How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Before diving into this week’s questions, hear from the letter writer, “Should I Just Keep My Mouth Shut?” who wrote back in with an update:
Dear How to Do It,
I’m the guy whose wife was writing sci-fi erotica on the laptop I was sharing. In the end, a couple of weeks after the question was published, I fessed up. As someone in the comments suggested, she had actually left it open on purpose. She wondered what had taken me so long to say something. I encouraged her and she’s going to send some of the non-sexual ones to publications for consideration. We have started to incorporate some of the things she wrote about into our sex life.
I was a little surprised by some of the reactions people had! Mainly, that it must be fake because I could have gotten a new laptop any time. I’m a teacher, so to work from home I just log into a user portal. I could have borrowed a school laptop, but they’re not as good as my wife’s. Maybe a boring update, but that’s what it is.
—No Longer Top Secret
Dear How to Do It,
My wife and I (M/F) have been happily married for 17 years. We have very different sex drives in terms of frequency and spontaneity. Additionally, she was brought up in a religious household with some mild/moderate aspects of purity culture teachings. As a result, her experience is very limited in creativity. I had a small number of partners before her, but I’ve always had a strong interest in sex and have no qualms about researching topics, techniques, etc. On top of all this, neither of us is very good at speaking up for our personal wants in life (not just sex), so for many years, we just muddled along and suffered for it. Only recently have we tried to discuss it more openly (with varying levels of success).
One thing my wife does like (and has admitted she likes it a lot) is giving and receiving oral sex. When I go down on her, we are working on her being more open with expressing what she likes as I try different things and providing direction about how she feels or what she’d like me to do. She is still shy about it, but there has been progress. When she goes down on me, however, she tends to favor just a couple of techniques/positions. And while they are enjoyable and effective, I’ve tried gently requesting alternate techniques, both during the act and at other times (“Hey, I think it would be fun to…”). She’s never voiced any disagreement and doesn’t seem put off by them, but her technique rarely changes when we actually engage. Honestly, I think it’s more an issue of creativity since she’s a creature of habit in many other aspects of her life.
In my research of different sex techniques, I’ve come across some videos of oral sex that are perfect examples of what really turns me on and what I’d like to try. The content is nothing extreme or otherwise off-putting—I’d describe it as slow and sensual. Since my verbal suggestions/requests seem to be forgotten and pictures/videos can convey so much more information, I’d love to be able to show her these videos and say, “Can we try this?” However, I’m concerned that she’ll get upset thinking I’m trolling the internet for porn, especially since some of the videos were found on porn clip sites. I’m worried that, given her upbringing, a video wouldn’t be well-received. Do you have any suggestions for providing this information so we can continue improving our sexual relationship without ruining what we’ve accomplished?
—Pictures Are Worth 1,000 Words
At no point in your letter do you describe your wife as enthusiastic about any of this exploration and communication around sex. That’s a point of concern for me. Sexual purity ideology does often contain messages of sexual pleasure being bad. It also often contains messages around wives having obligations to engage with their husbands sexually, and cater to all of their husbands’ desires regardless of their own boundaries. Take some time to consider whether you may be (accidentally?) taking advantage of an internalized perspective about wifely duties. Ask your wife what she was taught growing up regarding how a wife should be, what sex should be, and how important her own boundaries and desires are. Then ask whether any of those beliefs are different for her now.
As for your actual question, it seems like you’re asking how you can present these porn videos you’ve found online without it seeming as though you were, well, looking at porn videos online. If there was some combination of coincidences that led to you being exposed to several videos that show almost the exact way you’d like to receive blowjobs, by all means, lead with that. But otherwise, I can’t help you there—any attempt to frame the situation as something other than what it is will likely be inherently off-putting, regardless of the actual content of any videos you might want her to watch.
Figure out whether you’re on the same page regarding all of these changes to your sexual interactions. If it seems like you are, go ahead and broach the subject of porn, and if that goes well, ask if you can show her a couple of clips. Wait for an actual “Yes.” If you hear that, proceed, and if you don’t, start looking into the concept of enthusiastic consent. Friend of the column Kitty Stryker’s Ask: Building Consent Culture is a good place to start.
Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I (both mid-20s) are planning a week-long excursion into the Colorado wilderness in the late spring. We’re both outdoorsy types, and we did this last year as well. But last time, we tried having sex in the open; easy enough to do when you’re the only people for miles in any direction. Unfortunately, it sounded a lot more fun in theory than the practice turned out to be. Despite trying to use our blankets and bedrolls for padding, after a week, we both had bruises from shoulders to hips on our backs from trying to have sex against the ground. I was wondering if you had any tips for sex outdoors, especially in a wilderness setting without much grass cover, to prevent that from happening this time around.
Dear Camping Trip,
If you’re going to be taking a car directly to the camping site, bring more padding. A lot more. If you’re hiking to camp, this probably isn’t practical. Standing is one option. If you both have great balance—really, great balance—you can have standing sex wherever you please with a pretty low fall-over factor as long as you’re cautious and certain no other people are going to see you. More likely, you’ll want to find something to lean against or brace on, and you’ll want to consider splinters from bark for your own sake and damage to the tree or any flora that live on it for the sake of nature. Along with keeping a watchful eye out for any creatures like bees, snakes, or whatever else is in Colorado. Sitting is another option. Fold the blankets and bedrolls up to make one thick cushion. Do an image search for “seated sex positions” to get an idea of different arrangements to try. Enjoy.
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Dear How to Do It,
At 28, I’m bi and in my first multi-year relationship with another woman. My girlfriend is a lesbian and is uncomfortable with the fact that I’m not, but I still feel like I need to recognize/identify myself as someone who’s into women but also others. In my previous long-term relationships with men, it felt like they didn’t take my queerness seriously, or treated my queer celebrity crushes, friendships, porn interests, and activism as “cute.” I worked hard to maintain that part of myself in those relationships and also to treat my community seriously, even if it sometimes meant having to explain to gatekeeper-y people in those spaces that I wasn’t straight.
This inverse is happening in this relationship—my girlfriend is wildly uncomfortable if I mention in passing that a male celebrity is hot, even though we’ve bonded over our attraction to hot women plenty of times. I feel embarrassed now if I privately get off to heterosexual erotica, or notice a hot guy on the train. Heterosexuality isn’t exactly a community—I’m not missing out on kinship here. But I still want to feel OK with this internally, and be recognized by my partner externally. How do I approach this, especially in a monogamous setting where it’s not about who I sleep with, but about who I am?
—Not Just One Thing No Matter Who I Date
Dear Not Just One Thing,
I reached out to Sonja Vitow, sex and consent educator and friend of the column, who started our call with some background on how misconceptions about bisexual people you touch on in your letter are circulated.
“Bi women in particular are often portrayed on TV and in movies as being philandering hot girls who hook up with other women to be sexy to men. Bisexual men are portrayed as confused or reluctant homosexuals if they’re portrayed at all. Nonbinary bisexual people get almost no representation whatsoever.” Vitow said. “For this reason, many people, especially heterosexual people, think bisexuality is fake. That it is either ‘a phase’ or a road stop on your way to figuring out you’re ‘actually just gay.’”
This flattened and stereotyped representation can interfere with bisexual people realizing their identity and coming out, and contributes to a situation where Vitow noted, “Not only do we have to figure out our sexual identities, we have to constantly justify to others that our bisexuality is valid and unlikely to change. Constantly having to justify your own identity has a high cost. A common experience shared among many bisexuals is the constant questioning and reaffirming of your own identity.”
But of course, you know this from experience. And these issues, as your letter illustrates, appear within the queer community as well. Sonja believes “that people think they’re ‘punching up’ when they openly speak with disgust about bisexuals in a way they wouldn’t speak of other members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Because there’s this false notion that bisexuals are somehow less queer than people who identify as gay or lesbian, I think people convince themselves it’s OK to dismiss us and our role in the LGBTQIA+ community.”
Regardless of whether your girlfriend feels she is punching in any particular direction, Sonja pointed out:
“Your partner’s invalidation and your subsequent self-contraction are already affecting your mental health and self-image, as you mentioned you feel guilty fantasizing about other genders. Your internal fantasy life should be a space unencumbered by your partner’s desires for you.
