How to Do It

I’m Afraid to Tell My Girlfriend About the Real Source of My Sexual Prowess

I risk making her feel deceived.

Man with head in hands next to blue outline representing a Viagra pill
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by taa22/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 healthy 43-year-old male with a robust sex drive. I take blood pressure medicine that causes my erections to be slightly less than ideal—not all the way ED, but noticeably less than great. My primary care doctor prescribed me Viagra for this, which has been working great for a few years now.

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About a year ago, mid-pandemic, my wife left me. In the last few months I’ve begun a new relationship with a woman I feel very comfortable with, and our sex life is fantastic. However, she has no idea I use Viagra. The pills really do work wonders, and she thinks I’m a man in my 40s with the erections of a teenager, and while she loves me for many non-sexual reasons, I have no doubt my robust sexual abilities have impressed her.

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The issue I’m running into is that timing Viagra correctly, when only one partner knows it is needed, can be very tricky. We are having a lot of sex, and it can often happen spontaneously, but I have to time the Viagra with the sex, and it’s becoming stressful. I fear I can’t tell her about this at this point because now (we’ve been dating about 4 months) it almost seems like I’ve been practicing deception, although it certainly didn’t feel like something I could tell her at the very beginning.

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I know ED treatments exist that are “all day” treatments, but my doctor doesn’t feel those are right for me. And I can get erections that are often good enough without the Viagra, but I end up “spectatoring” and losing it, which is doubly difficult to explain when they are typically rock solid. I feel the only way forward is to tell her, but I risk making her feel deceived and also losing the aura of the super-sexual being she has developed of me.

—Hard Questions

Dear Hard Questions,

You say you’re afraid to tell your new partner that you’ve been using Viagra because it “almost seems like” you’ve been practicing deception. You have been practicing deception. It’s important to get square with that before you broach the subject with her, because she may have a valid reaction of “you’ve been deceiving me.” To be clear, this doesn’t make you a liar or a bad person—you simply waited a little longer than you feel you should have to disclose something that isn’t most people’s business.

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“I’ve been trying to find the best way to broach this for several weeks” is a good place to start. You want to communicate that you wanted her to know about your Viagra use and that you’ve put effort into figuring out how to bring it up. If you’re comfortable with this kind of vulnerability, telling her about your emotions—fear, reticence, whatever you’re experiencing—can also help her understand why you’ve waited and how you’re feeling in the current moment.

Listen to her reaction and whatever feelings she shares with you. Do this with your mouth shut. Perhaps she isn’t as sexually motivated as you think and may shrug it off, or it might not be a big deal to her. But if she does care and you feel an impulse to defend yourself or make excuses, take a few deep breaths and focus on her communication. You’ll need the information she’s giving you to craft an effective apology, which has three components—what you did, what harm it caused, and how you can repair the damage or prevent a future occurrence. And you’ll be in a better position to figure out what needs to be different moving forward.

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Dear How to Do It,

One of my greatest fears is becoming pregnant. I am a sex-positive cis straight gal in my mid-20s and have exhaustively trialed contraceptive options with counseling from my OB-GYN since college. I nearly died from toxic shock syndrome from using a spermicide cervix sponge (and condom and pullout) the first time I sneakily had sex as a teen. So the first thing I did when I left for college was to explore my options and got an IUD which I loved.

I had my hormonal IUD removed last February with the intention to replace it. The replacement procedure failed, the pandemic struck, and I was too uncomfortable to venture out for another try. My husband and I have been together for four years and both openly communicate our desires in the bedroom. Shortly after the removal, I lost my job for a few months, had to move into his parents’ home for financial reasons, and suffered from insomnia due to stressing out about the pandemic and life in general. I started experiencing a much lower libido and soon had zero sex drive. This has never happened before. I stopped masturbating and declined to initiate or reciprocate his advances. He respected my feelings, and we stopped having sex. Although he has expressed his frustration and worry I won’t desire him anymore, I have reassured him that I love him and that I just don’t have the sex drive and feel comfortable having sex without my IUD safety blanket.

