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 mid-20s trans man who’s never had partnered sex for various reasons (autism, gender dysphoria, long-distance relationships, etc.) and so this has always been more a quirk than a problem. However, as I feel more comfortable in my body, and as my long-distance relationship is very possibly no longer long distance in the near future, it seems like it is best to ask about it before it becomes a problem.
Basically, at least when masturbating, I fall asleep almost immediately after I cum, and fall asleep hard. Like “conked out for at least 30 minutes” hard. Like I said, solo this is not a problem and I have to say I’ve never thought that hard about it. But lately, I’ve been thinking “It would suck to fall asleep like that in the middle of something with a partner.” For one thing, it would just be rude, and also generally annoying logistically.
So I guess my question is: Is this a documented thing? Is there a way to train myself out of this automatic sleep button or is this just a physiological quirk I should work around? Would “hey, if you get me off too early I’ll probably pass out” be a bizarre thing to say to someone?
—Snoring Isn’t Sexy
Falling asleep after orgasm is incredibly well documented, and occurs across gender presentations and genital arrangements. Vasopressin and oxytocin seem to be the likely culprits—chemicals your brain releases larger amounts of during sexual activity—and both are linked to sleep. Falling asleep almost immediately, hard, for at least 30 minutes does sound like a pretty extreme version of this phenomenon, and communicating this to potential partners is a great idea. “Hey, if you get me off too early I’ll probably pass out” is clear, informative, and exercises brevity. A+.
I really want to dig into the idea of “bizarre” things to say to people, and it’s my column, so off we go. We live in a society that caters to a certain type of mindset, and a certain way of experiencing the world. You’re neurodiverse, I’m neurodiverse, and I’m not sure the social norms we live under are doing all that much good for neurotypical people, either. Sexually progressive practices and statements are often received with something ranging from scandal to criminalization in our modern world. Homosexuality was listed in the DSM—the diagnostic manual sometimes referred to as the “bible of psychiatry”—as a disorder until 1973. The U.S. legal system still doesn’t know how to categorize partners and non-sexual loved ones who aren’t blood or marriage family, or relationship structures that are more complex than a dyad.
The norms are narrow and messed up. Direct communication about sexuality still feels awkward or strange for swaths of adult humans. Look for people who appreciate you as you are, who can hear you when you communicate in ways that are natural for you, and who strive to understand you as an individual and allow you to do the same with them. I think you’ve got this.
Dear How to Do It,
Recently, my friend sent me an article from a major news organization that talked about the risks of anal sex for women, specifically. It mentioned the heightened risks of STDs, incontinence, anal trauma, and so on, and that this was much more significant for women. The article said this is something doctors need to be discussing with female patients (trans men and non-binary too, of course), because the pelvic floors, hormones, and essential layout makes anal sex inherently more risky for women than men. This was a huge shock to my friend and me. I tried anal a couple of times back in the early days of having sex. It hurt, and I haven’t had much interest in pursuing since, though I recently bought a butt plug. My friend is very sexually experienced. That she wasn’t aware of this either is a bit disconcerting.
The article, unhelpfully, didn’t state anything women/trans men/NB folks could do to mitigate these apparently elevated risks. My thoughts were you’d do the basics, like pelvic floor exercises, lube, starting small with plugs, condoms, etc. But the article made it sound as if all anal sex for women is inherently riskier no matter what they do or how careful and slow they are. I’m not sure if that was the intent. Do you have any insight into this? Are we taking big risks every time we have anal just because of our anatomical layout?
