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Dear How to Do It,
My husband is the most loving, hard-working, kind, true gem of a man. We’ve been together for eight years officially and friends for longer. But the mistakes he makes in bed are making me want to abstain from sex entirely.
Sex with him is boring and honestly, sometimes painful. I was his first, and he was my second sex partner so obviously not a ton of experience there. But in the bedroom, I at least have confidence in what I’m doing and remember what he likes and doesn’t.
With him, I have to tell him the basics OVER and OVER. From where my hot button is to how I like being touched generally. Even honest to god basics like finding my entrance in the dark (about one-fifth of the time he actually starts going for the wrong hole!!!). I’m so frustrated with his inexperience when we’ve been having sex for almost a decade. What can I do?
I’ve vocalized each aspect repeatedly, physically placed his hands and instructed him exactly what I want, moaned and clearly reinforced when he got it right, and watched certain (realistic) porn videos together to point out how they do it… And still, the very next time it’s back to fumbling in the dark. I very rarely am satisfied after sex with him to the point where I don’t even want to do it anymore. I’d rather just masturbate. How can we get through this?
Rich: I’m wondering if the husband has ADHD, or if there’s another kind of impairment to learning. I mean, my compassion goes there.
Otherwise, what do you do? I feel like a primer every time—as annoying as that might be ahead of time, so that way you’re not disappointed during—might be good. Set yourself up for success.
Stoya: The husband is “loving, kind, and a true gem,” so I have to think that it’s possible to start with a meta-conversation saying, “Hey, I’ve tried really hard to teach you how I like to be touched. You’re not getting it. I need you to know that you’re not getting it. And if you have any insight for me as to why you aren’t getting it, please let me know, so we can try to solve this problem together.”
Rich: Yeah, or just even taking another step back: “Do you notice that we’re having these conversations a lot? What do you make of that? What do you make of the fact that I need to explain this to you every time? Do you know why? Do you have any theories?”
Stoya: As a person with ADHD, dealing with a letter that involves someone that I agree may have ADHD, that is actually the worst thing you can do. It is torturous because the person is asking you to answer a direct question about a situation that no, you haven’t noticed, and to come up with reasons as to why. For me and some other people with ADHD that I’ve spoken to, it’s like when you’re playing billiards and you have all the balls in the triangle, and then you break the triangle. That’s what it feels like your brain does, and you’re like, “All I want to do is answer this question, but the more that you talk and the more upset you clearly are, the more I cannot organize my thoughts.” And then it’s this awful trap, where it’s like you want to do the thing that the other person feels is basic communication, but you literally can’t because your brain is different.
Rich: I think that’s really useful to hear. Personally speaking, I would want to hear what that experience is like. Like, how much of this information is being absorbed by someone with ADHD—or if it’s a kind of amnesiac state, where every single time, it just isn’t sticking. But maybe that’s me just being an amateur scientist. Certainly, you don’t want to have the conversation, and you don’t want to start things off by potentially shutting them down.
Stoya: No. If the ADHD thing is the case, I’m pretty sure that’s an express train to shutdown. You’re not getting anything and you’re making it harder to try to have the conversation again later. I know for me, understanding that there is a problem and then having it presented as a collaboration instead of something that I need to figure out, that’s really helpful.
Rich: I think that’s a great way to put a soft touch on this, which is obviously necessary. I mean, the idea is connecting, right? The idea is not to have a confrontation. You’re not going to browbeat this person into being a good lover. That never works. So I love the idea of framing it as a collaboration.
Assuming ADHD is the issue, do you have any way of integrating these requests that maybe don’t come as second nature? Like if there’s a thing to work on, how do you do the thing over and over again that you’re not naturally inclined to do?
Stoya: It’s difficult for me, personally, to speak directly to that struggle around sex. It’s a big factor in why I’ve had the career that I’ve had; when it’s sex, I can pay attention. But for instance, for going to the grocery store or delivering a lecture, I make bullet points. In the case of the grocery store, I’m just like, “Right, I have lettuce. What else did I need? Oh, there it is right there.”
I don’t know how our letter writer would feel about her husband having a list by the bed. That could be very unsexy to her, but that could be also useful. And if we don’t want to introduce an actual list next to the bed in real-time, memorizing the list, as I would for a lecture, is also helpful. I think ideally, they come up with the list together, since he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and then he could, through repetition, memorize it and also have it on the nightstand for when he inevitably gets lost in the order. That would be not very spontaneous but would give our writer the kind of stimulation that she wants without her having to, every single time in the moment say, “A little to the left, a little softer. OK, now penetrate me.”
Rich: I do think that this is slightly universal, in that when you connect with somebody, sometimes you do have to tell them exactly how it should be done every time because you might want something different every time. That level of communication is not necessarily a bad thing, and I think it’s part of a lot of people’s sex lives. Obviously, this is an extreme case.
I wonder: Say she tries all this and it still doesn’t stick—do you think that there’s any scenario in which saying the things that she said to us, “I rarely am satisfied after sex with him at this point, to the point where I don’t even want to do it anymore, I’d rather just masturbate,” do you think that dropping that bomb would ever be appropriate with the right amount of frustration?
Stoya: I think it’s up to the writer to decide whether they’re willing to risk the end of the relationship. That’s really their decision to make. It’s their life, it’s their husband, it’s their sexual pleasure, and there is no guarantee about what’s out there. You could date two people and find a great match where everything sexually is flowing and awesome, or you could never find that person.
Rich: Yeah, it’s a risk. So maybe that’s ultimatum-style, that’s the nuclear button.
Stoya: That’s the kind of thing that could really crush someone.
Stoya: And whatever this guy’s deal is, he seems pretty obtuse. So I’m not sure that there’s a way to get through to him without the nuclear option. But I do think before our writer does that, they should consider worst-case scenario, where the husband’s ego is wrecked forever and sex is no longer something that’s attempted, and he basically cries in the dark every night.
Rich: Right. That said, the fact that we’re introduced to this guy by hearing that he’s the most loving, hardworking, kind, true gem of a man, makes me feel like he’ll be up for that collaboration that you mentioned. People can only do what they can do, but at the same time, if things are framed in a very compassionate way, it seems like somebody with that profile would say, “Oh yeah, I want to work with you here. I want to try to do better.” So start from there. Start from his kindness and work from there.
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I’m dating a new man whom I like very much. When we became intimate, I was pleasantly surprised that he was very well endowed (about 8 inches). The sex is solid and getting better, but I’ve noticed his erections are not particularly, well, erect—he’s definitely hard and penetration isn’t a problem, but he’s not like many men I’ve been with in the past.