How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to email@example.com. Nothing’s too small (or big).
Dear How to Do It,
I have found myself recently in a position where a man who I know has a girlfriend (I am also female) has propositioned me for sex. I am very attracted to him, and I feel like I wouldn’t have much guilt if I slept with him. At this point I am looking just for sex, not a relationship, and this one-time tryst would be just sex.
Obviously, I know that cheating happens, and I know that sleeping with him would not be a wise decision morally for either of us. But I can’t get him out of my head. Is there something wrong with me because I don’t think I would feel that much guilt? Shouldn’t I feel worse about this? How responsible am I for someone else’s relationship? I am certainly responsible for my own actions, and I know am morally in the wrong here. But as it exists right now, purely hypothetically, I don’t feel bad about it.
Dear Not Guilty,
Are you sure you don’t feel bad about this hypothetical cheating abetment? People don’t usually write in for help preventing them from doing something they don’t feel bad about. I think this is a textbook case of the lady protesting too much. I think you know, on some level, that if you went through with helping this guy cheat, you would feel negatively afterward—maybe even during the act.
Even if I’m incorrect, you know that you’d be doing something wrong regardless of whether you end up feeling bad. Just in case I’ve been unclear: Don’t help this guy cheat on his girlfriend.
Remove temptation. Limit the amount of time you spend with this guy, especially alone. Focus on the harm you’d be helping to cause with the other woman involved. Take some time to really put yourself in her shoes and imagine how that betrayal would feel.
Make sure you’ve given him a firm no. Yeah, he might find someone else to cheat with. But a clear, concise no from you might prompt him to reevaluate what he’s doing. Suggesting he talk to his girlfriend about opening up the relationship is also a possibility.
You don’t mention your own relationship status. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, make your fantasy life more robust. If you have a regular partner, consider role play. Treat yourself to some saucy novels or explicit pornography. Get a new sex toy. When you feel sexual desire, fulfill it yourself. Whatever it takes to keep focusing on, well, anything but this guy.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in my early 30s and am happily married to a man I met in college. My best friend (also since college) is also happily married, and the four of us are great pals. She and I talk or text daily and, though we live in separate states, try to get together a few times a year. In the last few years, we have explored our sexuality with each other—and our husbands. Everyone is having a great time, and we communicate openly to help mitigate any emotional issues.
My problem is that I think I’m falling in love with her. We’ve always been close and share emotional intimacy, but I have stopped our relationship from progressing to “girlfriend” status. (My friend and her husband identify as polyamorous and had a girlfriend once years ago, but I identify as monogamous beyond these occasional vacation play sessions.) My heart broke when I heard she was in contact with her ex, and I’m facing what I think I’ve felt for a long time. My husband has been beyond supportive, and does not feel threatened, and thinks since I already love her, romantic feelings won’t change our situation and I should allow myself to love openly. But shouldn’t I devote all of my attention to him? If I was falling for anyone else outside of my marriage, I’d limit contact and try to move on. My feelings for her do not detract from the love I feel for my husband, and this is confusing. Do I upset the fabulous status quo and try to juggle two emotional relationships? Or do I quash the butterflies I feel for her and be grateful four people are enjoying an extremely satisfying sexual experience for the moment?
You’re at a fork. There are benefits and risks to both paths. You’re the only person who can decide which direction you take.
Everyone knows the Kinsey scale, correct? Zero is totally heterosexual, six is totally homosexual, and most people fall somewhere in between. Well, I think there’s a similar scale of relationship structure styles that range roughly from monogamy to relationship anarchy. And you fall somewhere in between.
I’m not surprised that your feelings for your friend don’t detract from your feelings for your husband. Love is not a starvation economy. We don’t have an organ inside ourselves that replenishes with love overnight and runs out during the day. Other things, like time and emotional labor bandwidth, are starvation economies. Since you already manage to balance the time you spend with your husband and the time you spend with your friend, it seems like you should have an easy time transitioning into balancing romantic love for each.
There’s risk, though. Your husband might find that he’s threatened as feelings deepen. You might find yourself struggling to focus on one or the other when you’re with them. You could end up having to choose between two people you care for immensely and have extensive history with.
