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,
Last night, I went on a date someone who I had met somewhat spontaneously a week or so ago. We were having a really great time—natural conversation, very similar interests, just a good vibe. I don’t normally click with people this easily, and I was so glad our connection didn’t start on an app, so I followed the mood a little more than I might have otherwise and went back to his place. We slept together, and it lived up to the rest of the night. But in the afterglow, he casually let it drop that he’s dating someone seriously, but they’re open. I felt extremely betrayed, like he got me in bed under false pretenses. I didn’t go that far with him, but we both knew instantly that the air in the room had changed. I left, and he texted later and said he hadn’t meant to mislead me. But he did, didn’t he? It’s true that there was no dating profile involved where he could have mentioned this, and our meetup last night was organic and casual, but I can’t help but feel like he tricked me to get laid.
—Open to Honesty
Dear Open to Honesty,
Did you disclose monogamist tendencies upfront? Did you ask if your hookup had significant partners or recent other hookups? Did you tell this person that you were feeling swoon-y and romantic, and therefore likelier to catch feelings?
I’m guessing you didn’t do any of these things. It’s OK. I don’t think either of you did a bad thing. I do think that some feelings were hurt because of assumptions and lack of communication.
I know polyamory and non-monogamy are only recently entering the mainstream consciousness. I know the entire stretch of possibilities can feel strange to people who are encountering relationship structures other than monogamy. Your unfamiliarity does not invalidate polyamory and non-monogamy, nor does anyone else’s.
I’m sorry you’re struggling with negative feelings in the wake of this hookup. My advice to you is, moving forward, to ask. Ask if your potential partner is seeing anyone else. Ask what shapes they prefer their relationships to take. If these things are important to you, it is your responsibility to find out what the deal is.
This conversation doesn’t have to be complicated or fraught. You can simply state what you’re looking for and ask if your prospective partner’s desires align. Like “I’m a monogamous person. Does that relationship style work for you?”
I’m having a problem with anal sex and my husband. A few years ago, I unexpectedly gave my husband anal while having sex. He loved it so much, and I loved that I could turn him on that way. But ever since then, he wants it all the time. I kind of thought it was a once-in-a-while thing. We’ve been having this same argument now for a few years on and off. I’ve told him over and over “no,” but he still tries any chance he can get. He will lay off for a day or so, but it seems that’s all he thinks about.
I’d much rather have him in my vagina—it seems so distant, no closeness, when we do have anal sex. He once said he wants something different in bed, to spice it up because we’ve been together for 13 years. I get that, but I just don’t want anal sex. I feel it takes too much out of me mentally to prepare for him to go there. It hurts, and even lube doesn’t make it feel good. And he watches porn and thinks he can just ram it in and do it the same as vaginal sex. It’s a slow process for me, and sometimes I’m sore after, sometimes I bleed, sometimes I’m constipated. It hurts and when he gets close to ejaculating he won’t stop, and therefore my rectum tears sometimes. I’ve told him all this, but he still wants it.
Is it normal for him to not listen to me and what I want or don’t want? Should I just let him have it whenever he wants it? I tell him no all the time—I say no, but I don’t want to flat out say no. He seems to think he should get it once a week. I finally asked him if he’s gay. He was offended, and now intimacy is gone. Sometimes he’d rather not have sex at all, it seems, if he can’t have anal. Does it mean he’s gay?
—No More Please
Dear No More Please,
No, your husband’s taste for anal does not mean he’s gay.
Now that that’s out of the way, he’s also pushy, rude, and potentially assaulting you if, when “he gets close to ejaculating,” “he won’t stop.” He’s hurting you, and you’ve told him you don’t want this. He isn’t going to lay off the anal on his own. You’re going to have to find that no inside yourself and put it to use. You say you say no but you don’t want to “flat out say no.” You’re going to have to do the latter if you want these anal aspirations to end—be as blunt with him as you were with me.
Practice in the mirror. Start with “No.” Say it out loud until you’re comfortable. Imagine your husband instead of your reflection. Move on to “No, I don’t want your penis in my ass.” Say it until you feel firm and strong. Get ready to say it to your husband.
