How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to firstname.lastname@example.org. Nothing’s too small (or big).
Dear How to Do It,
I am a (cis) man in my late 40s. I have been married for 10 years to a woman who I can honestly say is the love of my life. Since meeting her, I can’t imagine ever being intimate with anyone else. I grew up in a very homophobic environment, and through my 20s, even suggesting that I was anything but 100 percent heterosexual would have been fighting words. Since I left that environment and actually met queer people and developed friendships, I’ve become a passionate ally and advocate for the LGBTQ community, as is my wife. (That’s how we met.) Along the way, I’ve realized that I am queer as well, and had I accepted this about myself when I was younger, instead of having a string of just cis female partners, I could have been with anyone, of any variety. Should I come out at this stage in my life? On the one hand, I feel like I’m saying, “I love you queer people, but I’m not one of you!” On the other hand, I feel like coming out would be like: “Hey, you’re queer? Well, I’m staying a cis het man married to a cis het woman for the rest of my life, but I’m queer too!” On the third hand, I feel stupid that this is even a dilemma.
We talk about coming out like it’s a quinceañera, or a debutant’s ball. Like it’s a milestone one surpasses rather than something one does over and over again as they move through life. A person can be out to everyone, only to themselves, or any number of possibilities in between. Even if they decide to be as out as humanly possible, they will likely need to come out to multiple people and across multiple communities or social groups.
I’ll make it personal—I come out as a sex worker a few times a week, on average. I came out last night in my lawyer’s office during a semiannual networking party a number of times, to total strangers. I refuse to come out as bisexual because there was so much erasure and stigma in the early 2000s, and I still haven’t gotten over my feelings around that. My point is, I choose what I want to share, with whom, when, and to what degree of detail. You get to do that too.
For me, the decision to share is based on factors like how upset I think the person might be, whether there are children around, and how much I don’t want to have to perform Porn 101 yet another time to satisfy that person’s inevitable curiosity. Depending on the situation, I might say, “I work in blue movies,” or “I’m a professional ho.” One works with people who seem very sensitive, and the other comes in handy when my doctor is brushing off my request for a second STD screening in a six-month period.
Context is crucial.
Some queer people might feel like you’re appropriating their struggle, and others will be glad for the solidarity. My co-columnist, Rich, and I talked about this recently—there’s a mumble rising among certain men who are a little queer but identify as straight and cis, and as a political action, they say so to expand the definition of what a straight cis man is and how they behave. Whether they’re having the desired effect is up for debate. Perhaps it is too soon to tell.
So, read the room, internalize the fact that you can’t control how people feel about your identity, and be true to your best possible self. I think you’re overly stressing about this.
Dear How to Do It,
About a month ago, I (28) started dating this guy (26) whom I have the most incredible chemistry with. Our first few dates were mind-blowing—I’d never experienced anything like it before. It’s made me discover a lot of things I didn’t know I liked sexually—he chokes me, slaps me, and says somewhat humiliating things to me (calling me a dirty slut, whore, etc.). I never thought I’d be so into this, but I have to say I am so turned on by it and want more. The problem is, he’s already proving he’s not a great long-term partner, flaking on plans and telling me he’s “too busy” to date seriously. I want to get the message and move on, but I’m worried I’ll never find sex like this again, especially with the type of nice, sweet, available guy I would want in every other capacity. How do I seek this kind of sex out with future men without scaring them away? I am tempted to just keep sleeping with this guy, even though my long-term goal is committed monogamy.
Did he establish a safe word with you? Did he ask what your boundaries were around being slapped, choked, and verbally humiliated in a nonsexually charged environment before incorporating them into the sex? Unless the answer to both of these questions is an unqualified yes, I think you should cut this off immediately.
I get it. Truly great sex is a wonderful thing. It can be difficult to walk away from. But this guy isn’t acting like he values you, and submitting to—or receiving rough sex from—someone who doesn’t value his partner is dangerous.
As for how to seek out this kind of sex with future men, try attending a BDSM munch or other community event. Maybe a class on consent, or an introductory course on BDSM basics. Get an idea of what the red flags are to look out for—the BDSM community is not a curated theme park, it’s a world populated by real people with flaws who make mistakes, and it does contain the occasional predator. Along the way you’re likely to meet fellow humans who are interested in some of the kinks you’ve found yourself enjoying, and you might vibe well with one or more of them.
