How to Do It

My Husband Says Our Sex Life Is the Cause for All of His Anxiety

I feel like I’ve tried everything.

Man covering his face with his hands.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by  PeopleImages/iStock/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 not sure where to start to describe my issue, but here goes: My husband has very bad anxiety that manifests itself in depression, outbursts, panic attacks, and frustration when things don’t go smoothly. I’ve been supportive as I can be with it all, encouraging doctor’s appointments for anti-anxiety medication (which he takes), I got him numbers for therapists (that he hasn’t called), and I try to make sure his triggers can be avoided. However, whenever we have the conversations of “we are a team, how can we work on this together?”, his response is always that his anxiety is almost 100 percent a result of the fact that we don’t have sex as often as he’d like and the lack of physical intimacy in his life is the cause of most, if not all of his anxiety.

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I’m trying, I really am, to address this. Unfortunately our libidos are not the greatest match; we have two young children, one of whom I am taking care of at home while working a full-time job, and our housework split is probably around 60/40. I’m just so tired and there’s always something to be done. He laments that I do not prioritize sex, but I’m trying; I do want to help. I try to fit intimacy in when the infant naps, but can’t always get him to stay asleep once he’s put down. I try to stay awake after the kids are asleep to wait for my husband to come to bed, but I just can’t sometimes. I don’t feel comfortable having sex in the house while someone is watching our kids in the house. He also tells me that when I am able to have intimate moments with him, he feels like a chore that I’m fitting in, which makes his anxiety even worse.

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This has led to a lengthy dry spell lately, and as expected, my husband’s anxiety has increased. When I pushed the issue of a therapist, he told me that unless the therapist had sex with him, he doubted that therapy would work. I’ve offered an open relationship so he could get his needs met if I couldn’t; he’s not interested. I feel like I’ve tried everything, but maybe I’m missing something. Are there any other avenues that I’m not seeing? Any ideas for increasing my desire so I’m not treating sex like a chore?

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— I’m So Tired

Dear I’m So Tired, 

No. This man does not get to blame your sexual autonomy and boundaries for his anxiety without me saying “Absolutely not.” That is unfair and patently absurd. Sexual interaction with others is not a right. If marriage equals guaranteed sexual access, the whole system of matrimony is, as some second-wave feminists said, unpaid sexual labor—exploitation without compensation. Take stock of your situation—how much of your own desires and needs are you pushing aside to cater to your husband’s entitlement?

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You might benefit from a read of Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are. Nagoski uses a brakes and gas pedal metaphor, and it sounds like several things are mashing your brakes. Her book seems likely to help you understand what’s happening and figure out solutions that work for your life.

You’ll have to be a team though, and it sounds like that isn’t actually the case. You’ve given him a generous option—you’ve suggested an open relationship—and he’s met your reasonable solutions (and effort in finding therapists for him) with “Unless the therapist has sex with me I doubt therapy will work.” What you’ve told me about this guy gives no indication that he actually wants to find a solution.

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If this pattern repeats in other aspects of your relationship, it’s time to think about getting out, which I understand is a tough situation given your marriage and children. If the issues are isolated in intimacy, do a wake up call conversation and insist that he at least sees a couples counselor with you who specializes in sexual connections. Stay strong.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a woman who met a guy on Tinder, and we’re spending time together. We haven’t had sex yet, unless you count phone sex, but it’s happening soon. During said phone sex, “Bob” mentioned double penetration using a sex toy. I’ve never had anal sex. I’ve never really wanted to, but now I’m open to considering it.

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I have several questions: First, what kind of prep would I need to do for this to go well and not be gross? Secondly, how do you ease into this? Is there a way to slowly work up to full penetration? If so, what is it and how do I communicate that to him in a way that lets him know I’m open to it, but he needs to take it slow? He has way more experience in general than I do. (We’re middle-aged.) I’m beyond ready to sleep with him, and I want to be prepared to handle this well when it comes up. Help a girl out!

