How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to email@example.com.
Every Thursday night, the crew will answer one bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 35-year-old man, and I just met a woman, and we’ve been hanging out, and the sex is … absolutely mind-blowing. I’ll spare you the details because it will seem like I’m bragging (I am), but it is fun, lighthearted, passionate, and completely amazing. Not to mention we go for hours.
But it’s also new. And I’m experienced enough to know that a sexual relationship can’t sustain itself with this level of intensity forever. (Can it?) We both want it to last. We’ve talked about it. She’s talked about her penchant for getting bored with men. I know I’ve lost interest in women. I lost sexual interest in my last partner when the fights and accusations started being a daily occurrence. But with her, I really feel comfortable, and I really feel a sense of joy that I haven’t experienced in a long time. And we both want it. But we also both know that we can be our own worst enemies and self-sabotage and so on.
So my question is this: How do we keep it fresh? Knowing ourselves, knowing that sometimes your body rebels against your mind, how do we sustain the intensity and excitement? But also, how do we grow and move into something more? In short, I want to be with this woman. What can I do to keep that a reality?
—New Relationship Smell
Stoya: I want this writer to be more specific about what he wants. He says vague things about “growing” and “moving” into something more, but he doesn’t specify what that looks like to him.
Rich: Because it’s so early! How could he even know? I’m of two minds about this letter: The loudest mind is saying: Chill out! Live in the moment! Enjoy the nonstop boning!
Stoya: Right. I’m just … I’m full of antibiotics right now and inclined to say, “Dude. You’re fine.” Pay attention to her. Treat her well. Don’t borrow trouble. If you lost interest in your last partner when the relationship began to fall apart, do better at building and nurturing this relationship.
Rich: Totally! But that’s why I’m kind of glad he is writing to us. The quieter mind says: Good. This is a sign that you’re willing to work on staying engaged. Relationships, including sexual ones, require effort. In her book Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel writes, “committed sex is intentional sex.” So I like where he’s pointed.
Stoya: I think he’s a little overfocused on the sex. If they want it to last, there has to be more than chemistry (which they do seem to have in excess). All that marathon boning can cut into getting-to-know-each-other time. Without a foundation, it will almost certainly fizzle. At least find time for some intimate emotional sharing while you’re resting or taking a water break.
Actually, I know why I’m being a brat about this.
Stoya: I just broke up with someone because he was prioritizing the sex over getting to know me as a person. And things degenerated to the point where I’m a little rattled. So I’m pattern-matching and assuming this dude is also the sort of person who will say, “I almost told you I loved you” when he’s being broken up with after a month.
Rich: Oh God. I’m sorry to hear that a guy put you through that. Hopefully we catch our letter writer before he gets there. Again, it’s a good sign that he wants something more than just a sex partner, and it does sound like they’re talking. But it requires striking a balance, right?
Stoya: Our letter writer is raising my hackles because he talks about sex, he talks about issues both partners have had in previous relationships, and he talks about how she makes him feel, but he doesn’t talk about hopes, dreams, or who his partner is as a person. That’s important stuff. Maybe he also could speak to those things and just chose to stay focused on the subject at hand in his question, but I’d be less hissy if he mentioned at least one thing he likes about her other than the sex. Because that has to be fostered so it can grow—otherwise, things will almost certainly peter out.
Rich: Maybe this is idealistic, but I believe that you know when you’re becoming more than just buddies? If that’s not happening here, perhaps she is intentionally holding back the relationship’s development (because she isn’t interested, for example). Regardless, you can’t quite will it to grow. You can give it water and sunlight, but whether it flowers is kind of up to nature.
Stoya: Agreed. What is sunlight and water to romance?
Rich: I think just what you said—engaging with your partner as a person and not an object. Dealing in humanity and not operating out of some fantasy of a relationship. Being able to find and name qualities that you enjoy beyond sex.
Stoya: Appreciative leering helps, too. Watching your partner, gazing at her, while she moves around in the world. Extended eye contact.
Rich: Display your thoughtfulness, but don’t be overbearing with it.
Stoya: Exercise that knowledge gleaned from paying attention to her as a person.
Rich: It’s probably also useful to set your intentions by having these conversations about where things are going with her. You have to be careful there so as not to suffocate her, but checking in about where her head is at is useful.
Stoya: Agreed. That’s definitely a thing he should continue to do.
Rich: So for the sake of the thought exercise, do you want to touch on the other component here? Say he does all this and they parlay their sexual relationship into a life partnership. How to keep things fresh?
Stoya: Keep exploring and following sexual impulses. If they’re monogamists, Perel is the go-to resource. If they’re open, that can sometimes provide enticement (the joy of jealousy, the libido fire of knowing someone else is fornicating with one’s partner).
I do think monogamists have to work to prevent themselves from becoming sexually lazy and taking their partner for granted.
Rich: And it can take many forms, but all of them involve a sense of play—sometimes role-play, sometimes keeping sex thrilling by taking it outdoors or spending a designated night every week at a hotel. You have to make like a shark and keep moving, and when you’re being kept in a tank, the enormity of your task is especially apparent. But it’s doable!
Stoya: Yes. There are many ways to keep sex interesting. True emotional connection is one.
Rich: Also, not freaking out during a dry spell is key. Sex in committed relationships can ebb and flow, and you kind of just have to be at peace with that. Very little in life stays one way forever.
Rich: And finally, sometimes having less sex with a partner is reflective of your actual interests and intentions. Anxiety is fear of what’s yet to manifest—the reality isn’t always quite as fraught. Stay active and engaged and work toward a sex life without end, but if you find yourself perfectly content staying with a partner you’re not having sex with, it might just be your “love style,” as they say.
Stoya: Like a life-bed balance?
Rich: Yeah. I just think these things are much scarier when viewed from outside, but I know that sometimes people find themselves in these kinds of relationships—particularly later in life—and don’t mind one bit. I just mean to say that anxiety has a way of distorting the reality.
Stoya: And reality is what you want to be living in if you want a long-term, healthy, mutually loving relationship.