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,
I recently started dating again and have just recently been confronted by a situation that’s left me scratching my head. I have met two men who would like to date me, and they both are great! And, they both sound completely gay—like, out-of-the-closet, effeminate-speech gay. This is kind of a libido killer for me, and it makes my brain spin. I am not proud of my response, which is to not want to go out with them again. I can’t even tell if I sound homophobic here, but is it homophobic to be a straight woman and not want to date a gay man? See? My brain is a mess. Here are my specific fears—that one or both of these men are in denial about their gender preferences OR that I’m passing up on some fantastic men because they are indeed straight. I know it’s up to me to decide if I find them attractive and move ahead, but I guess I want someone to tell me that it’s possible that I’m a nincompoop here and that straight men can “sound gay.”
—Tripping on the Lisp
Dear Tripping on the Lisp,
You’re referencing the documented phenomenon of male “gay voice.” You know it when you hear it: sibilant s sounds, perhaps a lisp, a melodic sentence flow prone to sonic flights of fancy. A real razzle-dazzle of the ol’ larynx. It has been analyzed by experts and immortalized by the likes of ’70s game-show staples Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly. There’s even a documentary about it, 2014’s Do I Sound Gay?, directed by David Thorpe. For many, it remains among the most blatant cultural signifiers of gayness, which I guess sucks for people who don’t want to sound gay but is great for those who do. There’s a lovely quote in the aforementioned documentary from a young gay guy: “I love my gay voice. I don’t have to come out to anyone. I say hello and it’s a done deal.” There’s even a well-known voice coach, Bob Corff, who has specialized in ridding interested parties of their gay voice, which he defines in opposition to the monotone of “straight voice.” (You can read a 2010 interview with him from the now-defunct Details on his personal site.)
Of course, not all gay guys have gay voice and not all guys with gay voice are gay. Do I Sound Gay? profiles at least one self-identified straight guy who is often mistaken for gay because of the sound of his voice. Complicating matters further is our understanding of sexuality not as a binary but as a spectrum. If-then reasoning does not apply to this issue, as you present it. It is not true that if he has gay voice, then he must only sleep with men. It is also not true that if he sleeps with men, then he must only sleep with men. Your logic is outdated. In that Details piece, Corff reported working with a guy whose gay voice he apparently picked up by dancing in a ballet company and another whose may have derived from the fashion people his dress-shop owner parents always had around. Unlike other cultural signifiers, gay-associated culture permeates its inhabitants in unexpected ways because gay culture is generally not inherited traditionally, from one familial generation to the next. Its absorption is a bit more mysterious.
So maybe these guys aren’t gay, or maybe they’re bi or queer. Or whatever. It’s not homophobic for you not to want to date gay men (that’s merely efficient), but before you start patting yourself on the back, realize that you aren’t exhibiting the most open of minds. For as much as a gay voice can be a blessing, it can also put an immediate target on its owner as soon as he opens his mouth and attempts to function in the world as anyone would. The threat of violence aside, some people simply just don’t take you seriously when you scan as “nelly” to their ears. And that’s really frustrating. And you’re guilty of doing just that. If these guys are so great, think twice about treating them the way unkind strangers already might have. Desire is complicated, and I don’t think you’re obligated to force yourself into a relationship with someone possessing even the most superficial of what you consider to be no-gos.
However, if you lose out on opportunities for romance with good dudes over your conception of what a real man sounds like (as reality is actually staring you right in the face), well, maybe that serves you right.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a guy in his 30s, never been married, no kids—I say that to qualify that I really have no obligations outside of my home and dog. I recently met a woman of similar age who is married, but is in a one-way-only open relationship. She and her husband have several kids from different previous relationships, but apparently her sex drive is significantly higher than his, and he has told her to seek out other partners to meet those needs. I have never been in a situation quite like this, and from the way she freely talks to me if he’s around and he’s willing to let her spend the night when time allows around their kids, it seems like he’s fine with the arrangement. Am I missing something, or should there be some red flags I’m looking for? I have never met him, and since we live in a group of small communities, we pretend to be “work friends” if we grab a drink or something.
