How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to email@example.com.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight woman in her mid-30s married to a wonderful man. We have lived together for a couple years, and we dated for almost a decade before getting married. I entered this relationship after a very toxic ex nearly destroyed me emotionally and physically, and since then I have always had trust issues. I was recently online on my computer when I noticed that the ads on the sides of the screen were for Ashley Madison. I do not think my husband is cheating, I really don’t, but I still get that jealous pang in my chest when this happens. Is it possible that those ads are showing up because of websites I visit? For example, I do read advice columns that address infidelity issues, and I have also watched porn on occasion on my phone. (I do use incognito mode on Chrome to do so, because I would be mortified if my hubby found out. I don’t want him to think he doesn’t do enough for me, and he doesn’t watch porn at all.) I do notice that when my husband is on his phone shopping for car parts, I inevitably end up with ads on my Facebook feed for car parts, so I think it’s all interconnected. So, am I just in denial? Or is it possible these ads are my fault, and if so, is there a way to stop them from showing up?
Oh, how I love it when How to Do It becomes a very basic tech advice column, as with the man who recently asked how to watch porn online. Internet-based tribulations are so much easier to resolve than matters of the heart and genitals! If anyone needs a tutorial on inserting a table into a Word document, allow me to be your humble servant whose background includes having taken a class in high school that we referred to as—and that may have officially been called on the curriculum—“computers.”
It is true that sometimes previous visits to a website could result in targeted ads for that site, but that’s not the only thing generating such content. There are several potential reasons, including slightly more sophisticated marketing that comes from a wider survey of your demographic and web-surfing information. Targeting potential customers is a fuzzy science, and major screw-ups have occurred in this very realm: It was recently reported that ads for Ashley Madison appeared on multiple children’s sites.
There are certainly ways to reduce the likelihood that you’ll see such ads. Google Ads, a major provider, offers op-out capability. (Twitter, Facebook, and Apple do the same.) Last year, the New York Times published a piece on the rather intricate process of eradicating targeted ads from your life altogether, including clearing your cookies periodically and installing both ad and tracker blockers. Follow these directions step by step and you should be good.
You should stop reading now if you don’t want unsolicited advice that is more in the HTDI wheelhouse. I’m a bit troubled by the very obvious trust issues in your relationship; you worry about the secrets your husband is keeping while keeping secrets from him. Even if he doesn’t watch porn, as you claim, surely he could accept a partner who does? It doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t do enough for you, just that he doesn’t do everything for you, including being the medium of pornography by virtue of the fact that he is a person. Just as it’s practically impossible for one person to be all things to another, it’s unreasonable to expect you to refrain from all outside stimulation. I think maybe if there were more of an open discussion about such matters in your marriage, you wouldn’t be having these anxious pangs of what your partner could be feeling or doing because you’d already know.
But maybe I’m asking too much and the Band-Aid you need truly is cache clearing and pop-up blockers! Knock yourself out.
Dear How to Do It,
What’s the deal with PrEP for people who are not cis men? I’m a trans man about to start T, and I’m preparing myself for the inevitable skyrocketing libido. I’ll probably start seeking out casual sex with people to fill that need, but I’m a very safety-conscious guy and I want to minimize my chances of contracting STIs. I’ve read that PrEP may not work for people using their vaginas for penetrative sex, especially if those people are taking localized estrogen to combat vaginal atrophy. Would PrEP be effective for me? Obviously I’ll use condoms as well, but will the side effects and trimonthly HIV tests be worth the possibly diminished effectiveness of PrEP? Also, I have a cis male partner (our relationship is open but neither of us has slept with anyone else)—I assume he should also be on PrEP when I become a giant slut?
Dear Blue Pill,
The short answer is that PrEP works, period. Hormones do not render it ineffective. I confirmed this with Dr. Asa Radix, the senior director of research and education at New York’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and an expert on PrEP, trans issues, and their intersection. In fact, they wrote a paper on PrEP and transgender people.
While Radix acknowledged that some PrEP studies have left trans people out and that further data from the trans community is vital, they told me that “there’s nothing so far to show that we shouldn’t be using the current data that exists to apply to people of trans experience.” That data suggests that PrEP is up to 99 percent effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. “What I try to explain to the patients that I see is that a lot of this is about anatomy, so if you’re a transmasculine person who has a vagina, we can use the data that apply to cisgender women.”
The information you read may have derived from the real results of a study in Thailand called iFACT that found a slightly lower presence of tenofovir (one of the drugs in Truvada) in transgender women who were on PrEP and using the hormone estradiol. But Radix pointed out that the levels of tenofovir were not enough to make the drug ineffective (and indeed, the report I linked to notes that “the mean tenofovir level was still above the target level shown to confer protection in previous studies”). The study also did not measure levels of emtricitabine, the other drug in Truvada.
“I think people don’t understand the full picture,” said Radix. “There was a slight decrease, but the medication still works. And that was just one study.”
