Dear Prudence

My Boyfriend Masturbates to Nudes of His Exes

He says he will delete the photos. I don’t believe him.

Shirtless man looking at his phone
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Dear Prudence,

I recently found out my boyfriend still keeps nudes from his exes (he’s only admitted to one, but there could be more) and that he masturbates to them from time to time. We live in different states, and I plan to move to his city soon. He is a decent guy, and we love each other. He didn’t see anything wrong with it, but to me it feels closer to cheating than to watching porn, mostly because of the personal romantic history. I was upset when he told me about it, but I also appreciate that he told me himself and wasn’t trying to hide it from me. I want us to understand each other’s perspective. But it felt like a betrayal, especially since I haven’t deprived him of nudes of myself. He told me he is sorry he hurt me and says he will delete them. The problem is that I don’t believe him. From previous experience, I know he hates “erasing history,” as he calls it. For example, he had a hard time deleting my own pictures stored in his hard drive. I had asked him to get rid of them multiple times because I was not comfortable with my nudes being stored anywhere. I’m the type who would prefer them deleted once we’ve finished sexting and to send new ones next time. I understand I may never find out the whole story, but I can’t help but hope that I will be able to tell if he’s telling the truth once I confront him in his face. Should I confront him? Am I wrong to equate keeping those pictures to him not giving my feelings and our relationship the highest regard?

—Forever in the Cloud

You may have a clearer sense of whether your boyfriend’s lying after you two move in together, but I wonder how at ease you’ll feel if you’re constantly scanning his countenance for “tells” whenever you ask him a direct question. The problem here is not that you’re too far away to verify his answer when he tells you he’s deleted the pictures. It’s that you don’t believe him when he speaks. Whether that’s because he’s made a habit of lying or evasiveness in the past, or because you have trouble dealing with matters of trust and suspicion generally, I don’t know. (It’s not clear if he had a “hard time” deleting your old nudes in the sense that he felt sad at your request or that he didn’t actually do it and you caught him in a lie.) A little soul-searching should help clarify the source.

You need to speak to your boyfriend about the fact that you don’t trust him when he tells you he’s going to do something before you move cities. Ask him about his perspective, since it’s important to you that you both understand each other. What personal rules does he follow about keeping nudes from exes? Under what circumstances would he want to delete them? What does he want his exes to do with nudes he may have sent them? Does he consider occasionally revisiting an old gift to be fun or poignant, or is there something else that appeals? What do you expect from him in order to feel respected and cared for, and does he seem interested and willing in the same?

Also, the fact that your boyfriend occasionally masturbates to pictures of former flings may be a point of disagreement between the two of you, but it’s not the result of insufficient nudity on your part. That’s not really how desire works, but more importantly, you don’t have to offer nudes before you can tell him if he’s hurt your feelings, or what you want from him, or to ask him to have a serious conversation about values, preferences, compromises, and limits together. Start talking it out, and good luck!

Dear Prudence,

I’m a straight woman in her 50s. I’ve been with the same man for 20 years. We both had difficult marriages that ended around the same time under quite painful circumstances. I thought everything between us was beautiful. But 10 years ago I was using his computer to check my email on vacation (with his permission) when I saw a sexy message from a young female employee of his. He admitted they’d been having an affair and that he’d been leading a double life for some time, and that he’d been seeing other people, too. He said that he still loved me, that these relationships had started during his long, sexless previous marriage, and that he hadn’t been able to stop, even though he only saw them a few times a year. I ultimately forgave him, but I’ve had a hard time adjusting or trusting him. We’re still together, but I still can’t really relax with him in bed. To be more specific, our sex life has dwindled to a place where mostly I give him oral sex, but it’s not reciprocal. I was so upset seeing photos of him going down on this other woman that I couldn’t stand him touching me in certain ways. Now I can’t have an orgasm with him anymore, only by myself with a vibrator.

I think he’d love to get back to something more well-rounded, but it’s as if we’re (I’m) stuck, as if punishing myself, then feeling inadequate for not being able to open myself up, and then afraid that by not being open enough I’m giving him unconscious reasons to be unfaithful. I’m in therapy, but for the moment it hasn’t helped enough. I do love so many things about him, but at the same time I fear my body is telling me that I’ll never be able to fully be with him again.


I don’t think you should seek to override what your body is trying to tell you, namely that you don’t feel safe or comfortable having sex with your husband. Notably absent from your letter was anything from your husband along the lines of “I’m sorry I cheated on and hurt you,” or an attempt to help rebuild intimacy and focus on your sexual pleasure after pictures of his infidelity shattered your trust and confidence, or even a commitment to stop seeing other people. It sounds like he just said “I still love you too, and you can blame my last wife for all these affairs. Thanks for all the blow jobs,” and left it at that. You’re not giving your husband reasons to be unfaithful. He’s the one who’s failing to give you reasons to trust him, and your sex life has suffered as a result of this failure to establish real, meaningful, mutual trust. I wouldn’t be able to relax and enjoy sex with such a partner in your position, so I’m not going to advise you to just get over it and try even harder to please someone who’s so remarkably uninterested in pleasing you.

