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 saw my girlfriend of six months being orally pleasured by her neutered male dog. She doesn’t know I saw her. I don’t know what to make of this. We both come from fairly conservative backgrounds and have limited sexual experience. I can’t imagine discussing this with her. But I can’t get the image out of my head. I really like this woman, and one side of me wants to say it’s no big deal, just another way to masturbate. But this is bestiality, right? Isn’t it technically illegal, or at least immoral? I keep wondering what she’s thinking while we have sex, and my appetite for oral is nil now. This is sad because we had been communicating well about sex (a first for me). I can’t talk about it with friends like I usually world. So I ask you, how weird is this? What would you do?
Dear Puppy Love,
What you describe, doggone it, is bestiality. Any sexual activity with an animal that is invited or facilitated by a human is bestiality. (Rover taking it upon himself to hump your leg doesn’t quite qualify.) It is illegal in most states, though somewhat counterintuitively, possession of pornography that features bestiality is legal in nearly every state. Look but don’t touch, says the law. The prevailing understanding is that because animals, which are sentient beings, cannot consent to sex, having it with them is unethical. As far as I can tell, studies have not been performed on the traumatic effects of bestiality on animals (so, sex researchers who may be reading, there’s a topic for you to pursue), but it’s generally a good rule of thumb to assume the worst and not have sex with animals.
I understand your desire to write this off, and I think “Bestiality: Just Another Way to Masturbate” would be a catchy, if untrue, slogan for an animal lovers’ lobby. While I suppose it is conceivable that one could enjoy the feeling of a dog’s tongue without being attracted to the dog it is attached to, per se, it’s not like your girlfriend was on a desert island with no vibrator and a Labrador. Getting eaten out by a dog is a choice. (I’d also be at least a little insulted that she opted for a dog’s tongue instead of mine if I were you.) In fact, if she were sexually attracted to the dog, the troubling thing would be less her urge than the execution of it. It’s one thing to have fantasies, and it’s quite another thing to enact them. Zoophilia is not an uncommon fetish, though I wouldn’t say it’s widely practiced. (You can decide whether that fits your definition of “weird.”)
Her behavior is well within the reasonable boundaries of deal-breakers. Is this someone you want as a sex partner? A life partner? Wanna share your girlfriend with a dog? That seems, uh, rough. You’re only six months into things. Be happy that you discovered this now, while it’s still early.
Dear How to Do It,
I am 26; my husband is 31. We got married earlier this year. My husband introduced me to the idea of polyamory and swinging, and we’ve tried swinging a bunch of times this year itself. We’ve had threesomes and swapped with couples, and I’ve even gone out with men alone a few times. My husband does not feel the emotion of jealousy at all—in fact, my “dates” are a turn-on for him.
While I too find these to be very exciting and hot acts, and realize I too had fantasized about such things before I even knew what swinging is, I have to admit I’m a hypocrite in this matter. It’s all good to me when I am having fun, but I get severe pangs of jealousy if he so much as flirts with another girl. I don’t feel turned on when he gets involved with someone else; instead, I feel ignored and unworthy in some way. Also, none of my partners before have been like this. He is different and awakening my sexuality in many ways. While I can even quit this alternative lifestyle altogether, my husband has made it clear to me that he wishes to continue in it.
I am a very sexual person myself and I have enjoyed the acts we have indulged in, but I cannot figure out what to do with this hypocritical jealousy and insecurity (although he assures me he will never leave me for a sexual partner, ever). Can you help me?
Dear One Way,
First, your feelings are your feelings, no matter how they fit in the grander scheme of things. By definition, they aren’t rational. I don’t want you to downplay them as a result of their absence in your husband’s emotional makeup. Two different people, two different reactions to the same thing. Whether it’s objectively fair or not, your jealousy must be tended to.
Though similar, you and your husband’s interest in nonmonogamy is a mismatch, albeit a near miss. I believe things have to flow both ways for open or poly relationships to work—every party must be at peace with not just having sex outside the relationship, but with their partner doing so as well. To move forward unaligned is to sign up for strife. For some, jealousy is manageable through regular conversations and reassurance; others never get to that point. I’ve experienced the dynamic you describe on the other side—I was the one in the open relationship who wasn’t jealous; he was—and let me tell you, it’s confusing and fraught and somewhat torturous.
