How to Do It

I’m Afraid to Even Touch My Husband Because of the Wild Way He Reacts

We both want more affection, but his behavior is getting in the way.

A couple cuddling in bed with two neon emojis--huggy and horny--floating above them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Nick White/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 40-ish woman who’s been with my 45-ish husband for 20 years. During that entire time, he has had a higher sex drive than me (even when I was younger and hornier and pre-kids). He would happily have sex 1-to-2 times a day or more, every single day. Fortunately, he also likes masturbating, and I am more than OK with that. He masturbates 1-to-2 times a day, and for the last year or two, we have sex twice a week at specific times. This prescheduling may sound boring, but works well for us because it cuts out the stress of planning/negotiating. I should add that we would both say we have great, creative, generous sex when we have it; it’s just that he could do it daily and I could easily go a couple weeks (or more?) without.

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What’s bothering me is that I’m a really affectionate person and would like to cuddle with him more, but it’s almost impossible to do that without him getting turned on and wanting to have sex. I find myself reaching out for a hug or cuddle more when there are circumstances (kids, work, etc.) that I know will keep it from turning into sex. The other day, I woke up and had the impulse to touch his arm lovingly, and stopped myself because I didn’t feel like having sex and didn’t want to deal with him getting horny. And that just sucks. On top of all this, he’s said he really values when I’m affectionate and wishes I would be more affectionate! We’ve had conversations about this dynamic over the years, but we never seem to resolve it. I keep thinking age will make him less horny but that hasn’t been the case yet. How do I get the affection I want without it always having to end either with sex or with him getting super horny and me having to say no and walk away and leave him to masturbate? Can’t he just ignore his dang erection?!

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—All or Nothing

Dear A.N.,

Yes, he can and he should be ignoring his erection, just as he would in any other situation where it may pop up uninvited. No matter what he wants, and to what degree he has blood flow backing him up, he isn’t entitled to sex that you aren’t up for. This is a matter of simple boundary defining. In your conversations about your dynamic, have you told him that you’ve refrained from affection for fear of feeling obligated/pressured into sex that you don’t want? Have you made it clear that he is literally scaring you away from sharing the affection he craves? Doing so may require talking to him like he’s a child; this wouldn’t be necessary if he weren’t acting like one.

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That said, I wouldn’t deter him from masturbating, if it eases some pressure, as it were. Just make sure his urgency to do so isn’t cutting short your cuddling. Remind him that while you have a schedule for sex, you’d prefer to be a bit looser with affection because that is where you’re at. If he doesn’t meet you on your terms, he isn’t respecting your agency or desires and that bespeaks a bigger problem with the overall relationship. That he’s comfortable pressuring you is a huge red flag as it is.

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Dear How to Do It,

My fiancée and I are living together happily and are usually very good at communicating. The biggest problem we have with communicating is with our sex life. I have a higher drive for sex than my partner. When we first started dating, we had no issues, but as the honeymoon phase drifted away so did the sex. They were a virgin and I was not, so I attributed that to the consistency of the honeymoon phase sexual activities. When I first brought up that I would like to have sex more often, they explained why they had been having trouble always having sex. They’re transgender—which I knew going into the relationship—and they have some body dysphoria issues, causing them to struggle to be in the mood when they’re in the wrong body. We came up with at least once a week, which for a while worked but makes it difficult as weekends we usually have family around or are busy going places. I have worked to understand their body dysphoria to the best of my ability, but I also have major anxiety, depression, and rejection issues, which make it hard for me to remember it’s nothing I’ve done when they don’t want to have sex after I tell them how I want to spend the night, and they say they’re too tired, not feeling it, or wanted to get something else done on their video game.

