How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
At the risk of being judged and vilified, I pose this question to you as opposed to friends and family. I got involved with an older married man a few months ago knowing that he was and had no intention of changing his situation. He told me he was looking for a female friend to fill the void in his sexual life because when his wife went through menopause eight years ago, she lost all interest in sexual activity of any kind. We eventually developed deep feelings for each other. He admitted it in a series of texts and conversations. It is now unspoken but obvious how we feel for each other. I broke off things with him at least three times since, knowing this situation was morally wrong, and that we are opposite in ways I probably would have considered deal-breakers before. Yet we would still talk daily and multiple times at that.
We have since resumed our relationship again. He refers to himself as my boyfriend and me as his girlfriend when introduced to friends and colleagues. We spend at least one day and night a week together and weekends away when he can, which seems to be twice a month now. He is a great friend as well and takes care of me financially as I am between jobs and now have an injury preventing me from working. My question: Aside from him lying to his wife about his whereabouts when we are together, do you think he is lying to me too? He’s super open and transparent to me about matters he should stay mum about but doesn’t. Can he really be that honest with me and not her? Everything he tells me checks out and is easily verifiable. I know because I check.
I’m not going to tell you that the guy is lying to you, because between us two, you’re the expert. Your verification system knows better than I do about the immediate particulars of your situation. There is a possibility that he has organized his relationships into a hierarchy and you’re sitting at the top, the special one to whom he’d never lie.
But! More realistically, the way he treats others is an indication of the way he is treating or will eventually treat you. Just picture in your mind what his life was like when his wife was his No. 1 priority. I really want you to envision that, as grotesque as it may be, because it is perhaps parallel to your current situation with him. And maybe the way he regards her now is a peek into your future. He may be honest at the moment, but it should give you pause that he’s able to lie to his wife with such ease and to disregard their relationship to others (your letter implies that he’s telling his friends and colleagues you’re his girlfriend—what on earth must they be thinking about the state of his marriage?). So much of the time, the way people treat others bespeaks their general attitude, and this guy seems like a dishonest opportunist who prioritizes his pleasure and comfort over others’. What goes around comes around, as they say. If you stick with this arrangement that you are currently at peace with, do not be surprised when it implodes. All relationships are a gamble, but here you’ve got all your money on the table, and what you stand to win is a guy who has shown an ability to cheat rather brazenly. You’ve decided that this guy is a prize. Good luck with your earnings.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a lesbian in a decadelong relationship with my fiancée. We get married next summer. I found out she was having an emotional affair since August of this year with a woman she’s talking to online on the other side of the country. When caught red-handed, she said she would end it. Our sex life hadn’t been great these last couple years—stress, depression, a big move, her working constantly, us being on opposite schedules, the works. The thing is, I love her more now than ever before, and since this revelation and her ending the relationship, we’ve been more honest with each other with what we need, not only in bed but from each other. We’re now indulging each other’s kinks, which we were both too afraid to ask each other about. Our sex life is now better than ever. My question is twofold: Is it really possible to survive this infidelity, and would I be a fool to still marry her next summer? She’s truly the only one I want to be with; I love her with my everything, and I cannot imagine a life without her. Could this truly be just a blip in the radar, or are we doomed?
Dear Blushing Bride,
As much as I hate it when people hold up celebrities as models of behavior (you can’t trust them, who knows what’s actually going on behind the scenes, and they sort of exist to pervert the notion of reality), I’m going to do it: The fact that Beyoncé and Jay Z remain married to this day after a rather public cheating scandal and reckoning with it across multiple albums suggests that indeed relationships can survive infidelity. Here is your challenge: accepting the possibility that your fiancée may not be, at her core, monogamous. The emotional cheating could have been a blip, sure. It could have been a product of loneliness deriving from the distance between you. But also, maybe she’s just into variety. So then what? Can you accept this predilection as you would one of her kinks, or would her becoming sexually and/or romantically involved with someone else while maintaining your relationship be off the table? You have to decide what you’re comfortable with, but given all you’ve laid out, you should at least consider this about her makeup and what might happen if she should want to act on these feelings again. You are living proof that infidelity does not have to destroy a relationship; it can, with the right amount of understanding and emotional maturity, strengthen it. Good for you for being able to forgive, understand, and turn this into a positive. I don’t think you are doomed at all. Maintain these principles and you’re almost guaranteed success as long as you can withstand her humanity. And I think you can.
Dear How to Do It,
I have been married to my wife for 11 years, and it is my second marriage (her first). I had a five-year marriage that ended tumultuously because of my ex-wife having an affair. I never imagined myself going through all of that, but I got lucky in meeting “Constance,” and I figured that if our marriage didn’t work out, I would just resolve to singlehood from that point forward. My wife and I are good parents to a total of five kids, one of whom (from my earlier marriage) is now in college. That leaves us with four at home ranging from still in diapers to toting driver’s licenses. Constance has been their primary caregiver since we got married and I’ve always been the only one working full time. (It’s not ideal, but it was a mutual decision.) She is funny, calm, smart, a careful planner, and very down-to-earth. I am more spontaneous, passionate, optimistic, and enthusiastic. We balance each other out in ways that really make our marriage work, and I would never want most of that to change.
