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 partner (bisexual cis woman) and I (bisexual cis man) enjoy our local nude beach. She is a freedom-loving, exuberant spirit who detests arbitrary societal rules. I’m a neurotic people pleaser with a gut-level need to make sure everyone’s comfortable and no one’s mad at me. So, a nude beach gives us both a sense of freedom—I get to enjoy being nude and stepping into the taboo in a space where that’s allowed and my partner gets to enjoy her freedom. We both also get a good boost to the libido after a day without clothes! While we have no confusion that a nudist space is not a sexual space, being surrounded by beautiful people and being in nature without boundaries both has us ready to go when we get home—if we can wait that long.
While walking down the beach, enjoying looking and being looked at, I pointed out to my partner the line of men heading to a more secluded and private area—clearly a cruising area for gay men. I said something to the effect of, must be nice to not have to wait till you get home. My partner immediately chirps, “well, let’s go!” While I loved the idea of sex in the bushes in a space where there was some semblance of tolerance (though of course it is still illegal and the sexual activity actually risks the nude beach being cracked down on), my first and immediate thought was, well no that’s a gay men’s cruising area, we can’t take that space from them! What do you think? Am I being neurotic and making up rules in my head to follow, or would a cis hetero couple getting it on in a gay men’s cruising area be intruding in a space that’s not ours?
— Neurotic Nudist
Dear How to Do It,
Well, Happy Pride Month to you, too. I am generally pretty open-minded about inclusion in queer spaces—to some readers’ consternation, I gave a (measured, if not apprehensive) pass to a cis hetero woman interested in using Grindr in a past column. However, the glory hole closes here.
My rule is: If you are entering a space that is tailored for a particular minority of which you are not a part, you must behave yourself and make sure that you don’t make the experience about you. So: Straight cis women in bars for gay men—fine! Screaming straight cis women who are clearly attempting to sop up attention in bars for gay men—not fine! (I’m not saying they should be kicked out, just ashamed.)
A cruising ground specifically for men to have sex with men is not founded (however informally) on arbitrary societal rules—it is about as purely utilitarian as a space gets. Introducing heterosexual sex into that atmosphere threatens to distract the clientele from the one thing that has drawn them to congregate. I don’t want to erase the possibility of bi or otherwise sexually fluid men being interested in having sex with you and your partner in this area, but that’s hardly a sure bet, and if you two weren’t interested in taking part, you’d be assigning yourselves the roles of exhibitionists, not participants. As such, it would be virtually impossible for you to fade into the background. In the best-case scenario, the novelty of your breeding potential would make you featured players—a welcome distraction, let’s say. But then, hetero sex would once again take precedence over homo sex and … just, no. Don’t do this. The world is big; find your own corner to play in.
Dear How to Do It,
I don’t know if this is a marriage issue or a sex issue, but here we go! I and my husband are struggling with how to work sex around health issues. Due to various medical conditions, I have had multiple surgeries in the last year with several more upcoming over the next 18 months. They are intensive, very painful, and have long recovery times. My energy, as you might expect, is tanked. I have just enough energy to keep my job, be as active of a mother as I can to my growing toddler, and stay (somewhat) on top of household duties and chores. I want sex, I really do, just generally don’t have the energy for it. I’ve suggested other forms of intimacy, but my husband is not interested.
Right now I’d just love to hold hands and make out, but he’s all or nothing and I’m becoming very frustrated. The few times I do have the energy we come to another issue—his refusal to wear a condom. I can’t be on hormonal birth control right now due to my medications and getting pregnant will delay crucial surgeries. He has told me point-blank that he’d rather not have sex at all than to use a condom and that if I did get pregnant that I could just postpone my procedures until after I’ve given birth!!! It seems like he’s putting his needs for a specific type of sex ahead of my actual health. I absolutely want more children, just not until I’m through with these procedures. How do I get him to explore other ways of intimacy or recognize that the responsibility for contraceptives are on him right now?
