My Boyfriend Thinks Moving in Is Going to Change Everything. He’s in for a Surprise.

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How to Do It

A lot is riding on this…

A woman looks pensive in front of a ring of neon lights.

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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,

My name is Amanda, I’m 25, and I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend (27) since I was 17. So next month is our eighth anniversary.

We haven’t really had sex consistently for the past three years. I have really high anxiety and have a hard time getting into the moment, medications haven’t helped this, and I was recently diagnosed with vaginismus which complicates things even more. I just feel like I could never have sex again and be fine, I don’t really get aroused by other people or things either. I am working on my issues with physical therapy, but it’s been slow going.

We are planning to move in together this summer, and my boyfriend has expressed that he is hoping living together will be “the best chance” for us to rekindle our sex lives. He has been very patient with me as I’ve navigated these issues and is generally very supportive, but I worry that living together is not going to be the magic solution he thinks it will be and I feel a lot of pressure to “fix” myself so we don’t inevitably break up. He’s my best friend and we’ve basically grown up together, everything about our relationship is great, except for the sex.

What should I do? Are his expectations realistic or pushing into the red-flag territory?

— Sexless and Stressed

Dear Sexless and Stressed,

Your boyfriend sounds very … 27. Contrary to his hopes and expectations, domestic proximity often confers even less sex than what preceded it. This is what Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity is all about—the more you know someone, the harder it is to eroticize them. Mystique is key. Now, this is not so for everyone, of course, but the dead bedroom is a cliché for a reason. So I’m not sure what he’s basing his hope in, other than blind optimism.

Have you considered that you might be on the asexual spectrum? That your “issues” are, in fact, features, and that said features are not necessarily bugs? I’m not suggesting you abandon your efforts for achieving what you want out of your life and body, but that perhaps all the effort in the world will not be enough to remedy a situation—your potential (a)sexual nature—that cannot and does not need to be remedied. If I were you, I’d explore this—you could start by reading any number of books about asexuality on the market. Angela Chen’s Ace has long been suggested in this column. A more recent entry in the subgenre of ace books is Cody Daigle-Orains I Am Ace, which he specifically wrote as a kind of ace 101.

Is your boyfriend’s hope a red flag? It really depends on how it’s presented. If there’s a sense of expectation being telegraphed and a strong chance that he will be sorely disappointed once you’ve made the life-altering decision to move in together and sex doesn’t become more frequent, this is worth revisiting explicitly. Like having a child, moving in together is way too complicated to be used as a relationship-saving tactic. Ask him if it will still be worth moving in together even if your sex life remains as it is. If he has trepidation, reconsider cohabitation—moving sucks and it would suck even more to have to do it a second time when this gambit doesn’t work out.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am currently seven months pregnant with my first child. For the last two or three months, every time my husband and I try to have sex, it ends with me having a full panic attack or breaking down sobbing. We’ve tackled this like a scientific experiment to try and narrow down the triggers. Position doesn’t matter, length or type of foreplay seems to have no effect, orgasms achieved with only external sensation by either myself or him don’t trigger it, and him finishing in me but me not finishing won’t trigger it (although this last one isn’t foolproof). I’m not having any anxiety around sex while pregnant, and I’m not worried about hurting the baby. It seems to be specifically around me finishing when he is still inside me. Within seconds I break down sobbing so hard I can barely catch my breath. 

We’ve talked to our OB but she’s stumped or possibly thinks its Postcoital Dysphoria, but admits that she really isn’t sure. I’ve researched it and asked other pregnant people, but I seem to be experiencing something unique. PCD seems not to fit to me, since when I read about it they describe “a feeling of sadness.” I don’t feel sad … the sex is great! It just triggers a physiological response in my body that makes me sob for a few minutes. It is really killing the sexual vibe and is starting to make me nervous to have sex with my husband, because I know where it will lead. 

I have no history of sexual trauma, and my husband is a wonderful sexual partner and is very skilled in providing me aftercare when the post-sex crying sets in. I would like to keep being sexually active with him while pregnant, and I’m nervous that whatever is happening will stick around after the baby comes. We can find other ways of being intimate, but I really miss just being able to have sex with him whenever we want. Is there possibly a way to train my body to stop having this response to sex?

— Pregnant and Crying

Dear Pregnant and Crying,

Your lack of sadness does not disqualify you from having postcoital dysphoria. That is what Dr. Stacy De-Lin, MD, the associate medical director at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic in New York, told me in an email when I passed on your letter. “Having a panic attack after intercourse would certainly fit the definition of PCD,” wrote De-Lin. That definition, in De-Lin’s words, is: “Feelings of sadness or anxiety occurring immediately after sex.” (Note that “or anxiety.”) This is a common experience—one study De-Lin cited found that nearly half of respondents reported experiencing PCD symptoms at least once, “with 5.1 percent experiencing PCD symptoms a few times within the past four weeks.” De-Lin also pointed out that “studies have shown that there appears to be no correlation between PCT and intimacy in close relationships,” which tracks with your description of your husband as wonderful and caring.