The problem is our sex life is nearly nonexistent. We’ve had sex just once in the last year and engaged in oral sex with each other just two to three times in that same timespan. (She’s on the pill and we use condoms, for what it’s worth, so additional kids aren’t a concern.) I get so excited when we do have sex that I end up putting a ton of pressure on myself to make it memorable and fun, and I just end up overthinking it and struggling to stay hard until I climax. I have no doubt that our lack of sex is at least partially because of stress—Constance is in grad school and has a lot on her plate with our kids. I am professionally successful, but I also work 50 to 60 hours a week to make it possible for us to pay the bills for our big family. I still have a healthy libido and find her incredibly attractive, but her sex drive is imperceptible.
I’ve tried everything I can think of to illustrate or say just how important I think this is: self-deprecating humor, straightforward talk, more nonsexual physical affection, trying to take on more household duties so she has more time and energy (she always balks at this), and directly asking Constance if she still finds me attractive and wants a sex life with me. Over the last two to three years, she usually seems to understand how I feel when we have a heart-to-heart, and we end up having sex within the next couple of days, and maybe a day or two after that too. Soon, though, we’re back to the same pattern. She insists she isn’t asexual. She seems too busy, talks often about how exhausted she is, and I feel badly bothering her. I don’t want her to feel behind in her studies just because I wanted to have sex—I’m afraid she’ll resent it, which is worse than not having it at all. I have even broached the subject of polyamory, saying that although I love Constance and want to have a fulfilling sex life with her, if she wants to be married and remain emotionally committed but sexually nonmonogamous, I could work with that. (Since my divorce, I have reassessed monogamy and I understand it’s not what works best for everyone.) She has made it clear she’d be jealous and that wouldn’t be sustainable. I end up watching pornography more nights than I’d like, fantasizing, masturbating, and then falling asleep. I don’t feel good about myself, or even like I’m attractive.
This lack of confidence is seeping into other areas of my life. I am still a fit man, exercising regularly and staying active. I have not cheated and I don’t want to. I’m only in my mid-40s, but I feel like my sex life is already basically over. I love Constance and will not divorce her unless she doesn’t want to be married anymore. I also need to have a sex life, and I want it to be with her. She says she’s still attracted to me and wants to have sex, but doesn’t have the time or energy. This has been the status quo for years. I’m at a loss. What do I do?
It sounds like you’ve done some, but not all of the work required to successfully treat this issue. You are acutely aware of and capable of expressing your needs, but what about hers? What’s going on with her? Has she told you directly that her lack of interest in sex is a direct result of her exhaustion, or is she just generally exhausted and not up for much of anything? You need to get to the bottom of this using the same patience and ingenuity you did to illustrate how important it is to you to maintain a sexual relationship. If you cannot, start couples therapy.
For the record, I agree with you: Sex is important to most relationships, and desire disparities like that which you outline are worth remedying. She has nixed your solution of nonmonogamy (not to be conflated with polyamory, which describes the desire and practice of loving more than one person as opposed to merely having sex with multiple people); it is reasonable for you to tell her that sexlessness is unsustainable as well. Something’s gotta give. You should be patient and understanding with her, possibly putting your own needs aside temporarily if that would help take the pressure off and facilitate her open communication, but so she should be with you, too. You’re in a partnership, not a dictatorship. If you don’t make any headway via discussions or counseling in, say, a year or so, consider whether you want to spend the rest of your life jerking off and feeling unattractive, and make according life changes as necessary.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a gay person who was designated female at birth, and I’m in online fan communities primarily centered on gay romance, much of it erotic fiction about cis gay men. The “formula” for those sexual encounters is typically, once they get to penetration, one finger, two finger, three finger, dick. For every instance of penetrative sex. Is that really how it works? (I know there needs to be cleaning beforehand, but it seems like most writers leave that out just for, like, fantasy reasons.) Does every hookup where someone is getting penetrated necessarily have to start with fingering as prep? Is it really 1-2-3-dick? I have no one else to ask, but I’m very curious about how “realistic” those depictions are!
—One Two Three
If all guys knocked before entering, there’s be many fewer white knuckles in the world. Unfortunately, since men with hard dicks have the rather pointed objectives that they do (to make those dicks ejaculate), priming with fingers does not always enter the picture. Some guys just don’t have the patience to get you ready before they stick it in. Also, there are people who just don’t like fingers in their butt but do enjoy a penis up there; for whatever reason, the thin boniness of fingers is less comfortable than a fat dick in their butt. Different strokes, you know?
There is no formula for sexual encounters, though the rough progression enacted repeatedly in porn (making out to oral to anal) does, anecdotally, seem to be a template that many follow. If there were more fingering in porn, perhaps there would be more fingering in real life. As it stands, your erotic fiction is just that: fiction. Your naïveté is endearing, though, and while I’m sure you’re itching like a baggy snake to shed it as quickly as possible, something to keep in mind is that once it’s gone, you’ll never get it back. You didn’t ask, but it’s sometimes helpful to have a reminder to stay sweet.
More How to Do It
An occasional time-waster of mine is to go into random text-only chat rooms and spin a fantasy for a willing woman. It’s fun and creative and everyone has a low-commitment good time. Recently, someone online asked if I would do a “losing her virginity” scene with her. I said sure, and I took her through a very sweet and consent-filled fantasy where she got to direct the action and feel like a star. At the end of it, she confided in me that she is actually 16 and really a virgin and also, would I want to meet up to do this for real? I of course said that I didn’t think this was a great idea but that she would make a great partner for someone someday. (I am well over 16.) Did I do a wrong thing? Should I just be happy she had a nice experience in her own home with a faraway guy who hopefully gave her a template for how it could go when she finally finds herself ready to have sex?