How to Do It

I Think My Wife and I Might Be Part of the Sex Recession

Are we really that abnormal?

A man and woman lying in bed together with a floating graph behind them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Claudia Love on Unsplash.

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, 

So I recently read an article that sent me down a rabbit hole about the sex recession, and how young people aren’t having enough sex. It got me thinking about my own sex life and wondering if we’re really that abnormal. My wife and I are 28 and 29, respectively. We have sex probably once every four to six weeks. Part of the reason is just work—I’m a restaurant manager and my wife works in corporate finance and travels a ton for work, so we’re regularly pulling 50-70 hour work weeks. We’re both pretty exhausted after our work days, and she works during the day, and I usually work nights and weekends. We don’t have any kids, but we do have our hobbies—I game and rock climb, and she loves to hike and kayak. Finally, sex is definitely time-consuming because my wife has vaginismus, so we need to do a lot of foreplay for her to be comfortable, so no quickies for us.

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But also, I feel fine with our sex life? When we do have sex, we take our time, I always make sure she orgasms first, and it’s really great overall. I don’t think either one of us really has a high sex drive. I’ve been on anti-depressants for years and she’s been on hormonal birth control since high school. So, in context, I think it makes sense that we’re not having sex every week, and neither one of us nag each other about it.

I guess my question is, are we really that abnormal? She and I both talk about how horny we were when we were like, 17 years old but I figured it’s common for sex drive to dissipate as you get older, and have been together a long time. Should we be prioritizing sex over our friends and hobbies? When I read the average married couple has sex once a week, I was floored—who has the time? But then I thought maybe we’re just prioritizing other things.

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Right now it seems like we’re going for quality over quantity, but I’m wondering if we should be scheduling more sex or something. We have a really wonderful, stable marriage—she’s absolutely my best friend and the most supportive, emotionally healthy person in my life, so I know we could have a productive conversation about this. I guess I wanted to check the temperature on how often young married couples have sex, and to see if this even merits a conversation?

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—Worried About the Sex Recession

Dear Worried,

You say you feel fine with your sex life, and I suspect the question mark that follows has to do with wondering if your feelings are OK. They are. The most important opinions on whether a sexual relationship works are those of the people involved. If you and your wife are both happy, that’s all you need.

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The internet has shown us how truly varied, diverse, and detailed human sexuality is. If you can imagine it, there’s porn of it—Rule 34, and all that. We can read personal accounts from people for whom sexuality is the utmost priority, from people who enjoy sex for about seven and a half minutes once per week, and from people who have no desire for sexual interaction at all. Average is a marking of the mean. Average says nothing about the vastness of the range it bifurcates. It does not describe the breadth of data points. And, in the end, the only data points that really matter are you and your wife. If the two of you have found your balance, keep doing what you’re doing until there’s a reason from within the relationship to change things.

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I do think this absolutely merits a conversation with your wife, in the vein of “I read this article and wanted to get your thoughts.” There’s a chance this might bring up something your partner wants to share with you. More likely, you’ll have a nice talk about something that stuck in your mind, and you’ll get to know their own perspective.

Dear How to Do It, 

I’m a 49-year-old and have been dating for about a year, after a painful divorce. I’ve met a wonderful woman who I can see being with for the foreseeable future and she feels the same. We began having sex but not right away.

I was careful to tell her I had been exposed to HPV, 20-plus years ago, and so unlikely to be a threat, but I always disclose before being intimate, just in case. She is not at all concerned about that, thankfully. We have amazing sex. It’s really a dream come true for me—she pushes buttons I didn’t know I needed to have pushed. We’re still using condoms. But we’ve decided we’d like to ditch them since this looks like it has a great chance of being a long-term thing.

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She wanted us both to have STD tests before taking that step, which I agreed to (she understands I can’t be tested for HPV, it’s not an issue for her). The issue is her results showed HSV-1 oral antibodies. That doesn’t particularly freak me out, I know it’s common and relatively hard to get if you aren’t having a breakout. What bothers me is she said she had a cold sore about a year ago. And I know she was last tested about five years ago for an issue in her marriage. I think if she had a sore once and potentially a test that showed the HSV antibodies (?) she should have brought that up before we had oral sex.

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Am I right to be concerned? I guess I should just ask her outright but it seems like the right thing to do was disclose, especially considering I disclosed what is practically the lowest risk STD you can have just because it seemed ethical. Honestly, I like this woman enough that I’m not expecting this to end things on my end but it does rub me the wrong way. Thoughts?

—You Don’t Say?

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Dear You Don’t Say,

Was your partner’s positive HSV-1 antibody result confirmed? While the swab test is accepted as accurate, antibody tests still have a high rate of false positives. So it’s worth encouraging her to get a second sample run.

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It sounds like she tested negative five years ago, met you, and when you decided together that you’d like to stop using condoms, got another test which came back positive. If that’s the case, and she told you her results shortly after receiving them, I’m not sure what this line about “potentially a test that showed the HSV antibodies” means. Is it in the sense that you believe any cold sore should trigger HSV testing before further sexual interaction?

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Regardless, the two of you have different ideas about what level of disclosure is required for potential sexually transmittable infections. I get the sense that forgoing condoms is in the context of monogamy, so it might be tempting to let this issue go without further conversation. It’s your choice to make, but I advise that you sit down and tell her what you’re feeling, and listen to her response. If you find it satisfactory, great. If not, you might consider whether there are other issues you struggle to get on the same page about now and in the future.

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Dear How to Do It, 

I’m a cis 25-year-old woman. I used to have a restrictive eating disorder, probably not bad enough to be considered true anorexia, but those kinds of symptoms, but no binging/purging. I’m physically healthy, mentally still not recovered (but good luck getting ED-related psychotherapy if you’re not a skeleton yet). I’m athletic and objectively lean, as is my partner. I love him, love sex with him, and think he’s hot as hell.

