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 and I have been together for seven years, and married for four. We recently decided to revisit opening up our relationship. This was something that we had explored years earlier, but put on the back-burner after having a baby. He was interested in having casual hookups with men, which I completely support, since that’s not an experience I can give him. One of the things that was important to me about exploring this again was that I wanted to make sure that we also put some extra energy into our relationship—date nights, etc.—because with kids and the pandemic, it definitely had been feeling like things were in a bit of a rut. Rules that I set were: no hookups in the house when the kids or myself were at home, and that I wasn’t interested in participating, at least not initially.
My husband had some hookups during a weekend when our kids and I were out of town. We were having sex the evening I returned, and after he and I both came, he was still pretty restless. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that what he really wanted was for a couple of guys to come over and fuck him, but that he knew I would never agree to it. His tone was pretty contemptuous, and made me feel like I was being a prudish asshole, even though I had been chill with him having a sex weekend all to himself while I was solo parenting. I was really upset, and after taking some space, we talked about it, and he … didn’t remember saying it. It turned out that over the weekend, he had consumed a lot of alcohol, and was blacked out during the whole evening when I got back. He admitted that he had a problem with drinking, and has been committed to being sober since.
We are working on rebuilding our relationship. But one of the things this situation brought up for me is an insecurity that he is not as attracted to me as he is to other people, and I would really like reassurance that he desires me. And unfortunately, one side effect of sobriety has been a complete drop in his libido, which used to be pretty high. It looks like this might be a problem for several months, at least according to sobriety forums. I asked him how he feels about non-sexual touching, and he says he’s not sure how comfortable with that he is. I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for how regain a feeling of trust, confidence, and physical connection in this environment, considering I don’t want to have sex that he isn’t into—the goal is to feel desired and loved.
—Mixing Openness and Alcohol
As you know, you need to respect your husband’s boundaries around touching right now, and honor his wishes moment to moment. You also need to take care of yourself. I strongly suggest you enlist the help of a therapist for this stretch. You’re going through something that is at the very least quite stressful. Having someone to talk to about your feelings, especially the difficult ones—someone who isn’t the source of them—will be crucial. A professional is likely to help you bolster resilience and deepen your understanding of yourself in a pretty significant way as you navigate this. Regardless of whether that’s an option, you should lean on available friends. Having people who you can share intimately with will help you maintain your own equilibrium as your husband sorts through his substance use, his behavior, and what he’s going to do to be a better parent and better toward you.
I don’t know when—or if—your husband will express desire or love in the ways you want to feel again. What is under your control is your own love and desire for yourself. As you figure out your feelings, spend some time giving your body pleasure. Maybe this looks like slowly rubbing moisturizer into every inch of skin. Maybe this looks like pulling out the Magic Wand. Whatever brings you comfort and joy, make it a regular part of your life right now. Spend time thinking about what you love about yourself, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.
Meanwhile, when you’re in the same room with your husband, savor your time spent sharing the same air. When you go to bed, focus on how short the inches between your bodies are. If your husband does express desire for physical contact, let him lead and experience the moment as deeply as possible. Build up trust and confidence again slowly.
If you think through your feelings and take charge of your own needs for now, you’ll be in a much better position to approach whatever comes next with your husband.
Dear How to Do It,
My girlfriend loves to change positions during sex without me withdrawing from her. I cannot do this. My question is pretty basic, and I cannot get it out of my head: Were her previous lovers more well-endowed than me?
—Coming Up Short
Your girlfriend’s previous lovers might have had dicks that were longer, wider, or more firm. They may also have been better at keeping their pelvises pressed to her while shifting around, or may have been generally more coordinated. Your girlfriend may have been less lubricated. There are so many possible factors.
I get it: We often feel pressure, in numerous ways, to conform to narrow ideals. Sometimes this leads us to compare our genitals or sexual prowess to others’, like the previous partners of ours, trying to figure out if we’re enough. We might wonder if we’re normal, or suspect we’re lacking somehow. Do you feel comfortable sharing the emotions behind your question with your girlfriend? Or can you do some introspection around this—sit quietly with the idea in your head, and listen for clues about how you’re feeling?
