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 32-year-old woman. I recently started hooking up with a new guy. Things are pretty good, except for one point: anal. He absolutely refuses, under any circumstances, to do me in the butt. He says some nonsense about not finding anything erotic about the tube where shit comes out of. I do enemas fairly regularly and can assure you, my behind is clean. No amount of logic or appeal seems to penetrate his prejudices, and it’s a damn shame, since I do otherwise like him. How can I get him to see the light?
—Need a Real Man
I am not going to help you coerce your guy into sex he doesn’t want. When you sign off with “need a real man,” it sounds like you don’t respect men who won’t penetrate your anus, and if that’s the case, the kindest thing to do is break it off with this guy and find someone who wants the same things you want.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in my 30s. My husband and I have been together for eight years. I absolutely always enjoy having sex with him once we’re doing it—and I’m one of those lucky ones who can orgasm very easily from penetrative sex alone—but I struggle to actually feel physically aroused before we’re in the middle of the act. It’s like the system only comes online once we’re mid-coitus.
There are occasional exceptions, including when he’s being a bit more dominant, but we’re both a little less into that these days. And with a young baby, we don’t exactly have a ton of time for foreplay. (This problem predates my pregnancy, though.)
I don’t know if this is a libido issue, per se: I’m genuinely interested in having sex with him, my body is just a few steps behind my brain. I do have a history of being more easily aroused at the start of a relationship and then substantially less so as time goes on, but I’m not interested in novelty or nonmonogamy. I just want my physical interest in sex with my husband to match how I mentally and emotionally feel about the prospect of getting it on with him. One thing that does reliably make me feel, um, “tingly,” is alcohol. I rarely drink, but a glass of champagne will have me ready to rip his clothes off. But I don’t want to have to drink to get that feeling!
I’m not willing to use anything hormonal due to an elevated cancer risk, and I’d rather not waste a ton of cash chasing this feeling. Is there anything —like a topical cream or something?—that might help jump start things in a similar way to the rush I get from knocking back a drink? A casual Google search turns up hundreds of options, but a lot of them look cheesy as hell and just scream “novelty item.” Something out there has to be legit, though, right?
—Late to the Game
I think you have responsive sexual desire. Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are is a great explanation of the concept. To summarize, many people experience sexual excitement in response to stimuli, while others experience spontaneous desire. You may simply need stimulation to get in the mood, whether that’s the act of penetration or a dominant look. This is 100 percent OK, functional, and not something I know how to change. Give Nagoski’s book a read and see if anything feels familiar.
You also might consider a marijuana-based lubricant. I’ve heard from people who’ve had good experiences with it, and find it gives me an extra tingle myself. Apothecanna is a brand I’ve tried and liked. I’m glad to hear that you’re cautious of creams that look like novelty items. Vaginal canals are delicate ecosystems, and you should be wary of disrupting your natural balance.
Dear How to Do It,
Six months ago, my husband and I (25 years married) found a framework for our sex life that has allowed us to be, if not on the same page, then at least in the same story, sex-wise. I have come out as asexual, and he has realized that he has a special fetish (about which he previously has felt some shame). We have been able to follow the advice we found online and have certain interactions that are not sexual for me, but due to his fetish, very erotic for him. This is great, especially for him! We find one time per week for this non-sex sex, plus from time to time, I cuddle him while he masturbates.
In between, however, he talks a lot about sex, how attractive he finds me, how sexy it is if i do this or wear that, etc. I find this relentless focus on sex and on me disturbing and unsettling. I want to go about my business at home without having to relate to all this. I don’t want to wear certain things because he likes them and gets excited—except during our weekly session—and I don’t want to be praised if I happen to wear or do something he finds exciting or sexy. He feels he can’t be himself if he can’t talk about these things. He has agreed to try to control himself, but then he slips up and says them anyway. This goes for our non-sex sex sessions as well, by the way, where his “impulses” get the better of him and he does something that we have agreed he will not do (like “coincidentally” graze a body part). The conversations we have about this are very difficult and negative. I see that he is having more sex now than in the past many years, plus cuddling and attention and a general upswing in our relationship. He feels “constrained” and “jailed” (his words) and says I’m all boundaries and it’s so hard and he slips up because I have so many rules. He gets sad and depressed, and I feel that it is my fault even as I don’t know how we can proceed—or talk about these issues—without him feeling bad. He talks to a therapist but doesn’t want to go together. Can you help us with a perspective or angle that is more constructive?
