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Dear How to Do It,
I’m (she/her) in my last year of high school, and I have a massive crush on a co-worker at my job. We are the same age. I’m trying to get over it since I don’t think we’re a good match and I don’t like to date coworkers, but it’s hard since he’s so fun to talk to. It’s not like I can avoid him. My problem is that I keep having sexual thoughts about him, and I don’t want to. It feels like I’m a creep. I just want to be friends with him! Friends don’t think about each other naked! But my brain won’t listen. Do you have any advice on stopping thinking about these things?
—Reluctantly Crushing It
Dear Reluctantly Crushing It,
First, I think it’s worth giving yourself a break. There’s a vast difference between having thoughts, which you can’t prevent the appearance of, and engaging in behaviors that might feel creepy to the recipient. If you’re leering, gazing adoringly, flirting, or touching in sexual ways, that’s something to worry about. But if you’re stressing over the thoughts that float through your mind, the most effective actions you can take are practicing mindfulness and seeking distractions. One simple place to start is the time-honored tactic of taking a few breaths when your mind starts to go places you’d prefer it not wander, and, crucially, turning your focus to those breaths. Breathe in for four beats, hold the air inside your lungs for four beats, exhale for four beats, and hold your lungs empty for another four. Pay attention to the feelings in your body as the breath moves around—the inside of your nose cooling as you inhale, your abdomen expanding to accommodate the air, and the breath moving across the roof of your mouth as you exhale. Start with three or four of these—around a minute’s worth.
Distraction can be pretty useful, too. When you’re talking to your co-worker, focus on the parts of him you appreciate that also aren’t arousing. I’m thinking something like a deep and detailed interest in string jellyfish, which you can prompt a monologue on with a single question. Alternatively, you can turn your thoughts to something else entirely—homework, grocery lists, the most efficient way to accomplish a certain work task. Whatever will occupy your mind. Do know that those unwanted thoughts will probably come back, and the best thing to do is redirect your focus as calmly as possible.
It’s not so much that time and experience will prevent these kinds of crushes from happening in the future, but more so that they’ll help you have a better grasp on how to handle them moving forward. Getting through this first experience, and the ones that come after, is how you get to that place of self-knowledge and mind-focusing prowess. I think you’ve got this.
Dear How to Do It,
My partner slut shames me when I ask for intimacy specifically sex with him. We both have busy schedules so usually on weekdays we don’t have time for sex. He goes to sleep really early for work, while I’m more flexible because I work from home. Sometimes I will try to have sex during the week but he will usually tell me he’s too tired and it’s better if we wait until we’re alone and it’s not bedtime which I’m OK with (we have a child).
Well, the other day we were alone and it was during the day but he still said he didn’t have the energy for sex but could still go to the gym. I got upset and told him I need intimacy and that he was just making up excuses at this point. He slut shamed me—he told me I must be desperate, that I must need dick all the time, and that all I care about is sex. This is not the first time he’s said these things to me. I don’t know what to do but I feel very hurt. Why is it wrong to ask for sex from my partner?
How does your partner treat other kinds of requests from you, and other expressions of female sexuality? If he lashes out over, say, a request for help with cooking, or avoids hugging, snuggling, and other forms of affection, those are warning signs. If he makes judgmental statements about other women wanting sexual interaction or showing skin, that’s another kind of warning sign. If so, consider whether you’re reasonably safe in this relationship. If none of this is the case, look at your own behavior. Is it possible that he’s reacting—yes, hurtfully and inappropriately!—to his own boundaries being disrespected? If you think that’s the case, apologize.
Go ahead and weigh all of your options, too. You have a child together and probably share a life in other ways. On the other hand, you have more of an interest in sex than he does, and he reaches for some pretty toxic tropes when he’s rebuffing your advances. I’m sure there are other pros and cons. Make a list—and make it somewhere private, like a notes app on your phone. Once you’re clear on what you’re willing to change, and what you need to see change, broach a conversation. You’ll want to have plenty of time to talk with no interruptions, so this might look like a weekend morning with child care in place. Think about what you’ll say beforehand. Try to be succinct, and avoid charged language like “just making up excuses.” Instead, ask what’s going on. Ask whether he’s content with the amount of sex you’re having. Listen to what he says, and be vulnerable and honest. If you can come from a place of curiosity, and feel you can believe what he tells you, you may be able to work this issue out.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’ve been married to my wife for three years, together for six. We are very committed to each other and have an enjoyable sex life. Unfortunately, while she enjoys orgasms from oral and vaginal sex, I continue to be unable to ejaculate inside my partner. This is typical of my experience with partner sex over the past 20-plus years, (I’m in my early 40s), but I didn’t worry about it until recently because I enjoy sex. Now that we are trying to have a baby, my inability to finish is becoming a bigger deal and is causing us both frustration. I can ejaculate through prone masturbation, but nothing else quite gets me there, (aside from a couple of tantric exceptions). How do I get myself to come inside my wife during sex? I have a difficult body sensitivity issue with autism and have a hard time focusing on pleasure without distractions.
—Trying to Come
Those tantric exceptions you mention are, well, effective. You can rely on exactly what you already know works, or take a look at what does work, find themes, and try variations. You can also try getting yourself very close to ejaculation while prone, with your wife mounting you when you’re at the precipice or even just beginning to ejaculate—some semen is better than no semen when it comes to insemination.
