How to Do It

No One Seems to Be Able to Meet My One Rule for Sex

I can’t romantically connect with people without it.

Close up of a woman's nose as she sniffs an odor.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy/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,

I am 34 years old and have not had sex since I got sober 10 years ago. I also haven’t been on a date. My life has pretty much been surrounded by doctors and hospitals as I learn to cope with chronic illness. But I’m at a point now where I’d like to date and maybe have sex again. But I don’t know where to start. I’m submissive, and this might sound weird, but the absolute most important thing is they have to smell “right.”

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I did dating apps before I got sober, but they didn’t work out at all for me, mostly because I can’t romantically connect with people without smelling them. I’m open to meeting people as I go about my day, but that has literally never happened to me—despite an acquaintance insisting that if I ate alone at a restaurant or coffee shop men would definitely flirt with me. And even if that did happen, they probably wouldn’t be interested in what excites me sexually.

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Two times —once after I got sober—someone smelled right and I approached them, but I was rejected both times. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I have a wide social network and meet new people often, through work, friendship, and volunteering (although I’m not on social media), but I still don’t meet anyone I’m romantically attracted to, and no one flirts with me or asks me out. And I can’t just go to a bar and get drunk anymore. How in the world can I meet people in person who are sexually turned on by the same things I am?

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—Sexless in the City

Dear Sexless,

Two attempts at picking someone up is a very small sample size. Especially when only one of those attempts was after you achieved sobriety. Dating is a gauntlet, with polite rejection being one of the best case scenarios. Ghosting happens, people fail to appear at scheduled dates, and one person deleted their whole instagram profile when I asked where we would meet that day.

Were there other times you encountered people who smelled attractive but didn’t approach them? It’s possible that your olfactory criteria are narrowing your potential dating pool immensely, and that’s something I suspect is pretty fixed. If there are certain colognes you enjoy you might ask potential dates if they’re open to switching scents. If it’s about the way the scent mixes with the individual, there’s no way to predict that before meeting—and smelling—them in person.

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You might consider a kink-specific dating app like Feeld or FetLife. I’ve had great luck putting my desires up front in my profile in blunt language. Obviously, exercise all the caution you would with any date. Meet in a public place. Make sure a responsible friend has their picture, name, and the location you’ll be meeting at. Ask them to check in with you after a few hours and let them know how the date is going. If you change locations, let the friend know where you are.

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As for the confidence needed to approach people, your treatment team and any peer support groups you’re in are great places to start. You’re far from the first person in recovery to struggle with social interactions after sobriety. Take your time, give yourself breaks if you get frustrated, and remember that finding partners usually involves meeting, and not matching with, several people first.

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Dear How to Do It,

I have always tended to squirt easily and often during sex, and I can’t usually tell when it’s going to happen. It doesn’t always line up with my orgasms. I am seeing someone who gets grossed out by squirting because of those studies that say it’s pretty much glorified pee. Is there a way I can make myself stop?

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—Water Works

Dear Water Works,

There’s no existing surgical procedure, known exercise, or meditation that will prevent you from erupting with liquid. I spoke with Madison Young, an adult star and educator, for a recent column involving a woman who wanted to stop squirting, and she advised stopping before orgasm. That’s the best we’ve got.

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You can also check out this recent chat between Rich and I, addressing a letter from another reluctant squirter, for tips on waterproofing the bed.

Reducing your partner’s contact with liquid by using absorbent materials might help reduce their ick factor. And they might get used to it over time. It’s also possible that they aren’t the person for you. Sometimes we meet people who are absolutely wonderful partners except for one significant mismatch, and it’s up to us to choose whether we’re going to try to push through and make it work or walk away. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

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My girlfriend and I have been together for around five years. We both have very similar kinks and turn-ons, and we both have a lot of them, and it’s probably relevant that both of us have C-PTSD due to abusive childhoods. I recently discovered I have a tickling kink, and my girlfriend was more than happy to indulge me, but unfortunately, it set off a panic attack/PTSD episode. She is fine, obviously, we stopped and I immediately began aftercare, and she has told me that there are no lasting effects and that she still trusts me even though it happened.

