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’m looking for some guidance on what to do about a man who repeatedly assaulted and once very brutally raped me. I met him online about six years ago and thought he was wonderful; he said all the right things about community involvement, activism, kink, consent, and I was at a moment where I was ready to explore the kinky desires I’d been having for years. We were long distance for a while as I got to know more about him. I had been thinking of moving to his faraway state for school, so eventually I moved in with him in a house with a couple of roommates.
Reality was far different. When I moved in, I saw how he lived in filth, and his roommates hit me up for money for his back rent almost as soon as I arrived. We began to explore kink, but I found out that he shared a graphic video of me despite my telling him numerous times that he was not to share videos of me without my explicit consent. This was the last straw for me, and I broke it off with him.
I didn’t have any money to move anywhere else, nor did I really know anyone in this new and expensive city, so I was trapped. He kept coming into my room and sexually assaulting me for about two and a half months until I found another apartment. After I did, he ended up coming over and brutally raping me, nearly strangling me to death in the process. I didn’t go to the police because of a terrible prior experience with reporting a rape to the police, and I was also afraid that he’d be able to tell them it was just kinky sex like we’d had before. I’ve had a lot of trauma in my life even besides this whole experience, but I’m trying to move on. I’m back in school, I work, and I’ve been in therapy for a few years now. However, I would look for this guy online occasionally to check on what he’s doing.
Some months ago, I saw that he’s volunteering with a nonprofit in which he may have access to vulnerable people that he could manipulate and hurt. I wrote to the director, and they got back to me saying that they were going to engage in a restorative justice process with him, and asking if I’d like to be part of it. I’d also written to the prosecutor to at least file a police report on this guy so it can help build a case if someone else reports him, and I’ve thought about writing to my contacts in the community there, or even posting on social media. I am concerned about this restorative process because this guy is a very smooth talker who appears to know all about healthy sex and consent, and I think that he very well could just fake his way through, be reinstated, and continue to harm other people. So I guess I’m looking for is your advice specifically on how to handle this sort of thing. Should I participate in the restorative process? Work with the prosecutor? Tell his friends/expose him online? Or just trust that everything will work out and move on?
I’m so happy to hear that you’re out of that situation, and that you’re taking care of yourself. I’m hoping I can help you think through your next steps a little more, but the decisions are yours. I’m going to focus on your restorative justice question, because it seems like it’s most urgent to you right now.
Aida Manduley, a trauma-focused therapist who specializes in restorative justice, told me you should start with your safety. “Statistically, when serial abuse includes strangling, there is a higher level of danger and lethality, so this is a delicate situation, and it’s critical to center the safety of the person writing in,” they said.
Manduley suggested you write out your story so you can refer people to that document, and they said you should “learn a bit more about what restorative justice is, and what other things may be available (such as transformative justice, or community accountability work overall).” Sharing their helpful Twitter thread, they added, “See how this relates to your life, how it aligns with your needs and values.”
Manduley wrote that you should ask who’s going to conduct the process, what their experience is (“when have they done this before, what trainings have they had, etc.”),” what the goals would be, and why they want you to be involved. Manduley went on:
You can raise your concerns about this person’s use of social justice language as a smokescreen, and ask how they plan to address or be vigilant about that. You can ask them that even if they have done RJ work before, if they’ve done it around issues of sexual harm and abuse or manipulation before. You can ask what their trauma training is, or what experience they have in dealing with issues of domestic violence. Doing RJ work for a burglary is different than for issues like this. Don’t just evaluate these answers yourself—get someone else to help you take a look at these. If you’re not already knowledgeable about RJ or some of these other things, it can be hard to evaluate someone’s answers and qualifications. Consider reaching out to a more well-known practitioner for a consult or simply Google the names you’re given to see if they pop up anywhere. If their answers seem messy, insufficient, etc., be careful. Don’t engage unless you feel like you’re able to access support and safety, because this sort of thing, even when well done can reactivate old wounds. When messily done, it can be straight-up retraumatizing and even life-endangering. Beyond this, has the guy been notified about an RJ process or intentions for that? How does the organization plan to safeguard your privacy and safety? What are their values in the process?
That’s a lot to take in. I also talked to Shanna Katz Kattari, a social work professor at the University of Michigan, about this, and she emphasized your right to walk away if this process starts to feel shaky or if your boundaries aren’t respected. If that happens, she wrote, “she should absolutely leave that process for her own emotional safety. It’s definitely a decision that should be up to her, and she should in no way feel like she has to be responsible for his restorative process; she absolutely has the right to say no and walk away.”
