How to Do It

I Really Have to Tell My Boyfriend the Truth About Our Sex Life

I’m not sure he’s noticed.

Man and woman having sex, with clocks behind them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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’m going to cut to the chase: I need help telling my boyfriend that he comes too quickly. Like, within a minute or two of entering me, even while wearing a condom. Every resource I’ve looked at online for having a conversation about this has advice for how HE could start a conversation with ME, but nothing for how to gently tell your partner that you’d like to occasionally have enough time to switch positions.

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Some background, maybe explaining why this feels especially fraught: I’m a sex-positive woman in my early 30s who has had many, many partners. He’s a man in his late 20s who, I am pretty sure, has only ever had one partner (a girlfriend from the end of college to the start of the pandemic). I noticed that he was a bit, uh, quick to the finish when we started dating, but I figured it was post-lockdown excitement, and that it would fade. Sex usually gets better, right? I thought it would improve, and in the meantime, he seemed eager to receive direction in foreplay, at least. (But there, too, there are issues; I’m getting tired of having to direct every aspect of the production every time.) All of this is also complicated by the fact that we are in a long-distance relationship much of the time, because we started seeing each other right before I had to move and formed a surprisingly strong attachment over the course of a few weeks.

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On the other hand: He is the nicest, most supportive, most caring partner I’ve ever had. I’m a neurotic mess half the time, and he is patient and tender with me. We have a wonderful intellectual partnership, and love and respect each other’s work. I feel so lousy, but I’m also at my wit’s end. All the frisson and attraction is already gone because it feels like there’s no possibility of good sex behind it, ever. I feel both sexually frustrated and heartbroken.

—Press for Time

Dear Time,

Your boyfriend may be able to delay ejaculation with effort and practice over time—once he knows where his point of no return is, he can back off of stimulation when he’s close to orgasm. It’s also likely that he’ll be able to have sex again after some refractory period and last longer on the second round. To achieve either of these options, you’ll have to have at least one talk about it. And the same goes for directing other types of sexual interactions.

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Pick your time wisely. Make sure you’ve both eaten, that the temperature is comfortable, that you’ll have privacy for a while, and that you’re unlikely to be interrupted. Gauge whether he’s stressed at the moment, unsettled, or otherwise not in a great space to handle a delicate conversation. Tell him there’s something you want to talk about, and that you’re nervous about it, and then ask if now is a good time.

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Once you’re talking, establish that you are very invested in improving the sexual interactions that the two of you have, and that it does need some work. How you do this—the tone, the exact words you use—is something you’ll have to come up with for yourself. You might write and memorize bullet points. Give him plenty of time to process and respond. If he hasn’t had many partners, he hasn’t had this conversation very often, if ever. So be as gentle as possible. And offer the solutions I listed as soon as that feels appropriate; if they don’t work down the line, there are quite a lot of options he might try, but start simple.

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When you get to the amount of verbal communication that is currently needed, frame it positively as much as possible. Focus on what he does well, and encourage him to try choreographing his own movements. I think you’ve got this.

I Let My Husband Go on a Date With His Ex-Girlfriend. It Went Way Worse Than I Expected.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 37-year-old woman married to a 58-year-old man. We have been together for a decade, and it has been an incredible relationship and even better marriage. My husband and I met through industry functions and run two businesses together. We came into this relationship fairly evenly matched financially and without a power differential (I only mention this due to the age difference). We have two children together and one 18-year-old daughter from my previous relationship  The sex is great. Best I have ever had and we are very compatible (both pretty vanilla). There is no “but” to that.

