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 wife and I have been happily married for 14 years and being that we were fairly young (20s) when we got married and in a pretty religious area, we haven’t been very exploratory with sex. Recently, during foreplay, I changed things up and I asked her to guide my fingers while they were on her, and then we switched and I guided her fingers while she touched herself. It was new and fun! It’s now part of our regular business because I love watching her touch herself, and it frees my hands up so I can grab tight or wander when I know she’s going to finish. Masturbating is looked down upon in our religious beliefs, and she admitted she felt guilty the first few times. I’m not morally opposed to her masturbating on her own (despite these beliefs, sometimes ya just need to rub one out), but I told her I thought as long as we did it together, it was fine.
Here comes my dilemma: The last month or two we’ve had sex much less than normal, and I think she’s masturbating a few times a day. It’s hard to tell, and I want her to have privacy. Maybe it’s in my mind and I’m paranoid? I would like to just bring it out in the open, but I fear she’ll deny out of shame because of these beliefs. I’ve also thought about “accidentally” catching her, but again, I don’t want shame in the equation. Do I just wait it out? She did get a new job recently, and maybe it’s a newfound stress reliever? I feel a little like I’ve been replaced but I love her and want to do what’s right for both of us.
—Beating Around the Bush
Dear Beating Around the Bush,
Masturbation doesn’t replace a partner. You bring interaction, surprise, connection, and rapport. You’ve helped your wife discover the joy of masturbation, and now it appears she wants some alone time with the pastime. I think this is absolutely healthy. Maybe you’d like to have solo pleasure as well.
Definitely don’t surprise your wife. It’s much better to broach the subject verbally. Go slow and be gentle. Tell her you enjoy seeing her touch herself when you have sex together. Talk a little about your own masturbatory practices. Give her plenty of space to respond, whether that’s with questions or with sharing of her own. You don’t have to have the whole conversation at once—this can happen over a few hours every other week. When she’s comfortable discussing masturbation, you’ll presumably know how to phrase a question about whether she does so alone.
It’s possible that she’s doing other things with her privacy, too. So stay open to that possibility.
You each can have rich worlds of inner stimulation and still give each other plenty of attention and love. If it turns out that your wife is having less sex with you because she’s busy having sex with herself, you might suggest a blend—each of you masturbating, separate but together.
Dear How to Do It,
A famous model recently wrote an article about the publication of photos of her outside her control, and I felt a lot of shame after reading it —the Polaroids she was talking about have been a staple of my solo sex routine for a while, and I had never given any thought to their origin; they just appeared one day on Reddit. And her article only opens the door for reevaluating all the other pictures I’ve looked at or downloaded online where I know nothing about how they were produced or shared.
What’s the ethical way to consume online content? In particular for photos, which is my preference over porn. I guess I’ve always thought of privately enjoying online photos as weird but generally harmless—which is, of course, very easy for me to say. Is there a kind of consent rule for online content? How should we navigate it? And how does that play for mixed-use material? (Fashion shoots, say, or random non-nude photos from online?) In the past, I’ve subscribed for content, but that can also seem problematic, and I start to miss the heady variety available for free online. But after reading the article, it’s clear I haven’t examined this well enough. I want to have a solo private life that isn’t harmful, but I feel uncertain about how to go about that. Advice or resources would be appreciated!
—Ethical Spank Bank
Dear Ethical Spank Bank,
The easiest rule of thumb is “Did the performer or model in question publish this content themselves?”
There used to be a website for softcore photos called Zivity. It had an approval system in which every model and photographer involved had to log in and OK the full set—down to individual photos—before it could be published. It’s no longer in business, unfortunately, and nobody else has picked up this tactic.
Lots of big platforms (OnlyFans, ManyVids, and APClips, all of which I have some form of professional relationship with) have performer-controlled pages where they can control what they post. So if you find performers you like, follow them on sites where they have control of the content feeds, and consume their content there, you know that they’re happy with it and able to remove media they’re unhappy with at any time.
All of these platforms earn income somehow, usually by taking a percentage of sales and tips. The performer is still getting a much bigger piece of the pie than most performers working for studios. And, as someone who has run production studios and websites themselves, 20 percent off the top feels completely fair for providing the infrastructure.
Another thing you can do is ask performers which scenes they prefer, or which companies they most enjoy working for.
There really isn’t a way to easily tell how comfortable a person on set might have been, and especially how they might feel as they navigate full adulthood and may have more perspective about the conditions they made those choices under. I think the easiest solution is to focus on content made with pornographic intention, and focus on what performers are pleased to have worked on.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 41-year-old married woman with two small children. I am an engineer and work nearly exclusively with men. I am attractive enough to get hit on occasionally, but recently I was hit on by an also-married colleague who came on very strong. We started texting a bit, and I kept it mostly above board while he wanted to ask me sexual questions about myself (what position I like, what is the naughtiest thing I’ve done, etc.). I answered the sexual questions but just the mere idea of engaging in these texts had made me very hot and bothered. We see each other very irregularly, but when I saw him last after these text exchanges, I could think of nothing else than engaging further and spend time daydreaming about it. I am very attracted to him. I did tell him that we had to stop out of respect for our spouses, and he said OK, and it has stopped. This only went on for a week or so and it has completely brought me out of my full but otherwise dull life. I love my husband and we have an OK sex life, but I am attracted to this other person on a whole new level. In fact, my sex life in the past week with my husband has been really great, but mostly because I’m thinking about someone else. I don’t want a divorce, but I don’t want to stop texting with this person. He naturally says sharing sexual thoughts isn’t a betrayal. Can I have my cake (husband) and eat it too (continue texting)?