In the past 10 years, what has your husband done to make amends for past betrayls, prioritize your needs, and reestablish safe, loving physical intimacy? Has he seen a therapist, either with you or by himself? Has he done any meaningful emotional work about the pain he’s caused you or dedicated himself to making sure he doesn’t repeat those same patterns again in the future? I’d encourage you to question why it seems to be your sole responsibility to clean up the mess your husband made and to imagine what relief might you experience if you stopped blaming yourself for not trusting someone untrustworthy.

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Dear Prudence,

I always figured my hair stylist and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on political issues, but we kept our conversation to our personal lives, movies, and TV shows. She’s a genuinely nice person and I’m certain she’s kind to everyone. Then I saw that recently on social media she attacked Nancy Pelosi when she got her hair cut. I just can’t go back to her as if nothing happened. I can’t go back at all. Do I ghost her or tell her what I’m switching stylists? I don’t really want to make her feel bad, because she’s not a bad person. We just disagree.

—Politics and Pomade

I’m curious what made you figure that you two disagreed politically in the past but didn’t think was worth discussing! What was it about this particular instance that pushed things over the edge for you? (One might argue it’s a relatively unimportant story in the grand scheme of things.) But unless your hairdresser deployed unusually cruel language or used it as an excuse to dismiss something deeply important, her criticism of a powerful public figure for where and when she got her hair cut—especially when the critic is herself a hairdresser—isn’t outside of the realm of civil discourse. That said, you’re perfectly entitled to dislike what she said, or how she said it, or why she chose to fix her attention on a politician’s haircut if she’s ignored other matters of public concern.

This woman has been your hair stylist for a few years, not your closest confidant, so you certainly don’t have to set up a heartfelt exit interview before scheduling your next appointment with someone else. You owe it to your hairstylist to show up on time, tip well, and provide her with some hair to cut—not lifelong fealty. I’d encourage you to at least imagine what it might be like to say something to her, rather than disappear without a word. (She might be puzzled if you did.) But making sure she doesn’t feel bad is not a sustainable goal, even in this relatively low-impact relationship. If you do talk to her, be polite, don’t overstate your case or lob unfounded accusations at her, but it’s not within your power to make sure she always feels good. If you want to make it clear you think well of her generally, but strongly disagree with her latest social media post and believe what she said was wrong, just say that.

Help! My Relatives Call Every Day to Beg Me to Save My Abusive Dad’s Life.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Emily VanDerWerff on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence, 

I work for a large behavioral health organization in admissions. I coordinate scheduling with the staff at one of the clinics, including one person who later became front-office manager. She has a rude way of responding to group emails with questions that might be directed at me, but she never addresses me directly the way others do when they ask for my assistance or even uses my name. It’s very weird for me, and I have taken to ignoring her in response, although it’s confusing to understand if she is even doing this on purpose. I do not know her well, but what I do know of her is not great. She announced loudly and aggressively in a meeting that “they” (meaning their clinic and front office staff) do not need “INTAKE” (a reference to me, I believe). Is there a more effective way for me to address her rudeness? I have tried addressing her by her name, but she does not seem to notice or change this way of doing things (like responding in kind as a typical person might do). The majority of my other interactions with clinicians and other staff are more polite, so she is also bucking the norm and seems to ignore these examples of better behavior. I have not been direct with her, due to not even being sure what she is trying to do, and also because I expect a bad reaction and do not want to waste my energy on her.

—Email Etiquette

If you’re not sure she’s referring to you in an email, then give yourself the gift of not worrying about it and let it go. If she sometimes replies to group emails with a general, open-ended question, and you decide not to answer it, I don’t think you then have to worry about getting “direct with her,” because there’s nothing to get direct about. Let someone else answer it, or let her figure it out on her own. If she’s asking questions that only you could possibly answer, I can see how that would be annoying. In that case—but only in that case!—let her know politely that you can handle questions along those lines in the future and encourage her to contact you directly. But if these are questions that someone else might reasonably be expected to respond to and she’s addressing the group, my advice is once again to let it go. If you’re having an ongoing conversation with her and she’s being rude, or if she’s come to you with a specific request and she’s pointedly avoiding using your name, then by all means speak up. But you don’t have to explode in order to let her know you’d like her to ask you directly if she needs something from you. You can (and should!) do so professionally and politely.

