How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to email@example.com.
Dear How to Do It,
A couple years ago—about 10 years into our marriage and amid our trying to fix some desire discrepancy issues—my wife confessed that she cheated on me with a good friend of ours, someone who was in our wedding party and has since made moves on her. This took place about a year before we were engaged, so a long time ago. While we have come a long way, it’s taken me a long time to get over this because of certain details. The biggest of these details is that she told me he performed a particular act for her, one that she enjoyed—an act she won’t let me perform on her. I’m very attracted to my wife; I couldn’t feel like a luckier guy. She is not the most (or least) sexually adventurous person, nor am I. I’m quite happy with our sex life, except that one thing. I’m slightly obsessed with it. She seems to enjoy porn that contains it, and she’s had it and liked it before, but doesn’t want it from me. She claims it’s a hygiene issue, but I feel like that is easy enough to solve. Simply put, I’m not going to do something she says she doesn’t want. At the same time, I really want to shed my insecurity about her getting freaky on the low with our old friend but not me. The male psyche is a little ridiculous, I realize. What should I do?
—Aspiring Ass Kisser
Dear Aspiring Ass Kisser,
At least you’ve still got your sense of humor.
Your wife might be having a bit of a madonna/whore moment over the hygiene issue. It might feel like it’s one thing to let someone she’s having a short affair with do—something that mildly squicks her out—and a whole other thing to have the same mouth she intends to kiss goodnight forever be one that’s just removed from her rectum. You could try broaching the subject of a dental dam (a barrier generally used to reduce the possibility of passing sexually transmittable infections) to see if that solves the hygiene concern. You might find that your wife has other qualms about participating in analingus, and if that’s the case, you should probably drop the subject for now. Since you (applaudably!) don’t want to do anything she doesn’t want to do, you’ll want to be cautious with anything that might feel like coercion or nagging.
Yes, the male psyche can be a bit silly. So can the female. Be gentle with yourself for having feelings. Insecurity and jealousy are completely reasonable reactions to learning of an infidelity, even if it occurred a long time ago. Give yourself permission to feel those emotions. Your wife may never allow you to eat her ass. You should probably begin preparing for that now, and focus on the things you do love about your existing sex life, which sounds like plenty.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a fortysomething pansexual woman who’s been in a monogamous heterosexual marriage for 15 years. I didn’t mind being monogamous. We have kids, so it’s not like I had the time or energy for more than one romance.
However, the kids are older now, and my husband and I agreed to open up the sexual aspects of the relationship—which I look forward to, but there are a few hooks:
1) I do not want to be polyamorous. A single romantic relationship is quite time-consuming enough. I just want to hang out, bone, and go home.
2) My taste is not vanilla. I need my sex to be safe, sane, and consensual, with a partner who respects safe words.
3) Even if I don’t want to be polyam, I still want to know my play partner beyond filling in the kink questionnaire. Imagine accidentally screwing a Trump supporter, a men’s rights activist, or Gamergater. I would have to bathe in bleach forever.
How do I find someone I trust enough to play with, but not get into a relationship territory? Do I look for FWB? I have one poly dom friend who is flirting heavily with me, but she is married to a close friend of my husband and that seems like a potential can of worms. Do I go to munches? Do I put “no romance, but we should hang and see if we want to have kinky sex” in my Tinder profile?
Dear Opening Up,
You seem really clear on what you want and what you don’t want. That’s great. It’s important to know what your boundaries are and what you’re looking for. You might want to consider other dating sites and apps along with Tinder. Some cater to the kink community and others are popular with non-monogamous people, who are likelier to be accepting of your open marriage and proficient at navigating creative relationship styles. (Try FetLife, which caters to kinksters, or OkCupid, which has a lot of poly people for some indiscernible reason.) Whichever service you end up going with, your instinct about what to put in your profile feels spot on. You’ll probably want to disclose the fact of your existing marriage before the end of the first date, and definitely before you decide to meet up.
The tricky part is going to be getting people to hear your boundaries and internalize them. Casual friendship with sex is, in my experience, one of the hardest things to maintain without slipping into an emotionally serious relationship. Be extremely clear on the front end. Figure out what, for you, demarcates the line of romantic relationship: Define what you do and don’t want, and communicate that as thoroughly as possible. Ask your potential partners what they’re after, and ask them to use specific hypothetical examples. Be alert for indications that they haven’t heard or have forgotten your boundaries, such as discussions of a future you don’t want or that disregards your relationship with your husband.