Despite all this, I somehow have a BBW weight-gain/big belly/stuffing fetish. I plan to take that secret to the grave. Some parameters: I’m not into immobility or health issues and strongly prefer erotica with elements of sci-fi or fantasy that allow weight gain without health damage. It has to be consensual and have a preference for lesbian erotica. Ritual (consensual) fattening of women is a subgenre I find especially arousing.

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I only like expressing this kink by reading erotica, I don’t want to watch porn of it or anything that would involve real humans. Outside of fantasy, the whole thing deeply disgusts and disturbs me. I’m constantly working to maintain a lean figure. But I can rattle off multiple authors and indulge this with one hand on a shamefully sopping wet pussy.

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I feel like for me, this kink is really tied up with eating disorder issues. From reading this column and others, I know that if you have a kink/fetish you’re probably stuck with it. But if this wasn’t hardwired and instead is some weird coping mechanism to deal with having an ED brain the rest of the time, then it might not be healthy to indulge? Or there’s a chance I could get rid of it?

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If it turns out I’m stuck with this kink, how do I not hate myself about it? Like, I don’t want to do this stuff with real humans but I know that lots of people do and they suffer social, emotional, financial, and physical damage. It feels like I’m condoning all that by reading erotica that has undoubtedly encouraged people to try this in real life. So yeah, if I can stop being into this, that is my first choice. Barring that, how do I live with myself?

—Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

You may feel better knowing that a recent study found that an individual’s sexual interests vary across the contexts of porn consumption, fantasy, and in-person enactment. So while your interest in consensual feeder fiction (set in worlds where there are no health ramifications) may be deeply wired, reading erotica about it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to pursue this interest in your partnered sex life.

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I hear that it’s difficult to access care for anorexia. While I do think that eating disorder treatment would alleviate some of the pressure you’re under, I also think you can come at this from a different angle. A sex therapist may be able to help you sort through your feelings of shame around this kink, and even tease out its connections to your own relationship with food. They may also be able to support you in accepting your sexuality as it is. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists is a good resource, as is the Kink Aware Professionals Network. Ask for an introductory call before booking a session, and explain to them what you’ve explained here. You can also ask each therapist about the treatment methods they use.

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We can’t help the way we’re wired, and you’re navigating a lot right now. Remember to be kind to yourself. Good luck.

Dear How to Do It, 

I orgasm in a way that is uncommon, although I’m sure it’s not unique. I was assigned female at birth. When I masturbate, I lie on my side or sit upright and make a gentle grinding motion. I don’t use my hands or grind against anything. The movement is a little hard to describe—it’s an internal grinding (if that doesn’t make me sound like a coffee machine). I’m definitely stimulating my pelvic floor. Sometimes I accompany this with a bit of light breast play, and I’m always fantasizing while I do it.

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Using this method, I can make myself cum incredibly quickly, and have even been known to cum in my seat on a train without anyone noticing. I’ve had lovely experiences cumming like this while a partner holds me and whispers in my ear. My issue is that I’ve never been able to cum in any other way. But I’ve also never properly tried.

Pretty early on into my sex life, I began routinely faking my orgasms. I know people might look down on this, but I quickly found that otherwise, partners would fixate on trying—and failing—to crack my code, and we’d both feel stressed. I love everything about sex. Cumming has never been the be-all-and-end-all for me.

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Along the way, I’ve had a great sex life. Penetration, oral, anal, toys, BDSM, group sex, DIY attempts at tantra—the list goes on. But none of this has made me cum. Even tapping into my deepest fantasies during sex doesn’t change this. However, I’ve recently met someone who can immediately tell I’m faking. This bedroom Columbo is also up for exploring ways to make me cum, and I get the sense he wouldn’t get stressed out by it. Bonus points: He likes to take instruction.

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I’m wondering if maybe my 30s is the decade when I finally work this out. But I don’t really know where to start. I’ve always found it hard to find information about what’s even going on inside me when I masturbate—Googling just seems to give me ten conflicting pieces of advice about how to do Kegels. I’m excited to try any position, toy, method, or approach that might help. I think it’s a physical thing—how do I replicate the very specific stimulation I give myself? But I also like to keep control, so I don’t discount the fact it could be psychological. I’d like to spend some time honestly paying attention to my own orgasms. But how to do it?

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—Pelvic Bore

Dear Pelvic Bore,

You’re motivated to explore new sensations and you’ve got a partner who seems like a great match for this adventure—the world is your oyster. You could start with doing your regular self-pleasure motion while you have a small plug, dildo, or your partner’s penis or fingers inside your vagina or rectum. You could start with adding clitoral pressure or stroking, or receiving oral sex while engaging in your grinding motion. See what wiggle room there is in your routine. Can you orgasm using that same motion with other genital stimulation?

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You also might start totally from scratch. Set yourself up for success here by abstaining from orgasm for a while—however long it takes for you to be blindingly aroused by the smallest detail. Read Barbara Carella’s Urban Tantra first, and put together your own preparation ritual. Decide to spend an hour focused on your physical pleasure without trying for orgasm. Follow what feels good. Explore your body. Try all the different sensations and stimuli you can think of. Make notes of what works well, and take particular note of anything that happens to cause that orgasm you aren’t trying to have.

Clit-sucking vibrators, like the Womanizer, and the notorious Magic Wand are worth a try. The sensation of each can be overwhelming, which might be just the thing you need to push you over the precipice of orgasm without your tried-and-true method.

Make it clear to your partner, if you haven’t already, that you value the experience of sex without orgasm just as much as with, and enjoy the process. While you may always return to what you know works, you can find some lovely surprises along the way.

—Stoya

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