Ask Debby Herbenick | Men and the secrets they keep
Answers to your most penetrating sex questions.
Q I was unpacking my husband’s suitcase to do laundry after a trip—something that I usually don’t do, but I was feeling nice and decided to do it for him. I came across a pair of women’s panties—mine! I asked him about it, and after I pressed him on it, he told me that he often takes my underwear with him when he travels. He likes the scent. That seems weird to me—is it? I can’t get the image of him jacking off to my panties out of my head.
A So your husband is a sniffer! Bless his heart. He likes your vaginal scent so much that he takes it with him as a reminder of home. Do all men and women take their partner’s panties to go? Nope. So does that make his behavior uncommon? Perhaps, but many of us have scents that we like and find comforting or arousing. Maybe you like the way he smells after a shower or a run. Perhaps you feel calmer when you inhale his scent as you hug. Maybe his experience is sort of like that, just more hot and bothered. At least he’s not blowing the family savings on panties soiled by strangers and sold on the Internet—he’s more of a monogamous panty sniffer. I don’t mean to make light of it; I am simply suggesting a different way to look at his panty sniffing because, let’s face it, most of the perspectives people ever get to hear on this stuff are pretty judgmental. Sex is such a taboo topic that anything remotely non-vanilla tends to be labeled “weird,” leaving little room for people to talk about how they seductively pack a pair of their panties in their partner’s suitcase when they travel, text dirty pictures while they’re both at work, or lick the outside crotch of their partner’s underwear until she or he begs for them to be torn off. People do all sorts of things in their sex lives, and your husband happens to like your scent so much that it makes him feel good when he’s not with you. Depending on your perspective, that could be “ick” or a big “yum.”
Q I’m a 35-year-old man, divorced and wanting to date again. Generally I avoid casual sex/bar hookups because of a problem that I have with coming. It takes me a very long time—an hour or longer—to come during masturbation, sex, oral or anything else. It’s not worth the hassle with a casual partner. My ex-wife and I were together for a long time and she was very understanding about it. I don’t know how to bring this up with a woman in a way that doesn’t scare her off. If I were a woman, taking a lot of time to orgasm would be considered normal, but I get the sense that it’s unusual in a guy.
A The orgasm double standard sucks, doesn’t it? We accept that many women don’t orgasm at all or, if they do, that it can take time—and those who do orgasm quickly, we treat as if they’re the most skilled lovers on earth when maybe they’re just built a little differently. Guys who take forever and a day to orgasm, though, often feel isolated about it, which is too bad. Maybe you will find a partner who enjoys sex so much that she is fine spending an hour or more doing it. Or maybe she will be multiply orgasmic and feel as if she’s hit the jackpot by finding a guy who lasts long enough to give her as many orgasms as she wants. Then again, maybe she will be accepting enough to embrace whatever life brings her. You can maximize your chances of the latter by taking your time with dating, not rushing into sex and—as you get closer to sex—letting her know what’s on your mind. In your own words, say that you’re excited to be sexual with her and that you have something that concerns you and could use her support and patience with. Try to let her know that it’s been a long-term issue for you and maybe describe anything that you’ve tried or anything that you do or don’t want her to try in response to the timing of your orgasm. Some men who experience delayed ejaculation find it helps to use a couples’ vibrator during sex play. It can be helpful to check in with a health-care provider, too, to be screened for medical conditions or medications that may interfere with orgasm. Some men find it difficult to orgasm due to fears about infections or pregnancy or of losing control during sex. Sex therapy (aasect.org or sstarnet.org) can help with these issues.
Q I have been dating a good friend and great guy for a few weeks. We are taking it slow, so we haven’t had sex yet. The other day, he sat me down, saying he needed to tell me something. He has HPV, the kind that causes genital warts. I am generally nonjudgmental and accepting, and my initial reaction was in line with that. However, after thinking about it for a few days, I’ve become worried. I would feel bad breaking things off just because he has an STI, but I’m still hesitant to move forward. Can he transmit the infection to me even if he doesn’t have an outbreak, meaning we’d have to use condoms all the time? And condoms aren’t even foolproof, right? Would I ever be able to try to conceive (unprotected sex) without risk of infection?
A It’s starting to feel as if this column has a theme of men and the secrets they keep until they (a) get found out or (b) feel comfortable enough to tell a partner. Your guy has a strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes genital warts. The good news? At least he knows it. Most men and women (possibly including you?) have been or will be exposed to HPV. Some strains of HPV are the so-called high-risk strains that are linked to abnormal Pap test results for women and, in rare cases, cancers of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus or head and neck. Other strains are linked to genital warts, which are sometimes visible and sometimes not. This means that any of your past partners may have had HPV. Maybe you even have HPV. As we do not have regular HPV testing available for men, most men wouldn’t even know if they had HPV. So the good news is that your guy is aware of his status and honest enough to discuss it with you. You’re correct that condoms cannot fully protect you, but they reduce the risk. The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, protects against most cases of genital warts, so if you’ve already been vaccinated, you may not be at much risk of getting his strain of HPV anyway. If you haven’t been vaccinated, ask your health-care provider about this option. HPV can be transmitted with or without symptoms and with or without condoms. It’s also worth mentioning that genital warts are not the end of the world. They are not painful and are often quite small—most cases look like pimples and good treatments are available to keep them in check. Plus, some people get one or two outbreaks and then rarely, if ever, notice them again. Bottom line: If you really like this guy, you have options in terms of vaccination and/or deciding it’s not a bad enough fate that you’d let a good one go—especially as many of the other fish in the sea likely have one or more strains of HPV, too.