How to Do It

I Found My Girlfriend’s Porn, and the Guys She Likes Are Very Different From Me

Should I be worried?

Surprised man on phone with canes in neon behind him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/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,

Me and my girlfriend have a pretty good relationship, going on two years. We have a great kinky sex life, and we love experimenting around. But I have always felt for a while that I was missing something about her turn-ons. I have asked her a couple times, but she told me she already told me everything and that she is too embarrassed to talk about it. Today we went to a wedding, and she had me hold on to her phone; my phone had died, and I needed to Google something for a conversation I was having with someone. Turns out she forgot to close her incognito. 33 tabs open of “Old man, Young Girl” porn. Tons of it open. Far too much for someone lightly dabbling in it. Several different mediums. Not attractive silver fox old guys either. Perverted old retirement home–looking old guys. Now I wonder, do I tell her I saw it? And tell her that she doesn’t have to be embarrassed? Or do I keep it to myself and let her keep her private attraction to herself? But now I’m also worried that I’m not involved in what turns her on. What’s the most healthy and mature decision here?

— Older but Not That Old

Dear O.N.T.O.,

Your girlfriend’s masturbation fodder has no more to do with you, and her feelings for you, than her masturbation itself does. It’s typical and completely OK to have appetites for porn that doesn’t line up with our significant others. What she watches to get off alone is her business unless she chooses to share it with you.

But now you know.

Do you think you can put it out of your head? I’m assuming that’s a no, but if it’s a yes, that’s your best course of action. If you can’t, start preparing yourself to apologize for looking through her incognito pages (which is how you know that there were 33 tabs and what the men look like) and, after giving her time to process what’s happened and feel her feelings, ask if you can ask some questions about what you saw.

It’s completely OK to have extreme fantasies that we can’t, or don’t want to, actually participate in. For instance, giant fetishism can’t be enacted with much realism—there simply aren’t 15-foot-tall humans running around to be flirted with. And we might find the idea of a gang bang (cock party?) appealing, but never want to participate in one because of concerns about infection exposure risks.

Remember that her masturbation isn’t about you—shouldn’t be about you—and that you shouldn’t have snooped. Remember that she doesn’t owe you, and might not be comfortable giving you, a thorough discussion of her porn tastes. And remember that every day she chooses you, so clearly she’s got some attachment that supersedes any desire for putting her porn pleasures into practice.

Dear How to Do It,

A year ago, my wife and I went to an immersive theater production, and she got worked up by an experience she had with a dirty-talking puppet. On the way to dinner, she mentioned that she might be interested in going to sex clubs with me, or otherwise opening our relationship, when she thought she was “emotionally ready.” While we were dating, we’d agreed that neither one of us really believed in monogamy—we just never got around to doing anything about that, with the stresses of trying to build a life together. I was optimistic. We’d been stressed out and in a “dead bedroom” situation for some time. It seemed like things might be about to get more exciting.

Then, over the holidays, I discovered that my wife had been in an intense sexual and emotional affair with a “friend of ours” for a full year. This led to the discovery of numerous other infidelities spanning the entire course of our marriage. She’d gone ahead and opened the relationship, without informing me or taking my emotional readiness into consideration. I should emphasize that it wasn’t the fucking that bothered me so much as it was the bullshit. My question for you is: How can I explore my own interest in nonmonogamous sex after I’ve been tricked into it? How can I know if it’s even still worth attempting? I feel humiliated and ashamed. I’ve looked online for resources for “betrayed” husbands, and it’s a bleak landscape full of broken Ron Swanson characters. I’m in therapy. I know it’s going to take some time. I’m looking for some hope that I can grow from this and have a rich, rewarding, and open sex life, with all that “open” implies.

— Careful What I Wish For

Dear C.W.I.W.F.,

Have you decided whether you’re going to continue in your marriage and work on repairing the breach of trust? That’s the big question for me—does your desired open sex life include the wife who mishandled the first round of extramarital excursions? If this is the case, you’ll want to set yourselves up for success with an ethical nonmonogamy-positive couples counselor and a robust arsenal of boundaries and limits.