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My question is that my husband recently made a comment that he has had sex with someone in their 20s in every decade of his life except his first one. I thought that a really fun 60th birthday present would be to hire a sex worker to keep that “every decade” streak alive in his seventh decade. I am a very “strictly monogamous” person myself. I am not interested in being with another man and I have no interest at all in a threesome. At first, I worried I would be repulsed by this idea in real life—not the idea of prostitution but the idea of consensual nonmonogamy—but I realized that this sounds more fun than anything else. I sat with the idea for a while and really imagined it, and I still think it sounds like a fun “gift” to give him, so I brought up the idea to see if he had any interest. He was suspect at first but pretty quickly realized I was being genuine. We agreed that the best way for me to dip my toe in would be to take a vacation and arrange this as an out-of-town experience. I feel like using a professional and being out of town leads this to be a fantastic one-time experience vs. something more regular, which I don’t believe either of us are interested in. He told me I am an amazing wife.

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Can you please share some tips and tricks to make the experience great as well as the aftermath of the experience? Things to consider, conversations to have, etc.

—The Gift

Dear Gift,

I’m obligated to assume that you’ll be taking this vacation to Nevada, Amsterdam, Berlin, or some other place where direct provision of sexual services is legal.

I think you’ve already done a great job at having conversations. You’ve talked through how to make this feel as safe and single instance as possible for you (though if it goes well, I wouldn’t be surprised if you decide to make it an every-decade arrangement). You might spend some time listening to your fears and writing them down as a way to see if there’s anything unaddressed that’s bothering you. You’ve got plenty of time to do this, and can go slowly.

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While your husband is with the escort he’s seeing, assuming you don’t plan to be present, have a friend who you can call if you need to talk or keep a journal nearby. Do something nice for yourself. Maybe that’s ordering your favorite dish, getting a massage, or your favorite exercise.

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You might also think about how you and your husband will process your feelings and reconnect after the encounter. Rely on reconnection practices that already work for the two of you as much as possible. Set aside time directly after to be alone together—in the hotel room you’ll be sharing is a great place. Maybe you have a big hug when he gets in. Maybe you take a bath together. Whatever works best.

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Think about whether you’d like the exact provider to be a surprise, and, if so, talk with your husband about his preferences and adhere to them. Contact providers in advance and tell them what your situation is. Some may prefer not to get involved, and others may be excited to fill this role. Start early, especially since it involves travel, so you have plenty of time to find the right sex worker. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It, 

My partner and I are consensually nonmonogamous and pressed for time. The joke about Google calendars for CNM people is real, but we still find ourselves overwhelmed with other life events and obligations. We’re graduate students and experience booms and busts in our free time. So nonmonogamy lately has shaken out as a few casual friends we met on apps that we see very inconsistently—maybe once a month each?—sometimes to hook up or just hang out. It’s been great for exploring specific kinks, but for me at least, the kink play I want to engage in still takes a good amount of executive functioning and logistical planning that I sometimes just don’t have in me, even when I’m not also getting drinks or staying for dinner. Even this, though, has begun to feel unsustainable with the holidays, finals, family medical emergencies, etc., and one kind friend pointed out I seem to be very much at capacity, even when expectations for engagement are very low.

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They’re right. I feel it, and I’m not kidding anyone. My partner is at a similar place, and has canceled plans a few times in the past few weeks. Right now, we’re hoping in the winter break we’ll have some more time, but I’m not sure what I want.

Part of me is looking at winter break like the chance to schedule the sexy hangouts I didn’t have time for before. Another part, though, wants a reset, akin to one date a week or less, maybe once every two weeks even. But I’m not sure how to communicate this to everyone—I would feel very jealous and lots of FOMO if my partner was still going out multiple times a week while I’m languishing at home, desperately scrounging up serotonin. We’ve set agreed caps in the past on the amount of dates in a week or month, and have even closed our relationship for big life events/emergencies before, so I can ask if that is what I need. But I’m not sure, and have no clue how to frame it or if they’ll agree after they’ve also been waiting for winter break. Also, how would I communicate this to my friends or potential hook-ups? Some friends seem to get it or are in a similar boat, but I still want to have a clear conversation so they can make their own decisions about continuing to engage. I’m sure for some, it can feel crappy and not worth it if a sex partner can only hang out once every two months.