You could also do the thing that the dominant system says: You could devote all of yourself to your husband. Ignore your feelings of romance toward your friend. But they might fester. You could find yourself resenting your husband for occupying all of your attention. You might wonder for the rest of your life what you could have had.
Use the previous two paragraphs to make four lists. Pros and cons for both scenarios, following your feelings or repressing them. Go back to it a few days later, and see if anything else springs to mind. If you decide to be romantic with both your husband and friend, there are plenty of books and blogs devoted to polyamory and romantic plurality for you to read. I’d start there.
Dear How to Do It,
I was raised in a very conservative, very fundamentalist religion (like the “sexual sin is second only to murder in terms of severity”–type of religion), so as you can probably imagine, even now that I’ve left that religion, I still have so much discomfort and shame around sex. I’m a 27-year-old cis, straight woman, and the mere idea of having sex is kind of terrifying. But also, I don’t want the idea of sex to be terrifying! I want to have a healthy relationship with my sexuality and, damn it, I want to have sex! I also know that this is going to be a long process for me to heal from the religious trauma of my upbringing and deprogram myself from all the messages that have been pounded into my head about how sex is shameful and dirty and gross. I don’t actually believe any of those things, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling them sometimes as they apply to me. I’m perfectly able to hear my friends talk about their latest hookup or a sexy night with their boyfriend without feeling any sort of judgment. If anything, I’m kind of jealous that they feel so free to express their sexuality in fun, safe, consensual ways—whereas I’m just sitting all alone in the corner of shame.
I know that casual sex (at least right now) is not an option for me and that getting to the point where I am comfortable having sex will require a lot of trust and closeness with a guy. But I’m also afraid that any guy I date will run for the hills when I drop the “Hey, sex isn’t on the table for me right now, and I don’t know when it will be” bomb on him. Is that unfair? Am I underestimating the men of the world and falling victim (yet again) to the brainwashing of my youth: that men are carnal beings, and if they want to have sex with me before marriage, they’re just using me and can’t possibly care about me and are also SINNERS?
I guess I don’t even really know what my question is here. Maybe I just want some reassurance that someday I’ll be able to work through this. Maybe I’m hoping that you have some practical advice to help me view sex in a more positive light and shed the shame I’ve been carrying around for years and years and years. It’s gotten really, really heavy, and I’m so fucking tired of carrying it. If it matters, I have gotten to the point where I no longer feel shame about masturbation, porn, and erotica, so I guess that’s progress. But I just can’t seem to take the next step of being able to consider “actual” sex without feeling panicky and on the verge of a shame spiral. Please tell me I’m not doomed to carry this around with me for the rest of my life and die a sexually frustrated, yet sexually terrified virgin. (Also, therapy. Yes, I know therapy is part of the answer. I’m working on it.)
Dear No Shame,
Congratulations on getting yourself to the point where you’re comfortable with sexual media and masturbation, and confronting your upbringing. Both of those things can be difficult. For more help with internalized religious shame, I recommend Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Shameless.
As for how to approach dating, the first thing to repeat to yourself is “No matter how much someone expects or desires sex, I owe them nothing.” Say it to yourself in the mirror. Use it to practice your handwriting. Repeat it until you feel it certain in your gut. Then start talking to men.
Flirt with some men on a dating app. If one asks to meet before you’re comfortable, you can say no. He might get aggressive if you do, but those reactions seem rare. You can absolutely be reserved about your background and inexperience, but you also might find this a good place to experiment with boldly disclosing. You’ll quickly find out who fetishizes virginity, who woefully misunderstands what you’re after, and who can maybe hang out. Sometimes these app-based interactions go on for months, or peter off and then revive.
When you’re ready, have a casual date. Coffee is really great for this: Worst-case scenario, you can easily pick up your cup and go. Talk to the guy. Get to know him. This is a perfectly normal way to date, even for people without atypically repressive upbringings.
