Appeared in Slate
Dear How to Do It,
I adore my husband of 12 years. We have two kids, a great house, and are very close. The big catch: When we met I was very inexperienced and he failed to disclose a lot of information about his own sexual history, which included a boatload of gay sex and orgies and humiliation play. He lied to me for years before finally telling me he was bi. Over the last two years, we have tried a lot of new things to make him happy: We had an open marriage, used toys on each other, watched gay porn, and talked a lot about his fantasies. He stopped talking to his extended family during this time frame and told me one night that he probably would have identified as gay rather than bi if he had a more accepting family.
He insists that he only loves me and doesn’t want to end our relationship, but he also calls me vanilla all the time and insists I find him disgusting. When I make a move, he will often flinch. He gets extremely upset if I express concern that he is going to opt out of our relationship, which I feel is a legit concern. Now he says he is just going to repress that side of himself. I don’t want him to lie to himself, or me, and I don’t care if he is bisexual. I don’t even care if he has someone on the side as long as he is super careful with protection. I love my husband and I don’t want to break up our life, but I don’t know how to move past the unhealthy sexual dynamic in our relationship. Sexually, he has made me feel like I will always be second best.
I don’t think that I should have to feel bad for enjoying heterosexual sex and not needing a lot of the extra bells and whistles, especially since I am ready and willing to play along with the things that interest him. What should I do?
—Blast From the Past
Dear Blast From the Past,
I think you should focus on yourself because you’ve spent way too long focusing on and accommodating your husband. A partner—especially one who failed to disclose so much about himself—should be so lucky to receive a quarter of your effort and acceptance. I almost feel like typing an itemized list based on your question to reflect back to you how much you have done, because I’m not sure that you’re aware of the extraordinary degree of your generosity.
It breaks my heart a little that your husband makes you feel that you will always be second best, and yet you’re still with him and actively pursuing a sex life. I have to wonder why you keep at it. Has the sex, when it’s actually happened, been that good? Until he gets therapy to work through issues around his sexuality, self-hate, and upbringing—which seem clear in your letter—I don’t think either of you will be satisfied, nor will the emotionally abusive ways he’s lashing out at you stop.
But you asked me what you should do, not him. You didn’t mention much about your own sexuality, only as it implicitly relates to your husband’s. To write a proper prescription, I’d need to know more about you. But taking you at your word that your everything else is dandy at home, have you considered seeking some action of your own on the side? I totally understand not wanting to give up the domestic bliss you have with your partner, but it sounds like sex with him is a dead end for now. If you’re really after good old vanilla heterosexual gratification, I agree you shouldn’t feel bad, but I think you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Inquire how he would feel about both of you having someone on the side—maintain your life partnership and compartmentalize your sex as something you have only with others. It’s possible it will make him feel worse, or maybe a sense of relief, but you don’t know until you broach it, possibly with a counselor.
It’s not ideal, but what relationship is? If you set off to find one as an example right now we’d all die before you returned back to your computer to finish reading my answer to your question. So don’t bother. If you’re getting some (which is to say enough) from someone else, the issue of sex will cast a much shorter shadow over your partnership, and it may make your happy home even happier. Or maybe it’ll make him jealous enough to snap him out of simultaneously shaming you and imposing his cockeyed interpretations of your sexual feelings for him. I’m not sure exactly what you need from a short letter, but I’m certain that you deserve better than what you’re getting.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in my early 20s. I grew up imagining sex was going to be amazing, but so far, it’s never quite worked. I get off fine on my own while reading or watching kinky porn or using my imagination, but I get stuck in my head when I’m with another person. I’m not sure if it’s because the sex I’ve been having has been too vanilla, or I’m just finding bad sexual partners, or if there’s something wrong with me. I’ve hooked up with both men and women. I just got out of a serious relationship, and it was some of the worst sex of my life. I definitely don’t think I’m asexual because the desire is still there. I just can’t seem to master the execution.
I’ve been open with partners in the past about not having had an orgasm with another person. They always take it as a challenge, and when whatever they’re doing doesn’t work immediately, they take it personally. Or they just totally give up because they assume I’m not going to come anyway, so why bother? A lot of articles tell you not to worry if you aren’t having orgasms, but I’m not having fun either. It’s almost like because it’s been so bad in the past, I’m too jaded to be present with whoever I’m with. I’ve gotten really good at faking it. I think I used to see being good at sex as being really good at getting the other person off, but now I’m realizing that I’ve spent next to no time trying to figure out how to enjoy myself in my own body. I am interested in exploring kink, but I haven’t even mastered the basics yet. I feel like most people my age have figured out what works for them by now. All the advice I’ve read about this kind of thing tells you to get better at masturbating, but I have that part down! I’ve had so much sex, but I feel like a virgin.