—Boning in the Dark
Dear Boning in the Dark,
I see no red flags here. If she’s talking to you freely when he’s around, and he’s OK with her spending the night, it seems as though she is being transparent to you about her open relationship with her husband. Consistency is a hallmark of trustworthiness. As Judge Judy says, “If you tell the truth, then you don’t have to have a good memory.” There are plenty of well-functioning open relationships out there; you seem to have hitched your ride to one. Respect whatever boundaries she sets, let her live her life, be prepared for her to pull back when obligations more serious than casual sex require her to. Know your place, buddy. Otherwise: Enjoy. Sounds like an ideal setup that could benefit all involved parties.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 30-year-old woman who married her husband (also 30) in May, together for a little over two years. My husband is the most caring, intelligent, and beautiful human being I’ve ever met. He’s also very hot, and sex with him is just amazing. From the very beginning, we were completely on the same page, and we had lots of fun experimenting, exploring our fantasies, and so on, in a very free and caring way.
The past year has been really rough for us. We had multiple deaths in the family, he was unemployed for a while after having to quit his (horrible) job because he started having panic attacks, and I became the main caretaker for a terminally ill relative whom I loved very much, and who passed away in March after months of agony. During those months, I was just too drained, physically and emotionally, to have intercourse like we used to, at least during weekdays. I managed to keep (most of) the weekends for myself and my husband, during which we usually would have sex on both days. We talked about it, and it was not ideal, but I knew things would get better after I took my time to grieve and recover.
During the summer I finally felt my energies and my desire come back, strong as ever. Yay! But here’s the catch: In the meantime, my husband found a new job which he loves and he excels at. I am so happy and proud of him. However, this new job leaves him absolutely exhausted in the evening, and even on weekends, to the point that our sex life is becoming even more scarce than before (now it happens once or twice a month). I broached the subject on many occasions, as tactfully as I could, and knowing it would take him a while to open up about this. He’s as frustrated as I am and has repeatedly said that the problem is not a lack of desire, but a lack of energy, and I have no reason to doubt him. I made a few suggestions to regain some intimacy. I offered to “take the lead” (and tried that, too!); I asked if I needed to change my approach (he said he wanted me to be more cuddly rather than sexy, so I tried that, and he falls asleep every time); or if he would like something in particular. I suggested that we choose an evening a week dedicated to our intimacy, where we don’t necessarily have sex, but maybe just spend time under the covers and cuddle naked. I suggested we try the reverse psychology and just don’t think about sex at all for a while, and so on. Nothing has worked so far, and at this point I am not only out of ideas, but also afraid to put too much pressure on him. This has been going on for six months now, and his job is only going to become more stressful as he (hopefully) advances with his career, so I see no end to this. Do you have any other suggestions? Or do I just give up and let it be? I am so sad because I love him immensely, and I want to be supportive, but I would really like to regain a bit of that wonderful, carefree intimacy we used to have.
—Bring It Back
Dear Bring It Back,
Unfortunately, the ball is in his court. It seems like you have done everything humanly possible short of subbing for him at work a few days a week to shoulder some of that responsibility as well. My normal suggestions—couples counseling and consulting Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity apply—but I suspect you’d come up short there, too. There’s no real cure of exhaustion but more rest, and at the moment, it seems that more rest isn’t really possible.
