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 am a 34-year-old woman and have been with the same great guy for almost a decade, married six years. He was my first long-term relationship and my first longstanding sexual partner. I have been on the small end of plus-sized since puberty and suffered from crippling body dysmorphia through my teens and 20s. I was convinced that men wouldn’t find me attractive. As a result, I felt in my 20s as though any sexual situation I found myself in was akin to a charity case on the part of the guy, and rarely stuck up for myself or explored what I enjoyed sexually.
Fast forward 10 years, and I feel wildly different about myself. I’ve realized that one can be both fat and pretty damn hot. My husband and I have a vanilla sex life. We both have regular orgasms, and I feel connected to him during sex in a positive way, but it is not and never has been mind-blowing. My husband and I have tried a few different types of role-playing, but it always feels sort of bland and half-assed, especially on his part. I am especially drawn to the idea of being dominant, and maybe even trying my hand at domming. It feels like the ultimate antidote to all the years I spent powerless and lacking confidence in sexual situations. My husband, however, is decidedly not submissive. Every time I try out some light domination, he ends up giggling or undermining me in various ways that make it no fun. I’ve left those attempts feeling more discouraged than empowered.
My husband and I have always been philosophically into the idea of an open marriage and probably would have tried it out by now were it not for COVID-19. So I can envision open marriage scenarios where I could explore my dominance fantasies with a more receptive audience. However, I think I would not feel comfortable exploring that fantasy with any random person off the internet. I can imagine making a dating profile where I openly list that I’m looking for someone to explore domination fantasies with might lead to a lot of messages from creeps that I’m just not interested in connecting with. But if I don’t mention it, it might be a challenge to find someone who is game. Any advice on how to approach this?
My other concern is that I really don’t know what I’m doing. Any resources or suggestions for ways to explore my dominant side and practice dominating on my own—or in low-key ways that my husband might not reject or undermine outright? Do dominatrixes take apprentices? I’m not sure that my interests would ever lead to sex work, but I’m open to the idea if I like it enough. I just don’t want to get into a scenario where I’m finally able to try out my fantasies, but end up timid and insecure and lose my confidence.
Dear Dom Curious,
Have you had a conversation with your husband about your sexual interactions? If you haven’t already told him that you feel like you’re putting more effort than he is into role playing, and that his giggles throw you out of this dominant role you’d like to explore, laying all that out clearly for him is the next step. Be as concise as possible, and be prepared to listen when he responds. It’s possible that he likes the idea of submitting and is giggling from nerves—some people are gigglers. It’s possible that his sex drive is tanking while yours is revving up, in a big picture sense, and he isn’t as present in sex as he needs to be for role play. It’s possible that he senses you need more and is doing things he isn’t into in the hopes of giving you what you’re after.
Until you have a talk, we have no idea what the situation is and can’t figure out a way forward. And, while this may be a separate conversation, you’ll want to make sure that you and your husband are on the same page about the idea of opening up becoming a reality in your relationship.
As for exploring your dominant side on your own, I’ve got some ideas. Read, or write erotic fiction. Cleis Press has a great catalog of anthologies by theme, Bellessa is a female-focused adult site with several BDSM stories, and Literotica is a vast online repository. Imagine yourself as the dominant character in these stories, or write out your fantasies. This can be both release and rehearsal, giving you practice in your imagination that will come in handy when you’re doing domination live. Watch BDSM porn and, again, imagine yourself as the dominant partner. You can also read books and blog posts from people who practice dominance, for tips and theory, and also for the fantasy fodder. Sugarbutch.net and PrincessKali’s books and website are great places to start.
There are also a few midpoints between reading and apprenticing to become a professional dominatrix. You can attend a munch, which is a meetup, usually over food, with kinky folks. You can attend a class on something like rope bondage, impact play, or the psychology of power exchange. Several educational organizations and individual domination providers offer coaching sessions, as well. I don’t think it matters much where you start and encourage you to begin wherever feels most interesting or comfortable to you. One perk of group interactions is that you’ll have the opportunity to meet people who share interests, and may find play partners through those social situations.
Apps are, yes, always an option. You will almost certainly encounter people who want to move faster than you do, people who objectify you, people who make hurtful comments, and people who are out of their minds on some substance at 3 a.m. This will happen whether you list “dominant” in your profile or not. Disconnect or block them and move on. Take a break if it gets to be too much. Remember that even though you’re the top, your boundaries and safety are important. You might try FetLife, which is explicitly for kinksters, or Feeld and OKCupid, which seem to attract a higher than average amount of people who play with power and fetish. Enjoy your journey.
