How to Do It

My Wife’s New, Extremely Strange Reaction to Sex Has Me Puzzled

It began a year ago.

A man and woman facing each other.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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 man who is in a decadeslong love affair with my wife. Many years later, we still have a really great sex life. Not bragging, just setting the scene. The issue is simple: Starting about a year ago, inexplicably, she began complaining that when I came during intercourse, my semen felt “like fire” inside her. It’s unpleasant enough that I’ve started pulling out before finishing. No issues of an allergic reaction on other parts of her body, incidentally. What could this possibly be? In all our years together, it was never an issue. I’ve heard of women being allergic to a man’s semen, but … can that come on later in life? Perhaps my wife’s vaginal walls are more sensitive now, but intercourse isn’t painful or anything. Could it be a medication side effect, either for her or me? I’m very curious about this and haven’t really brought it up with a doctor, nor have I found any insights online. Any ideas?

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—Great Balls of Fire

Dear Fire,

If your house were on fire, as much as I would like to help you from my kitchen table, I could only do so much. The best course of action for you would be to call someone who could directly help (like a fireman or six). If your wife’s vagina is on fire, same principle applies. She should see a doctor! Go now!

But like I said, I like to help, so allow me to at least present a possibility to mull over while sitting in the waiting room. According to Dr. Jonathan A. Bernstein, a professor at the Cincinnati Medical Center and partner of the Bernstein Allergy Group and Clinical Research Center, this sounds more like what is properly called “localized seminal plasma hypersensitivity.” What distinguishes this from an allergy is that “the mechanism for causing this reaction is not the typical allergic antibody mediated reaction,” Bernstein told me in an email. Instead, it “likely involves disruption of the vaginal mucosa.”

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In any event, seminal plasma hypersensitivity can start spontaneously at any time and is generally diagnosed by exclusion, which means your wife should be tested for STIs and other causes of dyspareunia in order to confirm what’s really happening. If it is that, though, it can be treated. Condoms may prevent the reaction she’s experiencing. There’s also a procedure called “intravaginal graded desensitization,” which involves “dilutions of whole seminal fluid instilled intravaginally with a syringe every 15 minutes.” These dilutions can bolster a sort of immune response that is conceptually similar to a vaccine.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a pre-op transmasc man in his mid-20s, with a history of being bullied a lot in my childhood, including by my own parents. Both me and my pre-op transfeminine girlfriend like the idea of me camming or going on Onlyfans, either solo or while me and her are having sex. My problem is I’ve always been extremely insecure about my body because of said bullying, my gender dysphoria, and the fact I’m little (5”) and heavyset naturally. I’ve even tried VR clubs with full-body tracking and models that are close to my body type, but I freeze up. I feel like people are just going to laugh or hurl insults at me every time.

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I’ve been straight-up told by friends I basically embody the term “shortstack,” so hopefully finding a niche audience would be possible, but I always find my worries flit between nobody watching and everyone being horribly mean to me because of my body or my lack of experience. My girlfriend has been nothing but supportive, and expressed shock at how well I danced and modeled provocatively as someone who had never really shown her that side of himself. I feel like I could do it, if I only knew how! Wardrobe, makeup, camera, etc. aren’t an issue. (Maybe a website recommendation or a community of fellow cammers would be helpful.) Just my own confidence is the issue! Am I paranoid? Surely people wouldn’t seek out streams just to berate people, right?

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—Insecurity Killed the Video Star

Dear Video Star,

I don’t mean to Freddy Krueger your dream into ribbons, but the fact is that people may laugh at anything you do in public, regardless of your body type or gender identity. They may, in fact, go out of their way to let you know they’re laughing. That laughter may, in turn, prove burdensome, affecting you way more than the positive feedback. There’s a theory for why people tend to hold onto bad experiences over good ones—our bodies may be trying to remember what to avoid for the sake of survival.

Some people more than happy to ruin a person’s day for the brief jolt that nasty commentary provides. However, a paywall is a theoretically decent defense for this hostility. While people are happy to shit on that which they can take in for free (not having to pay for something seems to only empower people’s animosity), it is less likely that they’ll shell out to lob insults at you. It’s still possible, especially if you’re posting free clips on platforms like Twitter to advertise, but so is an experience devoid of haters. It’s hard to predict the future, you may have noticed.

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My question for you, which I also think you should ask yourself, is: What exactly do you like about the idea of this kind of exhibitionism? If it’s the money and relative mechanical ease in procuring said money, I get it. However, to attempt to bolster your self-esteem by posting explicit images is like running sprints in a minefield for your health. Yeah, your legs may end up looking amazing, but at what cost? Even in its kindest form, external validation is fleeting. In nearly all cases, maintaining a regular supply often requires a seemingly infinite churn of content creation that may start to feel like it’s providing diminishing returns even if your audience stays trained on you. We humans have the capacity to get used to anything and then start taking it for granted if we don’t start receiving more of it. You should ask yourself if you really want to get on the hamster wheel.

