How to Do It

My Girlfriend Is Taking Away My Bodily Autonomy by Making Me Wear a Condom

We’re enjoying sex way less.

Man looking disappointed with a condom next to him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

Since the Dobbs ruling, my partner has been justifiably outraged and upset, as have I. We are fortunate enough to live in one of the most liberal states in the nation, and abortion rights are not currently threatened here.

Just after the ruling, my partner and I had a discussion about our birth control options—she is not currently on any form of birth control, and I am not either. She has a condition that makes getting pregnant extremely unlikely for her, so we use a combination of condoms and pulling out.

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Until recently, we would begin intercourse without condoms, and then I would either put one on before finishing or I would pull out. We have had a great sex life, and no pregnancy scares. Since the ruling, though, my partner decided that she wants me to wear a condom every time we have sex for the entire duration of the sex. I will pause here to say that because she is the partner who is capable of getting pregnant, she unambiguously gets to unilaterally decide what type of birth control is acceptable to her. I have told her that as soon as non-surgical male birth control options become available, I will try them, and I am excited to, but those are still possibly years off. She has also urged me to get a vasectomy many times, which I’ve repeatedly told her I’m quite uncomfortable with.

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This change has greatly damaged our sex life. After years of having incredible sex, I’ve been struggling to switch back to using condoms this way, and we have both been enjoying sex significantly less, partly because I often lose my erection when I’m wearing a condom. I feel that this is her way of trying to make me understand how it feels to have bodily autonomy taken away by someone else.

In having these thoughts, I can’t help but feel monstrous for thinking so much about my own pleasure. Nonetheless, we have not had enjoyable sex in weeks, when we used to have it almost every day, and I fear this is eroding at our relationship. Can I talk to her about my wishes to use a condom less, or would that be extremely insensitive, and should I just adapt to this new, less satisfying sex life?

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—Struggling With Condoms

Dear Struggling,

Firstly, you’re not a monster. You’re allowed to crave and pursue pleasure on your terms, and you’re allowed to feel bad for people who have lost freedoms and the ability to have sex on their terms as a result of our politicized Supreme Court. Multiple things can be true at the same time. Here, they in fact are.

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I think a conversation about sexual dissatisfaction with a compassionate partner is a reasonable thing to have, provided you approach with the right tone and timing. If you want to set yourself up for success, though, you’ll try a little harder before pushing back on her request.

Different condoms yield different sensations, so you can try different sizes, levels of thinness, and materials (there’s latex, lambskin, and plastic) before deciding these aren’t for you. You can also take an ED med before sex—you might not think you “need” boner pills and maybe you don’t technically, but some assistance could be useful for staying hard (even if it’s largely psychological and what keeps you hard is the lack of anxiety over going soft that a pill can foster). You have every right to refuse a vasectomy but I’m curious about why. There is, after all, a chance of reversal should you change your mind (the likelihood depends on how far out you are from the original procedure). Your vas deferens, your choice, but if you have a vague notion of discomfort regarding undergoing the procedure, you might want to work through that at least to something more concrete. It’ll give you a better leg to stand on in a conversation, at any rate.

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Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I have a child in the early years of elementary school. Prior to the birth of our kid, we had a fairly reliable formula for getting us both off—we’d do foreplay until everyone was nice and warmed up, and then move on to a few positions culminating with her on top, leaving me with one hand free to stimulate her clit while I used the other to help us grind back and forth so that my penis could stimulate her g-spot. Her orgasms have always been somewhat labor-intensive—the final act used to take up to 10 minutes of grinding—but it worked for both of us at the time.

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Since we had a kid (via vaginal delivery), it seems like her G-spot has moved. The old formula doesn’t really work for her anymore. Her preferred way to have sex is now with her prone, her legs held tightly together, with me going fast and hard behind her. The downside of that position is virtually guaranteed to make me cum in about 30 seconds flat due to the additional depth and friction, and usually faster if it’s been a couple of weeks since our last session. I just can’t last long enough to give her the stimulation she needs in that position, and I don’t have the refractory period of a 17-year-old anymore.

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I’d happily go down on her for hours if that was what it took, but she says that she really needs the penetration to get over the edge. It’s gotten to the point of frustration for us both (this has been going on for years!) and I really, really want to avoid a vicious circle where we both avoid intimacy to save her from the frustration. Do you have any practical advice to help me last longer when railing her like she wants to be railed?

