How to Do It

My Wife Is Dying, and I Don’t Know What to Do About Our Sex Life

Should I bring it up? Get a life-size doll?

A man thinks.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ranta Images/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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,

As if 2020 weren’t horrible enough, I’m also losing my wife of nearly a decade—also my high school sweetheart—to ovarian cancer. We recently uprooted ourselves and moved to another state to be closer to family. I find I’m struggling with how to approach being with her and wanting her last moments here to be happy and meaningful, while at the same time grappling with fear, sadness, rage, and guilt.

We’ve always had a good, if imperfect, sex life—the dilemma being that most common mismatch of libidos stemming from birth control and mental health drugs. Over the last three years, however, her health has been our top priority, so we’ve only been intimate a handful of times in that span. We both mourned for our inability to have children after a surgery early on following her diagnosis, and we’ve had many conversations about how she feels betrayed by her body. I know she’s taken some real blows to her self-confidence because of chemo treatments and procedures to deal with digestive complications. Our sex life before the cancer was mostly penetrative, and though I was mum about broaching sex for a while as we dealt with the life-and-death situation, I also wanted to make sure she knew I still found her as beautiful and desirable as I always have. We talked about other things we could do that didn’t involve penetration, though worsening health news kept pushing the topic to the back burner.

Devastatingly, we’re now confronting an end-of-life situation. I would be happy never to have sex again if it meant she could live, but it seems we’re beyond that. I want to do whatever I can for her with the time we have left to us, and her comfort and happiness are my primary concern. Should I just assume that sexual pleasure is the last thing on her mind, or should I reintroduce the possibilities while we still have some time?

I’m also experiencing a lot of guilt about considering what my life will look like without her. We’ve only ever been intimate with each other, and the prospect of dating and hookup culture kind of terrifies me, though I know she would want me to try to find love again. I don’t want her to leave, and I don’t want to be alone. One of the things I enjoy most is just being close and cuddling together in our bed, though this has been more difficult of late because of some of her medical needs. Part of me finds some solace in the idea of one of those realistic sex dolls—at least then I could hold someone, and our bed wouldn’t feel quite so empty. Is that crazy? It seems, quite literally, like objectification of women, and the expense could better serve a worthy cause. I’m grateful for any advice you can provide. We are actively seeking therapists.

—End of Life

Dear End of Life,

Your letter is so heartfelt and frank that I don’t see any harm in sharing its sentiment or exact words with your wife, especially those about her comfort and happiness being your priority. You’re probably right to assume that she’s got bigger things on her mind than sex with you, but ask her if she’s interested. Be careful not to come off as demanding, and be prepared to accept no as her final answer as soon as she says it. If her comfort and happiness are indeed your primary concern, you should be talking to her about anything that you could do to make her time left as pleasant as possible. If sex is on her request list, great.

It might be awkward to introduce your wife to a new friend, lacking in sentience and molded out of silicone though she may be. I’d wait till I were on my own to pursue a sex doll if I were you. I understand your fears about such dolls objectifying women, but dolls don’t objectify people, people do. As long as you stay aware of the division between animate and inanimate, you should be OK. Sex dolls are rather elaborate toys, and as long as they are viewed as such, they aren’t objectifying women any more than a lifelike dildo is objectifying a penis or your right hand is objectifying your orifice of choice. And yes, there are better things to spend money on, but unless you’re seriously considering a vow of poverty, you probably have several things in your life that qualify as indulgences and that you don’t need per se. A lot of people do, where I come from. America is a land of excess. If you feel bad about spending your money on yourself, donate some to a worthy charity at the same time. Here’s one that benefits Black trans people.

Good luck with your therapy. Be the best, most selfless partner you can be during your wife’s remaining days. Stay strong—if not for you, then for her.

Dear How to Do It,

Lately my boyfriend and I have been filming ourselves having sex, and we both love it. It started out simple with just a cellphone video, but now we’re doing multiple angles, lighting, the works. We love watching and rewatching it. What can I say, we think we’re hot!

I’ve been wanting to experiment with posting the videos somewhere. I like the idea of other people watching us do it, leaving comments or even requests, etc. My boyfriend is also game. But we’re both worried about, well, videos of us having sex on the internet. We could try to make it so neither of our faces shows, but is there another way to safely live out this fantasy? We’ve also talked about having people come over to watch us do it, but have no idea how to find these people and whether anyone would be game to simply watch us fuck without joining in. Any ideas?

—TV Ready

Dear TV Ready,

Congrats on being hot and knowing it. Please use your powers wisely and try not to be annoying about it. (Show, don’t tell.) Assuming you’re asking from a when-things-go-back-to-normal perspective, a sex/swingers club might allow you to live out your exhibitionistic fantasies, although be warned that you may have to deny requests for others to join you (if in fact you aren’t into that) and that might get exhausting, especially while you’re putting on a sex show. There are only so many things your body can do at once. There are also apps that specifically cater to those interested in swinging/group sex/polyamory like Feeld that may be worth checking out.

If you want to go the digital sex show route, you could also wear masks (haven’t you heard that they’re very chic right now?) or use video editing software to obscure your faces, though that might not provide enough anonymity if you have tattoos or other unique characteristics. Godspeed.

Dear How to Do It,

I’ve been in a fulfilling online relationship for some months now with a wonderful partner. We’ve bonded over hobbies and personalities, but when we bring the conversation to intimacy, we’ve shared being touch starved and wanting more physical intimacy in our lives. HTDI, we’ll be able to finally meet up soon and we want to have sex. Like, a lot of it. We’ve flirted extensively, and it’s been a lot of fun—not to mention a mutual self-esteem boost.

