How to Do It

My Boyfriend Makes Me Do a Weird Ritual Before Sex

It leaves me feeling gross and embarrassed.

Woman scrubbing her shoulder with soap.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by bluesunrise/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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 queer woman in my mid-20s and my partner is a straight guy in his mid-late 30s. We’ve been together for nearly two years and have a pretty good sex life (four to six times a week). We’re both poly but have been mostly monogamous due to COVID.

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We’ve developed a standard sexual routine and he usually gets me off with his fingers. He is clearly committed to getting me off, though I sense it’s more of an obligation than something he enjoys. When we first started hooking up he mentioned he wasn’t very into giving oral (which he doesn’t remember saying). That’s fine, I was still cuming, and I enjoyed giving it enough for both of us. But after 18 months with only one steady partner, I’ve been craving it lately and talked to him about incorporating it more into our sex life.

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He’s tried it maybe three times in the last month and I’ve had some really wonderful orgasms from this, but the problem is he makes it such an ordeal to the point where I can’t fully enjoy myself and even feel a bit of guilt or shame—like I’m making him do something he isn’t into. For example, prep for him going down on me means I have to take no less than two showers (one early make-out and one right before him going down), we have to rearrange the bed so he can get in the position he prefers, and put a towel down on the bed. He acts very unenthusiastic and gives off very distinct “this is gross” vibes and faces. Pretty much the second I finish coming he immediately runs straight to the bathroom to clean up. It leaves me feeling gross and embarrassed. If it makes a difference, he has diagnosed OCD, which is mostly treated but can be a bit of a germaphobe, which adds to me feeling like I’m unhygienic or icky. (I’m not, I am normally cleaner than he is.)

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I’ve never had this issue with a partner before and am used to folks who love eating pussy (as do I!) I definitely want to find another partner who enjoys cunnilingus, but that’s a hard perk to advertise for. I kind of wish he could approach eating pussy like I approach sucking dick, just take a mouthful every now and then because it’s fun and makes your partner feel good. Any advice on how to address this?

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—Enthusiastic Eater

Dear Enthusiastic, 

I can only imagine how unpleasant it is to go through a requested elaborate cleansing ritual and witnessing your partner’s faces of disgust. That said, you should have seen this coming: He told you that he wasn’t really into giving oral. I don’t think it’s wrong for you to circle back around, though this kind of persistence in some contexts quickly tips over into coercion. But at the very least, you shouldn’t be too surprised that you have a less than enthusiastic participant on your hands. He told you who he was. Your job is to listen.

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Elsewhere in your letter, you mention feeling like you’re making him do something he isn’t into—suspecting that he views getting you off as an obligation and not a pleasurable experience in its own right. You’re implying that much is going unsaid and I’m wondering why. How do you expect to conduct a polyamorous relationship with so little direct communication? It behoves you to get comfortable investigating why he feels and acts the way he does. If you really can’t muster a starting point, some version of this could work: “I just want to check in on where you are with oral; I’ve had some amazing orgasms but haven’t been able to help noticing you making faces to suggest that you’re having a bad time. What’s up with that? Is this something you’d rather not do?”

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The thing is, you have a pretty good lead, which is his OCD diagnosis. That doesn’t excuse his cunnilingus reluctance seemingly based on suspicions about the cleanliness of your vagina (that are almost certainly rooted in misogyny), but it could explain them. But regardless of whatever data you do or don’t extract, you really just might be with a guy who doesn’t like to eat pussy. Can you accept that? Would you want to continue this relationship if he finally gave you the hard no that’s on the tip of his tongue, where you wish your vulva was? You certainly could find a suitable eater with enough effort and patience. That might be the best way to go, but you won’t know until you start asking questions. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so to your partner of two years, figuring out why is your first step. Start now.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m only attracted to fat women. I don’t think I over-sexualize or reduce them to only their bodies, and I treat everyone with respect and kindness regardless of whether I’m attracted to them. But listening to girlfriends and friends talk about how they are treated like their fatness is either seen as disgusting or exotic to people makes me worry that ONLY liking fat women is fetishizing. How do I parse out the difference between having a “type” or an objectifying fetish?