I think many would read this letter as you sent it and implore you to leave your husband immediately. But I’m not the one in the relationship; I’m not hearing about the parts of the relationship that work, and I haven’t built a whole life with him. It’s possible that nothing short of an ultimatum—or even nothing short of following through on one—is going to get him to stop. Think about what you’re prepared to follow through on. Are you willing to move out? Leave the relationship? You have to decide for yourself what moves you’re OK making, but this can’t go on the way it has. Good luck—you’ve got big choices to make.
Dear How to Do It,
I have not ever tried to discuss this seriously with anybody other than my wife. She and I do not reach any solution. My wife and I have been married nearly 38 years and together a total of 43. We have two grown sons. Until about five or six years ago, she and I had a somewhat regular sex life that involved cuddling, “hands under the covers,” and intercourse. Our sex life was more frequent in our early days (both before and after marriage). With the years, and parental and societal responsibilities (“I’m tired”; “I have to be up early,” etc.), our sex life tapered off and slowed.
When the abstinence became unbearable, I would raise the subject with my wife, and she would make an effort to respond to cuddling and hugging, and things would improve for a while. Despite what I considered her good faith in trying to meet me halfway, however, I could tell that she wasn’t as enthusiastic about sex as I was. At one point, after a particularly frustrating stretch of abstinence when I had reached the end of my rope, I was approaching complete despair and resignation that our sex life was over, and I told her that I had decided that she wasn’t really very interested in sex, that she didn’t particularly want or (apparently) enjoy it, and that I was no longer going to force her to do it.
Then, in late 2014, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The year 2015 was filled with chemotherapy, during which I wiped her butt, cleaned up her vomit. She said that she was very grateful for my support and sticking by her during the ordeal. In mid-2015, my wife underwent a double mastectomy and recuperation … and eventually, in November 2015, she had reconstructive surgery, followed by more recuperation. We have not shared any sexual encounter since 2014. True to my word, I have not “forced” her to engage because I can’t get over that she isn’t interested (and that maybe I was a crappy lover), and I’ve believed that the difficulty coping with zero sex life is my problem, not hers.
I have from time to time reminded her that I used to enjoy having a sex life and thought that she had enjoyed it, too. She now responds that between the pre-surgery chemotherapy and the ongoing, lifetime chemotherapy which she undergoes regularly (by taking estrogen-suppressing medication, as her cancer fed off estrogen), her vaginal tissues are paper-thin and dry, and that intercourse would be painful for her. She has several times purchased a vaginal moisturizer/lubricant, which she apparently uses (as I see the package sitting on her bedside table and sitting within reach in the bathroom). She nevertheless has never (during this post-reconstruction period) initiated sex or mentioned that she “should be ready” at some/any indeterminate time in the future, or even that she knows how much I loved it and that she wants to do it for me.
I don’t particularly want to leave her or end the marriage—she is the mother of my kids, and we have been together more than half our lives. I don’t want to be tortured by the financial nightmare of divorce and spousal support, and I don’t want to just abandon her now that we are old, as I think it would be really shitty of me to do that. So do you have any suggestions for me and/or for us? I have considered going elsewhere for sex, but there are dissatisfactions that are part of that possible “solution.”
—Finding What She Can’t Give
Dear Finding What She Can’t Give,
I want to deal with this vaginal moisturizer detail first. Your wife, deprived of estrogen for medical reasons, needs to take care of her vagina and vulva regardless of whether sex is happening. Vaginal moisturizer is almost certainly for her own comfort. A dry puss can be painful even when you’re just sitting around.
Have you spent time imagining what your wife’s experience is like? Her body is putting her through hell. She’s suffering. She’s dealing with the ramifications of her cancer treatment, and that causes changes to her body that can’t be pleasant. If your body was revolting and your dick had paper-thin skin that threatened to break open, would you be feeling sexual? Would you have the extra bandwidth to think about making sure your partner knows how bad you feel about the whole situation?
