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,
My husband and I (hetero couple) have been in a monogamous relationship for about 14 years. We recently separated, and during our separation, he had a Tinder hookup. He used a condom during this one-time encounter. A few weeks later, we reconciled and began having sex. I discovered at some point in there that he didn’t ask his Tinder hookup about her sexual history or her STI status, and that they had unprotected oral. I told him he needed to get STI testing done, and specifically asked him to do it as soon as humanly possible. He wanted to see his doctor, but his doctor was booking three weeks out, and he decided to book and wait. I asked him to try Planned Parenthood or a walk-in clinic. He looked into Planned Parenthood, but they only had a somewhat shorter wait time, so he chose to wait for his own doctor. We continued to have unprotected sex during this time, and at some point, I noticed that he had completely stopped giving me oral, with no explanation. (I only come via oral or with toys and manual stimulation, and receiving oral is a pretty big part of my experience. I do not come from PIV intercourse.)
After weeks of waiting, he finally saw his doctor, who Googled “STI” in his office and seemed to have little to no experience around sexual health. He found a sore on his gum but had no idea what it was and suggested that my husband go to a dentist to see if the dentist could tell it was an STI. He also ordered a blood draw for a standard STI panel. When I looked at the panel order, I noticed there was no herpes test included, so I asked my husband to go back to his doc and get that ordered, which he did. In the meantime, my husband did nothing to schedule an appointment for the sore on his gum. Around this time, I brought up that he hadn’t been giving me oral and asked him why. He said that it was because he was afraid of passing along HSV or HPV to me. That reassured me at least. He brought up dental dams as a possible solution, and I was less than enthusiastic.
A couple of days later, he got a positive HSV-2, or genital herpes, test result. (The test used was the more accurate igG blood test for antibodies.) We both freaked out. Despite my knee-jerk emotional reaction, I now realize there’s a decent chance we’ve both had this for decades and never knew it. At the same time, though, I’ve had two kids and gone through some extreme stress and times of lowered immunity, but I’ve never had any symptoms. So, maybe not—it could have come from the Tinder date. Who knows? And we had about a month’s worth of unprotected sex while waiting for him to get in with the doctor. I called my doctor immediately after his positive test result but have to wait a little over a week to see her because of my period. I am getting tested in two days. We have not had sex since his positive test result.
In the meantime, I brought up dental dams again last week and expressed interest in trying them. It had been about a week since his test result and about 10 days since he saw his doctor. Still no safer sex supplies, still no oral, still no sex. Still no follow-up appointment on the sore on his gum, despite me asking him twice about it. I finally lost it a bit and told him he needed to make the appointment TODAY, and he did. He is going to Planned Parenthood, but its first appointment is in two weeks. So, more waiting, which means more time in the no-oral-for-me purgatory.
This morning, we were running errands and I asked him if he wanted to go to the drugstore, not being more specific because we had a kid in the car. I made a stop and stayed in the car with the kid while he went in. He came out, put the bag in my purse so I could smuggle it past the kids, and told me that he got the kind for “her pleasure.” When I got in the house and looked in the bag, there were condoms but no dental dams. I asked him about it and he said oh, they didn’t have them, and he didn’t know I wanted them. I told him I feel disregarded and not prioritized at all. His response was basically a version of “I’m sorry you feel that way, but this sucks for me too—I’ve never been through this before” and that once I get my test results (he’s assuming I will be positive, which I also believe is most likely the case), none of this will matter anyway. I told him I was needing ownership on his part, that I thought he was being selfish through this whole thing. He’s arguing that’s not the case. And I’m left wondering if I’m being unreasonable. I told him I don’t want the dental dam anymore because this went on so long, and I’m not sure if that’s petty. Is it too much to expect my husband to 1) have treated testing (both appointments) with at least some sort of urgency and 2) realize that he should be buying us a freaking dental dam without me giving him explicit instructions?
I know and understand that HSV-2 is more stigma than anything. I know 16 percent of adults have it and most of them don’t know it, and that it’s possible I’ve had it for a long time. I now completely regret that he even got this test! But we can’t go back in time, and now that we know, we know. Is it unreasonable to expect my husband to do a little bit to help me feel as comfortable and valued as possible throughout this ordeal? How can I discuss this with him and help him just admit he’s been putting himself first, at my expense? I’d like to move past this and move on, but it’s hard to do when he’s arguing with me that he didn’t do anything wrong. I have no idea how to fix this.
