How to Do It

I Think My Habits in Bed Make Me a Mediocre Husband

Should I try harder?

Man and woman hug but the man looks tired and disappointed. A large X floats next to them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Pheelings Media/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,

My wife and I have been married for almost three years and together for almost nine. We’ve been through our share of ups and downs and I love being with her. However, we don’t have sex too often and I think it’s taking a toll on both of us. We used to do it a lot more often when we were in college, but with a new house, dog, and our jobs, we’re both usually too tired to rise to the occasion.

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I still find my wife attractive, and vice versa, but I think her sex drive is so high that she tries to coax me into it when I’m not feeling all that ready. She constantly flirts with me and whenever I decline, I feel like a bad husband for not making her feel good. Am I a bad guy or should I try harder? I want our marriage to be great and eventually start a family so please any help would be great.

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—Mediocre Husband

Dear Mediocre,

You’re less interested in sex than it seems like your wife is, and your boundaries and desire levels are as important as hers. Your investment in satisfying your wife’s sexual appetites is beautiful and I applaud it, but your right to say no seems like it could use more significance in this situation.

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Though Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are was written for cisgender women, I’ve heard from several men who learned things about their own sexual excitation and sexual inhibition systems from the book. You might be more interested in engaging with your wife if your sexual inhibition system—which Nagoski describes as the brakes on a car—is less engaged. Maybe you’re not much of a reader (in which case, may I suggest the audiobook?). Either way, it’s still worth spending some time thinking about what turns you on, what stops you from being turned on, and what you need to enjoy sex.

When you’re ready, have a direct conversation with your wife about sex. Ask her how sexually satisfied she is. Ask her about all of your other assumptions—you don’t know how she feels or what’s going on in her mind. Share your own position and self-knowledge. Then direct the conversation toward figuring out where the two of you can meet in the middle. Maybe this looks like her approaching you in a certain way. Maybe it looks like the both of you having some physical contact while she masturbates, or her investing in a toy collection and taking more time for solo pleasure.

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Choose your moment. Make sure everyone’s biological needs and comfort are taken care of, and that you have plenty of time to talk without significant interruption. Lead with love, and listen actively. If you’re new to having direct discussions of sexuality together, draw on the times you’ve navigated other difficult or potentially emotional issues for inspiration. I think you’ve got this.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 40-year-old woman with two kids and I’m sexually active. I have been with several different men and they all say the same thing: “Did you cum?” or “Why can’t you cum?” They ask what’s wrong with me. Several of them said I make them feel like less of a man. But I want to cum, I’m enjoying the sex!

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I play with myself, but it’s not the same as getting penetrated with a dildo so it doesn’t do it for me. I even had men fall asleep while eating me out trying to make me cum. I thought having kids would have helped but it didn’t. I want to cum and I wish I could squirt. I feel like that’s what guys want or want to see. They don’t want somebody that doesn’t make a scene. Several different partners say I’m amazing because I can keep up with them and I don’t cum but that’s not what they want!

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—Can’t Cum

Dear Can’t Cum,

It sounds like you’re saying you require penetration to be able to orgasm, and if that’s the case, that’s how your body works. Listen to it and give it what it desires. Measure the depth of your vaginal canal when you’re resting or not aroused, get a dong that’s that length, and insert it fully. Leave it there while you’re engaged in clitoral stimulation, whether that’s you doing yourself with your fingers or a vibrator, or your partner doing you with their fingers, a vibrator, or their tongue and mouth. You can also ask your partners to insert fingers while they’re eating you out. If this works, awesome! If not, it’s worth considering a super high-powered vibrator like the Magic Wand, or a sonic device frequently described as a “clit-sucker” like the Womanizer.

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Squirting may never be in the cards for you, and putting pressure on a sexual outcome tends to have the undesired effect of delaying or preventing that outcome. Some humans assigned female at birth squirt all the time—some even resent it—while others never do, and many of us are in between with infrequent squirting or squirting only under specific conditions. Strong orgasms after a lot of build-up seem to help in some cases, and stimulation of the front wall of the vagina (just above the pubic bone) may also help as well.

I think you’re best off looking for lovers who appreciate you as you are. And who view your orgasm as something nice they might be able to do aid you in experiencing, rather than something that impacts their ego or results in a show for them. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a nonbinary lady type person somewhere on the ace spectrum married to a straight allosexual guy. I love him so much, I think he’s gorgeous and I love making him feel good and the sense of intimacy I get from sex. But I have a really hard time relaxing and enjoying when the focus is on me (so pretty much anything other than me, still partially dressed, blowing him). I don’t know if it’s my anxiety disorder, my general discomfort with my body, or the asexual stuff, but I have the hardest time turning off my brain and enjoying the physical sensations… unless I’m drunk or high. Then it’s all systems go. I don’t want him to feel like I have to be under the influence to have sex with him! I barely ever drink or smoke, so the pattern would be pretty obvious. My partner wants to make me feel good and I don’t know how to relax enough to let him.

