How to Do It

Men Are Reacting to Me in Bed in a Way I’ve Never Seen Before

There’s no way this is normal, right?

A woman looks curious next to a neon flower.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thomas Northcut/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,

I have an “is this normal?” question. I’m a hetero woman in my mid-20s, and the people I have sex with are all guys around my age. I’ve now twice recently encountered this new-to-me scenario: A guy staying hard but not being able to orgasm. This most recently happened with the same guy twice in night/morning (after he had already come once). I’ve been with guys who can’t get hard for whatever reason, but this is new to me, and I’m starting to get nervous that it’s something I’m doing wrong or is wrong with me!

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—One and Done

Dear One and Done,

What you’re describing sounds like delayed ejaculation, which is “normal” insofar as it is a documented phenomenon in people with penises. Contributing factors may include medication like SSRIs, anxiety, and other psychological issues, chronic health conditions, and, per Ian Kerner in his book So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, what’s known as “idiosyncratic masturbatory style” (getting so used to one’s own hand as to render all other stimulation useless). So, like virtually everything else in the world, this guy’s cease-fire almost certainly isn’t about you. It’s probably just a random coincidence that you happened to encounter two guys with this issue. You can take it as license to bang for as long as you like, or take it as a sign that these guys aren’t for you if in fact this is an issue. No biggie! You’re fine!

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Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I recently had our second child. Our sex life had gone a little stale for a while due to the usual reasons, but back in May, we really got into it, finally introduced toys, new positions, and outfits, etc. Best couple of weeks of my life.

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One time, I was sucking on her nipple, as she enjoys it, and I swore I got a bit of milk from her breast. I casually mentioned it, but she said no, it didn’t happen. Next time, I did it again, and again was convinced I had some milk. Third time, I must have unplugged her, because milk was just pouring into my mouth. It brought out an interesting desire in me, so I brought it up with her and showed her and said I was OK with it. That was a near-instant shutdown of sex. She thinks it’s weird that I liked it, and she is uncomfortable having sex now, because she is still producing milk. If I had kept quiet, she would have been none the wiser. Since then, there has been absolutely nothing.

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If it was a case of sex but no sucking on her nipple, I would be fine with it, but we are at a point where just nothing happens. Every advance is shut down, so we are in a sexless marriage with seemingly no end in sight. She hasn’t breastfed in over a year, but still produces milk, so it doesn’t look like a short-term fix. I have tried talking to her about it. I have asked what would turn her on to get her in the mood, and she just says “I don’t know.” Of the few things she has mentioned would get her in the mood, such as kissing her neck, she won’t let me do it. Sometimes I think she just doesn’t find me attractive anymore, but then she will do something that makes me realize she does but just doesn’t want sex. The desire is there because every now and then (such as back in May) she can turn into an absolute vixen and be insatiable. What do I do?

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—Thirsty

Dear Thirsty,

I think you need additional information from her that focuses less on what (as in “What would turn her on?”) and more on why (as in “Why is she so turned off?”). Maybe I feel that way because I need more information. I suspect I’m missing some crucial details—from what you present, your wife rejected you for … accepting her bodily function. That’s either a product of profound shame on her part, or a miscalculation on yours—perhaps she felt objectified after your response, for example. A sense of unease at the prospect of crossing streams with her milk (from nutrition for her child to aphrodisiac for her husband) is reasonable; shutting down sex for the reason you outline above is not. Her feelings are her feelings, and you can’t breach her hard no, but she owes you a little more than icing you out, if the events unfurled as innocently as you described.

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If you can’t get anywhere by circling back, look to the future while assessing the present. As kindly and softly as possible, convey to her that you’re unhappy with the current sexless nature of your marriage and wonder what you can do about that moving forward.
Does she expect you to live without sex? How does she propose that you deal with the apparent disparity in your respective desires for sex? Could her lack of interest that was seemingly brought on by your enthusiasm for her milk production actually have other causes that have thus far gone unmentioned? It’s certainly possible that she’s using your apparent lactophilia as an excuse. Regardless, I suspect the bigger problem here concerns communication. If you find it too difficult to achieve clarity on your own, you might consider enlisting the help of a professional (a couples counselor or sex therapist) to get you where you need to be.