Dear How to Do It,
My wife and I are in our early 60s and for the most part, our sex life has been very good. The problem lately is the time gap, in some situations, between when she’s ready to have sex and me not being hard yet. Sometimes, “hitting the pause button” works and sometimes it makes things even worse. This stop-and-start thing can go on for hours with lots of emotions spilling before we finally get it together. But then there’s a lot of emotional damage done. The “taking the time that it takes” approach isn’t always an option because we need sleep, have busy lives, and sometimes have lots of job-related activities on the weekends.
Looking for solutions leaves us feeling lost and kind of like there’s nothing there to help. What do we do? Pills, pumps, penis-simulating products? The “just keep stroking me” approach doesn’t work for her and doing her other ways isn’t an answer either since that’s not what she’s desiring and she needs the bodily closeness. This situation has raised our stress levels and it is obviously having a negative impact on both of our attitudes towards sex. We’re constantly thinking “it’s not going to work” and my brain is monitoring the status of my erection (or lack thereof) the entire time. To just complicate things, other times my erection is quick and powerful, and there are no problems at all. These periods of good, red-hot sex then cause us to put off looking for what to do those other times… Until they happen again. What now?
—Looking for Ideas
I love that you’re aware that your phases of fantastic fornication distract from the long-term issues you experience when your erection wanes, and that you seem motivated to find a solution. Erectile dysfunction medication seems like a great first experiment. Since these pills can interact with other medications, and do affect blood flow, you should talk to your primary care physician before you take any. A doctor can also help you understand your options, potential side effects, and what you need to watch out for. Keep in mind that ED pills require arousal to work, so you’ll still need some foreplay to get started.
Vacuum erection devices, also known as penis pumps, are another option. Dr. Ashley Winter, urologist and a friend of the column, recommends urologyhealthstore.com as a source for medical-grade equipment. I would skip the creams and powders in the impulse-purchase section of your local sex shop, but you might consider giving warming lubricant a try. Many reputable manufacturers have their own version of tingling lube.
It’s possible that none of this works, and you’re still finding yourself struggling to get up to speed in time to do the deed. If that’s the case, try to focus on the times when sex does work well and call it quits when things aren’t flowing earlier—before you’re both frustrated and stressed. That should help alleviate some of the emotional pressure.
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Dear How to Do It,
So, I’m a virgin. I’m a 20-year-old college student and I have a boyfriend who I’ve done sexual things with for a while, but we’ve never gone farther than giving and receiving oral. My problem is that he’s more experienced than I am. So whenever I (an amateur) try things out on him where his pleasure is the focus, his tolerance is so high that I often just have to take a shot in the dark to see what will get a reaction. It makes me feel like I’m doing a bad job because seemingly nothing’s working—or at least not the way I’d planned. I lose confidence and it makes me feel like giving up trying to top him if it’s consistently not very successful. Also, since he in a lot of cases can hold out longer than I can, I’m scared that I’ll blueball him…again. I always feel super guilty whenever I do because I finish before him! So how can I successfully pleasure my partner who has a much higher tolerance?
—Amateur in Training
You seem to be putting a lot of pressure on yourself to perform, and I’m wondering what your boyfriend has to say about his sexual satisfaction. Is he telling you that you’re doing a bad job, that you aren’t very successful, and that you’re blueballing him or otherwise responsible for his orgasm? If that’s the case, you’re looking at some red flags. If that isn’t the case, spend some time thinking about where these standards you’re holding yourself to are coming from. Question them. Ask yourself whether you actually believe in those ideas and whether they seem logical or appropriate to you.
I divested myself of virginity over 20 years ago and have spent a considerable amount of time and energy exploring my own body and the bodies of others. Even with all that experience, I’d say taking “a shot in the dark” is a pretty accurate description of the last time I had sex with someone new. Sometimes, one or more people in a long-term relationship go through some kind of shift—in their personal lives, professional environment, medication, hormones, or general health—and they find themselves taking those shots in the dark with a person they used to know how to play like a symphony. Time will not bring you an ability to always know the right move, but it will bring you a wider vocabulary of possibilities and an ease with moving on when something isn’t working. Time will inoculate you against that feeling of failure.
