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 a procrastinator; my partner is a do-it-yesterday-er. Earlier this year, I was kvetching about doing my taxes. My partner, by way of motivation, said “Get ‘em done and I’ll blow you.” Because my partner is very Good at That, I got to work immediately, but was held up by some missing paperwork. Flash forward to now, and the missing form is in hand. Pleased with myself for filing, I mentioned to my partner that I’d be taking that BJ at their next earliest convenience. They scoffed and told me I can’t expect an IRS EZBJ two-plus months after the fact. I call breach of contract! We’ve agreed to abide by your ruling, so what say you? (P.S.: There’s plenty of non-IRS oral going around both ways here, but I want my refund!)
—Depth and Taxes
Dear Depth and Taxes,
If all things were equal, you would be technically correct, but matters of consent supersede those of petty bartering. No one is obligated to do anything sexually with anyone at any time, and it is fully within their rights for them to change their mind. Your partner gets the final say here. If you don’t use sex as a bargaining chip, you don’t have to worry about your deals being reneged on. Easy.
Besides, do you really want a blow job from someone who doesn’t want to give one? Personally, I like someone to put their whole soul into servicing. It’s like the difference between a prefab greeting card and a handwritten note, the difference between a true singer and a mere performer, the difference between delivery and DiGiorno. I want nothing less than a rhapsody between my legs. High standards, I know, but it yields results.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a man in my early 30s. My wife and I have been together for 12 years, married for six. At the start of our relationship, our sex life was pretty standard, though I don’t really have a point of reference. We met in college and she’s the only person I’ve had sex with (think Steve Carell’s character in Crazy, Stupid, Love, but no kids). She’s always had a bit of a difficult relationship with intimacy. It turns out she has a fair amount of trauma, emotional and otherwise, in her past. We’ve had our ups and downs, and the regularity of our love-making generally followed that trend as well. When we were having sex, she had generally wanted me to be fairly rough, something I’ve always had trouble with.
A few years ago, she started addressing her substance abuse and mental health issues. We both started the appropriate 12-step programs. She told me not to expect sex for a while. I’m totally good with that. I would never want her to do something she’s not comfortable with. I think we’ve had sex maybe once or twice in the past three years. I’m down for sex pretty much always, so this is far less than I prefer. I stopped asking for sex because I got tired of rejection and because she told me it made her uncomfortable.
Then, last summer, she basically told me to go get it from somewhere else—and she’s reiterated this more than once. This is troubling to me for a number of reasons. I know I would not be OK with her having an outside relationship, so it feels unfair. I know I would feel guilty, as if I had cheated. A part of me doesn’t believe she actually wants this to happen. More practically, I know I would be unable to actually maintain two relationships. We’re both quite busy, and we struggle to find enough time to spend together, let alone have time for a second relationship. Additionally, I have very little experience. When we met, she pursued me, and I was into it. I wouldn’t really know where to start if I were to seek an outside relationship. In short, I just don’t think I could handle nonmonogamy, and my primary relationship would not survive.
On top of all that, I’m finding myself attracted to men on occasion. This freaked me out initially, but I’m over it. I guess I’m near the heterosexual end of the Kinsey scale but not a 0, even though I’ve had no actual sexual interaction with men. I mention this only because it further complicates my feelings about this whole situation, not because it’s a problem that needs solving—just another variable. I’m cool being bi or pan or not straight or queer or whatever might turn out to be the appropriate label, if one exists.
—I’m (Not) Screwed
Well, you’ve made your decision, then. Your wife came to you with a solution for your sexual frustration, and you are finding it insufficient. Unless you do something, you’ll get nothing, but perhaps that’s the solution that brings with it the least amount of collateral damage. In this economy, I don’t blame you for playing it safe. You’re an adult. I trust you can properly assess your needs versus the hassles that their pursuit may create.
Nevertheless, there are some additional things to consider here: Your wife may have encouraged you to seek outside sex because she can still sense your longing, and she wants you off her back. You may actually be doing her a favor. Also, not every friends-with-benefits scenario needs to be a “relationship”—plenty of people find it very easy to have a person who provides a sexual outlet without making things all emotional. Granted, not everyone can handle that. You won’t know until you try. I haven’t had any such arrangement with a woman, but I’ve had many with men that have never gotten dramatic or distracted me from my relationship. Just pals who bang sometimes. It’s nice. I think whether you can keep things on a friendly level with sex partners is ultimately a matter of taste, really. Can you really say that you’ve cultivated yours already?
