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 husband and I currently live in a relatively rural part of the Deep South in a state with a trigger law that will basically ban abortion entirely if Roe v. Wade is overturned. I have a medical issue that means I can’t take hormonal birth control, and we’re having a really hard time finding doctors who will do sterilization surgery for me or a vasectomy for him (we’re both childfree and in our mid-20s). We are certain we do not want any children. We live several hours from the nearest Planned Parenthood and only have one car that we need to share. Our goal is to move away (hopefully to New England where we have some friends) when we can, but we don’t make a lot of money, and saving for a big move will take time.
Our plan is to basically just stop having any penetrative sex/do anything that could result in pregnancy. I’m just not comfortable with the risk, and condoms are only 85% effective in real life without a backup. Could you give us some advice on ways to have satisfying sexual experiences without PIV sex? We’re relatively young, were both raised in purity culture, and feel a little out of our depth here with the exploration.
—Stuck in the South
Currently, Roe v. Wade has not yet been overturned. The situation does look pretty grim though, so let’s go ahead and talk about your options.
You said that you live several hours from the nearest Planned Parenthood. I’m still wondering whether they would be willing to give you or your husband a sterilization procedure. It’s worth calling to ask—if you haven’t yet—and considering how to make it happen. If they’re willing, and you’re able to figure out how to get there without jeopardizing your jobs or financial situation, that would help take a huge load of worry off of y’all’s shoulders.
Before you take penis-in-vagina activity off the table entirely, you might consider condoms (which are, yes, according to Planned Parenthood only effective 85% of the time) plus the pullout method—where your partner pulls out of your vagina long before he ejaculates. This does rely on your partner knowing when he’s close to orgasm with enough time to remove his—condom sheathed!—penis from the vicinity of your uterus.
One thing that might help is to define satisfying sex for the two of you. Dr. Ian Kerner’s So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex is a great tool for thinking through the sex you have and fostering the qualities you value. The book has a whole chapter on outercourse, which is the term for all the rest of sex outside of PIV, that might give you some ideas. You also might give Barbara Carrellas’s Urban Tantra a read for her perspective on full-body sex, and a considerable amount of suggestions for how to touch each other.
Oral sex can be a great way to give each other orgasms, as can digital sex—also known as sex with fingers and hands. Take your time, and engage your sense of play. What feels like it might be fun to do? Will tickling his shaft with the backs of your fingernails tickle or turn him on? How about him incorporating his nose into cunnilingus? Would it be too silly? Does finding out sound exciting? Take note of what you each like, and continue to try new things. One important warning while you experiment; do not blow air into your vaginal canal.
You might explore areas you don’t immediately think of, too. Grinding against a thigh, or having an erection thrust against the back of your knee can be an experience. Get weird and laugh about it together.
Intimacy is another important factor in satisfaction, and while you’ll likely get some from non-penetrative sex, take care to spend time engaging in other forms of physical intimacy like cuddling, massaging, gently scratching, or anything else that works for the two of you. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m recently out of a long-term relationship that was also long-distance for about a year. Whenever I would see my partner in person, we rarely had sex unless we had been drinking. I chalked this up to the stress of traveling, the stress in the relationship, etc. Now that I’ve left the relationship and am dating again, I’m finding that I still have a hard time getting over the nerves of sleeping with someone without alcohol. I’m bisexual and have noticed this showing up no matter the gender of the person I’m on a date with. I otherwise have a healthy relationship with alcohol and drinking culture. I’m 28 and sloppy drunk first-time hookups feel juvenile now, but how the hell am I supposed to get there?
—Too Old For This
Dear Too Old For This,
It seems like you’ve tried hooking up without the hooch, and I’m wishing I had more information about how that has played out in the past. Did you refrain from going home together? Did you stop the sex? Engage in heavy sexual interaction and not find it satisfying? Regardless, as you try to hook up without it, just like medical marijuana packages advise, start low and go slow.
You might tell your potential partners something like “I’m working through some anxiety right now and am not sure how far I want to go sexually tonight, but I’d like to see what happens.” Or, “I definitely want to kiss you, and I’m not sure about anything else.”
Listen to your body. You can find the edge of anxiety—that blurred space where you’re a little past your comfort zone but you’re able to stay present and engaged—and hang out there for a while. Take some deep breaths. Exist in the moment. If you start to check out, call for a stop and do something that grounds you. For some people, that’s holding ice, or biting a lemon. For others, it’s a mental exercise or even a physical one. Whatever you have to do to inhabit your body and get back into the present. If checking out is a thing that you notice recurring, that’s something you’ll need to warn your partners about. Instead of a safeword, you’ll want them to understand that an absence of positive feedback means they should stop what they’re doing and disengage.
