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 am a gay man in his late 20s. I’ve had an amazing man in my life for about a year now and want nothing more than to spend my life with him. He is the first serious relationship I’ve ever had, and I plan on making it my only. In his previous relationship, he and his ex opened it up at his partners’ behest, which caused some problems—namely infidelity, on his ex’s part—which led to the relationship’s demise. The relationship left a deep scar on my boyfriend, and he’s been adamant about being monogamous ever since.
Since our relationship status was not official in the beginning, and we were initially long distance, I was still sexually independent. After we made it official, we decided to be exclusive. It was easy to ignore other men at first, but eventually I gave into my desires and hooked up with another guy. The sex with my boyfriend is amazing, and I felt bad about straying at first, but since we were long distance, I told myself that it was only temporary—once I had him here physically, it would be different.
I causally hooked up with guys here and there until my boyfriend moved in with me at the start of quarantine. I was furloughed and he was working remotely at the time. I stopped watching porn in the hopes of making my partner my sexual focus, but I find myself “looking” still. Cruising handsome guys I see, flirting with co-workers, or sexting old flames. And the feeling I have when I hook up with somebody new is indescribable. I feel like I’m in my own element when I’m doing it. It makes it that much worse because I don’t understand how something that makes me feel so good could be so bad. I really don’t want to be a cheater, but I feel like monogamy might be too hard for me. I wish my boyfriend could completely satisfy me sexually speaking but before, during, and after sex, I often find myself thinking about sex with others. I don’t want to lose the relationship, and I don’t want to put my needs before his, because there’s a part of me that knows if I asked to open our relationship up, I could get what I want, but it would kill him to do it. Which brings me to my question: Should I ask to open up my relationship, knowing my boyfriend’s old pain and feelings of inadequacy from before would all come back like some bad sense of déjà vu, or should I seek therapy to discover if there’s some other, deeper-rooted issue?
Dear Temporarily Closed,
It’s reasonable to view being nonmongamous as its own sort of orientation. Managing it through suppression is about the best you can do when in a relationship with a monogamous person. I don’t think that there’s much use attempting to “convert” yourself to monogamous in therapy. Just because society is more aligned with your partner’s monogamy, it doesn’t make your nonmonogamy inherently wrong or immoral. It’s just different. Beyond the philosophical, I believe that such attempts to rid someone of his fondness for anonymous sex are destined to fail, and failure in this case leads to cheating (something you’ve already done). That said, therapy is generally a good idea for everyone, and it is certainly easy to slide right into compulsive behavior while living a nonmonogamous lifestyle given how accessible sex is in our age of apps. If you think you should talk about this with a professional, you probably should.
As a guy who’s been there, my basic belief is that monogamous people are suited for monogamous people and nonmonogamous people are suited for nonmonogamous people, and rarely the twain shall meet. You have a choice: love with this man or anonymous sex. It seems simple on paper, and any idealist worth their condescending salt will tell you that you’d be an idiot not to choose love, but that will mean compromising a very fundamental part of yourself. Your partner will never give you that thing you so enjoy: newness. While the inverse is true—your tricks are, by definition, not to be relied upon for love—there is a happy medium, which is to partner with a guy who is open to openness.
If you want to hang on to what you’ve got, I think you’re the one who has to change. I’m not trying to uphold the status quo here; it’s just my practical take on a subject with which I am intimately familiar. Emotional pairings must defer to the most sensitive party, lest you live of a life of drama and conflict. I think you’re morally obligated to talk about this with your boyfriend and share the full scope of your sexuality (and, I know you won’t like this, but telling him that you cheated will be a useful way of illustrating how necessary sex with others is to your feeling of satisfaction). I can’t imagine him going for it, but I’ve found having sex with other people together can be a great way to have your cake and eat ass too. Another happy medium to pursue. You may find therapy together is a good place to work this out, if it seems workable whatsoever.
