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,
Our oldest child is 17, and she’s been on the pill for two years by her choice. I’ve always been clear with her that I prefer she not have sex until she’s older but I understand that sex sometimes really does just happen. Recently, she let me know that she has attempted to have sex twice. The first time, she said, hurt really badly, and she made the guy stop. The second time she said he couldn’t keep it up to actually complete the act. She admitted that she is thinking about attempting to have sex with a different partner. I’m glad she told me—I have offered her advice and asked if she has condoms available or needs money to purchase them.
She told me she’s OK with all of that but she’d rather not tell her dad until afterward. I reminded her that she doesn’t have to tell either one of us if she chooses not to. She says it’s not that she wants to brag about having sex, but she wants us to know what she is doing and where she is at in her life.
How do I bring this up with my much more conservative husband? I’d like to prepare him so he doesn’t just shut down or make her feel bad or dirty. I want her to always feel like she can tell us anything and know that we will still love her.
—Flying the Coop
Dear Flying the Coop,
Explain this to her first. You have communication so open with your daughter that many parents would find it enviable (and some might find it harrowing). She must know that he’s more conservative than you are and is probably predicting his reaction, much as you are. There’s a reason you’re the one she’s confiding in. Let her know you’ve determined that the best way to relay this information would be to ease him into it with a multistep approach. She has sex, she lets you know, you let him know that she’s going to let him know, and then she talks to him.
When you talk to your husband, make sure he can handle this—you’re right to want to protect your daughter from his potential shaming. Maybe your conversation will act as a way for him to vent and get all of his (frankly narrow-minded and selfish) feelings out so he can speak to your daughter in a calmer and more reasoned fashion. I think you should give him the heads-up after, and not before, she goes through with her next, potentially more successful encounter because I don’t think you should give him the opportunity to try to block her from doing it. She’s going to anyway—that’s teens in a nutshell for you, they do it anyway—so why risk the physical or emotional obstruction? It will only cause her pain, and you can be there for her in the meantime.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 26-year-old man who’s been with my 28-year-old girlfriend for 18 months, and we have lived together for the past six months. In the six weeks or so leading up to us moving in together, we stopped having sex as often as before—we went from probably four times a week to maybe twice a month at best. Around that time, she was having some external stress (mostly job-related) that gave her a much shorter temper and led to us having a lot of disagreements. I kind of put the lack of sex down to that.
However, for the past three to four months, we have been arguing much less. But the sex hasn’t gone back to normal, and there’s still this weird underlying tension—it’s very subtle, but I feel like I can sense something is off. This past weekend, we had a heart-to-heart in which she revealed to me that she has been having doubts about her sexuality and that she thinks she might prefer women. She isn’t certain that she’s a lesbian, but she is confused. For me, it explains a lot. I want to support her through figuring this out, but it’s difficult for me for two reasons. Firstly, I have already had a previous relationship where my partner left because she realized she preferred women—I know it’s irrational, but as a somewhat effeminate man, I’m starting to feel like a steppingstone for people figuring out their sexuality. Secondly, I still want the life we have talked about building together, and even more confusingly, my girlfriend still seems to want it too. (Even since our heart-to-heart, she has talked about wanting to buy a house together, foster kids together, etc.) We also have a dog that I love, and I know that if we split up, she will take him with her.
As far as I can tell, she wants to “work through this” and continue building a life together long-term, but I don’t understand how I’m supposed to do that. I have asked what I can do to help figure things out, and the only suggestion so far is that she has asked me to stop sleeping in the nude because my naked body is making her feel uncomfortable. To me, this innately feels like a step in the wrong direction. How are we supposed to rebuild the physical side of our relationship when she apparently finds my body too off-putting to even share a bed with? I have agreed to go along with her request, but I don’t feel good about it. I feel like the relationship has been in limbo for the past six months, and I want to move on from this as quickly and painlessly as possible. What can I do to help my girlfriend work through these confusing feelings, without it seeming like I’m piling on the pressure?
Dear Boys Erased,
Your question has nothing to do with the coronavirus, but since I can’t stop thinking about it and now view each and every issue through the how-we-live-now lens of the pandemic—and, more important, since it is apt—I’m going to recommend a kind of distancing: emotional distancing. Give her space. Let her figure things out. I agree that her asking you not to sleep nude does not bode well for the future of your relationship, but I commend you for agreeing to it, for now.
Your investment may not deliver the returns that you want, but that is true of all investments. Sometimes a breakup can really put into perspective the extent to which you wasted your time. Sometimes the experience accrued proves that ’tis better to have loved and lost. Sometimes the time put in shows your partner exactly why you’re the kind of person who is worth holding on to. You never really know until you get to where you’re going as a couple.
I have no idea what coming into one’s sexuality means in a time when people are being dissuaded from face-to-face interaction. Like just about everything else in the world, her exploration may need to be put on ice. In the meantime, try not to take it so hard that this is potentially your second partner to go all-women during your relationship. It’s almost certainly a coincidence and not personal. Every partner is a potential steppingstone toward a person learning about themselves. That’s human evolution, pure and simple.
Dear How to Do It,
My partner and I have an amazing sex life. We are both really open about what we want and very adventurous. I am lucky.
