How to Do It

My Wife Says She’s Always Been Told She’s Great at Oral Sex. Uh …

I just don’t enjoy it with her.

Man looking off to the side with his hand on his chin and an eggplant floats behind him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Damir Khabirov/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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 have been with my partner for eight years (two of them married). Like most men, I enjoy oral sex, both giving and receiving, but in our relationship, this is very rare (receiving). I have had previous partners who I have really enjoyed getting oral from and from speaking to my partner she has said that before we got together she used to get compliments when she gave oral. The truth is as much as I enjoy receiving oral, I just don’t enjoy it with her. Over the years that we have been together, I give her oral a lot more than she has given me oral. What can I do to approach this subject without upsetting her?

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—Curious Husband

Dear Curious,

I’m not sure I understand what you’re after here. You want more oral sex but you don’t like the way your partner gives it to you? The one-two of “I want more oral, but I also want you to change the way you do it” is a pretty tough combination. Despite this, I think it’s better to address both at the same time. The fact that you’ve been together for eight years and don’t seem to have mentioned wanting your partner to change her tactics means this discussion will probably be a surprise for her. Best to get everything out in the open all at once.

I have some bad news. There’s no way to guarantee that your wife won’t be upset. You can absolutely set yourself up for success by owning your lack of communication with something like, “I didn’t know how to broach this subject with you, so I didn’t, and now I need to express that I want more oral than I’ve been getting and I want it done differently than your usual approach.” Or, “If I’d communicated earlier, I might have been getting the kind of oral I want this whole time.” You’ll also want to have specific suggestions. Do you want more suction? More spit? A stronger squeezing of the shaft? Be prepared to tell her exactly what you’d like her to do.

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As always, choose your time wisely. Do you have enough time to cover the subject and work through any big emotions? Make sure everyone’s biological needs have been taken care of—nobody needs to go to the bathroom, the room is comfortable, and nobody needs to eat. Start by marking your commitment to the relationship and love for her. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

My long-term boyfriend and I plan on having my first threesome soon (FFM, and my idea). I like the idea of pussy swapping back and forth. We have all been tested so general STI concerns aren’t really the issue, but I am concerned about potential yeast/bacterial infection. How worried should I be about this and are there any good ways to prevent it without swapping condoms a hundred times? Thank you for your knowledge.

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—FFM Virgin

Dear FFM,

I applaud your effort to minimize the risks to you and your partners as much as possible. But I also had a hunch that you might be overachieving in that area, so I spoke with Dr. Stacy De-Lin, the Associate Medical Director at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, who indicated that the risk of yeast or bacterial transfer was low.

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“While it is understood that yeast or bacteria could potentially be passed to a sexual partner, it’s fairly uncommon,” she said. “Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis tend to occur when there is an underlying imbalance of healthy vaginal flora, rather than an exposure to a pathogen such as gonorrhea or chlamydia for example, which almost always result in infection after exposure.”

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In my teens, I read a significant amount of sex positive feminist literature, and somewhere along the way I picked up the practice of checking in with my own secretions and scent. We all go into small, private rooms several times a day to pee, and while you’re there you can take a whiff of, and a look at, the gusset of your underwear (or the crotch of your pants if you prefer to go without). Knowing what your body typically smells like and secretes over the course of your cycle helps you notice when something is off, allowing you to catch issues sooner and get them treated. You can apply these same observation skills to the vulvas of other people who you’re about to engage in sexual contact with.

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As for what you’re looking for, Dr. De-Lin shared some specifics: “If anyone in your group is experiencing symptoms of a yeast infection (reddened skin, itching, thick discharge) or bacterial vaginosis (discomfort, greenish discharge, fish-like odors), then sex should be avoided altogether until infections are treated.” So, as long as everyone is healthy, there’s no need to blow through a thousand prophylactics.

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Dear How to Do It,

About a year ago, I started a casual sexual relationship with a 32-year-old man. Our encounters were infrequent and not very good. They most likely only persisted because I hadn’t been with anyone else and he liked the attention and was lonely (he’d been looking for a relationship for a while when we met). A few months ago, I cut off contact because I wanted to experiment with other people, and was able to with one other person, once (it was pleasant but less engaging). A few weeks later, I experienced some major trauma that (among other things) left my face and body noticeably disfigured.

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The accident was a bit overwhelming, and I resumed contact with my initial partner afterward because of the resulting emotional distress. He’s been distant and confusing, and there are many possible reasons, I guess. He’s too far physically right now to have sex, but I do want to sext him again. He’s been reluctant to do this now, which sucks because the accident has made me grow attached to him. I don’t know how to start meeting new people again, though, after all this. I used to look more or less average, but now… this is not the case. How do I overcome this, or explain its cause to others in a way that they might find palatable?