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—Center of Attention

Dear Center of Attention,

Your partner wants to make you “feel good,” but do you want this? It’s worth spending some time thinking about how much of your desire to engage in receiving pleasure is to give him the feeling he wants, and how much of it is a desire to be the recipient of sexual pleasure yourself. There’s definitely intimacy in receiving sexual pleasure, and you say that intimacy is one of the things you enjoy about sex.

Asexuality encompasses a wide range of levels of interest in sexual interaction. If you haven’t read Angela Chen’s ACE: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, that’d be my top recommendation. Other resources include The Ace and Advocacy Project and Aces & Aros. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists does have a significant database of sexuality-focused professionals but does not have a way to search for specializations in asexuality at this time. And Aubri Lancaster, sex educator with a focus on asexuality and aromanticism, and friend of the column is in the process of compiling a directory of ace-affirming professionals, so you might want to keep an eye on her Instagram and website in the coming months.

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A qualified therapist who understands both anxiety disorders and asexuality, and is ace-affirming, can help you sort through which of these factors are contributing to your difficulty in turning your brain off and receiving. People of all sexual orientations, including allosexuals—meaning people who are not on the ace spectrum—may experience the same hard time turning their brains off that you’re reporting, so that might be another piece of the puzzle.

As for tactics you can try in the meantime, or without the support of a therapist, you can absolutely spend some time working on your relationship to your body. What do you like about your body? Do you have fingers that are talented at detailed work? Do you have legs and feet that are strong? Do you like your voice? Do your ears, eyes, or nose work well and allow you to experience the beauty of the world you inhabit? Are there forms of physical self-care that you enjoy and can engage in more often, like moisturizing your skin, going for walks, or taking self-defense or dance classes? And books like Barbara Carrellas’s Urban Tantra can help you use breath and focus to tune into your body in appreciative ways.

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Whatever you do, don’t drink or smoke your way through sex that doesn’t feel good for you. Focus on what is fulfilling and what does make you feel good, and remember that your desires and boundaries are just as important as your husband’s.

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

Dear How to Do it,

I’ve been married for 15 years to a wonderful spouse. My gripe is that I’ve increasingly felt as though we have no sexual chemistry at all. I was her first sexual partner, she was my second, and I’ve realized over time that the current routine just isn’t fulfilling for me anymore. When we do have sex, usually once a month or so, it’s always missionary and she just lays there. She will let me know if something feels good, or alternatively if it does not, and I’ll adjust accordingly. She almost never makes the first move to get things started. And when I do, rather than running with it, she insists on having a meta-esque talk about whether I am indeed making the move. It’s a total mood killer because things never organically or spontaneously happen. Once we are done, she immediately washes up and that’s that.

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Historically, I’ve been the one who brings up new ways to spice things up.  This actually has yielded some fun new experiences, but rather than serving as an encouraging foundation to continue exploring new things with each other, it’s like we immediately revert back to super basics and it’s as if it never happened.  What’s more, it is always me who initiates.

I do not mean to paint my wife in an unflattering light, truly. She’s an amazing person and as good of a partner otherwise as they come. I’m just growing resentful about this one aspect of our marriage. I am a sexual person and I always thought I would get to explore that side of myself with a trusted partner. I’m also tired of always feeling like it’s my responsibility to shepherd her into new experiences lest it doesn’t happen. I should note that we’ve chatted about it this on numerous occasions and she has told me repeatedly she likes trying new things and is open to it. Yet, the results don’t seem to follow. Any advice?

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—Resigned

Dear Resigned,

One of the worst parts about the historical dominance of sex negativity—cultural attitudes that frame sex as dirty, and as a subject that shouldn’t be spoken of out loud—in the West is that people end up with these vague fairy tales in their heads about how things will be once they find the right partner, without any understanding of the need to make sure that partner is also a match sexually. Without discussion of how sexuality works, much less encouragement to see how sex flows before signing legal paperwork, many people are left with the idea that incredible sex will unfurl organically in the marital bed. This is changing, but that progress doesn’t do much to change your own marriage now.

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You describe your wife as wonderful, amazing, and as good of a partner as they come. You have to weigh this for yourself. Is the juice worth the absence of a squeeze? Would you be satisfied with a more robust masturbation life? Are you willing to risk unsettling your marriage by bringing up the possibility of opening up the relationship so you can pursue sexual interactions with people who will have sex with you in the way you want? Would you prefer to leave your wife entirely and search for someone with the same sexual desires and drive?

You might talk with a trusted friend, journal, think in the shower or on a walk, or consult a therapist as you’re working through what you want to do here. And, if you decide to stay and opening up isn’t a possibility, time with a therapist to discuss your resentment might be in order. You’ll also need to accept your wife as she is—it’s unfair to expect her to have a different sexual personality in order to live up to your expectations. Neither of you asked to be raised in a society with sick attitudes toward sexuality, and I don’t think either of you is at fault for your current situation. Proceed with kindness and love, and keep an eye on the needs and boundaries of both of you as individuals.

—Stoya

More Advice From Slate

My girlfriend and I are a heterosexual couple in our mid-40s. Both divorced; no children from either marriage. We started dating last year and moved in together as the pandemic started. Our sex life is very good except for one big thing: I am not allowed to penetrate her vagina in any way or perform oral sex on her.

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