—Best of Both Worlds
Dear Best of Both Worlds,
Newness is tantalizing. What non-sexual kinds of newness can you incorporate into your life? Is there a type of food nearby you’ve never eaten? Can you try a different sort of sport? And what sexual kinds of newness can you incorporate? Is there a certain prop that seems intriguing? Does anal hold any appeal? Do vibrators sound interesting?
Alternately, or additionally, you can ask to open up the relationship with your husband, even if it’s just for texting. You can tell him that you got into a flirting session with someone, greatly enjoyed yourself, and would like to continue. It’s a risk, but I think it’s one worth taking. Apologize for acting before asking. Remind him that you love him, and reiterate your desire to stay together. Proceed gently and be prepared for possible negative responses. Betrayal is a feeling. Your husband might feel betrayed.
Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I have been together just over a year and are very happy. He’s a wonderful man, probably the best man I’ve ever been with romantically; he’s thoughtful, kind, generous, and very loving. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a partner; we have such a great connection, and I love being around him. The only problem is the sex. It’s not great—in fact, it’s bordering terrible if I’m honest. I’ve never experienced a complete lack of sexual chemistry with a partner before, especially one that I have such great chemistry with in every other aspect of our relationship … but there is just no better way to describe it. Where there should be fireworks and passion, there is instead awkwardness and disappointment. It’s gotten to the point now that we barely have sex once every three or four weeks.
This is really challenging for me because I am a very sexual woman, and always have been in past relationships. Sex is an important part of a relationship to me, and I am not shy about my sexuality and what I like in bed. I really want our sex life to be great because I can see myself potentially spending the rest of my life with this man, but I’m also terrified that we’ll be one of those couples that just never has sex and resents each other. In the beginning, I thought we just needed to get to know each other and it would improve with time, but it’s been over a year now and things are much the same.
At this point, my needs are not being met and I don’t believe his are either, and each time we have sex I’m left feeling very dejected and frustrated. I find myself fantasizing about having sex with others. He is perfectly capable of performing; that’s not an issue. It’s more the lack of initiative and assertion on his part. For example, I like oral stimulation, and I often start by going down on him, but when I’ve tried to ask him to go down on me, he claims “he doesn’t know what he’s doing.” When I try to be helpful and encourage him just to try, he gives up after a minute or two. I’ve tried to talk to him about things I like and encourage him to tell me about his desires and sexual fantasies as well, but I can tell that he isn’t comfortable discussing it and maybe he thinks he can’t please me or I’m more experienced than him and so that makes him frustrated or nervous. I’ve even gone so far as to show up at his door wearing a trench coat and nothing else, hoping that would break the tension and spur some uninhibited passion. Although that was one of our better moments together, it didn’t break any barriers in the long run.
I’m trying my best to be sensitive and compassionate toward him, but we’ve hit a point now where I’ve kind of given up and don’t know what more I can do to change things. I strongly believe that good communication is the key to a good relationship, but trying to talk to him about this has gone nowhere. I’ve tried many times, and while he agrees that things aren’t great, he doesn’t seem to be interested in anything I suggest to improve the situation, and he has no suggestions himself. I’m not sure what more to try—I don’t want us to break up, but I also don’t see this as a sustainable relationship in the long run. Marriage is a frequent discussion when we are around any of his immediate family, and I don’t want to waste either of our time. I just wish I could fix this because we truly have a rare and beautiful relationship outside of this. Please help!
Dear Sexually Challenged,
Use all that built-up goodwill and history of care to force the issue. Pick a time when everyone is relatively calm, well fed, and level headed. Make sure you have plenty of time to talk once you get going. Start with a list of everything that’s great about the relationship. Why it’s so beautiful, how rare that is, and how appreciative you are.
Then get into the issue. I know you’ve tried this before, but be upfront and blunt—the sex isn’t working for you, and it doesn’t seem like it’s working for him either. You can’t go on like this forever, but you love him and your relationship is really great overall. You need his help to work together on improving your sexual connection. Ask him to share his concerns with you. Sharing some of yours first might help him feel more comfortable.
If he still won’t talk, make it really clear that you love him but marriage can’t happen without some movement on this issue. I hope he opens up. If he doesn’t, I think you know what you have to do.
More How to Do It
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. 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. One called me “woke Mitt Romney.” It’s really flattering, so I didn’t realize that I needed to set boundaries—and now I’m worried things are getting out of control.
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