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,
I recently moved in with a guy friend of mine, and so far it’s gone pretty well. He’s clean, quiet, considerate, and we get along great. However, since I’ve known him, I’ve known he’s a naturist (or nudist, I’m not sure of the difference). I’m a very modest woman and have always been uncomfortable with nudity both my own and that of others. I’m not even that crazy about talking about nudity to be honest. Before moving in together we discussed this, and he said he doesn’t like making people uncomfortable or being nude around clothed people and agreed he wouldn’t ever be naked around me. He’s so far kept his word, has been very respectful, and has never pressed the issue or asked me to reconsider our at-home nudity policy. But I can’t help but feel a little guilty: I know he’s at his most comfortable while nude and that after living alone where he’d been able to spend all his time naked, that this must be quite an adjustment for him. I kind of feel like I’m not allowing him to be his true self. But just the thought of naked bodies makes me squeamish. Should I just suck it up and tell him it’s OK to be naked at home when I’m around, or am I in the right to set such a hard boundary?
— Guilty Never Nude
So, before the two of you moved in together, an agreement was made, in which your guy friend would keep his clothes on in common areas. And he’s kept to this agreement ,without even the slightest hint that he’s chafing under the restriction? I think you’re fine. Your boundaries and comfort level are what they are, and your roommate is respecting that. This seems functional.
If you want to be extra sure, you can bring the subject up with your roommate. Of course, the discussion itself may be uncomfortable. A note might be less stressful for you. Give him the opportunity to say things are OK or he needs something to shift, and accept his answer.
I want to point out that even though you say that just the thought of naked bodies makes you squeamish, you were able to write this letter. It’s possible that you might be able to get your nudity boundary to soften. Whether you want to do this is completely up to you, and attempting to do so is your decision. If you do, start with something that feels pretty surmountable, like being naked alone in the dark. Or looking at the head and shoulders of someone who is nude in a picture. Maybe you take a minute in the shower to appreciate your own body—you don’t have to focus on aesthetics, you can focus on the good feelings or capability it gives you.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a male in my 40s have been married to my wife for over 15 years, and we have five wonderful children together. My wife has always had a lower desire for sex than I have, but she showed particular interest in it when we were trying for kids. Recently, we decided we were done having kids, and she has refused to have sex for over two years. She saw a therapist about it that basically drew her to the conclusion that she has no desire, and I would have to either deal with that or leave her. (I wanted to join the therapy sessions, but the therapist said I had to find my own therapist—is that standard practice?) When she has told me this, I reiterated to her that divorce is not an option for me as I am deeply committed to my kids and cannot imagine a life where I do not live in the same house as them full time. So, I essentially have no leverage, and she gets angry every time I try to bring it up the subject of our sexual relationship. She says that she would only be doing it for me and that is not the right reason to have sex.
I have a very high sex drive and am feeling very dark and empty, kind of like I have a broken heart that just persists because I can’t move on. I have to see her and want her every day and deal with the fact that she is just turned off by me. I feel like if I go to a therapist, they would tell me to leave, but you need to believe me when I say I WOULD live with this emptiness everyday if it means getting to see my little ones when I get home from work, kiss them goodnight every night, and have them cuddle me when they wake up in the morning. What can I do? I need fresh ideas?!
You married a woman with a significantly lower sexual appetite than yours, had five children with her, and generally have very thoroughly made your bed. Your choices now are tough, and it seems appropriate to remind you that we very rarely get to have everything we want in a given situation.
Your wife does not owe you sex, and you shouldn’t try to coerce her into it. But there is a possible solution here that you don’t mention. Your marriage could become open—with your wife’s consent—enabling you to ethically hook up with other people. Of course, you won’t be entitled to sex with them either.
As for whether it’s standard practice for a therapist to see only one person from a family unit, yeah, that’s pretty standard. It’s a boundaries thing. If you’re willing to show up and do the work, a therapist of your own could be very helpful. And couple counseling is absolutely a form of therapy that you and your wife could do together. It might bolster your communication, and provide a safe space for discussion of difficult topics.
