How to Do It

Mr. Mom

I do the dishes and play with the kids. Why won’t my wife agree to more sex?

A man does the dishes with neon lights behind him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by MachineHeadz/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I have been together for 15 years, and she’s been a great wife and mother to our three kids. But except for the very beginning, I’ve been dissatisfied with our love life. I told her early on that my ideal pattern is two activities a week. Doesn’t have to be full penetrative sex, although my preference is that we both finish. I like giving almost as much as receiving. I like variety and keeping it fresh. Three days after our last encounter, I want it and miss her. That feeling of missing her turns into anxiety in the days after that. We are nine days out right now, and it feels like a depression. We’ll hook up on Saturday and then the pattern will begin again. I don’t feel wanted. Her ideal pattern is once a week—on the weekend. Missionary only, and she groans but agrees to some foreplay. If we miss that once-a-week opportunity, there’s a small shot we’ll hook up on Monday. She has no interest in giving oral, manual stimulation, watching porn with me, or any physical contact when I take care of myself.

I try to be a good husband and father. I provide for the family, I’m supportive, I cook, clean, play with the kids, and my quirks are minor. What can I do?

—Completely Frustrated

Dear Completely Frustrated,

As much as you may think your domestic CV should qualify you for the kind of sex that you crave, it does not. Your responsibilities as a father and husband have nothing to do with your wife’s sexuality. Your reward for doing your job as a family man is a strong, healthy family. That is it. No further entitlement. I really hope that you aren’t explicitly as transactional with your wife as you come off in your letter. While I trust that the anxiety arising from your string of sexless days is real, it’s probably best not to lay on your horn there, lest you risk irritating your wife into being even less interested in sex.

As I see it, you have a few basic options for solving the desire disparity that vexes you. One is to talk to your wife about your desires explicitly and without accusation. This could very well come down to a mismatch of libidos, in which case it’s not her fault she wants sex less than you do, and it’s not your fault that you want it more. Look at it as the condition of your relationship, the climate of your bedroom. You could also suggest opening your relationship. Or, of course, you could leave her. Evoking those last two scenarios would certainly convey your seriousness and escalate the situation, but don’t wield them as ultimatums and don’t start there—talk first, and see where that leaves you. It sounds like she may have some issues about sex that it may serve you well to accommodate. So in addition to talking, listen. You seem so wrapped up in your own situation here that it makes me wonder if you’re doing all you can to honor hers. As it stands, there are no rights or wrongs, just some parts that aren’t fitting together. It’s your job to solve the puzzle, not break her pieces to fit yours.

Dear How to Do It,

I went through a divorce about a year ago. My former husband was the only person I had slept with. When it came to birth control, I got an IUD after a condom ripped one time, and after that he pretty much refused to have sex with a condom on. I allowed it because I wanted it to be good for him and because I knew we were exclusive, but I honestly preferred the feel of the condom.

Fast-forward to six months post-divorce, and I am reentering the dating scene. I started looking for someone to casually date and found someone on Tinder. On our third date, we hooked up, and when it came time for penetration, he said he didn’t have a condom. He claimed he “hadn’t wanted to assume we would have sex.” Thankfully, I had my own box of condoms, which seemed to surprise him, but he put one on and proceeded with the sex. Afterward, he asked me if I was on birth control. I said yes. He said that sex with condoms was not good for guys, and he really wanted to do it without one. This made me stiffen up, because I told myself that I’d only have sex with condoms on after my divorce—because I prefer it that way and also because I have health issues that would make unplanned pregnancy really difficult. So I told him that I was never going to do it with him without a condom, and if he had a problem with that, we weren’t compatible. He backtracked and said he was fine with it. Then he asked me if I was sleeping with other people, and I said I wasn’t but that I wasn’t ready to be exclusive. This made him mad and he sort of went off and accused me of wanting to “ride the carousel of dicks” and “have sex with Chad.” (I didn’t recognize these phrases at the time, but later my friends told me about the “red pill” Reddit and their jargon.)