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—Willing to Try Anything

Dear Willing,

Before we get to the practical advice, I wanted a bit of background on what might be going on with your wife’s sexual response as a result of childbirth. I sent your letter to Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, the division chief of behavioral medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center’s department of OB-GYN, and she responded via email:

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“Vaginal deliveries are physically demanding. Consider that a woman’s pelvis has bones and ligaments that move and stretch as a baby travels into the birth canal. Pregnancy and vaginal delivery can damage the pelvic floor muscles, all of which can then interrupt a previously successful ‘formula’ for achieving orgasm. Many women and couples need to alter their previously reliable forms of stimulation.”

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And so, it seems, that’s where you’re at. I think you could approach this as one might any generic premature ejaculation situation. There are a bunch of tips in this past HTDI column, including numbing sprays and a low dose of SSRIs. You could look into kegel training, which some guys report helps them last. In her email, Kingsberg recommended your wife see a “pelvic floor physical therapist (PFPT) to evaluate her pelvic floor muscles and help strengthen them.” Also:

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“The couple can try an internal vibrator while she is in the prone position to see if that is pleasurable for her and could be used prior to her husband inserting his penis to take the performance pressure off him since he cannot last the length of time she needs. But he could be in her vaginally when she is close to reaching orgasm.”

So, there’s lots to try. Get to it.

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Dear How to Do It,

Where to start? I (35M) have a pregnancy/birth fetish and my wife does not but she is fine with it; we’ve been together for 12 years. Over the years I’ve let more and more about my fetish come out and to date, there really isn’t anything she doesn’t know, including that I like to write pregnancy erotica stories online. The fact I hadn’t shared everything at the beginning of our relationship has been a problem for her before but she says she knows there is shame and embarrassment and it wasn’t that I wanted to hide things from her, just that it was hard to share.

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A year or so ago, during her third pregnancy, we both thought it would be fun to chat with the fetish community and she was on board for a while but then just kind of dropped off from lack of interest. I, on the other hand, stayed talking with that community and enjoy being able to connect with like-minded people about it. Later on, I got into role-playing and I admit it was not OK for me to do it without telling her first so she was understandably upset. I stopped everything immediately and deleted accounts. The conversations that followed were always about why I hadn’t asked her to do role-playing or engage with her about my fetish. I use the example of someone with cancer needing a support group to understand what they’re going through; that person wouldn’t seek out someone that’s never had cancer. She says she understands the difference but her actions and feelings say otherwise.

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I know this is hard for her to get over but at the same time I feel like being able to write and chat about my niche sexual fetish is healthy for me and if it were to stop because she doesn’t like it… I can already feel the resentment settling in. I wouldn’t do role-playing again, I completely see how that was wrong, but for the rest how do I help her understand it’s not about dissatisfaction with her while being able to exercise my sexuality?

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—Kink Versus Wife

Dear Kink Versus Wife,

You’ve done just about everything you can to help her understand the draw for you here. That she “understands” the difference between you wanting to engage fellow kinky people and someone like herself, who isn’t nearly as into pregnancy kink, but acts and feels in a way that betrays such understanding is actually not a contradiction. Intellect exists in one realm, emotions comprise another. These things sometimes align, but it’s hardly surprising when they don’t because feelings aren’t rational. I think people can work through instances of such discord and arrive at acceptance, but that requires the drive to do so and considerable effort.

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Your wife may simply not be motivated. She may never come to peace with what you’re into/the way you like to express it. You must face that possibility and determine how you would like to deal with it—is that a dealbreaker? Is staying with your wife worth forgoing your kink? If it is fact a dealbreaker, don’t be too hard on yourself about it. Sexual incompatibility is what it is—that’s what’s frustrating about it, but it also makes it very difficult to counter. Openness, including the digital kind you have taken upon yourself to adopt, is one way to negotiate that kind of incompatibility, but all parties have to sign off in order for it to work ethically for any sustained period of time.

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It seems like you have your mind made up already. You write: “I feel like being able to write and chat about my niche sexual fetish is healthy for me and if it were to stop because she doesn’t like it…I can already feel the resentment settling in.” I don’t think you have to ask yourself if you want to live with that kind of resentment.

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Convincing her to be OK with your online activity is further complicated by you surprising her multiple times with your kink/acting on it. It seems clear that she felt betrayed. This is already a sore spot. Any conversations on the subject moving forward you come to with deficit of trust. Time can rebuild that, though it’s hardly certain if it will. I think you either have to prove that you’re really in it for the long haul by not engaging in your kink/bringing it up for a while (a minimum of six months). Or have the hard conversation. If she understands that being denied entirely will make you seriously rethink the relationship, it may put things into perspective for her and she may adjust accordingly. She may also decide this is not the relationship for her. I don’t believe any of this will be easy, but I wish you luck.

