How to Do It

My Friend Thinks She’s Having Sex With a Ghost

Her quarantine has been rough.

A woman looks fondly at a ghost.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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,

I’m worried my friend actually believes she has been having sex with a ghost in quarantine. We went to college together but have lived on opposite coasts for close to a decade. I’m quarantining with my partner; she’s quarantining alone. Both our cities have been locked down since March. We’ve always been close, but we’ve talked especially frequently during this time, because she lives far away from family and doesn’t have a lot of close friends because of a punishing work schedule. In a conversation in April or May, she mentioned to me that she’d been masturbating while thinking of a man who lived in her apartment in the 1920s. I assumed she meant it as a fantasy, and we had a good laugh. But in subsequent conversations, she named the man John, and she’s begun referring to him when I mention things my partner has been doing, like her stories are complementary: John said this, John did this, John is having a bad day. As her city slowly ends lockdown, she mentioned possibly seeing an old sex partner again, but said she’s worried John might get jealous. She mentioned “John” on social media without explanation, and a mutual friend asked me if she was dating someone. We talk over the phone, so it’s hard to read her expression when she mentions John, but at this point I know as much about him as I would about a real man she’s dating. I can’t tell if this is harmless or if I should have a more direct conversation with her about it. What do you think?

—BOO!

Dear BOO!,

If someone told me they were banging a ghost, I’m sure I would ask, without any ability to curb the skepticism in my tone or expression, “Are you serious?” You are a little more tactful than I am. But I still think you should just ask your friend if she’s serious. She either is fully aware of how ridiculous this is or not at all, and the latter case would be cause for concern … probably.

I say “probably” because for as long as I’ve had an opinion on the matter, I have felt that things that cannot be proven by our scientific method must not exist, which is to say if ghosts were real, we’d have proof of it by now. But then just this week I started reading Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind,* which isn’t about ghosts at all (and in fact is explicitly anti-supernatural) but about the potentially mind-expanding properties of psychedelic drugs. I keep thinking about one of Pollan’s ideas: He says he’s “sensitive to the limitations of the scientific-materialist perspective and believe[s] that nature (including the human mind) still holds deep mysteries toward which science can sometimes seem arrogant and unjustifiably dismissive.” That makes sense to me. The idea that if we cannot measure it, it must not be, is not only arrogant, it runs counter to the ever-developing field of science, which is fueled by continuous breakthroughs. Relatedly: Could your friend be doing psychedelic drugs?

I’m not saying that she’s actually being visited by a ghost—I remain a nonbeliever, just slightly less fastidious than I was before—but I also haven’t been to her apartment. I think a conversation about her dubious claims is in order, and if she’s so convinced that she has not broken from reality, suggest (in a nonconfrontational manner) that she provide proof. Has John left her any gifts? Photos? Anything tangible at all? Perhaps just giving your friend such a task will be enough to illuminate the ridiculousness of what she’s saying. Perhaps she will provide you with material proof that she is actually in a relationship with the ghost. You could be sitting on a scientific breakthrough of your own. (Probably … not.)

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 26-year-old straight male with what seems to me is a silly problem, but a problem nonetheless: I have an average-size penis, but I tend to ejaculate copious amounts of semen. Spurt after spurt after spurt. Usually at least nine to 10. I always have ejaculated this much, but didn’t realize it was different until sex with my first partner, who was more experienced than I was. The first time we were together and I came on her stomach, she laughed and said “holy hell!” She said that I came like a “porno guy” and explained what she meant. I thought it was amusing at the time, and my experiences and partner reactions were pretty similar from that point forward.

Fast forward to the present, and I believe I’ve found the love of my life. We are happy, committed, and planning a future. The problem is, my ejaculation level has severely cut the spontaneity aspect of our love life, which is exciting and satisfying otherwise. We are monogamous, and she is on the pill, but my release leaves a giant sticky mess behind, no matter what activity we partake. So when things are unplanned and revving up, we inevitably have to pause to grab a towel to catch the “overflow.” If I come inside of her, she has to clean herself up because, again, extremely messy. Over the years I’ve seen and read enough to know that this is a problem many men would seemingly like to have, but it feels like a bit of a curse, although obviously not that major in the grand scheme of things. Any suggestions, beyond prepping, that could help?

—Shooter

Dear Shooter,

Despite your super-shooter status, I’m not sure how different your problem is from a more generalized problem with sex, which is that it tends to be messy. Whether we’re talking about a few teaspoons of jizz or a quarter cup, it’s going to be sticky, leave marks, and will be often mixed with the juices of your partner so as to result in a DNA stew. It seems to me that you are just cooking with different proportions than the general population. Semen at moderate amounts creates overflow that necessitates the use of towels. That’s not anything but the way things go and a small price to pay for a good time. You, of course, have the option to not come inside of her and just shoot on that towel (or in something else like a sock), but how fun is that? In fact, getting messy is part of the fun, right?

My diagnosis: You’re fine.