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— Ready

Dear Ready,

Are you sure you want to try anal for the first time on the very first occasion you have sex with someone? If it were me, I’d see how the guy does with more familiar ground before I trusted him to be a partner in pushing at the edges of my comfort zone. This is, though, your choice.

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Tristan Taormino wrote a wonderful guide called The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women. There are several options for reducing the possibility of poop appearing, ranging from taking fiber capsules to ensure your feces are as dry and clumpy as possible—Rich, my How to Do It colleague, has recommended psyllium husk in the past—through enemas, to my policy, which is to avoid anal penetration if I’m feeling less than solid. If you go the enema route, don’t put anything other than clean water in your rectum. The solution that comes in single-use enemas may cause your stool to loosen, and, speaking from experience, you might give yourself explosive diarrhea all over the penetrating person in question. At the end of the day, your partner is going to Poop’s house, and Poop might decide to greet them. As long as you’ve got the means to clean up properly, this doesn’t have to be any more of an issue than your emotional reactions dictate.

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As for taking it slow, start with licking or gentle pressure with a lubricated finger. Once you’re relaxed, and feel like you want to go further, that finger—presuming the fingernail is trimmed and filed—can go in gently and slowly. Think up-to-the-first-knuckle. Please note, regular spit does not suffice for anal. Vaginal lubrication, if you’re wet enough, may be functional. Ideally you have a manufactured lubricant on hand, and Epiphora has reviewed several options that you might peruse. If a finger turns out to be too bony for you, you might acquire a small butt plug. Anal toys absolutely must have a flanged base (a stopper that prevents the toy from going so far up your rectum that you need medical help to retrieve it), so getting a plug that is specifically made for buttholes is pretty crucial.

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When you feel ready to take a dong, given the context of double penetration being the goal, you have a choice to make: Do you take the flesh-cock in your vagina or in your ass? I suggest you go for flesh in the back and manufactured in the front, so your partner has the haptic feedback that his penis can give while he’s penetrating you. On the other hand, a dong—with a flared base!—doesn’t need friction to stay hard. Once you’ve made your choice, start with an inch. Let your body tell you when further penetration is OK. Go slow, and pause after every push to give your body time to adjust and desire more.

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As for communication, “I’m into this, but we need to go slowly” works pretty well? If you’re feeling anxious, choose your wording and practice it a few times. You’ve got this.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am a man married 14 years to a woman. I’m completely devoted to my wife in all aspects and I’m still crazy about her. I’m extremely attracted to her personality, looks, and style of dress, and I make that known to her. She says she’s attracted to more than my 401K and ability to hold down a job, but flirtations are nonexistent or so subtle, they might go unnoticed.

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I’m not good looking in the classic sense but I’m not a troll either. I’m of small build and was often considered “cute” by women. To counter this, I exercise regularly, dress well, smell better, and groom myself in ways that I think are appealing to the opposite sex, although I don’t have any scientific evidence of this. Regardless, I’m happy with the things I can control and myself overall.

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My wife and I enjoy a good relationship. We have a tween, but we’ve always made our relationship a priority with date nights, dancing, karaoke, talking, cuddling, and sharing our interests. My wife has to consciously work on being present with me, otherwise her thoughts are consumed by work, parenting, or the shade of white on the ceiling. Her approach to sex is “pleasant obligation.”

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As a result, I often fantasize about being the object of desire for my wife or other women. Stranger than that, I’ll fantasize about my wife showing desire for another man. It’s worth noting that I have felt desired by her on occasion and other women from past relationships so I do know what I’m missing. I just want to feel wanted by my wife. If not through her, what are other ways I can get this need met without an outside affair, divorce, or starting a tech company?

— I Want You to Want Me

Dear I Want You to Want Me,

You’re saying you “just want to feel wanted” by a woman who you also say approaches sex as a “pleasant obligation.” I suspect that, for her, this isn’t as simple as your use of “just” would imply. Your description of her challenges in being present with you bring Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are to mind, as Nagosaki spends a lot of time talking about the sexual excitement and sexual inhibition systems, which were developed at the Kinsey Institute. I think your wife’s brake pedal may be mashed into the floorboards by her responsibilities. Give the book a read, highlight parts that feel relevant to you, and ask your wife if she’s open to hearing what you learn.