Dear How to Do It,
I have a physical problem that I have no idea how to even begin to address. Often when I’m becoming aroused, I get a sharp pain in my vagina, always in the same spot. It’s so bad that it feels like there’s a knife slicing at the muscles. This happens both with a partner and without, though I’ve noticed it’s often worse with a partner. Since it’s been going on for so long, I mostly ignore it. I’m able to have penetrative sex with it, and though it doesn’t go away during sex, it doesn’t get worse, either. I have never told a partner about it. It sucks, though. I don’t like that my arousal has become a Russian roulette of “will it hurt this time?” I have a vague sense that Kegel exercises might help, but clenching my kegels often leads to a minor form of the same pain and I have no control over releasing it. Basically: Help!!
— A Game of Knifey-Spooney
Please, please-please-please, see a doctor who specializes in vaginas. A hoo-ha health professional. A gynecologist, a pelvic floor specialist, or maybe both. I’m wary of WebMD-ing you here, but there could be something concerning going on and you need a doctor, live and in the flesh, to do an exam. I love that you have all this clear information about the conditions this occurs under, and I urge you to let medical professionals know that you have this data when you see them.
I worry that you may be exacerbating whatever is going on by pushing through it. And I’m not sure why you’re keeping this from your partners. I think you should tell them ahead of time that sometimes you get a strange, stubborn pain, and then cease penetration or stimulation until the pain goes away. I’m very curious about how long it usually takes for the pain to go away, but mostly want you to let that happen before you continue sexual activity. Same with the kegels—if it hurts, don’t do it till you talk to a doctor about it.
I know that Russian roulette feeling—I have a sensitive front of my cervix and a thrust in the wrong direction can put me out of commission for a day—and I want to validate that it does suck. It can feel unfortunate and unfair. I’m sorry you’re going through this. And I’d really like for you to let your partners in on what you’re experiencing.
My Girlfriend Wants to Sleep With Other People. I’m Not Sure I’m OK With That.
Stoya and Rich join Slate’s How To! With Charles Duhigg to discuss how to have an open relationship—and how to tell if one is right for you in the first place.
Dear How to Do It,
I recently started seeing a new guy. I’m not super sexually experienced (I’ve only slept with one guy before him); I was a late bloomer and didn’t have sex until I was 23.
I really like him: He’s sweet, funny, smart, cute, attentive, basically everything I’ve been looking for. But our sex … is fine. It’s nice! But I feel like it’s missing some pizazz. I have a hard time orgasming even through masturbation, so I’m not expecting to hit a home run, and he’s great about going down on me and listening to what works for me. I’ve asked him what he likes to do, but he hasn’t offered up much. He has doesn’t have a super large dick, which initially surprised me (and initially bummed me out a bite because I really liked my last partners large dick), but he’s definitely will to compensate in other ways.
Are we just not sexually compatible? Or are there other things that we should do? I like him but I also want to have great sex.
— Pizazz Please
Sex is a broad range of wonderful activities that individuals can do solo or that consenting people can do together. It takes time and often exposure to learn the depths of our desires.
Given your limited amount of experience, I think some exploring is in order. Porn is one way to see what all people get up to with each other. I recommend Shine Louise Houston’s Pink & White Label VOD platform. Shine is a feminist and queer pornographer, and her Crashpad series, along with the work she licenses, tends towards authentic depictions of connected, intimate sex.
Another thing you can do is read. Laura Antoniou’s The Marketplace is wonderful exposure to a variety of BDSM activities. Nicholson Baker’s House of Holes is an incredibly inventive heteronormative fantasy. And the internet is full of free—and of varying quality—erotic stories to read.
The new guy also might simply not be that sexual, or at least interested in communicating around sex. I’d give him another couple of months to see if things shape up in the sack, and then move on—there’s plenty of fish in the sea, and there’s plenty of bored dudes on Tinder.
More How to Do It
To the outside world, I’m a straight man. I’m married to a woman, and have always identified as heterosexual. Lately, though, I find myself attracted to women, men, and transgender women. I’ve never had sex, or any sexual experience, with anyone but a woman. I sometimes find myself wishing I was single, so I could have new sexual experiences and explore these attractions. My wife and I have a great marriage and a great child. I would never want to jeopardize my family just for sex. How do I talk to my wife about my new attractions and fantasies? Or is it best to keep things to myself?
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