I broke it off, but he begged me to just talk to him and let him explain and apologize. I let him apologize, and we hung out again. Recently, he came to hang out after I had a bad day, and he brought weed gummies. I had never tried them before, and he gave me three, which I have since learned is way too many. When it hit me, I felt like a couldn’t move and just laid there, and we ended up having sex. In the morning, I was really sore and when I got up, I asked him if he had used a condom. He said no—that he thought that me “letting” him go without was a “sign that I wanted our relationship to move to the next level.” Except he never asked me if he could go without, and I had previously made it clear in no uncertain terms that I wanted to always have sex with condoms. A friend took me to the ER, and I got emergency contraceptives and medication to prevent STIs. When I was there, they had a sexual assault nurse evaluate me and a police officer came in to ask me questions. She asked me whether I “consented to sex” and I said yes, because I knew when he came over that we would probably have sex, so I was expecting it. She also asked me if I took the gummies of my own free will, and I said yes. I told her that I had not consented to “sex without a condom,” and that he didn’t ask me during the act itself, and I was too out of it to notice or talk until the next day. She said that because I consented to the sex, that meant it was not any kind of assault, and when I tried to clarify things, she interrupted me and said, “I have body camera footage of you saying you consented to the sex,” so that was the end of that. My friends thought it counted as assault. Am I crazy, or was I taken advantage of? This experience already basically put me off dating/sex.

—My Incel

Dear My Incel,

I’m very sorry to hear that this happened to you. In my opinion, he absolutely took advantage of you. If I had to label his offense, I’d call it slow-stealthing. You had an understanding, and it was never formally amended by both parties. When he violated that understanding, he violated your consent. He didn’t do this midway through sex, as “stealthing” generally describes, but he did do it midway through your sexual partnership, whose terms were defined clearly.

For an expert opinion on your situation, I reached out to civil-rights lawyer Alexandra Brodsky, whose 2017 paper “ ‘Rape-Adjacent’: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal” for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law is considered by many to be essential reading on stealthing. She told me via email that she too believes this is a form of stealthing (she generally prefers the term in the title of her paper, “nonconsensual condom removal,” though concedes that it doesn’t quite apply here).

“The writer was explicit with her partner that condom use was a condition of her consent, and then he crossed that clear line without conversation, or even some kind of acknowledgment,” Brodsky wrote to me. “And I am disturbed by the possibility that her partner may have used weed as a way to facilitate a kind of sex he knew she did not want. Plus, even apart from the condom issue, the writer’s description that she ‘felt like [she] couldn’t move’ raises serious questions about her ability to consent. That is not to say that people cannot have consensual sex when high or drunk—of course they can—but incapacitation is a different story, both ethically and legally.”

As for the law, Brodsky reminds us that “there is almost no precedent in the U.S. about whether consent to sex with a condom extends to consent to sex without a condom” and that “cases about violence within an otherwise consensual sexual relationship are notoriously hard to win.” So while she couldn’t say anything definitive about your legal options, should you be interested in pursuing them, she does encourage you to talk to a lawyer if you are. Also, you might want to discuss this with a therapist who specializes in trauma (a local rape crisis center could help you find one).

Regardless of what does or doesn’t happen legally, Brodsky stressed that “the law is not the final arbiter of sexual ethics,” adding: “There are so many disrespectful sexual practices that are not recognized by courts—not because they are acceptable but because sexism, rape myths, and victim-blaming are literally built into our laws.”

Hopefully, there’s something in here that you can use to move forward. Give yourself time, but don’t give up—this guy has already taken enough from you, as it is. If nothing else, know that your feelings are valid and there are plenty of people out there who share your interpretation of his behavior.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a bisexual male in college, and about six months ago I had my first sexual experience of any sort. I had met her several days before, and things escalated pretty quickly—maybe faster than I was ready for. Previously to this, I hadn’t ever even kissed anyone. That night, we were making out for a good two hours, and then clothes started coming off. I realized there was a problem: I wasn’t hard, or even close. Not wanting to ruin the night, I went with digital stimulation for several minutes, and eventually managed an erection—not rock-hard, but definitely an erection. With a condom now on, penetration ensued—and lasted all of five seconds. I know first experiences are supposed to be awkward and embarrassing, but my problems came from both ends of the spectrum at once. Luckily, she was understanding, but the two of us barely talked after that, and that night still bothers me. Maybe it was just nerves? Or is something messed up with my mind and/or biology? I masturbate fairly regularly, so orgasms in general aren’t anything new. I just feel confused.

