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 had an inconclusive HSV-2 result. My doctor told me it could be a false positive and I need to get retested. After doing a lot of research, I think I will probably get retested twice because of the high rates of false positives. The only problem is, there is a guy I recently met who I like. I think he likes me too. I don’t want to tell him (or anybody) that I have herpes until I know for sure. I’m pretty sure I could hold off dating him for six months or so, but I’m worried he might think I’m not interested. I absolutely won’t be dating anybody who doesn’t have herpes if I do have it, so I don’t want to get involved with him until I know. I know plenty of people do have relationships where the other doesn’t have herpes, but I am just not willing to subject someone I care about to that. In the meantime, what should I do?
—Testing and Stressing
Dear Testing and Stressing,
Broadly speaking, you are under no obligation to disclose that you might have an STD in the absence of a clear indication that you do. Doing so would be redundant—every sexually active person might have an STD if they’ve had sex since they were last tested, especially since so many infections can remain asymptomatic.
However, because herpes tests are generally not routinely given in the normal battery of STD tests, your having had one could indicate that you had a reason to believe you have herpes. Your responsibility here will come down to whether you had some sort of outbreak/scare to reasonably make you suspect that you had herpes, or whether you’re just being extra careful (or paranoid). If it’s the former, you should tell the guy, not just for his sake, but to abide by the moral code that you laid out in your letter. Worst-case scenario: You have evidence of herpes you’re choosing to ignore, you bang the guy, it turns out you have herpes. Per your letter, you are just not willing to subject someone you care about to that. So don’t.
If it’s the latter, and you had the test performed just to be safe and with no bodily suggestion of infection, don’t worry about it. He should, too, be aware that you might have herpes (everyone might!) and that he might have it as well. As you know, the tests are unreliable: According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which recommended against routine genital herpes testing, “Given the test characteristics of the most widely used serologic screening test for HSV-2 and a population infection prevalence of 15 percent, screening 10,000 people would result in approximately 1,485 true-positive and 1,445 false-positive results.” Those are not good odds.
I feel like you have a good sense of your responsibility here. You know to what extent you may have herpes. Behave accordingly.
Dear How to Do It,
I have a complicated situation. My wife of 13 years and I are best friends. We met online (in a forum about Christian music) when we were about 17 or so, and ended up attending the same conservative Christian college, where I studied to be a pastor, and got married way too young. She was my first kiss, has been my only sexual partner, and is still my best friend. We are now in our mid-30s and have two adopted children, for whom I am the primary caregiver. As our previously conservative faith has progressed into a much more open-minded spirituality, so has our sexual ethic, and our understanding of our own sexuality. My wife has had, for a while now, a lot of interest in being open to sex with other partners. I, on the other hand have had some serious shame and self-hatred left over from conservative religious purity culture (like being told constantly that God hated me because of porn and masturbation). Unfortunately, that shame and self-hatred, along with a hefty dose of depression, have led to me very rarely initiating sex. The fact that I rarely initiate sex has caused her to believe that I am not attracted to her, which really couldn’t be farther from the truth. She is beautiful, talented, and incredibly attractive. Sex is just complicated.
So let me get to the heart of my question. We decided, mutually (I was the one who initiated the conversation), that we would explore being ethically nonmonogamous. Now, in making this transition, I always expected that she would be the one with more partners outside of our marriage, and that I may dabble here and there occasionally, but we agreed that we would both have the freedom to do what feels right. To complicate things a bit, she works in an industry that puts her with very irregular hours, but almost weekly social/networking events, as such, she is out multiple evenings, and even travels to major cities every other month or so. I, on the other hand, work from home and serve as the primary caregiver to our two children. So, clearly, she has more opportunity to live this nonmonogamous life.
Fast forward a few months, and she has already had some opportunities to be intimate with other people, and she has even gone on a couple of dates. I am perfectly fine with this, because in our own intimacy together, a lot of the shame and insecurity that has plagued us is being stripped away, but I haven’t had any opportunity to even get out of the house by myself. So I started chatting with someone from Facebook, from a group about ethical nonmonogamy, and she saw that I had initiated that discussion, on her birthday nonetheless, and got really upset. She said that she didn’t think I was in a place where I need to be out looking for other relationships and that I needed to work on myself first. Now, that is all probably very true, but she has been involved with several people over the past few weeks, and I haven’t batted an eye about it, even at the times that it has made me a little jealous. I do need to work on myself. I need to lose weight; I need to get a better routine; I need to be a better stay-at-home parent. She is right about all of that, but I guess I feel like she is trying to control me and limit who I can connect with while I am trying to give her as much freedom as possible. I don’t know what to do, and I don’t have anyone to talk to about this.