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More than a year later, we have our own little apartment, and I feel ready to get another IUD. I’m scared that it won’t be the silver bullet to this situation. I still don’t feel like I have much of a sex drive either. Please help.

—Intrauterine

Dear Intrauterine,

Your concern that an IUD won’t be a silver bullet is valid. You’re in a complex situation with many possible factors. I do think getting a new IUD is worth trying for a few reasons: It’s something that has helped you in the past. It’s something you can control, and acting on our agency can help us feel more confident and sexy. And while this is rare, some people do report an increase in sex drive with a hormonal IUD.

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Many people are experiencing sexual changes over the course of this pandemic. Folks have been more interested than usual, less interested than usual, and generally wondering if their new sexual responses are OK. Rich and I just fielded a question about anxiety around the lifting of lockdown procedures and returning to spit-sharing life, I’ve heard from others who are watching their peers return to sexual activity and wondering if they should be too, and I’m going through my own reactions to the past year and a half. On top of the pandemic-related stress, you’ve also experienced secondary and tertiary ramifications. You might need more time to catch up with your newly returned stability. Moving is stressful. Financial pressure is stressful.

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You’ve communicated your current boundaries to your husband, he’s respecting them, and you’ve also communicated that you love him. Keep reassuring him, and put effort into other types of physical connection like back scratches or massages.

Many relationship therapists recommend a “fake it till you make it” approach to sexual engagement in these sorts of situations. If you want to try that, I think it’s worth exploring—but only if you want to, and only for as long as you feel comfortable. Your husband’s feelings about starting sex when you aren’t in the mood are important, too. I’m also a huge fan of Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are. Her descriptions of sexual response styles may be useful for you. Remember, our sexualities change based on environmental factors and the aging process over the course of our lifetimes. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m having an issue getting my sex life back on track with my husband after a near divorce at the beginning of the year. We have been together for nine years and married for six, with a 4-year-old child. I was the one who had the divorce talk, as we had started to live separate lives and I was so deeply lonely. We had bad sex weekly, which was a minefield for us both. He became fixated on anal (which was taken off the table early on after multiple tries) and aggressive blowjobs to help keep his boner. Every time he would go soft and try to hold my head and pound away, I would come out of the moment feeling a bit like a sex toy. Orgasms for me were infrequent. I had postpartum depression and anxiety after our child was born, and he was not very supportive through that.

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When I brought up divorce, I told him that I was miserable and not attracted to him. At first he was pretty much non-functioning—couldn’t get him out of bed. Then I found myself having little sparks of the person he once was, making me laugh or quirking his eyebrow is just a way that I found very cute. So I let that grow, and we ended up trying to work things out. At this point, things are pretty great—except sex. I feel scared to jump back in and not even sure what turns me on. I told him that I want to be the one to initiate things, but then we would go a few days without me hugging or kissing him (that’s all we’ve worked up to—I am very scared) and he will start to pressure me again. We are having little make outs through the day, and he will whine and paw at me if I try to pull away to do laundry or tend to our son. I told him that does the opposite and it would be so valuable for me to have some time to figure myself out, which was my homework from my therapist.

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I’ve suggested therapy many times, but he thinks I should just push myself out of my comfort zone and let myself enjoy it. I just can’t get out of my head. I’m currently reading So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, and it has hit home in a few ways. Should I ask him to read it as well? I feel like we are stuck, and I don’t know what to do. Any ideas?

—Sexless in Seattle

Dear Sexless,

One of the generally beautiful things about creative work—which includes sexuality self-help books—is that each person has a different experience to the material. We focus on different aspects and remember different facets. So asking your husband to read So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex is a great step, and should be followed by at least one conversation where you discuss what you’ve learned and what you each think can be applied to improve your sex life. If it were me, I’d bring screenshots or highlighted passages. But from what you’re describing, I’m not sure your husband is in a place to engage intellectually with a book about a subject that he’s whining about not being able to participate in. So you’ll want to be prepared for him to refuse to read it, say he’ll read it and then not, or even read it and continue his attempts to coerce you into sexual activity that you aren’t ready for. If the former two possibilities occur, you might want to continue nudging him to see a therapist of his own. If the latter happens, that’s a very concerning sign.

