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 30-year-old woman, and I’ve always been overweight. I’ve also always had an enjoyable sex drive, and things like antidepressants, breakups, grief, trauma, work stress, and even 2020-2021 pandemic times never really put a dent in it. Alone or partnered, I had sex a minimum of four times a week.
In the past four months though, something completely flipped, like a traffic light switching green directly to red. My medication hasn’t changed, my life situation hasn’t changed, and my partner hasn’t changed. But sex is unappealing—partnered or solo. New toys, new porn, or new positions don’t do anything for me. I feel mildly repulsed by my vagina and sweat and cum, and by my partner’s body too. A gynecologist suggested I lose weight, while a therapist suggested I just wait it out. My partner says they can just wait, but I feel like my body is alien to me now. I’m making my best effort with the weight loss attempt, but I just feel hyper-aware of my body and how gross it is while doing things I formerly enjoyed. Running and dancing are starting to feel as unappealing as sex. How do I leave this loop? Is this just what 30 is like?
Dear Missing 29,
The first thing to do is see a different gynecologist for a second opinion. Low libido can be a sign of hormone imbalance, and your doctor should run some tests to rule that out. Keep searching until you find one willing to put in the work.
It’s great that your partner says they can wait for you to become interested in sex again, but the bigger problem here is your relationship to your body. You’re struggling in the area of sexual excitement, yes, but you’re also struggling to enjoy running and dancing. This is about you and getting you back to the point where you find joy and pleasure in your physical form.
This is not just what 30 is like. Though, the cultural pressure we put on adult women, especially around that specific birthday, might be a contributing factor. The first thing I recommend is to ask your therapist some follow-up questions. Why are they encouraging you to wait it out? Do they have some idea of how long you should wait? Do they have any ideas for what to do if that time period passes and your feelings remain the same? Listen to how they answer these questions and decide whether the care they’re offering is what you need right now. If their responses aren’t satisfactory, start looking for a new one. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m 27 and I’m attracted to women older than me. How do I get an older woman interested in me? I think dating a woman at least 10 years older than me would be sufficient (to begin my exploration into this territory).
I’ve surveyed the playing field for a while and it seems women usually date up and men date down (this is not always the case) and it seems women do date down occasionally but when they do it’s just a fleeting experience to feel the vitality of a younger, “built” man. This is, of course, due to what I’ve seen in media all my life. I could be wrong but do I need to be some super hunk to get an older woman?
—Probably an Oedipus Complex
Dear Oedipus Complex,
I’m 36, one of my recent lovers was 23, and our relationship was multifaceted. We just heard from Cindy Gallop, a badass babe in her early 60s who loves dating younger men, in a recent column. I don’t think my interest, or Cindy’s, would be accurately described as a “fleeting experience.” That said, apps and bars can be meat markets, so you may struggle to find people of any age who are interested in more than a brief fling if those are the environments you’re searching in.
You don’t necessarily need to be some super hunk, but you do need to highlight your attractive qualities. If you’re trying to meet women on apps, this means making sure your profile shows off your best aspects—if you’ve got beautiful eyes, use at least one photo where they’re visible, and if you’re sensitive, educated, or especially interested in a certain subject, mention these specifics in the text portion. You might also directly state your interest in older women, with something like “hoping for sex and companionship with an older woman.” Choosing your own phrasing is the best way to go here. You can easily set your search parameters for the age range you’re interested in. Have a friend with an eye for detail look over your profile, too. If you’re trying to meet women in person, think about how you’re dressed and how you’re groomed. Reeking of Axe, for instance, is probably going to turn older women off.
You might find the kind of person you’re looking for quickly, and it also might take a while. Once you’ve met that person—or people—you’ll want to keep their interest. If your education about sexuality came from clips on tube sites, some studying may be in order. Cindy founded a whole platform to show connected, intimate sex called MakeLoveNotPorn—meant to provide an alternative to the mainstream porn product those young men she dates were getting their model of how to interact from—which I recommend to anyone who wants to see a variety of ways to be sexually connected. Shine Louise Houston’s queer porn project CrashPad Series is another great resource. Reading books like Barbara Carrellas’s Urban Tantra, Ian Kerner’s So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, and Annie Sprinkle’s Explorer’s Guide to Planet Orgasm can also give you ideas about how to approach sex holistically. You’ll also want to do your best to communicate boundaries, desires, and limits as clearly and directly as possible.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, treat the women you’re flirting with as complex humans. Sure, share that you have a particular interest in that demographic category, but take care to engage with each woman as an individual. Good luck.
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Dear How to Do it,
I’m a cis woman in a long-term relationship with an asexual trans man. He told me when we first started dating that he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be interested in sex, as he had never been interested in exploring it with anyone before. It’s been a non-issue, I have a healthy masturbation life and haven’t felt like I’ve lost out on anything by not having partnered sex.
Recently, he brought up the idea of experimenting with sex. I asked if he had any ideas on what he might enjoy, but he still doesn’t really have a sex drive, he just wants to try it as another avenue of intimacy, so he wasn’t sure. On my end, I don’t really have experience with sex as intimacy—none of my past partners were interested in that aspect of it, so I’ve never felt like sex was really emotionally bonding.