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—Objecting to Objectifying

Dear Objecting, 

Kudos for having the wherewithal to interrogate something that a lot of people take for granted. It is in that taking for granted that ethical breaches are more likely to occur, which is to say that if you’re thinking about the nature of your desire and how it might unintentionally affect people, you’re at least pointed in the right direction.

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For help on this, I reached out to Virgie Tovar, author of The Body Positive Journal, writer of the Body Positive University newsletter, and podcaster at the Rebel Eaters Club. Her work often focuses on the intersection of sexuality and body size. Her email response to your query is so clear and to the point that I’m sharing it in its entirety. I think this will send you well on your way:

First, I want to start by saying that there’s no man stressing about whether he likes thin women too much. I think this question really is a product of a culture that deeply pathologizes men, in particular, for being attracted to women in larger bodies. This is because of fatphobia. Many straight men only date thin women, and have no prevarications about what could be called a “thin fetish.”

Second, I want to normalize his attraction to fat women. Many men are attracted to fat women, but don’t act on it out of fear of other men’s judgment. Most women in the U.S. (almost 70%) are plus-size. So, liking the average body is very healthy and normal.

Third, I want to just put out there that objectification might be fine with some of his potential partners. I’d discuss it and ask for consent. If he’s not sure if he’s skirting the line, just check in with someone about how they feel. Some women don’t want that, but some are either neutral or enthusiastic. My current partner tends to prefer women in larger bodies, and I’m very into that fact. I don’t find it insulting or dehumanizing. 

Fourth, when it comes to the line, there are some basic questions that he can ask himself: Are my potential partners aware of my preference and are they ok with it? Do I see fat women as interchangeable or am I attracted to individual qualities and I prefer that those qualities are present in a larger body? Am I taking advantage of fat women’s marginalized position, i.e., selecting fat women because I believe they’re easier to deal with or more “grateful?”

Finally, I think he can also trust himself. I think if he did a little bit of internal exploration, he could figure out whether he’s pushing a line.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a bi woman in my very late 20s and have yet to have sex with anyone. I’ve gotten close a few times, but something about the situation has always gone awry last minute, whether externally (date getting food poisoning ) or emotionally (realizing that I wasn’t attracted when he already had his shirt off). Then the pandemic threw a further wrench in my plans.

I am interested in sex and would like to be having it, but the older I get, the more difficult a prospect it seems. I’m at the age where people expect each other to know what they’re doing, and I’m worried about either scaring someone off with honesty or by keeping quiet and being a terrible unpracticed lay. Do you have any suggestions or advice on how to handle this with the people I bring home?

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—The 30-year-old Virgin

Dear 30-year-old, 

Whenever someone asks a variation of this question—and we get quite a few people writing into this column doing so—I give some version of this answer: Fake it ‘till you make it. The insecurity you feel as a result of inexperience will be rendered less and less relevant as you accrue experience, so it’s in your best interest to maximize your capability for doing so. Believe in your libido’s ability to guide you. Visualize and understand what you’re interested in sexually—what you’d like to try with someone else, and what you think might get you off. And then do that. When you get into a sexual flow state, time starts melting. The past and future are irrelevant and what matters is what you’re doing in the moment. Passion can do a lot of heavy lifting in an absence of technique, and it’s also important to keep in mind that not everyone will respond to the same technique anyway, even if it carries features that might be considered “objectively” good. What’s going to really matter is the chemistry you have with your parter—openness, responsiveness, sensitivity, and empathy are far more important than replicating stuff you’ve seen in porn or have heard people talking about on TV. You have to believe you can do it, and then you have to do it.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a woman in her late 20s married to a man the same age. I’ve always been sexually open-minded but I forced myself to value monogamy because of how strongly my husband claimed he valued it in the beginning. The beginning of our five-year relationship was rocky with inconsistent sex that started off hot and heavy but then tapered off to once every couple of weeks to once a month, if that.