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—I Got Hit By a Car and All I Got Was This Lousy Face

Dear Lousy Face,

I don’t think returning to a relationship that neither of you was really into is what you need right now. Better options for support are friends, family, or a therapist. If you have all of these, awesome. Reach out to your network and tell them you need some care. If you’ve got one or two of these options, reach out to them and work on completing the set. And if you don’t have any of these, start by putting your effort into whichever of the three seems easiest to build. You might have reasons to avoid reconnecting with family or have economic barriers—even with lower-cost telehealth services—to accessing mental health care. If that’s the case, rekindling friendships may be the way forward.

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Focus on you for now. Despite what early 2000s chick-lit might suggest, it is highly unlikely that someone is going to bang you into feeling better in any significant way. You sound like you’re reeling, for very rational reasons. Get your feet back under you before you dive into the gauntlet that is modern dating. Get strong before you open yourself up to a string of strangers.

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When you’re ready, it’s worth taking a look at this video GoAskAlex created for one of my projects a couple of years ago. We put it on Youtube for free. She talks about disclosing disability, but I think a lot of what she has to say applies to your own disclosures. The main takeaway is that the more factual and confident you can be when you talk about your situation, the more likely people are to accept it. I can tell you from personal experience, though, that any atypical detail about you—examples from my life include a former career as an adult performer, and my diagnoses of PMDD and PTSD—is going to bring questions. You’ll want to brace for those. If you find talking about the accident unsettling, you’ll want to prepare simple lines that communicate boundaries around giving details. Once you’re out there dating, if you’re feeling exhausted by repeating the same questions and answers with new person after new person, take a break or come up with a sentence that expresses your desire to talk about something else, and have a new subject ready to suggest.

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And if all you want is sexting, there are forums and subreddits where you can find willing sexting partners without ever trading pictures. I think you’ll get through this with the right support.

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Dear How to Do It,

What is the etiquette for using the same sex toys with different partners? Is it normal to just keep using the ones that you have been using or are you supposed to replace them every time you start seeing a new person? If that is the case, what does that mean in a hookup setting versus an extended relationship? Should I assume that something like this has been given a test drive, if my partner introduces me? If I use them myself, do I also need to bring that up?

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As a queer lady, toys have become a pretty big part of sex for me, but I just don’t know if I need to throw my whole dick out every time I meet someone new. It feels kinda like a waste of money to replace these things mostly with the same model, but I also get the feeling that it would be uncomfortable for someone because I also get personally attached to toys I like. What about this merits a conversation every time and what parts can I assume I know the answer to? And of course, what is the best way to bring this stuff up? Before, during, and after all seem like pretty bad times to discuss this, for different reasons.

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—To Penis or Not to Penis

Dear to Penis,

We don’t really have a consensus on etiquette for sex toys. Each person is going to have their preferences, and each community will have its norms. Even within the United States, different regions, subcultures, and class strata have different sets of standards regarding behavior. “Manners” is a mutable concept. Like all things, especially in the realm of sexuality, you have to figure out what feels right for you while considering the default assumptions in your local scene. More importantly than any social norms are your own boundaries—are you comfortable having a toy that was used on someone else used on you? And the boundaries of your partners—what are they comfortable with? Now, I do have some thoughts of my own.

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Cuffs, rope, blindfolds, and striking implements seem like a less sensitive category to me. Rope and blindfolds can be machine washed (use a lingerie bag for best results) and cuffs and striking implements can be easily sterilized with alcohol. Dildos, butt plugs, and vibrators might feel a little more personal. Use a condom or stick to insertables and vibes that can be boiled or thrown in the dishwasher.

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Have the discussion beforehand, sometime after it has been established that you’re heading toward sexual interaction but before they’ve made contact with the toy or implement in question. You might ask “Do you have any thoughts about the etiquette of using sex toys with different partners?” Or you might directly state: “These are the cuffs/dildo/magic wand I use on everyone. Are you comfortable with that?” It all depends on whether you’d like to have a philosophical conversation or proceed directly to informed consent. When it’s someone else’s collection, ask! “I’m curious—do you use these on everyone?” In the same way that safer sex conversations about barriers and testing get less awkward over time, you’ll develop practice and comfort with this subject.

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I keep coming back to one sentence. “I just don’t know if I need to throw my whole dick out every time I meet someone new.” My gut says “NO” to that specific idea. It’s your dick. I’m pretty attached to my dick. It’s “mine” in a way that the rest of my dildo collection isn’t. Those can come and go. My dick, though, the one I feel at home with, that’s mine. That’d feel like getting my whole pussy resurfaced between lovers.

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Lastly, all negotiations can be revisited. If you get attached to a particular toy of your lover’s, or if they get particularly attached to one of yours, you can absolutely have another conversation and decide whether to reserve that object for single use.

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—Stoya

More Advice From Slate

I have been happily married for 17 years, with two children ages 12 and 13. My husband and I have always had a very active and satisfying sex life. With the exception of a few illnesses and when I was in the hospital giving birth, we have had sex at least once a day in the 20 years we’ve been together. Spontaneity and creativity were always a big part of that, but we had to cut down on the spontaneity when the kids came along. Once they were old enough for sleep-away camp, we initiated “Sizzling Summer Sex”—eight weeks where we went at it anytime, anywhere, as loud as we wanted.

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