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 worked as a bikini barista for two years and it made me feel repulsed by sex. At first, the money was good and in some ways, it felt empowering, like making lemonade out of lemons where the lemons are a society that disproportionately sexualizes women. I worked close to the highway near a truck stop and about one in 10 customers behaved inappropriately, but when you serve hundreds of customers a day, it adds up. It impacted my relationship and I ended up breaking up with my boyfriend at the time. By the time I got home, I was just done being sexy. He would initiate and it just felt gross. The job also made me hyper-focused on my body image, and I developed what eventually realized was an eating disorder.
Now, a year later, I have started seeing someone new. He’s respectful and knows I want to take it slow, but the more I think about it, the more I dread having sex. I used to like dirty talk, but now it disgusts me. When someone tries to flirt with me, I feel angry and my heart starts racing. Is this just the way I am now? Did I become asexual? I feel like I’m just burned out on sexuality. How can I broach this with my new boyfriend? I don’t want to scare him off.
Dear Turned Off,
The question is not so much whether you’ll scare off your new boyfriend—or whether you’re too damaged for him—but whether he’s up to the task of being patient with you and supporting you as you process everything you’ve experienced at work, figure out how you relate to men now, and find what your interest in sexual interactions currently is.
I empathize immensely with your description of sexualized labor as making lemonade out of a pile of patriarchy-flavored citrus fruit, and with the downsides of that experience. I used to come back from conventions hoping for a man-free 48 hours. I wouldn’t want to be touched, or smell the sweat of anxious dudes knowing they’re expecting more than they have any real reason to hope for but who nonetheless persist toward their goal. Neither of us seems to be outliers in our reactions to constant waves of entitlement toward our bodies in these sorts of venues.
Workers in other difficult fields often have support. But unless we’re tied into local sex workers’ communities, people in sexualized fields are often left to sort it out for ourselves. And even when we do have some sort of community, the rigors of the likes of bikini bars and porn are not as well understood as the direct providing of full sexual services. Both groups are less well-organized than full-service workers—and strippers—are, for different reasons.
If it were me, and it has been me, I’d say this: “My last job had some workplace hazards that I wasn’t protected against, and that I don’t have a clear path to getting help navigating the aftermath of. I care about you and I want to keep you in my life. I also need you to understand where I’m at, and how little I’m able to understand—and therefore articulate—what I need.” Phrase it in your own words. If he’s receptive, tell him what you’ve written here. If he isn’t, bail fast, bail hard, and don’t look back—he’s not understanding enough for you.
Dear How to Do It,
I hate semen, and that makes me sad. I (40F) am married to a wonderful man who is basically fine with the fact that I’m happy to give blow jobs but don’t like him to finish in my mouth. However, I know he really would enjoy finishing there, and I’d love to do that for him. We have tried that twice, and one of those times I actually gagged and threw up in the aftermath because I was so grossed out.
I’ve wondered if it could be a matter of exposure, or shifting my thinking about it. I’ve tried reading porn where semen is lovingly described as something sexy, but it hasn’t changed anything for me. I can’t help thinking about it as anything other than penis snot. Are there ways I may have overlooked to make my brain (and gag reflex) feel differently about semen? I love penises! And sex! I just hate the goo.
—Gagging on Goo
You don’t like the goo! That’s OK. We don’t often get to do absolutely everything that might be enjoyable. In fact, we don’t have the time in our lives to do so—even if we’re confining ourselves to the subject of sexuality.
It is absolutely possible to give a damn good blowjob with a condom (the thinner the better), which might allow you to give your husband the experience of ejaculating in your mouth without the ejaculate actually getting in your mouth. I think that’s worth considering.
And yes, exposure might (possibly!) help, but throwing yourself off the deep end—or rather, taking a whole load deep in the back of your mouth—is a bit extreme. You might start with just a little bit of semen, scooped up on your finger. If you decide to try that, you’ll want to move quickly as congealing is a whole phenomenon that can be pretty off-putting. Or blow your husband until he’s close and have him ejaculate on your closed lips to start, working up to maybe licking a bit off of your mouth when he’s done. At the end of the day, though, this might simply be a thing you aren’t into, and that’s completely fine.
