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,
My boyfriend masturbates constantly. It’s upsetting me, and I can’t figure out why. Some context: We have been together three years, have been living together for nearly a year, and have always had our ups and downs. Our sex life isn’t great—my boyfriend suffers from serious anxiety and shame, so we manage sex on average once every couple of months.
I knew prior to the pandemic that he was very uptight about masturbating and felt a lot of shame about it. He has issues reaching orgasm, so often masturbating can take a long time. (When we’ve had sex, he has only reached orgasm once or twice.) I’ve tried to gently encourage him that he shouldn’t feel shame, everyone masturbates, and it’s a normal and healthy thing to do.
But now that we’ve been quarantining together for eight weeks, his masturbating is driving me INSANE, and I feel super resentful about it. Every afternoon, five days a week, he goes upstairs and locks himself in the bedroom and masturbates for three hours on our bed. He’s supposed to be working, and I know he’s had disciplinary problems at work. He has such a history of shame around masturbation as well that I feel like I can’t go upstairs during that time, or else risk freaking him out.
So here I am, downstairs, sitting at my desk, feeling utterly resentful that he’s upstairs masturbating yet again. I don’t know if I feel resentful because 1) We’re not having sex (but that’s not new, so I don’t know why I would!), 2) I’m worried about him keeping his job (but he says he’s meeting and exceeding his goals!), or 3) I just am icked out by the fact that he’s up there jacking off for so long every day (our sheets get dirtier faster, he spends all day in our bedroom with the door closed so it gets smelly in there, and honestly, like, 15 hours a week is just a little ridiculous). He’s accused me of being too controlling of his time before, but I truly think there’s something about the masturbating itself that’s upsetting me. Please help me figure out how to not be resentful about a normal activity and let me go back to not being a raging hypocrite—it’s destroying our entire relationship!!
—Cuffed to the Carrot
Dear Cuffed to the Carrot,
I’m guessing that you’re taking his masturbation personally based on the perception that it’s taking something away from you. There’s a seductive logic in thinking, “Why are you jerking off when we could be having sex?” But that’s myopic. While masturbation can certainly sap someone of their mojo and make them unable to perform in the short term with a partner (the refractory period can make sex immediately after masturbation utterly impossible), sex and masturbation don’t exist in a zero-sum relationship for everyone. For some, masturbation scratches an itch that sex cannot—they’re two separate entities. There are also people whose apparent wiring makes them prefer masturbation to sex, similar to how some prefer oral sex to intercourse.
For all of these reasons, and because your sheer will is not going to get between his dick and his hand, I’m prescribing a bit of compassion. I agree that 15 hours a week is a lot of time to spend jerking off, but if it’s really not getting in the way of his work and if you’re still spending time together, I’m not confident that his habit qualifies as compulsive. Many people at the moment have extra time on their hands, and he’s rubbing his all over his dick. People are struggling right now, and I believe, at least temporarily, it’s OK to let them soothe as they see fit. It would be one thing if he were snorting cocaine for three hours a day every day, but he’s not putting his health at risk by polishing his knob. And anyway, this is a losing battle. You think he jerks off too much; he disagrees. You’ll never win here. It’s his dick, his rules.
But I feel for you. I can see how it’s overwhelming and dismaying to be exposed to this habit in real time. It’s one thing to understand that your boyfriend jerks off a lot in the abstract; it’s another to smell three hours’ worth of his ass on your bed. At the very least, he should be the one washing the sheets. But I think for now, that’s about all you can ask. Other than sporadic check-ins and assurances that you’re there for him should he choose to talk, there’s not a lot you can do to change the situation, and if he detects that you’re being driven INSANE by his habits, he may retreat further and be even less likely to open up. Accepting this and directing your attention elsewhere—a skill that meditation might help you foster—is the most proactive thing you can do. You can change yourself, not others. Embrace that you’ve chosen to spend your life with someone who masturbates for three hours a day. If you don’t like that, change your life.