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It sounds like your husband expects you to heal on a schedule, which isn’t how these things work. I’m sure there are exceptions, but most healing is an up-and-down, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process. And since healing is growth, we aren’t likely to return to exactly who we were before the harm or difficulty occurred.

One of my biggest frustrations with relationships—sexual partners, romantic partners, and platonic friends—in the United States is the apparent inability of people to understand what “I need space” means. They prioritize their own need for reassurance through continued contact. To empathize, people who fear they might lose someone they care about may engage in frantic attempts to avoid abandonment. We humans are social creatures, and the loss of a member of our community can be frightening. It’s possible that you need to be forcefully blunt to get through to him, and that’s a tough balance, given his reaction to your sharing of your experience of the relationship. Draw on what you know of him, choose your words carefully, and remember that you don’t have to stay if the situation becomes intolerable.

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Dear How to Do It,

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I am 37 and a queer cis woman. I got divorced about three years ago and had been with my ex-wife for 14 years—so most of my adult life was spent in one monogamous relationship. Our sexual dynamic was such that she was almost exclusively a top, and I was almost exclusively a bottom. It was based mostly in her preference, but I was cool with it and never had a strong desire to top her. It was the same in my earlier relationships too.

Fast forward to today, and I am in a new relationship. My partner (also a cis woman) is amazing, and the sex is truly the best I have ever had. That said, I need to figure out how to tap into some topping energy. She is an enthusiastic switch, and while I do top her, I am hesitant and unsure and super self-conscious, and it definitely comes across. We’ve talked about it, and she is sweet and supportive. She says she enjoys it when I top her, but I know it could be so much more fun and fulfilling for both of us. She has expressed a desire to be topped in a way that leans dominating—think me handling her aggressively and being in control of the encounter. I so badly want to do this. I just have no experience assuming that kind of role and struggle to get in to the right headspace. Whenever I try, I start overthinking and worrying, which kills the mood entirely. Any advice? How do I get over the mental hurdles that are keeping me from fully embracing my inner top?

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—Big Top Energy

Dear Big Top Energy,

Sinclair Sexsmith, friend of the column and experienced BDSM writer, has a number of posts that might be useful to you. And now that communities are re-opening, connecting with your peers might help, too. Classes and munches are great places to make new friends and share our vulnerabilities. It’ll take time to build these relationships if you don’t already have them, and you’ll want to take care that there’s reciprocity, but there’s nothing like having someone you trust to call up and say “Hey, I had this experience, what do you think?”

I think it might help you to reduce the scale and scope of your next topping adventure. Make a list of your comfort zones and decide on one practice outside of it to focus on during your next sexual encounter. Maybe that’s hair pulling. Maybe it’s verbal orders. Maybe you and your partner choose together, or you present her with a list and she picks something on it. Do your research beforehand, and rehearse what you’ll do or say in your imagination. My hope is that taking things one step at a time will feel more manageable. Good luck.

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—Stoya

More How to Do It

I’ve been with my wife for 10 years this year (married for five), and we are poly. She’s in a committed triad with a married couple I like very much. I have a girlfriend of my own. On the poly front, things are good. But things are difficult in bed between the two of us. She constantly needs to use lube when we have sex. She also says that I don’t do foreplay well enough, I’m not romantic enough, and oral sex from me isn’t pleasurable anymore (she used to love it—or at least claim to). I try to talk to her about all this, but she just wants any discussion to “be over,” and when we do get into it, she just gets frustrated that I want to keep talking. I’m very confused. I’ve gained a bunch of weight (like 50 pounds) over the last couple of years, so I’m worried she’s just not attracted to me anymore.

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