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’ve been dating a guy for nine months and totally fell for him. Through a conversation, I found out his “ideal” life is to have a main and two side women. What he previously forgot to mention is that he’s already doing this and has been having sex with others—but I’m the “main” and he just wants variety in his sex life. What do I do? Should I be proud I’m the main or hurt that he isn’t happy with just me? I don’t want a poly relationship, but don’t want to lose him either.
Dear the Main,
To zero in on “what he previously forgot to mention” … no. Just no. Move along. Find someone who not only wants what you want, but who can communicate transparently about what he’s up to.
The slightly longer answer: “Should” and feelings together in the same sentence make me nervous. You should feel how you feel. Your emotional response is legitimate and valuable no matter what that response is. You might be feeling a little bit of all of the above. Actions are where we get into should territory.
Sometimes we meet wonderful people who aren’t a match for us due to one fundamental opposition or another. You don’t want a poly relationship. That’s OK. It’s not for you. Don’t force yourself. You aren’t going to be happy in a relationship structure that isn’t within the bounds of what you want.
Sometimes we meet people who are great, who we maybe even love, who aren’t a good match for us. I’m thinking of a particular favorite ex-boyfriend, who at one point assumed a particular slice of commitment that wasn’t on the table. I wasn’t willing to provide family holidays. It was a nonstarter. That was the end of a yearlong relationship. He’s great, I wish him well, and we regularly text each other. Sometimes really loving someone requires releasing them to better matched pastures.
In your case, I don’t think this guy can or will give you the relationship you desire.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in my mid-20s. Last year, a male friend called me and asked if I’d like to move in to the spare room in his apartment in Europe, where he’d been living for the last year. The time was right to do something adventurous and I knew he was a good guy, so I said yes and moved abroad and into to his flat about two months ago.
We had known each other well prior to this, but I had never thought about him more than platonically. Shortly after moving in, I realized I was extremely attracted to him and that the feeling was mutual. Given the precariousness of the situation, I tried to set clear boundaries for the meantime.
A month in, since we are both apparently too horny for our own good, we caved, hooked up, and slapped the boyfriend-girlfriend-monogamy-delete-Bumble label on it. And it’s going great! He’s my best friend! He’s supportive, loving, and funny! The sex is phenomenal and happens nightly! I can see this relationship being long-term and meaningful! But it’s still very much the honeymoon phase, and we have skipped A LOT of steps.
I have said as much to him, and not only made it clear that I want us to be extremely open and forthcoming, but tried to do exactly that. He agrees this should be our M.O. But this is a bizarre situation, and despite how wonderful it is now, I feel that it’s potentially combustible. How do I navigate this? Or am I inventing things to be stressed about?
Dear European Vacation,
Things are working. Yes, there are plenty of potential red flags to look for, but you’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and you’re in a happy, meaningful, quarantine-proof thing. Enjoy it.
About those red flags—yes, moving so quickly, especially in a new place, could be concerning. One thing to watch for is attempts to distance you from platonic emotional connections or family. Another is early attempts to merge finances. Keep an eye out for anything that feels controlling, icky, or weird.
You mention a lot of good and nothing concerning aside from jumping straight to cohabitation and monogamy. If there’s something you’re leaving out, that’s a different story. But based on what you describe, I think you’re OK.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a middle-aged gay man who has always been socially awkward and shy. I have struggled my entire life with dating, always diving into a relationship with pretty much anyone who showed any interest in me at all whether I was really attracted or compatible with them or not. This, of course, has not worked out. As I have aged, my self-esteem has deteriorated as well, especially with health issues.
My question is in regard to my workaround. Ever since I was first discovering my attraction to other men in my early teens and 20s, I have actively looked to pay straight men for the chance to have sex with them. What this has usually amounted to was me paying them cash to give them oral sex. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but it has really been the only consistent way that I’ve ever been able to have the sex that I desire and need. All of the guys that I have had these experiences with have been guys who were completely out of my league. I’ve simply accepted that this is how I can have sex.