I’m not trying to shit in your box of chocolates, but I believe you have found yourself in a relationship mismatch, and unless one of you bends, neither of you is going to be happy. Unfortunately, that terribly saccharine Patty Smyth/Don Henley song “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” may apply here.*
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a thirtysomething man dating a thirtysomething woman, and we’ve been in a monogamous relationship for a little more than a year at this point. We do not live with each other, but we’ve been seeing each other more and more over the past month or so because we’re in the same quarantine bubble (we’re still working from home and basically don’t interact with anyone except for stops to the grocery store). Things are, for the most part, pretty great. But we do have mismatched sex drives: I have a very high sex drive, and she has a medium-low one. It takes a long time for her to come. I’ve never felt insecure about her need for oral and toys to get her there, but it’s a lot of effort, and she’s not always able to, which has caused her frustration.
As a compromise, lately, whenever we see each other, she’s given me blow jobs. When I ask her if she wants anything in return, she says no and insists she doesn’t want any reciprocation, but I still feel guilty about it. I don’t even know if there’s an actual problem, or if all I have to do is just accept it for what it is. What do you think? I also have another problem: She always complains about the taste of my semen but swallows it anyway. I’ve said she doesn’t have to do this, but she says that anything else would be too messy (and that even if she were to spit it out, she’d have to hold it in her mouth and taste it anyway). Do you have any advice for making semen taste less bad, or ways to make other disposal methods less messy?
—Funkiest Tasting Spunk
I think sucking dick is fun. I’m not alone. If someone offers to do it freely and without reciprocation, there’s no need to argue. Orgasms are hardly the final word in enjoyable sex, and it is possible to get pleasure from giving some and not having them. Don’t feel guilty about a happy arrangement.
That said: It may be worth one more conversation here. It sounds like you guys had a rough time focusing on your girlfriend’s orgasm, so you could tell her that if there’s anything she’d like—a nonsexual massage, some other form of intimacy—you’re game. If she says “no thanks,” let it go.
In terms of the taste of your semen, anecdotally, alcohol can make it sour, so limit your drinking. You should be hydrating anyway, so if you’re not, do that. There’s also the widespread belief that pineapple juice is good for sweetening up cum. I can’t say I’ve tried it (or bemoaned the taste of cum … ever), but give it a whirl. She also has the option of not taking your semen in her mouth and masturbating you to climax once you’re close. You wouldn’t mind that, right? For cleanup in that scenario, try “paper towels.”
Dear How to Do It,
I am a woman who has had a 30 year on-again, off-again affair with a man who was married, is now widowed, and has a current girlfriend. We met when I was 27, and he was 41. I was a mess. I have since become sober and much more stable, but I always seem to come back to “Frank.” He’s a career cop, and his wife was also sick and a mess until she died.
A year after his wife died, I asked him for a relationship, and he said he wasn’t ready. Then he showed up with the girlfriend and backed out of accompanying me to my son’s wedding because she was visiting that weekend, after he’d already committed to going with me. That was six years ago, and I ended things with him. I contacted him two years later, but nothing from him until the bright idea to visit him. I stayed with him for a week while traveling, and he talked about his late wife a bit (OK, understandable) and the trips he and his girlfriend have taken. She even partially redecorated his house!
He seems fine to have the girlfriend, with whom he travels (he refused to travel with me in the past) and happy to host me and have sex with me. Dropping me off at the airport, he said he wished he could keep me with him. From the gate, I texted him the truth: that all he’d ever had to do was to ask me. He responded that we’d talk when I got back, but I know we won’t.
I think the problem is that I love him more than he loves me. I’m basically poly and have a stable of guys I see in rotation— I don’t lie to them—but I really want to be first in Frank’s life. Is there anything I can do to take top place? I don’t know anymore, but always being the side piece (he’s not honest with the girlfriend) makes me sad. I don’t know that I will ever be able to let go. What should I do?
—Call Your Girlfriend
Dear Call Your Girlfriend,
This guy is doing very little to disprove ACAB. Dropping him when he backed out of accompanying you to a wedding was the right move, and you’d have been better off leaving him dropped. When he texted you what he texted you, what he meant was that he wished he could keep you with him on his terms, which allow him to use you for sex as he sees fit with no emotional responsibility. I’m sorry that you feel strongly for this guy, but the idea of you hatching a plan to “take top place” exhausts me and I have nothing to do with the lives of anyone involved. Just thinking about that stresses me out. Please don’t conjure needless drama—the world is chaotic enough as it is. I think you should search your stable for a more suitable mate—a person who doesn’t lie to his primary partner would be a good start. Time away from Frank will be useful in terms of getting over him. Start now.
