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My Boyfriend Finally Just Confessed the Real Reason Our Sex Life Has Fallen Off. I’m Aghast. 

How to Do It

I’m not even sure how to respond.

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’m a woman in her mid-20s. My boyfriend is 40. Everything is marvelous and we’re engaged. We talk a lot with each other whenever something’s bothering one of us, and I think we’re a great team and a really good match.

We are both very kinky, with fetishes that go accordingly and a total trust for one another. So where does that go wrong? At the beginning of our relationship, I would spend hours tied up at his mercy, and more. Now it’s been about a year now that I feel sexually deprived. We barely have sex once a week. Mostly, it’s been boring Saturday morning spoon sex while watching kinky scenes on the internet, which I now avoid because it’s too frustrating. Our era of actually exciting sex seems to be over.

During our last heart-to-heart sex convo, I told him that I felt unwanted, that it’s tough to always initiate play—even in scenarios in which I’m supposed to be a bottom, for example, and I really want to let go and not top from the bottom. Besides, he has the most experience!

This time, he finally admitted to me the root of the problem: it’s tough for him to get really kinky with me since he also sees me as a person he wants to protect and is afraid to “damage” me. He tells me that he feels a huge daily desire toward me and gets uncontrollable boners frequently, but he can’t bring himself to act on them. As I repeatedly told him, my main fear is to become his cute lovable wife that he doesn’t want to play hardcore with anymore, but it hasn’t made a difference so far. If you have any advice to help us go through this, it would be amazing.

—Not Cut Out for This

Dear Cut Out,

Regardless of the kink and fetish aspects, many relationships follow this arc of intensity at the beginning and a trailing off as time passes. Sexual practices that involve extra risk, significant setup, or are otherwise stressful tend to be the first to go.

It’s awesome that you’ve expressed your needs clearly: You’re not interested in being a cute, loveable wife who doesn’t get kinky interaction; you are interested in a complex and dynamic sex life that incorporates various fetishes. I imagine he’s heard you—if he hasn’t, that’s a concerning sign—and focusing on your boyfriend’s tangled emotions is a great next move. He professes to desire the same kind of sex you do, but something is holding him back. Is he willing to share more about his thoughts and feelings? Is he able to understand what’s happening inside of him, and is he open to articulating and confronting it?

You’ve got a baseline of open communication and intimacy, so I think you’ve got the skills to encourage your boyfriend to examine why he’s having this reaction. I’m curious where his dichotomy between people he wants to be kinky with and people he wants to protect is coming from. If you are as well, that’s a starting point. His framing strikes me as similar to the Madonna/whore complex, and seems pretty binary. Did he receive messages growing up that he internalized and hasn’t interrogated yet? Has he hurt someone previously and not processed that incident?

If conversation between the two of you proves unfruitful, therapy in the form of couple’s counseling or individual sessions for him might help. If your partner sees you as a person who he doesn’t do certain things with, he might also struggle to open up to you about this subject and find it easier to talk with a professional. Look for providers who are sex-positive or kink-aware.

Do get this sorted before you take a large step like getting married. Your boyfriend, as much as he cares for you, may not be able to give you the sex you desire.

I Just Read About a “Horrible New Dating Trend” and Thought: Oh, I Do That

Listen now, exclusively on the How to Do It podcast: “I’ve recently seen a few articles criticizing a dating trend that hit a little too close to home … ”

Dear How to Do It,

I’m happily married to my husband for 15 years. We “do it” once or twice a week. We have a great sex life that has only gotten better over the years. He knows exactly what I want, and I know exactly what he wants. My issue is he does most of the work. He goes down on me, and does a lot of work to help me reach orgasm with his hands and tongue. Sometimes it takes me awhile, and I wind up feeling bad for all of the effort he puts in. He never complains, but I still feel selfish. Should I feel selfish or just accept that he’s a willing lover?

—Pillow Princess

Dear PP,

Feelings are feelings, so I’m wary of applying the word should to them. You feel selfish. Your emotions are OK exactly as they are, and they’re likely to shift and change as time passes. What we can control is our actions, so let’s think on that.