Recently, I spoke to one of my acquaintances about this during a long night of conversation we were both having while self-isolated for the current virus situation. She was appalled at me and told me that this was unhealthy for me and exploitative for the guys I deal with. The conversation ended on a frustrating, hostile note on her part. I’m just trying to get some impartial reactions or advice on this long-standing practice. Am I being unfair to myself and others getting the sex I need? I’ve never tried to force anyone to have sex with me, just offered them financial incentives to do so.
Dear Content John,
Depending on the laws in your area, you’re potentially doing something illegal by paying people to engage in sexual activity with you. Illegal doesn’t necessarily mean wrong, but it might mean “bad idea.” In theory, I think all sex work is wonderful. In practice, engaging in some forms of sex work as provider or consumer can be risky and get you in some serious legal trouble.
As for your friend, I think she’s probably running more tense and sensitive than usual. (Aren’t we all running more tense and sensitive than usual right now?) That emotional baseline might be making her more rigid and judgmental on a subject that people already tend toward rigidity and judgment around. It might be worth revisiting the conversation when COVID has passed, the economy has recovered, and we’re all able to be a bit more chill.
Another thing that might be worth a shot is therapy. You say that all of this straight-guy compensation stems from low self-esteem. A qualified professional—LGBTQ friendly, sex-positive, and kink-aware—should be able to help you tease out what’s sexual pleasure and what’s self-destruction.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a guy in my early 30s, and my girlfriend of two years is a survivor of an assault prior to us getting together. She’s pretty loud in bed if she’s enjoying herself: words, moans, dirty talk. But when something’s wrong, she goes totally silent or freezes before saying something about it. After years of therapy, she’s gotten better at speaking up, but the pattern still exists, to the point where I take quiet sex as a sign that something is wrong.
This isn’t a problem for us in our own space, but we’re about to be away for about two months in a place where we absolutely cannot have loud sex. She suggested a trial run of quietness at home one night, which I thought was overkill until it uh … killed the action. I couldn’t get into it, couldn’t even stay hard, even though I knew that she was OK and that she’d very clearly initiated it. Silent sex felt like I was either hurting her or screwing a total stranger, neither of which turns me on at all. I’m completely freaked out about this: I don’t want to force a two-month drought in our sex life, but I also have no idea how to handle this problem.
Dear Quiet Place,
Good on you for being a sensitive, caring partner. And good on your girlfriend for working through her experience and being able to attend therapy, be vulnerable, and connect with you.
I see two problems. You need a new way for your girlfriend to communicate that she’s checked out. And you need a way to feel her interest, since that’s an awesome part of your sexual arousal.
Can she whisper? Can she put her mouth right next to your ear and very quietly say things like “I’m so happy to have you inside me right now,” or “That feels good, keep going”?
What about tactile feedback? Would her hands on your ass pulling you closer be enough communication of active, enthusiastic consent? Could you devise a system where she keeps her hand on your shoulder as a sign of connection? Crucially, would she be able to drop the hand if she froze?
Can you take turns giving each other digital or oral stimulation? Like, can you lay back and relax knowing she’s in charge of her actions, and enjoy a blow job? Knowing that she’ll freeze, and therefore stop, if she needs to?
I hope something in this helps. If it doesn’t, please try another avenue, like a video therapy consultation, if you can. And if you can’t find any answers that work, try to remember that two months isn’t so long. Sometimes our sex lives are less than ideal, but we get through it because we love each other.
More How to Do It
I’m being sexually rejected all the time and I am a very, very attractive woman. I have an hourglass body, exercise all the time, and have a career in mechanical engineering. When I look at who swiped on me on dating apps, the feed is practically infinite. When I walk down the street, I turn heads. Yet I have a really hard time being pursued. I will meet a guy, and things fizzle quickly. Dudes who know I’m single and horny have my number and don’t initiate plans with me. Am I just an arrogant asshole because I’m hot? If it’s the latter, help. Because it’s hard to separate being a hot chick from dating.