How to Do It

My Partner Claims She Enjoys Sex With Me. But Her Strange Reaction Afterward Has Me Worried.

What am I doing wrong?

A box of tissues and neon tears.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by hatman12/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,

Im a 28-year-old cis woman, and I am dating a wonderful trans woman. I’m her first serious relationship since her transition. My question is about physical intimacy and lessening her distress afterwards. If I bring her to orgasm, it feels good to her in the moment, but sometimes afterwards it reduces her to tears. I don’t know what to do. We have open, honest communication, and when I check in, she always assures me what I’m doing is welcome and that it gives her pleasure. But invariably it ends with her crying. Sometimes it’s not bad, like she’s a little teary-eyed and a few cuddles and lots of reassurance helps, but oftentimes it ends with her sobbing. I keep asking her if I should just not do it, but she says she enjoys the sensation of orgasm, she just has trouble afterwards. Do you have any other suggestions? I want to make her feel safe and loved, but I don’t know how to be intimate without hurting her.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

— Safe Words Arent Enough

Dear Safe Words,

Feelings of sadness after sex, often accompanied by tears, are generally attributed to a phenomenon called post-coital dysphoria (aka post-coital tristesse). Studies have suggested this phenomenon is common: This one from 2015 found that 46 percent of 230 women respondents had experienced it at some point in their lives, while this one found nearly 33 percent of a 222 women-university-student sample had. (Yet another study found 41 percent of 1,208 surveyed men had.) Suspected contributing factors include hormonal changes that occur after orgasm, feelings about the relationship with the sex partner, feelings about sex in general, trauma, attachment anxiety, and, interestingly (at least to me), difficulty with self-differentiation. Here’s more on that last one, per the first cited study (that found 46 percent of its respondents had experienced PCD):

Advertisement
Advertisement

In our study, individuals who have difficulty maintaining an “I” position and are more emotionally reactive were more likely to report symptoms of PCD. In the period following sexual intercourse, individuals who are emotionally reactive may be more sensitive or vulnerable to negative emotions, resulting in an acute period of depression or irritability. Those who have a tendency to become fused with others may perceive the resolution phase of sexual intercourse as a separation from their partner, which may be overwhelming.

Advertisement

So, your partner’s gender identity and recency of transition may not be a contributing factor, though that’s possible. I didn’t find examples of PCD studies on trans people, or existing studies suggesting that gender dysphoria could add to post-coital dysphoria, but there are some reddit threads from trans people discussing their experiences with PCD. Sex can exacerbate gender dysphoria, so I don’t want to discount the possibility outright, but the simpler truth is many people experience PCD, and your partner is such a person. If she knows there’s a possibility she’ll feel sad after having sex, but pushes ahead anyway, she’s indicating that the pros outweigh the cons. The good feelings during sex are worth the negative ones after. You should keep up the aftercare and, perhaps in a nonsexual context, discuss whether there’s anything more you can do in those instances. If this post-sex sadness is becoming too big a burden, she could talk to a counselor (perhaps she already has one, or is willing to pursue a sex therapist). One such counselor recommends journaling one’s feelings (though I think inventory can be taken merely in one’s head, no need to put pen to page). Here are five prompts Aviva Kamander recommended in a Well + Good piece on the topic:

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

1. Was it before, during, and/or after sex that you started feeling something distressing? 2. Is this feeling familiar to anything you’ve felt at another time in your life? 3. Did your behavior work in alignment with your values? 4. Are you satisfied with how you were treated? 5. Is there anything you regret about the experience?

Post-coital dysphoria can be confusing, since many of us understand sex as something that makes us feel good, not bad. It’s hard to help yourself if you don’t understand yourself, so hopefully your partner already does or can start to via the questions above, some counseling, or both. For your part, keep being there for her—that you care enough to write this letter suggests you’re already doing your job.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Dear How to Do It,

How reasonable is it to expect a long-term partner to distinguish between a playful “no, but actually yes” and an actual lack of consent?

