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 husband and I are in our mid-50s and have a pretty good sex life and communicate well, or at least I thought so. Last March, my husband became a bit more amorous, and our sex increased, which I attributed to the pandemic. I was happy to go along and it’s been a nice perk in our lives. I then discovered he had been looking at photos of naked women and masturbating quite frequently. I was not upset he was masturbating, but that the photos were of girls that looked very young, say between 15 and 20 years of age. I never dreamed he enjoyed looking at such hot young girls, and now I’m really insecure and freaked out a bit. He says he only recently became interested in porn photos because he’s had time on his hands. He says all guys look at younger girls and that they are all age 18 or older and I should not make him feel like a pedophile. I’m in great shape, by the way, and never felt insecure before, but I worry my age is showing and that the only reason our sex life increased is because he was getting turned on by photos of younger girls and not me. I’m also having a hard time not thinking he’s “a dirty old man” lusting after girls our daughter’s age—she’s 19. Do you think I should just let this go or do I have something to worry about?
While it’s certainly possible that your husband is viewing pictures of underage girls (child sexual abuse imagery, as it’s known), his explanation is plausible. “Teen” or “barely legal” porn—that is, pornography depicting models over the age of consent who are marketed for appearing to be under it—is an enormously popular subgenre of porn. “Teen” has been among Pornhub’s most-searched terms for years, and earlier this year, a question I received for this column led me to research the slippery slope in amateur porn uploaded to tube sites, some of which has dubious origins and features models whose ages have not been verified. This means that barely legal user-generated porn might be flat-out illegal and constitute abuse. (After a recent New York Times story on this matter, many tube sites, including Pornhub, revised their policies to ban uploads from nonverified users.) Also of note is a documentary on young women (of legal age) in porn, Hot Girls Wanted, that premiered a few years ago at Sundance before making its way to Netflix, where it can still be streamed.
Why is barely legal porn so popular? An ironclad explanation is elusive. In writing on the subject, people have theorized that youth telegraphs the sexually attractive quality of fertility. Or perhaps with youth comes the implication of inexperience, which is attractive to men with performance anxiety. We live in a youth-obsessed culture, and culture is not just shaped by people—it can, in turn, shape us (given the brain’s capacity for plasticity), creating a sort of perpetual motion machine in which the chicken and the egg are impossible to ferret out. The result is basically one big omelet.
Currently, you have the choice to take your husband at his word or not. Is he generally trustworthy and open? If so, he may well be telling the truth here. If that makes him a dirty old man, well, he’s got a lot of company. Your discomfort is valid and logical—unfortunately, sexual attraction is not bound to logic. If his porn consumption has facilitated a positive change in your sex life, while its root may be disconcerting, the results aren’t. He’s still having sex with you, not retreating and jerking off and ignoring you. Hold on to your confidence. I’d keep an eye on the situation—not via snooping but through open communication. If he gets overly defensive or shuts down, well, that’s more of a sign that you do in fact have something to worry about. And any actual evidence of illegal material can be reported to local authorities or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband recently started a medication that improves his life in every way except the bedroom. We have gone from having sex several times a week and him masturbating daily to him struggling to orgasm twice a week. Sexual changes are a common side effect of the medication, but we weren’t anticipating it being this bad. He complains that masturbation isn’t working for him at all. Mutual sex is taking almost an hour of concerted effort, which is not always a bad thing, but can be challenging to schedule. He is distressed by “head horniness” that he can’t relieve physically. He says getting me off helps but does not entirely solve the problem.
Do you have any suggestions on how we can have a sex life that is more satisfying for him? This medicine is necessary so we are going to have to find a way to adapt. We are a slightly kinky, monogamous couple who has been together almost 20 years. Help? Thank you!
Dear New Him,
For the sake of specificity, I’m responding under the assumption that your husband is taking an SSRI. Though other classes of medication are known to have sexual side effects, SSRIs are the ones we hear about most often—and given your description of the drug improving his life “in every way except the bedroom,” I think antidepressants are a fair assumption.
Since these side effects are so common, naturally a lot of ink has already been spilled on this topic. Common suggestions include adjusting the medication or dose, and supplementing the antidepressant with another like bupropion, an antidepressant that has shown to increase sex drive in some who have taken it. Timing the administration of the drug for after sex might also help. Keep in mind, too, that these sexual side effects sometimes wane over time—if he recently started, he may not have yet gotten over that hump and back to humping.
It’s never too early to have this conversation with his doctor—your husband found something that has worked for him, but it’s not necessarily the only thing that will. His doctor can also test for underlying conditions that may be contributing to low libido and his difficulty in orgasming. It doesn’t seem like that’s the case, but it’s worth a look.
