How to Do It

I Asked My Boyfriend to Be Honest About Our Sex Life. I’m Devastated by His Response.

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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 don’t know exactly how to come to grips with something that happened last night, and I would appreciate any insight you could offer. I struggle with depression at times, and as much as I try to be aware of how I am talking or acting, sometimes I get bitchy or overanxious about things. I guess what I am saying is that I don’t think I am the easiest person to live with.

I have been with my boyfriend for about five years—he’s 12 years younger than me, but no one thinks I am as old as I am—and we are exact polar opposites of each other. I’m emotional and feeling; he’s not really emotional or feeling in the way I am, although I know he does love me and care about me. Since we became involved, I have gained 20 pounds, and once as I was undressing in front of him, a look of disgust flashed across his face. I tried to pretend I didn’t notice, but I cannot describe how horrible I felt.

So often, you tell people to communicate in these columns. Last year, we were having sex about once a month, and I felt very distant from him, although he was going through a stressful time. I asked him what I could do so that we were intimate more often and he said, “Nothing, we’re just really busy” (we were, to be fair). After that, he seemed to be more conscious about sex, and we were having sex an average of once a week. I’ve been working very hard on myself and my attitude, which can be shitty when I am stressed out, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to have sex more.

Now, for the last month, things cooled down. Last night, I told him that I’d really like to work through this. I asked him if this had been a problem in past relationships. He said no. I asked him to please tell me why we didn’t have sex more so I could fix it, and I could tell he wanted to say something, but he wasn’t going to. I asked, “Is it because sometimes I’m bitchy and I’ve gained weight?” And he responded, “a little of both.” I responded, “OK, thank you for telling me.”

I’m not mad, but I am devastated. I know he loves me, but I am really having a hard time with how to handle this. I’ve been working out for the past six months and lost a few pounds, definitely some inches, and gained lots of muscle, but I can’t get it out of my head that I’m too disgusting to be intimate with. How do I get OK with this and what more can I do to improve things?

—Hard Truth

Dear Hard Truth,

I’ll start with the good news: You have a partner who is honest with you. Honesty is sometimes brutal, which is why you’re hurt. In this case, he only confirmed a couple things you suspected yourself, but it still stings. At least you aren’t living in torturous limbo, knowing that something is up with him but not being told what. That’s a common scenario, as partners withhold information for the sake of politeness. Kindness, in those instances, can be its own form of cruelty.

That said, you’d expect a little bit more leeway from a committed long-term partner. Weight gain is a touchy subject, and even when true, it’s shitty to accept that it could affect attraction in one’s relationship. Twenty pounds, though, is not a distorting amount of weight to put on most body types. It’s just some thickness. That he’d have such a visceral reaction to a fairly negligible amount of weight gain suggests he is not very realistic about the normal ways bodies can change. I hope that you’re losing weight for yourself, not him—attempting to please someone with such stringent restrictions is almost always a losing game.

As far as your self-professed bitchiness is concerned, you can certainly attempt to work on that as well. Meditation and working out are great stress relievers. If you are the kind of person who can’t quite control the harsh things that come flying out of your mouth, consciously take a few beats before saying anything when you’re feeling anxious and heated. Give yourself time to craft your communication. You need not be at the mercy of your own moods.

But you needn’t be at his mercy either. We all have things we could improve about ourselves—you have an advantage for actually attempting to do so. Stick with it. While I do think the exchange you had that prompted this letter, painful as it was, was refreshingly frank, it would be bad for your relationship to adopt a dynamic in which you’re trying to perfect yourself just for your boyfriend’s sake while he does nothing, as his perfection is assumed. That’s just introducing a disparity in power. The more of a collaborative process you can make this—by working out together, by devising strategies for peaceful communication unencumbered by anxiety—the better. His attempting to improve himself as well would be a great sign of engagement. You’re not the bad guy.

Dear How to Do It,

Thirtysomething straight guy here. I was recently diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure, like the doctor wanted to hospitalize me for fear of a stroke. My doctor gave me a common drug to treat it, and my blood pressure has come down to normal levels. Awesome. Unfortunately, it’s made it more difficult to get an erection, and nearly impossible to maintain one like I used to during sex. Pausing things with my girlfriend even briefly to pop on a condom is enough to let it go softish and not able to get fully hard again. Sometimes it’ll return hard enough for intercourse, sometimes it won’t. Although I am happy (and excited!) to do whatever I can for my girlfriend regardless, both of us miss the consistent, rock hard P-I-V. I can get hard masturbating, but not as consistently or fully as before. I’ve brought this up to my doctor, and he dismissed me, saying he did not want to change my medication and offered no other solutions. Is there anything I can do to help bring my erections back to their previous state? Any preparation or practice? I never had this problem before this medication.