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I know from what they have said it’s not a lack of sexual appeal for them (they often tell me how beautiful I am to them or sexy throughout the day). I’ve tried lingerie, fantasy, and other methods to help get them (and me) going when they have consented, when I’m ready first, and we usually end up having sex. It seems though when it’s the other way and I just take a little more time and ask for what makes me sexy in their eyes, they have no answer or just say, “I don’t know.” Which, as you can imagine, does not start the night well. The other night we had a conversation and they indicated to me that they are struggling even with the once a week agreement. Neither one of us want an open relationship, and we are determined to work through it together, but we just can’t seem to get our timing right when one of us is ready to have sex. I’m confused, and struggling to know how to solve this without either if us feeling rejected.

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—Frictionless Fiancée

Dear F.F.,

If you are determined to work through this, it’s in your best interest to give your partner what they need: patience. They are showing you who they are, as well as what they are and are not capable of. It is up to you to decide whether you can accept being with someone whose libido is lower than yours. At least they have concrete reasons: I was once in a relationship with a similar disparity and even after years of counseling, he never could provide me with an explanation. Looking back, it could just be that’s how he was and once a week was all I was destined to get, but at the time I suspected he was lying to me about being attracted to me because his interest in sex did not seem to support his assertion. It was very frustrating, but that’s because I jumped to the conclusion of taking it personally.

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There is comfort to be taken in the tangibility of that which can be explained. If you can’t remember that your partner’s dysphoria has nothing to do with you, do what people do when they can’t remember things and schedule a reminder on your phone. Set it to repeat daily or even multiple times a day. You are not your partner’s dysphoria, and when you take something like that personally, you are complicating your partner’s life. Your goal should be to make it easier. Are you truly up for the challenge?

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Dear How to Do It,

I have been seeing this guy since last September; we dated for a bit and then ended things in November saying that he can’t see it going anywhere. I was devastated because I had really started to fall for him. I then started going on a string of bad dates, and I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I then started to message him again just to talk about our common interests in February, and then in March, I told him I was only looking for something casual. He said that sounds good to him and we have been hooking up with each other since. When I told him I just wanted something casual, I meant it because at that time, he was planning on leaving the city in a couple of months, but he has recently said he is planning on living here for another two years. I don’t know how to bring up the fact that I want more of him. He makes sure to keep things strictly casual, he has never stayed over, but when he does come over, we chat for a couple of hours and cuddle before sex. We have so many common interests, and it’s so easy to spend time with him, and I am starting to feel so frustrated that he doesn’t seem to want more. What do I do?

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—Confused

Dear Confused,

You can obscure the truth from him, you can fool yourself, but I’m not going to let you full on pee on my leg and tell me it was just a few drips. You have been into this dude. You were into him when he called things off, you were into him when you resumed conversing, and you’re into him now. He may have been intentionally selective in his assessment of your arrangement (or he’s just not very swift), but I’m going to assume he detects your feelings on some level. Perhaps they were what drove him away to begin with, if in fact he wanted to keep things “casual.” He may still want to do so, and since that has been written into your arrangement, it’s hard to fault him for adhering to what you both agreed to. You twisted your feelings into a point to jam them in here; they do not fit by your design.

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There is, of course, a chance that he has developed deeper feelings for you and may be amenable to exploring romance. Let’s give optimism a try. I’m going to recommend that you don’t have any come-to-Jesus talks just yet. Instead, try inviting him to hang out in nonsexual context. Get dinner, go to a movie, go for a walk. Ask him to actually stay over one night. See if you can forge new frontiers of intimacy. Check if your established rapport sustains in nonsexual scenarios. The idea is to gradually test the water leading up to an official declaration of your feelings. If you can foster a closeness before that point, everything is going to make a lot more sense when you finally spill.

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Part of me wants to tell you to just lay it out on the line right now. Rip the Band-Aid off, and declare your feelings. The risk could be high yield, but it also could obliterate the current dynamic. I’m advising against that for now. It sounds like he’s providing some good dick, and I at least want you to have that.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am an 18-year-old person with a vulva, and I have no interest in having sex with other people, partly due to gender dysphoria. Usually my strategy while masturbating is to have a fantasy in my head and light touches while trying not to actually think too much about my real body. Once I get close enough, I’ll go all out with my hand until I climax. The problem is that lately I’ve been unable to get close enough for the final stage. If I try to go for it before that, it just sort of fizzles. I think the reason I’ve been having trouble with this is that lately I’ve been trying to actually work through my feelings about gender, instead of avoiding them like usual, which opens me up to a lot of uncomfortable feelings when I’m just trying to get off.