Dear How to Do It,
My sweet, wonderful boyfriend and I have been separated by the coronavirus. We’re both 21, still in college, and have had to move back in with our parents after leaving university housing (3,000 miles away from each other). We recently tried sexting with words and pics, and he loves it. I’ve been open to it and don’t hate it, but it just makes me so sad. Like, slightly turned on but then crying afterward because of how much I miss him. It kills me to use words like if we were together and I would when I don’t know when we’ll be together next. It’s kind of a paradox because I do want to maintain a sexual relationship with him. I’ve given pretty neutral responses about it so far and haven’t told him how emotional it makes me, because I don’t want to just end our sex life indefinitely without providing an alternative. Is there a way I can change my mentality to get over this? Or some other activity you’d suggest?
Dear All Talk,
While many are attempting to adapt their sex lives to the screen-based confines of contemporary communication, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to do so. Not everybody is going to take to camming. At no point in human evolution prior to this moment has it made sense to rely only on technology for sexual connection. Besides sexting, you have the option of video chatting and writing erotic letters, but I suspect both would also be unsatisfying. The only juices of yours they’re likely to get going are tears out of your eyes.
That said, you could attempt to exploit this moment as an opportunity for improvement. If there is anything you’ve been wanting to work on regarding your sex life—either in terms of repair or expansion—discussing such things would be one way of keeping engaged sexually without having the kind of virtual sex that is bumming you out and not getting you off. You can reminisce about sex you enjoyed or even discuss porn that you’ve watched if you have in fact done so and are comfortable talking about it.
Otherwise, stay connected and stay hopeful. You’ll see him again, and the reunion sex might be among the best you’ve ever had. All of this buildup practically ensures an explosive release. It’s just a matter of when.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 29-year-old straight woman, and in my previous two long-term relationships, the guys I was with were extremely enthusiastic about making me orgasm. Not in a gross or macho way, but pretty much every roll in the sheets would include me receiving oral sex (which they enjoyed giving), which is the best way to get me to orgasm. I didn’t always come, and if I realized it wasn’t going to happen I’d say so and we’d move on to another sexual activity. Penetrative sex feels great, and I enjoy it for its own sake, but it has only “got me there” once in my entire life.
Enter my current partner, whom I’ve been with for about four months and who doesn’t seem to care if I have an orgasm. The sex is electric, but it usually progresses from making out to penis-in-vagina pretty quickly, and after he finishes, there’s no attention to me. I asked him early on if he liked going down on women, and he said it was “hot” kind of halfheartedly; since then, I can count the number of times it’s happened on one hand, and only because I asked. And when he does, I’m really in my head because I don’t know if he’s enjoying it. I’ve tried hinting in other ways—for example, we were cuddling, and I said I’d like his hands somewhere else, and he started fingering me … but as soon as I said how good it felt (and it did feel said!), he stopped and climbed on top. Another time I was on top and said, “This feels so good, I really want to come,” but when I didn’t do so before he did, there was no follow-up to finish me off. I know I need to talk to him about this, but I’m afraid to. Plus, I’m afraid to bring it up now, when we’re not seeing each other due to the lockdown. I know I need to suck it up and talk to him at some point, but I don’t have the words because I’ve never had to have this conversation before.
Dear Uh O,
It might be time for a more philosophical conversation about sexual priorities. Your description of his behavior makes me think that he sees intercourse as the main course. I couldn’t fault him for that if it’s what he enjoys, and at any rate, he lives in a culture that venerates PIV sex, particularly in porn, which so often ends with depictions of perfect mutual climaxes as a result. However, a truly conscientious partner should be thinking outside himself and cultural indoctrination. He should be thinking of you. What you are requesting is hardly unusual—it’s so common that I’m well aware that many women reach orgasm most easily through oral sex, and I haven’t been lips-to-lips with a woman in nearly two decades. He could be dense or detrimentally selfish, but in the absence of other indicators of either characteristic, I’d guess that he’s avoiding giving you oral on purpose. He may have valid reasons, and no one is ever obligated to do anything sexually (“No” is its own valid reason), but if this is something you essentially need and that he’s refusing, you may have a basic case of incompatibility.