My husband and I have been together for over a decade, and our sex life has frequently played with consent—think deliberate provocations to get “punished,” or pretending to be overpowered. Well, we’re now separated for a number of reasons (mainly infidelity and chronic unemployment on his part), and my enthusiasm for sex with him has taken a nose dive. On maybe four to five occasions now, we will be spending time together, I’ll say I’m not interested in being intimate, and he’ll persistently escalate the touching, etc., sometimes using guilt (“But I miss you so much and just want to be close to you!”), despite my stated wishes until eventually I just give in. These experiences left me feeling used and violated, and I have told him this. Honestly, this might be the final straw that tips me toward divorce. However, he argues that given our sexual history, it’s unreasonable for me to expect him to know the difference between a real no and a playful one, especially since I never truly tried to fight him off. I also find myself shutting down, and just ignoring remarks and actions that hurt me rather than making a good faith effort to explain why I feel violated. Am I sabotaging my relationship by not giving him enough of a chance to learn and improve? How much educating and explanation do I owe him, given our history and love for each other? I would truly like to repair this relationship, but don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling like I don’t matter.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

— Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

I do not think you’re being unreasonable. I think he is being coercive and selective with the information he chooses to believe. If you say sex is making you feel used and violated, there’s no argument to be had. It makes you feel what it does. Your past play may contextualize his behavior, but it certainly doesn’t excuse or justify it, especially now that you’ve clarified. Things have changed, you’re separated, and overall, you’re less responsive to him. That is far more logical of a trajectory than his refusal to accept your shifting dynamic and adamance that no means yes because it sometimes did in the past.

It seems like you need a break from sex with him—at least for now. I would make that absolutely clear upfront and moving forward. In a setting where sex could not be construed as an option—say via phone, at a restaurant, or maybe during the beginning of a hang session—tell him in no uncertain terms that you aren’t interested in sex, and that, in fact, your feelings of violation after recent encounters are only making you less interested. And then, don’t give in. If he tries to push it, leave the room, leave the house, leave the city, leave the state. I don’t think you are to blame for what’s been happening, but I do think you could work at preventing it to send the clearest possible signal to someone who seems to need just that.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

I don’t believe that this constitutes sabotaging your relationship. Your issues with him are, it seems, distinct from sex, and you probably need to sort through them before you can connect sexually again. At the moment, things are muddled, and I think what you’re actually sabotaging is your chance for repair. You owe him as much educating and explaining as you’re willing to give, as long as he shows willingness to learn. Arguing with you about your own feelings of violation does not suggest such a willingness. Only you can decide when to pull the plug—how much inertia can you put up with? If you two aren’t seeing a counselor, that might be a good last-ditch effort.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Help us keep giving the advice you crave every week. Sign up for Slate Plus now.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 40-year-old white American dude, so I’m firmly (pun intended) ensconced in the age group where like 90 percent of us were circumcised at birth. Granted, a lot of the content is of European origin, but based on my Pornhub travels the last several years, it seems that stat has been reversed overall. I don’t have any sensitivity issues, and I am glad to have been circumcised, but … after seeing so much uncut sex lately, I find myself curious to know how it would feel different. What are some ways you could simulate it? Are there any, practically speaking? My internet searches have yielded some kooky results, and a lot of it is focused on trying to actually re-grow” foreskin, which I’m not interested in. I just want to know what it feels like.

Advertisement
Advertisement

— Uncut Curious

Dear Uncut Curious,

Let’s not disparage those interested in restoring their foreskins—they’re a very sensitive bunch and, if they have any say in the matter, are getting more sensitive by the use of various contraptions like weights and grips. There’s far from a consensus on foreskin restoration in the medical community (“voodoo” is how one unnamed urologist categorized the practice to Vice in 2015), though there are doctors who perform surgical restorations. Wayne Griffiths, founder of National Organization of Restoring Men, has reported that his weight-assisted restoration increased sensitivity in the head of his penis. (The nerves in the foreskin lost during circumcision, however, cannot be regenerated.) Everyone needs a hobby and people love their penises, so if nothing else, the restoration movement, in all of its banner-waving glory, was inevitable.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

What does having a foreskin feel like? That’s not unlike asking, “What does purple look like?” or, “What do white truffles taste like?” The answer is going to be subjective and at the mercy of spoken language’s limitation. With foreskins, it’s hard to know what you’re missing if you never had it. The best we can do is check in with those who have been circumcised as adults after experiencing sexual pleasure with a foreskin. Most anecdotal accounts report a loss of sensation. “It was like having a decent car, then having to downgrade to a worse car. You’ll take the worse car because it’s better than having to take the bus … but still,” one anonymous, recently snipped guy told Cosmopolitan in 2019. YouTuber Mario Adrion claimed that sex with a foreskin was more intense, included more friction, and was overall “a lot more exciting.” That said, getting cut alleviated his concerns of under-the-hood cleanliness, making him feel “lighter.” One study found that circumcision extended ejaculatory latency time—perhaps a bonus if you’re going for stamina. Another study found “minimal long-term implications for penile sensitivity” after using quantitative sensory testing protocols on circumcised and uncircumcised men, while yet another, via online survey, found that “circumcised men reported decreased sexual pleasure and lower orgasm intensity.” So: mixed results. Finally, a study of men circumcised as adults found that 48 percent reported masturbatory pleasure reduced after circumcision, 63 percent said masturbatory difficulty increased, and 20 percent reported worse sex in the wake of adult circumcision.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

