How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve been in a serious relationship for 1½ years now. I’ve always been kind of romantic person, and sex was always very important for me. Recently, I’ve found out that my boyfriend thinks about sex with other women. He says he doesn’t want to do that—that it’s “just his mind he doesn’t control.” I’ve never thought about having sex with anybody else. It’s just too important for me and very intimate. We have very successful sex life since the beginning of our relationship. He also doesn’t see anything wrong in it. What should I think about that?
Stoya: So, I also don’t see anything wrong with thinking about people other than one’s partner in a sexual manner. I feel like it’s somewhat involuntary, at least at first?
Rich: If I saw something wrong with it, I’d have to self-delete. Often what pops into our minds is beyond us.
Stoya: Do you know anything about meditation?
Rich: Yes, I do it almost every day, and I often recommend it. Call me a broken record if you must; I think to think of this repeated suggestion as a mantra.
Stoya: Does it help prevent thoughts? Or more make it easier to let them drift away once they occur?
Rich: In my experience, it’s the latter. It helps me manage. It gives me the sense that my thoughts are not entirely beyond my control. The funny thing about it, though, is as I’m practicing this, my brain will sometimes go into overdrive, presenting me with thoughts and images that haven’t occurred to me in years. My mind loves to go to the four-screen movie theater I frequented as a child. Or a grade-school classmate I haven’t thought of in decades will just pop into my head, as clearly formed in my mind as if I just bumped into her at the bodega.
Stoya: Oh wow.
Rich: This is all while attempting to clear my mind, which strikes back: “Look at this!” “Think about that!” “Here’s a song you haven’t heard in 15 years playing on a loop now!”
Stoya: ”Hey, now that you’ve got all this space, have some more stuff”?
Rich: This is all to say that while this practice can have proactive effects on the way you manage and organize thinking, it doesn’t destroy the notion of unconscious or unintentional thinking.
Stoya: Right. Rummaging through the garage of your past.
Rich: But the practiced skill is helpful when I’m stuck on something. Say someone said something that really bothered me. I now have more power now to take a beat and say, “I don’t have to think about this.” It makes that kind of rumination easier to break.
Stoya: But it sounds like no amount of meditation will prevent the thought from appearing in the first place.
Rich: Not in my experience, not so far. It just makes it easier to deal with. And I guess it can alter the tone as well—more happy thoughts in general take up the space of negative ones. But it’s not a cure all. And that’s if you want to deal with it! I’m not actively rebuffing the pretty dicks and butts that float into the purview of my mind’s eye. But then, I don’t have a partner who is upset that these things enter my head in the first place.
Stoya: In this case, I’m not sure it’s possible to cater to the more sensitive partner, though.
Rich: No, it’s not. In this case, the most sensitive partner needs to embrace the fact that they’re dating a human.
Stoya: Humans think about all sorts of things they don’t want to do and interactions they maybe even want to—but won’t—partake in.
Rich: Something that has been lost on our letter writer is that the boyfriend was honest. He could have chose to keep this information to himself, but he shared part of himself despite the stakes. His openness, in fact, suggests a lack of threat in his thoughts, as he voluntarily disclosed them. Were they potentially corrosive—say, an indication that he was considering cheating—he would have likely kept them to himself.
Stoya: That’s a really good point. Open communication tends to imply transparency.
Rich: I think our letter writer would have a much harder time finding a partner who doesn’t think about having sex with other people than just getting used to the idea that it’s something people do.
Stoya: I agree.
Rich: You know, how many people in relationships masturbate? A lot. How many people use porn when they masturbate? A lot. Those people are thinking about sex with others. I also want to warn against finding fault in human variation, as our letter writer is doing here. Just because you don’t think of something doesn’t mean that others don’t. (Yep, I did it: a triple negative.) I don’t think, “I’d really love to experience the glory that could come from shoving as many hot dogs in my mouth on a public stage in a short timeframe,” but clearly some people do.
Stoya: Maybe our writer does have the ability to only think about sex within the very narrow span of their partner’s existence. If they do, it may seem strange to them that most of us can’t.
Rich: That would make our writer perhaps an exception and not the embodiment of the rule. And that’s fine, too! But I think the best way to be OK with the world is to accept its wide range of variation and not take its deviation from your life personally.
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