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’m an early 40s cis male, happily married for 12.5 years to my lovely and wonderful wife. I enjoy masturbating using women’s panties. I do not wear women’s undergarments at all—I simply enjoy the feeling of the material on my nether regions or seeing women wearing them.
I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to share my sexual fetish with my wife. In my ideal world, she would wear matching silky panties and bras when she was interested in sex or foreplay and use the garments to encourage my arousal. I understand that silky underwear isn’t very practical on a daily basis nor do I expect her to wear it regularly. But I would do anything for her to leverage this to enhance our sex life. It has gone so far that I have my own set of 20-plus pairs of women’s panties I use exclusively for masturbation. I originally purchased them for my wife; however, she doesn’t like the artificial material or comfort of silk/satin so they’ve just become mine. I feel guilty when seeing them in the laundry given they’re a symbol of the number of times I have masturbated during the past week.
For my wife, it’s as if sex to her is being naked, some foreplay, intercourse, and done. I would enjoy more foreplay in lingerie. If I really push, she will wear the underwear I want, but I feel like it is making her uncomfortable which is certainly not pleasurable for me. I don’t want her to feel like I’m forcing something on her she doesn’t enjoy. Finally, I’ll watch porn to fill my cup. I feel somewhat guilty about it, but also feel like my sexual needs aren’t being met. I’m certainly not looking for anything outside of my marriage but don’t feel like I have any other outlet besides porn and masturbation. Do you have any suggestions to help me out?
Dear Satin Sadness,
I had this hunch that you might be misinformed about fabrics, which you confirmed in my follow-up email. Silk is a particular kind of natural fiber, mostly derived from the cocoons of silkworms. Satin is a kind of weave, which can be made from many different fibers, natural or synthetic. And silky is an adjective that can be pretty subjective. Satin-weave fabrics of man-made materials—what I’m guessing you’ve been bringing home—are less than ideal for panties because they aren’t breathable, and that lack of airflow can encourage the overgrowth of yeast or bacteria. You aren’t the first fabric fetishist to be a little confused about the materials you admire, and you won’t be the last. But I do think that genuine—breathable!—silk might get you further than something like rayon.
Have a talk with your wife. “I have this perception that you sometimes give into my desire to see you in silky panties, but that you’re not enjoying it and might feel forced by me. Can we talk about this?” You don’t know how she’s feeling, and, if she is uncomfortable, what is causing her discomfort. You don’t mention any knowledge of how she feels about your masturbation or use of porn. Get everything out in the open so you’re able to make choices based on the actual situation.
If the discussion goes well, bring up her disinterest in the panties you’ve previously tried, and offer one more attempt with silk. If she’s open to that, ask her what style of panties she prefers and for her waist and hip measurements. It’s possible that she’ll want to participate in the purchase, but if that isn’t the case, take the information you’ve gathered and go shopping. You want a cotton gusset (that’s the little piece of fabric that touches her vulva). You’ll probably pay upwards of $50 in the U.S. If you’re looking at a $12 pair of bikini panties at your local mall, they’re most likely man-made material. Read the tag for fiber content and, if you’re shopping online, check the reviews. Once you’ve found the right pair, get a bottle of unscented Eucalan delicate wash. Then give her the panties along with a pledge to do the hand washing yourself.
If your guilt is coming from inside you, spend some time considering why that is. Panties are a popular sexual interest, and masturbation is something former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders encouraged—we certainly advocate it in this column. Think about your beliefs around sexuality, and whether any are something you want to challenge. I think you’ve got this.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a straight man, 60, caring for my wife (51) who has a number of physical issues that are degrading her quality of life and sapping her energy. She’s always had a number of issues and I knew about them when I married her, so tacitly planned for the possibility of being a caregiver even though I’m older.
I was let go from my work in 2020 when they cut a number of positions due to COVID, so hers became the only income. After we both contracted COVID earlier this year, her exhaustion became so serious that she can’t go back to work (it was enormously stressful and toxic before). Right now, we’re living off savings and temporary disability insurance, and I’m looking for a job with benefits to help us get along until we can dip into my retirement (which is down in this economy). Some days she’s up, positive, and able to work on our startup business, but increasingly she’s depressed, angry, and too exhausted to do anything but play video games and process her pain and frustration. I’m a good listener and do everything I can to be supportive, listening to her as well as taking care of most household tasks.
