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 recently started dating this girl I really like. We’re both queer people in our mid-20s. This is a super dorky question, but I’ve been in fandom for years and it has been a source of great joy in my life. However, I engage in very NSFW spaces online where it’s not uncommon to essentially plot out erotica with a friend or gift or be gifted erotica. I wouldn’t necessarily want to share this with people—it’s private and not anything I actually want in my sex life. But I love talking with my fandom friends about it. These are platonic relationships but I think exchanging sexually explicit messages with other people could pretty easily be considered sexting. Do I have to discuss this with the girl? If so, when? We’re both interested in monogamy but just in the early stages of dating.
—Erotic Fiction With Friends
Dear Erotic Fiction,
The girl you’re dating might not consider your interactions with fandom culture to be like sexting. She also might not consider sexting a violation of your relationship. To find out where her boundaries are, and what she considers outside the bounds of the monogamy you two are heading toward, you’ll have to have a conversation. The earlier you start laying a foundation of open communication, the easier it is to build trust and the ability to be vulnerable. There’s no time like the present.
Before you broach the subject, take some time to think about your relationship to the NSFW aspects of fandom. Do you respond sexually to the erotica you read and write? Is there something else you get out of the material and discussions of it? What of this information are you comfortable sharing with your partner? It sounds like, while you’re happy to engage with your friends on the subject of sexually explicit stories, you don’t want her involved in that part of your life. This is valid and important to express. Consider how you’ll describe your boundary, and what you might want to tell your partner about why you keep this separate. Reserving specific activities for ourselves, whether we’re talking about sex or recreation, is OK. People need varying degrees of alone time, and it’s healthy to engage in hobbies outside of our romantic relationships, whether those are monogamous dyads or open polycules.
Set yourself up for success—pick a moment when you’re both calm, all your biological needs are taken care of, and you’ve got plenty of time to talk with few interruptions or distractions. You might start with “I’d like to tell you about one of my hobbies.” Or you might begin by opening the topic of what monogamy actually means, with a question like, “What does monogamy mean to you?” or introduce the topic more generally by saying, “We haven’t had a conversation about what monogamy is to each of us, and I think this is important.” Once you’re having the discussion, listen to what they’re saying, ask for clarification when needed, and occasionally ask them to confirm your understanding. When you’re sharing, and aren’t sure how to articulate something, let them know that you need a minute to consider your thoughts. I think you’ve got this.
Dear How to Do It,
I am pregnant. My husband and I experienced a tragic end to our last pregnancy and it’s taken us several years to conceive again. The doctors haven’t said sex or orgasm is off the table, but we haven’t asked specific questions. I am considered a high-risk patient, but so far this pregnancy seems fine in the early second trimester. I did tell my husband once the positive test came back that I didn’t want penetrative sex to keep from knocking stuff around in there, but maybe we could do some other things to keep busy together. I think we’re both tired and stressed and so he hasn’t made an effort for any intimacy, and sometimes he hits a wall and can’t go on once we start. I’m scared to orgasm but also feel frisky sometimes and wish I could be intimate in some way with him, or on my own, but mostly I desperately wish I could enroll in a nunnery to avoid sex and orgasm altogether. Even though I’m tempted to orgasm, I’m terrified by the idea right now, so it’s a challenge between my brain yelling no and my body yelling please give me something. Are there any ways to reduce interest in sex and sex drive, at least for now?
—Knocked Up in a Cold Shower
Dear Knocked Up,
First, I am confident that your doctors have handled questions about high-risk pregnancies and orgasms in the past. Tell them about your concerns, ask them for their medical opinion on whether an orgasm is likely to be problematic, and whether penetrative sex will increase your risk. Your decision might not change, but it’ll be based on a better understanding of the facts of your particular situation.
As for reducing interest in sex, you can work on mindfulness—specifically directing your attention to something less erotically charged—or you can lean into embracing your desire and any feelings of frustration that come along with it, while leaving them unfulfilled. This might look like telling your husband what you want to do with him when you’re ready. Or keeping a journal. You might enjoy stimulating his body with your hands and mouth as an outlet for sexual energy as well.
Lastly, intimacy comes in many forms. Make sure to maintain your physical connection with non-sexual touch. Emotional sharing is another aspect. Clear the air—find out what the wall your husband is hitting is, and why he isn’t making efforts toward intimacy. Let him know how you’re feeling, too. You’ll get through this in a matter of months.
Help us keep giving the advice you crave every week. Sign up for Slate Plus now.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a cis bisexual woman in my late 20s and recently started seeing a great guy the same age as me. He is kind, funny, and keen on me. All is going well except—he has pretty significant erectile dysfunction. We’ve talked about it and it was a factor in his last relationship ending. He’s been to the doctor, tried therapy, and has ED meds which he uses occasionally. I’m doing my best to not make a big deal of it and just to figure out a way for us to have sex that works and is fun for both of us. He’s said he feels comfortable with me and that this has made a big difference for him, especially compared with how previous partners have reacted.