If you’re finished with the relationship and want to move on, you’ll want to give yourself time to grieve and rebalance first. Sever the connection. Move out. Find out who you are as a newly solo individual. Think about what you’re looking for. I’d even go so far as to journal about it or make a list of the qualities you want in a partner and the features you want in a relationship.

You might find solace in books about how ethical nonmonogamy can be done openly. The Ethical Slut is the gold standard for these subjects, though—like all books—there are points that I disagree with.

While you’re healing, spend some time really digging into what open implies to you. If you decide to go reading, think about how every concept you encounter feels for you. And when you’re ready to have an open relationship, talk at length about how these possibilities feel for both of you.

Help us keep giving the advice you crave every week. Sign up for Slate Plus now.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a cis, straight woman who recently turned 24, and I’ve been lucky to be fulfilled in many parts of my life: I have tremendous friends and family, I really like my job, and I received a top-notch education. But I’ve had almost-nil relationships or hookups, and as I enter my midtwenties, I’ve never had sex. Last year, I began dating more and started to make inroads on this front. I still struggle with some of the anxieties that always made it hard for me to date—a bad experience in childhood; fears about the physical pain; insecurities about my performance; and severe body-image issues, as a plus-sized woman. But I was putting myself out there until early March. At that point, I broke up with the guy I’d been seeing because I was depressed from some difficult life events (the critical illnesses of two relatives and the suicide of a close friend) and had no sex drive. I thought I might feel open to dating again in a couple months. Then the pandemic hit.

Obviously, my mental health is still not great in many ways, because, y’know, pandemic. But I’ve spent the past six months seeing a therapist who’s helped me a lot, and I’ve noticed my libido has returned. I really, really want to have more sexual experiences—I think it could help me gain a comfort with my body and sexuality that I’ve always lacked, and my current sex life makes me unfulfilled and unhappy. But the health risks of dating during a pandemic terrify me (as does the pressure of great post-pandemic sex if I start dating someone virtually). So how can I gain more sexual experiences by myself in quarantine? I’ve thought about getting more adventurous with masturbation—I’ve done it the same way since I was a preteen—but I don’t know where to start. I’m also curious about porn, as a way to learn more about sex, but the voyeuristic element makes me uncomfortable, and I’m not sure how to find porn that is respectful of women. How can I (slowly, carefully) expand my sexual comfort zone?

— The 24-Year-Old Virgin

Dear 24 Y.O.V.,

Congratulations on embarking upon a sexual exploration! Solo sex can be incredibly rewarding, and an awesome pastime to boot. I’d start with Betty Dodson’s book Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving. Betty pioneered women’s self-pleasure in the second half of the 20th century.

Porn that’s respectful of women is a little more complicated. Shine Louise Houston has an online platform called Pink and White TV that curates feminist and queer pornography from a number of sources. Shine speaks publicly about Pink and White’s conduct guidelines for their in-house productions and takes an interest in the on-set conditions at companies she licenses from. Erika Lust has a similar platform, but has come under criticism in recent years for continuing to host a scene during which a performer stated their discomfort.* If you’re interested in BDSM, the kink.com catalog has a ton of scenes accompanied by pre- and post-scene videos showing the preliminary negotiations of boundaries and aftercare—you get to see active consent in action.

My shortcut for “is this porn OK?” is to follow individual performers. Find a few that you like and purchase content directly from them or from companies they recommend you purchase their work from.

As for different forms of masturbation, you can start by gently exploring. Start behind your ears with gentle touches. Go through your whole body, finding erogenous zones. Do it again with more firm pressure. Try pinching and tugging on the parts that aren’t super sensitive. Try it gently on the parts that are super sensitive, too. Take special care with your genitalia—you’re searching for new sensations.

