How to Do It

I Think My Sexual History Might Be … Too Intense for Future Partners

I’ve become obsessed with it.

Woman looking back at a large tally.
Photo illustration/animation by Slate. Photo by 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 feel like I need some sex-positive advice to help with a personal problem I’ve encountered recently. I am a cis female in my early 20s and have been sexually active for several years in high school and college. I’ve had about as many partners as my age by this point—some one-night stands, some casual relationships, some long-term relationships. When I talk to my friends, I have learned that I’ve had sex with more people than all of them.

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I’m about to move cities and begin afresh in a new dating pool, and I definitely want to be having sex with new people when I move. Yet when I think about dating new people in my new city, I have nervousness about making my body count higher—even though I love to meet and have sex with new people! I know body count is generally a fake concept and it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, but it’s hard to square that with this obsession I’ve gained. I’m also worried that within the next long-term relationship I enter, my partner will be turned off by how many people I’ve had sex with in the past. Is this just misogyny and slut-shaming at its worst? I miss the version of myself who was a proud slut and wanted to increase the number.

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—Shameful Slut

Dear Shameful,

Slate did what can be considered a “body count percentile calculator” back in 2015, and, while it isn’t perfect—it’s based around a binary gender category, which I assume is due to the datasets that were available—it’s still online. I guessed that you’re 23, and have had 23 partners. I ran those numbers through the widget, and, if they’re accurate, you’re in the 97th percentile. Then I ran my data—I max out the chart. So, you’ve had sex with more people than all of your current friends, and most of the people surveyed in the study Slate used for the calculator, but not more than me, or my nesting partner, or several of my friends.

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I don’t think you should limit your social circle solely to people who are as sexually open as you are, but I do think you’d do well to develop friendships with some people who are equally sexually active or even more so. Looking back, I found these people in my own life by being open about my own sexuality, and by entering spaces that tend to attract people who have a lot of sex. For me, that was BDSM clubs, friend groups full of sex-positive women, apps like Feeld, and, of course, the sex industries. Jobs that fall under the broad category of sexual and erotic labor are a very personal choice, and I’m not trying to steer you in that direction, but I thought it would be a glaring omission if I neglected to mention that aspect of my lived experience. Whether the context was professional or recreational—and those categories often blur—I was able to derive comfort and camaraderie from being in conversation with people who share the same sexual values.

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As for long-term relationships, do you want to be with someone who is turned off by how you’ve expressed your sexual desires? It’s important to find partners whose values align with ours on the big stuff, like what sex positivity means. And in order to evaluate whether there’s a match, we have to understand our own position. This brings us to the core issue: How do you sort out what’s you and your beliefs, and what’s internalized misogyny or other social norms that you don’t agree with? You don’t mention whether your friends in the city you’re living in now judged you when you discussed your number of sexual partners—if they didn’t, they might make great conversation partners and sounding boards for this subject. If they did, see the previous paragraph and find some people you can have an open discussion with.

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Therapy is another route. You can look for phrases like “sex positive” in a potential therapist’s bio, or search AASECT’s referral directory. If you decide to use the directory, I’d look for keywords about polyamory, BDSM, or similar topics over providers who specialize in, say, sexual dysfunction or pelvic pain. And, if you’re a solo thinker, journaling, taking a shower, or going for a walk might help you get your brain going. Sit with your uncomfortable feelings and invite further detail. From there, look at the beliefs that come up and ask yourself where they come from. Apply logic to them. Listen to the emotions you experience when you’re considering those beliefs in detail and thinking through them. Whatever route(s) you take, this is likely to be a process. And you may find yourself feeling conflict again in the future. Knowing ourselves is a lifelong journey. I think you’ve got this.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 72-year-old woman who is as horny today as I was at 32. The old man is no longer interested, but I have my toys and I make do. The part of sex I miss the most is nipple stimulation. I’ve been disappointed with the few tit toys I’ve purchased, and I’m hoping you know of some fabulous little gadget that can suck, lick, or pinch. The ad copy can promise the world, but the best I’ve found still doesn’t do much. If vibration was enough my Magic Wand would suffice, if pressure was all I wanted I have an assortment of clippy things. Is there anything out there that simulates what lips can do? Maybe something designed for a penis that could be adapted?

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—Don’t Make Me Join Silver Singles

Dear Silver Singles,

Pinching is pretty easy—nipple clamps abound, in all sorts of mechanisms, intensities, and finishes. If you have an idea of how pinchy you’d like your pinching to be, check out some sex toy review sites and see what fits the bill. Otherwise, I’d start with a screw clamp style, which allows you to easily adjust the tension yourself.

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As for the simulation of lips, I suspect that something designed for a penis is less adaptable than something designed for a clitoris. The glans of a penis are generally much larger than a nipple, whereas clitorises are closer to the size range. I dug up one massive recommendation list by someone who seems to enjoy nipple play themselves, and thinks the sonic air pulse toys (otherwise known as “clit-suckers”) are your likely best fit for replication of the feeling of lips on your nips. In case tongue stimulation also turns you on, the Fun Factory Volta—which I’ve heard positive experiences regarding—seems worth a shot.

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Regardless of which toys you go with, adding some lubricant, with care to choose something that won’t deteriorate the material of the toy, should also help recreate the feeling of oral stimulation. Good luck, and I hope you find something that gets you off.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 32-year-old, single, straight woman who has no children (only cats). I have never been in a relationship because I have always focused on myself. I own my own home, have a good career with growth, and have always been independent. It’s safe to say, although an introvert, I like to be in control in most aspects of my life except for one.

