My boyfriend rejects every surprise I give him during sex

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 (37) have been seeing a man (40) for several months now. Almost everything about our relationship is damn near perfect and we connect in a way that I have never connected with another person. He claims the same is true for him. For me, this has resulted in an elevated sex drive that is both unusual and sometimes overstimulating for me, but which I keep in check due to some previous encounters. For instance, we discussed at one point early on that he was a big fan of lingerie, and, in an effort to please him shortly thereafter, I surprised him by being scantily clad upon his arrival back to the house after we had been at a party together He rebuked me rather aggressively saying that it was “emasculating” and that I hadn’t considered his feelings about what he might experience upon showing up and seeing that.

In several other situations, I have tried to initiate sex and he’s disregarded or otherwise ignored, rebuffed, or outright rejected my advances. Sex really only happens between us when he initiates it, and that’s not nearly as frequently as I would like. To that end, we had also previously discussed the idea of ​​me waking him with oral, at which point he was very enthusiastically “pro” and encouraged me to go for it. I would be very interested in initiating this with him and do feel I have consent to do so based on that conversation. But, based on these previous encounters, I am unsure whether consent has been withdrawn, or if initiating oral while he sleeps would be just the ticket to getting the ball rolling.

So… given that it’s impossible to gain consent from a sleeping individual, and my own insecurities about rejection around sex with him in general, do I go for it to see what happens, or would I find myself incarcerated?

—To blow or not to blow

Dear to Blow,

If you are unsure whether consent has been withdrawn, you must check in before proceeding. Also, if you haven’t had a conversation about the lingerie incident or your unhappiness with the frequency of your sex—you should definitely discuss those things as well. The idea is to discuss your sex life from a holistic perspective. Over the course of the conversation (slash conversations) circle back with him to make sure that his enthusiastic “pro” attitude regarding waking him with a blowjob is still in place.

Scenarios like the one that you’re fantasizing about, which smudge consent lines to some extent in terms of each discrete encounter, must be extensively discussed and coordinated ahead of time. Find out how he wants your going down to go down. Is the element of surprise part of the excitement? Is he OK with being woken up with head whenever, or are certain mornings (like those of work days) off-limits? Does he want you to give him the heads up before bed? Does he want to have even more control? You’re right that it’s impossible to gain consent from a sleeping individual, but you can map out a plan to make this work. There are definitely guys out there who, in many contexts, enjoy being woken up by their partner with a blow job (I know—I’m one of them). Just make sure you bang out a plan.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a woman in my 40s married to a similarly aged man. We have one elementary school-aged child together. Without drawing out the story, he was intermittently emotionally abusive toward me for several years. I would have left years ago except for our child, to whom he is a good father and who I was not ready to see every day under the inevitable joint custody agreement. After multiple tries at couples counseling, he finally came to understand why his words and actions were unacceptable, and he has made real changes. Rationally, I appreciate the work he has done and recognize the genuineness of his desire to overcome his own family history and change.

Emotionally, however, it has been a year since our “breakthrough” and I still have zero desire to have sex with him and have difficulty imagining ever wanting to have sex with him again. I suggested we open our relationship, but he does not want to do so, both because he thinks we can make things work and because he is a serial monogamist and believes that he will end up falling in love with whoever he starts sleeping with, leading to the divorce and joint custody arrangement he doesn’t want either. I am full of many mixed emotions—I don’t want to force myself to have sex I don’t want and yet feel bad depriving him of the love and touch that he wants. Having spent significant time on this with my therapist, I genuinely believe that, for now, staying married is what is best for our child in our particular circumstances. But I also can’t imagine forcing him (and to a lesser extent myself—my sex drive is relatively low these days but still there) into another decade of sexual frustration.

Is there a solution I’m missing? Am I being selfish and unwilling to forgive in the face of someone who truly has changed and who is now actively supporting me in many ways? Should I try to reignite things? Or stand by the enthusiastic consent principles that if I don’t want to have sex then I shouldn’t feel pressured to have sex? It also feels wrong to pressure him into going out and sleeping with other people when that isn’t what he wants. What is the ethical thing to do here?