There’s no guaranteed and unilateral method of countering medication’s sexual side effects. All that I’ve mentioned may or may not work, depending on your husband’s individual chemistry and situation. If none of these options apply and the scenario described in your letter becomes your normal—that is, the continued necessity of this drug and the unrelenting sexual side effects that come with it—understand that what may seem like a worst-case scenario could actually be worse. The marked improvements in your husband’s life in all nonsexual areas surely make this medication worth it. Until the time that an invention to directly implant libido into a person is developed, you can use this as an opportunity to explore—perhaps you’ll discover a new kink, or that a new kind of stimulation works (have you tried a vibrator on his perineum?). If you’re able to have sex with some adjustments—concentration and scheduling—well, you’re coping. That’s living successfully. Sometimes fixes don’t come for free, unfortunately, but they’re better than nothing.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a new graduate (early 20s female) who wasn’t having a lot of sex in college. In fact, I’ve had sex exactly once. For whatever reason, in the middle of a pandemic, I learned that I’d love to become more sexually active. There are just a few problems with this: First of all, I’m living with my family since I’ve moved back to my hometown, where I now work. Secondly, the idea of meeting up with a stranger for sex is amazingly unappealing. I already understand for myself that it’s easier for me to want to be sexually active with someone I already know and generally like, and in pandemic-times (where I work from home), it’s not easy to meet people. I also wouldn’t say that I get asked out a lot (I’m attractive, but have a mean mug before my personality kicks in). Which kind of means I’m looking for a friend with benefits. I masturbate occasionally with and without porn, but I feel it’s only keeping the urge at bay. With these issues in mind, how would you suggest I go about becoming more sexually involved?
—Sexless and the City
You’ve waited this long, and with vaccine rollout underway, why not wait a little longer? The specific connection you crave will be far less complicated to forge when human proximity is less hazardous to your health.
You could absolutely use apps in the meantime, specifically advertising your search for a FWB. Unfortunately, though, apps can’t convey a huge contributing factor in attraction: affect. Swagger. How a person carries him-/her-/them-/etc. self. You have to observe someone move through space to be sure of this, and the potential for it not to be what you’re looking for when you get to see it up close makes FWB-hunting particularly daunting in a pandemic. It’s also tough to jump into a FWB dynamic off the bat. If you have sex with a potential FWB and the vibe/chemistry is off for one or both of you, it’s back to the drawing board. Do that enough, and you’re basically adopting a lifestyle of hooking up. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go after what you want, or that it’s overly difficult to find someone that you will enjoy hooking up with repeatedly (and not want the relationship to progress beyond that), but that’s already a delicate balance to strike in a non–socially distanced world. In my experience, an FWB can be a wonderful addition to your life and a natural thing to yearn for, but it’s more often something that falls into your lap (and then stays there) as opposed to something you manifest.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve been with multiple people, but I’m realizing now—I don’t know how to kiss! For reference, my ex’s kisses could be summed up as “vacuum seal, faint mold taste,” and the one hookup I had just sucked on my lower lip the whole time. I know the standard advice is “do the things that make your partner feel good,” but I don’t even know what those things could be! My wonderful boyfriend has never dated anyone else, so neither of us know what we’re doing. Books and movies (and one instructional YouTube video with bad music) have not been super helpful. I mean, maybe I’m just not a kissing person! But I’d like to decide that after trying. You tend to go into detail in this column, so I am asking for some kissing techniques, please!
Dear Kiss Me,
I think it’s not so much about “do the things that make your partner feel good,” which would advocate either a nuts-and-bolts conversation that might not be possible with an inexperienced partner or a flat-out guessing game. It’s more like “do what makes sense in the moment,” given what your partner is giving. Think of kissing not as a performance but a method of communicating. It’s a way of expressing yourself vis-à-vis another person’s expression in real time, a feedback loop rendered in pillowy flesh. I tend to go for a big, wide-mouthed approach—lots of tongue and then less and then much more, a fearless approach to spit-swapping, lip-sucking, neck-kissing, and fluctuations in rhythm. I can tell pretty early on what vibe my partner is sending out and if I need to modify—if someone’s not matching me in the tongue distribution department, I know to rein it in a bit. People, in my experience, tend to show you what they want sexually by doing it to you first (I realize that my experience is particular to gay sex, and this may not carry over for straight people). Regardless, there is a feeling of flow that takes over when you’re getting it right—you won’t feel that someone is holding back or somehow distracted, that you’re on the same page as they are. Understanding that intangible sense of connection may take some practice, but if approached in a relaxed manner without internal or external pressure, that practice could make for a great time. And if it turns out that you’re not a kissing person, that’s fine too. Plenty aren’t, and plenty of them are still great in bed.
More How to Do It
I am an 18-year-old female high school senior living with my mother and stepfather. I am a serious student, get excellent grades, participate in school activities and have friends. My biggest problem is boys. I can’t seem to connect with one. I think that I intimidate the good ones. The few who have asked me out are too lame for me and rather than spend a boring evening with them I send them away. So I got an idea that I know will sound totally crazy, which was to have my stepfather teach me.