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I have discovered through much research, my preference in porn, and any fantasies that I play out in my head, that I am submissive. I don’t mean that I’m just into rough sex, or BDSM play occasionally, I want the lifestyle behind closed doors. I want rules, punishments, etc… I would love to find a Dom to enjoy this lifestyle with but am too nervous to search in my very small communities. I have no intention of anyone close to me finding out the type of relationship I am looking for, so I haven’t even tried to look. It also doesn’t help that I’m a big girl, not just chunky or chubby, but big so I’m pretty self-conscious. I am starting to work on that part of myself for my health and to gain confidence, but I also want to start looking for someone to spend my time with.

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Are there any safe social media sites, dating apps, or forums I can visit to start (safely) putting myself out there? I’m looking for something discreet so I can keep this part of my life as private as possible.

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—Shy Submissive

Dear Shy Submissive,

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I see your concern about the safety of your reputation, and we’ll get to that, but first, we need to talk about the safety of your body. One of the reasons community is so valuable to BDSM practitioners is the way it gives people exposure to the norms of Risk Aware Consensual Kink, and, before that, safe, sane, and consensual sex. RACK is taught to newcomers in the BDSM scene now, as safe, sane, and consensual was a couple of decades ago. Even Kink.com’s before and after videos, as great as they are, aren’t going to give you the same nuance and ability to observe in practice that attendance at classes, munches, and BDSM play events will. Another plus to community involvement is the ability to speak with previous and current play partners of someone you’re interested in, and either directly hear or read between the lines about their adherence to boundaries and respect for hard limits. This is not to say that everyone you’ll meet in the kink community is a safety-minded person, or that every facet of instruction you receive will be right for you or even generally accurate. But the kind of group processing and information sharing that occurs in the community is valuable.

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As a BDSM-aware mental health professional once said to me, “Sex positivity isn’t Disneyland.” There are risks. Especially if you’re interested in or open to restraint, playing with a person who hasn’t been thoroughly vetted can be extremely dangerous. So how do you explore? Slowly. Do all the safety things vulnerable people do when meeting potential partners for any kind of sex—make sure someone reliable knows who you’re meeting, has their picture, knows where you’ll be, and knows when to expect to hear from you. Spend some time face to face in public before you go anywhere private. Listen to your gut, and, if you’re getting a strange vibe, move along.

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On top of that, ask potential dominants all sorts of questions. Inquire about their philosophies, their motivations, and their approaches to consent. Listen to their answers. Have long discussions about these subjects. Pay attention to what they ask you. Look for inconsistencies and address those. And, if you decide to proceed, spend plenty of time playing in scenarios that you can likely remove yourself from quickly before you allow yourself to be restrained, hobbled, or otherwise made unable to leave. No matter how impatient your pussy is, take the time to test that trust.

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One thing that you can do to set yourself up for success is to make lists of what you’re pretty sure you want to experience, what you’re actively curious about, what you’re open to, and what’s an absolute “no” or hard limit for you. If a potential partner asks for these things, that’s a great green flag.

Safe is a fallacy, but safer spaces with regards to being recognized and outed are apps like Feeld, which is for kinky and polyamorous people, or sites like Fetlife, which is for fetishists, kinksters, and BDSM players where anyone who recognizes you would also have to explain what they were doing in that space themselves. Keep in mind that the “safety” I’m referring to here is with regard to your reputation. There are no background checks, and no app, site, or forum can be guaranteed to be free of people who violate boundaries. You can hide your face and any identifying marks like moles and tattoos, and exercise caution with what’s in the background of your photos—if you have a unique couch, you’ll want to avoid capturing that. Another option is to travel—to a major city or even out of state—for in-person events. You’re in a tight spot, but you aren’t alone. We’ve heard numerous times in this column from people who want to explore their sexuality but fear judgment, social upheaval, and loss of employment if their communities find out. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m in my late 20s and have very little sexual experience. I’ve kissed a few men but never went beyond that. Lately, I’ve been dating more but for some reason can’t seem to push myself further despite a few possible chances. In theory, I would love to explore more, but in actuality, I feel anxious and ill-prepared. Any advice on how to loosen myself up, both literally and figuratively? Do I tell my dates about my lack of experience?

—New

Dear New,

Depending on how much you know about the mechanics of sex, some studying might help you feel more prepared. This might take the form of viewing pornography by studios like Pink & White Label, Make Love Not Porn, Blue Artichoke Films, or Raw Fuck Club’s amateur/self-shot channels, which show expansive models of what sex is with a focus on authentic connections. You might also familiarize yourself with genital anatomy—especially the slang terms people use for their parts—so you know what your partners are referring to when they’re telling you how they like to be touched. While experience does confer a larger bag of tricks to draw from when experimenting with a new partner, we all have to start from scratch with a stranger, and verbal exchanges about desires and likes are the best, most efficient way to get things going. The reverse of that metaphorical coin is that you’ll want to spend some time getting to know your own body, so you can give your partners some idea of what you do and don’t enjoy.

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Addressing the elephant in the room, by sharing your anxiety with the people you’re considering having sexual interactions with, may alleviate some of that feeling. Since most people will want to know what the source of that anxiety is, it’s worth thinking about what you’ll say. If you can be as concise as you’ve been here, great! You may also want to consider how much discussion of your experience level you’ll want to engage in, and what words you’ll use to set that boundary, if need be. Listen to your instincts when you’re processing their response—if you feel less than comfortable, take some more time to consider whether you want to proceed with this particular person. I think you’ve got this.

—Stoya

More Advice From Slate

My husband just came clean that he’s been stealing my family and friend’s panties for years. We have been together for three decades. We were having a heart-to-heart talk, and he told me he’s been stealing underwear from my female family and friends. He’s a good man, and I’ve always known he has an underwear fetish. He likes to masturbate with soiled sexy panties, and I’m OK with that. But to steal other people’s, my loved ones’, and do this?

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