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,
My girlfriend and I (both middle-aged) have been together for a year or so. The sex is outstanding, she says the best she’s ever had: multiple deep orgasms every time, especially with oral. I have a great time, too, and love her responsiveness. She says she enjoys giving oral as well as receiving and that her previous lovers have been very satisfied with how she does it.
But here’s the problem. I love receiving oral but getting to orgasm, I’ve learned over time, requires my partner to sit on my lower thighs or knees and take my dick in her mouth from below, allowing her tongue to swirl over my glans and focus on my urethra and frenulum. Guaranteed intense orgasm in a minute or less. I’ve suggested this along the way on a couple of occasions, but she says she’s not interested in giving me oral anymore because I’m telling her what to do and that makes it too unspontaneous. Plus, her previous lovers were happy to let her do it “her way.”
This seems unfair; I pay a lot of attention to having her enjoy our intimacy to the maximum. Is it too much to ask her to help me out “my way”?
— I Want It My Way
Dear My Way,
Your girlfriend likes spontaneous sex, you want your blow jobs in one specific way. Fairness seems important to you, and I’m wondering if you define fair as equal. It may, in fact, be too much to ask your girlfriend to give you a very specific kind of stimulation that requires the significant physical coordination needed to ride your lower thighs (and knees, which can be bony) as you orgasm. This would preclude equal giving of oral pleasure. There are limits to what the human body is capable of, and each of us have different physical capacities. You may be asking your partner to engage in something that isn’t possible for her, or is deeply uncomfortable.
It might help to put yourself in her shoes. For instance, I imagine she’s had a lifetime of being told how she should do everything from her work to arranging her facial expression as she walks down the street. Yes, I’m referring to street harassment and the constant refrain of “Smile, baby.” Maybe she doesn’t want her sexual interactions to be that way. It’s worth thinking through some possible scenarios, based on what you know of her personality and history. When you get to a place of curiosity, have a conversation. Ask her what she likes about spontaneous sex, and what she felt when you were communicating with her about your sexual desires. From there you’ll have more information about what her desires and boundaries are, and the two of you can start figuring out the finer points of how you fit together. Whether the middle you meet in is enough for you is yours to evaluate.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 20-something woman in a committed relationship with a 20-something man. Having partnered sex is relatively new to me, within the last year. I’ve enjoyed exploring my sexuality with my partner, in different positions, with different toys, and even a bit of BDSM. While I’ve always been enthusiastic about sex, I would say that my overall skill level has steadily increased over time.
One thing I can’t seem to get down though: being on top. I’ve heard from plenty of women who enjoy this position, but I can’t seem to get the hang of it. I rarely climax when I’m on top, not least because of how much of a workout it seems to be. Once, right before my partner was about to climax, both of my legs totally cramped up and I couldn’t keep going. He’s very understanding and assured me he doesn’t mind skipping that position, but I’d like to be able to do more of the “work” of PIV sex every so often.
I’m wondering if I’m missing something. (For what it’s worth, I live an active lifestyle and I’m a healthy weight.) Is the woman being on top supposed to be more of a rocking motion than the short “squat-bounce” I’ve been going with? How on earth can anyone keep this up for longer than a minute or two? And, do you have any tips for how to achieve climax in this position? All I seem to achieve is getting really sweaty and running out of breath.
—Not a Cowgirl
Dear Not a Cowgirl,
If you really want to be able to squat-bounce—great term, by the way—for an extended period of time, you might hit the gym for leg day and focus on those squats. Strengthening the muscles involved in that type of cowgirl position will help your endurance. If you’re perched on the balls of your feet, try placing your whole lower leg on the bed. If you’re doing it with your lower legs on the bed, try perching. You can also use your arms to support your weight, bracing against a headboard, placing your hands on either side of his head or shoulders, or with both hands in the center of his sternum. That’ll help take some of the load off of your legs, and you can switch your center of gravity to give one section of your body a bit of a rest.
