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 a single father in my late 30s interested in getting back into the dating game following a two-year hiatus. As someone who spent most of his 20s involved in making pornographic movies, I’ve spent my 30s normalizing sex and relationships. As an extremely well-endowed man, I came to accept the idea for a long time that I would never serve more than one purpose to a woman and that a serious, committed relationship was just not in the cards for me—that I was essentially a novelty act for curious women. I don’t want to give a potential partner the impression that sex is unimportant to me, but I also don’t want to feel like I’m being used for that one specific reason either. After so many instances of dating a woman until she can find out for herself if bigger really is better, I’m starting to lose hope that anyone will ever see me as a legitimate partner and not just a fun story to gossip to their girlfriends about. How should I approach the subject without scaring off a potential partner?
—More Than a D
Dear More Than a D,
No dick is so big that it has to precede your entry into a room, at least with properly fitting pants. I suspect that commodifying your body may have affected your perception of your worth. If you have more to offer than a giant schlong, then offer that stuff upfront. Foster emotional connection. Go on multiple dates without having or even talking much about sex. To do so will not necessarily imply that you are uninterested in sex, just that you’re interested in a relationship being about more than sex, which is exactly what you are in this stage in your life. You are not an enormous penis, you’re just a guy who has one—show who you are as a person and let your endowment be a bonus to those who like that sort of thing.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband has a physical disability. I love him, and our sex life is OK. We aren’t intimate too often, but when we are, the sex is fun, intense, loving, pleasurable, and adventurous. I am very attracted to him, and his disability does not change that at all.
The issue is that he has fetishized his disability. He watches and reads porn exclusively related to his disability. He is interested in bringing disability play into the bedroom and wants me to roleplay as someone with his physical disability. I am not into it, and it makes me uncomfortable even thinking about it. I don’t want to shame him for his kink. I also don’t want to shame him for his disability. But it keeps coming up in the bedroom, and it isn’t for me! His disability isn’t a problem—it just isn’t something I want to focus on in the bedroom. How do I work around the disability fetish, while still embracing the disability?
Dear Disability Play,
Sex, particularly with a long-term partner, is often a negotiation. I don’t think anyone should do something that they aren’t OK with or that makes them uncomfortable, but sometimes doing your partner a solid by performing an act that you are not otherwise inclined to but aren’t against, per se, is a way of being generous with someone that you care about. I think when these requests go beyond the realm of the mechanical and into that of the abstract—dirty talk, role play—they become tall orders that some are simply incapable of fulfilling for lack of creative bandwidth. It’s one thing to lack a foot fetish but indulge your partner’s because it makes him happy; it’s a far different thing to devise and execute a scene on the spot.
So I do think that your husband is asking a lot from you. He should acknowledge your discomfort and realize that he’s expecting you to tap into a skill set that you simply may not have. For some concrete solutions, I contacted Moushumi Ghose, a psychotherapist and the founder and director of Los Angeles Sex Therapy, a sex therapy clinic that counts fetishes among its areas of expertise. Ghose suspects you may be viewing this situation from an ableist perspective—i.e., seeing disabled bodies as less than ideal, or something not to have a “problem” with—and suggested first examining your own prejudices, as play involving your husband’s disability could be healing for him. “She is opting out of ‘fetish’ play which focuses on his disability, but her husband does not have that opportunity or privilege. He cannot ‘opt out’ from his disability,” she explained via email.
Ghose recommends remaining open and curious, examining how this play may help him as opposed to how it affects you—but within reason. “If she is concerned that this is an unhealthy obsession with the disability, or if she senses that it’s not helping, or is perpetuating something that feels unhealthy, then it would be certainly important for her to have conversations and communication around it,” she wrote. “But rejecting the play around the disability as a ‘fetish’ without first trying it out, and then not talking about it, could do more harm than good.”
Ultimately, more communication is in order for mutually satisfying negotiation. “Together, they can brainstorm ideas which make both of them comfortable, and talk about the ones that don’t,” she wrote. “Relationships are not about avoiding the difficult conversations, but instead about having the difficult conversations. These difficult conversations, while uncomfortable and awkward and maybe even tense, can build trust and intimacy, and are the key to growth in any relationship, if both parties lean in with a desire to learn, understand and grow.” I believe there’s a middle ground to find—something that isn’t entirely taxing or uncomfortable for you that embraces his disability and scratches his itch. So get to talking.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight married man in my 40s. Porn has been a comfort for me for a long time. Since at the age of about 6, I have been exposed to seemingly confident and beautiful women in the nude. I don’t like to see women denigrated at all, and really enjoy porn most where women are enjoying themselves whether by their self-expression or during sex. This part of a person’s persona was always something I was fascinated by and just isn’t seen in daily life. I know “porn addiction” doesn’t exist, but it is hard to find other ways to fill this niche in my life the way porn does.
I also believe that anxiety and guilt about my porn viewing have led to OCD symptoms I have struggled with since high school. I have never cheated, but I do worry porn could be a path to that. I could always compartmentalize porn viewing in my life so it is not happening when unsafe, but viewing is a daily occurrence.