Does he have any extra time? How does he spend it? Is there any chance at all that he is covering up some other issue and blaming it on exhaustion? Don’t let me make you paranoid; this is not necessarily the case—fatigue can certainly interfere with sex drive. But then there are a lot of busy, powerful men who bang all the time. To the best of your ability, confirm that what he says is going on is actually going on and that there’s not some other issue distracting him from sex with you. Otherwise, you may just have to wait for him to acclimate to his new job. Six months I’m sure feels like an eternity when you’re horny, but it’s actually not that long of a time—not long enough to signal that hope is expiring.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a late bloomer (30s), exploring the queer aspects of my sexuality. I was assigned male at birth, and all of my sexual experience is with myself or women. I recently got into anal penetration as masturbation. And I’ve recently found and honored my attraction to men (as well as people across genders). Luckily, I have a great therapist, loving partner, and supportive friends. My partner is not very interested in participating in the anal play, which is fine because we have an open relationship, and I feel free to seek satisfaction with others. Except that … I’m new to all this. What is the etiquette of being a bottom? I’ve read that douching isn’t healthy long term. I’ve read around and understand that everyone has their preferences, a range of what bothers them or not. But, really, is this something I should be asking men about their preference before meeting up? I’ve even been taking fiber supplements lately. Where is the line and how do I walk it?
—Ready to Blossom
Dear Ready to Blossom,
The first rule of bottoming etiquette is to think about bottoming etiquette so you’re already doing great. Consideration will get you far. Douching is definitely controversial among doctors. I recently spoke to two colorectal surgeons for a previous question posed to this column about douching that required a rather intricate answer. (I recommend referring to it to make sure you’re up to speed on the basics.) Neither forbade it entirely, but both suggested that a little squirt goes a long way. Both recommended against using the sort of hose that connects to your shower and blasts water up your butt. Too much water makes it difficult to clean out (especially if it gets in your colon), and the pressure can lead to complications including prolapse. Get a small bulb and swish around with some water (filter it if you want to be dainty). Don’t overdo it. Fiber supplements are great. Keep at it.
And yeah, if your endgame is getting your butt railed, you should talk about that with guys before you meet, if in fact you’re meeting for the express purpose of casual sex. Not all will appreciate your bluntness, but if you’re coordinating via apps, that’s what many of the guys are there for, anyway. It’s an appropriate conversation to have in this context. You’ll find you can even get specific about what you’re looking for in terms of rhythm and technique. You looking for a power top? A passionate top? A sub top? You wanna be on top? All possible. Take whatever these guys tell you about their prowess (and size) with a grain of salt, as you should anything anyone says on an app, but know that it is possible to map prospective compatibility with a casual partner ahead of time with some degree of accuracy. Think about what you want and how you want it. If you want someone to go slow and be gentle with you, say that—there are guys who will happily oblige and be really excited about breaking you in and making you love it. If you feel plenty primed already, tell a dude, “Let’s get to ramming.” I urge you to be verbally communicative, not out of etiquette concerns, but for your own comfort. Even if you have opened yourself up with dildos, there’s something about a dick that may feel like white heat going in, until you relax and loosen up. If you feel any pain, tell him to pull out, go slower, etc. This all tends to be easier with someone you already like and trust, but I’d be a liar if I told you that the only anal worth having is with a certified bud. There’s a lot of good dick out there, as you’re about to find out for yourself. Squee, project!!!
Finally, I would like to touch on something I think about a lot. This does not have to do with bottoming etiquette, specifically, but hookup etiquette in general. (I’m taking the opportunity to shoehorn this in because I can no longer contain it, so thank you for that.) If you are hosting a dude for sex, when you’re both finished and he’s ready to clean up, please have the dignity of offering him a cloth towel. In my travels, I have seen so many grown men hand me a roll of paper towels or worse. A single wet wipe? A tissue? One-ply toilet paper I’m sure he stole from some public bathroom? Please. Life is not a dorm room. I understand that we just got done behaving like animals, but it doesn’t mean I want to live like one. Thank you in advance.
More How to Do It
My boyfriend and I (straight couple) have been together almost two years and really enjoy our sex life, but we’re interested in trying new things. He’s my first sexual partner, and his previous relationships were pretty limited in what they did in bed, so we’re both a little inexperienced regarding the realm beyond “vanilla.” Recently, he’s been expressing an interest in me dominating or “punishing” him sometimes. How do we start trying this, and what do we need to know about safety (physical, emotional, such as the references I’ve seen you make about aftercare, etc.)? Is there a particular book or website or other resource that you like?