How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every Thursday night, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
A few months ago, I went on a date with a guy I met online. He was really sweet overall, but I didn’t find myself very romantically attracted to him, and I was also put off by some comments he made about some other members of the LGBTQ community (we’re both cis gay men). He continued to bring up the possibility of a relationship between us, however, and I equivocated on it because I wasn’t wholly against a relationship but wasn’t head over heels for him.
We got food and watched the sunset, and eventually we wound up making out, and I proposed we have sex. He said yes, but quickly withdrew and began talking about some of his past sexual trauma. I immediately stopped everything and asked if he was all right, and he said yes and that he wanted to continue. I asked if he was sure, and he said yes, and then we engaged in mutual masturbation and mutual oral sex in his car. It was good, though not the best sex of my life, and we both came in the end.
On the way back to my apartment, he asked again about having a relationship and if I only agreed to the date in order to hook up. I said I didn’t want to immediately go into anything, but that I’d be open to more dates and getting to know him better, and that my motivation to go on this date was more than just hooking up. He said OK, and we parted ways. I wake up the next morning to find he’s blocked me across every form of communication that we had each other on.
I’m really worried that something went wrong, and that I sexually assaulted him or generally engaged in sexual misconduct, but didn’t realize in the moment or somehow subconsciously denied to myself that he wasn’t consenting to what we did. It truly did seem to me like he was willing to do what we did, and that I communicated I did not want to have any sexual contact with him that he didn’t agree to. I’ve been wanting to reach out to him through Instagram (I have an account he didn’t know about) to try and understand what happened, but I don’t want to annoy, retraumatize, or hurt him. What should I do?
Stoya: Next time, bail earlier.
Rich: You think he should have stopped when his date brought up his sexual trauma?
Stoya: I think the emphasis on relationship was the flag.
Rich: I agree. And it feels like, by including that information, the letter writer knows it too. The guilt in this letter feels almost Catholic to me.
Stoya: Exactly. Our writer knew he wasn’t super into the idea of a relationship, and that his interest was more physically driven—the exact thing his hookup was sensitive about.
Rich: I will say that someone who is already talking about the relationship on a first date is generally too intense for my taste, unless I happen to have fallen in love at first sight. In a way, this guy was signaling to the letter writer that he needed a lot more than a casual roll in the back seat.
Stoya: The thing about trauma and sex is that you kind of have to warn your partners. And people who are in the thick of it might not be able to warn their partners in a succinct or direct way. If a person can’t handle navigating that, they need to move on to the next potential sexual partner.
Rich: Perhaps the date’s experience with trauma is related to his desire for a relationship, or maybe they’re separate issues. But the way I interpret his blocking is that he was frustrated that he met (what I’m presuming) is yet another guy who just wants sex without love. It can be really difficult to find someone who’s serious about getting to know you—someone who won’t just hit it and quit it.
Stoya: Regardless of the whys behind the blocking, our writer should chill out. And absolutely not reach out to him through this unknown, unblocked account. Worst-case scenario, he could re-retraumatize the hookup. At best, it’s pushy.
Rich: I agree. He trusted the date to affirm consent—keep trusting him. Do you think it’s fair to assume that the date would have said something or reached out if he experienced this as an assault?
Stoya: I don’t think it’s fair to assume anything in cases of sexual assault. Not that I think our writer full-blown assaulted anyone—he just led someone along a bit to get his dick wet. If the hookup is retraumatized, there are myriad reactions that would make sense. If he feels used and sad, there’s still myriad reactions that would make sense. At the end of the day, he’s sent a clear signal that he does not want further communication. Sure, an apology might help, but it also might make things worse. It’s best to listen to the signal he’s being sent.
Rich: Yes, which the writer didn’t quite do initially. He knew there was no future for them, but he hooked up with this relationship-minded guy anyway. So it’s time to learn from that. Starting right now.
Stoya: That icky “oooh, maybe I messed up” feeling is something he should note.
Rich: Sometimes the ethical thing to do is disengage when you know things are not headed in the direction desired by the person you’re sitting across from, no matter what words are spoken.
More How to Do It
I’m a woman in her early 30s. I started seeing a new guy after a bad breakup. I expected it to be a fling, but I’m starting to get real feelings for him. The best thing about this is also my problem: The sex is incredible. Specifically, he is incredible at sex. He knows exactly how to touch me and where, he is very responsive to my body—he’s just really skilled. So much so that I almost feel shy having sex with him! I am pretty experienced and confident, but when we have sex I feel lazy, like I’m doing less than he’s doing. He’s a good guy and I like him a lot, but I feel a weird pressure to up my game with him because he’s so good, and that in turn makes me wary of sex . It’s making me feel inadequate. How do I get over this?