I am married to a fantastic woman with wonderful kids, and life is as good as it can be in light of current affairs. She is not as interested in sex as I am, and over the years has become less accepting of porn. I am getting caught looking at softcore stuff by my wife and children, and honestly feel a lot of shame and remorse about it. I don’t want this to hurt people I love at all, and it really is not sustainable. But the place where porn fills in my interests is not replaceable though with other other, more socially appropriate hobbies.
I have tried self-help groups and therapy. The former is so extremely anti-porn I see my OCD getting worse with guilt and anxiety. Therapy has been plagued by endless counseling and self-affirmation, which really goes nowhere, and I have actually been bullied by doctor’s office staff over it when they read my chart. I don’t see either route as effective. I need to stop but with my long history—I don’t see this ending well. Could you help me with putting porn in context here?
Porn addiction, as you acknowledge, isn’t officially recognized in the DSM. But as you also are aware, anything that feels good is subject to overuse. I wonder if porn provides a means for you to dissociate from or soothe what seems to be an overwhelming amount of anxiety. That’s to say your porn use may be a symptom of bigger issues, including sexual ones, OCD, and anxiety. There are therapists that specialize in problematic relationships with porn, and you could Google around for one, but I think you might have better luck with seeking help for your other issues.
In the meantime, I think you could manage your porn use better. By maintaining your own private space and using porn only when your family isn’t around or awake, you could greatly reduce the chances of getting caught. That really shouldn’t be happening, and I wonder if your wife’s diminishing tolerance of your porn use is directly related. You wrote that you “always compartmentalize porn viewing in my life so it is not happening when unsafe,” but that’s just not true if people are walking in on your gawking. Compartmentalize better.
I do get a sense that you see this as your cross to bear, but it really doesn’t have to be. You’re dissatisfied by both the suggestion of abstinence and the affirmation you have received—what exactly would make you happy? Plenty of people with healthy sex lives consume porn and have been doing so for years. Having a relationship with porn doesn’t have to be something you feel bad about—it isn’t inherently evil or destructive. But shame is corrosive, and you’re better off getting at the root of that. I’d be willing to bet that it goes deeper than porn.
Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I have been together for almost a year. My boyfriend is 5’9”, chubby but buff and I am 5’3”, a little chubby but I hold my weight well. When we met, the first thing I liked about him was how nicely our bodies fit together. However, ever since, he’s gone to the gym less and focused less on eating healthfully.
About three to fours months into our relationship, he had gained a full 30 pounds and resented me for it. He told me he didn’t go to the gym because he wanted to give that time to me instead, and said he was eating unhealthy food because I’m the one who always chose what to eat. He was angry, would say very hurtful things, and although it hurt my feelings, I tried my best to help him: I made healthy food instead of going out; we tried working out together; I reminded him that his body was beautiful and encouraged him to work out and to focus on himself.
Long story short, his unhealthy habits thrived during quarantine. Now, for the past four months, he’s been projecting a lot of negativity on me. I know he doesn’t owe me any thanks for what I do and did for him, but what he’s been doing has been a slap in the face to my position as his girlfriend. He’s been catching an attitude and it could go as far as him yelling at me over a bag of chips. His sleep schedule is so off that he’s waking up in the afternoon, and when I arrive to his place for a date, he’s still asleep, and sadly, he’s kinda letting go of himself. I feel shallow for caring, but it’s becoming unattractive to me that his problems are coming between us AND he’s not taking care of himself physically.
I love him, and I’ve been trying to be as understanding as possible. I know he’s probably just acting out because he feels that he doesn’t LOOK good, so he continues to not feel good about himself, which causes him to feel tired, sad, and hopeless. It just hurts that he won’t change and doesn’t see how much this is hurting me. I wish he’d change for his and our sake, or at least just be more mindful and respectful in that process. I don’t know what I could do anymore.
—Questioning in Quarantine
I wonder how you would view the situation if he weren’t acting out but merely gaining weight while treating you with kindness. His taking his frustrations out on you is way more alarming to me than him putting on some weight during a time when people are stressed out and stuck inside and mainlining carbs. There’s a cultural bulkening underway and making like an elastic waist on a pair of sweatpants, so giving your partner some leeway seems to me the most compassionate course of action. Under no circumstances do you deserve to be denigrated, blamed for his weight gain, or yelled at over chips, but is there any detectable rationale for his ire, exaggerated as its expression may be? Could your support methods be perceived as judgmental, coercive, or punishing? I’m not seeing it in your description, but I urge you to empathize with him as best you can. Figuring out his motivation will help you determine whether he’s a good guy going through a rough time or a person whose inability to manage his anger makes him an unsuitable partner for you.
Unfortunately, I suspect it’s the latter. I think that you’re being mistreated after going above and beyond to help him. I think he’s being selfish and unappreciative. Hurt people hurt people, sure, but you don’t have to stick around and absorb the pain he is dishing out, even if it’s in desperation. Enough of that can start to seem sadistic, even if you know exactly where it’s coming from and why.
A serious conversation about the future of your relationship is in order. If he’s unable to set goals, unwilling to change or accept responsibility for the hurt he causes, he’s showing you who he is—and will be no matter what the scale reads.