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This is not to dissuade you from what I see as viable work, to just ask what you might be getting into emotionally. There are people for whom porn is a largely rewarding experience; there are people for whom it is not. I think in any public-facing job, it’s extremely important to have a firm sense of self and to appreciate what you are. Self-esteem derived only from others’ approval is not actual self-esteem; it’s social wallpaper. That’s gotta come from within. Figure out a way to be happy with yourself, and not only will that help you cope, it will also further boost your appeal as a commodity since swagger and confidence are massively attractive to people.

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In the meantime, you can check out online forums for creators like the subreddit onlyfansadvice. The post pinned on top of that sub specifically addresses “niche” content (“Can I make an onlyfans if I am: large, male, hairy, have scars, have tattoos, am a three headed tarantula with green nipples?”) and may provide some concrete guidance. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have been together nine years. Our sex life is amazing—before him, I never knew sex could be so good, and our chemistry seems to get even more intense as time goes on. We are both very communicative, and know what each other likes. He gets me off so fast and multiple times. Both of us ideally would love to have long sessions nearly every time we have sex, other than the random quickie, but we have an issue that stops it in its tracks: My husband gets eczema all over his body, and sometimes it is on his dick. He can sometimes ignore it and keep going, but usually, it starts to burn. And when it’s a day where it starts burning, we have to stop immediately, sometimes before either of us finish. We came up with a way to still get off— he applies lotion while masturbating and I use my toy–but we both would prefer to finish by penetration. His doctor told him to use lotion on it during the day, so he already does that. We have been wondering if there is some kind of lube out there that would help, or if there is some solution that we are just not thinking of. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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—Eczema Blues

Dear EB,

I would love to Hot to Dermatology It this question for you, but it doesn’t seem that it would be wise for me to suggest a lube from afar. Dr. Anthony Rossi, assistant attending dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told me via email that the type of eczema you describe “can be flared by many factors, including irritation as well as ingredients in personal care products.” To test for patient allergies to various ingredients, Rossi said, dermatologists perform “patch testing.” Without knowing what ingredients your husband may be allergic to, it’s too difficult to say which lube could be right for him.

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I’m not sure whether the doctor you refer to as your husband’s is a dermatologist or that the referenced lotion is prescription, but if not, he should see a board-certified dermatologist for his issue. Dermatologists can prescribe eczematous topical medications that could help control flare-ups as well.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’ve (early 20s woman) had this sexual tension with a former colleague of mine for years. Now, it looks like sex is finally on the table for both of us. We’ve sexted, flirted, and talked a bit about what we’re both into. I want to have sex, but here’s the issue: I’m insecure about my sexual experience—or lack thereof. He’s way more experienced than I am. I’ve had sex once with one person more than a year ago, and it was … fine. It wouldn’t, otherwise, be a problem, except for the fact that I have a lot of experience in dominating people, just never actually screwing them. As a result, I know pretty well what I’m into and what I (in theory) can do. I speak with such confidence about sex because of this, but I’m afraid I’ll be awkward and freeze up when the moment comes. And I get off by getting others off, so it’s somewhat important to me. Is there any way I could ease my nerves? I’m having some imposter syndrome-like feelings concerning this aspect of my sexuality, and I genuinely think the experience will help me—as well as potentially get both of our rocks off.

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—Good in Theory

Dear Good,

There is often a divide between the shit one talks prior to an encounter, and what goes on during that encounter. Anyone who’s compassionate and has accrued experience with sexting and sex knows it’s unfair to place too much stock in its forecast. I’m not talking about hard boundaries here, which should be stated up front and honored unless explicitly rescinded—I mean more the kind of ephemeral, here’s-what-I’m-gonna-do-to-you chitchat that people tend to engage in. There are so many variables with sex that in-the-moment chemistry takes way more precedent than pre-game hypothetical babble.

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You should not feel obligated to perform, whatever that means in the moment. Go with your gut. As much as you get off by getting others off, remember that your ultimate motivation is your own enjoyment, and so you should feel comfortable the entire time. If dominating and controlling him doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. I don’t mean to promote inconsistency, and indeed some people engage in pre-sex talk to sniff out compatibility. But that is often a losing game, anyway. Get two bodies together in a room, and they create their own truth.

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There are tons of things people to do ease their nerves in these situations. I’m going to advise against substances, so that you don’t risk habituating yourself to depend on alcohol or drugs for comfort during sex. You want to be able to enjoy one without the other. You mentioned your fear that you’ll freeze up, which can be a trauma response. Granted, there are any number of reasons why we may freeze up, but if yours owes to something like past abuse, it’s probably best for you to work on that (perhaps with a professional) before proceeding further. Otherwise, just try to lose yourself in the moment and do what feels right.

—Rich

More How to Do it

My husband and I married young and have been together for 15 years. We have two small children together. I’ve never been intimate with another man. The sex has always been … fine. He is very into performing oral—although I think his enthusiasm outstrips his skill—but I prefer penetration or manual stimulation to get off. He’s average size and has never been a marathon man. As I’ve gotten older, my tastes have started to run less vanilla, and all I want lately is really rough sex with a big, hard dick operated by someone who really knows how to use it. We still have sex a few times a week, but sometimes when it’s over, I’m so frustrated I could cry. Well, I’ve recently started chatting online with a sexy, well-endowed man …

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