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 29-year-old woman who has been seeing a guy for about a year now. We’re lovers and friends, but not in a committed relationship. Recently, he said something during sex and I can’t stop replaying it, I’m a little freaked out.
He watches a lot of porn and likes to make jokes. For example, he’ll joke about us being step-siblings and ask for some sex from his sexy step sister—that kind of thing. I usually roll my eyes and go along with it. Naturally, he is into daddy stuff, and I say it to him occasionally as I know he likes it. The other day he took it further and called me “daughter” during sex. This man is 30 and has no kids (but wants them), and it freaked me out, especially because he knows I was molested when I was young. As soon as he said it I said “absolutely not” and stopped sex for a bit, and he apologized. It’s been a couple days, and I’m still running it through my head. How do I tell if it’s purely a porn-inspired role play or if he is actually at risk of committing future incest and GTFO? I 100-percent know I may be taking it too seriously because of my own background, but don’t really feel I can gut check it with friends.
For the first half of your letter, I was nodding along thinking “OK, this guy has difficulty articulating his desires upfront and hides behind humor as a way to test the waters and see what you’re willing to go along with.” Not the best situation, but not the worst. Then I got to the part where he knows you were molested when you were young and, even with that knowledge, sprung full-blown incest play on you. I don’t know the details of your experience—nor do I need to—but this is a huge red flag.
Now, in the same way that women who have ravishment and consensual non-consent fantasies don’t actually want to be sexually assaulted, an interest in other taboo play like incest roleplay doesn’t necessarily mean the guy wants to have sex with kids or close relatives. But I’m extremely concerned about the lack of thoughtfulness and empathy he’s displayed. When he apologized, was that an “I’m sorry you got upset” or an “I made a huge mistake by bringing this up, especially in the middle of sex. I know your history and regret my words, which went way past where any reasonable person could have assumed your boundaries are. I’ve hurt you. I’m sorry, and I’ll be staying clear of anything that even remotely invokes youth in a sexual context moving forward. Are you even comfortable with the step-sibling play or should I back off of that, too?” If it was more like the former, move on swiftly and efficiently. If it was closer to the latter, he might be worth extending trust to again. What you’re looking for is acknowledgement of the harm caused, a commitment to doing better in the future in concrete ways, and an absence of minimization such as “I was joking!” or “It’s a shame someone hurt you and made you so uptight.” Minimizing statements are unacceptable ways of dodging responsibility.
At the end of the day, it’s your choice, and I encourage you to think about where your boundaries are and whether he’s capable of respecting them.
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Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I (I’m a woman) have been together for almost five years now, I’m in my late 30s, he’s in his mid-40s. Our relationship is very harmonious, and we rarely argue about anything. As his sex drive is much bigger than mine—he needs to orgasm at least once per day otherwise he gets incredibly moody—and I just physically can no longer support this, we decided to have an open relationship about two years ago, as long as both parties keep it to themselves. I am fine with that, and as we travel a lot and spend some time throughout the year apart from each other, I have used my free pass here and there and I think it’s a great thing.
I just wish that our sex life would be a bit more exciting. It seems as if my partner just expects me to not want to have sex with him and now rarely ever makes any advances toward me and if we end up doing it, it is very monotone and repetitive and I often just kinda want it to be over with. It feels like we’re just doing it so he’s happy for a bit and I’m doing him a favor. This is so sad and I want to get back to having a more sexy life but it seems we’re kinda stuck here. Any advice?
—Bringing Sexy Back
Needs to orgasm? Please. He has hands. Pocket pussies exist. I hear a strong vibrator on the perineum feels great. If he really can’t control his mood without a daily orgasm, he can handle that himself, and would do well to consider other ways of managing his temperament, like exercise or therapy.
But to your actual question: You might be able to have a conversation that leads to solutions and behavioral changes. Set yourself up for success by choosing a time when you’re both calm, have plenty of emotional reserves, and have all your biological needs taken care of—that you’re warm or cool enough, that you’ve both eaten recently, and that there’s water available nearby.
Relationships, and the terms of them, shift and change over time as the people involved grow. It’s a great idea to have regular talks about how your current framework is working out for all parties. You might start with “Opening up our relationship has been great, for me and—I think—for you. I miss having great sex with you, though, and would like to talk about ways to improve that area.” You might mention your desire for him, and your suspicion that he assumes you won’t be interested. It might help if you can give him an idea of how frequently you’d like to have sexual interaction with him, and what you’d like that interaction to look like. You can also spend some time thinking alone about solutions, and make a list to bring to the conversation. Take care to keep it collaborative.
You may have a responsive sexual desire and need more non-physical foreplay than you’re getting. Rich and I both adore Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are. If your boyfriend is a reader, get him a copy. If not, give it a read yourself and highlight passages that reflect your arousal style to share with him.
