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 boyfriend wants me to start saying (or moaning, I guess) his name during sex. I’ve never had a problem doing this with other partners, but my current boyfriend has a really goofy name. Like, I don’t know what his parents were thinking. I tried to do it once for him, and it totally killed the mood for me—I ended up laughing in his face, but he still doesn’t know why. Any suggestions?
—Blame the Name
Dear Blame the Name,
I have to wonder what your relationship actually looks like when you aren’t in bed. Do you find saying his “goofy” name difficult in all contexts, and if so, what do you call him? “Hey you!,” doesn’t start any romantic sonnet that I’m aware of. If the famous quote on this matter attributed to Dale Carnegie is true—“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language”—what does it mean to be in a relationship without such sweetness? Sounds salty, at best.
Typically, at some point in your relationship with another person, that person’s name ceases to be a series of letters that, strung together, make sounds, and it ceases being a homonym for some existing concept or thing. It becomes a symbol of their humanity. Whoopi Goldberg’s first name evokes childlike glee and derives from her flatulent sonic proximity to a whoopee cushion, and yet, she is still and just Whoopi, whose name people probably have said during sex. Could it be that your discomfort with calling your boyfriend by his name during sex indicates a fissure in your connection? (I have to state here that I feel cheated from being able to evaluate just how goofy is name is, though I understand your omitting it for privacy.) If not, maybe it’s time to develop a nickname or pet name for him—something easier for you to say that, in time and with repeated use, will become synonymous with his identity. This is a long-term strategy, so hopefully you’re committed and ready to put in the work.
Or you can just say no. Just because your boyfriend wants something doesn’t mean he’s entitled to it. If the sex has been working thus far, why fix what isn’t broken?
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 33-year-old man, and I have been with a 32-year-old man for almost eight years. I identify as gay, but have long struggled with a low sex drive—there have been times when I’ve considered myself asexual, but also through therapy, I realized that I was sexually abused as a child, which may have led me to have a certain amount of guardedness about sex and sexuality in general. My partner knows and understands this, and respects my boundaries. He has a considerably higher sex drive than me, but we agreed on an arrangement for an open relationship, which seems to have worked fine for a few years. (He’s satisfied sexually, and I don’t feel pressured into doing more than what I’m comfortable with.)
This past year has complicated things—not only has he been unwilling to seek sexual partners outside our household, but also, I tested positive for COVID-19, and was lucky enough to be able to stay at a friend’s vacant apartment while I isolated and recovered, in order to minimize the risk that I’d transmit the virus.
While I was there, I rediscovered a long-dormant fetish (specifically latex)—it was something I dabbled in my early 20s, but never got too serious about or explored with another person. I owned a few items of latex clothing, liked to watch porn involving it online, but that was essentially it, and it faded. Maybe out of boredom, or maybe something I saw piqued my interest—I can’t remember—I found myself looking at rubber porn again during that isolation, and ended up ordering a few things (a latex hood and a cock sheath) from Amazon Prime that day. I put them on and jerked off wearing them daily during that time—but after two weeks and no symptoms, I returned home and put the items in my dresser and hadn’t took them out or put them on since.
Afterward, my partner had been acting weird for the past few days—I asked him if everything was OK and, he confessed to inadvertently discovering them in my drawer. He feels rejected and betrayed, thinking that perhaps my secret kink is why we have a rather subdued sex life. And he doesn’t know if he can believe me when I tell him that I indeed don’t have a secret kinky second life but in fact had just recently rediscovered an old fetish of mine. I totally get it—I’m not sure how I’d handle it if I were in his position—and I’m also embarrassed that he found “secrets” in my sock drawer!
My thoughts are that this may present an opportunity for us to talk about this openly and perhaps explore some kink as a way to invigorate our sexual relationship (which he said he’d be open to), but we also have to address the elephant in the room—that he feels betrayed and some trust has been shaken. We think that being able to have a guided, open conversation with a couple’s or sex therapist could help, but we’re not entirely sure how to find one—we saw a couple’s counselor briefly years ago but we agreed to stop seeing her after a few sessions after it seemed that she was a bit judgmental about some of our more “modern” ideas (at the time we were experimenting with polyamory). Any advice would be so helpful—I am sad that this happened, we love each other deeply, and certainly want to figure out how we can move on.
Dear Slipped Up,
You didn’t ask, but I didn’t watch decades of Judge Judy for nothing, so here’s my judgement: You’re right, he’s wrong. I don’t see any red flags in your explanation and ideally, he’d be receiving you in good faith. A more compassionate scenario would find him excited that you’re engaging with your sexuality after what you describe as a struggle with low sex drive. Instead, he has taken things personally, which is not practical. Your sexuality is yours, not his. His surprise at his discovery doesn’t need to foster resentment, not when you have intelligible reasons for your actions (including throwing your gear in a drawer). His assumptions are more detrimental to the situation than the reality of your sexuality.