Your condition may be temporary. “It is well-documented in countless studies that the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy are often responsible for significant mood changes during pregnancy, and I am hopeful that this may resolve post-pregnancy for the writer as this hasn’t been an issue in the past,” explained De-Lin. Only two months to go! Furthermore, De-Lin notes that “most people who experience PCD tend to have self-limiting symptoms,” or ones that go away on their own, without treatment. That said, you have options should they persist. De-Lin says these could include: “include individual and/or couples therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.” But hopefully once the baby is out, so too will your PCD be. Good luck, and congrats.

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Dear How to Do It,

I have been a single mother for 16 years. I have had only one boyfriend in all that time and some other cringe-worthy dates, hook-ups, and FWBs thrown into the mix. For the last 10 years, I have relied on a vibrator for climax and had pretty much decided that being single was fine.

Recently, however, I have met a man who is really great; we get along wonderfully and have some things in common. He says he wants to “rock my world” and “kiss me all over” and that makes me anxious. I do not think I can orgasm without the vibrator (I can try digitally, but get bored and turn to the quick method). I am wondering if I am crazy for wondering if I even want all that drawn out sex, and I don’t know how to introduce toys into a relationship (this went badly one time in the past). I feel like he wants to be the one who “rocks my world” and would be put off by it.

Am I crazy? After all this time shouldn’t I be running towards the bedroom?

—Single Too Long?

Dear Single Too Long,

You’re not crazy, and there are definitely guys out there who like to make people come for what it does to their ego—the partner’s pleasure, it would seem, is second to that. Leave it to men to make giving all about themselves! It’s hard to say whether this guy is emitting those vibes or if he’s just really enthusiastic about pleasing you. Could go either way. Why not share some of your apprehension with him? “It’s been a while since my world was rocked, can we start with just some kissing?” Let yourself feel your way through—it may help mitigate your anxiety, which is what’s doing the driving at the moment. You can also ask him how he feels about toys. Don’t let one bad experience deter you; yeah, guys may reject you for it, but others may find it super-hot/kinky. Plenty of people need a bit of machinery to help them get off, and plenty of people’s partners are ok with that. Finding someone of that sort might give you some direction in your quest for connection, if in fact that’s what you want. Being single is fine. You know this. You don’t have to get with the first guy who promises to rock your world—you might wait for one that you want to rock your world, and if you don’t find him, you know you’ll be fine and orgasming on your own.

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Dear How to Do It,

Im a 40-year-old straight man who is in a mostly happy marriage. I say mostly” because although a lot of things in our marriage (trust, communication, common interests, etc.) are great, weve never been a good match sexually, both in terms of libido (she takes an antidepressant which we think depresses her sex drive) and interests (Im kinky; shes not).

Rather than let that fester, we chose to open things up several years ago, which worked wonderfully for a while. I had a few relationships that both improved by self-esteem and helped me to learn a lot about my sexuality. While I was riding high, so to speak, my wife and I let our sex life slip from sporadic” to non-existent,” which didnt seem to bother either of us.

The problem (or problems)? I have lately grown exhausted by looking for new partners (something probably exacerbated by COVID), and I worry that a lack of physical intimacy is eroding our otherwise excellent marriage. I want to talk to her about trying to build up a sex life again, but I dont know how to, particularly given that my kinks have evolved to a point where Im not sure I even want purely vanilla sex.

— Wondering If It’s Too Late

Dear Wondering,

If your relationship is “otherwise excellent,” how does it stand to reason that the lack of sex is eroding it? Couldn’t it be just as possible, perhaps even more probable, that your relationship doesn’t need a sexual component to be excellent? Could your current feelings reflect anxiety and not necessarily reality?

Not that there’s anything wrong with reconnecting! I just think you should survey what you have in the event that you don’t end up getting back in touch sexually. As you surmise, her libido could have something to do with her antidepressants, and if she’s still on them, a conversation might not do much.

But it makes sense to check in, and I’d frame your conversation this way: “We haven’t had sex in a while, I’m just checking in to see how you feel about that and whether you’d be interested in exploring that aspect of our relationship again.” Ease into it before you bring out the big guns. There’s a chance that your kinks will excite her by presenting possibilities she had not previously considered, but if she’s already lukewarm on sex at best, anything on the harder side might just further push her away. So take the temperature and then consider taking the plunge. Be respectful, don’t pressure or coerce. Inquire whether she thinks your lack of sex is an issue, and go from there. Move at her pace.


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