Have you had a conversation with your husband about how he feels when he’s going down on you and putting effort in? I can’t speak for him, but I’ve had sexual partners who got off on giving pleasure. And I enjoy focusing entirely on the enjoyment of another person sometimes myself. Do you ever find yourself doing things for other people for the sake of giving? Do you think of the recipient as selfish, or as a gracious recipient?

Have the talk, believe what your husband tells you, and move forward with a more conscious understanding of your relationship dynamic and your partner’s desires.

Dear How to Do It, 

I love the idea of throat-fucking. I really enjoy giving deep head, and I am getting pretty good at controlling my gag reflex. I really get off to videos where you can see the impression that a dick makes as it pushes down the receiver’s throat. My husband is open to exploring this with me, but we want to make sure we’re going about it properly and that engaging in safe throat-fucking won’t cause any long-term damage.

I don’t have a primary care physician that I trust enough to ask this question to, so I’m turning to my favorite resource. Do you have any tips on progressing from deep throat to throat fucking, and are there any medical risks we should be aware of before starting?

—Full Throated

Dear Full Throated,

Safe. What a word. There’s no such thing as safe, only safer. So while throat-fucking is generally not dangerous to most people who practice it carefully, there are some risks. You might damage the lining of your throat and rupture your airway, or bruise the surrounding muscles and make them uncomfortably sore. It’s also possible that you could inhale fluids from gagging. Obviously there are several adult performers who practice throat-fucking without issue, but there are risks, and it’s your choice.

It isn’t so much that deep-throating and throat-fucking are two separate activities as it is that they exist on a continuum of less-to-more athletic oral sex. Keep doing what you’re doing—taking it slow, working up to more aggressive and deeper thrusting. Any time that you feel uncomfortable, you should stop. Establish clear non-verbal communication—in the porn industry, we generally tap the person’s thigh or the side of their butt with a hand a couple of times—so that you can stop the action quickly if needed. And, as you’re slowly going, it might help to start with positions where you have more control over the movement. Good luck.

Dear How to Do It, 

I am a woman in my 30s.I haven’t had that much sex, but I’ve masturbated a lot. Frankly, I prefer it most of the time to sex. Lately, however, I’ve been craving more intimacy, and I just started dating a guy I’ve known for a while. In the last several years, I’ve realized a lot about sex and I’m wondering if it’s normal for your vagina to not be very sensitive to penetration. My clitoris and my vaginal opening are pretty sensitive, so as long as they are stimulated, I will come, but the guy I’m dating really likes it when women moan. Sex just doesn’t make me moan until right before I’m about to climax. Is this normal? Frankly, I’d like my vagina to be a bit more sensitive—is it possible to improve the sensitivity?

—Quiet

Dear Quiet,

Vulvas and clitorises tend to be more sensitive than vaginal canals. You can work on building your awareness with kegel exercises, and with slow explorations of your body that are more of a mapping than masturbation. Feel around inside your vagina with your fingers or a probe of some kind, like a dildo. Take your time and be thorough. When you find a spot that you have sensation in, hang out there for a while and focus on the feeling. It’s similar to the body awareness a person can develop by moving in front of a mirror. Do keep your expectations reasonable—don’t expect to have your cervix turn into a second clitoris.

As for the moaning. I find that vocalizing my pleasure increases it. Maybe you’ll find that you have a similar response. Maybe you’ll feel inauthentic. If you’re more of a verbal communicator, you might experiment with words of encouragement or expressions of active consent—it’s possible that your partner gets off on knowing you’re enjoying yourself more than anything. In the end, extra expressions of pleasure are your choice. Good luck.

More How to Do It

My wife and I, a woman and man in our 30s, live in a condo. Last month, my best friend, Max, got a new job in our city and came to stay with us while he looks for his own place. This arrangement has been nice because we have had no social lives for the past year-plus thanks to COVID, but it’s also a little frustrating at times because my wife and I have no alone time. Max also has boundary issues and acts like we were still roommates in our 20s. He thinks it’s fine to walk around in a towel and leave his clothes in the bathroom after he showers. I throw his dirty clothes at him, but my wife tolerates all of it, and even does his laundry sometimes. I shook my head at this, but I figured she was just trying to be a nice host. Then, the other day when I assume my wife thought I was still upstairs and Max was gone, I caught a glimpse of her doing something that shocked me.

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