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If she’s open to a discussion, choose your time wisely. You’ll want enough time to have a discussion and work through any emotions that come up, and you’ll want to have privacy to allow for discussions of an adult (and, depending on how you both feel about sex, potentially delicate) matter. Make sure there’s water on hand, and that everyone involved has their biological needs taken care of—you’re not hungry, you’re not overly tired, etc.

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If she isn’t open to a discussion, you have a choice to make. Are you willing to put your desire to feel desired aside to preserve the home and marriage? Are you willing to risk everything and suggest an open marriage? These are big questions. It’s worth talking with a trusted friend, or writing your feelings and thoughts with pen and paper, or however else you process feelings and questions well. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

I feel a little ridiculous asking this, but I’m an adult who has never watched porn or read erotica before, for various reasons. I’m interested in trying out both now, but I honestly feel a bit overwhelmed and don’t know where to start looking, so I was wondering if you could offer any recommendations. I’d prefer to support independent creators and ideally I’m looking for content that’s produced by, about, and for trans people. I would appreciate any guidance you can offer!

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— Undereducated

Dear Undereducated,

Sometimes I get a question that I feel like I’ve been waiting for my whole career. Today is one of those days, and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share these resources.

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Tobi Hill-Meyer’s now defunct Handbasket Productions made absolutely groundbreaking work with Doing It Ourselves, and Doing It Again, both available at PinkLabel.tv. Most notable is a scene where one of the partners uses their safeword, and Hill-Meyer made the choice to leave the entire safeword process—full stop, check-in, care, and resolution—in the final video. Hill-Meyer also edited an anthology of erotic stories called Nerve Endings: The New Trans Erotic that I personally found blistering hot. And PinkLabel is a trove of queer pornography that not only includes but celebrates people who are trans. The company behind PinkLabel also produces CrashPadSeries, which has oodles of representation of all gender presentations, bodies, melanin levels, and sexual orientations. Well, maybe not so many straight cis dudes, but I don’t think that matters to you.

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Laura Antoniou’s book series The Marketplace stars a trans man named Chris, and his gender is respected in the end and explored throughout. The master/slave language that pervades the BDSM-focused series might be an issue, so I’m mentioning it here. Antoniou does address race very explicitly in book 5, The Reunion. Chris’s main appeal is his intuition and ability to play his submissives like an instrument. He’s got great boundaries, and knows his exercising of them causes a longing. It’s domination at its best. Antoniou has graced my book club with her presence and mind a few times, and has been quite clear that she considers her books to be porn. I agree.

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Chelsea Poe, a trans woman with an endearing hipster energy, has directed her own work for Courtney Trouble’s TROUBLEfilms. It’s sweet, it’s a little bit twee, and I find it absolutely charming.

Leslie Feinburg’s Stone Butch Blues is historical fiction. Given the state of LGBT rights in the 1970s, it is potentially triggering, but the sex parts are hot as hell. And, while I don’t recall any trans characters in Pat Califia’s Macho Sluts, there are oodles of lesbians doing all kinds of creative sexual acts together.

As you’re exploring, take note of the performers, directors, producers, and writers who work for you, so you can find more of their work. Enjoy!

— Stoya

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More How to Do It

I am a man who has persistent depressive disorder. I am friends with a transgender guy who I’ve known for two years. For a short period of time, we were sexually intimate. We each cleared STD tests before we were intimate. He insisted on condoms for vaginal and oral sex, and even suggested a dental dam be used by me when going down on him. We didn’t have a dam and I went down au naturel. A few weeks later, we were having a beer at a bar, and he told me that he’d watched a video on YouTube that talked about the sexual transference of gut microbes and bacteria through oral sex. He told me because I suffer from depression that there is a chance he could get depression passed to him via my gut microbes, and he said he has to look out for his self-preservation. I was shocked into silence.

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