—Butts Off Limits
Dear Butts Off Limits,
I’m not certain which article you’re referring to, but I was able to find a recent article from two surgeons about AFAB bodies and heightened risks of damage during anal sex that’s been recently cited in the news. So, I’m basing my thoughts on their claims and got some answers from Dr. Evan Goldstein, nationally renowned anal surgeon, founder and CEO of Bespoke Surgical, and friend of the column. He corroborated the editorial’s claims: “This article raises lots of important issues. Clearly, anal sex is on the rise among all communities and everyone should be able to engage whenever, however, and with whomever they want to. We know several things, specifically in women, transmen, and AFAB enbies, that need to be discussed and addressed. First, estrogen and differences in hormones lend themselves to differences in architecture. This means the skin is much thinner and more prone to tearing. Second, the pelvic floor, angle, and musculature are indeed different from those in people with prostates.”
Goldstein shared some tips for mitigating your risk:
The key is educating ourselves and understanding all of these differences so that we can come prepared and set ourselves up for anal sex success. I recommend follow-up office visits with a sex-positive anal physician to monitor someone’s sexual activities and make sure they’re analyzing all aspects of the anus. This should include both the skin and the muscle in order to help limit any potential complications or create preventative programs to improve someone’s sexual health and wellness. Many women, transmen, and AFAB enbies think they can go from nothing to something big, especially when the vagina self lubricates and opens quite easily, compared to the asshole. However, for anal sex, the key is gradual dilation, working both the muscle and the skin to learn to accommodate anal penetration.
I was personally curious about the initial study’s mention of alcohol use as a factor in increasing the risk of injury, and Goldstein had some thoughts on that, too.
Culturally, anal sex and alcohol use is often talked about together as a means to either justify why someone is doing it (because they wouldn’t normally consider anal sex sober) or to help ease their body into it (because there’s a misconception that anal sex is always painful). The real issues here are more about nonconsensual anal sex and how being under the influence affects anal sex. When you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs and partake in receptive anal sex, your pain receptors become diminished, as do your inhibitions. Therefore, injuries can be more likely to occur because you won’t be able to easily tell what your normal limitations are and, consequently, if something hurts. A lot of people rely on things like numbing lubes, alcohol, or poppers and other drugs to make anal sex “easier” or less painful, but what they don’t realize is that the limitations your body has don’t magically go away with these products. The pain and potential injury or damage are still being done— you just can’t feel it happening. Pleasurable anal sex is absolutely possible without the need for any mind and body-altering substances. You simply need to understand your anatomy and your limitations, practice anal dilation ahead of time, use copious amounts of anal-safe lube, and choose a partner who is patient and willing to let the receptive partner take the lead.
Basically, you want to be able to feel what’s happening, and if you’re inebriated your senses are muffled. Goldstein encourages everyone to “identify a medical provider who can help them truly understand their body in relation to how they engage sexually.”
You don’t mention plans to become pregnant, but I’ll leave this here for future reference, too:
What hasn’t been discussed in the above is that pregnancy wreaks havoc, not only on your entire body but anally as well. Injuries and issues can include hemorrhoids, skin tags, tissues, and/or changes in their pelvic floor structure. This raises a lot of important issues surrounding anal sex and pregnancy—the before, during, and the after—and if anal sex is in the cards for you, being evaluated during the entire pregnancy process allows for you and your doctor to not only optimize functionality but also address the potential aesthetic issues that may arise.
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Dear How to Do It,
My husband (age 32) and I (age 42) have an adorable giggly 9-month-old! The problem is that our child’s birth marks the last time we had sex together. Nine long dry months.
While I have always had a stronger sex drive than he has, I’d like sex several times a week and he’s happier monthly, we previously managed by him giving me pleasure and orgasms more regularly through other means. All that ended after our child was born.
His lack of sexual drive is completely understandable. Besides having a new baby and two teenagers at home, he started a new job recently while he’s still finishing his Ph.D., and on top of that, we’ve had some unexpected financial stress. I just don’t know how much longer I can go on without some mutual sexual stimulation. (I do masturbate, but instead of pleasure it usually brings up feelings of resentment and self-pity.)
