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 52-year-old heterosexual man. I was a computer nerd as a teenager and into my 20s, and I very likely I have some form of Asperger’s syndrome. I was always awkward with girls. I had steady relationships, but eventually around age 21, I stopped dating women entirely because it seemed all they brought to me was pain and confusion—until I met my wife around age 25, whom I’ve been with ever since.
Around age 40, a mentor of mine explained what I needed to do to be successful in corporate America: Coach my kids’ Little League team so that everyone knows I’m a good father; mentor underprivileged kids so that everyone knows I’m a good man; never shy away from explaining my anti-racist and anti-sexist politics so that everyone knows I can be trusted; mentor people who aren’t like me, like women and minorities; go to the hottest barbershop in our city and pay for a perfect politician’s haircut every month; buy Armani and Brooks Brothers suits and handmade leather shoes; buy a Tesla so that people know I’m rich and care about the environment. It’s not my personality to show off, but following this checklist has really helped my self-esteem and helped me with clients, and I’ve become a new man. Right now, I look like a chubbier, “woke Mitt Romney”—not my term. However, in my heart, I don’t always understand people and their motivations, and I’m still a very shy computer nerd.
Three years ago, my hair turned a certain shade of silver, and from that point forward, about 1 in every 20 women I work with, especially those in their early 20s, started making passes at me. Our group of eight college interns decided to have lunch with me on Thursdays, which I agreed to for mentorship purposes, but they seemed to be in competition to get my attention, doing stuff like lifting up a shirt to show me tattoos, texting me vacation pictures in bathing suits or bikinis, or trying to give me a back rub (I do not want to be touched in the office). In one lunch with four of them, they told me I was a “low-key Daddy” and went through this list of what was attractive about me to a 22-year-old—I had never heard this term before then. That’s where one called me “woke Mitt Romney.” It’s really flattering, so I didn’t realize that I needed to set boundaries, and then things got kind of weird when I set them later. Now, in recent Zoom meetings during COVID times, there are women who treat Zoom like a private session and multiple clients or interns either accidentally or on purpose calling me “Daddy.”
In one case when I was mentoring a college freshman who was one of our most junior interns, she went into a speech about how good I was to her, how she’d had bad experiences with men her whole life, how my kindness and nurturing allowed her to trust men again and improve her grades, and how special I was to her. The weekend after she left our internship program, she sexted me underwear pictures and photos every day to the point I put my foot down, told her to see a therapist, and blocked her number. Another time a co-worker whom I was enjoying witty repartee with in our office called me her “future husband.” I was too freaked out to report her and just tried to pretend I imagined it. About four weeks ago a woman from our company reached out to me, but I wasn’t interested in responding to her, and she accused me of avoiding her to talk to other women co-workers. I had to report her to HR.
You can see that some of this is incredible for my ego. But I don’t think I understand what’s happening. Other men seem to be in complete control of who is interested in them, but to me, I feel like a pinball. All these incidents were turn-ons, honestly, but I don’t want to lose my marriage or my career by fooling around with an intern. I’m a man, I like the attention a lot, and late at night, I get really turned on reliving these conversations. But at 52 I can’t have an affair with an intern 30-plus years younger than me. At the same time, I feel this deep, crushing regret that no women were interested in me when I was 22 but at 52, as a married father and corporate executive, I could probably have seduced about two dozen women in the past three years. I feel torn because I want to have sex with young, hot women and I seem to be able to do this now. However, I also don’t want to end my marriage and my family. I might be able to get an open marriage, but even then, I can’t sleep with a 24-year-old woman from work who already has boundary issues! I also know, deep inside, that I’m 52, and by 57 or 60, I won’t be a “daddy” anymore—I’ll be an Old Man, so this attention won’t happen for much longer.
Just to confirm, the majority of women I work with are not interested in me at all. I am perfectly capable of telling the difference. I do not think waitresses or the girls at Starbucks angling for tips are interested in me either. What do you think is going on here and what do you think I should do? I feel like we’re going to come back from COVID-19 and those girls who called me “Daddy” on Zoom are going to say it to my face, and this whole process is going to start all over again. I feel like I have to just make a decision before we go back, to either openly communicate boundaries or to ask for an open marriage (and if my wife says yes—and I think it’s a possibility—then give this a try). What do you think?
Dear Distressed Dad,
I think what’s happening is that you’ve found yourself riding the crest of a cultural wave of breathless daddy/zaddy appreciation. The democratizing effect of the internet has allowed people to be louder about their interests than ever, and that noise helps shape cultural mores. At the same time, the distinguished older gentleman has long been prized in a culture of male privilege that rarely offers the same admiration for mature women. Sean Connery was 59 when People magazine declared him the Sexiest Man Alive in 1989. Burt Reynolds wasn’t yet 40 when he splayed out on a bearskin for his iconic Cosmopolitan centerfold of 1972, but he sure did look it (and then some) by today’s standards. At 50, Shemar Moore has never been more doable. And don’t even get me started on Delroy Lindo’s vulnerable intensity in Da 5 Bloods. Has 67 ever looked riper?