I’ll say it again: PrEP works across populations. My general rule of thumb is that if you think you should be on it, go on it. The side effects that you mention are minimal, and it isn’t merely “worth it” to endure getting tested every three months; that testing is part of what makes PrEP such a useful tool, because it promotes the quick detection of STDs that otherwise may have been asymptomatic and gone unnoticed, and thus spread more easily. Surely a safety-minded guy such as yourself can appreciate that. As for whether your boyfriend should be on it, he’ll have to make that decision himself.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve reached an impasse with my boyfriend and I’m not quite sure if my reaction is normal or overblown. For background, my boyfriend (33) and I (32-year-old woman) have been dating for five months and living together for four. We hadn’t planned on moving in together so quickly, but extenuating circumstances with his former roommates forced our hands, and he had nowhere else to go. He has several mental illnesses (bipolar, depression, severe social anxiety, high-functioning autism, and ADHD) and is currently and probably always will be on disability and is unable to afford to live alone. I have no problems supporting his mental illnesses, but I thought I asked all the right questions before he moved in, especially when it came to life goals, relationship expectations, and cleanliness. But after we moved in, I found he really has no drive to do anything but play video games all day and eat. (He pays half the rent, but I pay for everything else.) He’s very sensitive to criticism and will withdraw and become visibly distressed when he doesn’t meet my expectations.
All this said, honestly, he’s a very sweet, caring, and thoughtful man. I knew coming into this relationship that he would never be my financial equal. And he’s giving me everything I need except: sex. We aren’t intimate as often as we were when he first moved in, and that is causing me to resent him more than anything. I have a very high sex drive, and in a perfect world would have it several times a day. He claimed he did also when he moved in, in but the past three months, we’ve been intimate fewer than 10 times. I’ve asked him about it on three different occasions, and his responses ranged from being on a downswing in his bipolar, to having issues processing how his former partner (who, he previously lived with) treated him, to his depression. He chooses not to be in therapy or take medication, and when I asked if there was anything in my behavior I could change to help him, he said it just takes its time and that he’s never had his libido just disappear. I don’t want to make his problems worse, but there are times I’m climbing the walls because my toys aren’t satisfying me, and going to the gym isn’t redirecting my energy either. I find myself lashing out at him because he’s not giving me the primary thing I want, a thing I could easily access prior to us being in the monogamous relationship he wanted. I brought up an open relationship, and it hurt his feelings. According to him, the fact that he knows he’s not satisfying my urge adds to his depression, so I suggested that he participate in my masturbation sessions if he’s comfortable with that. This has occasionally led to us actually being intimate.
I really think the lack of sex is exacerbating the other negative feelings I have toward him. I’m patient, I can tolerate a lot, and I know I can’t make his illnesses go away, but I am at the end of my rope sexually and not sure if I’m overreacting or if there’s anything else I can do so I don’t worsen his problems.
Dear Accidental Roommate,
You are not overreacting. On the contrary, I think you’ve largely taken things in stride and your optimism has failed you. I don’t want to shame you for your choices, but it does bear mentioning that you didn’t really know this person when he moved in with you. You can ask all the questions in the world, you can craft them with a luthier’s precision, and yet they may very well fail to reveal what the future holds. This does not necessarily indicate deception on the part of your boyfriend (though it could)—new-relationship euphoria can cause distortions, and people tend to present idealized versions of themselves when their dateability is evaluated. Some questions can only be answered through experience. It’s hardly unexpected when people surprise us so early on in a relationship. That’s just life, showing its knotty, contradictory ass.
Your partner has very specific needs. You can trust him when he tells you reasons why his libido has taken a recent hit. Given what has already been established, though, I don’t know that you should trust him regarding guaranteed improvements. It could be more of that optimism that has defined both sides of your relationship thus far. I hope that these good intentions are not paving you a road to hell, but it’s time to acknowledge that possibility. That your boyfriend is not receiving treatment when he has this wide range of diagnoses does not exactly bode well for an upswing. If you can’t convince him to seek help, this really could be it. This could be the relationship.
One thing you could do is enter couples counseling—it’s hardly a substitution for one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy, but at least it’s something, and at least you’d be getting him in front of a professional. Unfortunately, by moving him in, you’ve taken on a project that requires disproportionate responsibility on your part. Your feelings are justified, and you have demonstrated ingenuity in attempting to strike a sexual spark. It seems that you have two choices: Staying in this relationship will test your patience, while leaving will test your conscience. There’s hardship behind both doors.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a gay man living with one of my best friends, who is also gay. The problem is that he’s pined after me and continues to. I didn’t know how much he was into me until I moved in with him. I was in a tight spot, and I reached out to him, and he offered me the second room in his apartment. We’ve been friends for nearly 20 years.
I’m doing much better now financially, and although I could now step out on my own again, I am committed to sticking with him as a roomie. But he continues to tell me how much he wants to suck my dick. It’s worse when he gets more beers down. I’m not into him. I did think he was cute 20 years ago when we met. Not so much now. But he is a wonderful person and I love spending time with him, and I love that he helped me out when I really needed it. Should I just finally give in and get the one-sided blow job? Or continue to hold my ground and tell him that we’re just great friends and that could ruin what we’ve got going?
No. Letting him suck your dick will likely make him want it more, not less. He may even feel entitled to it after that, preying on your ambivalence and forcing you to come up a reason why you let him have it then but not now. I worry about your ability to assert yourself. There’s no reason to accept a blow job out of mere politeness. Polite is listening to your roommate talk about his day, not shooting your come down his throat.
He’s harassing you. He may have been kind to you in the past, but now, not so much. Consider moving out.
More How to Do It
I’m dating a new man whom I like very much. He’s very well endowed (about 8 inches). The sex is solid and getting better, but I’ve noticed his erections are not particularly, well, erect—he’s definitely hard and penetration isn’t a problem, but he’s not rock-hard like many men I’ve been with in the past. I raise this question because it reminded me that another very well-endowed man I was with in the past also had this issue. Is this common? Is there just not enough blood to power the biggest guys?