How to Do It

My Husband and I Never Had Sex in Five Years of Dating. Now We’re Newlyweds and … Yikes.

Man and woman in bed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Estradaanton/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,

My husband (early 30s) and I (female, late 20s) have been married a little over a year and together for five years. Before we got married, we abstained from sex because of mutual religious beliefs, but now I would prefer to have much more sex than we are now. We’ve had sex maybe five or six times since our wedding. My husband swears that he wants sex just as much as I do, he’s just too tired or stressed to get into it. Conversations about seeing a counselor or sex therapist are a total nonstarter, and neither of us wants to open our marriage. We’ve discussed ways to reduce his stress, but most of it is related to his demanding career, which he says he loves. Is there something I can do to make him feel more relaxed and (hopefully) more intimate when the time comes?

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—Frustrated Newlywed

Dear F’N,

For a long time, you dated without sex, and it might be hard for your husband to switch gears now. I might look into books specific to your religion about how to ease into sex and intimacy for newlyweds like you who abstained before marriage—you’re far from alone.

One tactic to try is a welcome-home ritual. The specifics of this will vary wildly from person to person. I like to get in the front door, take off my shoes and any outerwear, and get on the floor so the cat can rub his mouth on my head. If it’s been a particularly stressful time out of the apartment, I might have a warm bath. You’ll need your husband’s input on specifics that will ease his transition from work time to at-home time. Maybe there’s a cup of tea involved. Maybe he takes a shower. Maybe you give him a brisk shoulder rub. It seems as though your husband is resistant to therapy, and that’s his choice. If he’s open to self-help books, you might pick up a couple on stress management. His stress is ultimately his to manage. You can help, but you aren’t responsible for it.

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It might also be the case that you can’t do anything to help your husband feel more sexually engaged right away. I’m wondering if your religious beliefs allow for masturbation. If so, there’s a whole world of pleasure products that can give you amazing feelings, and a wide range of sexual material to read and view. Solo sex is different from partnered sex, but it can be wonderful—and it’s something that you can control in the meantime.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a bisexual woman who recently started dating a couple for the first time. I met the woman on a dating app and thought she just wanted to see me individually, but then she asked if I would be interested in her husband too. I was going to say no—I’m very shy and it’s never been something I was interested in—but then I saw a picture of him and he was extremely attractive, so I decided to give it a try. I went out with them over the weekend and had an amazing time. We didn’t have sex, but I did make out with both of them and it was a huge turn-on. I’m going to see them again in two weeks. I’d just like some advice on how to navigate this. I’m mostly worried about the woman getting jealous. I felt a little weird about kissing her husband in front of her. I know she agreed to this and she didn’t seem jealous, but it’s hard for me to imagine because I know I would be jealous in her situation. They mentioned that adding a third was his idea. They seem like a really sweet couple and I don’t want to cause any conflict between them. Any advice?

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—Flustered Third

Dear Third,

Your attention to the emotions your new kissing partners might be experiencing is lovely. Your empathy and care will serve you well in any relationship structure.

Talk to the wife! Ask her how she feels when she sees you kissing her husband. Then listen to what she says. You can get an idea of how happy she is with what’s happening, and you’ll probably have an opportunity to share your concerns with her as well. Some people don’t feel jealousy in these situations. More common, though, is experiencing jealousy and working through it. It’s kind of like how people are willing to experience fear for the rush of riding a rollercoaster.

Listen to your gut, too. If something doesn’t feel right, remember that you can call for a stop or even leave. As for you causing conflict between them, there’s only so much responsibility you should take on there. They’ve decided to add a third partner to some of their sexual interactions. That’s their choice and their risk. If the worry over this overshadows your enjoyment, moving on might make the most sense, but if you’re comfortable proceeding, go for it.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a woman in my late 20s. I’ve never liked having an orgasm in front of someone else. It’s not that I can’t—in fact there’s been many times where I’m actively holding it off because I just don’t want to. I can’t explain why, but it just makes me uncomfortable. (I was never abused.)

This was all fine when I was having casual sex, I’d just wait until my partner finished and went to leave or get a glass of water or go to the bathroom and then I’d finish myself off. But now I am dating a guy that I unexpectedly really like, and at first he thought I couldn’t come and was very sympathetic, but he caught me one night. He’s not mad or anything, just confused. Even though I really like him, I don’t want to orgasm in front of him. Am I crazy?

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—Come Quietly

Dear Quiet,

Orgasm is an immensely vulnerable moment. I’m sure there are other reasons you might find yourself feeling uncomfortable, too, and you don’t have to have a justification. “This is my comfort zone, that is outside of it” should be enough.

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Crazy, as a word, gets used to communicate a number of things. If you mean “Am I quirky?” the answer is yes. The same goes for “Am I likely to be considered eccentric by many people?” If you’re asking if there’s something wrong with your sexual response, my gut says no. And if you’re asking whether you’re exhibiting signs of mental distress, if you think you should see a professional, I support it. But I’m wary of the word, because it’s been deployed against women in coercive ways, and deployed against many people of all gender presentations to dismiss thoughts, feelings, and needs.

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Your boundaries are valid and beautiful and yours. They might change as time goes on, and they may stay the same. Engage in sexual activity however feels best for you, presuming your partners are OK with it. You might want to clue repeat partners in on your reluctance to orgasm, though, to prevent confusion or surprise. This can be a simple statement, like “I prefer not to orgasm with other people around.” The potential partner’s response will say a lot about whether you’re a good fit for each other.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 28-year-old woman who’s only ever had one serious relationship, and then I had a dear friend in college with whom I had a threesome with her and her boyfriend. In all circumstances, sex was always uncomfortable to painful—feeling myself get sweaty during sex was enough to kill my arousal, things like that.

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Now I’m getting to the point where I have enough money to invest in really good sex toys, and I have two now, but I don’t use them that all that much, because using them involves a ton of prep—the sex towel, the lube, and needing to get up and clean off the toys before I go to bed. I’m trying to get more comfortable with my body and my sexuality, but it’s hard to get excited at times with all this work. Do you have any recommendations?

—Too Anxious to Get Off

Dear Anxious,

Does the shower or bath work for you? The great thing about all that tile and porcelain is that it’s super easy to clean off where you are and leave things to air dry. And if baths are something you can tolerate—there’s definitely a possibility that water is bothersome as well—then you’re already wet, so the sweat won’t feel as present.

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You might even have a post-sex towel on hand to wrap yourself in as you prepare to go to your nice, clean bed for sleep. Or the couch. Or to get dressed. Whatever you do after you masturbate.

You can also slowly expose yourself to increasing amounts of fluids associated with sex. If you start feeling stuck on the idea or memory, and it begins to interfere with your life, you should stop and consider seeing a therapist. Good luck.

More How to Do It

Recently, I was visiting my brother and sister in our home state, and we were joking about something sex-related. We were talking about taboos, and that led to talk of incest, and I said I thought it was sort of an overstated taboo. Incest porn is very popular, so the universal stigma it carries seems exaggerated because people feel shame. We were having wine, and it was mostly a devil’s advocate kind of debate, but I could tell they were both a little uncomfortable. This brings us to my problem. Since it was on my mind and I was a little buzzed, I decided to please myself to a little faux-incest porn in the guest room later that night. Well, my brother used my laptop the next day …

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