—Too Many Rules
More constructive seems to be exactly what you’re missing. I reached out to Aubri Lancaster, a sex educator with a focus on asexuality and aromanticism, and she says you two “seem to be focused on what he wants more of and what she wants less of, which is not uncommon when a sexuality like ace is defined by what we don’t want.” So the first thing to know is that you’re not alone. An important question is whether your husband gives you platonic intimacy or if your intimacy together always has a sexual feeling to it. One thing you can do is think about what you do want—what does intimacy look like for you, and how can he give that to you. I think some balance in that area will be helpful, and asking for things feels more positive than a list of what you don’t want.
Lancaster also has thoughts on the difference between a boundary and a rule. She suggested a boundary is something an individual sets for themselves, and a rule is something set for other people. I don’t like your husband construing your boundaries—healthy, important limits we set to protect ourselves—as rules that limit him. You seem to want to stay in the relationship, so I’ll respect that, and suggest that you read her book recommendation Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab. You might mark passages that feel useful to share with your husband, and ideally he’d read it himself and share sections with you as well.
You don’t mention a possibility of opening the relationship up, but even while remaining monogamous, your husband could talk to someone else—a trusted friend perhaps, or a support group—about his sexuality as an outlet to take some of the pressure off of you. He has a right to his desires, but he must find another outlet for them for your marriage to work. We’re still undoing the idea that everybody wants sex, and that sex needs to be a part of every long-term partnership. Your boundaries, no matter how much your husband resents and invades them, are valid.
Dear How to Do it,
I’m a lesbian and I’m 27 years old. I’ve also never had sex with a woman. I’ve made out with many women, I’ve had fun with boobs, but I’ve never touched or seen a vagina. I’m turning 28 soon and I feel like the clock is ticking. The older I get, the more worried I am about how partners will react to my being inexperienced. The other thing is that there seems to be so many labels on sexual identity, but none of them seem to fit me. I don’t ever want to be penetrated with a strap on and really want to be the giver in that aspect, but I love being fingered and receiving oral (at least I did with men). I obviously don’t know how I feel about giving those things, but that’s another part of what makes me nervous! I’m so worried I’ll start to go down on someone and either be bad at receiving directions or, my worst nightmare, not like the taste. I guess I just am overall worried that I’ll get in the bedroom, be too demanding, and also not know what I’m doing and it’ll just turn them off completely. It’s made it hard for me to date because I get so nervous about what might happen that I can’t act normal and it ruins everything. I just want to get the first time over with at this point.
Dear First Time,
Breathing can be super helpful for reducing anxiety. There are many techniques. One that works well for me is to inhale for four counts, hold my breath for four counts, exhale for four, and hold again for four. A couple of purposeful breaths are something you can do at any time. You don’t have to close your eyes or go somewhere quiet. You can simply breathe wherever you are, and the people with you probably won’t even notice.
The communication skills you’ve developed with other partners are likely to transfer well here. It might be worth taking a look at the internal structure of the clitoris to get a refresher on where the parts most likely to be fun are. That said, vulvas vary just as much as penises, so you’ll still want to ask the other person what they like, and experiment within each others’ boundaries. Your nerves might make it more difficult to be in the present moment and focus on the femme in front of you, so work on that breathing and any other soothing techniques you have. If your attention wanders, calmly refocus yourself.
Speaking of variance, each person has their own taste that can change according to where they’re at in their cycle, the amount of time and physical activity since their last shower, and other factors. Not everyone likes everyone else’s taste. In this column, we’ve heard from one person who believes they detect nicotine through oral sex. If you have a vulva, you can check out your own secretions at various stages of arousal to get a basic idea, but I really want to underscore that there’s a whole literal half a world world of pussy nuance and divergence out there. You might think of it as somewhat like wine—it all tastes the same, and also not at all.
You may be rejected more, and possibly more harshly, but I do think it’s useful to disclose your experience level. Think about how you’ll frame it positively: “I’ve loved breast play, and am really excited to experience sexual connection involving a woman’s genitals.” If you’ve established chemistry and interest, you might say something like “I’m super into the idea of penetrating you with a strap on. It would be my first time, and I’m looking forward to something new.” Find the phrasing that feels most comfortable for you, and consider practicing in front of the mirror or with a trusted friend.
More How to Do It
My husband and I have been married for 10 years, together for almost 20. We’re great friends, love each other immensely, have good communication, and are great parents to two school-age kids. BUUUT of course: There’s the old mismatched libido situation. We were pretty evenly matched until we had kids, and then my libido took a nose dive. He would like to do it every day, and I am a once-a-week-or-less type of person. I now have an idea for fixing this problem, but it has a twist—and I want to know if it sounds crazy.