Dear Forever Virgin,
It sounds to me like your problem may be as simple as you’re innately kinkier than the sex you’re having. Please do not feel self-conscious about realizing this in your early 20s. In your early 20s, your brain is still developing—there’s no way you are who you will come to be. As we live, we learn more about ourselves, and as we learn more about ourselves, the sex we have changes. Most people do not have this all figured by your age.
So you are by any reasonable measure very young, and you’ll likely find plenty of people happy to show you the ropes of whatever kink you’re interested in trying out. In fact, a lot of people find the combination of eagerness and inexperience in a partner to be a particular turn-on—you likely won’t merely be taught, you’ll be taught by a teacher who cares, like Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, but for kink. I don’t know which kink zests your lemon, so I can’t provide advice beyond that. But the internet is a big place with very specific connections, so I’m going to assume you can Google your path to an orgasm attended by at least one partner of your choice.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have been together for 10 years. Our sex life is mutually satisfying except for one small (big?) problem. My husband is a big guy: 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. I am smaller at 5-foot-2, 130 pounds. Our size mismatch is further complicated by the fact that his penis is smaller than average, and his belly can get in the way of deep penetration during sex. The result is that there are exactly three positions that allow us satisfying friction: missionary, cowgirl, and doggy style. After 10 years, I’m fairly bored with these same three positions and long (ha!) for something more. Am I doomed to forever repeat the same old routine? Is there some kind of workaround that I haven’t thought of?
You’re going to have to think beyond positions here. When a dick doesn’t expand your hole of choice, you’re just going to have to expand your mind. By now, the two of you are road-tested enough that you can tick off exactly what positions work for you. I could bust out some old action figures (say, a He-Man and Princess Leia) to strategize how to further negotiate your size difference, but I think you’re good there. Luckily for both of you, there are several sexual avenues you can explore that don’t involve penetrative sex (like say, oh, oral), or that dress it up to the point of making penetration function more like a side dish—or at least like a co-main (like, say, bondage).
But really, your multiple Freudian pratfalls (those were not slips!) suggest that you’re jonesing for a bigger dick, at least sometimes. So get one. Recruit a living one if your husband is down for a threesome, or get yourself a nice fat dildo and play with it with him. Buy an extender he can put on his penis during sex, or a vibrating cock ring that will add some zing to your bang. By now, through the sheer positioning trial and error that your letter alludes to, he must know that his dick is not huge. It’s OK for you to want some variation, especially if your sex life with him is active, and a toy is a completely reasonable negotiation if he’s not willing to explore group sex. I trust you know the best way to broach this with your husband, and I’d wager he wouldn’t mind mixing it up too.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 61-year-old man—active, fit, and married for 25 years. My wife, whom I love and would never want to hurt, is 66, post-menopausal, and has completely lost interest in sex.
I haven’t had intercourse in two years or experienced any real physical passion, and I’m starting to lose my mind. I’ve considered using a hookup app or going to a prostitute, but both options aren’t very attractive to me so I’ve been reluctant to pull the trigger. What else can I do?
—Still in It
Dear Still in It,
You don’t give any indication that you’ve discussed this in any detail with your wife, so that’s what you should do first. I don’t recommend seeking outside sex without her blessing or at least her knowledge. It’s perfectly reasonable for you to want to find another target for your sexual energy. While getting there is likely to be an emotional process that requires compassion and reassurance, this is a purely pragmatic issue. You want sex, she doesn’t, so you’re going to have to get it outside your home. If she’s truly not interested anymore, it’s a fair ask, though it may take her some getting used to, and it may come with a list of requests and rules to make this process as painless for her as possible.
Honor all of them.
Please, though, make sure that you confirm in words that she’s completely lost interest in sex. I’ve only been writing this column for a month, but I’m already acutely aware that a lot of people are living unsatisfying sex lives in (and because of) silence and uncertainty. Maybe she does still have desires and needs your help to realize them.
If you’ve discussed all this and still, for unspecified reasons, aren’t interested in a hookup app or paying for sex, you have more options. Make a sexy friend. Dabble with guys and visit a glory hole or a gym sauna—less work than an app. Or resign yourself to a life wherein your primary sexual activity is masturbation. If you don’t do anything about this situation, you’re going to have to.