Your attraction to other genders actually has nothing to do with your partner, and her discomfort has nothing to do with you. It’s her job to process why she feels so uncomfortable with your (incredibly healthy and normal) attraction to people of other genders. It is not your job to bear the burden of her discomfort. If she decides she can’t get over a core piece of your identity, neither of you will be happy staying in this relationship. You seem to have a strong sense of identity, which is something to be proud of. Your need to identify as bisexual is because it is your authentic self. If your partner doesn’t like your authentic self, simply put, there are plenty of people out there who are not bi-phobic that you could be dating instead. Minimizing your identity is self-contraction and will not lead anywhere good. Your partner should be someone who helps you celebrate your identity, not hide it.”
I considered including resources that you could connect your partner to, but ultimately decided to recommend that you give your girlfriend the opportunity to demonstrate her willingness to reconsider her perspective by finding resources herself—to show you with action that she’s working on it. Sonja suggested that you might benefit from more connection with bisexual communities—the internet and doing some reading can be good starting places. (I recommend checking out Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto, by Zachary Zane—another friend of the column who is bisexual— when it releases this spring.)
Tell your girlfriend that you’re hurting. Use “I statements” to convey how you feel when she reacts with wild discomfort to expressions of your bisexuality. If she begins to take steps toward the external recognition you need from a partner, that’s wonderful. And if she doesn’t, consider how much self-contraction you’re willing to do.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight female in my 40s who is dating someone new after ending a 20-year marriage. The issue is me. Sexuality does not come naturally or easily to me. I lost my virginity at 18 and had a handful of partners before I met my husband. Sex has always been something I did (and never really excelled at) but not something I really desired. I thought for years that perhaps I was on the asexual spectrum.
My new guy has changed all that. We have an emotional connection that feeds my desire for him. I love our physical relationship but I still feel like I am a clueless amateur in bed. I have no moves, I don’t know what I like, I have no real fantasies, I don’t know how to experiment, etc. On top of that, I don’t orgasm from penis-in-vagina sex, only oral or manual stimulation. He is patient and able to take the lead when I struggle but I want to do better. He has made it clear that he loves me and finds me sexy. However, I get intimidated because he is far more experienced and creative in bed. We have talked about this to some extent and he (kindly) acknowledged my awkwardness. Could this be some level of asexuality? Or am I just a person who may never excel at sex?
—Keeping It Awkward
Dear Keeping It Awkward,
If I understand your letter correctly, you’re experiencing sexual desire for the first time, which is directed toward a specific person and seems fueled by the emotional connection the two of you share. Exploring labels, like asexuality, can help us deepen our understanding of ourselves and help us find resources. To that end, I have a few book suggestions. For some reading on asexuality, I recommend Angela Chen’s pioneering Ace, which explores what asexuality is, and Sherronda J. Brown’s Refusing Compulsory Sexuality, which explores how asexuality exists within the contexts of racism, sexism, and heteronormativity—all systems that include strong ideas of “normal” or “ideal” and marginalize people who don’t fit those definitions. You might also read Christine Emba’s Rethinking Sex, which considers what emotional connection brings to sexual relationships.
As for excelling at sex, well, the parameters of excellence are different for each person. We do get a lot of messages about what good sex means—whether through society, media, or specifically through pornography. I’d like to add my own: Excellent sex is about connection—from brief, anonymous, and physical to lifelong, emotional, and intellectual. Great sex involves respect for the boundaries of others and ourselves, what we individually define as joyful and fulfilling, and a pursuit of how that definition overlaps with the definitions of our partners—assuming there are any involved. Regardless of gender, not everyone orgasms from penetration. Not everyone wants to. Regardless of gender, orientation, race, spirituality, and ideology, what we want—and don’t want—may shift and change over the course of our lifetimes or even during a given day.
Try to give yourself more of the same patience that your partner is giving you. You don’t need moves, though you’ll probably develop some. You do need space for vulnerable communication, and it sounds like you have the beginnings of that.
More Advice From Slate
I’m a guy, 24, predominantly straight but heteroflexible, I’d say—I’ve hooked up with guys but haven’t felt attracted to men lately. I’m married to a bisexual woman who’s 26 and who has been in (fairly) serious relationships with both men and women. My wife expresses desires to have a girlfriend, which I’m fine with for the most part. She says she’d be fine with me having a boyfriend but not a girlfriend.