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 a recently divorced woman with two daughters. I have been working hard to have a fit body, so I was eager to try out my cute new bikini when I took my daughters to the pool. The problem (at least for some people) is that I am blessed with what is apparently called a “happy trail”: a thin line of dark hair going from my belly button to my bikini line. In the past, I have shaved it, but this time I figured I should hold onto this minor vestige of bodily autonomy. One of the other moms took me aside, pointed at my tummy, and told me I was being “enticing.” I half-jokingly told her I was very proud of my flat stomach and glad that someone noticed. She said that I was neglecting basic grooming. Am I in the wrong here?
—Happy About My Trail
Wow. WOW. My veins are coursing with the vehement belief that you are in the right. Titty tassels are “enticing.” Your hair? The hair that grows there without your permission or invitation? That’s nature. Hurricanes are going to smash into the coastline, and hair is going to sprout where it pleases.
Around the turn of the 20th century, companies like Gillette began marketing their products to women. They used language like “embarrassment,” framing body hair on women as something undesirable and unsightly. Class and race were factors in this framing, and eugenics reared its ugly head. Rebecca M. Herzig’s Plucked gives a whole book’s worth of context if you’d like to read up.
Whether you want to deliver a lecture with cited sources or not is up to you, but it might help you to know this history. If the nosy mom at the pool brings it up again, you might say that you can’t be bothered to remove it, or that you’re avoiding razor burn. Whatever is true for you, and that you feel comfortable voicing.
I want to leave you with a couple of hairy role models. Astrologist and DJ Manuka Honey wears her luscious body hair with pride. Writer and performance artist Alok V Menon does the same with theirs. Alok’s Instagram page is full of book reports on subjects like gender, race, and, yes, hair. Their page is where I found Herzig’s book, and also Dr. Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards, which talks about the beautiful female mustaches during the Qajar Dynasty, before delving into Iranian sexuality in the 19th century. Lastly, the song Hair from the 1967 musical Hair isn’t exactly about body hair… But it does feel pretty good to belt out.
Dear How to Do It,
My partner (early 40s) has always smoked a little weed before sex for reasons and recently started taking the little blue pills. Initially, the increased stamina and size were great but he’s recently started taking an anti-depressant (yay mental health!) and that’s led to an inability for him to finish or it takes forevvver (like more than an hour) and neither of us has the conditioning for that. I don’t think he sees this as anything negative and I enjoy the occasional longer sex session but sometimes a gal’s gotta work in the morning. Should he lay off the weed before sex? Is there a toy we can incorporate? Or is this strictly a conversation for his medical team? I’ve tried Googling it but I can only find tips to make your man last longer which my vagina does not want.
—Can I Take the Express to Pound Town?
You don’t think your partner sees his newly expanded stamina as an issue, and it does seem to be an issue for you. So, the first step is to communicate that to him. This can be simple: “Sometimes I really enjoy how much longer you last lately, and other times I want a quickie because time is limited and sleep is important to me.” Maybe you alternate these marathon sessions with shorter sexual interactions where you both know he won’t orgasm.
As for whether cannabis is the culprit, I reached out to Ashley Manta, award-winning creator of CannaSexual® and author of Merry Jane’s The CBD Solution: Sex, who says, “If anything, weed is probably helping to speed up the process by making him more sensitive and present in his body, which tends to be more conducive to orgasm. Even so, less is more with penis owners and THC, so perhaps reduce the amount slightly (a couple of puffs vs. an entire joint) and see if that makes a difference one way or the other.”
There are absolutely toys that you can try. Some people with prostates like to have vibrations on their taint, shaft, or head. Some like to have an anal plug inserted—make sure the flange is wide enough to prevent the toy from going on an adventure through his intestines—or even moved back and forth. You also might try getting psychological about it by creating fantasies together, playing with power exchange, or otherwise engaging with his mind as a sexual organ. Ashley has some tips of her own for this, too. “Your partner’s orgasm doesn’t have to be the point where sex ends. You can stop whenever you’re ready to be done, and your partner has the option of either not having an orgasm or using a stroker like a Fleshlight or a cool air-pulse penis toy like the Arcwave Ion to get himself off while you cheer him on from the sidelines. Maybe provide some encouraging dirty talk, if the muse descends.”
Definitely do encourage your partner to speak with his medical team. Ultimately, it may be best for him to remain on this particular medication, but it’s worth asking about his options. Good luck.