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The problem is, I now feel guilty whenever we have sex if that makes sense. We’ve both been super respectful of each other’s trauma triggers and soft/hard limits, so this is the first time something like this has happened. I know that with two traumatized people in a relationship, something like this is inevitable, but I’m having difficulty shaking off the “you hurt her, you monster” mentality. I’m working on finding a new therapist for myself as my former therapist retired a few weeks ago, but the waitlists in my area are around eight months long, and I was wondering if you might have any advice.

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—Well, Tickle Me Traumatized

Dear Tickle,

Eight months feels like a very long time sometimes, but you’ll get there. Remember to ask for a preliminary “get to know each other” call before settling on a therapist. It’d be a shame to wait three-quarters of a year and find out you aren’t a good fit.

In the meantime, I have two suggestions. Each suggestion sounds simple but will probably be difficult; believe your partner when she says she isn’t harmed and still trusts you, and start saying no to disproportionate guilt.

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Has your partner ever given you a reason to doubt her when she says she’s OK? How about when she says she isn’t harmed or there’s nothing to forgive? Has she communicated with you directly and as clearly as she can? Has she been consistent, and cared for you, and treated you like a partner for half a decade? Maybe make a little list of ways in which she is a reliable person in your life, and keep it in your wallet or phone for when you start to doubt.

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You might also make a list of your own caring qualities. OK, so you accidentally caused a panic attack. Sometimes those happen. Frequently they happen at inconvenient times. Once that panic attack started, you stopped what you were doing and switched to aftercare. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. You did exactly what you’re supposed to do. Think of other situations where you’ve been appropriately attentive and engaged in care, with your partner and also with other people in the world who are vulnerable with you. If you’re struggling to come up with more than a couple of instances, ask your partner or an emotionally intimate friend to help. I think you’ve got this.

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Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

This might seem like a dumb question but it’s one I desperately want an answer to: How do you orgasm with a handheld shower? I’m 17, and my parents are Muslim and immigrated to the U.S. from India before I was born. They’re not super conservative, but still, there’s a definite taboo around sex, masturbation, and anything outside of bodily functions.

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I want to have an orgasm for the first time in my life, instead of reading about them in romance novels, and I know it’s possible to orgasm with a handheld shower (it’s been alluded to in multiple books I’ve read, at least) but I don’t exactly know the mechanics of how it works. I don’t have any way of getting a vibrator or I would try that, but my only current option is the handheld shower in our bathroom. I’ve tried to masturbate by hand but… nothing happened. It felt good for a few minutes, but nothing muscle-tensing or earthshaking. So how do I get things going and finally find out what an orgasm feels like?

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—Seeking Orgasms in Oregon

Dear Seeking Orgasms,

Let’s start by setting some reasonable expectations around orgasms. Not everyone has orgasms, and this affects women more than men. The age of first orgasm varies pretty widely for people who do have them. So it may be that your body isn’t ready yet, and I’m encouraging you to be gentle and patient with yourself.

Warm up your body first. Get aroused. Maybe you fantasize, maybe you stroke your body, maybe you dance. If you aren’t sure what works for you, experiment. If you do know what works, it’s worth experimenting anyway.

Shower heads can provide two types of stimulation—the smooth glide of water running, and a percussion effect from the water actually landing. You might start with the shower head higher up on your belly and let the water flow over your vulva, taking note of which areas feel most sensitive. From there, you might aim the shower head at your vulva—though not directly inside your vagina —taking the same notes about what feels best. Once you’ve got some data, start focusing on those spots. One likely location is your clitoris. You can experiment with different angles on your clitoris, and with gently retracting your clitoral hood if that doesn’t happen by itself.

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If you have a shower head with multiple settings you can see how each of those feel, and you can turn the water pressure up and down. A bathtub faucet is just as private and provides a different sensation, again, taking caution not to blast water into your vaginal canal.

Remember to breathe, and consider how you’ll muffle any noises of pleasure. Orgasm can be a powerful and overwhelming experience.

—Stoya

More How to Do It

I am a gay man in my late 20s. I am in a relationship with a guy that I love very much, and we’ve been officially dating for about a year. I am a chubby guy, and I am comfortable in my body, for the most part. I know that my weight was a key factor in my boyfriend being attracted to me at the start of our relationship. Recently, I’ve started to think about getting healthier. I am going to be 30 soon, and if I don’t do it now, I feel like I never will. My worry is that if I lose the weight, the man I love may no longer be attracted to me.

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