How to Do It

Respecting Your Elders

I suspect there’s an unhealthy reason I’m only attracted to older women.

Woman thinking surrounded by "30+" in pink neon on a black background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by metamorworks/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,

I’m a cis lesbian in my mid-20s with no sexual experience. I want to get out there and try hooking up, but I feel like I’m not into women my age—or at least women who look my age. I feel crazy, but I swear, people in my age group all have baby faces. I frequently get asked if I’m a teen, so I’m absolutely included in this, but I still find people who look mature sexy in ways that I don’t if someone looks young. I appreciate that older women tend to have more stable lifestyles, which is also really attractive to me, but it’s primarily just a physical-appearance thing. I have a fair bit of trauma and baggage from my upbringing, so I’m paranoid that this is an unhealthy fixation. Am I OK to set my filter to 30-plus?

—Mature

Dear Mature,

Sexual taste is a rather complicated topic that, like many elements of sexuality, often eludes our ability to identify a clear-cut cause. Is it nature? Is it nurture? It’s almost always some mix of the two, and the proportions vary from person to person. I think where we get into problems here is when a person’s taste dovetails a little too well with potential prejudice—white people who “just aren’t into” black or Asian people, for example. I believe that when that which raises your skirt (and doesn’t) aligns so well with the culture of oppression in which you live, it’s your duty to at least interrogate it and attempt to really get to the bottom of your proclivities. That’s if you care about not being a racist asshole; apparently many people don’t mind being that one bit.

Because you do seem generally concerned about this, and because your taste is targeted at a group of people (mature women) that American culture does not fetishize en masse (compared with, say, those baby-faced twentysomethings who repel you), you pass my test. You have a type, plain and simple. Forcing yourself toward women you aren’t attracted to is no way to get your sex life off the ground. I recommend not getting so fixed on your type so as to thwart a good thing that comes your way in a different package, but ultimately, it’s really OK for you to like what you like. As to whether the fixation is unhealthy, it’s probably too early to say, and certainly I can’t make the call with the information you’ve given me—I’m not sure what the trauma involved could stem from. Keep in mind that the wider the age gap in partners, the more likely that you’ll be in two entirely different places in life, which at best will create complications and at worst foster a power dynamic that may be detrimental to your mental health. But you seem hyperaware as it is, so just take things slowly enough that you can keep processing the situation so thoroughly. Now, get to setting those filters.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 24-year-old woman married to a 33-year-old man. We’ve been together for six years and have been very good for each other. He’s encouraged me to go to therapy to deal with my childhood trauma and has been there for me every step of the way. After a year of talking with my therapist, I realized I’d been suppressing a specific desire since high school—basically, I am not straight, but bisexual. Even in this, my husband has been nothing but supportive, going so far as to suggest I take some time and date a few girls if I want. We’ve had a lot of discussions about what I want and what he is OK with, and eventually we settled on opening our relationship by way of a threesome rather than having me date solo. (I was worried about how that would look to potential partners, and I am too anxious to truly strike out on my own that way.)

As a way of soothing my anxiety and to be better prepared, I’ve done a lot of reading. One of the trends I’ve been seeing is that a straight couple looking for a semiserious third partner is common, but the bisexual women seeking these kinds of hookups are rare. One article in particular called it “looking for a unicorn.” I’m also not particularly interested in a long string of flings that go nowhere, or in being accused of being part of a perceived social “problem” just because I want to explore a sexuality I didn’t realize I had until after I was married. The whole process seems so daunting. I just don’t know where to start. How do I start?

—Unicorn

Dear Unicorn,

As I have been led to believe from reading and talking with polyamorous people, the problem with “unicorn hunting” (a phenomenon that goes way beyond that one article you read and permeates a lot of poly-adjacent discourse) is in the hunting, not the unicorns. Clearly, there is nothing wrong with the existence of a male-female-female triad in principle, but there’s a certain callousness that male-female couples tend to exhibit when attempting to add to their relationship, treating the third with about as much compassion as one would a trophy on the wall. Elisabeth Sheff’s fascinating The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, the result of a 15-year ethnographic study of poly people and their households, describes the prototypical unicorn hunters as “a heterosexual man and bisexual or heteroflexible woman looking for a bisexual woman who will (the cliché implies) fit in to the couple’s life at their convenience, bringing no additional partners of her own, disappear or pass as a friend when being openly poly might embarrass or inconvenience the couple, and hopefully wants to take care of the children and do the laundry.”

So don’t be those people. It’s unethical and dehumanizing. I have to assume that the stereotype persists despite very vocal shaming because even the best-intentioned couples fall into the trap of prioritizing their core relationship over the humanity and well-being of their girlfriend. Your best bet is to approach this with great patience. There are poly groups in every major metropolitan area of the U.S. (and some not-so-major, not-so-metropolitan ones)—here’s a link that could point you in the direction of one near you. I suggest going and learning what that way of life is all about before you take the plunge. It will introduce concepts and concerns to you that you never even thought to think about. You could try a poly-friendly app or Facebook group or even just try your luck with a night on the town, but I don’t think there’s any substitute for cultural immersion. You just have to understand that it’s extremely unlikely that you’re going to bag a girlfriend overnight, and that living a poly life is considerably more complicated than, say, fooling around with some hot babe you meet off Tinder. It’s a fairly sizable transition, so come prepared—both of you should at least read The Ethical Slut, like, right now.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a married 55-year-old guy. My wife is 58. We’ve been married 14 years. We had a very good sex life up until six years ago. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and ended up having a mastectomy. Our sex life went from three to four times a week to once a week to once a month the two years following, and it wasn’t enjoyable for either of us. She was then diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had a hysterectomy. We tried counseling for about a year, but for her, sex was not going to happen again. She said I could find a girlfriend as long as she didn’t find out and that I don’t spend my money on her.