There’s an erotic novel by Laura Antoniou called The Slave. It’s a fantasy, set in a world that has intricate systems set up to allow submissives the full-immersion experience they sometimes desire. It also shows, through Robin’s journey into this world, a number of frustrations and difficulties that women who are into rough sex or submission frequently find themselves navigating. I think it’s worth a read.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m eight weeks post-op from a hysterectomy. I got to keep my ovaries, thankfully, but my uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix are now just medical waste. I never wanted kids, so feelings of “loss” aren’t really an issue, but I’m terrified of having sex again. My doctor says I’m healed enough, and my husband has been incredibly supportive and patient, but I can’t even begin to think about putting anything up an area that’s been so traumatized. I want to go back to our happy, healthy sex life, but I’m pretty freaked out. Any advice?
You’ve just been through something incredibly significant, and eight weeks isn’t a very long time. I’m glad you aren’t experiencing feelings of loss, although it would be totally OK and understandable if you were.
I think you ought to talk about what you are feeling: “Dear husband whom I love and want to be intimate with. You are being so supportive of me, and I value that. You know I’ve just undergone a major life change. The doctor says I can have sex when I’m ready, and while I might be physically ready, I don’t know when I’ll be mentally ready. I’m stressed out over the whole thing, and I want to share what’s happening inside my mind with you.”
Or, you know, in your own words. Broach the conversation so you can get this off your chest and start talking it out. Turn to your husband—your partner who is supportive and patient—and lean on him. Talk through what you’re worried about. Ask him how he feels. Do some majorly intimate verbal communication. This kind of solving-problems-together is supposed to be one of the perks of marriage.
Every time you feel like you ought to be ready to have sex, put some energy into that emotional connection. Practice all the forms of intimacy that you’re comfortable with. Later, as you feel moved, engage in kissing or oral sex. I think, if you take the pressure off, your anxiety around penetration will decrease, and you’ll be able to approach it—slowly.
If you’re still freaking out in three months, you might want to talk through your feelings with a psychologist or other mental health professional.
Dear How to Do It,
My relationship is on the rocks and in desperate need of a jump-start because of sex. I’ve been dating this girl for just over a year, and we hit it off immediately. We had an amazing, loving relationship almost right from the start. We are obsessed with each other and complement each other well. Our families are both notoriously picky about whom we date, and they adore both of us. It’s all good … except the sex. I’m in my early 30s and have experienced what has to be a higher-than-average number of partners. I always took a dirty joy in my old partners telling me months and sometimes years after the fact that I was the best they’d ever had, or in the top three at least. I go above and beyond in bed and pride myself on creativity and just plain doing it well. She is in her mid-20s and has only had two other sexual partners. She apparently dislikes many things that are just part of my sex life (any oral sex on her, toys of any kind, any position that isn’t face to face, to give you an idea).
So I’ve been bored and feeling stifled for about a year, and she has been driving me into an incredibly specific sex routine that she says works for her. But lately we have been arguing, and it’s become more and more clear that, underlying all of this, she just never felt a sexual spark with me. She thought I was too boring, so she would default to what she felt safest with, hoping it would stimulate her and give her a spark. It didn’t. So she just let sex fall to the wayside, and we had less and less until finally it started fights. Now my attempts to do things more creatively are failing because we both are putting so much weight on the sex needing to be good. I’m afraid to do creative stuff she may or may not like because any imperfection will probably lead to her getting frustrated and stopping (and crying), and she is so desperate to just have “good sex” that she won’t compromise at all on how it’s done, even when we talk about it beforehand. I can’t stress enough that we both find literally everything else about the relationship worth fighting for and salvaging. But I’m afraid we have too much of a disconnect for any amount of “open conversation” to bridge now.
The phrase “obsessed with each other” is waving around like a huge red flag, but I’m going to chalk it up to slang and assume you aren’t in a toxic co-dependency.
Friends is what most people do with people they like a whole lot but don’t have sexual chemistry with. It’s a cruel fact of life—there are humans whom we match with incredibly well on emotional and intellectual levels, whose sense of humor we adore, whom our parents approve of, and whom we co-habit well with, and yet there aren’t two sparks to rub together.
If it were me, I’d move on. You two are going to have to decide for yourselves, though. Your relationship and the approval of your parents might be worth a lackluster sex life to you both. You might be able to power through this sexual disconnect and find ways of pleasing each other. You might even create a spark. Y’all have to choose.
More How to Do It
A few weeks ago, I discovered my wife cheated on me. The weird thing is, now that I know, I’m not sure how to bring it up, or if I should. I know through the same means I discovered the affair that it’s over, and she feels guilty about it. I noticed an uptick in our sex life around the time I now know her affair ended, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’d honestly rather just forget it, let my wife work through her guilt on her own, and hopefully learn her lesson. Is that possible if I say nothing?