Dear How to Do It,
Last year, I finally came out as a lesbian after publicly identifying as bi for over 10 years. (Apparently literally everyone on the planet including my ex-boyfriends figured this out before I did.) Before I got together with the woman who is now my wife, I went through a major slutty phase, primarily with men. I don’t regret it at all—I learned a ton about myself, and actually got some solid friendships out of a handful of Tinder hookups.
The thing is, I used to really enjoy penetrative sex. Not the part where the various appendages involved were attached to dudes, but I liked the sensation, even though I never got off from it. These days, I have an incredibly hot and fulfilling sex life with my wife, but ever since realized I was capital-g Gay and stopped sleeping with men, I… can’t handle penetration?
It’s so weird. I still WANT it—the sight of my wife standing at the foot of the bed with a strap-on turns me on like nothing else. And I miss getting fingered! And she wants to do these things to me! But even with slow, gentle preparation and a shitload of lube, anything other than a tampon or my own finger now makes my vag slam shut like an angry clam.
I’m pretty sure this is a psychological thing, and that my brain is just associating the feeling of penetration with dudes—the thought of sex with men or the sight of an actual flesh-and-blood penis makes me recoil. But fucking hell, I just want to get railed by my wife’s rainbow dick! Where do I even start with this?!
—Missing G Spot
This could be psychological, it could be physical, or it could be a combination. Our minds and bodies are inextricably linked. Our mental state affects our bodies, and our physical states affect our minds.
Let’s gather some more information. A tampon is OK—how about a menstrual cup? Your own finger is acceptable, but what about two or three? What if you insert a—small!—dildo yourself? Your wife’s fingers aren’t OK at this time, and neither are her dongs, but it’s possible that you’re comfortable as long as you’re the one doing the inserting, and if that’s the case I’ve got an idea. Hold her working hand as she fingers you. Hold the base of her strap-on and do the thrusting yourself. If you can think of other ways to be in control of the action, try those.
If part of the issue is volume no matter who is doing the penetration, the next step is a gynecologist. If your gynecologist doesn’t take you seriously, find a new one. A pelvic floor specialist is another option. And you can also try to find a doctor who specializes in sexual health—they’re rare but real.
If seeing a sex-positive therapist is possible, that can be a great resource. The Kink Aware Professionals Network lists those therapists. And you can always look at providers’ bios for mentions of specialization in LGBTQ people. If you have health insurance that covers mental health, they probably have a database they can search.
You can also think this through yourself. Some people think well in the shower, in the bath, or while walking. I find that writing by hand for a long period of time—30 minutes or longer—can help me understand where my thoughts are going and help me find clues for what I need to do or what’s happening inside my brain. If your wife is able to listen to you talk out loud and give feedback on what she’s hearing, that’s another option. Be patient with yourself. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
My 17-year-old daughter (currently a virgin?) wants to have PIV with her somewhat experienced boyfriend. As a parent, I am comfortable with her making this decision. In talking to my daughter about consent, I have stressed that she has the right to say no, but also it is her right to say yes. I respect the right if my daughter to have privacy in her bedroom. However, apparently they are finding penetration difficult to achieve. He gets hard, but is apparently losing his erection after being unable to penetrate. I understand that they are both feeling bad about this.
I have advised my daughter to enjoy exploring each and that when they are both comfortable and relaxed, things should be easier. I plan on ensuring lube is available as to date they haven’t used any. However, in chatting to my daughter, I asked if she has figured out what feels good for her and learned that she has not masturbated or orgasmed on her own. I am wondering if I should get her a vibrator to help, or if there is any other advice I can give her?
—Mom on the Case
Is the boyfriend wearing the appropriate size of condom? I’ve had a few people in my bed who struggled to maintain an erection until we went up a size, and that solved the problem. It’s an easy fix, and cheap to test, so worth trying first. Lube is another cheap and easy solution to try. Good instinct there. Has your daughter been examined by a gynecologist? It’s not super likely, but it’s possible that her hymen is a bit tougher than typical.
It’s also possible that she’s nervous—no matter how sex positive the household is, we’re all bound to internalize messages about the weight of “losing your virginity” and other pressures on first time sex, whether that’s first first or the first time with a new partner. Encouraging her to get to know her own body and explore herself is likely to help with that. The awareness we build of our genitals through masturbation can help us control—specifically relax—our muscles.
I love that you’re open to giving your daughter sex toys. I do want you to exercise caution here, and, if you decide to proceed, allow her to pick her own sex accessories. The Minna Limon is one vibrator I recommend, as it has very slow speeds in addition to more standard vibrations, and responds to squeezing pressure so is easy to control. She might prefer a dildo, or be interested in a different kind of vibe like the ones with a depression that encircles the whole clitoral glans and shaft. Regardless, sex toys are deeply personal, and as much as you’re her mom … you’re her mom. Make the offer to make the purchase, ask her if she’d like some advice on what to choose, and let her lead the conversation from there.
More How to Do It
I’m a single father in my late 30s interested in getting back into the dating game following a two-year hiatus. As an extremely well-endowed man, I have one major problem there.