There’s just one issue: Not only would this be my first time actually doing penetrative sex (although I think I’ll be fine on the general anxiety front), it’d be D in A. My partner is a trans woman and I’m a nonbinary person with male junk. I can have a great time cybering and thinking about buttfucking her, but sometimes I recall the eternal words of a porn star whose name is lost to time: “There will always be poop.” And I’ve been too squeamish to even kiss people before, if they had a gross mouth. I know we’ll probably be very satisfied with a bunch of other options, since we’ve discussed our hang-ups openly. But if I want to go plumbing for a prostate, do you folks have tips for getting things a smidge cleaner down there?

—Hole Up

Dear Hole Up,

Welcome to the wonderful world of buttsex and other options. You may find that exposure is key to comfort: Things that seem unfathomable or unsightly become not such big deals when you actually experience them firsthand. I once feared buttholes and the havoc they wreak, but after spending lots of face time (and … other time) with them, now my philosophy is more like: “Shit happens.” It doesn’t happen always—I think the unnamed porn performer you referenced was either lying or on laxatives—but it does happen sometimes, and knowing that it might really takes the edge off the hassle when it does. It’s far easier to be fecally laissez-faire when you are with a partner (or partners) with whom you are comfortable and able to communicate with clarity. It seems like your bond with your partner is already there or well on its way.

If you two are indeed looking for just a smidge more cleanliness, some gentle soap and water will do the trick. One way to keep the pipes flowing is to incorporate fiber supplements like psyllium husk or flaxseed, which help with bulking poop to the extent that some users report not even needing to use toilet paper—a perfectly pinched loaf, baked fresh every time. This is not my experience, but I do find fiber-solidified stools way easier to manage.  Your partner could also look into a bottoming diet that avoids spicy/gassy foods and/or douching (check out a previous HTDI column, which details the best practices according to one colorectal surgeon), which may get things more than a smidge clean, when done properly. She should remember to use a small amount of water and take it easy, as taking things easy tends to make things easier to take.

Dear How to  Do It,

I don’t know how to start my question. I’m college educated, single, male, 30, white, straight (probably a 2 or 3 on the Kinsey scale in all honesty), agnostic, generally hedonistic with the exception of drug abuse, an occasional drinker, and liberal by my parent’s standards. I’m a part-time employee of a large retailer. I was engaged to the woman I consider the love of my life—this is a HUGE issue I know I need help with—until I broke it off because of my own fear of abandonment issues. I’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, I’m currently unmedicated because I’m uninsured, underemployed, and my multiple adjustments to my regimen were almost completely negative side effects with little benefit. I have a dead-end job making little money, and my younger brother and his fiancé have graciously allowed me to live with them and contribute very little to our shared living expenses. I’m dating and in a “relationship” that I feel is directionless. I’m tired of complaining and I’m exhausted from existence. I feel alone and helpless. I have attempted suicide by withdrawal once before. I have zero motivation and honestly, there is very little keeping me on this plane of existence save my fear of the sight of blood and my general aversion to pain and inconveniencing others. I hate my nothing job; I can’t afford therapy; my family moved frequently during my youth and adolescence. I have no friends that I’m not genetically close to, and I feel unilaterally misunderstood. I’m out of options. I’m angry that the world is unjust, especially considering I’m in a uniquely privileged position, and I feel like I have no reason, incentive to pursue, or goal to achieve to continue existing. I have consistently said to anyone that I felt less than uncomfortable around that if given the choice, I would choose nonexistence over ever having been born. What should I do? What is the point of my existence? Why should I care? Why should I bother to continue being? Help me. Please. I’m desperate and I don’t know what I can or should do.

—Lost

Dear Lost,

I’m going to give you nonmedical advice, even though it’s clear that as someone who has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, you need medical help. That’s really key here and supersedes my offerings—to the extent that they’re probably pointless offerings without said medical assistance in place. Are you absolutely sure you’ve pursued all of your options for accessing it?

That crucial factor aside, I think you should make yourself useful. Volunteer. Befriend an old person in your neighborhood. Pet dogs at your local animal shelter. Seriously, anything. If you feel like your life might not have meaning, make it your business to mean something.

You should care because this might be your opportunity at life before the atoms that comprise you are absorbed back into the universe. Who knows what any of this means? Probably nothing! I think that as a species, we may have walked ourselves into a cosmic joke that no one ever intended to tell. But oh well, here we are. Maybe not being here would be better, but we have no way of knowing that for sure. I wish I could tell you the point of anyone’s existence, and I’m frankly flattered to be mistaken for something so godlike as to be able to even approach answering such a question, but I cannot. From what I gather, this is a necessarily open-ended question. The point of your existence is to figure out the point of your existence. It’s about the journey, not the destination. If you stop living now, you’ll never get to answer that question for yourself, but if you stick around, at least you have a shot. You asked, so you want to know, right?

—Rich

More How to Do It

I am a 55-year-old straight man. I have a partner of several years (same age), but because of COVID-19 and our situation—we live in different homes, I have kids, she doesn’t—we are in different bubbles. So with the lockdown, I discovered online live adult entertainment on a cam site. Mostly I watch and chat, but it got kind of hot and heavy with one particular person online. Let’s say that what took place on either end, while pretty vanilla, would not be fare for PBS. There was also one private session. To get to the point: A couple of days ago, I got an attempted extortion letter. The summary is that the person claims to have a recording of what took place, at least at my end, and wants $2,000 in Bitcoin to destroy the evidence. The extortionist says they have access to my emails and other contacts and will send the video out to my contacts if I do not pay. It is clear from the letter that they really do have more information about me than I would like. It would be quite embarrassing for this to get around, but I have no intention of paying. Any suggestions about what to do?