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’ve just figured out a pattern in my sex life that I’m not thrilled about. Every time I have sex, I’m in a bad mood the next day. Not really terrible, but a little sad, stressed, grumpy, and oversensitive. I like having sex, even though I don’t do it often. I have a very low libido so we might have sex (oral and digital) about once a month. My spouse and I are both happy with our sex life like this and I always feel good right afterward. But the next day, I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. I thought that I might not be sleeping well after sex. However, if we have sex in the morning, I still spend all day in an “off” mood. I genuinely have no idea what is causing this, and I want to fix it. Could this be hormonal? Is it a sign that there’s something deeper wrong with me? The sex I do have is always respectful, loving, hot, and fun. It’s pretty chill, too, so I don’t think I’m just physically exhausted. I’m a newlywed with decades of sex ahead of me, but I don’t want to be grumpy and teary at work all day just because I got laid the night before.
—Is This a Sex Hangover?
Dear Sex Hangover,
Big changes in life can be unsettling. Marriage is one of those big changes, even if you’ve been living together for a long time.
Take some time to think about the sex the two of you are having. What is respectful and loving about your sexual interactions with your spouse? What is fun and hot about it for you? Write these details down. Take a look a few days later. Read it back to yourself. Ask yourself what you see, and what feels true. When you have time, do the same kind of writing about your grumpy feelings. What are you sad about the next day? What is stressing you out? Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are might be helpful as you work through what you’re experiencing. The book contains exercises and a wealth of expertise based on years of practice. And if you’re still not getting to the root of it, speaking with a trusted friend can help.
When you’ve got some understanding of what’s happening inside of yourself, find time when you and your spouse can both talk. Let them know what’s going on. After years of seeing previous partners make notes before our conversations, I tried it myself and was able to be more clear in my own communication. Listen to your spouse when they respond. Ask them what they enjoy about the sexual interactions the two of you have. When you start feeling overwhelmed, slow down and communicate that feeling.
If you go for yearly physicals, do speak with your doctor and ask whether they’d like to run any extra tests. And consider therapy if you’re having a hard time doing the kind of writing I’ve suggested or having a conversation with your spouse. But first, put in the effort to find out what’s happening inside yourself.
Dear How to Do It,
Lube is good, but I feel like I’m missing some information. I’m a 40-year-old cis woman in a monogamous relationship with a cis man. We have a good thing going, in general, and are figuring out a good sex life for us right now. We occasionally grab a bottle of lube but more typically, we use a quick mouthful of spit, a couple of times per frolic. Spit dries out pretty fast, but so does (water-based) lube, and I feel like it gets sticky and gunky in a way spit doesn’t. But lube is more slippery and slick than spit and I like that. I can follow up the initial lube with spit and rehydrate it, which lowers the stickiness until it (quickly) dries again. Adding more lube gets sticky almost immediately. I’ve tried a couple of brands (all water-based) and this problem seems endemic.
I guess I don’t really mind just throwing more spit at the bits, but is there a more elegant or sexier solution (so to speak)? Do people keep a teeny little squirt bottle of water next to their beds? And while we’re at it, is there an artful way to warm up lube before applying?
Dear Moistened Bint,
There are several possible solutions. Depending on whether you’re using condoms, and what material those condoms are made out of, silicone lubricant might be what you’re looking for. Silicone can be more slippery than expected, so start with a small amount and add more if necessary. The Center for Disease Control’s guide says to use water-based or silicone lubricant with condoms, and the package will have information about what types of lubricant can be used without reducing the effectiveness of the prophylactic. Dr. Jen Gunter’s The Vagina Bible has a chapter on lubricants that describes coconut oil as something her patients have used over the years—though she mentions that further study is warranted. Water-based lube does dry out often. Keeping water next to your bed might seem like a good idea, but if you go that route you’ll have created another problem to solve: how to prevent the water from getting everywhere.
As for ways to warm up lubricant, you can pour some into your hand and hold it there until your body heat raises the temperature. There are companies that make warming devices, as well, but those are both an investment and another gadget to maintain.
