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 beloved husband of more than 19 years has accused me of being unfaithful, breaking my vows. I’m not. I didn’t. Nothing can convince him he is wrong. He has started making multiple accusations going back for five years. None of them are true, but there is no way I can prove it. (How can you prove what didn’t happen?) I offered to take a polygraph, tried hypnotherapy to remember dates from the past that he references. The therapy office did some counseling, and guess what, the therapist had been cheated on by three different wives, so he told my husband he was probably right about me. (Not what he told me in our session together.) My husband confided his fears to some of our friends and my sister, causing us to break contact with them. We are still together, but things are very strained. Every so often he says hateful things to me based on his believed untruths. I love him, always have. He no longer desires physical intimacy with me. I could live with that, but I miss our former emotional intimacy and bond of trust. How do I get my beloved back?
Your story is missing a key component it would need to make sense: What prompted these baseless accusations? If it is absolutely nothing, as your writing implies, there must be something going on with him, mentally or emotionally. But in that cause, I wonder how he’s been able to convince a therapist as well as your friends and sister. It is true that you can’t prove a negative, but if you are innocent, then he also has no proof.
In any case: How could you possibly be with someone whose perception of reality differs so far from yours, someone who believes it is acceptable to gaslight you? It sounds to me like what you once had is long gone, and your husband is now actively inflicting harm. Revise your strategy—instead of figuring out how to get him back, figure out how to get out. What you’ve described is abuse.
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Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I have a wonderful relationship. We love to do things together, have frequent sex, and we hardly ever argue. A few months ago, during a discussion about fantasies, he admitted to having once fantasized about our then-housemate while having sex with me. I was devastated. The housemate had only stayed with us a few months until she found her own place, and she’s a dear friend. She pays me to do her laundry weekly now, but with COVID, we don’t get to see each other often. My boyfriend saw this as harmless, and I tried explaining that he literally fantasized he was having sex with the person in the next room over, and to me, that feels like he had sex with her and used my body as a stand-in.
My problem is I can’t seem to move past this. I see it as my fault, as the housemate is tiny, thin, and much younger than I am. I’ve always been overweight. My boyfriend swears this isn’t the case, and he’s deeply attracted to me, he just had a hard time finishing that night. But now when we have sex, I can’t help but wonder if he’s really thinking of me. Any friends I’ve tried talking to about this swear all guys do it, and I should just let it go, but I can’t seem to. How do I make my brain let go of this?
Dear Body Snatcher,
You can start by attempting to shift your perspective. Try seeing this not in terms of what was done to you, but what your boyfriend was actually doing: being honest. Objectively speaking, he shared something with you about his sexuality—such an exchange can be intimate as sex itself. Granted, his honesty turned out to be brutal. Ideally, he would have understood and honored your sensitivity prior to his revelation and he certainly could have presented this in a way that didn’t make you feel like a surrogate vagina. But unless he’s a sadist on the down low, he wasn’t trying to hurt you. Your feelings are valid, but to productively participate in a relationship, it is crucial to understand your partner’s intentions.
Your feelings are one thing, but your interpretation is another, and I think it’s extreme. Just because he fantasied about a woman with a smaller frame doesn’t mean he’s not attracted to your body; some people like variety. Two things can be true at once without canceling each other out. He also didn’t necessarily fantasize about her during the entire duration of the sex act. Few things in life abide by such strict either/or binaries; we live in a spectrum. I think your friends are broadly correct in that many people have fantasies that don’t involve their partners, even during sex, and these fantasies do no actual harm to the relationship nor do they signify betrayal. Had he not told you, there is a chance that these fantasies of his never would have made any impact on your relationship. Thus his emotional crime, in so far as there was one, was disclosure.
Your ongoing sex life suggests that his attraction for you has not taken a hit. It’s giving you tangible evidence, in fact, that it is possible for someone who be attracted to you as well as other people. You can ask him not to bring up his fantasies about other people; it’s also a touchy subject and he should want to avoid upsetting you. But it seems to me that the transgression here is your partner’s admission that he is human, and it’d be better for both of you if you accepted that.
