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,
If a straight man receives oral from a trans or gay man does that make the straight man gay? Asking for … a friend.
—Not My Friend
I don’t know, you tell me. Was the head so good that it made you (I mean your friend) gay?
I doubt it. In response to your query, I am inclined to wax philosophical about the spectrum of sexuality and the pros and cons of declaring an attendant identity. And while I think that everyone should be doing a little more thinking than they already are, especially about sex, given your rather (no offense) rudimentary question, I don’t want to bog you down with concepts that could freak you out or otherwise interfere with your enjoyment. I think that could be a disservice to the guys servicing you, as well as you. So just sit back and enjoy.
Dear How to Do It,
My therapist asked me my core beliefs, and I identified one as believing all men just want sex from me. She seems to think this is a view that can be changed, but my experience suggests this is true.
I work in the sex/wellness industry and am very open about my sex life, and I’m confident about my sexuality. But lately I realize some of the men I’ve been spending time with—on what I consider to be friendly terms—are actually pursuing me romantically/sexually. How do I have a platonic relationship with a man whom I have fun with, good banter, and shared interests? The line always gets blurry for them, i.e., they end up wanting to bone me.
In one particular case, which sparked this question, I am not sexually interested in the person, but really enjoy the time we spend together, and being intimate emotionally with him, and being affectionate sometimes. Plus, there’s beauty in the unknown … could we get drunk and end up in bed? Maybe. It might be worth mentioning we had sex once, but it was five years ago. I may have done other things more recently, like sharing nude photos of myself. But again, I’m comfortable with my body and don’t think showing nudes is a big deal.
How can I keep clear boundaries without hurting his feelings? Flat-out telling him I’m not attracted to him seems like it will kill the vibe. But I also don’t want him to try to come on to me, because rejecting him in that scenario would also be awkward.
—What’s a Nude?
I don’t mean to interrupt your merry, nearly nude traipse through life, but a good way to set boundaries is to actually set them. It doesn’t sound like you are trying at all. I’d be a hypocrite if I advised you not to express your sexuality. There’s nothing wrong with sharing nudes (provided the recipient’s consent), but you should understand that along with your muff shots, you’re sending a message of potential sexual interest and/or availability. That means the only way to make it clear that you aren’t interested, that you’re just having some digital fun or whatever it is you’re doing (what are you actually doing?), is to say so explicitly. You have to pick a lane: Send pics and show affection with clear caveats, or find peace with the complicated dynamics you’re helping foster.
It sounds to me that you enjoy attention without obligation. You’re not wrong for that; attention is nice, and you’re never under any obligation to sleep with anyone at any time. But your method of going about things isn’t entirely humane. You’re helping manifest what you told your therapist about all men just wanting to sleep with you. It’s like some intensely proactive riff on The Secret: You’re speaking it into the world and wielding your nudes as backup. You’re effectively stringing some guys along so that you may encounter “beauty in the unknown.” To do so is to prioritize an abstract notion over human emotions. I’m not really into that. To kill the vibe here could very well be an act of mercy. Consider it.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in a longtime, happy, open heterosexual marriage that has had its ups and downs but is solid. I recently went through a difficult few years physically and psychologically that had a severe impact on my libido, but things have started up again, to the degree that now during the days around when I’m ovulating, I find I become debilitatingly horny. (I’m not sure if this is new or if it’s that my libido has always been linked so strongly to my cycle, but I’m just noticing it now that I use a period tracking app.)
I have a longtime close male friend whom I guess I’ve always been attracted to, with perhaps occasional flickers of mutual sexual tension, but nothing’s ever happened between us—I met him back when my relationship was closed, then he was in a long-term relationship, yadda yadda. We don’t have a flirty rapport or anything like that, just a mostly staid and mutually respectful friendship. He’s currently in a happy relationship that’s most likely monogamous, and in any case, I wouldn’t want anything to happen between us for reasons of awkwardness, prioritizing our friendship (which I value above sex), etc. However, my body has other ideas. The last time I saw him during Hornygeddon, I basically had to excuse myself and flee for fear of doing or saying something that would make him uncomfortable, and then I fantasized about him for days afterward. It’s like the horniness was a fire hose I had to constantly keep trained elsewhere, and it was exhausting, if not impossible. At other times, I don’t seem to have a problem keeping any attraction under control.