My partner and I have excellent overall communication, and I feel incredibly safe and loved with him. If he wants another way to feel close to me, I want us both to have that. We haven’t spoken about sex between us in more detail, but I know he doesn’t want me to feel like I have to schedule out a whole evening for us. He’s not hesitant about trying new things. I’m sure that by the time we’re trying to plan this he’ll have some of his own ideas about things he wants to do, and I also know that come experimentation there will be a fair amount of winging it. I’m fully confident in our ability to navigate this.
That all said, I still want to come to the table with some ideas and suggestions. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I walked into that conversation with at least some ideas. Are there any specific acts that you guys would recommend for feeling particularly intimate? We already spend time making out, and we cuddle a lot, so physical touch as a whole isn’t a new thing for us. We even bathe and shower together sometimes, and both of us are prone to sleeping in our underwear or even in the nude. This seems like it should be really simple to me, but I’m still feeling nervous! I don’t know how to research “sex for when you’re in love” because it seems like everybody already knows what sex that is, but neither of us do!
—Where’s Square One
Dear Square One,
I love your inclination to be proactive here. It sounds like you’ve already got a baseline of intimacy, which is great. I reached out to sexuality educator, a friend of the column, and asexual woman Aubri Lancaster, for some of her thoughts. To start, she recommends removing orgasm as a goal and focusing on intimacy.
As for figuring out what to do together, she says:
“I love the Scarleteen yes/no/maybe list as an asexual ‘square one’ because it breaks down so many aspects of touch and physical intimacy beyond what people usually look at. Go through the yes/no/maybe list in a neutral setting outside the bedroom and let it serve as a sort of template to build on. If ‘yes/no/maybe’ doesn’t resonate, perhaps use ‘favorable/indifferent/averse/repulsed’ as a ranking system instead.”
Lancaster also highly recommends Lucie Fielding’s book, Trans Sex, for some tips on sharing physical intimacy outside of traditional models of sex.
As with any sexual interaction where we’re getting close to our boundaries, safewords are a great idea. You’ll want verbal and non-verbal options. For some this means “stop,” “red,” or going silent (otherwise known as the absence of active consent.) For others, who play with nonconsent or simply like to be creative, this can be any word that wouldn’t typically be said during the course of sex like “pineapple” or “bicycle.” Non-verbal safewords can look like dropping a ball or bell, gently tapping a part of the partner’s body with flat fingertips, or really anything else you can come up with that a partner would notice during sexual activity.
And if your partner wants to be physically aroused, “enital arousal creams, lubricants, and/or vibrators can help make arousal easier and bring his body into an aroused and erotic space so he can focus on the intimacy and not have to be fighting with his body to respond how he wants it to,” Aubri suggests.
You and your partner seem like you’re in a wonderful place to begin exploring sexual contact for intimacy together. There’s a lot of care in your letter. You’ve got this.
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Dear How to Do It,
My partner and I are in our 30s and have been trying to have kids for a while. We’re dealing with fertility issues and things have gotten very clinical, to the point where we don’t even have sex anymore. When it’s baby-making time, he masturbates and I just hop on for the big finish. I miss having sex just for fun and pleasure. Sex used to be an important part of how we connected as a couple. Now, my partner says he’s so turned off by how rigid our sex life has become, and so exhausted by the new exercise regimen he’s pursuing to help with fertility, that he doesn’t have the energy or inclination for spontaneous sex anymore. But I miss my partner. We’re otherwise affectionate and open with each other, but I’m afraid this is going to permanently damage our once-amazing sex life. What can we do?
—Something Is Missing
Dear Something Is Missing,
Have the big talk and make time for each other. What you’ve said here is clear enough—you used to have a strong sexual connection that was important to your relationship, but this fertility focus is interfering with that intimacy and spontaneity, and you miss the amazing sex life you had before babies became the big goal. From there, suggest collaboration to solve the issue. Share ideas, evaluate the ideas, and figure out what actions you want to try first.
Maybe he takes one day off per week from his exercise regimen and you use that time to have a date night. Specifically, a date night where you order in instead of cooking and focus on each other in a sensual and sexual context. You might massage each other, take a bath together, or engage in other activities that help the two of you feel close and aroused by each other.
You might set a timer for foreplay before your sexual interactions. 20 minutes of non-orgasm-focused time before anyone starts thinking about semen extraction? 30? Whatever feels right and fits in your schedule. It’s also possible that the stress of working towards a baby has shifted your partner’s desire default from spontaneous to responsive, and he needs some extra warm-up.
If you still aren’t making any headway, and you’ve got a fertility team you’re working with, it’s worth talking to them about this. They’ve helped countless couples through similar situations, and I imagine they’ve got some insight into how you might navigate this clinical copulation conundrum. If not, your gynecologist might be able to help.
More How to Do It
I am a straight lady in my mid-30s, and over the past year, I’ve gotten close to a 40-ish married man whom I met through a work colleague. We’ve started an online-only sexual relationship, with plans to connect physically in the future. For a variety of other reasons, this sexual relationship appeals to me at the moment.