She tells me she is constantly fantasizing about eating or playing with my ass and asks me all the time if she can. It’s never really deep penetration, just a bit of finger and usually a lot of tongue. I really want her to more often, but I’m just nervous for one reason—am I going to be stinky? She has done it before and said there was no issue whatsoever. We are both very hygienic people who don’t even like to be in our bed without showering. (we live in a city.) Is there a way to feel like I am always clean back there? Are there cleaning products you recommend that can be used almost every day without a long routine? I have a friend who has told me sometimes a stinky butt is a turn-on for them. I told my partner this, and she said “No way!”
Dear Butt Licker,
You haven’t specified your gender, and I’m not one to invest in stereotypes, but if I were, I’d buy a lot of stock in the notion that straight guys have reliably stinky asses. Many people seem to agree: A recent reply on Twitter to a sexy dude playing video games on his couch buck naked read: “He straight, so there are probably skid marks on that sofa.” It received over 100,000 likes.
Your best bet is to make sure you shower before play. If you have hair of any length around your hole, make sure you scrub it thoroughly and consider trimming it. If you aren’t being penetrated by anything substantial, I don’t recommend douching. (If you do need a primer, we ran a ton of doctor-sourced information in this previous HTDI column.) But I think that gentle soap and water should be plenty for you. You can also ask your partner for an odor check or trust that she’ll let you know if your ass is too swampy and off-putting. You may have noticed that your butt expels feces with regularity (God and fiber willing, that is), which means there is no way to always feel clean. Wash your butt after pooping as frequently as possible. It’s just that simple.
I too know guys whose sex regimen necessarily includes ass and who don’t seem to have shit fetishes but nonetheless get turned on by classic ass smell—I assume this is because it is so closely associated with sex for them that it’s practically Pavlovian. But I haven’t seen any data on this to make it anything more than just a guess.
Dear How to Do It,
Can a monogamous and polyamorous person have a healthy relationship? I dated a man from when we were 17 until 30—we had a house together by the end of it, and we never cheated on each other. We had communication issues: He did not communicate emotions well, and I have borderline personality disorder, which, while well managed, still leaves me overemotional at times, especially when it comes to feeling potentially abandoned. After we broke up and I moved out, we continued to see each other for almost a year until he became exclusive with another girl. Shortly after that, he stopped speaking to me—his girlfriend made him choose between her and our friendship—and I moved overseas.
They broke up shortly after I moved abroad, so we reconnected. When I moved back to the area six months later, we right away started a friends-with-benefits arrangement. This has been going on for almost four years now. I have not been seeing anyone else, even casually. As time went on, I was involved less and less in his social life because of my jealousy of other girls. (He wasn’t dating, just physical with whomever he wanted to be.)
By now, our relationship is exclusively one-on-one. Last month, he told me he’s no longer interested in just being physical with people and wants to come out as polyamorous. While he’s been more emotionally connected with me than he has been in an extremely long time (since before we broke up, even) and very open with communication to reassure me the other girls he’s seeing aren’t a threat, it’s devastating to me to think about the connections he’s forming with these other people. It’s also hurtful to think of him being affectionate with other people around his friend group when I’m never included in these types of things. He intentionally is not going to have a primary partner, which also makes me feel like these girls he’s known for a few months are just as valued to him as I am (and we’ve been in some kind of romantic relationship for almost 20 years). He assures me there is no comparison or competition and that he’ll work with me as much as he can to try to make me feel safe and secure without sacrificing his own needs.
We currently don’t discuss any details about his other partners because I’m afraid to know about them; I’ll obsess over the ways they might be more desirable than me. He says he’s extremely interested in trying to make our relationship work, and I am s well, because I do love him. How can I stop my jealousy and fear that I’m just not special to him anymore since he’s seeing other people? How do I not feel “less than” the other girls when he chooses to spend time with them and not with me?
Dear Poly Folly,
My gut tells me you should listen to your gut. You just aren’t wired for this kind of relationship. Your feelings are valid, and they are at extremes: You find aspects of this relationship devastating and hurtful despite your understanding of how polyamory works. In matters of love, emotions often supersede intellect, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
That said, if you really do want to give it a go, read The Ethical Slut, which contains rather detailed writing about managing jealousy in these situations. In addition, there has been lots of specific writing done on hybrid poly-mono relationships: This Vice piece from 2017 interviewed several people in such arrangements. Spoiler alert: It ain’t easy. You may find reading these accounts useful, particularly the words of a 36-year-old monogamous woman who’s in a relationship with a poly guy: “I still don’t understand poly to this day. … I just sort of accept it and recognize that I’m not enough for him—but I’m not enough for him because he’s poly. It’s not me.” That’s a good thing to keep in mind. You may also find people who’ve gone through this in a local poly group—if you want to make it work with this guy, I recommend you attend some meetings, talk to people, and rely on their experiences for guidance.
More How to Do It
My wife and I stopped having sex regularly after our kids were born. About a year ago, I started to feel desperate. I tried to open up a discussion about our missing sexual life, but was quickly shut down: “That part of my life is over” was my wife’s response. She’s 41. One day, I went to a massage parlor. There was something so healing about human touch. Since then, I’ve been to several. My wife doesn’t know. The women I see are thoughtful, funny, and empathetic about sex and men’s needs. While I still desire my wife, I don’t feel the need to press her, and I understand that part of her life might be over. (It’s been six years since we even kissed.) The thing I fear the most is that the image of my wife is being replaced by the images of these other women. Should I stop?