As for your body sensitivity, I reached out to Michael John Carley, author of The Book of Happy, Positive, and Confident Sex for Adults on the Autism Spectrum… and Beyond!, and Jack Duroc-Danner, sexuality educator. Neither expert, nor myself, are able to offer specific solutions for what you describe as sensory issues without more detail, and none of us are doctors. Generally speaking, though, you might isolate the distraction(s) and figure out ways to remove the stimulation. For example, if audio input is a factor, you might try noise-canceling earphones. Carley’s book contains an exercise for body mapping on page 62, which might help you find the edges of what you are and aren’t comfortable experiencing as far as touch sensation. And you might find that your experience of a given sensation varies at different times.
It’s also worth looking into other fertility options. Jack suggested looking into home insemination and recommended Kristin Liam Kali’s Queer Conception: The Complete Fertility Guide for Queer and Trans Parents-To-Be since, by necessity, queer and trans families often have experience with innovation in this area, for further detail on that possibility. And Carley suggested that, if you use pornography during masturbation, especially for reaching ejaculation, it might be worth incorporating that porn into sex while you and your wife are working on this baby project.
If none of this helps, you might call in an expert of your own. Jack indicated that a somatic practitioner or an occupational therapist could be useful, and cautioned that practitioners need to be “neurodiversity affirming, trauma-informed, sensory informed and strengths-based in order to minimize harm.” You might ask therapists if they’re familiar with disability justice and the social model of disability, whether they have experience with Autistic clients, and whether they’re familiar with monotropism and the double empathy problem. Carley indicated that discussion of sex addiction or porn addiction is a red flag. I think you’ve got this.
Dear How to Do It,
I am an asexual/aromantic-ish, nonbinary person with a vagina. I started having penetrative sex at 17, before I understood my own sexual identity, and continued for several years. At 20, I started to notice penetration becoming significantly more uncomfortable, even painful, for me. I took a break from sexual activity for two years. I’ve recently met a partner I am more attracted to than I’ve been to just about anybody, and found myself interested in trying penetration again. But when we gave it a go, it was too painful to even get it in. I used to be able to have sex without pain, and I can usually insert my bullet vibe without much problem (though sometimes I’m tighter than others) so I’m wondering what changed? Was my body just not built to have sex? Also might be worth mentioning I had a pap smear and STI test last year and there were no issues, so I don’t think it’s anything like that. Seeking strategies to be able to experience full penetration again.
—Indefinitely Closed for Business
Dear Closed for Business,
When you say there were no issues with your most recent pap smear and STI test, I’m wondering if you’re referring only to the results or if you’re also referring to the process of inserting the speculum, presuming one was used. Regardless, your next step should be a return to the medical vagina expert. It is best to rule out medical causes first in this scenario. You might ask nonbinary, transmasc, or female friends if they have a local recommendation. When the doctor asks why you’re there, or why you’re booking an appointment, explain that you experience pain during penetration. Write out a simple timeline like you have in your letter and lay it out succinctly for the doctor once you’re in the office. Then give them space to ask questions. From there, the doctor could take any of a number of courses of action—ordering tests, referring you to a pelvic floor specialist, referring you to a mental health professional to be evaluated for factors like anxiety and stress, or, unfortunately, they might dismiss your complaints.
Now that we’ve broached the tragic reality, I’d like to manage your expectations. You might absolutely have the best outcome imaginable by randomly choosing the most accepting vagina doctor in the world out of your health service’s directory, who is able to diagnose you properly at the first or second appointment and happens to pick the exact right treatment for you on the first try. You also might encounter bigotry and suggestions of “corrective therapy” to change your identity. You might find a wonderful doctor, but have an atypical enough presentation that they have to run several rounds of tests to feel confident making a diagnosis, or find a doctor who won’t listen to you so you’re forced to try more than one provider. You might have to try several different treatments before you find one that works, and you might fruitlessly try treatments that would work for the diagnosis you were given, but don’t work for you because of a misdiagnosis. As Kate Shannon Jenkins writes, after describing her own nearly 20-year search for answers about her period pain, “Most endometriosis patients tell of suffering for years or even decades before receiving a diagnosis.”
I don’t think endometriosis is the culprit in your case, but I do want you to be prepared for how long and frustrating this process can potentially be. There are some things you can do to increase efficiency. Keep records—all your medical records and test results, with meticulous notes. Track what treatment was tried, for how long, details about whether it improved your situation, and whether it caused any side effects (positive or negative). Keep tabs on any changes in your whole lower abdomen—pain or absence of pain during attempted penetration with a partner, during solo penetration with toys and any insertable menstrual products, during bowel movements, and anything else that sticks out as unusual to you. If the first doctor doesn’t listen, move along to the next on the list as soon as you can afford to and keep going until you find someone who takes you seriously.
I’m hoping you’ll have an experience much closer to the ideal I first described. But if that isn’t the case, know that you’re far from alone; many people do find relief eventually; and writers like Jenkins and Abby Norman, and doctors like Jennifer Lincoln, Jen Gunter, and many others are working to draw attention to medical concerns unique to people with vulvas.
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My husband and I are in our mid-50s and have a pretty good sex life and communicate well, or at least I thought so. Last March, my husband became a bit more amorous, and our sex increased, which I attributed to the pandemic. I was happy to go along and it’s been a nice perk in our lives. I then discovered he had been looking at photos of naked women and masturbating quite frequently. I was not upset he was masturbating, but who the women were in the photos.