I’m not surprised you expect a “bad reaction” should you confront her over this. Maybe she is insensitive or bad at communicating, but I think you’re hanging on to this grudge too tightly. You don’t have to like her or go out of your way to befriend her. And it doesn’t sound like you have to interact with her very often, and if she’s going out of her way to give you a wide berth, why not return the favor? It’ll make your work life a lot easier.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I think it’s unfair to expect someone to adhere to your expectations about what a ‘typical person’ does.”
Danny Lavery and special guest Alicia Harris discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

Eight years ago, I was trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship that got so bad I strongly considered suicide. I had a plan and took steps toward carrying it out. Luckily, I told my closest friend, who immediately took me to a therapist and got me help. I managed to get out of that relationship and move away for a fresh start. Now I have my dream job and a new partner, “Taylor,” who treats me wonderfully, and whom I hope to marry. I’ve told Taylor about my past depression but they don’t know about my suicidal crisis. I’m torn about whether to disclose. On the one hand, I’m miles away from that awful state, which was only brought on by that abusive relationship. I also know I can’t predict the future, and there might come a time when Taylor could need to know about my past to help ensure my safety.

On the other hand, I’ve disclosed my bout of suicidal ideation to two other people in the past eight years, and it permanently altered our relationship. Both ended up treating me with kid gloves, and I felt like they stopped seeing me as a strong, resilient person. I don’t want that to happen with Taylor. Taylor is very progressive and open-minded—but so were the other two. Should I reveal the extent of my past depression to Taylor? Or continue to lie by omission?

—Whose Business and When

I don’t believe that you are “lying by omission.” I imagine you want Taylor to know you intimately, deeply, and well, which includes your personal history before the two of you met. But that doesn’t mean that you owe any romantic partner an inspection report, as if you were a house on the market. Taylor has all the important facts, not only that eight years ago you were in an abusive relationship and suffered from a resultant depression, but that you’ve been “miles away” from that depression for many years and are currently thriving. If you were to suffer from depression again in the future, you would have numerous resources, from your friends to your doctor to your former therapist, so you needn’t worry that Taylor is the only person who could help you find effective treatment in that event. The fact that you had seriously considered suicide once nearly a decade ago while stuck in an abusive relationship—a fairly significant extenuating circumstance—might be relevant information for your medical team, but wouldn’t necessarily prohibit whatever kind of treatment you’d receive in a future depressive episode.

None of which is to say that you shouldn’t discuss your experience with Taylor—merely that you’re not honor-bound to disclose, and that if you decide to share the outlines with them, you’re not obligated to relay every detail. I imagine you’d feel maximal relief and minimal anguish if you considered telling them what you told me (although only when and if you feel moved to do so): that your last depressive episode was very closely tied to an abusive relationship, that you needed significant care as a result, that a close friend helped you get it, and that while you’re doing much better now, you’re often reluctant to share this with others, because on more than one occasion, someone close to you started treating you like a porcelain doll once you opened up. Letting them know what you do need (empathy, a listening ear) and what you don’t (constant worrying, increased delicacy, fear that you’re going to tumble into a mental health crisis on a moment’s notice) should go a long way toward putting you at your ease.

Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit YouGet it from Slate

Dear Prudence,

I’ve lived in the U.S. for 10 years on a visa. I recently got married, which is very exciting. I love my spouse, and I am glad that we are less likely to be separated now. However, a number of friends and even casual acquaintances find it appropriate to ask whether I’ve started “the paperwork,” how the paperwork is going, and so on, seemingly out of nowhere. These questions prompt my immigration-related anxiety, hard. It’s an incredibly stressful, humiliating, invasive, and drawn-out process, and I really don’t want to make small talk about it. How can I politely tell people to stop asking without necessarily disclosing that the very subject is traumatic and anxiety-inducing for me?

—Amateur Immigration Officials

For casual acquaintances and people you’re unlikely to see again, striking a tone somewhere between “airily dismissive” and “bored to death” should do the trick: “Oh, it’s mostly just a matter of signing about a hundred different forms. I think I’m on form No. 78 or so, but it’s duller than the DMV.” If you’re worried that your manner might betray your anxiety, practice adopting a slightly artificial archness of tone, so you have something to focus and distract you. When it comes to your friends, you can either deputize one to spread the word on your behalf (“Please don’t ask her about immigration paperwork. It’s a nightmarishly endless bureaucratic process and she’s had to field so many questions about it ever since the wedding”), or simply say, “It’s the worst combination of boring and stressful, and I’d rather talk about anything else. You’d be doing me such a favor by telling me what you’re reading these days” (or any other small-talk topic that comes to mind).

Classic Prudie

My wife is nine months pregnant and we are planning a home birth. Our team of two midwives came to our house to do a home visit last week, and shamed us for about 30 minutes when we let them know we would be vaccinating our baby. One of them (whom we’ve only met twice before) was adamant that we weren’t considering the safety and health of our child. I almost kicked her out of our house, I was so angry. Now I’m nervous my wife will be on edge about their judgment when the whole point of a home birth for us was so she’d feel more relaxed. I know it’s very late in the game, but should we be looking for a new birth team?