For almost three years, I have been seeing someone. She’s an amazing woman, 53; she and my wife work in the same industry, just a different company. They even know each other. My dilemma is that my girlfriend will return to her home country in about six months because of a visa issue. She wants me to join her. I travel to her country often (eight to 12 weeks a year for work), plus vacation for another four to six weeks. I’ve been planning on retiring to this country for about 10 years. My wife wants to stay here, and I’m not financially ready to retire. I figure that I have two options: 1) Divorce, lose a lot, start over at 56 or so but be with someone who truly makes me happy, or 2) stick it out in sexless marriage for five more years, but be financially secure and find a new girlfriend. What should I do?

—Wife Swap

Dear Wife Swap,

You seem awfully comfortable discarding your wife of almost 15 years. Doesn’t she deserve more than that? Hasn’t she given you a lot, including freedom that is virtually absolute under the condition that you remain her partner? And what have you done? You took advantage of her generosity and didn’t even have the good sense to do it with someone at least who was removed from her career and social circle. This is why people fear open relationships. I do not get the sense that you have thought at all what you leaving your wife, who from the limited information you’ve provided is a rock star who has survived multiple bouts of cancer, will mean for her moving forward. You should really think about that.

Hopefully having made you feel sufficiently guilty for your willful negligence, I turn to your practical concerns. After all, it is not your fault that you fell in love with your girlfriend or that your heart is set on living in a country that your wife is not interested in moving to. I think moving at this point is too much of a gamble—if you move to be with your girlfriend and it doesn’t work out (a good possibility given the way that changes of environment can affect relationship dynamics), then you’d be totally screwed. You can still see her when you travel and take it from there. If you do this and still find yourself completely unable to be without her, your decision will have been made for you. I’d prioritize financial security since it will likely be useful when the Earth overheats, civilization collapses, and water costs more than gold. Plus, in all likelihood, your financial security is your wife’s financial security, and you need to think of your duty to her.

Dear How to Do It,

My boyfriend and I—I’m nonbinary, but assigned female at birth—recently started experimenting with anal sex. (I’m the bottom.) I really enjoy it, but I have a problem: A few times, after engaging in it, I’ve suffered from fecal incontinence. It’s happened most often when we were having non-anal sex, and the contractions from orgasming also squeezed out some poop, once right onto my boyfriend. He’s pretty chill about the whole thing, but it’s made me a little nervous to keep engaging in anal. Does this happen to other people? Are we doing it wrong? Is there some way to retighten my anal sphincter (I’m imagining something like Kegels) so this doesn’t happen?

—Loose End

Dear Loose End,

There’s some evidence that anal sex may contribute to fecal incontinence: A paper published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2016 found a higher instance of fecal incontinence in both men and women who reported anal intercourse in a survey completed by 4,170 adults. That finding also attracted some criticism from other medical professionals. It’s fair to say the area needs more study.

Regardless of how it happened, fecal incontinence is your reality, and it’s great that your boyfriend is taking it in stride. As for treatments, experts suggest several to start, including, yes, Kegels. Others include dietary considerations, like high fiber intake (a psyllium husk supplement will further promote bulking) and training yourself to be on a pooping schedule. You may not be able to tame your feces entirely, but you can certainly create a situation where they’re less likely to be knocking at your back door. Anal douching is somewhat controversial from a health perspective, but there are plenty of people who do so sparingly for the sake of enjoying feces-free anal sex and don’t seem to be suffering any immediate consequences. You might want to try cleaning out your butt before sex, regardless of where he’s sticking it, so as to avoid a chocolate top-off to your orgasm. Also, the National Association for Continence recommends experimenting with positions to help keep the poop in. The incontinence is definitely worth talking to a doctor about, especially if the other potential treatments listed here don’t seem to be helping.

A lack of lubrication or continuation despite pain could definitely exacerbate your situation, so make sure if you are continuing anal, it’s slick and comfortable. I’d advise you to lay off, at least for a while, but I know once the anal bug bites, it can really sink its teeth in. Try the simple treatments listed here before taking such drastic measures.

—Rich

More How to Do It

Last year, my husband of two years—together six—and I were out to drinks with his childhood friend and the friend’s fiancée. (We’re both straight couples.) When we were several in, we were talking about losing our virginities, and his friend’s fiancée made a comment along the lines of “well, you know what they used to do.” I did not know what they used to do! It turns out they masturbated together as teenagers, which included “giving each other a hand.” I was taken aback by this, but they all seemed to think it was hilarious, and my husband was embarrassed, so I shrugged it off. Teenagers do things. We didn’t talk about it again.

Recently, I was out with the fiancée for her bachelorette party. My husband was at the bachelor party the same night. Someone joked about them getting too friendly with strippers, and the fiancée said they were more likely to get too friendly with each other. She then started telling the group that she knew my husband, her fiancée, and at least one other guy from their friend group masturbated together into college and their 20s (we’re all around 30). She said she suspected they still do it now sometimes, but she doesn’t care because it’s “just jerking off.” I’m now kind of paranoid about this! I did some Googling that suggested this is a fetish for some guys who are with women. Um, is it? Is there a way I can bring this up with my husband without accusing him of cheating?