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Do you have any suggestions for how to make a decision and start these conversations?

—Spent

Dear Spent,

I’m in New York City, and as I’m writing this it feels like half of everyone I know has COVID or has just been exposed. In the short term, I encourage you to be extra cautious with the amount of people you’re sharing air with, much less panting heavily with and kissing on the mouth. For now, I think it’s reasonable to tell your partners that you’re closing the pod for the indefinite future.

Long term, because even after you graduate you’ll have unforeseen life events that randomly upend your schedule, be precise with your main partner and potential other partners about what your availability is and what your time priorities will be in a crisis. Institute giving—and getting—a weather report of sorts. A regular conversation (maybe every three months?) about where you’re at and what’s expected to come up in the next several weeks.

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Someone in your extended might feel crappy. Sometimes we feel bad when we don’t get what we were hoping for. Sometimes we feel loss when something we enjoyed ends or becomes less often. Sometimes we feel rejected when we’re, well, kind of rejected. It hurts to hurt people, but we can’t live our lives according to the desires of others, especially not at the scale of nonmonogamy. You might consider that feeling crappy now in response to a directly expressed change in boundaries is preferable to feeling crappy over the course of a couple of months as they wonder why they aren’t seeing you. You also might feel crappy if someone tells you that seeing you once every two months isn’t worth it.

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Love is not a starvation economy, but time is. Your heart may be boundless, but the clock moves at the same speed for all of us. Be kind and forthright, and I think you’ll be OK.

Dear How to Do it, 

My boyfriend and I have been together almost four years now. Just recently, we had a conversation where he confessed that he “didn’t feel in love with me anymore.” I was absolutely devastated, but we talked some more and both said that we wanted to stay together because we do love each other. However, I feel I am the problem in this relationship. I am very inexperienced in the bedroom compared to him and that has caused us to have a very “vanilla” sex life. He says he is attracted to me but I feel my lack of “wild and sexy” has caused our relationship to lose the “lust factor,” which has put a huge strain on us. He travels for work so we only see each other every couple months for maybe a week at a time. Please help me figure out someway to be more open and wild in bed so that maybe I can boost our sex life.

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—Plain Vanilla

Dear PV,

I’d love some more information on whether there’s a difference between “in love with” and “loving” a person for your boyfriend, and I think that’s an important follow-up question from you: How did he get from not feeling in love with you to wanting to stay together because you love each other so quickly? Are they two separate feelings, or did his feelings abruptly change during the conversation?

I’m concerned when you say you feel that you’re the problem in the relationship. I imagine there’s more than one problem. The first one that comes to mind is that you aren’t speaking openly about the sex you have, and that’s a mutual responsibility.

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As for exploring, you can go about this in a couple of different ways. You could get an idea of what your dude desires and then look for ways that those specifics might be arousing for you. You can also look around in a more general sense and see if anything strikes you sensually. I suggest the latter, and both can be done by consuming porn, be that text erotica, videos, or still photos.

You can also explore inward. Spend time with your body—outside the traditional erogenous zones—trying different touches in different places, and get an idea of what kind of sensations you like at what points of arousal. Ask your partner how he prefers to be touched. Find the joy in making each other’s bodies respond. Even if vanilla turns out to be your heaven, it can still be boisterous.

More How to Do It

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My boyfriend and I are both very kinky, with fetishes that go accordingly and a total trust for one another. So where does that go wrong? At the beginning of our relationship, I would spend hours tied up at his mercy, and more. Now it’s been about a year now that I feel sexually deprived. We barely have sex once a week. Mostly, it’s been boring Saturday morning spoon sex while watching kinky scenes on the internet. Our era of actually exciting sex seems to be over. During our last heart-to-heart sex convo, I told him that I felt unwanted. This time, he finally admitted to me the real root of the problem.

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