I’m finding that I need emotional support outside the home and so am relying on friends and looking for a support group for caregiver husbands. There’s another, more thorny issue, though: We had had a very active sex life, and my libido has always been a lot for her. After beating prostate cancer last year (with her support), my sexual function is completely back and I have a 17-year-old’s libido in a healthy, functioning 60-year-old body.
We had had an open marriage and were swinging for several years a while back, but jealousy was an issue for her, so we quit the lifestyle. I miss it terribly, however, and am frequently sexually frustrated as she usually doesn’t have the energy or brain space to acknowledge or care for me. I won’t cheat on her, but I’m trying to figure out a way to talk with her about my needs and perhaps being carefully “monogamish.” Every time I’ve tried to talk about this, no matter how gently, it’s resulted in her getting angry and defensive. I love her deeply and am completely committed to her, divorce isn’t an option, but I also need connection and am feeling like I’m running out of life to enjoy. I’m increasingly feeling resentment about this despite my wanting to be with her for the rest of our lives. I just don’t want to be celibate even though she’s losing interest. Am I a selfish jerk for wanting to get my own needs taken care of?
—Not Done Yet
Dear Not Done Yet,
To directly answer your question, no, you are not a selfish jerk for wanting to get your own needs taken care of.
As for the rest of the letter, I’m not sure if sex is the issue so much as intimacy and connection. You describe supportive relationships with friends, and your search for a support group of people in similar positions, but you also say that your wife often doesn’t have the resources to “acknowledge or care for” you. Would you be negotiating for sexual interactions without commitment or emotional entanglement? Would that satisfy you? Or would you be carving out permission to develop a second whole relationship? Do you think you’d resent your wife more or less in that scenario? Do you think the idea of you having hot sex, cuddling, and going on dates with another person would be something she would have complicated feelings around? There’s no way to forecast the future with certainty, but it’s worth thinking through how “monogamish” might play out and what exactly you’re asking for.
I hear that your financial situation is tough right now. It also seems like your wife is in deep and long-term emotional distress. If your insurance allows, and your wife is open to it, therapy may ease that enough to make a conversation about your individual levels of sexual interest—and what makes the most sense for your relationship structure—possible. At the end of the day, though, you may have to choose between sexual fulfillment and the fulfillment you get out of your marriage.
Dear How to Do It,
After many years of vanilla sex with my now ex, I have met someone who wants to explore some BDSM kink, which is thoroughly exciting to me. We did a seminar on impact play and the topic of cathartic BDSM was raised, where a dom will basically keep up the impact until the sub has a cathartic release.
The person I’m seeing recently had some trauma in their life and wants to explore this idea of cathartic BDSM but as someone who was historically a sub, I’m out of my element in how to get them to this stage. Do I say anything to get them into a headspace to allow for that release? While the seminar mentioned it as an option, it wasn’t really explored as thoroughly as impact play for sexual release or corporal punishment for a sense of overall absolution. I suspected my partner was interested in the cathartic release but mentioning it in the group setting seemed inappropriate and would have violated trust. But now I’m left wondering how to proceed with this since I really do think they’d benefit from the use of BDSM to help process this trauma. Please help!
—Spank the Boys and Make Them Cry
Dear Make Them Cry,
OK, let’s make a full stop. At the top of the second paragraph, you say the person you’re seeing wants to explore cathartic BDSM. Toward the end, you say you suspected their interest, didn’t bring it up at the time, and are now wondering how to move forward. The first step is to establish, without leading questions, what their interest level is. “Did anything in that seminar seem interesting to you?” If the answer is no, or other aspects of BDSM but not this “cathartic BDSM” thing comes up, drop it.