Men: still doing great.
I’m going to guess that you always had some kind of sexy, swaggy thing to you—after all, you attracted a wife whom you’ve managed to hold on to for nearly 30 years. You state that you don’t always understand people and their motivations, so it’s likely that in times that were less welcoming to the open expression of women’s sexual interests, you may have missed some covert drooling and eyes that were silently undressing you.
It seems like you have decent perspective already—hold onto that and do not start banging your subordinates. I would be a hypocrite to dissuade you from pursuing an open relationship given everything I’ve been preaching on the subject of nonmonogamy in this space for a good year and a half, but tread lightly if your wife gives you the green light. Seeing people up close often makes people even more confusing, especially when the casual intimacy you share with them suddenly and without explanation ceases. And even the most open-minded wife probably doesn’t envision you prowling around every night like an alley cat whose sense of smell just won’t quit. I think the boundaries of the arrangement with your wife should be set very clearly, and you should practice as much self-control as possible. Don’t overdo it. Nibble, don’t feast.
Dear How to Do It,
I have HPV (like most of the population), and while technically it’s Type 1, my first and last breakout was vaginal. I got it from my current partner, but sometimes I read about people disclosing HPV to their sex partners. It makes me wonder, if I ever were to reenter the dating world, would I really have to disclose that one time in my life I had an outbreak? It’s been more than 10 years, and my one and only outbreak was only brought on by the trauma of birth. It feels really unlikely that I’ll get it again or that I’ll pass it on. But I don’t know the actual risk, and I definitely want to be ethical in any future relationships.
Dear HPV Q,
I’m going to invoke the sage words of my HTDI partner Stoya from an earlier column in which we discussed this topic: “If you have an active infection, you need to disclose. That’s my unilateral judgment.” I think this mindset represents the ideal, and it’s my responsibility to impart it, but I understand that life is not ideal and your points are valid. Something that might make your life easier when you cross this hypothetical bridge is getting rescreened to see if your body has cleared the virus—most HPV infections go away on their own. Failing that, disclosure with the caveats that you’ve touched on here and additionally noting the prevalence of HPV (which makes its stigmatization that much more absurd) could help foster understanding. In all likelihood, either your partner has it, has had it, or will get it, and the same goes for their past partners. That is a fact that bears reminding, and it means that if people are so afraid of HPV, they simply shouldn’t be hooking up. It’s just that common. And the vaccine helps! It can protect you from strains you haven’t contracted, for one thing. Worth looking into.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have been together for 16 years and had a baby shortly before COVID-19 took over America. Probably halfway into our relationship, his kinks started to show. Nothing major, but he has cuckolding and humiliation fantasies, and often wants me to be a little dominant. (We are both pretty submissive, though.)
His biggest fantasies, however, seem to be about pushing me to be more sexually adventurous. I’m fairly vanilla, and though we’ve both gotten off to some risqué stuff, I’m not naturally into pushing my boundaries much. He really likes it when I talk dirty to him, and I used to do this while describing elaborate cuckolding fantasies to him. (If I’m talking about my fantasies, it’s usually rape scenarios of various levels of debauchery.) But over the years, he has been able to tell when I’m “pretending” and “telling stories” rather than saying what I feel is hot.
So these days, it doesn’t really matter what I say as long as it’s authentic. During the pandemic, we’ve fled to stay with family in a very small house to get help with child care while we work remotely, and we are only able to get away for a couple of hours a week to have sex in a car like teenagers. It’s really hard for me to be authentically sexy in those brief interludes; I feel like I’m in an improv class and need to come up with something interesting to say or do. My husband says I just need to be in the moment. The result is that I just clam up. I get scared and uncomfortable and embarrassed, and it can take minutes before I say anything at all, and I usually start with “Umm … hmm. I don’t know what to say” before I get into it.
We’ve now had several instances where he hasn’t gotten off at all and is hurt and angry at me for not making more of an attempt to please him. He says that he spends a lot of time and energy trying to think of new ways to turn me on and explore my fantasies, and I don’t do this for him. It’s true! He does! And I don’t! I rarely think about sex unless we’re having it. I am just not that sexual that much of the time, and I have been this way since long before we had a baby. We had these types of issues with sex before COVID; it’s just that there is now this added time pressure (and the general sense of doom and gloom in the world) coloring our few romantic moments together a week.