“Likes” and “requirements” are vastly different, and your girlfriend’s desire to change positions mid-thrust appear to be in the former category. Try not to stress too much about your penis. If you feel like you need to do something, you can work on being proactive about the sexual specifics she likes that you can perform.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 20-year-old lesbian. I usually masturbate once a week or every few days. Mostly, I have one or two orgasms per session, and I’m OK with that. My problem is that it takes forever for me to orgasm, and there’s only one way I can get there. I have to listen to a recording of a woman who instructs me to tease myself up until orgasm. It’s an hour long, and nothing else will do. If I skip the first part of the recording or don’t follow the instructions to a T, I can’t get an orgasm. I’d really like to be able to come in 30 minutes or less, and be able to get off to other things—disappearing into the shower or my bedroom for an hour isn’t feasible, and my family stays up really late, so I can’t masturbate late at night. Any advice for me? I’m desperate!
—Tell Me What to Do
Dear Tell Me,
Have you tried other, potentially shorter, recordings? If a different recording won’t do, could you make your own edit of this one to cut it down to a more convenient length?
Long-term, though, even when you move out, there may be reasons that you want to be able to orgasm without a specific recording—if you have a partner who you want to engage with directly without the background noise of your tape, or if you simply want some variety. So I’d try something new. Stop the tape as you’re just about to orgasm. Try to get yourself over the brink without your soundtrack. You might end the session without orgasming if you’d like to let sexual frustration build in the hopes that it will propel you toward the pinnacle of pleasure without your routine. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I (a woman) waited until marriage for sex. We are incredibly in love and I adore him, but we’re hitting a snag. He comes every single time, most of the time twice, and I have never orgasmed with him. In fact, I’ve only orgasmed twice in my life, both times by myself.
I know it’s my job to “own” my sexuality and know what I like, but I don’t. And every article I read about the orgasm gap starts with “know what you want and ask for it.” It makes me feel really overwhelmed, since I feel like everything is on me. I try to masturbate using various sex toys and positions, but I haven’t found anything that really gets me off. It must be in my head. I watch porn and feel horny, I just can’t seem to cross the finish line.
I really want a partner in helping explore my sexuality and discover it, but my husband is very reserved and doesn’t ask me a lot of questions about what I like, so I feel like it’s on me to figure it out and tell him explicitly, which is really hard for me. He cares deeply about me and is really bothered by it too, but since we come from families that are not used to talking about that stuff, neither of us really have a template. I feel like I’m the one who has to bring it up all the time, which makes him feel really bad. His self-confidence needs some extra help in the next few days after every talk, but he fulfills me in EVERY single other way.
I feel like I’m having to do all this research and come up with ideas by myself, and he feels like he’s trying all these things that I don’t even notice or like. (For example: He considers himself a martyr for having penetrative sex twice in a row since the second time is for “me,” when as far as I know, penetrative sex does not result or come close to orgasm. This was really enlightening when we finally figured this out six months into our marriage.) I know communication is the answer, but I wish he took the initiative sometimes too. Is this a fair ask when I don’t even know what I want, and have trouble communicating it?
—Not Getting There
You’ve got a couple of issues going on—you aren’t sure what you like, and you aren’t able to communicate with your husband. Each problem has the potential to be deeply frustrating, so I recommend you switch between them when you feel stuck.
Think about those two times that you orgasmed. What were you doing? What were you thinking? Had you spent a lot of time slowly teasing yourself, or had you jumped directly into strong stimulus? Try to recreate the conditions. Take note of any specific that feels particularly arousing or compelling. Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are might provide useful insight into human sexual responses, particularly your own. And you might find erotic romance novels a place for ideas (although not a place for modeling communication). Remember that sex can still be fulfilling with your husband even if you don’t orgasm—some women don’t with partners, or even at all.
Meanwhile, talk with your husband again. Take a step back. Tell him you’re in this together, and you’re figuring it out at the same time he is. Say you want to know what he thinks about sex, at least so far, and what his beliefs are. Share your own with him. Try to build a rapport and comfort around the subject of sexuality so when things get tense or complicated, you aren’t also navigating unfamiliarity, and so that you can speak about sexuality directly with ease.
More How to Do It
I’m a 33-year-old man. I admitted to myself that I was bi after I first started dating my now-wife seven years ago. I have discussed this with my wife and have told her honestly that it has no effect on the way I feel about her, which is that I am deeply committed to her and to our relationship, that I am excited and fulfilled by our sex life, and have no need to date or have sex with other men. We are very happy, and very monogamous. But maybe every two years or so since, I have signed up for Grindr for a few days and used it to chat with guys, share pics/videos (never face), and to remotely jack off together over video chat.