You might be served well by checking out The Ethical Slut—there’s a lengthy chapter on jealousy. Authors Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton believe that most people “give their jealousy far more power than it deserves” and that jealousy is actually a sort of emotional check-engine light. “Use your jealousy as a signpost: ‘Work on this feeling here!’ ” they write. “Take a class, join a group, find a good therapist, start practicing meditation—go to work on yourself.” By refusing to act on your jealousy, they say, you can dismantle it. It’s possible, sure, but it’s a lot of work for something that you seem to enjoy OK but don’t feel particularly strongly about orienting your life around. It’s fine if you want to be monogamous, and hopefully your husband could come back around to it too. But do keep in mind, in the words of Hardy and Easton, “monogamy is not a cure for jealousy.” Best of luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a married man in his 50s. My wife and I have been together for over 20 years, and in that time, we’ve been monogamous, at least on my part, and I believe on hers. Our sexual appetites were well matched in the early years, but with the arrival of kids, some health issues, and menopause, her interest has declined steeply. She works long hours, and fatigue is a constant factor. She is overweight, a fact I don’t blame her or criticize her for, but one that has harmed her erotic self-confidence. My attraction to her hasn’t changed.
Sex has become so rare that I feel we’ve lost a fundamental connection that I can’t do without. Masturbation’s pleasurable, but it’s not enough for me. There are a thousand reasons why women might be bored with screwing their husbands, so it may be something I’m doing, or not doing, both in and out of the bedroom. (For what it’s worth, I’ve remained very fit, physically.) My sense, though, is that at base it’s a question of desire.
I occasionally go for massages, maybe two to four times a year because of the expense. Sometimes I have a masseur, sometimes a masseuse. I enjoy the physical sensation of deep-tissue massage. If I find the masseuse attractive, I might be aroused, but it’s my obligation to keep the interaction professional and let her do her work without friction from the customer. Recently, I went to an unfamiliar spa when I couldn’t get a last-minute appointment at one of my regular places. As the session drew to a close, the masseuse started touching me in a way that was increasingly suggestive. I realized what was happening, and signaled my consent. For all the intensity of the orgasm, the pleasure of the strangeness of another woman’s skin and smell was more powerful. I haven’t been back, but I’m tempted.
My question for you has to do with the ethics of patronizing sex workers. I would consider it wrong to do so without my partner’s consent. Even if she were to agree, though, I’m troubled by the exploitation of the economic power imbalance between the two people. The location is a relatively safe one for the woman to work in. Pregnancy and STDs aren’t an issue with the hand job. But this woman was likely an immigrant. Has she been trafficked or coerced? Can the act be consensual when one party has the economic power? When the legal consequences of arrest would fall far more heavily on her? The question has as many different answers as there are different sex workers and situations, I suppose. I don’t expect you to give me permission or forbid me. But I’d like to hear what you think. There are very few topics I feel I can’t discuss with my friends, but this is one of them.
What do I think about sex work? I think it is something far too complex to paint with a broad stroke. There are people forced into it; there are people who choose it. There are people who hate it, and there are people who don’t. A common refrain of some sex-worker advocates is “rights, not rescue,” which is to affirm sex workers’ right to their line of work and basic protection within it, and that makes sense to me. A few years ago, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to change the name of the crime of “patronizing a prostitute” to “sexual exploitation,” to the chagrin of those with a sense of nuance who don’t believe all sex workers are victims. Make no mistake: Some are. Your masseuse may well have been. A 2017 report by the anti-trafficking organization Polaris found more than 9,000 massage parlors offering sexual services operating in the U.S., and said that “evidence suggests” many of the women working in these establishments are indeed victims of human trafficking. Without launching your own one-man internal investigation, if you want to keep your conscience clear, avoid dodgy establishments that offer services significantly below market level, have blacked-out windows, or require a buzzer for entry. (For a full list of things to look out for, check out Page 11 of Polaris’s report.)