Dear Damn Dam,
It seems that you are in strong need of affirmation, so allow me to affirm you: Ideally, your husband would be providing at least a bit more support to you right now because, irrespective of who’s right and who’s wrong, you need support. But so does he, and so does your collective unit. According to your reporting, you were both freaked out by his herpes diagnosis (though I’m heartened to read that you can put that diagnosis into perspective). You can’t will the herpes away, but you can control how you treat each other, and that means being extra-sensitive and attentive to your partner’s requests. He hasn’t been, according to you, and that’s a problem that needs fixing.
At the same time, perhaps his inability to extend to you the compassion you need is a symptom of his own stress in dealing with this, which is to say that perhaps his dearth of compassion is a sign that he could use some himself. You’re both going through this together, and your collective disturbance arose as a product of circumstance, not malice or betrayal or gross negligence. The sore on his gum is bothering you, but it is likely doing the same for him, as it is his sore on his gum. Listen to him when he says this sucks for him too. Compassion works best when it moves in all directions, and its walls are not impermeable. You really do have the option of letting it flow.
And yes, it’s a little petty for you now to change tune on the dental dam. You are elevating a prophylactic to a symbol of principle and keeping the conflict going. That’s a lot for a little piece of latex to withstand. Isn’t the point to solve the problem and not prolong it through complication? Do you want the damn dental damn or not? You have no idea how to fix this, so here’s an idea: Pick a pro or con side regarding the dental dam and stick with it. In difficult interpersonal situations, consistency is a form of compassion.
Something that stuck out to me in your letter is your claim that “he’s arguing with me that he didn’t do anything wrong.” I don’t know that he did anything wrong, per se, since the extrarelationship sex happened while you were separated. He should have asked about STIs, yes, but he disclosed the sex, and you both decided to resume your sex life. It seems like he’s been, at worst, a little less attentive to both you and his health than he would be ideally. But all this nitpicking about his foot-dragging and dental dams makes me feel like you need for him to be wrong. I know it’s easier this way: I’m good, the other person is bad, so I win here. But you know that’s not the full picture. You’re allowed to be pissed off, even if it isn’t quite rational. You can say, “I really wish you didn’t have sex while we were separated because we wouldn’t be going through this now.” I think part of the problem might be that you feel like you can’t really hold against him the sex he had while you were separated (and logically, it would indeed be unfair to do so), so you’re finding other, seemingly fairer targets for your anger. It’s just how you’re coping. It’s flawed because you’re human, just like your husband’s response has been flawed because he’s human.
So please just try to minimize the bickering for the sake of getting through this as a couple. And regarding the oral sex that you are now not receiving: That sucks, and I hope you get to have as much licking as your pussy can withstand as soon as humanly possible. But a month without cunnilingus isn’t going to kill you, so again, try to have a little perspective. This will be resolved, and soon. Harmony will make this entire unfortunate (but hardly tragic) situation more bearable. Strive for that.
Dear How to Do It,
I recently got engaged to the love of my life. With the pandemic, we’ve decided to hold off planning or having a wedding for at least a year until there’s an end in sight. We’re both 29 (straight couple) and really want kids. My fiancé would be fine if we had a kid tomorrow and is OK with an “accident.” I’m not. The pandemic has made us reevaluate our lives. We both make very good money and have started aggressively saving to quit our jobs and travel once the pandemic is over. I want to take at least one big around-the-world trip. I don’t want that to be screwed up by a baby. I’ve had trouble with hormonal birth control, and we’ve had a couple of close calls using other methods. I really want to ask my fiancé to get a vasectomy until we’re a little bit more settled. I’ve mentioned it in passing to him in the past, and he was not very receptive. How do I get it across to him that I really, REALLY do not want a baby right now? I think this issue is so hard for me because as a woman, I don’t want anybody telling me what to do with my body, so I also don’t want to tell my fiancé what to do with his. Do I just need to triple up my birth control? Is there anything I can say to get across how disappointed I will be if we get pregnant in the next few years?
Dear Snip Snip,
You tell him, in these words, “I really, REALLY do not want a baby right now.” Couples need not have the same amount of conviction in every belief, but on this, you need to be in the same ballpark. Your body would be most affected by the change of life that is a child—not to mention the disproportionate time mothers spend caring for children—and so you should get more say on this matter. The final call is yours.
That said, most doctors would not recommend a vasectomy for anyone who plans to have children. Vasectomy reversals don’t always result in successful conception. Some combination of barrier birth control methods (like a condom used in tandem with a diaphragm or sponge) should prove highly effective. Depending on where you are in the world, abortion may be an option if there is an accident. I understand it’s not the easiest of choices to make, but it is one that I believe you are entitled to. If it is feasible, discuss it as a potential option with your fiancé. If you diverge on the subject, he may at least get the message that you’re extremely serious about not yet wanting kids.