I’d need to get to the bottom of it if I were in your position (on my back with my legs open, preferably). If the sex is electric, as you say it is, lead a conversation with that—make sure that you don’t frame your request as a critique. Carefully outline that what you’re seeking is not an alteration but an addition. (I’m gathering that this is the case, at least.) Don’t force his hand or his tongue, but do try to figure out what’s up with him. This is a fairly simple problem, and if he makes it less simple through reticence or any other discursive behavior, you have yourself a red flag.
But also, if you’re not seeing him during quarantine, this is a temporarily moot point that is probably best approached when you’re back together and you and his tongue are in the same room.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 25-year-old bi guy. I’d say I’m a Kinsey 2 or 3—I’m always fantasizing sexually about guys but never tried, nor would I unless there were a meaningful connection, but I’m also not very interested in dating a guy. I do love girls too, but the taboo factor ain’t there, so they don’t get the same attention in my mind.
I happen to live in a country that’s not on lockdown, so thankfully I can go outdoors and it’s possible to meet people. Recently, I’ve been starting to date this girl, with the pretty standard flirty thing going on. She gets my romantic feelings and turns my sex drive up. That’s the simple part.
I have a 21-year-old male friend who is like a little brother. Never before in my life have I had such a meaningful emotional connection and friendship with someone. He was having the struggle of Tinder dating and unsuccessfully looking for no-strings-attached sex. I’m more of a “relationship person” and quite conservative morally. I suggested he’d be better off looking for a deeper love and sex arrangement. He just seems horny. Having gone through “bromantic” jokes, I can tell he’s straight and might be a virgin. He doesn’t seem to have a scope beyond vanilla vaginal sex. I did tell him last month that I began to think about guys, and he poked a bit of harmless fun but said a very supportive “You should not repress what you feel.” This guy is a sweetheart.
Well, my gay fantasies are taking over with him. I have this intense urge to give him oral sex. Maybe it’d be fun for him, since he really seems to want it. There’s an emotional part of it for me too, because I think he deserves being fulfilled for being such a good person. He deserves a step toward sex enlightenment. I might end up dating the girl soon officially. Should I go for it? I don’t want to alter, change, or risk blowing up such a beautiful friendship.
—Brother to Brother
Dear Brother to Brother,
Introducing sex into a platonic relationship always risks altering it. It’s the chance you take. There are plenty of guys who will remain chill after they’ve zipped up their fly, making little emotional distinction between getting head and playing a video game, and there are guys who will be profoundly affected once you go from buds to buds. Unfortunately, you cannot be sure which direction things will go until you actually hook up with him.
Complicating matters is his sexual identification, which, as far as you know, is straight. The reality of sexual contact with another guy might affect him so much that he pushes you away to deal with himself. Him really seeming to want a blow job is different from really seeming to want a blow job from you, something you have yet to confirm.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while some guys are born cocksuckers, inexperience tends to yield pretty underwhelming head. You’re inexperienced. I’d be careful there—even if he is enthusiastically consenting to the prospect of receiving a blow job from you, you don’t want to ruin the mood with bad head. There are few things worse than bad head. Practice.
If you want to preserve your friendship, be frank about your sexual curiosity only as it applies to you. Tell him you’re horny and really curious to see what a dick would feel like in your mouth and see what he says. This is true, and discussions about sex are already a part of your dynamic, so just keep things matter-of-fact. Do not pressure him; do not continue the conversation if he seems uninterested in engaging about this; do not bring it up so much that it becomes a theme if he is otherwise apathetic. This is a decision he has to make for himself, and a good (though far from sure) attempt to prevent it messing things up between you two would be to let him initiate once you’ve voiced your interest. Better to spend a lifetime waiting for him to do that than destroy a friendship over sex and impatience.
More How to Do It
Please settle this score: My girlfriend no longer wants to shave her armpits. I admit this isn’t my preference but recognize it’s up to her. However, I also took this as an opportunity to stop trimming myself downstairs, because honestly it gets itchy and I was only doing it for her. She was fine at first, but now seems reluctant to give blow jobs because of the unintended floss. I want to leave it! Do you think this goes both ways?