How to Do It

I Figured Out My Husband’s Biggest Turn-On During Sex. I Just Can’t Do It.

I clam up every time.

Woman biting her lip with a text bubble emoji floating next to her.
Photo illustration/animation by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear How to Do It,

My husband of eight years and I have a fulfilling, if somewhat routine, sex life. We know one another’s bodies well. I finish at least once virtually every time. But every time he’s made this request I clam up.

My problem is I want to be more confident with dirty talking. I have some issues related to talking dirty because of many different instances of harassment and two of sexual assault. Though early when we were dating, I did talk dirty at my husband’s request on maybe two occasions, I broke down and told him I wasn’t comfortable and why. He was very kind and understanding and has never brought it up again. However, I know it’s a big turn-on for him.

I know therapy may be the answer, but we’ve tried a couple of times. We went to see a sex therapist about this, and he was an older man who opened the session by positing that the issues I described may be because one or both of us is actually gay or lesbian. We are both bisexual. We didn’t return.

There is another sex therapist in the area, but the waitlist to see them is over six months long. I want to be comfortable with doing this. I like when it occurs in erotic media. We recently talked about trying new things in the bedroom, and in particular, I want to try assuming the role of a gentle femdom, but how will I do this if I clam up? Though most of our communication in bed is nonverbal, it’s not like I say nothing during sex. I might say, “A little to the left,” or simpler phrases like, “Yes, oh God,” etc. But as soon as it’s time to say slang or more overtly sexual words, I simply cannot bring myself to say it, especially when it comes to describing my own self or acts being performed on me with these words.

Stoya: So, there’s one workaround coming to mind for me. One of the beautiful things about femdom culture is the way the people in the femdom role are given permission to assume the most glorified literary poetic titles, right? You can become Mistress Toy of Cocklandia, which would not work for this writer because cock is an uncomfortable word, I assume. But you can say something like, “Mm, kiss me on my flesh garden.” Right? You can easily avoid, especially within the conceit of femdom, words that you don’t want to say.

Rich: Because you’re literally writing the script as the femdom?

Stoya: Right, you’re in charge.

Rich: Yeah.

Stoya: During the brief time that I worked in a dungeon, I would immediately blindfold the guys. I was told to do this, someone gave me some very helpful advice. I would immediately blindfold the guys, and then when I’m standing there going, “What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?” As long as I’m not actually saying “what do I do,” they have no idea.

Rich: Yep.

Stoya: Right? Like that.

Rich: Yeah. So that’s liberatory in its way. I want to point out that this genre of question, “I’m not comfortable doing this, my partner loves it, I really want to try for them,” always strikes me as among the most generous kinds of questions that we get. It’s just really a lovely sentiment, to be like, “I’m not into this, but I really want to push my boundaries just for the sake of my partner.” It’s just lovely.

I think that the easiest way you can do these things is using this principle that you’re talking about, where you’re writing the script. You can start out really simple, you can just keep it to narration. You can just keep it to what comes into your mind as you see it, while avoiding the kind of things that you want to avoid saying. There are workshops for this type of thing. There are femdom or verbal domination workshops. For a past question that was similar to this one, I reached out to somebody, Lola Jean, who runs them, or has run them in the past, she does all kinds of sex educating. The number one piece of guidance she shared was to have that conversation—work through with the partner what he would like to hear and how he would like this to go.

You can have that conversation and then you’re generating ideas. Because I think a lot of the anxiety around this particular issue comes from, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say.” If you have a conversation in which your partner can tell you what he would like to hear, then you can kind of say, “Well, I’m not comfortable saying that, but what if I said it like this?” It becomes an exchange, then you have that script written already. You go into it with so much knowledge. I thought that was a great piece of advice.

Stoya: And if you blindfold them, you can actually hold a script.

Rich: Exactly. And you can Google verbal domination. If you do that, you’ll be able to find resources and workshops that would allow you to further cultivate this. But at the same time, I do think that people have their limits, and our writer knows very well why they are uncomfortable with doing this. And that’s OK, you’re not a superhero. It’s really OK for you to have those boundaries and for you to stick by those boundaries. As beautiful as it is for wanting to transcend them, don’t think that you’re a failure if this just isn’t for you. Not everything is for everybody.

Stoya: I’m trying to think if there’s anything to add. So, two things that can be useful: If they don’t feel comfortable jumping straight to a domination workshop, improv comedy is really good at loosening you up and getting you to a point where you can just say stuff, right?

Rich: Yeah.

Stoya: And also, practicing at home. If they get a list of phrases from their husband from the conversation you suggested, and there are words that they’re not sure about, go somewhere private and say the words, and see how you feel about the words. Say a few of them, same them a few times. If it’s terrible, then stop. But if the feeling starts to change in a direction that feels useful, spend some time practicing. Exposure to things and experience with things has a way of taking the spikes out sometimes. And, obviously, if they start feeling squirrely, or re-traumatized, or anything else that feels like it’s a problem, absolutely stop. But otherwise, sometimes looking at these things in a space that we control can be very helpful.

Rich: So it’s about preparation, it’s about breaking it up into bite-size chunks, and making what feels unmanageable, manageable, by really just getting in there, and taking it at your own pace. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but then you could say you tried.

Stoya: I think it’s more she can know she tried. The husband seems to consider this closed.

Rich: Yeah, it shows his generosity, which is really, really nice.

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I am a straight female in my late 20s. In previous relationships, after I become comfortable with a guy and where we are sexually, I have wanted them to cum on me. My face, my tits, my stomach. I love the act and love how it feels. I am currently in a relationship with a wonderful man. We are compatible in almost every way, but he absolutely refuses to do this because “it’s demeaning.”