Dear How to Do It,
My girlfriend and I are coming up on our anniversary and have been living together since May. I’m not ready to pop the question yet, but I am starting to think of a life together forever. We have the same interests, politics, religion, desire for children, and even temperaments. We have never had a fight or even a disagreement. Except about sex. Overall, it’s great, but for one thing—I love using toys, and she thinks they’re silly.
We had dated for three months before I introduced her to my toy collection. She looked at me with surprise and said, “You’re kidding, right?” But she’s a good sport and was willing to try anything I proposed. I don’t suggest it every time, but whenever I open up my toy box, she sighs and rolls her eyes and says snarky things like “So your penis isn’t working today?” or “You forgot how to suck?”—which doesn’t make me feel very good or confident. She’ll use whatever I pick on me and let me do whatever I want to her, but she gets nothing from it, or at least doesn’t show it if she does. She has a very dogmatic attitude. And I quote: “Our bodies come fully equipped with everything we need to pleasure ourselves and others, and I don’t need artificial implements.” I don’t NEED them either, but I think it makes sex more fun. When I think of the future, it seems like I need to pick one without her or one without my toys. I would choose her of course, but I would really like to get her to enjoy the toys or at least not complain about them. Any suggestions?
—No Toys in the Box
This sounds like a very basic case of kink incongruity. Ideally, you’d have the option to satisfy this facet of your sexuality either by yourself or with like-minded others if your girlfriend is not so inclined to partake, but I realize that life rarely gives us the courtesy of realizing ideals. It doesn’t sound like she’s going to be indoctrinated any time soon, so you may have to put up with complaining for as long as you attempt to will these aids into your sex life. Whining plus toys makes for a rather unpleasant playpen, though. Unsatisfying as it may be, you might have to ditch the toys for the sake of harmony.
In principle, though, I do not fault you for attempting to broaden your shared horizons and expressing your interests honestly and directly. Conversely, I’m dismayed by your girlfriend’s ridicule and narrow mindset about sexuality. She is willfully ignoring the broad spectrum of people who have discovered that their bodies don’t come fully equipped with everything they need to pleasure themselves and others. Self-sufficiency is great, but it’s hardly the only life path. We don’t technically need modern conveniences like washing machines or cars, but we use them because their efficiency improves the quality of our lives. Sexuality is far too complex to make such unilateral judgments, and I would frankly have a difficult time remaining in a relationship with someone who clings to such a myopic position. Perhaps a deeper conversation on the matter would be useful. Perhaps she could read some Gayle Rubin, or Jessie Bering’s Perv, to expand her mind, though she will obviously have to want to crack that book in the first place. Sincerely, I wish you luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight 52-year-old man who is finally getting back into the dating scene after my wife’s death, which was two years ago. We were married for 25 years and exclusive for three years prior to that. I’m really not all that worried about finding anyone, or even the actual sex part. I’m actually worried about how much I should trim my pubic hair. I’m not a hairy person in general, but I have actually never trimmed down there. I want to be “contemporary” without making it look like I am trying too hard. Does that make sense?
Dear Modern Bush,
A light trim is always in. While I’m pretty open-minded about these pubic matters, an aesthetic I do not particularly enjoy is what I call “elephant in the bushes”: thick clumps of hair on either side of the shaft. You’ll flatter your size by trimming particularly close (if not straight-up shaving) around your dick as well as taking off whatever hair happens to grow on it.
Right down the middle is the way to go when presenting yourself to prospective lovers. Tastes will range, and I think most people won’t actually care, but you’ll maximize your follicular appeal by neither being too hairy nor bare. From your question, I presume that you do not regard your pubes as a potential source of personal expression. If you’re as down to conform to the taste of your partner as you seem, I’d ask whomever you end up with what they want and follow suit if it’s not too demanding. It’s your pubic hair, but if you’re not particularly committed to it and you happen to settle with someone with staunch opinions on the matter, defer to them.
More How to Do It
My son is 12½. Like all tweens and teens, he is interested in sex, he has access to the internet, and he has gone looking about. My husband and I have had age-appropriate talks with him the last couple of years about how we want the information he consumes to be nourishing for his brain just like food nourishes his body. We have talked about how keeping secrets keep us from growing and how his body is his own. We have talked about how he can come to us with anything, and so far, it seems like he has. But like any parent, we keep an eye on his internet searches and limit the way he can interact with people online. And this brings us to the issue. This weekend, during a quick check of his computer internet history, we found that he’d been searching, er, a very specific fetish.