Another thing that is perfectly normal is wanting to have sex only within the framework of a committed relationship. You can state this cleanly with something like “I’m only comfortable deciding to have sex with someone once I know them, we’ve developed a rapport, and we’ve established some level of commitment.” It’ll be useful to define exactly what commitment means to you, and to broach the subject by at least mid-date so there isn’t the awkwardness of doing so after he’s attempted to kiss you—since kissing on the first date is pretty standard.
You absolutely will encounter men who just want to use you for sex. If you’re open to women, you’ll encounter women who just want to use you for sex, too. You’ll need to filter them out and let the others show you how patient, respectful, understanding, and generally flexible the dating pool can be. Just remember you never owe anyone sex, and that no is always an acceptable answer. Be gentle with yourself, but do take risks as you’re comfortable with them. I suspect that you’ll have an easier time considering partnered sex once you’ve found a solid, gentle partner. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
My fiancée and I have been together for almost three years. I love her, and we share a wonderful life together. When we first started being intimate, she was open, and we could talk about sex. She does not like kissing, or oral, or penetration, and is only really turned on by a certain kink that I had not had experience with. I told her I would give it a try, and at first, it seemed like it was going OK. It was a little awkward, but I figured we would work the kinks out (pun intended) and find our rhythm.
Problem is it never happened. She stopped initiating or responding to sexual advances, and when I did bring it up, she said she was stressed or tired or had a headache or wasn’t in the mood. When I would ask what I could do to make intimacy better for her, she would say she didn’t know what would work. I have tried everything in my arsenal to no avail. In the past when we have tried and failed to get something going, she has suggested we seek outside help, but when I have brought it up later, she gets melancholy and emotional and it goes nowhere.
She seems content with a little snuggling and then to masturbate while I stay off to the side. Problem is I derive all of my pleasure from giving pleasure, which she can’t get from me, and this arrangement is demoralizing for me. I have told her this too. I don’t want to push her, nor would I want any “pity” or “obligatory” sexual activity. I stopped trying about 10 months ago partly because it was just too depressing to always fail, and thinking either I would grow accustomed to a sexless relationship (I had been fine with it in a past relationship) or that she would initiate a conversation when she was ready but there has been nothing and she seems very happy. I know I put myself in this position and I shouldn’t resent her, but I’m afraid it is happening anyway. How do I get over it or address this without upsetting or pressuring her?
—Hey, Over Here
Dear Hey, Over Here,
Have you had an in-depth conversation about that time you tried to enact her kink? I’m wondering if something went awry in a way that she’s uncomfortable broaching with you. Verbal processing is sometimes a part of BDSM practice—and probably should be more often—as a part of aftercare. It’s worth asking if you could talk through it now in case something happened that is affecting your relationship. Start with “Remember that time we ___” and then move into “How was that for you?”
Has she been upset or reported feeling pressured in the past? If so, those moments can be a great example of what not to do. Otherwise, pick a calm time, leave enough time to talk without watching the clock—maybe even set an alarm for when you need to move on to the next thing—and use a gentle tone of voice. Think through what you’re going to say. Is opening up the relationship something that would work for you? What’s your ideal frequency and array of acts, and what can you be content with?
Your sexual needs and the options you present for getting them met might be upsetting, though. There might be no way around that. It’s possible that she’s not interested in doing the sex you need at all, in which case you have to make a choice: kissing, oral sex, and penetration, or your fiancée. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t fun, but it’s still yours to make. You’re better suited than many because you have sexless relationship experience and know more about what your choices are.
More How to Do It
I am a 29-year-old straight guy. I am running into a problem I’ve had since I first had sex, and it feels like it’s getting worse. I really, really hate going down on women. I just don’t like to be that up close and personal with vaginas—even very clean vaginas. Something about staring the anatomy that close in the face just puts me off. I’ve often pushed past my dislike of this with new partners because I want them to enjoy themselves too. In my two relationships, I eventually told the truth and we worked around it. I also love receiving oral sex and I’m not sure I’d be OK with a partner taking that off the table. But no matter how many women I’m with, I still hate giving oral sex, and my aversion is only getting stronger. What can I do?