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Dear How to Do It,

After many years of reading, experiencing life, and reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I am a Solanas-style feminist. That, however, carries certain ethical obligations. I can no longer consider myself comfortable with sexual relations with male protohumans, any more than I can sanction having sex with a dog or a cat. The developmental level difference is simply too great to have meaningful communication and therefore consent.

Unfortunately, all the will in the world isn’t enough to overcome some of my baser urges.
Despite preferring the company of fellow women in all social aspects, I find myself carnally attracted to male protohumans. I want to change that, to become attracted to fully developed female humans. I’ve tried forcing myself to masturbate to lesbian porn, but it doesn’t seem to have much lasting effect. Can you recommend anything?

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—Change Me

Dear Change Me,

You are a prime candidate for conversion therapy. Just kidding, that shit doesn’t work.

Look, if an ideology requires you to make certain concessions that you actually aren’t willing to make, then I’m sorry, but that’s not the ideology for you. Your problem is actually quite similar to that of a queer person who cannot negotiate their identity with the bigotry their religion preaches. Attempting to force one’s sexuality into the confines of dogma is, to put it lightly, a challenge (see above re: conversion therapy); it seems that happier outcomes involve converting the dogma to fit your life. You can hang onto Solanas’ teachings and, uh, evocative syntax. Shit, you can apply them to every man other than the ones you’re screwing (be a hypocrite for all I care!). But I think you’re going to have a hard time aligning your body precisely with this doctrine. I think you may find it gratifying to lean into it though—if you have any interest in domination, you could probably take out a lot of frustration on protohumans and find yourself gratified on a few levels at once.

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Dear How to Do It,

A couple of years ago at the age of 52 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the end result was the removal of the prostate. During the time before my operation, I had several talks with my urologist, and he explained the strong possibility that I would become impotent post-surgery, which is basically what has happened. All of the pills and the shots haven’t really worked at all for me, and I’ve basically made my peace with the fact that I can’t have sex anymore at the fairly young age of 56. What bothers me, however, is the fact that my penis is basically now “dead meat” because there is literally no sensation there anymore. I have regained almost complete continence, but no matter what techniques or helping toys I try (I am a gay man I probably should mention at this point), nothing makes my body respond at all. Of course, this is completely frustrating, and it infuriates me that I was not even told this might be an option during the pre-op consultations.

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My question to you is whether this is a widespread issue among post-op prostatectomy patients and, of course, if you have any ideas that I might try to at least have some semblance of a sex life? Also, perhaps you could express a few ideas/opinions about the lack of consideration given to gay men during the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from prostate cancer? It seems that our sexuality is completely dismissed/minimized/ignored when medical advice/literature/discussions about this topic occur.

—Dead Down Below

Dear Dead Down Below,

Erectile dysfunction is indeed a widespread issue post-prostatectomy, though it generally improves for patients as time goes on (it can take as long as two years to return to pre-surgery function). A complete dearth of penile sensitivity, however, is not common, from what I hear. “The nerves responsible for sensation to the penis are not interrupted by surgery and in heterosexual men, the penis has the same sensation as before,” Dr. Patrick C. Walsh told me via phone recently. Walsh is a professor at Johns Hopkins, the author of books about prostate cancer including Dr. Patrick Walsh’s Guide to Surviving Prostate Cancer, and the inventor of the nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy procedure. Walsh said in all of his discussions with patients he operated on—he counts 4,569 in his aforementioned book, and an excess of 20,000 conversations as he followed up with these patients every three months for at least the first year after their surgeries—he heard no one report a complete lack of sensation in their penis. He said, in fact, that many of his patients who experienced a complete dearth of erections discovered they could still orgasm without one. “Orgasm occurs in the brain and the whole thing, including reflexes, is absolutely driven in the brain,” he said. Walsh surmised that your issue may be psychological in nature, which doesn’t make it less real.