— Slipping on the DMs
Dear Slipping on the DMs,
As Christian music aficionados, surely you’re aware that the song goes, “O come all ye faithful,” not “… some of ye faithful.” As it stands, your arrangement is not an awesome arrangement. If you have agreed to mutually explore ethical nonmonogamy, it’s just not fair for your wife to hold it against you when she’s doing the same thing. That’s not really … ethical.
So, I side with you here, but I have some caveats: You could have been more sensitive by, say, waiting until after her birthday before hitting someone up. I know, you typically don’t spend every second of the day celebrating, but a good reason not to hit someone up on your wife’s birthday is if she finds out, she might be pissed and it could complicate your situation. (Not doing things so you don’t get caught later is, of course, the most cynical rationale for decorum, but clearly it’s still worth bearing in mind, as you are now well aware.) I could also see why she’s touchy about your willingness to cruise.
It’s not exactly logical given the terms of your arrangement, but it would be emotionally valid for her to ask, “If you don’t initiate sex with me, why would you with other people?” Of course, there are valid reasons on your end to do it—even in the extreme event that you have found yourself no longer attracted to your wife (which you assure us is, in fact, not the case), an open relationship can keep together a couple that is sexually incompatible by offering an outlet that the monogamous relationship would deny (and likely suffer as a result). I can only imagine how it all looks to her, but it might be useful for her to understand that for some of us, sex with the people we love and sex with strangers are two distinct flavors. An abundance of vanilla, as it were, does not erase the taste for chocolate. Your desires do not necessarily indicate that she is not “fulfilling” you, especially since, as your long-term partner, the one thing she cannot provide is the singular sweetness of newness.
It’s your job to reassure her, to reiterate the reasons for opening things up in the first place, and to be open to a tinkering with the arrangement, as she sees fit. This does not mean that you need to concede all sense of fairness and adopt the lopsided setup she seems to have outlined, in which she can go frolic while you have to stay home working on yourself. But this does seem like an opportunity to draw up some boundaries and determine comfort levels. If she remains convinced that the only way to pursue nonmonogamy is via an imbalance of freedom, it is you who needs to reconsider whether this arrangement can work for you at all.
Dear How to Do It,
How can I meet intelligent, outgoing, and attractive women outside my social circle? After moving to a metropolitan area on the East Coast two years ago, I thought I’d have a relatively easy time meeting women, dating, and eventually finding someone who I’d like to be with. After all, I live in a city with thousands and thousands of highly educated singles. This should be simple… right?
In theory, the stats on my dating profile are highly coveted—I’m a late-20s mechanical engineer who is over 6” tall, a former athlete, great cook, and annual traveler. In person, I am respectful, giving, romantic, and fun. I don’t struggle with commitment, communicating emotions, getting along with a significant other’s friends and families, or going on bad dates. In fact, every first date that I’ve been on has been wonderful, and all but one eventually resulted in a long-term, exclusive relationship.
It’s getting to the first date that’s killing me right now. I’ve tried every dating app there is, and it has largely been a nightmare. Despite putting an effort into my profile (a variety of new, high-quality pictures and thoughtful prompts, with no sunglasses, fish, or selfies), I’d say that I’m only matching with about 5 percent or less of the women who I’m interested in, and none of my matches in the last six months have made it past two or three messages before abruptly stopping. For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like the dating apps (mainly Hinge, Bumble, and Coffee Meets Bagel) are working.
I’ve also tried asking friends to set me up with other friends of theirs, but that hasn’t worked out either. As an introvert who has already tried leveraging both friends and the internet, how can I manage to meet women (hell, even just one woman!) who I’m excited about? It seems highly unlikely that I’m going to just bump into someone on the street who matches the criteria that I’m looking for. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
— Uncaught Catch
Dear Uncaught Catch,
I wonder what kind of high-quality your pics are: Are they merely glossy (well-lit, posed for, framed well in a professional way that puts Sears to shame), or do you mean they’re good pictures of you? Regardless, self-awareness is a rare commodity, so I advise you to show your profile to some trusted friends to get their honest feedback about how you’re presenting yourself to the app world. You might be more attractive than you’re letting on, but without observing your lived-in self versus your profile directly, I can’t really tell. I know this sounds terribly superficial, but such is the currency of app-based connecting.