Another thing that will get easier with time and practice is communication. Verbalizing your curiosity about what your partner likes, or wants in that moment, and listening to their response, is the shortcut for knowing what to do. You can also verbalize your own need to slow down if they want the sexual action to last longer. It’s OK to say “hey, can we stop for a minute?” or “I’m going to come if we keep going like this” or even “let me suck your dick for a while so I can cool off a little bit.”
You’ll gain more confidence over time, with physical stimulation, and with communication. Remember to breathe, remember that you’re equal humans in this relationship, and remember that your pleasure and enjoyment matters, too. Good luck.
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Dear How to Do it,
I have been with my boyfriend for nine months, but we only recently started having penetrative sex. For over two years I’ve been dealing with vulvodynia that made intercourse painful, so we had sex in other ways. Now that I’ve finally received treatment that has helped, we’ve been able to have penetration without pain, and we’re both so excited! I’m planning to get on birth control soon so we can stop using condoms since we’re monogamous and have both been tested. I would really like him to finish inside me, as it’s a big mental turn-on. My problem is that I’ve read semen can cause issues with the pH balance of vaginas, and can lead to yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.
My vulvodynia was (most likely) initially triggered by a yeast infection, so now I’m terrified of anything going wrong down there. I know UTIs and yeast infections are a part of life, but after what I’ve been through with my vagina I feel such anxiety about all the issues that might arise and set me back again. What is the best way to prevent these issues after my boyfriend comes inside me, besides peeing after sex? Should I use boric acid suppositories? Take daily probiotics? Shower after sex? And how do I calm my anxiety around sex that comes from two years of pain and hopelessness? My boyfriend is wonderfully supportive, and I do plan to discuss all this with my doctor, but I thought I’d see if you have any advice for me—both for the physical part and the emotional aspect.
—Recipe for Successful Creampie
I know you plan to chat with your doctor, but in the meantime, I got you some professional tips. I emailed with Dr. Katie McHugh, an OB-GYN and chronic pelvic pain specialist with Indiana Pelvic Pain Specialists, who had advice for navigating your situation.
“Anything that irritates or changes the feeling of the vulva could contribute to vulvodynia—especially if someone has had the condition before,” she said. “Preventing infection is important to prevent pain, as is quick treatment of any issues, so people should use the techniques and treatments that they know work for them! For some people, this means cleansing the vulvar region with unscented soap made for sensitive skin. For others, this might mean using preventative measures like boric acid suppositories or antifungal medications.”
I also spoke with a Los Angeles-based gynecologist on the condition of anonymity for privacy reasons, who pointed out that urinating after sex will help prevent UTIs, but won’t help protect against any other vaginal issues. For a more all-encompassing solution, they recommended a women’s blend of probiotics taken as a daily supplement. You’ll also want to take caution with the soap you wash your underwear with, wear breathable underwear and lower garments, and take care to pat your genitals dry gently after cleansing.
McHugh had a lot of advice about the emotional and psychological factors you’re navigating. I’ll step to the side and let her do the talking:
“For someone with a history of vulvodynia, penetrative sex with ejaculation in the vagina can be uncomfortable or provoke a lot of anxiety. Semen does not usually cause infections, but some people are very sensitive. One thing I recommend to patients with this concern is to apply petrolatum or a thick oil to the vulva prior to penetration to protect the sensitive vulvar skin from both the friction and the exposure to semen. Once the vulva has been desensitized and the sex is comfortable, the petrolatum becomes unnecessary.
Once vulvodynia symptoms are under control, the biggest issue is the anxiety that the condition will return. This is so important to address as soon as possible! I recommend therapy of some kind, usually a combination of individual therapy, couples therapy, and sex therapy. Sex therapy, in particular, is excellent at managing the particular issues of intimacy and sex between partners and supporting the mental work it takes to move past the fear.” (The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists has a directory that you may find useful.)
One last thought: If you have any interest in anal sex, that seems like another option for receiving your creampie. Good luck.
More How to Do It
I’m a straight, divorced woman in my late 50s. I’m not actively seeking a relationship or sex partner, but I would definitely not be opposed to either if the opportunity presented itself. My last sexual relationship was two years ago, when my ex-husband and I attempted to rekindle things after having been divorced for six years. It limped along for a while, but he broke it off. When we got back in bed during that time period, I was surprised to find that he looked different than I remembered him.