Dear How to Do It,

I am an early 20s woman currently in a committed, loving, and overall pretty great three-year relationship with a man my age. The problem is my sex drive: I don’t have one. Negotiating our extremely different libidos has been one of the biggest “problems” to work through in our relationship, but the relationship aspect is not really at issue: We’ve settled into sex about once or twice a week, and although it bums him out that I never really initiate, our current situation works fine, given present circumstances. When we do have sex, it’s, like, fine—I have one underwhelming orgasm reliably with the aid of a vibrator while we’re boning, and then hang in there until he can finish. Having sex is nice because it makes him happy, we get physical intimacy, and I get to feel close to him.

But I miss being horny so much. I never, ever feel any physical urge to have sex or masturbate, and when we do have sex, it’s a whole thing, trying to trick my brain and body into being relaxed enough to go along. I’ve learned all the relaxation techniques, whatever—those make it so I can get to the point of sex being tolerable, but I never actually want it. It also makes it more difficult to be a generous partner, because even having sex in the first place takes so much work; anything new he wants to try out just feels like another task being dropped on my desk.

My boyfriend is not the issue—I find him very attractive and lovely, he’s not bad in bed, and, most damning, I don’t ever have the hots for anyone else either. I remember being might-pass-out horny in high school (when I almost never got any), so I know I’ve experienced it at one point, and I’m pretty sure my libido was on the wane before my boyfriend and I got together. I know asexuality is completely within the typical range of human experiences, but I hate living like this: Sex is anxiety-producing and laborious, for very little physical payoff. I occasionally masturbate because I know it’s best practice, but that sucks too. It’s a bummer because the few times when my functioning sex drive and my prospects were well-aligned, it was great! It’s like I’ve lost the ability to taste food. If you have any advice on how to fix me, please offer it up.

—Lost Libido

Dear Lost Libido,

I want to believe that your boyfriend isn’t the issue, but you really didn’t sell me on him. “Attractive and lovely”? Sounds like you’re describing a midcentury modern armchair. “Not bad in bed”? You’re killing me here. I know this could just be a matter of imprecise verbiage, but it could also be revealing. So think about that for a bit. Is he, in fact, part of the issue?

Regardless, asexuality certainly is indeed a common permutation of sexuality. However, that you experienced a dramatic drop-off in libido after “might-pass-out horny” experiences in the past is somewhat concerning and could indicate physical or hormonal issues that should be evaluated by a doctor. A doctor could also prescribe one of two FDA-approved medications for premenopausal women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, which I think is a possibility here. You can read more about those drugs, flibanserin and bremelanotide, in a previous column. The reason I think what you’re experiencing is HDSD is because a definition of it I’ve heard attributed to psychologist Sheryl Kingsberg fits your current state to a T: “I want to want.” A sex therapist may also be of help—seek one out. You have many options, so don’t give up hope.

Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have been together for 20 years. He’s 55 and I’m 40. We have sex twice a month if we’re lucky, and normally, I’m the one to start it. He almost always requests a blow job, but never reciprocates. Never. If I don’t, he will sometimes refuse to have sex. He hasn’t done any type of stimulation in years—oral, digital, or otherwise. I keep it trim and tidy down there, so an unwanted flossing wouldn’t be an issue. When I mention this to him, he changes the subject. I’ve tried sexy nighties, romantic evenings—everything just to try to get him to touch me—but nothing has worked. I’ve gained a few pounds over the years, but I am still fit at 130 pounds and 5’5”, so I think I still look good. He hasn’t changed. We both have stressful jobs and work long hours, but touching (sexual stimulation of any kind) and sex was always like a stress relief for us in the past. I haven’t had an orgasm in years. Any advice on how I could get him to touch me again like he did 20 years ago?

—Going Down

Dear Going Down,

I would rebuff his request for head and present him with a request of your own: an explanation for why he won’t reciprocate on you. If he won’t give you oral, the least he can give you is an answer. He may have reasons for declining with which you can empathize, and he’s definitely not obligated to engage in any sexual behavior. But he is obligated to tend to the well-being of his wife, even if it’s just emotionally. Does he realize you haven’t come in years? Tell him! In those words! Right now!

—Rich

More How to Do It

I am a straight lady in my mid-30s, and over the past year, I’ve gotten close to a 40-ish married man whom I met through a work colleague. We’ve started an online-only sexual relationship, with plans to connect physically in the future. I’ve tried to cover my own electronic tracks—it would be quite devastating for my work life if my colleague found out that I was sleeping with her neighbor—so I’m not afraid of his wife tracing sexts back to me. For a variety of other reasons, this sexual relationship appeals to me at the moment. I don’t believe it will be long term, and it’s quite hot. I also know he’s had other relationships outside his marriage. We’ve had conversations about discretion, including from my co-worker, but I’ve never explicitly asked what his wife knows or doesn’t. Should I? I can’t decide if it matters, and I only worry if it would get back to my colleague. Should I have figured this out, or is it his business?

Correction, July 27, 2020: This post originally misidentified How to Change Your Mind author Michael Pollan as Richard Pollan.