Do you know why it hasn’t worked out when your friends have attempted to set you up? Have they given up on trying, and why? Is there something that you just aren’t getting? You might be simply unlucky and experiencing a temporary dry spell, or there might be something else going on. I don’t mean to instill undue paranoia, but this might be a good opportunity for self-examination. One of life’s great paradoxes is that while we all deserve love, no one is entitled to a partner.
In the event that the state of your love life is a product of circumstance, change that by putting yourself in new circumstances. Look into singles events; speed-dating nights are held at many major cities’ bars, for example. (I went to one once, and it led to a terrible date with someone who ended up starring on a terrible reality show. Not a great experience, but it gave me a story to tell at least. I think about him sometimes, which is more than I can say for a lot of guys I went out on dates with.) Take up a hobby. People are into wall-climbing now, so go put your former-athlete status to use by climbing up a wall. Perhaps there will be women there to watch you achieve. You could look into joining some kind of douchey and exclusive social club where theoretically highly coveted qualities will legitimately impress people when mentioned in casual conversation. (I know that you’re an introvert, but leaving your comfort zone might serve you well.) And what about a nice hotel bar or club? It’s too bad that bookstores are so scarce these days because people used to talk a lot about meeting people in them. Must have been nice.
Dear How to Do It,
Back in May, I sadly broke up with my long-term, long-distance boyfriend. Other than the distance (I’m on the East Coast, he moved to Texas for a job), the relationship ended when he revealed that he had a porn addiction that he had been keeping secret from me for three years. In hindsight, I probably should have picked up on it—our sex life could be very good at times, but there always seemed to be something off (e.g., he’d frequently seem to get bored of sex, he’d get very prickly about when I could try to seduce him, cam sex/sexting was rarely on the table). I tried very hard to work with his quirks, but ultimately the experience left me feeling vulnerable, rejected, and unloved.
Fast forward to January 2020, and I’m now contemplating visiting him for a long weekend. In the intervening months since we broke up, we’ve been having some of the best (cam) sex I’ve ever experienced. He’s in therapy for his addiction, and I can tell it’s been helping him feel more in tune with his own sexuality, since he can now talk very explicitly about his desire for and fantasies about me. On my end, I have been dating around and having sexual relationships with other men, but honestly the sex with my ex is better. We’ve been doing this a couple of times a month since October and every time it’s incredibly satisfying.
The idea of going down to Texas to have four days of super horny and uninhibited penetrative sex with someone I used to love is certainly tempting, but I have concerns. I know he still has feelings for me, and while we both have said this trip is not about getting back together, there’s potential for feelings to get complicated. What if I go all the way down there, and he can’t perform because he gets in his head or old resentments creep up? What if I discover I was actually just getting off on the ego trip of him still wanting me and find myself uninterested in sex with him? There’s potential for this to be really fun or really painful, definitely messy. What say you? Should I go, or is this just too fraught?
—Tryst or Trap?
Dear Tryst or Trap,
I encourage the procurement of good dick, but it seems likely that this long weekend will be, to some extent, a waste of time. In the best-case scenario, a four-day marathon of no-strings sex is a way to pass time. It’s leisure. It’s sport. Perhaps you figure that you have the time to spend, that four days is really not much of an investment. Every passing second being one closer to your death notwithstanding, that wouldn’t be unreasonable. Four days isn’t a long time.
But here’s what tipped into soft “Don’t do it” territory: Your own misgivings about your desire. I’m not really worried about him so much. (Sidebar: “Porn addiction” is not an official diagnosis, but compulsive sexual behavior is a real thing.) I just think if there’s a possibility that this proposed trip to Texas could be an extension of an ego trip, that’s too many trips to be taking at a time. If the sex were guaranteed to be great, I’d tell you to blow the days on it, but there’s too much potential for this resulting in something you wish you had avoided. Visiting him is the rash choice, and it’s my job to encourage you to take your time and chose the safer option. Take a staycation instead and focus on yourself?
More How to Do It
I live in an apartment with stereotypical “thin walls” and with frequently noisy neighbors. I actually enjoy hearing them have sex and commonly masturbate while listening. So as long as I am within the confines of my own apartment and not trying to actively record them or use some sort of sound-enhancing equipment, I feel I have not invaded anyone’s privacy. Have I overstepped, or am I in the clear?