But let’s say they are interested in BDSM for processing trauma. If either of you is thinking that the right kind of flogging will suddenly relieve them of negative feelings or psychological symptoms of trauma, saving them years of therapy, get that out of your head right now. I called Lola Jean, sex educator and headmistress of 7 Days of Domination, for some expert insight. She started with a warning that I wholeheartedly support: “While BDSM can be therapeutic or provide some sort of catharsis, it is by no means a replacement for therapy. If you are looking for a method of processing trauma do not use BDSM without therapy. That’s like using psychedelics for processing trauma without therapy or taking antibiotics without a doctor. Can people do it? Sure. Is it advised or as intended? No. Can a lot go wrong? Yup.” In fact, when I asked Lola for neutral questions you could use to discuss this with your new partner, she suggested, “Are they in therapy?” along with prompts to describe what catharsis means to them, whether they’ve experienced it in other situations, and how they’re hoping to feel afterward.
If they decide to proceed, Lola suggested that your best course of action is to seek out “a professional whether that be a therapist, a professional dominant, or both.” Depending on where you live, it may not be all that difficult to find a therapist who has significant experience with BDSM. And “a pro[dom] doesn’t have to be the one executing it either, they can be in more of a guiding standpoint,” Lola said.
If I’ve read you incorrectly, your two-years-into-therapy partner very much wants to pursue this, you’ve both got some idea of your interest and comfort levels with various specifics of BDSM, and you’ve established a baseline of intimacy and communication, please write back in for tips on how to actually do it.
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Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have an 18-month-old. Prior to giving birth, I was the way more sexual partner (cis female). Frequently I was turned down for sex, and it affected my self-esteem. My body never really went back to pre-baby either, and a bout of postpartum depression has me feeling low.
However, my husband (cis male) is now initiating sex at a frequency I wished we had sex prior to the baby. I rarely say no (I remember how much it hurt. For the record, when I do he doesn’t press it or force me into anything I don’t want to do), but I find myself thinking to myself, “Damn, that’s X minutes or sleep I won’t be getting now.” I don’t like this new me. I know part of it is having a toddler and being exhausted. But I want to feel sexual again. I want to be the person initiating from time to time, and it doesn’t even occur to me right now. How do I get my drive back? (The division of housework and baby caring is roughly the same. Actually, he probably does more cleaning than me!)
—Back to Before?
Dear Back to Before,
You’re experiencing multiple stressors. If you aren’t working on your postpartum depression with a mental health professional, start looking for one. Your delivery was over a year ago—it no longer makes sense to wait and see if this will resolve on its own. If you can find the time and budget, it’s also worth seeing a pelvic floor therapist. Gestation causes an incredible amount of changes to your genitals and the area around them. Time is another huge factor—you have a whole tiny human to take care of in addition to your own needs and obligations. It is truly lovely to hear that your husband is taking on half of the child care and home responsibilities—a beautiful example of fair division of labor—but that doesn’t change your exhaustion.
Women get all sorts of messages about bouncing back after a baby, or generally doing it all—remember Lean In?—which are largely unreasonable. Regardless of the major life event, whether it’s a tragedy that felt like crawling through hell, a massive welcomed promotion, or a new family member who is wonderful and miraculous, we are not the same afterward. We are changed. We are different from our past selves. The same happens with our bodies, whether we carry children or never become pregnant. The kinds of sex we like to have in our 20s are often different than the kinds of sex we want in later decades. Certain kinds of stimulation become less appealing and others more enticing. And the shapes of our figures, textures of our skin, and ways in which we connect to our physical selves shift with time.
Take a deep breath. Try to focus on who you are now, what you want now, and what you want in the near future. Have a talk with your husband to let him know where you’re at and what you’re feeling. Consider asking him to take a more passive role to allow you the space to feel desire and act on it. Schedule time away from the home for a few hours and try to relax, whether that’s solo or with your husband. And think about taking time for solo pleasure, whether that’s sensual, erotic, or rated XXX. Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are contains digestible theories about sexual response systems, exercises for understanding your own, and tips for navigating various styles of sexual response and increasing desire. (There’s an audiobook version, which might be easier to fit into your schedule.) Remember that libido often ebbs and flows, that you’ve only got so much time and energy, and that you deserve patience and compassion from yourself.
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I have been with my husband (I’m a woman) for almost eight years. We are in our mid-30s, have a good relationship, and are happy. We communicate pretty well and are good partners and co-parents to our three young kids. Now to the obvious “but”: Sex has started to gross me out.