—Age Old Questions for the Modern Age

Dear Age Old Questions,

You should continue to listen to your body. Do not force yourself to have sex with a person to whom you are not sexually attracted—that’s only going to cause more problems for you down the line. So, don’t feel bad about this. No matter what your reasons, you shouldn’t feel guilty for not wanting sex and the reasons in this particular case make perfect sense, from an outside perspective.

The most ethical thing to do is to lay this all out for him—tell him that his optimism is misplaced and that there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to make your relationship work sexually. Then, he can evaluate the situation realistically, not based on eager optimism. Maybe there is no perfect decision here. It may be that you both end up choosing your intact family unit over sex. That’s not ideal, but it may be the best way to navigate a situation that is itself already suboptimal.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m not a stranger to kink but my primary partner at the moment has a strong proclivity for biting. He has very sharp teeth and tends to bite pretty hard. I don’t want to discourage him because I do enjoy it, but at the same time, I end up covered in bruises and rather sore from his attention. Basically, I’m in a place where I am definitely fond of pain with my pleasure but I’d like to suffer less long-lasting effects and set better boundaries. How can I navigate this with my partner without making him feel like he’s done something wrong?

—Bitten and Bewildered

Dear Bitten,

Your partner must understand that with biting comes the potential for pain, and if he somehow missed that sandbox anatomy lesson, make him understand it. Tell him that you find this all super hot, but you’d like just a little less pressure coming from his mouth. Practice with him—in a nonsexual context, ask him to bite you softly and apply increasing pressure until you’re at your threshold. Tell him that’s as far as he can go. If he forgets when you’re getting hot and heavy, remind him. This isn’t about changing anything, just reeling it in, and such adjustments are not just acceptable, they’re the cornerstone of mutually pleasurable sex. (Think orally—many people feel perfectly comfortable directing their partner so as to help achieve orgasm. ) It’s really OK to ask for a little bit more of this or a little bit less of that. It’s his duty to hear you and act accordingly.

Dear How to Do It,

My partner and I have been together for 15 years, from our teens to our early 30s. Both of our sex drives have fluctuated over the years, sometimes more in sync and sometimes not, but for the last several years we’ve been on a similar level and I would describe us both as being satisfied with our sex life.

Lately, though, my partner has been increasingly vocal about his dissatisfaction with how often I orgasm. I am perfectly content to have an orgasm a couple of times a year, and aside from those times, I prefer to avoid clitoral stimulation as I’m highly sensitive and if I’m not in a getting-off headspace it feels unpleasant to be touched there (I’ve never come from penetration).

But my partner wants more. It’s not enough for us to have sex a couple of times a week because he feels like it’s one-sided. When I’ve tried to explain that I like touching him and going down on him and having sex with him, that these are pleasurable and satisfying for me too, he maintains that it’s “all for him” and he doesn’t feel like I ‘m allowing him to reciprocate. He’s tried buying all kinds of toys and lubricants and drugs that he hopes will increase my orgasm drive, but none of it has had any effect. Now I feel horrible and feel tremendous pressure to feel a greater desire for orgasm than I do, which is not a turn-on.

All of this makes him feel undesired and sad, and it makes me feel invalidated and broken because my body doesn’t work the way he wants it to and the way his does. How can we move past this? How can I make him feel wanted without having to prove myself in a way that I’m not capable of?

—Coming Up Short

Dear Coming Up Short,

You’re not going to get anywhere until he accepts you and stops attempting to derive his self-worth from your orgasms. He’s being distracted from what is by his conception of what should be. The fact is that you are someone who isn’t particularly pressed by your frequency of orgasms, and enjoys sex regardless of them. Perhaps it’s time to frame this to him as an identity—it is fixed, and not in need of repair. His interpretation of your body and how its response reflects on him is just that—interpretation. It’s projection and it’s only a problem because he’s making it a problem. You aren’t!

He may be in the process of discovering that he greatly desires a partner who is more orgasmically inclined. Maybe this is the dawn of the realization that you are incompatible. That would be a shame, though, as your sanguine attitude is theoretically well-suited for this situation. Maybe you could point out—as gently as possible and without a sense of accusation—that if you’re OK with your frequency of orgasms, why isn’t he?

—Rich

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My wife of 35 years and I have widely divergent feelings about her premarital sexual history: I’m completely turned on by hearing it and love about her experiences, but she’s fairly tight-lipped about discussing them with me.

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