In my research, it seems like the actual tactile differences are a matter of degree. It’s very hard to accurately describe the taste of white truffles, but we can agree that they’re stronger in taste and smell than black truffles. And yet, black truffles are delicious too! In terms of simulating the sensation without resorting to restoration techniques, you could maybe try a sleeve-like masturbation aid, just for the sake of knowing what it’s like to have something surrounding your penis that can glide over top of it. But again, you’re not going to generate nerves out of nothing. It’s natural to wonder, “What if?,” but it’s probably best for your head (at least the one on your shoulders) to be grateful for what you have.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

This girl and I began dating not long ago, and recently decided to start having sex. We’re both grown adults (Im a guy), late 20s/early 30s, and it’s neither of our first times. Overall, things feel very compatible! Not just with sexuality but generally—I’m optimistic about how things can go for us. But the reason I’m emailing you is because what I worried would happen actually did during our first-time having sex together: I had a difficult time getting, let alone maintaining, an erection. I masturbate OK to porn, and while my libido is not what it was when I was a teenager, I still feel arousal and can get to climax on my own. But since I was in my early 20s, I’ve had a hit-or-miss history of erections with partners, which is nerve-racking! With previous partners I’ve had good sex (hopefully it was mutual), and sometimes it seemed like I was over the issue, only to have it return anew with a new partner. I can only think of one or two in the past 10 years where I didn’t have this issue at all; it’s always on my mind when things start going physical, as much as I try not to think about it. I suppose having not had sex in several years is adding to that, too (the pandemic).

Advertisement
Advertisement

For better or worse, this HAS made me a bit more attentive and interested in being good at stimulating my partner in other ways like fingers and oral. And when she touched/caressed my penis and testicles I reacted as you’d expect, just not sustained in a way that might lead to intercourse, let alone putting on a condom then intercourse, this first time. We’ll have a second time soon, and I can only hope I’m up to my game or she’s OK repeating how we did things last time. I’ve seen doctors, and they say it’s just nerves, not anything physical or testosterone-related, and they’re probably right. Doesn’t help in the moment though, and I hate to feel like I’m a disappointing partner. She doesn’t seem bothered by this first-time flaccidity, but if you have any advice or suggestions for what might help a situation like this, I’d be more than keen to be a more consistent partner for her in all the ways we might enjoy sex together.

Advertisement
Advertisement

— Hard Up

Dear Hard Up,

I’m inclined to agree with your doctors that this is psychologically, not physically, rooted. Let’s review the evidence you submitted: You worried about boner issues with this new partner, and sure enough, there they were. It is “always” on your mind when things get physical, and when things get physical is when you most often experience these issues. For, as you write, “Sometimes it seemed like I was over the issue, only to have it return anew with a new partner.” It seems like your brake is triggered when the opportunity to have sex with a new partner comes to pass, and time and comfort ease that formerly leaden foot, allowing you to accelerate. I think you are nonetheless a good candidate for a PDE5 inhibitor such as sildenafil or tadalafil. It may seem counterintuitive to treat a psychological issue with a drug that targets something as physical as your blood flow, but knowing you have the safety net of a boner med may actually ease your mind, thereby resolving the psychological issue.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Also, lean into your partner’s acceptance. She seems compassionate, and possibly has experience with this very issue. The worst thing a partner can do in the presence of a soft dick is to make a big deal about it and create added stress, particularly if the ED is a product of already present stress. Follow her lead, ease into her ease, have a good time within your capacity, and see if that doesn’t help clear the way for your wood, as well.

— Rich

More How to Do It

I recently moved in with a guy friend of mine, and so far it’s gone pretty well. He’s clean, quiet, considerate, and we get along great. However, since I’ve known him, I’ve known he’s a nudist.

Advertisement