As for other approaches, Hasani Hill, a male erotic dancer, reposted this video on Instagram recently that I think will be illustrative. You can see he’s got a rolling motion to his hips, and when we’re looking for orgasm as the penetratee (as opposed to the penetrator), we’re aiming for the reverse of what Hill demonstrates. You can also think of it as trying to stroke your g-spot, or the fleshy pad on the inside of your vaginal canal above your pubic bone, with the head of your partner’s penis. Less up-and-down and more forwards and backwards. This could absolutely be described as a rolling motion. You also might enjoy making circles with your hips, whether that’s whole circles or semi-circles to either side. You might look at old videos of Bob Fosse’s choreography for ideas on how to move your abdomen and pelvis. All of the above is likely to have the effect of grinding your clitoris into your partner’s pubic bone, which is usually helpful for reaching climax. You can also lead the action from underneath your partner in missionary, by rocking your pelvis frontwards and backwards, or, again, by making circles.
I’m also wondering if you’re fully breathing while you’re on top. I sometimes catch myself holding my breath during sex, especially when I’m participating vigorously. Shallow panting can be another issue. When you’re riding your partner, try to notice your breathing. Is the air coming in through your nose? Is your inhale reaching your belly or stopping in your chest? If you feel that you aren’t breathing well, it’s worth slowing things down to allow yourself to breathe as you bounce. Once you get the hang of it, you can speed up again.
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Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I are trying an open relationship. After some reading and talking through hypotheticals, he tried hooking up with a friend. My experience was a very high level of painful and intrusive thoughts the night it happened (sobbing, panic attacks, feeling angry and sad and not good enough, with nowhere to direct those feelings), plus a surprising disgust towards him when he got home. It was like my body was viscerally rejecting him because he had someone else all over him; I didn’t want to touch him because I knew that mouth had just been on her pussy, that hand had just been on her breast. I didn’t even like seeing myself naked in the mirror because I felt so repulsed by the idea of them naked together. That’s extra weird because I actually think the friend is pretty hot and considered a threesome with them before. And I never had trouble sharing partners with friends when I was single and things were casual.
I started feeling better after a few days, and now I guess I will hook up with someone to see how it goes for both of us. My question is, is that kind of intense reaction par for the course, and something that will get easier with time? Or is that a sign that this isn’t a good fit for me? I think we both desire sexual variety in our partners but struggle with jealousy. I don’t want to cause him pain like what I felt if it’s not actually getting us somewhere.
— Soft Opening
Dear Soft Opening,
I think this is a sign that it’s time to slow down. Ask yourself whether you’ll be hooking up with someone out of desire for them, or out of desire to complete your tat to go with your husband’s, well, tit. If it’s the latter, please, for the sake of everyone involved, deal with your current situation first.
Jealousy is an emotion. Whether we’re monogamous or plurogamous, whether the context is sexual or not, most of us experience the feeling of jealousy at some point in our lives. As long as your actions are under your control, you can acknowledge the feeling and sit with it. And you can lean on your self-care skills for ways to soothe yourself when you’re feeling that emotion, enough that you can engage your analytic mind and look for clues as to what you’re reacting to. Does a walk help? How about a shower or bath? Journaling? Talking with a friend? Silently screaming in a small dark room? If your actions are out of control, that’s a warning sign and therapy would be a good next step.
Jessica Fern’s Polysecure comes highly recommended by sex educator and friend of the column Aubri Lancaster. And, if you haven’t read it yet, The Ethical Slut’s section on jealousy is a helpful resource that people still refer to almost 25 years after publication, with revisions published in 2009 and 2017. While I can’t speak to the 2017 edition, I did read the 2009 version and found it both useful and improved. As always, take what the authors say as suggestions, not orders.
Intense reactions do happen, and people do find ways of processing their emotions while being in relationships that are open. Other people don’t, and decide to close things back up. That’s always an option, and no relationship structure has to be permanent, especially when it isn’t working for one of the people involved. Therapy might be a helpful support regardless, as you’re navigating this new framework. It’s worth looking for an open relationship–informed therapist, if you decide to go that route. This doesn’t have to be long-term treatment, or in any framework of medicalization.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 30-ish-year-old cis man, and I seem to have become pretty much the only person in my group of friends who isn’t in a committed long-term relationship. This wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t want one, but I really do. I suspect a factor in my struggle to find a long-term partner is that I don’t really know how to accurately describe my sexuality.