I do get turned on and I am attracted to him, and I’m often fine with quiet, tender sex (with the help of my vibrator). I worry sometimes that we’re sexually incompatible. So this is my attempt to broaden my horizons. How can I be less inhibited and authentic in my sexuality? Do you have tricks for thinking up what to say in these kinds of scenarios? Am I actually prudish or has America tricked me into being vanilla? In therapy, I’ve discovered that one of my biggest problems is not knowing what I want in all aspects of my life. And that’s one thing when it comes to my own mental health, but now it’s infringing on my partner’s.
I think you like what you like, your sex drive seems to be lower than your husband’s through no fault of your own, and he is not entitled to your creative energy. His notion of sexual generosity is corrupt. Generosity is not “I do this for you so that you do the same for me.” Generosity is: “I do this for you. Period!” Nowhere in the golden rule is there a stipulation about what the do-gooder is entitled in return. It’s open-ended by design, with good reason: If you expect people to adhere to your high standards, you’re bound to be disappointed at some point. Plus, it’s probably easier for him to spend energy and time thinking of ways to turn you on because he’s just more interested in sex than you are.
Incompatibility could be an issue here. If you were less participatory, I’d encourage you to try—sometimes a little bit of rolling around can get you in the mood when you previously thought you weren’t capable of such a state—but it seems like you’re doing your part. You aren’t infringing on your partner; you’re just being you. If you have sexual interests you want to cultivate, by all means bring them to your bedroom, but I don’t really think that you’re going to induce, like, a piss fetish from nothing. Unlike piss itself, you can’t just bear down and make a fetish for it happen. I don’t know if you’ve been indoctrinated into vanilla proclivities by culture—you’re probably the only person with the longitudinal data to begin to make such a call about yourself—but it doesn’t sound like it to me, given your exposure to kink and relative disinterest. And I’m sorry, I have absolutely no smut hacks. I’ve always found it burdensome when a partner expects me to amp up the dirty talk beyond the spare but intense sprinklings that I naturally provide, so I’m not going to brainstorm for yours. I think you need to tell your husband you are being authentic in your sexuality and it’s time figure out boundaries that work better for both of you.
Dear How to Do It,
For some reason, I have always had this feeling that there is something “dirty” about my semen. This makes me uncomfortable with getting it on the bedsheets, the carpet, or the furniture when I masturbate. For years, I have put a towel underneath me to try to catch it when I orgasm, but this doesn’t always work. I get very anxious about it when it happens. In fact, as soon as I realize it’s happening, I worry so much about it that I can’t really enjoy my orgasm. I even feel some shame about it, as if I’ve somehow contaminated the carpet, the sheets, or the furniture. Is this a feeling shared by others? How do I stop having these dirty and shameful feelings so that I can fully enjoy my orgasms?
Dear Spunk Funk,
I’ve devised a way to test whether I can help you from a distance. See if reading this changes your mind: Your semen is not dirty. There is literally no dirt in it.
If that recitation of the rational truth does not do the trick, I’m afraid your condition is bigger than what I can treat. You should see a therapist and also start ejaculating into a sock. Just put a sock over your dick as soon as you start coming and you’ll catch it it all. For big loads, invest in tube socks.
There are many things that could be going on with you psychologically (contamination worries are common in people with OCD, for example), but it could be as simple as shame. I think shame causes a lot of people to have negative thoughts about their own bodily functions, which may include a fear that their semen is somehow disgusting. However, considering it dirty, per se, isn’t what I would call common. I also think that experience has a good way of assuaging these concerns. If enough people eat your cum and don’t immediately start retching, you get the idea that you’re fine. At least, I did. If you’re not quite at the point of offering a DNA tasting menu to prospective gourmands, perhaps a bit of solo exposure therapy would help. If you try your semen for yourself, you may find that it’s not so bad at all. I mean, it’s not vichyssoise or anything, but semen is generally bland and inoffensive to the tongue. (I strongly believe that the widely reported distaste for it has more to do with psychological reasons than gustatory ones, and I also believe that’s case for the people who just looooooove it.) Good luck out there.
More How to Do It
I’m a procrastinator; my partner is a do-it-yesterday-er. Earlier this year, I was kvetching about doing my taxes. My partner, by way of motivation, said “Get ‘em done and I’ll blow you.” Because my partner is very Good at That, I got to work immediately, but was held up by some missing paperwork. Flash forward to now, and the missing form is in hand. Pleased with myself for filing, I mentioned to my partner that I’d be taking that BJ at their next earliest convenience. They scoffed and told me I can’t expect an IRS EZBJ two-plus months after the fact. I call breach of contract! We’ve agreed to abide by your ruling, so what say you?