As for your sexual needs, given that you don’t want to leave your wife but your wife’s health is failing, I think the best option is to see if she’s open to opening up. Approach this topic as gently as you possibly can. Start with how much you love her, how much you cherish the life and family you’ve built, and how much you value her. Make sure she’s really hearing that before you move on. Then ask how she’d feel about opening up the relationship.
You’ll want to think through how you’ll react to each possible response before you broach the subject, so you’re prepared in the moment. She might not be OK with it. She might say no. She might be offended that you’d even suggest such a thing. Have your responses ready to go.
Your wife also might say yes. In that case, apps are always a possibility, as is meeting people the old-fashioned way in bars or other social settings. In some ways dating is vastly different than it was 40 years ago, and in other ways it is exactly the same. Meeting people, feeling uncertain, and being surprised are all aspects to look forward to. Make sure to have detailed conversations with your wife of how this openness is going to go down, and maintain your connection to each other.
I do want to mention that pocket pussy technology has improved. (I should disclose that I have a licensing deal with Fleshlight.) Sex toys aren’t people, but they can be wonderful additions or substitutes.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 30-year-old woman who has had a lot of trouble with men and my ability to trust that anyone could want me/love me/not be completely annoyed and repulsed by me. As a result, I have never dated and have barely had sex with anyone. I’m working on these issues with a therapist and have made a lot of progress, but for the time being, I’m taking a hiatus from trying and failing to date or even have sex with anyone.
Even so, I would still like to feel sexually satisfied. The problem is I’m just not very good at fantasizing. Most of my fantasies in the past have centered on being wanted by someone I’m comfortable trusting; that’s it. I watch porn and I try to fantasize and it’s all … fine, but I rarely get particularly turned on. I don’t have a problem orgasming, but it’s never especially great in a way I know it can be and have experienced a few times. Recently, when I try to fantasize, my mind wanders or the scenario changes to be about disappointment or betrayal. I really want to learn to build better fantasies, turn myself on, and enjoy a sex life with myself instead of waiting around until I’m in a place mentally to have one with someone else. Any suggestions?
—Smut Me Up
Dear Smut Me Up,
Erotic books! Porn! Vibrators! Betty Dodson!
Take a page from Betty Dodson’s book—you can even actually read her actual books—and take yourself on dates. Set the mood however you like. Some people like candles and flower petals, others are particular about the room being precisely seventy degrees.
Stock up on other people’s fantasies. Get a range of erotic books—those kind of romance novels, classics like Story of the Eye and Anaïs Nin, some fan fiction if that floats your boat, Laura Antoniou’s Marketplace series if you’re into BDSM—and get to reading. Watch a variety of porn—look into diverse companies like Shine Louise Houston’s Pink and White, feminists like Jennifer Lyon Bell and her Blue Artichoke Films, and educators like Nina Hartley and jessica drake.
Get some high-powered vibrators. I’m partial to Lelo’s Sona Cruise (and, full disclosure, have done influencer work for them recently). Loads of people speak very highly of the Hitachi Magic Wand. I’ve heard good things about the Womanizer. Crave makes vibrators so beautiful that some wear them as jewelry.
Keep track of what gets you going and what’s on your mind right before you orgasm. This will give you clues about what works for you, and give you an idea of what directions you might want to build your own fantasies towards. I suspect they’ll begin to come naturally if you exercise that part of your brain.
More Advice From Slate
While trying to print a file on my husband’s laptop, I accidentally clicked on a folder that contained images of naked women, including one picture of someone who seemed underage. When I confronted my husband about this, he said that he wanted to try drawing those pictures. He did indeed take up drawing recently, but I’m still uncomfortable with that one picture. It really looked like something from a child pornography website! (Granted, some people make a whole career out of appearing younger than their actual age, but this person looked prepubescent.) He was adamant that he was only using the pictures as figure studies and didn’t understand why I was upset. Should I keep pushing about this? I know it’s nearly impossible to verify the ages of people in online photos, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that he stick to drawing people who are obviously adults.