Your questions about economic power could be posed regarding any facet of capitalism and receive the same response. Our cultural atmosphere is several parts exploitation. You are no less a cog in the scheme of economic disparity whether you’re patronizing a sex worker, Cartier, or an Olive Garden.
This is a stimulating thought exercise, but there are a few issues casually raised in your question that I think are even more germane to your immediate reality. You say you would consider patronizing sex workers to be wrong without your partner’s consent, but you did just that—your masseuse rubbed you the right way and you agreed to it. So … now what? Don’t do it again, I guess. You don’t seem particularly bothered that you have breached your own stated moral code. Maybe be a little bit more bothered. And why are you agnostic regarding what’s going on with your wife’s sexuality? There could be thousands of reasons, yeah, but a discussion could at least narrow them down. Why are you so content with letting the mystery be? This isn’t The Leftovers. You’re “sensing” this, but why aren’t you knowing it? How about launching an internal investigation into that? Start by … talking to your wife.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 32-year-old woman, and I am entering the dating world for the first time. For most of my life up to this point, I’ve never been all that interested—I’m independent and comfortable being single, but recently I’ve been wondering what I’m missing out on.
I’m also, if you haven’t guessed, a virgin. I don’t think I’m asexual; I masturbate, watch porn, and have kinky interests like BDSM and pegging. I want to know what it’s like to have sex, but my problem is that for me, sexual attraction is really, really rare. I can like someone’s personality, I can find them physically attractive, but I’ve only felt sexual attraction for maybe two or three men, ever. In those cases, I spent months getting to know them before any attraction surfaced (and was ultimately not reciprocated). I’ve never felt it for a woman—I mention this because I have occasionally wondered if I’m just lesbian and repressing it, which would frankly be a relief, but that’s led nowhere.
So now, as I enter the dating scene, I’m finding myself in a dilemma. How do I approach the subject of physical intimacy when I know it may take months for me to actually enjoy it, if ever? I’ve tried just doing things like cuddling and making out, hoping it will somehow trigger latent sexual feelings, but I just end up being that creep who’s kissing with her eyes open because I am feeling no attraction or excitement whatsoever. I know I’m capable of it, but it takes a LOT of time and emotional connection first.
I want to be honest with the men I may date, but I don’t know when it’s appropriate to bring this stuff up, or even how to talk about it. I’m still learning about it myself! I want to push my own boundaries and expose myself to new things, but I also want to respect myself and my need for a slower-than-usual pace. How do I do find my way to a sexual relationship in a way that’s healthy for both me and the men along the way?
You seem to be extremely self-aware and emotionally intelligent. Your task is to keep it up. Set the slower pace early (as soon as you know you’re interested in setting any pace at all with a guy) and maintain it. This process may require you to be the de facto leader in your potential relationships. Not everyone you meet will have the patience. The immediate dropouts will do you a favor by filtering themselves out. You need a partner who is attuned to your needs, and who understands the methodology you’ve adopted to realize them. That’s not gonna be just any guy with impulse control and Simone de Beauvoir on his bookshelf. Meeting someone who jibes with your rhythm will be as important as keeping time itself. I think this will largely come down to trial and error, but if you want to narrow your field, try your hand at dating a guy whose sexual interest also derives from a strong emotional connection. (Some people call this “demisexual,” and some might consider you on the asexual spectrum, but I’ll let you figure out what term you want to use, if any.) At the very least, such a guy may relate more to you than a dude who’s only down to clown and/or bone.
Good luck, I think you’ve got this.
More How to Do It
I’m in a relationship with a man who is pushing 40. We’ve shared fantasies and desires, and I thought we were roughly on the same page. The other day, with his permission, I was working on his computer at his apartment while he was at work, and I noticed an image on his desktop that looked like porn. I clicked on it. It featured what looked to me like two preteen boys having sex. I have no way to be sure, but I’m very disturbed by this. Should I ask him about it? If so, what should I look for in his response?