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Dear How to Do It,
My wife and I met in college, have been together for 33 years and married for 30. We have had a wonderful sex life during our relationship. Trying new things and being adventurous has always been part of the mix. And the frequency still kept up to a level we both were satisfied with. Until about a year ago when it just…stopped. And really I don’t know why.
I would like to talk with my wife about this but I don’t know how. We have literally never talked about sex outside of the questions (“Want a quickie?”) or comments (“That feels good”) around the act itself. We just started doing it 33 years ago and have gone on from there. But the last thing I want to do is to make her feel guilty or obligated. And I most certainly don’t want to leave her feeling that I want a “hall pass” or to open up our marriage.
But I don’t even know how to start this conversation without hurting her feelings.
—A Conversation Starter?
Dear Conversation Starter,
Based on my crude math: 18, the youngest your wife was likely to have been when you met, plus 33, is 51. That’s the exact average age that women in the United States begin menopause. Menopause causes all kinds of shifts, including in libido. Changes in hormone balance can affect vaginal and vulvar tissue, making sex a painful proposition. Since the two of you don’t have deep discussions about sex, I’m wondering if she would have told you about the onset of any menopause symptoms. I think the first conversation you need to have is about how she’s feeling in her body. Ask her what’s going on with her. Then listen.
If my suspicion is correct, I’m thrilled to recommend Dr. Jen Gunter’s The Menopause Manifesto for you, your wife, or the two of you to read together. Gunter does a fantastic job of explaining what can happen during menopause and many options for mitigating unpleasant symptoms.
Regardless of whether menopause is the cause of the change in your sexual interactions, you absolutely should express your confusion and feelings about missing that connection. I assume that after 33 years together, you’ve got a ton of experience talking with your wife about nonsexual issues. Draw on that knowledge. What does she need to be comfortable in an emotionally charged conversation? How can you best reassure her? Set yourself up for success by making sure you’ve both got enough time and energy, and that everyone’s biological needs are sufficiently sated before beginning.
This might be an opportunity to rethink what sex is for the two of you. Another book that might be useful is Dr. Ian Kerner’s So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex. Once you’ve got the conversation rolling, you might ask your wife to collaborate with you on figuring out ways you can connect physically that work for where the two of you are in life now.
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Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have been married for 14 years. We have a number of issues surrounding sex that we should probably get help with. But I’m afraid that if we contact a professional, I will start to conflate that person and my experiences with them, and our monogamous sex life. I have deep emotions and am known to develop crushes easily. I also have very limited sexual experiences aside from my husband. But I’m committed to this relationship. I want to make it work. I just don’t know if the cure will be worse than the disease.
—Need Help Getting Help
Dear Need Help,
Transference, the term for projection of feelings between client and therapist, is a well-known phenomenon in psychotherapy. It isn’t necessarily bad, or necessarily good, but it does tend to happen. A therapist friend of mine explained that transference is fueled by empathy, and happens outside of clinical contexts, too. The good news is that therapists are aware of this possibility and have ways to work with it, or even use it to help the process of therapy.
Choosing a therapist involves a couple of opportunities to interview your potential practitioner. When you call to schedule the initial appointment, it is acceptable to ask a few questions, such as what their experience is with the kind of issue you’re having and how they deal with transference. The initial appointment is another opportunity to see how you and the therapist you’re meeting with get along, and to ask for more detail about this aspect of therapy that’s giving you pause. If you feel heard and understood, and your fears are sufficiently addressed, great! If you don’t, you can move along to the next person on the list.
It’s also worth having a talk with your husband about your concerns. It sounds like you’d be embarking on this journey together, and he’s known you for about a decade and a half. He might be able to offer you insight or support.
Lastly, if you decide that therapy isn’t an option right now, you might turn to books like Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are or Ian Kerner’s So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex as guides. Read the books together, or highlight passages to share with each other. Good luck.
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How intense are men’s orgasms? My husband just told me that he’s only seen stars, so to speak, a few times in his life. Most of the time, yeah, it feels nice in the genitals, but isn’t earth-shaking, whole-body tremors. We have a good sex life, and he’s vocal about his enjoyment (or stops making comments, which tells me what I’m doing really feels good to him). Is this nice-but-not-over-the-moon orgasm a normal reaction from a certain segment of men?