How to Do It

I’ve Kept up a Lie in the Bedroom for Years. It’s Catching up to Me.

Is it even a big deal?

Three Xs and a man's hand crossing his fingers.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by vladans/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,

Years ago, my partner and I agreed we wouldn’t watch porn or masturbate solo anymore. We were going through a dry spell and thought that solo time might be lowering our libidos. Anyway, that was a long time ago, and we have had many happy years together (in and out of the bedroom). We’ve not discussed this agreement at all since.

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The thing is, I never stopped masturbating to porn. I do it only once or twice a week, and it doesn’t affect our sex life. But recently, I realized that this is the only lie/secret I’ve ever told my partner, which has made me feel really guilty. Am I doing the wrong thing? Should I stop? Come clean? Is it even a big deal? I want to do the right thing here, so I really will listen to whatever you tell me!

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—Part-Time Hand Job

Dear Hand Job,

I’m not entirely sure whether you never stopped masturbating or if you did stop for a little while, realized it wasn’t a factor in the sexual dynamic you and your partner wanted to change, went back to it, and are now using hyperbole. I’m also wondering how certain you are that trying to dispel that dry spell is the only reason taking porn and solo sex out of the picture came up. I believe that masturbation is a healthy outlet and way for people to connect with their bodies. I’m also aware that some people are very uncomfortable with their partners’ engaging in it or seeking out sexual stimulation from media. But regardless of your partner’s stance on the general subject, you made an agreement that you either didn’t follow through on or stuck to for only a little while.

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Despite whether your partner is more likely to be upset or struggle to recall the agreement and then laugh it off, I think you should broach the subject. You’re feeling guilty because you’re hiding something from your partner. In the latter scenario, you’ll probably spend a few minutes joking about how stressed you were over this and will then be free to engage in solo sex without worry. If your partner is against self-pleasure or sexually explicit images entirely, the fact that you agreed to stop but have still been doing both for many years says something about how well that arrangement works for you. Think through why you didn’t stop when you said you would, and whether stopping is actually an option now. Try to negotiate boundaries you will respect moving forward, while keeping your own needs in mind—but only after apologizing.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am a 38-year-old woman who’s been dealing with a severe case of vaginismus since I started being sexually active in college. I’ve never managed to have penetrative sex because it’s traumatically painful, and after a number of years of attempting to medically fix it, I’ve accepted that this is part of who I am now.

After a number of emotionally abusive relationships (all likely linked to this issue but not explicitly mentioned), I swore off dating for years. The unfortunate part is that I like sexual things, being sexy and experimental, etc. I want to make a partner feel good and vice versa, but I have no idea how to express that to men who just seem overly fascinated with penetrative sex, like that is the only end game possible. They are open to other types of play, but they eventually want penetration in the end. And though I know I shouldn’t feel guilty about it, I do, because I like pleasing people and it always ends badly. How do I explain my “sexual disability” to people I date, and where do I find men who are satisfied with my limits? It seems there is still quite a social norm that a penis must enter a vagina for there to be hetero sex.

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—Sorry, Not Sorry?

Dear Sorry, Not Sorry,

Adult performer GoAskAlex made a helpful video for one of my projects a few years ago, which I’ve referred to a few times in this column. She shares several tips for disclosing physical disability, including the advice to state the most relevant facts as directly and neutrally as possible. How early you disclose is a personal choice. Some might put it up front in their dating profile or work it into a conversation on the first coffee date. Others need more time to feel comfortable sharing certain details.

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You might date in communities that tend to have more broad definitions of sex. People who are engaged in polyam lifestyles might be one group, as could people who are less interested in the -amory but still part of the (ugh, this term is awful) non-monogamy expanse of sexual interactions. If kink or BDSM appeals to you, that’s another set of subcultures that often conceive of sex as expansive, flexible, and a site for creativity. Neither group guarantees satisfaction with your limits or respect for anyone’s limits, but there is more of a norm of negotiation and thinking outside the, well, box. Your usual places for meeting men may be just as productive.

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Ultimately, I think it’s mostly a question of luck, time, perseverance, and sticking to your own boundaries. You might think about other moments when you tend to go into people-pleasing mode—before you’re in a sexual context—and start practicing holding firm on those. Asserting your boundaries with dates will also give you information about how respectful your companion is of words like no. And you can make your dating process more efficient by bringing up the subject of what sex is, and how important they see penetration as being, early in your interactions.