I figure I’m somewhere on the bi/pan spectrum; if I’m into someone and they’re into me, then that’s good enough! I’m interested in (and have dated) various people across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, but the majority of people I’ve dated have been queer women, and that seems to be who I most frequently click with.
Within our social circle, it has pretty much become a running joke that I’m basically a “male lesbian.” Several of my close friends are queer women and/or non-binary lesbians, and we all share exes in common. People make jokes about me dressing like a lesbian, having a lesbian haircut, etc. (I don’t mind it, and frankly they aren’t wrong.) In my early 20s, I was frequently read as a butch lesbian, and as I’ve gotten older I am now frequently read as a trans man. To be honest, I’ve never felt particularly attached to “manhood” and I guess on some level, I’m probably nonbinary (although I trialed using they/them pronouns for a while and it never felt right), but I have zero interest in significantly changing my physical presentation. At the very least, I am comfortable with the fact that straight women absolutely are not buying what I’m selling.
I have been accused of “fetishizing queer women,” and I guess that is something I desperately want to avoid. Amongst friends and friends of friends, people pretty much know what my deal is, so I mostly tend to date within that social circle. But I haven’t yet found “the one” and I suspect finding that person will mean casting my net a bit wider. How can I describe my sexuality (for example on dating apps!) without coming across like a predatory man trying to convert queer women to heterosexuality?
— Mullet Made Flesh
You’re in a bit of a bind. Male lesbian might be the most accurate descriptor for you, but that term has been utterly trashed because of cis dudely-dudes trying to insert themselves into relationships and interactions between women, or women and nonbinary folx who are frequently perceived as female, as you describe. And, while I’m completely on board with all of us starting from the point of “Hi, human!” and getting to know each other from there through conversation, that method of dating is at odds with the structure of dating apps. So you need some concise phrase to describe yourself, and to my knowledge there isn’t one that others are likely to inherently grok. You’ll also want to have a paragraph-length description of yourself for people who would like to know more.
My instinct is to recommend Kate Bornstein’s My New Gender Workbook to you, because it’s really worth doing the quizzes and exercises in there. Take your time, and give yourself space to process what you’re learning about gender theory and yourself. You’ll hopefully come out of it with a better understanding of yourself, and some ideas for words to use to describe who you are—maybe even who you’re interested in dating. If you’re using apps, being able to succinctly describe the kind of relationship you want and the type of people you’re looking for will be very helpful.
I do think you’ll have better luck at meetups and other types of gatherings where you can meet people and converse with them. You may have to prove yourself all over again, like you’ve done with your existing group of friends, but as long as you show up and treat people as humans, that should be possible. There will always be gatekeepers, and those who are skeptical of your intentions, and that’s part of existing in community.
If the people who’ve accused you of fetishizing queer women mentioned any specific behaviors or statements as evidence, I do think it’s worth spending some time introspecting—at least once!—about whether their accusation has any merit or truth. If that isn’t the case, do your best to move on with your life.
Good luck on your search for your own descriptive label, and for the match of your monogamous dreams.
More How to Do It
I’m a hetero woman married to a hetero dude, both in our 30s. I’ve been with my husband for a decade. He’s a wonderful husband and father to our two very young children. Last year, I fell hard for a dear, dear friend (also a hetero dude). After clearing it with my husband—we had always discussed being open to non-monogamy—I pursued him, and to my delight, he was interested. So I’ve had a husband and a boyfriend for about a year. I’m the pivot in our vee (which is to say, my guys don’t have other partners; they’re 100 percent free to, but they’ve both demurred).
I love them both and feel so blessed to have them both as my partners. My trouble is eroticism—specifically that my erotic brain is totally focused on my boyfriend now.