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 need advice on how to broach the subject of opening the relationship. My boyfriend tore some cartilage in his chest in a sporting accident. His life isn’t in danger, but it’s hard for him to move and he has pain in his chest if he breathes too hard. The doctors say it will take him about six to eight months to heal. We tried to have sex post-injury twice, and it went badly. He can’t really get going without screaming in pain and having to stop.
I don’t want my sex life to be on hold until he heals, but I also don’t think he’ll take it well if I tell him I want to sleep with other people until he’s functional again. What is the best way to go about bringing this up so he understands my position?
—Don’t Want to Wait
Dear Don’t Want to Wait,
The only context in which opening up right now is a good idea is if your boyfriend is the person broaching the subject. And, even then, only if he seems genuinely into the idea, as opposed to suggesting it out of fear of losing you altogether.
Is masturbation an option for you? If so, there’s a whole world full of sex toys that provide various sorts of stimulation, and an internet full of different types of erotic and pornographic media. The world is your solo sex oyster.
And, if you really can’t wait six months for your boyfriend to heal up, it’s a good time to ask yourself why you’re in that relationship in the first place. Why are you prioritizing sexual interaction over his feelings when he’s already suffering? What do you appreciate about him aside from sex? It might be that you simply aren’t that into him, and if that’s the case, the kind thing is to move on.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight, divorced, 44-year-old woman with two daughters. The marriage ended a few years ago, after years of sexual frustration and what felt like rejection. (There were also some health issues and children with special needs.) Then I found an incredible lover and was sexually reborn! It was completely satisfying for three years until his complete lack of character was more than I could ignore. Still miss that sex, though.
My ex-husband says he would like to get back together. My daughters want this as well. He has repeatedly invited me to move back in, but there have been no romantic overtures. We have slept next to each other in the same bed; he has even seen me naked. Nothing happens. He is generous and supportive in every other (non-sexual) way. Could he be gay?
Since the divorce, I have been with about 10 different men. He has had one relationship, but I know they never slept together. Am I crazy to consider going back for the sake of an intact family? Am I even capable now of being the faithful wife (I once was) a second time around? Or do I hold out for someone else who checks all the boxes? He is a wonderful person and father, but I’m afraid that I will end up back at square one.
—Exes and Ohs
I’m stuck on your question of whether your ex-husband could be gay, so let’s deal with that first. He might not be sexually attracted to anyone (otherwise known as being on the asexuality spectrum, or Ace) he might not be attracted to your gender presentation or genital configuration, and he might not be sexually attracted to you, specifically. I imagine it’s easier to frame your ex-husband’s extremely low level of sexual interest in you as something to do with his preferences. The reality, however, is that this might be personal.
Have a conversation with your ex about the years of sexual frustration you experienced and your fears that you’ll end up in a sexless marriage again and struggle to be faithful. He may not want you to be faithful! He might get off on you having other relationships that are sexual. He might know he’s not a very sexual person and be happy for you to sate your appetites elsewhere. You don’t know until you ask. Tell him your position and fears, and ask him for his thoughts, reactions, and ideas.
Before you go into this talk, though, spend some time thinking about what your boundaries and needs are. Make an actual list. Also, write down your answers to these questions: What do you need to be happy? What relationship structures do you think you’d be comfortable with? What does an intact family mean to you? What percentage of boxes need to be checked for you to be satisfied? Does a single person need to check all of them, or can you have some checked by one person and the rest checked by another?
If you’ve got a trusted friend you can discuss these things with, ask them for a Big Talk. And when it’s time to broach the subject with your husband, pick your time wisely. Is everyone as comfortable as possible? Do you have enough time with low risk of interruption? Does anyone need food, water, or a pillow? Good luck.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’m struggling to navigate the libido of my girlfriend of almost five years. For most of the time we’ve been going out, apart from the very beginning, I feel like I’m walking a bit of a tight rope. I’m either not being forward enough, which is a turn-off for her, or coming on too strong, which is also a turn-off. We have the best communication of any relationship I’ve ever been in but it still can feel like threading the needle because even the wrong word may flip things one way or the other.
Although we talk about this, I wonder if there are other ways to bring this up that won’t come off accusatory or shaming. Things have been exacerbated recently with us both working more so we don’t have as much time as before to experiment. I’m getting to the point where I wonder if, even though we turn each other on, it should be this hard—should she be with a different partner? She has been out as bi her whole adult life but hasn’t had much of a chance to explore.