Dear How to Do It,
I am an 18-year-old dude who should be attending college, but alas I am at home because of COVID. I have always been kinda nerdy, more into my hobbies than dating. Despite this, I’ve always been super sexual and kinky internally. At this point in my life, many of my friends are on campus right now, and they are having lots of sexually liberating experiences. One friend even had an orgy basically. All this has made me really insecure sexually. I’m faced with a crossroads as to whether to return to my old attitude of just waiting for the right person to come into my life to date, or actively seeking out dating and sex.
The prospect of being very adventurous and seeking out sex is very foreign to me and feels very unnatural, contrary to the way I’ve conceptualized myself for years. It also makes me really body insecure (I started going to the gym a year ago though, and have made serious progress), I have an alright body, but worse than that, I’ve begun to worry about my dick size and how long I can last. My erections are weak and just barely last long enough to jack off. I feel like I’ll disappoint any women in the future, and I’m too awkward to be romantically attractive. I don’t quite know how to proceed, but I am very pragmatic and progress-oriented and am willing to go all out.
Comparing yourself to other people is a direct route to feeling bad. Other people’s orgies are not your concern. Furthermore, obligation and pressure are among the worst reasons to have sex, and they typically result in bad sex, which will only make you feel less secure about your sexuality. That this has taken on such urgency in your mind during lockdown—a time when the kind of exploration you’ve idealized is much more difficult if not impossible—shows just how impractical this concern is for you right now. It’s wrapped up in anxiety, and anxiety is something else that tends to make for bad sex.
If you don’t feel adventurous, don’t go on an adventure. You really don’t have to. Untangling the root of your desire from that which you think you’re supposed to feel (via cultural messages, for example) is not often easy work—it’s a process than can last a lifetime. This internal discovery can provide its own adventure without having to step a foot out of your door. It seems that you are extremely hard on yourself, which can be very effective motivation but come at a cost of round-the-clock insecurity. Ease up and understand that not everyone is sticking their dicks all over the place. If you want to do that eventually, you will. You’re still young, and matters of identity and sexuality exist on a spectrum that is intricate and complicated. For a fascinating and accessible rumination on this very matter, I recommend Angela Chen’s Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. I don’t mean to imply that I think you’re asexual, but true to the book’s subtitle, the discussions on the various classifications of asexuality elucidate just how granular identity can be and why comparing yourself to the guy over there, who’s made up of different DNA and experiences entirely, is a poor strategy for understanding yourself.
Regarding your weak erections, talk to your doctor. They could be an extension of your anxiety, or they could denote an underlying issue, which you’ll want to have treated sooner, not later.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a cis guy who has generally been very into pegging, and I’m now about to start hooking up with a trans woman who likes to top. She politely offered me poppers for our first time, and I’m having trouble finding unbiased information on how safe they are. The main thing that concerns me is that I have a very intermittent fainting condition (once every couple years), the cause of which has never been pinned down. Should I steer clear, or do I not need to worry?
Dear Deep Breath,
Poppers are relatively safe in the short term in that few people drop dead as an immediate result of their use. The BBC reported that in 20 years (from 1993 to 2013), there were 11 poppers-related deaths in England and Wales. However, a study of more than 3,000 men who have sex with men published in 2017 did find an increased risk of cancer in heavy users of poppers, even after the models were adjusted for factors like demographics, number of sexual partners, and STIs. The most immediate possible adverse effects of poppers include allergic reactions and methemoglobinemia (a blood condition that may result in seizures and heart arrhythmia). Poppers in combination with vasodilators (like E.D. drugs tadalafil and sildenafil) can cause a dangerous, potentially fatal drop in blood pressure.
That last point is why I’d steer clear if I were you. If your fainting condition is related to low blood pressure, poppers could be really dangerous. It’s not like you’d be missing much—poppers are fun, but the high is brief and results in diminishing returns when they’re huffed repeatedly in a brief window of time. I’ve heard people claim that they “need” them to bottom, but I don’t buy it; certainly you can learn to relax if you need to, and it doesn’t even sound like you in particular need much help taking it up your butt. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed negative cardiovascular effects after using poppers—they seem to affect my capacity to perform high-intensity cardio in their immediate aftermath, which freaks me out—and also it’s a bunch of noxious chemicals that you’re putting directly in your body. I don’t mean to sound like a wet blanket (and not even the fun kind that poppers have been spilled all over), but I generally advise against using poppers. Better safe than sorry.
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I hate the sounds my boyfriend makes during sex. He legitimately sounds like a small animal in pain.
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