I know he still finds me attractive because he says so often and regularly initiates intimate and playful touch. However, I have started to feel repulsed by his advances because they only leave me feeling hot and bothered with no chance of it going anywhere. He has been more than willing to try planned date/sex nights, showers together, new positions, or role-play games… but none of these have ultimately led to more than foreplay and frustration. He isn’t bothered about it, he feels the spark will return when our life slows down a bit, but I believe you have to cultivate and nurture your sexual relationship and I’m scared ours is dying out.
—Baby Daddy Blahs
Dear Baby Daddy,
Long-term relationships, especially the ones that involve marriage and family—heavy commitments and responsibilities—have to be thought of on a longer scale. I’m seizing upon your use of the word cultivate and going with a farming metaphor. Fields don’t produce crops year round. They’re seeded, tended as they grow, and harvested according to the seasonal pattern of the plant in question. Sometimes a field is left to lie fallow for a while to give it a rest. Fallowing isn’t always good for the ground, but in many cases it is. I think your husband needs to fallow his fornication for now. Think of it as him taking the space he needs to get his feet back under him and have the opportunity to desire sex with you in a meaningful way again.
In the meantime, focus on your difficulties with masturbation. Do you think it would help to make your solo time a date with yourself? Betty Dodson’s Sex For One might be a good resource for you. Barbara Carellas’s Urban Tantra has several suggestions for connecting with your body and focusing your attention where you want it to go—meaning feeling pleasure over resentment and self-pity.
You mention unexpected financial stress, so I’m not sure if therapy is in your budget. If there is room, you might check out lower-cost telehealth options or, if you have health insurance, go through their system to see if they’ll cover some portion or even all of the cost of treatment. In the meantime, know this too shall pass.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’m a man in my late 20s living with my beautiful girlfriend who’s in her late 40s, I’d say overall we have a decent relationship. Except when it comes to sex, she wants it, and I don’t. We’re facing three issues: 1) we don’t share the same kinks, 2) she has …. let’s call it a female area odor problem caused by her prescription, and 3) I’m still dealing with resentment from things that happened earlier in the relationship. I still find her physically GORGEOUS, but the third issue is making it hard for me to find an emotional connection. I feel like we’ve become roommates or siblings more than a boyfriend/girlfriend team, and I don’t mind that but she definitely does.
I’m trying to get her to switch prescriptions because when she went off pills she tasted good, but on the pills, it’s like stale pee lost a fight to a chemical fire. Yikes. The thing is if I bring it up, it starts a fight. And she can only orgasm through oral. So where do we go from here? I’m not satisfied with sex so I’d rather have no sex than bad sex, but that’s not fair to her, and I feel bad just giving her pity sex. I know I’m being selfish, but how do I make this work, I’m already making sure she cums and I don’t.
—Unsatisfied House Husband
I have a big question for you: Can you get over the resentment you’re holding from things that happened earlier in your relationship? If not, the kind thing for you and her is to move on. If you can, get to work on that. Maybe this work looks like therapy for you individually, or for the two of you as a couple. Maybe you sort out your thoughts and feelings with a friend or in a journal. Maybe you can work through them on a walk or in the shower. Your resentment, and the way it’s precluding an emotional connection, seems like the biggest problem.
As for your distaste for the way your girlfriend’s genitals smell, you can look into dental dams and flavored lubricants or oral sex creams—think strong mint. You can also open the windows or burn incense or a candle—go for earthy fragrances over floral. I have a feeling that if you get past the major issue addressed above you’ll have an easier time finding solutions for your aversion to her scent.
Kinks often don’t match up. It’s worth going through a yes/no/maybe list together and looking at where your yums are her OKs and vice versa. Hard limits, also known as “yucks” or “noes” should be respected, but wherever you find wiggle room you can stretch to accommodate each other’s tastes. Good luck.
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I’m a 28-year-old woman who’s been married to my husband for five years now. He is the only sexual partner I’ve ever had (for penetrative sex at least), and I generally enjoy what we do a lot. I just have one issue—an issue I’ve always had, now that I think about it. I hear about women having multiple orgasms, but I find it difficult (and sometimes painful).