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Dear How to Do It,
Would I be insane to throw away a budding excellent relationship over one sexual preference? I’m a straight 34-year-old man dating a 32-year-old woman for the last eight months. We connect in a way that I love and have similar values and outlooks on life. Our sex life, however, is missing one key element for me: anal. It’s a hard no for her. She says she tried it before in another relationship for her, and it holds about as much appeal as someone “shoving their big toe into her nostril.” She finds it uncomfortable and any approach around her anus cuts off all desire. I love anal, and it has always been a part of my sex life—maybe not every week, but regularly. She has told me that if this is something I need to continue doing, it will be the end of our relationship as we are monogamous and she will not compromise. I’m at a loss, I can’t see a long-term relationship where this isn’t a feature. Is there a middle ground here? Anal is a standard part of sexuality for everyone nowadays, like oral, masturbation, and penis-in-vagina, right?
—Front Door Only
Dear Front Door Only,
The woman you’re dating isn’t into anal. She has clearly stated that she doesn’t want to receive any kind of anal stimulation. That’s her boundary. Regardless of whether other people are having this kind of sex, it isn’t what she wants. You, on the other hand, are very into anal. That kind of sex is important for you to the point that you can’t imagine a long-term relationship without it.
The two of you are monogamous, so having anal sex with other people isn’t an option. From the phrase you’ve quoted here, in the context of her boundaries, it sounds like verbalizing fantasies about anal sex together is likely to shut her desire down as well. She’s telling you what her hard limits are. If you’re open to enjoying fantasies about anal on your own as the outlet for this desire, that’s a middle ground. If you’re open to giving up this particular sex act, that’s another option.
Think about where else your desires do line up. And consider having a talk about masturbation—we’ve heard over the years from people whose partners are upset when they masturbate, and vice versa. Once you’ve got an idea of the full picture, make a decision about whether this relationship is one you can be sexually fulfilled in, and how important sexual fulfillment is to you.
Dear How to Do It,
I am in a five-year relationship that is incredibly happy and invested. We have had a good, but not perfect sex life in this time. In our conversations, we’ve been able to identify things we found were dragging, but haven’t always been able to identify a way forward.
Recently, over the last two months, I’ve hit sort of a dry spell. The idea of sex with him doesn’t turn me off, but for whatever reason doing it NOW, when the opportunity arises, isn’t something I want. My sex drive isn’t totally absent, I just can’t seem to align it to the moments we’re together. I feel it, and I know he feels it. So far it isn’t something he’s brought up. I believe he understands it’s an unusual thing for me as well and is waiting for me to broach the subject.
I feel confident about having a productive conversation with him, and I know that’s the first step here, but… Given our previous conversations, I don’t fully trust us to find a solution without more structure and prompting. I’ve seen your suggestion for a dedicated conversation with all needs met (food, water, time, etc.), but is there a good way to set this conversation up? I think we both empathize very strongly when we’re talking, but a lack of preparation leaves things out. Do you have any advice for “scheduling” sex talk, or what kind of agenda we could work from?
Dear Assigning Homework,
Make a list of the issues that the two of you haven’t been able to resolve, and consider whether there are common themes between them. Spend some time thinking about whether you’ve found yourself out of sync with partners in the past. If there’s a pattern in your life, take a look at the context. Nagoski’s book, and what I recommended to the letter writer above, may help you as well. When you’ve figured out what you want to say, write it down or type it out. Think through what you want to express.
Use what you’ve written down as a guide. Whether you’ve got a list of phrases or full paragraphs, let your partner know that you’d like to refer to some notes so the two of you can stay on track. And remember that you won’t solve everything at once, so keep it to a few points.
Think about your schedule and your partner’s schedule. When are you both able to be present? You’ve got a history of empathetic and productive conversations—think about ways that you’ve set yourself up for success in having those talks. That’ll give you some insight into good times to have conversations. Plan your time together so you can broach the subject gently. And ask how he’s feeling, first, to get an idea of his stress levels.
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