— His Responsibility
Dear His Responsibility,
It doesn’t just seem like he’s putting his needs for a specific type of sex ahead of your actual health—he is. More than a marriage or sex issue, this is a husband issue—a your husband issue. You present a reasonable case and a willingness to compromise. He does not. Eighteen months isn’t nothing, but it’s hardly eternity. You will be better and presumably your sexuality will be up and running after you heal from your surgeries. If you think he can withstand scrutiny without a meltdown (many men cannot!), ask him how he foresees this playing out. If sex is off the table for the sake of your health, energy, and mental wellbeing, how does he anticipate the next year and a half going down? Complete abstinence without so much as affectionate touch? That probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense.
Though your incompatibility is potentially temporary, this kind of thing leads some people to open relationships. In this case, I’m not recommending that up front because … I just don’t think your husband should get to have what he wants with impunity. I think he’s being a shitty partner and needs to understand that his selfishness has no place in a healthy relationship. You’re sick! You’ve got parenting duties and work in and out of the house! I’m not loving his lack of empathy. I have to assume that most couples counselors would at least see your point and be able to give it an impartial co-sign, or at least as a divested party, find an ability to convey your side to your husband. I have no idea how he’ll receive it, but having extra help there may be useful and is worth a try. Off to therapy, the both of you.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bi woman dating a lesbian, we’re both in our 30s. I’ve been in very few closed relationships in my life, and uncomfortably (for me) I live up to the bisexual stereotype of wanting to have sex with a variety of genders generally.
I love sex with my girlfriend, but I miss dick, just as in a previous closed relationship with a cis man I missed pussy. Recently we talked about opening up our relationship, a topic that she felt unsure about. I didn’t push it when she said she felt uncomfortable, because that’s not something you can ethically push, and I value our relationship over opening up (although I’m not sure about that compromise in the very long term).
A few days later, she came back to me and said that she would possibly be okay with opening up, so long as I didn’t have sex with anyone who had a dick because she felt worried I’d pick that over sex with her. I was taken aback, and didn’t know how to respond. I don’t want to bring up biphobia right out of the gate but this is …weird? Right? I can’t tell if I should try to untangle the potential insecurity here, or if I should just take this as an attempt at meeting me halfway that still ultimately means no. I’m leaning towards this basically means no forever, but is it worth trying to talk about this?
— Bi, Slutty, and Ashamed
Dear Bi, Slutty, and Ashamed,
It is worth trying to talk about. While being open remains in the conceptual stage, your craving for dick is as crucial to your negotiations as her wariness of it. It’s not clear whether you were explicit about your hankering during your initial conversation about opening up—if you didn’t mention your interest in dick, she’s impressively tapped in to your unstated motivation. That could be a sign of connection, or it could be her presenting the common anxiety of being left for a man. I’m not sure that there’s data on this, but I’ve heard anecdotes similar to yours throughout the years, and I assume it’s in response to the prevalent stereotype of a “lesbian until graduation”—the idea that women will, for a period of time generally early on in their adult sexual lives (like in college), experiment with women before settling back down with men. You could persuasively label that biphobia (since it’s based on stereotypes, assumptions, and, like, Chasing Amy), but I’m not sure it’s “weird.” Seems fairly common and certainly is much discussed. It’s unfortunate and wrongheaded, but at this point, not enough of a cultural aberration to qualify as weird, per se.
Perhaps being aware of this will help you guide the conversation with compassion. No matter how misguided her argument seemed at first blush, you should consider that it could be born of socialization, insecurity, and a rather logical fear of patriarchy doing its work on even a molecular level. In your letter, you wondered how sustainable a dick ban would actually be for you. It is for this reason that I think you should be forward with it—why put off the inevitable if you’re going to find in a few years that, actually, you can’t endure this arrangement and will need to break up anyway. I don’t have any experience being a bi woman, but I do have experience being versatile and nonmonogamous, and when I’ve found myself in situations that effectively force me into picking a side of only topping or only bottoming, I’m too stifled to stay for very long. I refuse to choose. You may need to exercise that right, as well, and unfortunately, your current relationship may not allow for that.
Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear How to Do It,
I wrote in a few months back about constantly being ghosted. You guys gave me really great insight, and I did take your advice to just step back, and that the one who will appreciate me and not ghost will show up. Well, she has! This is truly one of the best relationships I’ve been in. So many great things, and wow, is the sex amazing! She has no complaints in any department. Thoroughly satisfied.
The only request made is I can be a little meaner to her in bed. My question is, how do I up my game on that? Aside from the standard “dirty whore” or “my little slut” stuff. What’s a good way to build my creative degradation? (Was that a weird way to say that?)
—Whoring It Up
Dear Whoring It Up,
In general, I think verbal requests from one’s partner ask a lot—perhaps too much, even. You’re essentially being given a creative writing prompt during sex, and sex is fundamentally nonverbal communication—one doesn’t necessarily follow the other. Those for whom “dirty talk” doesn’t come natural shouldn’t feel less than, nor should they be pressured in any way. You get to choose what comes out of your mouth, just like you get to choose what goes into it.
With that said, you seem game, and I am not feeling particularly defeatist, so for some help here, I reached out to someone who has not only experience in this arena, but has also taught classes in it: sex educator and 7 Days of Domination co-headmistress Lola Jean. I sent her your letter and because what she sent back was so thorough, I’m reprinting below in full:
While it is wonderful that your partner feels safe enough to communicate what she would like verbally in bed, you still only have a fraction of the information. Firstly, we shouldn’t assume being meaner equates to only verbal mean-ness or to degradation. We can certainly be more rough or primal in physical play too! Anytime someone requests an activity, ask how they want to feel as a result of this action (in this case: being ‘mean’). Need some feeling suggestions? Try a Kink Feelings Chart to jog your creativity. Being mean won’t always mean name calling or degrading. Sometimes being mean may be more about how you do or say something than what you say or do. Understanding why they enjoy may also help you in delivering if this is something that feels unnatural to you.
Before you start any verbal or physical improv, workshop these through with your person to gauge if you’re heading in the right direction with “what if I…” scenarios. I promise this will not take away from spontaneity and will probably have both of you feeling more comfortable and confident. She’ll be so jazzed at how much effort you are taking into working on her needs. It’s great! Maybe ‘meaner’ is a bit of hair tugging (pull from the root not the tip!) and a whisper in the ear, or maybe it is telling her how bad and wrong she is. Maybe it is degrading her, but you also have to figure out in what context. Are you degrading her physical appearance, her sexuality, her interests? I often ask people the areas they want me to prod or poke at and then move from there.
It’s a good idea for both of you to understand what names your partner would like to be called (“good girl,” “whore,” “princess,” “little ___”) and what names would make them shut down—since these will likely be in your verbal repertoire. The last thing you want is to step on a landmine word that would cause them to shut down, thus making communication more difficult. The same also goes for the words we call our genitals—as we tend to have words we like and hate for these too.
It’s never a bad idea to educate yourself with a myriad of online instructions on everything form verbal domination to the kink starter pack. After all, these weren’t basic classes taught in school, so who would expect you to know them organically!
More How to Do It
I recently asked my girlfriend how our sex life is compared with her ex, hoping to get validation for one of my biggest insecurities. Instead of getting validation, she told me she didn’t enjoy sex with me as much because she loves me and that has made our sex more high stakes than the casual sex she was having before. She also said her ex had more experience, so I should not beat myself up over the fact that they had better sex than we do. I know she was being honest, but since then, I’ve not wanted to have sex with her. I feel very inadequate sexually and my confidence in bed with her has dropped significantly. I fear it may affect the rest of our relationship, which was really good up to this point. What do I do? I want to get better in bed, but how do I do that if I’m too insecure to have sex with my girlfriend?