How to Do It

I Discovered My Secret to Truly Amazing Sex

 You’ll see why I’m reluctant to tell anyone when you hear what it is.

Hand holding a folded up towel.
Photo illustration by Slate Photo by Banphote Kamolsanei/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It, Slate’s sex advice column, now has its very own podcast featuring Stoya and Rich. Twice a week, they’ll tackle their most eye-popping questions yet in short, fun, informative episodes. Subscribe to the podcast now wherever you listen.

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Dear How to Do It,

I need some perspective on how an … unorthodox sexual routine of mine and whether I can or should tell new lovers about it.

I figured out in my teens that I could partially lie on a towel, then bring the rest up between my legs and masturbate against it, sometimes with vibes or toys, and sometimes just with the pressure and friction of the towel over my underwear.

I like the unpredictability it lends to the positioning of the toys and the ability to vary the pressure and angle from a distance. For a long time, I thought that was it, that the technique was a good one and the fabric touching my thighs and chest was thrilling because it was like having a partner.

I’ve come to realize that over the last couple of years that it’s more than that. I’ve found an ideal piece of fabric, and often what gets me over the top is imagining that the fabric itself is fucking me. I’m not worried about it; it doesn’t hurt anyone and I wash it regularly. But I recognize my sexual connection to this towel is maybe a little unusual. I’m curious if there’s a word for this, and if there are others like me. I’d like to explore this with partners, but it’s hard to know where to start.

—The Fabric of My Life

Rich: So this sounded like it might be what’s described as “objectum sexuality,” so I did a little bit of digging and I found a sexuality professional named Amy Marsh, who in 2010, published a paper in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality called “Love Among the Objectum Sexuals.” So we reached out to Marsh, and here’s what we talked about:

Rich: I’m not sure if our question necessarily is from someone with objectum sexuality, but I thought maybe the question kind of veered enough into that territory, and that it might be worth talking to you because you wrote maybe the earliest paper on objectum sexuals. The paper though, specifically maintains that objectum sexuality is not a fetish or paraphilia, that it is in fact a sexuality.

Amy Marsh: Yes, absolutely. Because there’s a full-blown sense of orientation towards the objects, being with objects, relating with them, considering them as partners. So, for example, your letter writer talks about the fantasy of imagining that the fabric itself is fucking him. Now that’s a really great fantasy. But one of my questions is, is there a sense outside the fantasy that this particular piece of fabric has something more to it? Is there almost an animist sense of an awareness or consciousness attached to that particular piece of fabric? And that’s where I think you begin to go towards objectum sexuality.

Objectum sexuality is a fully realized orientation of affectionate, romantic and/or sexual relationships with some object of some kind. Often there’s a physical desire, which is a desire for proximity, not just a desire for sexual proximity. There will be object fantasies—they’ll sense some kind of personality in the object, possibly gender, which may or may not matter to them. But it’s really a full attachment. And often there’s some sense of reciprocity between the person and the object, and some sense of object consciousness.

Stoya: So for our writer’s goal of exploring this with partners, is there any consensus about good ways to broach object sexuality with people who have no understanding of it?

Marsh: So I would think that a couple of things he could do is, do a little more exploration in his fantasies first about what it’s like to have the piece of fabric with him when he’s with a human partner, and see if that adds to the buzz or kills the buzz. Because sometimes what you fantasize about, maybe you don’t actually want to enact in real life. He could come to the conclusion that, ‘well, I don’t really need to bring the actual physical fabric into a sexual encounter; I can just keep it as a fantasy or things that I do when I’m having solo sex.’ I would say, though, he’d probably be able to start a little further ahead of the game if his partner was already familiar with or part of some kinky community.

But if you’re with somebody who’s not really familiar with kink, maybe it’s not so bad for them to hear that you would just prefer to lie on top of the towel. So, if letter writer says, “I have a lot of sensitivity to different kinds of textures and fabrics, and so it would just be really comfortable and relaxing for me if I could lie down on this towel while we’re having sex with a partner on top,” then that could be one way to introduce it without having to tell his whole story, or until he feels more comfortable with the person that he is having sex with. That’s one idea.

Stoya: I was very stuck on the detail that our writer washes their fabric regularly, because fabric is fairly delicate, especially in the grand scheme of materials. Do you have any advice for when their beloved object inevitably no longer exists in a usable form?

Marsh: Yeah. I’ve been trying to educate other clinicians about understanding the needs of clients who may be objectum sexuals, and to be prepared to understand if they experience the loss of their object. This is super real; it’s like losing a person or a pet. Clinicians need to give the same kind of attentive, responsive assistance that anybody experiencing loss would get.

Now, I had the same thought as you, like, oh my God, how many times can this fabric be washed without absolutely falling apart? And this is also the problem faced by parents who have a child who has a blanket that they just love to bits until the thing totally shreds—”Well, it’s getting dirty, but if we wash it one more time, it may dissolve.” So if for this person, it’s the type of fabric but not necessarily that particular piece, then I say, sure, wash it as much as you need to, which is a good idea anyway, but maybe find another bolt of fabric or another set of towels or whatever this fabric is.

Stoya: By the way, the letter doesn’t say anything about gender and only barely hints at genital arrangement.

Rich: Yes. So choosing a pronoun is, in this context, a guess.

Stoya: Yeah. Anyway, I’m very glad that Amy also zeroed in on this regular washing and the potential issues that that could cause sooner rather than later, depending on how regular.

Rich: I kept thinking about Toy Story 3, which I found overly precious about things. I was like, it’s just a movie about stuff and how stuff means something to us, and we should transcend this idea of material things, but now I’m totally rethinking that. For some people, stuff is their life force. I mean, you read these people [in Marsh’s paper] talk about the objects that they’re in a relationship with them and they are extremely attached and fulfilled and in love, ostensibly. The range of human experience grows and grows and grows the more you read about people.

Stoya: It’s truly amazing. So, exploring this with partners, Amy had some really sound advice, which was to imagine themselves with their fabric and their partner, and think about ways that that could combine.

Rich: Yeah, I also like the idea of having the towel present, but not necessarily acknowledged. I think you can work it in that way. It doesn’t even have to necessarily be a thing that you’re saying, “Hey, this is my thing.” Unless you wanted to dip your toe in, let’s say, with your towel.

Stoya: Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be disclosed, because at the end of the day, what you’re saying is, “I like the sensation of this fabric touching me in a way that brings me sexual pleasure.” You can communicate that to a partner very simply. To put it in context, I like wearing silk panties in a way that makes me feel like it’s possibly sex time, and that’s not something that I think most people would find odd at all.

Rich: No. And I mean, I think maybe even the silk panties could sit very far to the left of the OS spectrum, but still on it all the same. Right?

Stoya: Absolutely. It’s the same with leather. It’s not so much about the sensation that’s touching my skin, but knowing that I have it—it’s a textile gear thing.

Rich: And that knowing is super important because the most important sex organ is the brain, for a lot of people, at least.

Stoya: Yeah. So if you come at it from, “here’s my quirk, it’s important to me,” that’s a great way to approach bringing partners in. And they might have ideas, too.