well documented as influencing sexual arousal—Kennedy referenced a 2006 study that found 82 percent of women respondents reporting that nipple/breast stimulation enhanced their arousal. You may be on the more sensitive side of things, but broadly speaking, your reaction is common.
As to the pain you’re experiencing, Kennedy says that breast pain “is rarely related to breast cancer.” More common causes include hormonal factors like menstrual cycle hormones as well as prolactin, which surges after orgasm and can be increased by nipple stimulation. “Patients with breast pain are frequently evaluated/examined to be sure there are no other breast issues of concern,” wrote Kennedy. “Then a variety of strategies for management are proposed—it can be trial and error.” She recommends starting with avoiding deliberate nipple stimulation to see if that affects your sensitivity. Sounds logical to me. Try it and check in with a doctor.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 48-year-old man who has apparently hit the sexual jackpot. After divorcing from a more than 20-year marriage, I’ve found a partner with almost uncanny compatibility. We’ve been dating two years, and the sex just gets better and better. Especially for her. She was also married a long time, and had a “serviceable” sex life. In other words, she taught her former spouse how to mechanically provide her an orgasm. Multiple orgasms were not really a thing for her—until now. Now we enjoy frequent, lengthy, almost tantric sex sessions. Each time, she orgasms over and over, and doesn’t want to stop. Thankfully, I enjoy this very much and have great stamina—but I don’t have an unending supply of orgasms myself. When we first saw each other sporadically, I could sometimes come three or four times a day (six to eight times over a weekend) followed by a few days of rest and ice ;). Now that we see each other more often, once or twice a day is really all I can do consistently. You see, I tend to “soften up” if I get beyond this ongoing rate of usage. I’ve started saving my ejaculations, ending without coming, so that we can have another sex session sooner and I can keep harder erections as well. Besides conserving my semen, do you have any other tips? She’s not into toys, and we do oral, digital, etc. I’d really just like to be able to have PIV sex longer, or more often, because who ever wants multi-orgasmic fun to end?
—Keeping Up With Wonder Woman
Dear Keeping Up,
You aren’t the only one who hit the jackpot here. Your partner’s response suggests that she’s lucky to have you. I appreciate your can-do spirit, your commitment to improvement so dogged as to eradicate the very concept of best in favor of the understanding that there is only better, and better is always attainable with the proper effort. However, I wonder what is the source of your pressure to improve on an impressive two loads a day (at 48). Is it a simple fealty to self-actualization, or is your partner pressuring you? The former is less of a problem than the latter, though either way the optimization you seek may amount to throwing some more tires on an 18-wheeler.
That said, you could look into some ancient practices for the sake of your future performance. You’re having “almost tantric sex sessions” already, so why not investigate what actual tantra practice would entail? Barbara Carrellas’ Urban Tantra is a How To Do It fav. You could also check out Taoist sex. There’s an easy-to-read book from 2009 by Mantak Chia and Douglas Abrams Arava called The Multi-Orgasmic Man, which in its intro purports to show people with penises “how to separate orgasm and ejaculation in their own bodies, allowing them to transform the momentary release of ejaculation into countless peaks of whole-body orgasms.” (Among the suggestions are strengthening and then employing the PC muscle, which Kegels target.) Seems worth a shot or three.
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Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend of over seven years and I haven’t had penetrative sex in over two years. He suffers from a litany of issues (varicocele, prostatitis, epididymitis, urethritis … ). For almost a year there was no sexual component to our relationship, and I stopped attempting to initiate because it just made matters worse. It’s gotten to the point now that my own sex drive (which was insatiable) has gone dormant. I love him terribly, but I feel more like a roommate or caregiver than a partner sometimes. We’ve had lengthy discussions about this, but unfortunately no change. When I ask about seeking medical help, I am met with justified frustrations as he’s been dealing with this his whole life and has never found any medical professional who was helpful. I’m hoping maybe in your fields you may have some guidance on where to turn
—Sick of the -Itis
I understand that bad experiences with doctors can scare people away from seeking further medical help, but many of your boyfriend’s conditions are treatable—prostatitis, epididymitis, and urethritis are usually treated with antibiotics, even in their chronic forms. Sometimes the conditions are severe enough to warrant surgery, which can alleviate the symptoms. Varicocele usually does not cause symptoms and often is not treated (though surgical varicocele repair is an option for cases that cause pain).
If your boyfriend has been treated only to have his symptoms return, it’s probably time to find another, more effective doctor. Has he considered a consultation with someone at the Mayo Clinic, which tends to be highly ranked on lists of the best urology departments in the U.S.? If he’s not doing all he can to alleviate his pain, I have to wonder why. In that case, I’d suspect some psychological force that is blocking him (or allowing him to use his conditions as an excuse to detach from sex). There, a therapist might be useful. Either way, his giving up and acting like treatable conditions are just the way things are is disconcerting. There’s help out there. It sucks that it often must be found and that process requires patience, but we live in an imperfect world with really shitty health care systems so that’s the way it goes.
More How to Do It
I am a 68-year-old man who has been married to a woman for 45 years, with three grown kids. Over the course of our marriage, we have been very active sexually, but for various reasons over the past five or six years, our sexual activity has declined dramatically. At the same time, over the past few years, I have become fascinated with same-sex encounters. Is this unusual, especially this late in life? How should I approach this with my wife?