—Side Effect

Dear Side Effect,

I’ve seen erectile dysfunction referred to as a “canary in a coal mine” for its ability to signal underlying conditions (such as diabetes) that have gone undetected. Here, the cause seems pretty clear—E.D. is a known side effect of drugs that treat high blood pressure—and yet it’s still playing the role of canary. This one’s song goes, “Find a new doctor.” Catchy tune! You should be treated by someone who cares about your entire health, including the sexual facet of it. I don’t know what is driving your doctor’s apathy regarding your E.D., but let me assure you: #NotAllDoctors. You might look into visiting a urologist speficially for this issue. I am not sure what meds you’re taking, but some classes of drugs are less likely to cause erectile dysfunction, and if nothing else, you could look into drugs that specifically treat E.D., many of which are safe to be taken with high blood pressure meds. Of course, you need a doctor to get those—one who cares enough to prescribe them.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a man who came to terms with being bisexual several years ago, not long after graduating high school. But I was sexually assaulted by a man right as I was beginning to explore my sexuality. While I’m no longer as anxious about being around men as I used to be, I’m still anxious about potentially having sex with one. One recent attempt at a hookup resulted in me feeling sick—I made an excuse to leave right as I was going home with the guy (to his credit, he seemed like an OK guy).

Opportunities for connecting with gay or bi men in my area are limited to apps and a couple bars in the city. The idea of being groped in a dark bar by someone I can barely see would be hell. Women, no matter how they’re assigned at birth, don’t trigger this same anxiety. Neither do nonbinary people. And while therapy was helpful with helping me feel less anxious around men, it hasn’t been helpful with getting myself comfortable with them sexually.

I really do feel like I’m missing out from not feeling connected to the gay/bi community. But I still have a long way to go. Is it really feasible to want to dive back in at this point? And how do I begin?

—Uncharted Waters

Dear Uncharted Waters,

It’s feasible to dive back into whatever whenever, in the event that civilization isn’t put on pause (and/or collapsing) as a result of a rather tenacious virus. People have a pretty uncanny instinct to find love and sex regardless of their stage of life—it’s not always easy, but there is always hope. I recommend attempting to bond with queer men on platonic bases initially, so as to dip your toe into gay social life. If and when things return to normal and an LGBTQ center still operates in your area, check out their social calendar and see if any of its offerings appeal to you.

Something you could possibly work on during these times of mass home confinement is your trauma. Look into a new (remote) therapist, preferably one who is well versed in queer and sex issues. If an attempt at a hookup with a guy is nauseating you, you probably could use some extra help with that. I’m really sorry it happened to you and deterred you from exploring your sexuality as well as the joy of man sex. Healing is possible. It may take some work, but it’s doable, and now, in all likelihood, you have time to devote to it.

As to your perception of other queer social spaces, keep in mind that not every gay bar feels like something out of Cruising. A lot of them are pretty casual in terms of their specific etiquette and lighting, but sure, guys get grabby sometimes, and there are spaces where a touch-first-retreat-when-rebuffed model of behavior is unfortunately common, so I agree that bars might not be your best bet, at least at first.

If you haven’t yet, I also recommend experiencing some queer male culture, in an attempt to warm up to the idea that joining the fold does not necessarily mean only and instant sex. If it’s not a burden, watch Drag Race, read some James Baldwin or Dancer From the Dance, watch movies by John Waters and Gregg Araki and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Or, I don’t know, Queer Eye and Love, Simon. All of it. The more removed you are from the ways that men who have sex with men relate and congregate, the more of a big, scary thing it will be. So bone up. That’s not a euphemism … until you’re ready for it to be.

—Rich

More How to Do It

I’m a woman in my late 30s. Until about a year ago, all of my relationships were with “average”-sized guys. About a year ago, though, I started dating a wonderful man who is also quite well-endowed (around 9 inches). This should be great, but he keeps hitting my cervix, which for me causes a huge amount of pain. Sex with us is also not as spontaneous as it has been with previous partners because it requires more lube, foreplay, etc. I’ve talked other female friends, and they are either envious or, if they have well-endowed partners, they don’t have this problem. I really like this guy (and he’s otherwise great in bed!), but I’d love to be able to actually appreciate his size rather than be annoyed by it. Do you have any tips?