How to Do It

My Husband Just Confirmed the Real Problem With Our Sex Life. I’m Devastated.

Man with hands covering his crotch.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Juleta Martirosyan/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have had to face a harsh reality about our sex life.

He has been having sharp pain in his balls whenever he orgasms for about a year now. He’s gone to see multiple specialists and they’ve told him this is caused by varicoceles and given him a variety of medications, but nothing seems to help very much. They’ve also frequently told him to abstain from sex for weeks at a time as a treatment.

This means we have sex less than we used to, and often he only wants to make me finish and then stop. When he does finish, he has a little bit of pleasure then a lot of pain, and I feel guilty for hurting him. I don’t always know whether he’s going to want to keep going after I finish, and sometimes he means to just make me come but gets carried away and then ends up regretting it because of the pain.

If you have any answers about a magical cure for his pain, those would of course be welcome, but I’m mainly wondering how we can have a healthy, reciprocal sex life while he’s dealing with this, since it seems the problem isn’t going away with medical care. After sex I often just feel like bursting into tears because I don’t feel like there’s any way I can give him pleasure and that is such an important part of sex for me. I even feel bad initiating sex because I just feel like it’s going to cause him frustration and/or pain. How can we make sex about pleasure again?

— Love Hurts

Stoya: There’s so much that comes from queer theory and from BDSM and from tantra. I don’t know that much about tantra, but I’ve read Barbara Carrellas’ Urban Tantra and taken one of her breathing classes. But there are all these schools of thought about sexuality, where the man ejaculating is the least of the things. And there’s so much pleasure to be had. It’s practically endless, all the things you can do with bodies to make them feel good, regardless of orgasm.

Rich: Well, that’s very true. And it does seem like part of what this letter is saying, without actually saying it, is that he is getting pleasure from, in fact, giving our letter writer pleasure. And so, again, to your point, that doesn’t necessarily have to involve orgasm. Orgasm doesn’t necessarily have to be the be all, end all. Obviously he’s getting carried away sometimes and climaxing, even when he doesn’t necessarily set out to do it, but it seems like these are nonetheless gratifying experiences for him.

So if you, say, take his ability to orgasm completely off the table, and he’s just going to give her oral sex for a session, that might be worth trying. It might be worth exploring other ways that are focused on her. And I understand that it’s frustrating for her in this situation to not be able to reciprocate with that, what we think of as that straightforward kind of pleasure, but at the same time, you have to play with what you’re dealt. The good news is that despite all of these issues, they are still having sex. There is still that connection. And so where there’s that connection, there’s a way to optimize that.

Stoya: And speaking from experience, eating pussy is a pleasurable experience.

Rich: Right.

Stoya: It won’t necessarily make me orgasm, but there’s something very enjoyable about the act of giving oral sex. So maybe she can work a little more on believing her husband when he says he gets pleasure, right? Maybe she can believe me when I say eating pussy is pleasurable, and then she can believe her husband when he says that.

And maybe she can give him a good massage afterwards, reset those neck muscles, get into the little spots around where the jaw is. There’s something very pleasant about having a part that’s been really used massaged. So it might be more fun than a little bit of a broad back rub for him. But there’s so many ways to give pleasure. So many.

Rich: Yes. And just regarding his condition, she says that he has been taking medication that doesn’t seem to work. Varicoceles can actually be treated with surgery. There’s the more invasive, and then there’s also embolization, which is when the vascular specialist places a small catheter in the groin to seal off the vein. These procedures are often recommended for people who are having this pain.

And often varicoceles don’t come with this pain. They’re just noticeable, but when they are, they should be treated properly. I mean, you shouldn’t have to exist with this pain. I was looking at a study that said varicoceles affect 15 percent of the general male population, and that pain can be within that 10 percent of the people who are affected, but that this condition responds extremely well to treatment and to these various kinds of surgeries.

So if that hasn’t come up, then I would go see another doctor or another urologist. And if he’s somehow resistant to surgery, he should rethink that, because it seems the surgery is what’s actually going to make him be able to proceed without pain. And to me, that would be the paramount priority. I want to be able to have sex that feels good, and that’s not painful. I guess my biggest point is, if you’re in a prison of your own doing, liberate yourself and get help.

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