I hope some of this helps. Remember that your safety needs to be your priority, no matter what avenue you decide to take.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight woman in my 20s and I have been masturbating for as long as I can remember—like was doing it as a child before I even knew what sex was. Without fail, almost every night I masturbate, rubbing the outside of my vagina through my underwear. I very rarely penetrate myself, and even if I do it is only with my fingers. Some nights I feel more aroused than others, but it is such a habit that I almost compulsively do it at this point. Occasionally it hurts from all this friction. I am a virgin, and this is my only sexual experience thus far. Is this healthy and normal? And could it have any impact on my vaginal health or sex drive down the line?
Dear The Rub,
Masturbation is totally healthy, normal, and fine. You might try silkier underwear—the smoother the texture, the more your fingers slide across the outside, as opposed to your fingers moving the fabric across your delicate labia. You also might consider touching yourself directly with lubricant on your fingers if you ever want some variety.
I don’t see any way that you might harm yourself or damage your sexual response down the line, but you might habituate yourself to a certain kind of stimulation and feel overwhelmed when you first start having partnered sex. So make sure you pick someone who will listen to you, and tell them upfront how you’re used to touching yourself. Ask them to go slowly and let them know what sensations you’re feeling.
Until then, if your regular rubbing ritual is right for you, stick with it and relax. Your masturbation habits are utterly normal.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have been together for over eight years. Our sex life has always been the Achilles’ heel of our relationship. My sex drive is significantly, and I mean significantly, higher than his. My ideal scenario I’d have sex every day, or every other day. My husband’s would be twice a week or less, I think. On top of this, which is already difficult to navigate, my husband is on the autistic spectrum, and I was diagnosed as having high-functioning borderline personality disorder.
Fairly regularly, my husband and I find ourselves in the predicament we are currently in, and we have never seemed to find the way out easily. What happens is after a period of our sex life being OK—not great, but not bad—something will happen to knock us off our game. Either my husband will have a stressful week at work, or one of us gets a cold, you know, life stuff. And inevitably I will initiate (it’s almost always me) and he will turn me down. This is something that he used to do 99 times out of 100, but after years of communicating and couples’ therapy, it now happens maybe 1 out of 10 times. I can live with that. The problem comes when he turns me down the next day, and the day after that, and then again, to the point where I stop initiating. Because as much as I know that he’s not doing it to be hurtful, and that his ASD throws a wrench in the works in terms of empathy, it still hurts.
So now we are in The Place. This is the place we get to, where I’m hurt and crying myself to sleep, and he’s overwhelmed with shame, guilt, and anxiety. We’ve talk about our feelings exhaustively, and then he will feel better about his anxiety, but he’s emotionally drained from having worked through it, and I’m exhausted from playing the role of the therapist, and we still aren’t having sex. But I know if I bring it up, it’s another round of therapy for him, and still no resolution for me. I love him so much, and he is the best person in my life. At the same time, I just don’t know what to do anymore. I wish there was a way for me to just shut off my sex drive, because that would solve so many of our problems, but I can’t.
Have you tried counseling as a couple? Ideally, you’d have a targeted set of sessions with someone who regularly sees people on the autism spectrum and is also at least cluster B aware, focusing on your communication around sex.
You also might try Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are. It’s written with women in mind, but I’ve heard from countless men who were able to understand something about their sexual desire response from reading the book. The short of it is that people have different arousal styles, and some need more care and tending than others. You might be able to figure out how to approach your husband in a way that he wants to say yes to.
As I’m sure you appreciate now, sexual mismatches are best to sort out before you get married, but there’s hope. Ms. Nagoski and a therapist are a good place to start.
Dear How to Do It,
Should women pursue sex, or is it a turn-off for men? I know guys “love the chase,” but I’m uncomfortable being passive and waiting when, in every aspect of my life, especially my professional life, being passive is not me. My current attitude is that if I want to bang someone, why not come out and say it? The right guy would like that about me? Well, I have not been successful. In fact, expressing my interest even in kissing a man has had negative repercussions, and I’ve been shut out. What do you think is going on?
I think in general there’s some deep binary brain going on here. “Men” and “women” are far more alike than one woman is different from another. Some women are turned off by the chase, as are some men. Some women (and men) are turned on by being chased. Others by chasing. Just like the rest of us, you have to keep putting yourself out there until you find someone you click with.
It sounds like you’re frustrated, so I’d take a break from dating and focus on yourself and your own pleasure for a while. And when you do go back, try to feel out, pre-date, whether a given guy is down for your style.
More How to Do It
After 26 years my wife kicked me out. She gave me many reasons, sex being one of them. Her biggest complaint: My penis is much too long and thick. She used to tell me I should be a porn star, but she doesn’t seem to like my size and stamina anymore. Here’s my problem: I’ve been madly in love with her for over 26 years. When I fantasize, it’s about her. If I have a sexual dream, it’s always about her. I’m only sexually attracted to her. She says she still loves me but has to be alone for now. Women have always flirted with me, and that hasn’t changed. I have no interest in them. What should I do?
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