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Dear How to Do It,

Every once in a while, my boyfriend (27M) will initiate a second round of sex (which I tend to enjoy). My issue is that it can take him ages to ejaculate during our second round, and after a while I just want him to finish. I’ve always felt he comes a little quickly during the first round, but our second round lasts so long that I feel as if there’s nothing I can do to make him finish quicker, and I start wondering if it’s me. Is 20-plus minutes normal? Is there something I can do to fix this mismatch?

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—Looking at the Clock

Dear Looking at the Clock,

Have a conversation with your boyfriend about this. Does he feel as if he has to ejaculate the second time? If so, why? Ask yourself the same questions. Once you’re on the same page about what each of you wants, look at options. You might easily arrive at a solution where the two of you go for a second round until your interest wanes, and stop there. Or where you usually stop before he ejaculates but occasionally see it through for the full 20-plus minutes.

If the first round is leaving you unsatisfied, you might focus on increasing your pleasure before and during penetration. Maybe that’s with toys or more foreplay. And you might see if there’s a way to speed up his climax in round two. He’ll know his body best, and the two of you can make a night of experimentation. I would look for erogenous zones on his torso and limbs, think about psychological dynamics and fantasies that push his buttons, pay special attention to his testicles and perineum, and consider internal prostate stimulation.

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Dear How to Do It,

My girlfriend and I (both women) have been dating for over 10 months, and I truly love everything about her. She is brilliant, kind, and funny, and makes everything more interesting, no matter how mundane. She has introduced me to a kind of kinky sex I’ve never had before, involving aliens and tentacle sex toys. I’m into it, and we have an enjoyable sex life that has become more frequent since we moved in together three months ago.

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My problem is not the kink, but the fact that it’s the ONLY kind of sex we have. I’ve had plenty of kinky sex before this relationship, but sometimes I don’t want the kink—I want sex with her. I’ve been struggling to explain this in a way that doesn’t put down the kinky sex, even though that’s not my intention. She sees every way I try to phrase it as an insult to her kink, and I need help with a script or even an example of how to start talking about non-kinky lovemaking in a way that doesn’t sound as if I don’t also like what we’re doing.

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She has been teased in the past for being into this, so I totally understand why asking for anything else sounds as if I’m judging her or not satisfied by her. But I am. I just want to sometimes have the kind of intimacy that doesn’t involve preplanning and I just get to worship her as she is, in the moment! Do you have any non-kink-shaming ways to approach this that don’t have any language that might be upsetting to someone whose kink is very personal? She sees this kink as being her. And while it’s a part of her I adore, I would like to adore every aspect of her—but she seems to view this as the only “sexual” part of her.

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—Love All of Her

Dear Love All of Her,

Without “any language that might be upsetting” is an impossible request. You can do your best to set yourself up for success—and we’ll get into that—but there is no way to guarantee that honesty will not upset your partner. What you can do is preface the discussion with your desire to do this gently and an acknowledgment that this issue is emotionally charged: “I’m apprehensive because I care about you and we’ve had some rough talks about this already.” Be prepared to apologize for anything you’re inadvertently clumsy about.

Think about the conversations that haven’t gone well. What are the common factors? Are there phrases or words she reacts strongly to? What do you think is behind those reactions? Consider what she—and you—need to feel comfortable and relaxed. You’ll definitely want privacy and time. For example, a good time to have this talk would be after dinner on a day when all of your obligations are already addressed. Check in first. If she’s had an awful day, wait.

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Start with the fact that you are satisfied by her, and take a couple of sentences to tell her details about why you enjoy the tentacle sex you’re having. Then frame the spontaneous vanilla interactions you’re yearning for as an addition, focusing entirely on the positive. “I have fantasies that I’d like to add to our repertoire. Can I tell you about a couple of them?” Instead of spending any time discussing what you don’t want, articulate what you do want. “Sometimes we’re unpacking the groceries and I would love to slowly undress you right there in that moment before worshipping you.” You’ll have to fill in your own details.

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If this conversation also offends her, you may be at an impasse. And if it turns out that the only kind of sex she’s interested in is her particular kink, with no flexibility for your desires, you’ll be at another dead end. At that point, you’ll have to weigh your options and make some hard decisions. But I hope you’ll be able to come to a compromise.

—Stoya

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