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I’m willing and able to pay for porn, but I want to be certain I’ll actually be able to use it. Most porn doesn’t match my fantasies or kinks very well, and even when I’m not at a standstill sexually like I am now, I tend to stop after a little while and let my fantasies take over, using the porn as a way to get my mind going. My sexual fantasies are always about other people, with one person to stand in for myself, but who is emphatically not me. While watching porn I will do the same thing, the stand-in for me is usually the woman in straight porn and the bottom in gay porn. (Lesbian porn is a no go.) To enjoy porn I really need to feel attracted to the man or the top, and find the other party to be at least fine. The porn industry’s standards tend to be the opposite. I don’t own any sex toys, but I don’t think that would help, since I need to avoid thinking about my own physical sensations in order to masturbate. I have a therapist, but we’re working on other things right now, and though I’m super comfortable talking with him about everything else, I feel weird talking about sex. My best friend is asexual and grossed out by such things, and there’s no one else I would feel comfortable talking to about this. I know I’m not the only person who has trouble getting from plain horniness to climax, but none of the advice I’ve heard seems useful to my situation. Do you guys have any ideas I might not have thought of?

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—Taking My Mind Off My Body

Dear T.M.M.O.M.B.,

I understand your apprehension, but the sooner you can become comfortable talking about your sexuality with a care provider, the better off you may be. Perhaps you can look at things this way: Your reluctance to discuss sex with your therapist may signal that he isn’t the right person with whom to talk about that stuff. It doesn’t mean that no one is. There could be another therapist out there who could help fill that role.

The reason I’m leaning so hard on my horn here is, in the emailed words of Jesse Kahn, LCSW, CST, director and sex therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York: “Since gender dysphoria is different for everyone, having a therapist who can navigate and talk about your specific experience would be particularly helpful.” I can only do so much in an advice column; someone who can work with you on an ongoing basis, attending to your particular situation and dysphoria would be ideal. Kahn recommends “speaking with a sex therapist and a therapist specifically comfortable, experienced, and competent in talking about the intersections of sex and gender dysphoria” (as an example, the G&STC, where Kahn works, caters to people of all gender identities while offering sex therapy). You are young, and since therapy is something that you are amenable to, it is well in your interest to find someone who can help you on your journey.

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In the meantime, Kahn offers two additional suggestions. The first is using toys, which contrary to your suggestion, may in fact help. “If engaging with your hand can be triggering or disrupt your experience of pleasure, try a toy. Sometimes this space between parts of our body can allow us to stay connected to the feelings in our body, our pleasure and our fantasies without getting pulled out due to the impact of dysphoria,” wrote Kahn. Their other suggestion is mindfulness. “Try mindfulness and grounding techniques so that you can stay connected to your fantasies and pleasure and help mediate the impact of intrusive thoughts linked to gender dysphoria,” they wrote.

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Above all else, be patient. “Take the time to figure out what feels good and what allows you to stay connected and in your fantasies and pleasure while also giving you the experience you’re wanting,” wrote Kahn. It’s good advice in just about any context of sexual difficulty, but particularly important here. Good luck!

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—Rich

More How to Do It

I have been casually seeing a guy for almost a year. We do relationship-y stuff and we genuinely care about each other, but no one is pushing for more. We’re both in our late 30s with kids, so the current setup works. What doesn’t work is the sex. I mean, it’s good, but I’m looking for great. It starts out really hot and he gets me going, but once he’s inside me, he always comes too fast. Three pumps and it’s over. I have the best orgasms when I’m being penetrated, so this is big for me. I’ve also never have never had this issue with someone I actually care about. I feel like it’s something that we could work on, but he gets very embarrassed when I bring it up. What should I do?

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