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 a 43-year-old married man who doesn’t really seem to get pleasure from blow jobs. I love the idea of them, and I love to see them when watching porn. But when it comes to actually receiving, I run into problems.
Firstly, it can become quite painful and at times extremely sensitive, to the point that I pull back or wince. I am uncircumcised, so the head of my penis is very sensitive once uncovered and can be tight at times unless well-lubricated. It gets to the point where I actually don’t want to receive anymore. The second issue is around the notion of receiving itself. I’m definitely a “giver” in the sexual sense, and I find it at times mentally uncomfortable to solely receive—I feel like I’m using my wife, or I feel selfish and self-conscious, especially when coming in her mouth (which I love to do, but feel very selfish!).
These may be linked because I find it extremely difficult to verbalize what I want and what makes me feel good and, importantly, what doesn’t make me feel good. These aren’t issues specific to my wife; I’ve had multiple partners before we were married and the issues were still there. The rest of our sex life is good (I think?), if a little vanilla. I feel like there is something abnormal about me—everyone loves blow jobs, don’t they? How do I talk about this with my wife?
Dear Blown Out,
I think it’s best to do this in stages; Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. It sounds like you’ll need practice and patience to get confident about communication. You can start with a conversation with your wife about how talking about your desires and needs is difficult for you: “I have a hard time voicing what I like and what I don’t like. I’d like to work on my communication skills. I think I’ll need _____ from you as support.” Or, “You might have noticed I don’t speak up often when it comes to sexuality. I want to change this. Are you open to hearing more from me about what I like and don’t like?”
Set yourself up for success. Pick your time wisely. Are you both calm? Do you have time to speak without interruptions and with plenty of time for you to go as slowly as you need? Remember to breathe, and also to exhale. You can also think about what you’ll say beforehand, and even practice it out loud. If you feel anxious before you open your mouth, check in with your body and acknowledge the feelings. Allow yourself to be anxious and then let it go. Eventually, that feeling will lessen or even mostly go away, as you continue to express yourself. It probably won’t disappear entirely—there will likely always be subjects you’re nervous about broaching—but your nerves will be in proportion to the topic.
No, not everyone enjoys blow jobs, and there’s nothing wrong with you if that’s the case. I do think it’s worth seeing a urologist to have your foreskin looked at, if you haven’t already. It’s possible that there’s something that can be done to lessen the tightness, since it prevents you from enjoying receiving oral sex.
And you might want to think differently about giving and receiving in the context of the whole relationship. Sure, you might be lavished with attention one night, with nary an orgasm for her, but you might have eaten her out for days’ worth of hours during your time together. And you may be underestimating the amount of pleasure she gets out of making you feel good, out of feeling your semen slip down her throat, and out of simply having your penis in her mouth. Can you give yourself permission to enjoy, and to be enjoyed? If you can’t, you might spend some time doing introspection and see if you can discover why that is.
Dear How to Do It,
How do I date with a disability? I’m a woman in my 20s, and I have a medical condition that makes me have constant muscle tremors. Most people assume I’m extremely nervous or have low blood sugar. I am now foraying out into online dating for the first time, and I don’t know how to flirt—or be clear about my tremors.
The tremors are not immediately obvious; I would say that only about 10 percent of people notice it when they meet me. You will, however, notice it if you touch me. Most people’s first reaction after we hug or shake hands is to flinch, so most of the time, I just don’t hug or touch anyone. How do I flirt or tell people I am just meeting online that I am disabled? How do you smoothly bring that up?
Dear Disability Dilemma,
A few years ago, adult performer and ostomate Go Ask Alex made a video on disclosing disability for one of my projects. The big takeaway is to state the facts of your particular situation plainly, and as neutrally as possible. As Alex says, “No one is going to make a big deal out of my disability if I don’t make a big deal out of my disability.”
What you say and when you say it is up to you. You might wait until you’ve hugged them, and say, “Maybe you noticed I shake. I have a medical condition that causes muscle tremors.” You might tell someone before you hug them, “I’d like to hug you, and I want you to know I have muscle tremors before we touch.” You might tell people on apps, if you’re wanting to find out what their reaction will be before you meet up with them: “I have muscle tremors. You’ll notice if we touch, and it seems like both of us would like to touch at some point.” Feel free to share how you’re feeling—“I’m nervous.” And tell your potential partner anything that is relevant for them—does it physically hurt or affect you in any way, are there any particular triggers they should be aware of?
It might help to think of the people you have communicated previously with about your tremors, like friends or family. How did those conversations go and what did you say? What phrasing felt comfortable to you? Practice it in front of the mirror. Say the words out loud. You might feel anxious the first few times, and that’s OK—you’ll get more comfortable the more you do it. And you might encounter people who immediately move on. That’s OK, too. Try to think of it as efficiency—they’re letting you know they aren’t a good match for you.
Remember it’s your choice what to share and who to share it with. Good luck.