So for you, all I have to suggest is patience. Explain and reexplain as needed, don’t escalate by taking personal his taking personal of your sexuality. The tone of your letter suggests you’re already doing this. If you have health insurance, you may be able to search your provider’s website for therapists, using filters to target couples’ counselors who specialize in serving LGBTQ+ clients. If not, turn to Google. There are plenty of sex-positive therapists who are experts in nonmonogamy and kink. It may take some searching, but don’t let one bad experience with a less-than-enlightened counselor scare you away. A non-biased third party seems to be exactly what you need.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a single 25-year-old man, and since I discovered masturbation in my teens, my methods have been “unusual.” Instead of the up-down hand stroke (which does nothing for me), I’ve relied on one of two methods. The first involves pinning the head of the penis down with a hand massager, which wasn’t expressly designed or marketed as a sex toy but feels amazing. The second involves using the thumb to rub the glans at the head of the penis in a circular motion (this is the same spot the vibrator was being applied to). Sadly, it appears that 13 years of these methods have caused some kind of nerve damage, so I’ve been told by a doctor to stop using them. However, since the conventional method does nothing for me, I’ve been stuck with a building libido and no sanctioned way to release, which is driving me up a wall. Are there any alternatives you can recommend, or is there a way to make normal methods work for me? Even if so, I’ll really miss the ol’ massager.
Dear Stroking Out,
First, get a second opinion. While excessive vibration can cause nerve damage (in cases of hand–arm vibration syndrome, for example), it seems to me like your doctor has effectively diagnosed you with “dead vagina syndrome” of the dick, and DVS (irreparable damage on female genitalia caused by vibrators) has been refuted by several doctors. More common is a temporary numbness that should subside after a brief jacking hiatus. It seems particularly unlikely that your manual rubbing is the cause of supposed nerve damage. Your doctor could be absolutely right, or they could be engaging in some sex-negative fearmongering. You’re much better off talking to another.
But let’s say you do have nerve damage and need to alter your stroke. This is an opportunity to experiment: lube, prostate stimulation, partnered sex, various grips. It may take you a while to figure this out, but that isn’t uncommon even when someone isn’t attempting to deprogram from the almighty RPM of an appliance. (When I started jerking off, it took me a minute to get the hang of it.) Porn, erotica, fantasy can also all be in your toolbox. Your body is going to want to release, so building up your libido may actually prove useful as you habituate. Hopefully you can build up to such an extent that you find yourself particularly responsive to your own touch in whatever form. Patience, once again, is the prescription.
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Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I haven’t had sex in more than nine months, and even when he has an erection, he neither makes any sexual overtures nor accepts any of mine. To make matters worse, on the rare occasions he lets me give him head, he always maintains his erection throughout, but I still for the life of me cannot make him come (even though that has long been one of my greatest talents in the sex department). It would be one thing if he was suffering from erectile dysfunction, but that is demonstrably NOT the case. Furthermore, when we first started dating, I had no problem whatsoever “finishing the job”—to rave reviews, in fact. He insists that neither my technique nor some sort of psychological hangup on his part is to blame, but I can’t help but think there must be SOMETHING I can do.
Dear This Sucks,
I’d love to know what he thinks is to blame, or whether he cares at all. To what extent have you discussed this? Is he even able to have a conversation about the changes in your sex life? Does he think this is a problem? There may be, in fact, nothing you can do. Coercion and force are unethical. You can’t will a dick to orgasm (certainly if that dick isn’t attached to you, but even if it is, it’s awfully difficult). What you may be left with is someone who won’t have sex with you and whose erection your name isn’t written all over. Is that the kind of relationship that you want? If not, consider moving on or at least initiate the conversation about doing so and see if gravity promotes disclosure.
More How to Do It
I will try to keep this short. My fiancée and I like to keep things fun and exciting in bed. Over the last two years, we incorporated porn into our love life every once in a while. Even though we both have different tastes, we are pretty open with each other and take turns picking videos. My fiancée loves interracial porn, and while it isn’t my thing, I like that it gets her excited. I also like the dirty talk she does after watching videos. So far this has all been a great addition into our sexual relationship, but now she wants to buy a big black dildo … which has me feeling a bit inadequate. I’m average in size (six inches long and decent girth), but the dildo she wants is way bigger. I don’t want to be a buzzkill, and I want her to experience things, but this has me feeling self-conscious and has even affected how I feel about the porn we watch. I can’t compete with their size. I’m unsure how to proceed.