We’re still figuring out how to make things work for us and I would really appreciate some more ideas, both what to do and how to open up the conversation some more. He’s really happy just focusing on me and my pleasure, and we’ve brought a couple of toys into the mix occasionally (a complicating factor is that I’m on SSRIs so my own sexual response has changed and it can take me a while to have an orgasm). We’ve agreed to be less goal-oriented and just have fun.
A sticking point for me though is that sometimes I just want to get fucked. I’m trying to think about what I like about that and how to replicate it if it’s not always available, and I think even if we’re not having penetrative sex, I would find it hot for him to dominate me, be more assertive, a bit rough, etc as I have enjoyed this with previous partners. He’s a lot more vanilla than me, though, and when I’ve tried broaching some things I like, he thought they sounded too degrading. I don’t want to pressure him into anything he isn’t comfortable with but I want to have another go at talking about what I like.
I like this guy and don’t want to throw away a potential great relationship because we haven’t quite figured out the sex yet. Any ideas on how to get more of what I want?
Dear Increasingly Frustrated,
It sounds like the two of you are doing a great job of communicating and keeping the focus of sex on connection and pleasure. It also sounds like you’re already incorporating dildos, so let’s move on to the rough stuff.
The definition of degrading, in the dictionary sense, has to do with whether the person on the receiving end feels or perceives themselves to be degraded. Whether something is degrading to you is yours to decide. There are, however, groups of anti-sex feminists who maintain that BDSM, among other things, is inherently degrading, and the guy you’re seeing might not have previously encountered women who do enjoy this kind of sex. It might help to give your partner some understanding of what you feel when you’re being dominated, when your partner is assertive, and when you’re having rougher sex—explain what you get out of the experience. Use positive statements like ”I can relax and focus on my own pleasure when someone else is leading the action” or “I enjoy the sensation of being pressed into the mattress.” You’ll need to fill in with your own specifics.
It’s also possible that the guy you’re dating is uncomfortable with the kind of sex you want for other reasons and isn’t able to communicate that well. Ask him for more detail on why he’s averse to these activities, and how he arrived at his view that what you’re asking for is degrading. Have a big conversation about it, share thoughts and feelings, and keep up that open communication.
Dear How to Do It,
My wife is 69 and I’m 61 and we’ve been happily married for 33 years while raising two children. While working and raising children our sex lives declined until just recently upon retiring. She had a hysterectomy a few years ago, and I am now unable to achieve orgasm through vaginal sex. We use lots of lube because of vaginal dryness due to age and have even injected lube into her vagina still with no success. She does however provide me with fabulous oral sex, while I typically bring her to orgasm with her favorite toy “The Satisfier.” I joke with her that she’s just too loose in her old age, and she jokes with me that I’ve shrunk in mine. Seriously though, is it likely that I’m unable to orgasm because she has had all her reproductive organs removed so there is less stimulation with each thrust? I’ve also suggested anal as a baseline alternative test but this is a firm no for her.
—Missing More Crowded Spaces
Dear Crowded Spaces,
Bodies change, and the kinds of sex we find most satisfying can shift over our lifetimes. Maintaining a sense of play and openness to experimentation will serve you well. As long as you’re both enjoying the jokes you trade, that humor is an asset.
There are a few different types of hysterectomies, and I don’t know which your wife had. Some hysterectomies remove select organs but leave the cervix in place, others involve removal of the cervix in addition to those organs, and still more include removal of some vaginal tissue and the cervix. I don’t see how a uterus would come to bear on the sensation you feel during penetration, but it does seem possible that you were deriving stimulation from your wife’s cervix in some significant way that you’re now missing, if hers was removed.
If your wife is open to using Ben Wa balls—a small, safe to insert ball with a smaller ball inside that produces a rolling sensation—and you’re able to keep your thrusts slow and gentle, they’re worth a try. The rolling might be a pleasant feeling for both of you, and she’s likely to feel more full while you feel more pressure. You can also experiment with positions that squeeze her legs together, which tends to increase sensation on the shaft of the penetrating partner. And a cock ring might give you the tightness you crave.
On the subject of anal, your wife’s firm no rules that out. Additionally, as I recently discussed with Dr. Evan Goldstein, anal sex may be more hazardous for AFAB non-binary people, transmen, and women like your wife. And rectums don’t end in anything like a cervix—hence the need for anal toys to have a flanged base. An option for you to use for comparison is a male masturbation device such as the Fleshlight [Disclosure: I’ve had a licensing deal with Fleshlight for over a decade.] You’ll want to use plenty of lube, and clean and thoroughly air-dry the toy after use.
More Advice From Slate
My friends and I are close and very candid about our sexual experiences. I generally don’t have sex with my friends, but they don’t believe in those restrictions. We were talking recently about planning a weekend where a group of us would go away and possibly have an orgy amongst us. I’m really excited about the idea, except for the fact that I have a never-before-admitted crush on one of my best friends, Q.