When you are feeling anxious, take note of what you’re worried about. It’ll give you information about what you’re responding to and may hold clues for what you can work on or think through to alleviate the issue. And, if you start feeling stuck, a sex-positive therapist is worth a try. I think you’ve got this.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 22-year-old cis woman who has had my stamina change recently. There were no lifestyle changes so I have no idea what happened. Basically, after 10 minutes of sex (literally any kind of sex or physical stimulation), I orgasm and then I just want to cuddle and am “orgasmed out.” My boyfriend (22, trans man), on the other hand, can only orgasm from touching himself. We’ve literally tried everything—twice we’ve gotten lucky with oral sex but that took an hour and a half, everything else hasn’t led to an orgasm. His orgasms are pretty hit or miss and any attempt takes at least an hour, even with sex toys. This leads to a situation where we have sex for 10 minutes until I orgasm and then he jerks off next to me for an hour until he either orgasms or gives up. This would be fine, but he still wants me to be involved by talking to him or touching myself. Otherwise, he feels like I’m not “into it” and it’s awkward, which totally makes sense—I would feel a little hurt if my partner was reading a book or watching a movie instead of being engaged in sex. This used to not be such a big deal but recently I’ve just been more and more tired after orgasming and ready to move on to something else.
I want my boyfriend to feel good but I really don’t want to spend an hour pretending to be turned on for something that might not even happen when I just want to watch a movie! Despite my empathy for him being upset at the concept of me reading a book next to him while he jerks off, man, I really want to read a book sometimes. I guess I’m curious if you can help because it’s reaching this point where I dread having sex because I know it’s going to last an hour at least, and I feel really guilty for not having the patience to do these hour-plus sessions. We both know that the orgasm isn’t the end all be all of sex—it’s about intimacy and pleasure. But every time we have sex he always wants to at least try having an orgasm, since it’s not a guarantee, so I end up lying next to him for an hour. I used to be able to do this—how do I get back to that place? Or what are other things we can do that could make both of us happy and satisfied?
—Frustrated With Fornicating
Is there a way for you to get to the nine or even eight-minute mark, pause stimulation until you’re less worked up—maybe you stimulate your partner for a while—and then resume activity? Or can you continue copulating in a way that gives you less overwhelming pleasure so you can last as long as he does?
Alternatively, it might make sense to change the order of orgasms around. Put the focus on your boyfriend first, get him over the precipice or call off his quest for an orgasm for the night, and then turn the action toward you.
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Dear How to Do It,
I have a question that feels incredibly silly, but it’s important to me. Some background: I’m a woman over 55, who was married for 20-plus years. I’ve been divorced since 2015.
In the past couple of years, I’ve hooked up with a man. I’ve known him for a long time in another context, and have many reasons to trust him. We’re not dating—we’re just hanging out and talking, and also having pretty great sex. He’s the most respectful man I’ve ever been with. If he wants something, he always asks me if it’s OK with me—mostly before we’re involved physically and usually via text. And even when we’re having sex, if I say, “Hey, I need a break,” he stops immediately, and we talk about it. We also have long, intense, and really useful conversations around politics, art, our families, our pets, you name it. I love just talking with him.
So, to my question: Post-divorce it’s become clear to me that I need to understand the new expectations around shaving one’s vulva. When I was in high school, nobody mentioned this. Leg-shaving was the issue. During my marriage, my (now ex) husband was, so far as I know, OK with my natural hair. But today my new lover asked me if I would shave my vulva. He made two things clear:
1. It was OK if I didn’t.
2. He would like it if I did.
I would like to try it for him. I’m OK trying new things. But I don’t know how to do it correctly. I don’t want to spend a ton of money (and experience significant pain) getting a Brazilian wax. I spent a while with scissors this afternoon cutting most of the hair away. Then I tried to use a razor. Everything is now kind of prickly. What do I do next? Is waxing the only option?
—Not Sure How to Do It!
Dear Not Sure,
First, congratulations on finding a great sexual partner who you can have conversations about a wide range of meaty subjects with, who respects you, and who you’re inspired to try new things with.
A small rechargeable buzzer is a better tool than scissors for a couple of reasons: There’s less chance of you accidentally snipping tender skin, and you’re able to get a closer crop. The former allows for the latter. Once you’ve removed the vast majority of the hair, you go in with the razor.
I do OK with a four-blade razor, while I know others swear by a single or double blade. You’ll have to try some options and see what works for you. If the hair is short enough, I can get away with a single, slow swipe in the direction of the hair growth with my four-bladed razor. Going over the same patch of skin several times can cause bumpy, itchy, painful problems.
What kind of lubricant you use for the blade will require some experimentation as well. Some people love shaving cream, others baby oil or mineral oil, and still more use body wash or hair conditioner.
Any kind of shaving will result in stubble in the following few days. Waxing, which will buy you more super-smooth time, will also result in stubble and possibly ingrown hairs, which you can mitigate with exfoliation. You also might do well with a depilatory like Nair, but you’ll want to spot test somewhere sensitive before you apply the stuff all over your groin. You might consider keeping a log of the different things you try to keep track of your body’s reactions. Good luck.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been incredibly turned on by the fantasy of breastfeeding an adult consenting partner. A few years into our relationship, I mentioned it to my husband and he thought it was super hot, so we’ve incorporated lots of breast play into our (mind-blowingly fantastic) sex life. I felt fine about this when I never thought we’d have children, but we recently realized that we do want kids and have begun trying. Is it time to put this fantasy to rest?