How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t worry, we won’t use names.
Every Friday, Stoya and Rich will answer one bonus question in chat form. This week: too much of a good thing?
Dear How to Do It,
I have, I guess, a “good” problem: I’ve been having a lot of sex for the past two years. I was in a long-term relationship for a long time, and when it ended, I really wanted to make the most of singledom while I’m still young. Now, two years later, I’m dating casually and hooking up once or twice a week. The trouble is that while I previously felt no hesitation at all to enter (relative) monogamy for years, I now crave sex with strangers and find myself less satisfied with just one partner. I actively keep distance from the people I date because of this. Am I warping my mind by jumping from stranger to stranger? Is this a phase? Would it be better to invest in one person for a while? I’m not sure whether I should check myself, because I do want another long-term relationship down the line.
Rich: I don’t know if this is me holding on to antiquated ideas about identity, but this question exemplifies why I think people should have to fill out a form when they write in. I want to know gender, sexuality, age, location. Shoe size. Well, maybe not that, but a little bit of demographics would be useful here.
Stoya: … what religion they grew up with (or maybe that’s me jumping to a conclusion).
Rich: I mean, that would be helpful!
Stoya: I agree. It’s hard to know this person’s background and motivations.
Rich: And also, like, if this is a gay guy, then, because open relationships are so common among gay men, the stakes are lower in terms of, like, “warping” one’s mind. Maybe my warped mind is making me say this, because I do really relate to this question, but you can get used to being gleefully slutty and then continue your shameless sluthood fairly easily as a man who has sex with men in a major metropolitan area—even solely from the perspective of available partners, I mean.
Stoya: It’s true for heterosexual women in metropolitan areas as well—they just have to want it. I’m not really sure what straight men do.
Rich: Me neither! Except complain to their slutty gay male friends, who get to have all the fun.
Stoya: Having just asked a straight man, it can be quite difficult for them to find casual sex in New York, for example. So if our question writer is a straight man, I mostly just want to congratulate him first.
Rich: You’re killing it, my dude. Unfortunately for you, lucky streaks tend not to be permanent, so don’t get used to it. I went through a similar experience in my early 30s, and I will say there is something to getting a taste of that life and not really wanting to let it go. This is a thing I say a lot: Sex with strangers and sex with someone you care about are two different flavors. Just because I have an abundance of vanilla doesn’t mean I stop wanting chocolate, and I’m a big fan of the twist.
Stoya: And significant relationships can kind of just happen.
Rich: Yes. In fact, sleeping around is a great way to fall into one.
Stoya: Our question writer is actively avoiding relationships, though.
Rich: Yes, but I wonder if that doesn’t amount to unconscious reactions to the people they’re hooking up with. If they have sex with the right person, they may not be able to keep that person at a distance, despite that being the general approach. Attraction is a force.
Stoya: Every long-term relationship I’ve been in started with sex.
Rich: Me too. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that there’s another way—and it is wildly popular in our culture.
Stoya: You mean dating first?
Rich: Yes, waiting to have sex. Having a few dates first is one thing, but in the most extreme cases, waiting till after marriage.
Stoya: Which terrifies me. Like, what happens if the sex is awful or you just don’t like how the person smells?
Rich: My philosophy is: We’re only here for a handful of years. Why not squeeze in as much good sex as possible?
Stoya: I’m inclined to encourage our writer to keep sleeping with new people until they find one they actually feel like investing in.
Rich: That feels right to me. That’s what I did. And I have to say, I never really got over being a slut. I’m lucky that my boyfriend is one as well and that he’s otherwise understanding. I really like having sex with strangers, and he’ll never be a stranger. If I had to choose, I’d choose him, but I’m glad I don’t have to.
Stoya: That is beautiful. My shame alarm is going off, though, because of the letter writer’s word choice of warping.
Rich: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a solid point in there—patterns of behavior can really shape you. You are who you are, but to a certain degree, you are what you do. And what you do has a way of infiltrating your psychology. But I think there are plenty of people who go through these phases and then settle down, more or less.
Stoya: Or find a partner who shares their sense of adventure and slut around together. (Exhibit A: you and your partner.)
Rich: It can be very bonding. My boyfriend has been incredibly understanding. I’ve never felt so understood or accepted for my specific sexuality. I also have a friend who is one of the proudest sluts I know. He’s very open and sex-positive and in his mid- to late-30s. He told me that he thinks maybe traditional relationships aren’t for him, that this kind of sleeping around is his sexuality. That’s cool too!
Stoya: Age would be so useful here. Sexuality kind of develops. Or, like, unfolds might be more accurate.
Rich: All we get is, “I really wanted to make the most of singledom while I’m still young.” That made me think mid-20s, but who knows?
Stoya: Sometimes it takes until 30 or 40 (or even longer!) to realize and come to terms with our slutitude.
Rich: Yep, it did for me, and I’m still learning! I think also, in terms of “checking” oneself, that it seems to me that just having the thoughts laid out in the letter is enough of a check. But I’d advise the writer to keep checking in. It’s always good to make sure you’re cool with where you’re at, especially when it’s regarding matters that are more or less under your own control.
Stoya: It would probably be useful to spend some time thinking about what they want right now. Like, OK, they want something long term in the future, but what do they want out of their sex life currently? Is it to have lots of orgasms? Search for the one?
Rich: Yeah, that’s so true. It seems like they’re truly guiding their own reality, so they may as well foster growth while they’re at it.
Stoya: I think they’ll have less consternation if they feel confident about what they’re doing and have their feelings and goals in alignment.
Rich: Yes, giving yourself a direction is such a great way to navigate these situations.
Stoya: If they’re still worried, they can always not have sex. That’s a real choice that people forget sometimes.
Rich: Unless they can’t not have sex, in which case, there may be something to worry about.