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Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 35-year-old man who ejected out of an unsatisfying career and years-long depression about a year ago to be a full-time bicycle/van life hobo. A few years ago I had a very traumatic breakup that I allowed to destroy my confidence and zap my mojo with women. The last year has been incredibly transformative and allowed me to effectively date myself. I’m in the best place I have been in years.

People don’t write to sages like How to Do It with success tales, so here’s the rub. I’ve always been securely polyamorous for the entirety of my adult life. In my travels, I recently found myself in a long-distance situationship with a girl and after two months of talking decided to visit her for a week. I definitely caught feels.

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This girl is a true submissive—like is only comfortable feeling love through degradation and obedience in these caring, but brutal, one or two-day visits with her multiple doms. However, during my visit, which was very girlfriend/boyfriendesque she became anxious and uncomfortable with her feelings for me and I left early so that we could process on our own.

We spoke at length and with an uncommon maturity and have agreed that we want each other in our lives, but are unsure how to deal with the friction that exists between us. I don’t fully understand her love style or how she can be so scared of feelings which to me are so thoroughly positive. I wonder what kind of insight you most knowledgeable of kinksters can shed on this situation.

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—Ready to Love

Dear Ready,

First, I think you should approach the situation with caution. Catching feelings can distort perception, especially so early on before you actually know someone. You really want this to work, so you’re more likely to take explanations at face value, and not everyone is straightforward and honest, particularly to people they just met. This woman has a lot going on. She’s not necessarily a liar, but she’s also not necessarily telling the full story. Vagueness is a cause for pause.

Some skepticism could brace you for a worst-case scenario, but it’s also worth evaluating your sub’s words in good faith. I sent your note to Dr. Richard Sprott, kink researcher, professor at California State University, East Bay, and director/founder of the non-profit The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance. Via email, Sprott pointed out that “the kink relationship structure puts boundaries and guard rails around” relationship issues like strong emotions or getting too close to people. For someone with anxiety about these things, kink may help organize those feelings, and that may be, in fact, something that draws a person to it.

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Sprott continued:

“There is also the relatively common myth that ‘love’ is somehow incompatible with a power exchange dynamic, since the overwhelmingly dominant understanding of ‘love’ (pun intended) is that it needs or can only legitimately happen between romantic partners of equal power status, only in egalitarian relationships rather than negotiated hierarchical power exchange relationships. So if I’m a submissive, and I start to feel a strong romantic love impulse, does that mean I don’t want to be submissive anymore? And that can set up an internal conflict within a person, who is holding both the desire for submission and the desire for love.

If the visit was ‘very girlfriend/boyfriendesque,’ I’m guessing that means any power exchange protocols or activities were at a minimum. Or ‘vanilla creep’ had already started, which would not be a direction she wants to go in. The confusing messages about power exchange and love leaves everyone to try to figure out for themselves: ’How do I feel this romantic love AND maintain and enhance our hierarchical power structure?’ It means often really unearthing our unconscious assumptions about how both love and power work.”

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Naturally, that unearthing is work that your love interest must do herself, if she is so inclined. But you wondered “how she can be so scared of feelings which to me are so thoroughly positive,” so Sprott posits, at least, a theory.

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I also reached out to certified sex therapist Shadeen Francis, who counsels on kink among things. She applauded you for slowing down and giving each other space, and offered a list of questions to ask yourself. Depending on the answers, they could also work as prompts for future conversations/actions with this partner:

“How have the two of you talked about and negotiated your sexual roles or romantic desires? What is it that you want or need from a partner? How have you shared that with her so far, and what was her response? Do you consider yourself a kinkster of any flavor? If not, are you curious or open to learning and playing? Are you comfortable with the kind of submission that she is interested in? Do you take pleasure in leading or guiding a willing partner sexually, or otherwise? How is your command voice, your ability to hold folks accountable to their agreements, your follow-through on agreed upon consequences or discipline, your skillfulness in boundary-honoring degradation, your tenderness in aftercare and promptness with reward? If not, is she open to exploring a different sort of relationship than the ones she currently has with her other partners? Your situationship is still newly emerging, so if you haven’t yet asked these sorts of questions, that’s OK! The friction is a sign that there is more to learn. It sounds like your meeting has inspired some more introspection and conversation from both of you which is a very good thing!”

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—Rich

More Advice From Slate

Recently, my husband and I accidentally attended a burlesque show. We knew there would be a few burlesque performances, but the advertisements suggested more of a variety show. Of the 10 performances, only two didn’t involve a striptease. My husband offered to leave after it became clear that the remaining show was only going to be stripteases, but I was enjoying myself, so we stayed. I was a little surprised to realize at this point that during the performances he was closing his eyes and listening to the music, but whatever. It wasn’t until we left that I realized how far apart we were in our experiences.

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