The problem is that we work in the same industry, and the big annual Christmas bash is scheduled for right smack in the middle of what my app says will be December’s High Horny Days. It’s an overnight event at a hotel. Usually my friend and I have a blast at these things together, but what do I do this time? It would be a blow to me professionally if I were to miss it, but I just don’t know how to navigate this. Do I give him the cold shoulder and risk damaging our friendship? Explain how badly I want to jump his bones? That can’t be right, can it?
Dear Horny Here,
Props to you for your consideration and desire to handle this ethically. To honor the priorities that you have mapped out, the most humane thing to do at this party that you simply must attend is to be cordial to your friend while maintaining a distance. Keep busy. Make other friends. Don’t stay for any longer than necessary. I don’t think you should avoid him entirely—that would be rude—but you should also spend as little time with him as possible.
If you feel bad about this or happen to notice him noticing, you could write him an email later, when your libido calms down from its Tasmanian devil spin. Explaining to him your primal attraction that you could nonetheless never ethically act on is the kindest, most potentially flattering way to let him know why you need space. I don’t advise doing this before or at the party, because if he in reply signals that he’s amenable to the idea of sleeping together, it could further erode your rather admirable but clearly brittle boundaries. Doing it after will allow you both to have some time to strategize the best steps for moving forward with your platonic friendship. You seem to want to hang on to this guy, and if your reasons for doing so are as numerous and nonsexual as you present, a plan will be helpful. Part of me, though, wonders if the sexual attraction is crucial to your feeling so close to him. Take your time, figure it out, and don’t cave. It’s not worth it.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have been together about eight years and have just had our third child. I had a couple small issues during the pregnancy that had me on pelvic rest for much of it, and by the time restrictions were removed, he said I was “too pregnant” to have sex. Then I had our daughter via emergency C-section. Recovery was hard, but I’m healed now and have been given the green light by the doctor to resume normal sexual activity. My husband still won’t. It’s going on a year since we’ve had “normal activity” for any length of time, and I’m ready to take my body back and feel some intimacy (and reassurance after the whole ordeal), and my husband practically cringes at the thought. I’ve already lost almost all the baby weight, but it’s not helping my tender self-image right now that he’s so standoffish. My feelings are hurt, and I’m scared that he no longer sees me the same way as he did before the kids. Is this a phase? Why?
What you describe is a documented phenomenon. I do not recommend Googling around for the reasons given by men who become less attracted to their wives after they give birth, because these accounts are depressing and otherwise not very well articulated. I want to shake these guys and tell them to grow up, and then I shudder at the thought because they’re fathers and they should already be grown up.
It has been documented as a phase, though that phase generally occurs in the months after birth, when both parents are exhausted from taking care of a newborn and barely have the time or wherewithal to think about sex. A 2013 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found new-parent fatigue and stress to be primary contributors of sexual disinterest in new fathers.
At any rate, you’ve been through a lot, and the least your husband can do is make a concerted attempt to help return things to the way they were before his dick exploded baby fertilizer. I think you should talk to him about this and have him specify his feelings; tell him this is affecting your self-image and slowing your own healing process. It may be time for counseling, too. Let him know that this is of utmost concern to you. His feelings are his feelings, and you may have to tend to his in order for him to tend to yours (unfair, I know), but the only way you can figure out where to start is by communicating. Let him know that standoffish isn’t an option and that he’s going to have to start spilling his guts if you are to make any progress here.
More How to Do It
In high school, my younger sister “Eva” got very intensely into a conservative church, purity pledges and all. My brother “Josh” and I never did. Eva remained very involved in her church, and three months ago, at 22, she married her similarly devout husband. This past weekend, Josh informed me that our brother-in-law confessed to him (over too much to drink) that he and Eva hadn’t consummated the marriage despite multiple attempts together. I feel terrible for them! I’m trying to figure out if I can say something to Eva: Do I give her an adult version of The Talk? Slide a pamphlet in her purse and run away?