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Dear How to Do It,
I have been seeing a wonderful man for a few months and everything is going well. He is smart, kind, caring, and great in bed. I am a cis female (43), and he is a cis male (51). Our sex life is great, we connect on emotional and intellectual levels and have a lot of fun together. My question is the following, when I go down on him he cannot cum. It feels great (according to his words and body language), he just cannot go over the proverbial cliff. We have talked about this and when he was younger, his previous partners expressed distaste for swallowing and sperm in general. I’ve assured him I enjoy this and it’s not an issue. He wants to experience this as well but as he puts it, when he gets close it’s like a curtain coming down. He has never in his life had an orgasm through oral sex. He does not have issues with orgasms during intercourse. How do I help him reach the top of the mountain through oral?
—Close but No Cigar
Dear Close But No Cigar,
Take the pressure off. Right now you’re both trying to make a certain type of orgasm happen and, generally speaking, that’s the best way to prevent yourself from achieving your goal.
Circle back to your enjoyment, and make it clear to your partner that you want him to ejaculate in your mouth. Tell him you want to swallow his semen. Then let him know that you’re hoping, since you’ve made your point, that the two of you can simply enjoy each others’ bodies and let whatever happens happen. Underline that a few times until he seems to have really internalized it. Have a big ol’ chat about decreasing the focus on any particular outcome. See what unfolds.
It might be that it never happens, in which case I refer you to the letter above where I wax on about how we don’t get to do everything.
Dear How to Do It,
I am “Not In Love” from this How to Do It column. Things worked out differently than planned; my “friend” and I have been together for nearly a year now. I love him! He adores me! Things are strange but good.
There is only one thing I’d fix about our sex lives, which is what I’m writing in for. We still live at a distance without regular easy access to one another, so when visits do happen, it’s implied by both of us that sex will, likely, be on the table. From a scheduling and fix perspective, this makes sense. However, from an “acting on passion” standpoint, it’s not as sexy. I like sleeping with him regardless (and he’s respectful when I’m not in the mood), but doing so when we’re both really turned on is hotter for me. There’ve been a handful of times where the horniness was lined up perfectly with the meetings, and even from a distance, if we’re both in the mood, sexting and calls come into play. Also good, but I’d love to act on impulse with my partner more. If not that, then increasing passion/intensity during our scheduled sessions is the goal.
Any more advice for me?
—Definitely In Love
Dear Definitely In Love,
::static crackles:: “Thank you for riding the HTDI line. We’re about to pull into Love Station. Please collect your belongings and prepare to get off.” ::horrible screeching noise but not horrible enough to put you off riding the train:: You’ve been surprised by life once, so stay open to further uncertainty.
I love it when the answers build on each other. Read the one above and then come back. Remove that pressure. Let go of expectations. You don’t know whether you will or will not have sex. You know there’s always another trip, a phone sex or sexting session, or some great alone time with yourself. Step out of the framing of sex as a fix and see it as something that may or may not bloom at any time. You can set yourself up for success by watering the seed and giving it sunlight. Flirt with each other. Enjoy not knowing. Push each others’ buttons. When you get turned on, try to wind him up and yourself up more. Think about all the little things he’s mentioned that rile him up, and communicate the little things that do the same to you. Be vocal.
You’ve got this. With respect and communication and mutual interest, you’ve got everything you need to grow that passion.
More Advice From Slate
I am a 43-year-old man, and my wife is 41. We married when I was 31 and my wife was 29. She never had sex before we got together, not even masturbation, because of her conservative upbringing. On my part, I started masturbation in seventh grade, and I first had sex while I was 16. We enjoyed ourselves the first few years. After that, she seemed to lose interest. I think she had a few real orgasms, but mainly faked them. Now, I always suspected this was because I am not very big.