Remember that you’re looking for something fairly specific, and that means it might take some time before you find someone whose interests match up with what you have to offer. And to specifically address your husband’s friend’s wife, that does seem potentially sticky. Or combustible. Or both. If you do decide to pursue that, make sure everyone involved is having emotionally honest communication with each other. Best of luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a man. I do not nor have ever smoked myself … but I get fully aroused watching a woman smoke. My erections are stronger, and my orgasm more intense, if my partner smokes during our activities. But I’m always embarrassed to ask. I worry they’ll get no pleasure from it and will think I’m weird. And I have no explanation for why it has such an effect on me, or why I like it so much. Help?
Dear Smoky Eye,
I guess the upside of all the antismoking campaigns of the past few decades and the extreme distaste most nonsmokers have for cigarettes and smoke—if not smokers themselves—is that it’s probably pretty rare for a smoker to find a dating partner who isn’t turned off by the taste of their mouth, or regularly gives them a hard time about their habit. That’s you!
If you have other sources of arousal, I’d suggest you continue to engage and nurture them. I’m sure you know cigarettes are quite unhealthy, so you want to have other options if at all possible. But I’m confident that you’ll be able to find at least one woman happy to smoke for you in a sexual context. I think it would be morally dodgy to ask a nonsmoker to begin smoking for your pleasure, given the dangers, so start on a dating site that allows you to filter by different criteria, including smoking status. There’s your ideal dating pool—women who already smoke enough to list it in their dating profiles.
As for telling sexual partners, I can’t guarantee they won’t think it’s weird. No matter what the thing is, if it’s sexual, there will almost certainly be someone in the world weirded out enough to get judgmental about it. People might want some kind of explanation, but it’s totally OK that you don’t know why you’re wired this way. There are risks to being open about your desires, but the reward is the opportunity to fully satisfy your libido. So practice in the mirror. Say, “I don’t know why, but I get off on watching women smoke. I love seeing their lips wrapped around the butt of a (cigarette? cigar? vape pen?) as they slowly inhale the cloud into their lungs. I like watching their throats swell and their chests rise. I like watching the smoke float back out of their mouths.” Or whatever describes the appeal of the experience for you. Practice asking for what you want as well. Then get out there and flirt with some smokers. If you get rejected, keep looking. Always carry a lighter, and I’m pretty sure you’ll eventually find a match.
Dear How to Do it,
I recently formally separated from my husband of about seven years. I have never been with anyone else. After a medium level of sexual activity for the first few years of our relationship—once a week to twice a week—he put a halt to all sex. His excuses ranged from depression to my weight gain. Eventually, I discovered a lot of gay and trans porn on his computer, along with some ads for casual meet-ups with men.
Although we had what I considered open conversations about sexuality before we married, he has never mentioned being bi, or gay, or even bicurious. When I confronted him, he said he was heterosexual with homosexual desires. I left for a bit, and when he threatened suicide, I went back. After about six months, I’ve left again. The saddest part about all of this is that I really do love him, but I’m in love with the person I thought he was. He has gone from begging me to come back to basically saying I’m a terrible person who is telling him how to feel and trying to control him. But is what he is claiming is even a thing—“heterosexual with homosexual desires”? How should I handle the situation? I miss him, and I think that he would try to make things work sexually at least for a little while if I went back. Is that a terrible idea?
Dear Heterosexual Heterosexual,
It sounds like your husband has feelings of shame and disgust toward himself that he needs to work through before he can know what his sexuality is. “Heterosexual with homosexual desires” seems likely to have some roots in internalized homophobia, and definitely doesn’t sound like the framing of a person who has accepted his sexual orientation. He hid his sexual desires from you, threatened suicide when you left—a dangerous manipulation tactic—and is running the gamut from “please stay” through “stop trying to control me.” None of this is remotely healthy.
I’m sorry this has been your experience of marriage and of having a sexual partner at all. Sure, there’s a small chance that another round of reconnecting might help your husband feel secure, and that with enough couple’s therapy, you might be able to revive the relationship. You might even get reasonably frequent sex out of the arrangement for a while. But no amount of love from you is going to change your husband’s sexual desires. You cannot heal that internal conflict for him, and nothing will make him into the man you thought he was when you married him.
I can’t decide for you if it’s a terrible idea to try again, but I see major red flags. Take a long, sober look at your husband’s behavior over the past year. Take care to differentiate between his actions and who he says, or who you’ve hoped, he is. Make a list of the upsides and downsides of your relationship. Make another list of what you want in a partner and what you need in a relationship to be content. Go through the list, and be harsh about your husband’s ability to meet those needs. Use all of this to make your own decision. If you’re still open to working on your marriage, be clear upfront about what needs to change. If not, it might feel scary to move on, but it could be necessary for both of you to be happy and healthy. I think you can handle whichever direction you decide to take.