—Losing Out On Love
When you express that you’re thinking about whether there are other ways to broach this subject that won’t be accusatory, I’m wondering if that’s in reaction to your girlfriend’s feedback after these conversations or a worry you’re having. If your girlfriend has expressed that she feels accused or shamed, that’s something to focus your energy on. Working off the assumption that the two of you have great communication, I think you’re set up to handle this successfully. I’d need to know more detail about what you’ve said and what of that is problematic for her to be of any real help. If this concern is all coming from you, do you have any reason to believe your girlfriend wouldn’t let you know if something you said hurt her?
You’re also wondering if your partner should be with a different partner, but what about you? What do you want your sex life to look like? What do you need as far as flirting and foreplay? How much navigation are you willing to engage in, what makes that navigation worth the energy for you, and are you getting whatever that is? Spend some time with a trusted friend, journal, your own thoughts, or a therapist, and answer these questions. Then take stock of your relationship. Figure out where the gaps are, and decide if this relationship is enough for you.
You might also consider opening things up. She’d have opportunities to explore her bisexuality. You’d have the ability to have sex outside of this tight-rope act. It’s possible that your relationship to each other would be expanded or improved by other relationships. And, if you decide to break up, there’s room to stay friends and still be in each other’s lives in a significant way. The two of you have tons of options.
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Dear How to Do It,
I am dating the most amazing guy, and we are rapidly moving toward the point where we want to be sexually intimate with each other. I am SO excited about this, but I have some worries about the physicality of having sex together.
I’m a fairly small woman (5 feet and 4 inches tall, average build) and my partner is quite large (6 feet and 2 inches tall and fairly overweight). From my previous experiences, I also know that I’m pretty picky about positions—I find any position where my thighs are perpendicular to my torso (e.g. doggy style, cowgirl) to be incredibly uncomfortable and not pleasurable at all. (I should note that so far I’ve only slept with people closer to my size in height.) I’m generally happiest just sticking to missionary, but do I have to worry about getting swamped underneath him due to our difference in stature?
In addition to all this, my partner is a virgin and I know he feels self-conscious about his body and lack of experience—so I really want to do everything I can to make sure this goes well! I want to go into this with an arsenal of things to try so that if one approach doesn’t work for us, we can move on and try something else without making him feel guilty for my pickiness or for any difficulties that arise from our size difference. Do you have any advice on positions or techniques to try or just general advice for how to navigate this?
—Not Used to Being the More Experienced One
Dear Not Used to Being Experienced,
I think you’re already worried and that’s OK. Worries happen. In missionary, the penetrating partner is usually holding themselves up with a combination of their upper body and core. I know that your guy is tall and larger than you, but neither of those facts tells me anything about the strength of his muscles in those areas. If he’s got strong muscles, you’re unlikely to experience the pressure of his full weight. Some men do sort of collapse during or immediately after orgasm, and if that’s the case for him you’ll want to move to a different position just before he climaxes.
Kissing may prove difficult because of your height difference, meaning he may have to crane his neck while you stretch yours, or even be unable to touch mouths during penetration at all. If that’s the case, alternate penetration with kissing as you please.
As for positions, I’m wondering if sitting in his lap with both of you upright is more comfortable than cowgirl or doggy since you can wrap your legs around his hips. And there are endless variations of spooning—both of you on your sides, your back towards his chest, like a pair of spoons in the cutlery drawer—that you might find enjoyable. Spoon up, insert his penis, and start changing the angles of your torso and legs while he gently thrusts until you find a spot that feels great. There’s also a whole world of sexual activity outside of penetration that the two of you can explore.
I hear you doing your best to avoid shaming your dude, but I’m also picking up on something that might be a point of shame for you—what you describe as your “pickiness” about positions. What you like is what you like, and what you need to enjoy sex is what you need. Picky is, “We can only bone during a Venus retrograde while you wear the exact right shade of blue cockring and our bodies are oriented along the Earth’s axis, after you’ve hand fed me precisely 42 blueberries” and even that level of specificity is ultimately someone’s turn-on. Sex is about coming together, and the focus should be balanced between his needs and yours.
Have a talk about your nerves, his nerves, and do your best to dispel any pressure to make this the Best Night of Your Lives. If it’s awkward once you’re in it, mark that, laugh about it if mirth feels appropriate, and talk about what can be changed. I think you’ve got this.
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