If you usually masturbate on your back, try lying on your side and front. If you usually focus on your clitoral glans, get to know the internal structures. And toys are always an option. I recommend Stockroom’s basics line for BDSM props (disclosure, I’ve done some modeling work for them and they’ve designed custom latex for me) when you’re dipping your toe in the waters—they’re decent quality but nothing fancy, and at a functional price point for items you aren’t sure about your interest in. Vibrators do all sorts of nifty things these days, including using sonic waves to create the feeling of a tiny little blow job on your clitoral glans and nubbins that move around like lazy oral sex. You’ll want to invest in at least midrange for vibes. Companies like Babeland and Good Vibrations in the U.S., and Come as You Are in Canada, have friendly staffers who will be happy to help, and there are review sites like heyepiphora.com that have tons of intel on various instruments.

Dear How to Do It,

Recently, my (then 11)-year-old daughter came to me with a poll she had taken online. It was some sort of an “Are You Asexual?” thing, and it decided she was definitely asexual. Unfortunately, I gave a little guffaw at it, and then I told her she was too young to know if she is asexual. The following day, after I thought about my reaction, we had a conversation about how sexuality is on a scale, and sometimes it’s easy to label something but the reality is that many people land somewhere on a sliding scale. I believe that people who are trans or gay can absolutely know that they feel different and do not fit the heteronormative mold at an early age, but is the same true for asexuals?

When she first presented me with the results of this online poll, I assumed that she, being one of the youngest in her class, was observing her peers beginning to experience romantic or sexual feelings and was off-put by that due to her maturity level. I’m a theater teacher, I have gay friends, gay family, gay co-workers—I think I would handle that sort of revelation well. But I don’t know anyone who is asexual, so I have no frame of reference. Does she just still think boys are icky, is she gay but anxious about what it means to be gay in this world, or is she asexual? I love her no matter what, but I want to be a source of support for her if she finds herself outside of hetero norms. So, my question is, at what age can one determine if not experiencing romantic or sexual feelings equates to asexuality? And If she truly does identify as asexual, how can I support her?

— Asexual Is OK

Dear A.O.K,

I reached out to Angela Chen, author of Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. To your first question, she said: “Some people realize very early that they’re asexual and some people realize later, so I don’t have an answer to the age question. Luckily, you don’t actually need that answer to know how best to proceed.”

Chen then emphasized that asexuality is an identity the person declares for themselves:

Aces really emphasize autonomy—the idea that only the person themselves can decide if they’re asexual. Your daughter gets to decide, and this is what she’s told you right now. So don’t assume that you definitely know better or tell her that she’s sure to change. Tell her that you love her and there’s nothing wrong with being asexual and she can have a happy life. (The last part sounds trite, but asexuality is so often painted as a tragedy that it bears repeating). Point her to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, The Asexual Agenda group blog, the book The Invisible Orientation, the podcasts Sounds Fake but Okay and A OK. Encourage her to see whether these writings resonate with her experience and whether understanding herself in this way and through this lens helps her make sense of the world. It might be useful for you to check out these resources as well.

Your daughter might learn more and become surer of her aceness. She might learn more and decide that she’s not ace. She might identify as ace now and identify differently later, which is fine too. Not only does your daughter get to decide, she gets to explore and change over a lifetime, like all of us do. There is no “asexual contract” saying that identifying as ace now means she must be ace forever and her future options are limited. Sexualities of all kinds can be fluid, which doesn’t undermine the validity of any of these orientations. And she might identify as ace now and not change later.

Chen finished with this takeaway: “Just make sure that if she explores her identity, she does so on her own terms and because she wants to understand herself better, not because you—or the world—is pressuring her to explore in hopes that she will discover she’s not asexual after all.”

More How to Do It

I’m a gay man in his 20s who comes from a big family in Texas with two brothers and three sisters. We are scattered around the country, and we rarely see each other as a group except every Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we return to our rural hometown. These meetings tend to get raucous and involve alcohol. The conversations also can get very personal. My brothers and my sisters tend to talk about their dating and sex lives, and we usually don’t spare a lot of detail. I have told my new boyfriend that my siblings tend to stay up late after dinner and will probably get more personal than he’s used to—he’s from a conservative family—and he shrugged it off. But I don’t think he really knows what he’s in for. Should I tell my family to put a lid on it this year, which might single out Jack and I even more? Should I just let Jack experience my family, crude jokes and questions included?

Correction, Oct. 21, 2020: This article originally misspelled Erika Lust’s first name.