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Also, he conceded that gay men have their own unique issues that may make prostatectomy recovery more complicated. As accomplished as he is, in fact, Walsh admitted that until fairly recently he wasn’t aware of this disparity. He said he agrees “100 percent” with your assessment of the lack of consideration given to gay men by many providers. “I think most urologists who are not gay don’t understand it,” he said.

A 2016 study that was published in Sex and Relationship Therapy found that response to surgery in gay and bisexual men depended largely on how well their providers communicated with them before the surgery. The authors also found in the studies on the topic that preceded theirs that, generally speaking, there exist a range of poorer post-prostatectomy outcomes in gay and bi men compared to heterosexual ones, including worse sexual functioning, lower scores on urinary, bowel, and hormonal domains, and “more sexual bother.” Part of this has to do with anal sex generally requiring stronger erections than vaginal sex, and in heterocentric treatment models, vaginal sex is the standard. Additionally, gay and bisexual men who engage in receptive anal penetration may feel a loss of sensation, as the manipulation of the prostate is often a source of pleasure.

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I reached out to the lead author of that study, University of Minnesota professor B.R. Simon Rosser, and he wrote in an email that you’re “absolutely right” regarding the lack of consideration given to gay men, and that almost all research on the sexual effects of prostate cancer treatment has been performed on heterosexual couples/vaginal sex. He explained that globally there are currently four research teams (one each in the U.S., Australia, the U.K., and Canada) studying prostate cancers in gay/bisexual men and he’s leading the team in the U.S. Here’s what they’ve learned so far:

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Internationally, three studies have identified that gay men have worse urinary, bowel and hormonal function, but better sexual function outcomes after prostate cancer treatment than heterosexual men. We are only now conducting the first studies on the effects of treatment on insertive anal sex (which requires more rigidity than vaginal sex), the first studies on receptive anal sex, and testing the first rehabilitation tailored to the needs of gay and bisexual prostate cancer patients. We know gay patients have different questions than straight patients which almost never get asked or answered. So we are writing the first recommendations for clinicians on what to advise gay patients. And we are also investigating why gay men have worse health outcomes than heterosexual men. In both of the studies of gay and bisexual men with prostate cancer, my team has conducted thus far, about half the men state they experienced discrimination in treatment. And studies of urologists confirm that most urologists do not ask about sexual orientation, prefer to talk to heterosexual patients than gay or bisexual ones, and do not know how to talk to gay patients about treatment effects. Malecare, in New York, provides prostate cancer support, advocacy and education to all patients with prostate cancer, including online support groups tailored especially for gay and bisexual patients. He may find their support services useful.

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Via Malecare, here is a prostate cancer support group specifically for gay men. You may find this kind of community to be useful. You can also check the above-linked study for different patients’ responses to their prostatectomy-derived sexual issues. (Substituting nipple play for penetrative sex, for example, is one workaround mentioned.) In “The Ups and Downs of Gay Sex After Prostate Cancer Treatment,” an article in A Gay Man’s Guide to Prostate Cancer, Dr. Stephen E. Goldstone recommends toys and visual aids to help restore sexual feelings. You can experiment with these. It may also behoove you to speak with a urologist who is particularly well versed in the issues of queer people (your best bet may be to find a urologist who is a gay or bi man himself). The specific issue of your lack of penile sensitivity is unique enough to warrant face time with a medical expert, and hopefully one who is particularly sensitive to your needs. Good luck!

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—Rich

More How to Do It

My mother arrived in mid-October and plans to stay with me until we all go home for Thanksgiving. It’s been fine. But there is one problem I have no idea at all how to solve. My mother has discovered Tinder. She is in her early 50s and still attractive, and she is apparently happy with my city’s dating pool because she seems to go on dates with men three nights a week. I just joked about this with my brothers at first, but then last week, she brought one of the guys back to my apartment! I wasn’t home when they got there, but I heard him come out of her room and leave early in the morning. I am really at a loss on how to bring this up with her, but I cannot have my mother bringing strange men to my place. What do I say? Should I remind her that she wouldn’t let me have girls in my room when I lived in her house? Kidding.
Mostly. But I need help. We have four weeks to go.

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