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve recently been very busy because of starting a new business. A few months ago, I started a mutually beneficial casual relationship. I had an STD scare after I had what I thought were sores, and he told me he wasn’t sure if his last test included a herpes test. Luckily, I went to my OB-GYN and tested negative for everything except a yeast infection. But my partner did have an “equivocal” test for HSV-1. He’s going to get tested again, but it made me think about my sex life. My relationship was supposed to be casual, but it has caused me more headaches and stress over the last few weeks than anything I’ve had at this point in a relationship. I don’t think I’m going to have any kind of a relationship until my business settles down a bit, but is it completely ridiculous for me to not want a relationship with anybody who tests positive for HSV-1? My doctor made sure to tell me that the blood tests don’t tell you where the herpes is and that, while HSV-1 is generally oral herpes, it’s now also being found as a source of genital herpes. I honestly don’t know how I don’t have it, given the large number of random men I have kissed and given the high prevalence of it. If I was guaranteed that the HSV-1 was just oral, this wouldn’t be an issue. This is potentially going to cut me off from a large number of future sexual partners. Do you have any advice on how to think about this or make decisions based on it?
—Not So Simplex
Dear Not So Simplex,
I will never stop recommending Slate’s article from last year, “How Herpes Became a Sexual Boogeyman,” to anyone who has hang-ups about the virus, and it’s not because I work here. It’s a really cogent explanation of how we came to make a big deal of a disease that for many, turns out to be no big deal at all.
It’s not unreasonable to want to be as healthy as possible (now more than ever), and herpes does come with its chance of complications. However, these are very rare. Many people don’t even experience outbreaks at first, if ever, and something like 4 in 5 people never even learn they have it. Certainly plenty of people do have it—about half of the population has HSV-1—and it’s not really ruining their lives. If you were to contract it, after the initial shock wore off, you just might find that your life doesn’t change much at all. People have a rather high capacity to adjust for the sake of our own comfort. We’re kind of like dogs in that way.
Dear How to Do It,
First off, I’m a gay woman. And it feels so awesome to write that! Problem for us is, I am married to a super awesome, most magnificent man. Such a great father and spouse. When we got together, I did have a girlfriend, and I introduced myself as a gay woman. I was having a hard time (drugs, alcohol, etc.). I was also working in the sex industry, and I had a young child as well. I was spiraling quickly out of control.
He saved me, seriously. And somewhere sex became a part of the equation. And then came real feelings over the years. We’ve been together 10, married five years now. I am so grateful to this man for changing my life and growing me into such an awesome woman and mom. We have four children between us, including a 3-year-old of our own. We have an amazing family. Problem is, I cannot orgasm with him. I love making him happy, but I just can’t get into the second myself. I fantasize only about women, and I wonder if I’ll ever be gay and out again. It’s almost been forgotten, even by my family. Is it really worth it to break apart a family that has already been through so much? Is there anything I can do to change myself?
Dear Past Life,
Do you wonder or do you want? If you want to pursue sexual gratification and perhaps another level of partner satisfaction, it is not at all unreasonable to do so, even if it comes at a steep cost. I don’t know enough about your husband nor do I have the ability to predict the future, but there is a scenario where you leave the relationship with him to live your authentic life, and he supports you and remains involved in your and your childrens’ lives. No guarantees, but it’s possible, especially if he’s awesome in other areas. He knows who you are; he might even be expecting this. You won’t know until you discuss it with him.
That’s not to say it’s a sure thing. It seems like you long to find someone whom you can love and love to have sex with, but it’s not certain that you will. Doing so is often hard, and you have a good thing as it is—you’re going to have to think deeper about what you want, and choose wisely.
More How to Do It
I’m a mid-40s man. I’m attracted to older ladies—older as in 60s, 70s, and sometimes beyond. I’m not especially looking for an older girlfriend, more along the lines of fun and friendly banging. From what I’ve found, the usual online suspect sites (rhymes with Cinder) aren’t great places for finding willing ladies of a certain age. I am a registered nurse, and I work in a hospital, but that isn’t, ahem, a particularly good or ethical place to play pick up. Any suggestions on how I can go about hooking up with the Golden Girl (or Girls) of my dreams?