Slate Plus members get an exclusive How to Do It column from Stoya and Rich every week. Sign up for Slate Plus now.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in my late 30s who gave birth vaginally a few months ago and have been exclusively breastfeeding. I haven’t gotten my period yet. My obstetrician suggested “lots of lube” when she cleared me for vaginal intercourse at our six-week visit. Even before giving birth, I needed lube to enjoy condomless sex, but now, even with lube on top of a lubricated condom, it actually hurts and I bleed a little the handful of times we’ve had vaginal sex. I don’t know if the problem is dryness and the type or quantity of lube, or something else. I actually needed to use a small vaginal suppository to take meds two months ago, and it also caused pain and bleeding.
I’m not on birth control right now (we are using condoms for that, but hoping to try for a second kid soon). We’ve enjoyed other things in bed, but both miss intercourse; that said, my already-low sex drive and our mutual sleep deprivation isn’t helping here. Any ideas?
—Not Hot Mama
Dear Not Hot Mama,
The easiest thing to investigate first is whether, as you suspect, you need a different kind of lube, or more lube. First, try more of what you’ve already got. If that doesn’t solve the issue, try new brands and different types. Friend of the column Hey Epiphora has a massive sex toy review site, and therefore lots of experience with lubricants. She has recommended Sliquid in the past, I’m partial to Pur. You’ll have to try some options and see if any work better for you than what you’re using.
I reached out to Mike Ripley, an OB/GYN at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, who wrote that “having pain with intercourse, or dyspareunia, is quite common—the likelihood of this problem seems to peak at three months postpartum and then decline over the next year after giving birth.” If the issue continues, he suggests consulting with your medical team again and making sure to get a physical exam.
Ripley says it’s possible breastfeeding might be the cause of what’s happening. “Most studies show that dyspareunia is more common in women who breastfeed. Lower estrogen levels in breastfeeding women likely contribute to this—prolactin, a hormone that is produced in large amounts when breastfeeding, suppresses the ovaries’ ability to make estrogen. The effects of lower estrogen levels on vaginal tissue are fairly well-studied in postmenopausal women, but data is lacking in the postpartum population.” Because of this lack of data, Ripley says it’s difficult to make recommendations, but “where the problem seems to be vaginal dryness and its sequelae (and again, a physical exam for a health practitioner should be the first step!), vaginal estrogen or hyaluronic acid could be tried.”
If you’re up for some reading, Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are or Ian Kerner’s So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex might be helpful for thinking through ways to continue enjoying other kinds of sex, and give you ideas for how to increase your sexual desire. Your mutual sleep deprivation is a pretty tricky one, though, that only time can really cure. You can also reframe this as a period in your life where sex needs to be less of a priority. When your newborn is sleeping through the night and you’ve had some time to rest, it’s likely your desire will reappear.
Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at email@example.com.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a queer man in my late twenties, and I just got let down easy by a friend I had a crush on, her reasoning being that she’s not attracted to men. I get it, but as an instance of a larger pattern of either me getting attracted to people I can’t have or people not pursuing me when they’re attracted to me, I’m at a loss and quite sad.
I have a good circle of caring friends, a good relationship with myself and my body, and have full confidence aside from some regular insecurities about income (but I fall in with an anti-capitalist crowd, so that’s usually not an issue). But I’m realizing my romantic and sexual needs are not being met, and I’m not really sure how to change things and move forward pursuing what I want, when I usually go a year between hookups, or otherwise am hung up on someone or processing being let down easy yet again.
—No One’s First Choice
Dear First Choice,
I feel for you. I’m wondering if it’s possible for you to invest less during the crush stage, so you’re less let down or hung up when it doesn’t work out. You might evaluate whether a relationship seems possible earlier on, so you aren’t nursing that crush or leaving yourself closed off to other potential partners, and so you’re in less pain when it turns out that a relationship isn’t in the cards for the two of you.
I’m glad to hear that you’ve got a good circle of caring friends, and that you’ve got a good relationship with yourself and your body. Do you have any idea of what you want in a relationship? Do you want someone to hook up with regularly and care about? Do you want to build a life together? What qualities does a person need to have other than being attractive? From there, you can look for someone who fits in your life, and whose life you fit into.
There’s no easy fix here. It might be a while before you find a person who you match with. You can work on yourself, and continue to spend time with friends, and get out there and meet person after person, but there’s no telling when you’ll meet someone who is as interested in you as you are in them. Your masturbation practice will serve you well in the meantime, as will those caring friends of yours—maybe you can join some anti-capitalist or other social groups to find more peers who’ll align with your beliefs and interests. Try to take some solace in the fact that almost every person interested in romance goes through this period of wanting and searching. Remember to breathe, and love yourself as well as you possibly can while you’re waiting.
More How to Do It
I’ve been dating a great guy for about five months that I’m totally falling in love with. I find him immensely attractive and have been hot in the pants since day one. He sends me signals and to a lesser extent tells me he feels the same way toward me sexually, and I’m confident we’re on the same page emotionally. The issue is we haven’t had penetrative sex, and the reason why is he finds it very painful. The solution to that is a circumcision. He told me this pretty early in our relationship, and he said he has plans to have the surgery scheduled in the imminent future … but he still hasn’t. And there seems to be zero rush!