—Twofer

Dear Twofer,

You went from zero to dick out pretty quickly there, cowboy. Maybe you had beginner’s jitters; maybe you just weren’t ready. It’s impossible to precisely diagnose your erection issues from where I’m sitting (a couch, far, far away), but a lot of those in young guys tend to be rooted in psychological issues like anxiety, not physiology, per se. (Though physiology is always a possibility, regardless of your age, so it might be worth a trip to the doctor.) I’m guessing that, as someone who has only known sexual pleasure through self-pleasure thus far, your masturbation habits are specific, that specific process is what you’ve conditioned yourself to enjoy, and when you found yourself in essentially a foreign environment, your body simply didn’t respond. If you typically begin to masturbate before you’re fully hard—that is, you get horny, you fluff yourself to an erection, you go to town—you’re relying on a very particular stimulation as your starting point, and in the absence of that, your dick maybe just didn’t know what to do. I had similar sorts of stimulation tribulations with partners when I started having sex. At one point, I never thought my dick would get hard enough to penetrate a butt, but I found that once it did, everything was fine. I kind of just got the hang of it after I got over the noob nerves. Your problem could be as easily solved as a good hookup. Maybe your first partner was, for whatever reason, just not a good fit. Sometimes you have to get to the point of being naked to be able to make that call.

And you probably don’t need me to tell you this, since it’s a punchline in half of all teen movies, but premature ejaculation is very common in early sexual encounters. For many guys, more stamina comes with experience.

So keep an eye on this. Try to cut back your porn and masturbation, and see if that does anything. Take things a little bit slower next time. It’s a bit of a paradox, I know, but focus on relaxing in these situations, as anxiety is a silent killer … of boners.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a gay guy, and the guy I’m dating and I are not exclusive. That is fine for me, and us, and I’m not really jealous at the thought of him with other men. But the other day, we were hanging out at his place and chatting, and I kind of got the sense he wasn’t listening—and I looked over, and sure enough, he was on Scruff (gay dating app for people who don’t know). I sort of rolled my eyes but let it go; again, it’s fine, but he doesn’t need to be on the prowl for dick when we’re hanging out, you know?

About an hour later the same day, after lots more phone-looking, he said he needed to run an errand and would be back in a few. I knew what was up, but I let it happen, because I was honestly more amused and incredulous at him than anything. He got back and acted like nothing happened; we even had sex that night. But, like, in retrospect: Isn’t that a little ridiculous? Do I really have to say, out loud, “No setting and executing dick appointments while I’m sitting next to you?” Does this seem like normal behavior? Maybe I should just invite a Grindr guy over the next time he says he’s coming by.

—Woof

Dear Woof, 

I don’t know that your man’s behavior qualifies as “normal” (what is the normal of any trend/observable habit?), but it is not unheard of. That doesn’t mean it’s cool. It’s reasonable of you to expect a larger share of your partner’s attention than what he’s giving you. It’s OK to set boundaries around apps or phone usage in general during IRL time, but that requires actually setting them. What “open” means depends on the person, and if you haven’t nailed down the particulars, you’re liable to trip over some floorboards in your shared journey through … whatever it is that you guys are doing. Make no mistake: Running out to grab some dick like it’s chips from the deli—chips he downed quickly and without offering you any—while you guys are supposed to be spending time together would qualify as advanced (perhaps extreme) openness, but you never really know what other people are thinking. Some people weren’t raised to understand consideration, and some people do understand it but do whatever they want anyway because they are selfish and possible sociopaths. So yes, to be absolutely clear, you really might have to say, “No setting and executing dick appointments while I’m sitting next to you.” It is a fair request and, actually, increasingly relevant to your situation.

Is this guy a good guy? Does he seem otherwise engaged? It was rude to tune you out to go online cruising, ruder still to leave you at his place while he went on a dick run (removed from the mistreatment at hand, I do love that he called sex an “errand”—when the horny grabs you, it really can instill a sense of duty). Could this be his rather corrupt and gallingly roundabout way of telling you that he’s losing interest? Regardless, watch out for this guy. His behavior could very well qualify as compulsive (he had a sex partner … right … there … in the same room as he was), and regardless of how liberal or intolerant you’re inclined to evaluate his sexual choices as, he lied to you, and not even well. That’s no good. Honesty is the cornerstone of ethical nonmonogamy, and I’m not liking the looks of your foundation.

—Rich

Advice from Dear Prudence

I had been struggling to make a living at my job for a few years now and decided to apply as a bartender at a local strip club. After a few days of working there, the manager said he was low on girls for the night and asked if I would like to dance for the night. I was a little hesitant at first but decided it was just one night. I ended up loving it and made around $800 in a few hours! We talked, and I became a dancer overnight. This was about a year ago. The other night while doing a set, one of my parents’ friends comes up to the stage and asks for a VIP dance. The entire time he was telling me how he wants a cut of my earnings to stay quiet and not tell my parents what I am doing! I either have to come clean to my parents (who are very religious and would disown me), quit my job and get further in debt, or start paying this guy half of my nightly earnings.