I found out when our son was 6 months old, two years ago, that he had been cheating on me for the entirety of our relationship (maintaining online “relationships” and sexting on Snapchat). I was unsure how much these relationships were romantic or mainly sexual because he denied everything until I managed to hack into all of his stuff to find out scraps of information to back up my suspicions. I made the decision to work things out because we had just had a baby together, I do still love him, and he never admitted to any physical infidelity. He got on mental health medicine (depression and other mental illnesses were factors of why he chose to cheat and seek attention from other women). Our sex life wasn’t great before and I would later blame that on the cheating because he didn’t need validation or sexual attention from me if he was getting it elsewhere.

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But now that he’s changed and remained faithful, our sex life is still almost nonexistent. When we do have sex, he usually never lasts more than two or three minutes. He blames the lack of sex on the medicine and I am tired of feeling like I have to beg for it. I used to have men throw themselves at me and I still remained faithful to him. Even though I know he isn’t cheating on me now, sometimes, I wish he was so it would give me an excuse to give in to guys that have propositioned me. He is firmly against opening our relationship (I’ve never told him I’m actually open to it because of how strongly he is opposed). He always says maybe he should just ask the doctor for Viagra and claims to be distraught over his lack of desire and ability to perform, but he has yet to do anything proactive.

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Is this truly because of the medication or is this always how it will be for us? Should I give in to my urges and even the score? And why would someone even cheat when their spouse is literally throwing themselves at them?

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—You Had Your Cake and Ate It Too, What About Mine?

Dear You Had Your Cake, 

I suspect many things are at play here. His lack of libido may be traced back to the meds, depression/other mental health issues, apathy, possible shame that he’s not performing as a man is expected to perform, and, perhaps most crucially, a potential sexual mismatch. It doesn’t bode well that he’s dragging his feet about talking to his doctor for Viagra—yeah, shame can be prohibitive but erectile issues are so common with antidepressants (assuming that’s what “mental health medicine” refers to in your letter) that many guys would have already had that conversation with their doctors by now.

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It’s not your fault that he cheated. Even in cases where sexual mismatch isn’t a contributing factor (and in yours I suspect it is, which again isn’t your fault and, sadly, might be out of your hands as chemistry is chemistry), people sometimes cheat for the love of newness, which is one thing a long-term partner simply does not provide. It’s exciting and flattering to be desired. Gamify that, as apps have, and you’re carrying around the ability to have your dopamine spiked wherever you go. He may have been bored. Jay Z (allegedly) cheated on Beyoncé. Whitney Houston became sick and tired of being one of the world’s greatest pop stars. She was virtually superhuman as talent and accomplishments go, and yet by the 2000s, she was clearly over it. People can get used to anything.

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People’s feelings are complicated and emotional consistency can unfortunately be too tall an order for many, but it chafes me that your husband is not open to openness. He elected to be effectively nonomongamous (given your relationship’s boundaries) and you forgave him for making that decision without your consent. Given the abundance of logical loose ends, I’m not as convinced as you are that a conversation on the subject is out of order. He’s been calling the shots and you at least have the right to voice your desires. It’s not working out for you two sexually, and if you don’t do anything about that, things may stay the way they are. It’s not like he’s motivated to change anything, at least not as part of a collaborative effort with you.

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I don’t think you should cheat—two wrongs don’t make a right, and all that. Given your situation, it’s understandable that you’d want to even the score if it means achieving the sexual gratification that you aren’t getting. However, there’s an ethical way to pursue this and it may mean making your husband uncomfortable or even threatening your relationship. You have a small child, which I know has to weigh heavily in your calculus, but what you describe is untenable. You’re going to have to start making tough decisions or resign yourself to the current state of things. You’ve been a good and supportive partner; you deserve one for yourself.

—Rich

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