Dear How to Do It,
I have a habit of dating bisexual men, and I am a bisexual woman. Last night, after sex while we were cuddling, the (bisexual) man I’m seeing told me to be careful about that because he knows men who have HIV and don’t tell their partners because they take Truvada and think they are fine. I hardly think about HIV because no one is ever really concerned with it when women are dating men, and it’s more along the lines of “don’t get pregnant,” right? Besides getting tested regularly and having safe sex, is this is a legitimately risky thing for someone (me) who doesn’t take Truvada yet has sex with men who do?
Dear Blue Pill,
PrEP for preventing HIV is a tremendous tool for maintaining ownership of your sexual health, and if you can access it, I think you’re a great candidate. The side effects are slight, if you experience any at all, and the peace of mind is exhilarating. My sex life and quality of life are better as a result of it. If you’re in the United States, your options are Truvada or Descovy, which are both provided by the company Gilead, which has rightly been criticized for price-gouging its lifesaving medication. (The Descovy option is not yet approved for use in cisgender women, if you are one.) Big pharma is a nightmare, so bilk them for what they have and check out their co-pay assistance program. Functionally, that makes it free for many people with prescription insurance.
One of the wonderful things about PrEP, from a practical perspective, is that it makes the question of whether your partner is HIV positive or not virtually irrelevant because of its near-certain ability to protect against HIV. Your sex partner didn’t provide you the clearest, most accurate sex ed lesson, and it seems like he spoke with authority while somewhat misleading you, which is really annoying. But it’s also a clear sign that you should be educating yourself. So do so. The guys he referenced who “have HIV and don’t tell their partners because they take Truvada and think they are fine” should certainly be disclosing their status to their partners, but also in all likelihood are fine … which is probably part of why they don’t tell their partners. The concept of “undetectable” is still so misunderstood and too rarely acknowledged. We have ample evidence that proper adherence to antiretroviral medication makes the HIV levels in the blood so low that the virus is undetectable by a standard blood test, and furthermore, people with undetectable viral loads are unable to transmit HIV to their partners. Yes, viral loads can fluctuate even in people who take their meds, but generally speaking, if someone with HIV is taking their meds every day and visiting their doctor regularly, you’re not going to contract HIV from them. On the flipside, if someone is unaware that they have HIV, they also aren’t taking the suppressive meds, thus their viral loads are high which makes them more contagious. So here’s what the uninitiated could mistake for a paradox: The person who says they are HIV negative, but in fact isn’t aware that they are positive, presents way more of a transmission risk than the person who discloses they are positive and is taking meds. It makes me wonder what you actually know about the status of your sex/cuddling partner who brought up this subject. For that matter, what does he know about his status, and is he sure?
That said, if you’re using condoms, you have a high chance of remaining negative. Taking PrEP would make your chances even higher, though, so start taking PrEP, please.
More How to Do It
Last night, I went on a date someone who I had met somewhat spontaneously a week or so ago. We were having a really great time—natural conversation, very similar interests, just a good vibe. I don’t normally click with people this easily, so I followed the mood a little more than I might have otherwise and went back to his place. We slept together, and it lived up to the rest of the night. But in the afterglow, he casually let it drop that he’s dating someone seriously, but they’re open. I felt extremely betrayed, like he got me in bed under false pretenses. We both knew instantly that the air in the room had changed. I left, and he texted later and said he hadn’t meant to mislead me. But he did, didn’t he? It’s true that there was no dating profile involved where he could have mentioned this, and our meetup last night was organic and casual, but I can’t help but feel like he tricked me to get laid.
Correction, June 22, 2020: This article originally misspelled Patty Smyth’s first name. It has also been updated to clarify Descovy is not yet approved for use in cisgender women.
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