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 met a guy on a well-respected dating app. We chatted on the app at first, before texting. Once we started texting, he told me he has a wife and that they engage in “kitchen-table polyamory”—a term I’ve never heard before. I kept up the texting (maybe I shouldn’t have) until we agreed to meet. He is very attractive, well-spoken, and seemed very clear and open about his “polyamorous” marriage. He could only meet me for less than two hours; told me he “doesn’t do” meeting for dinner; and that he wanted it to be a dominant/submissive relationship, where I call him “Daddy” and do whatever he says. But after we met, it became pretty clear he is cheating on his wife—asking me not wear perfume or scented products, telling me he could only meet for an hour and a half, asking to meet in a grocery store parking lot for 20 minutes then canceling because his wife “came home early.” A lying cheater, right? But I’m very lonely in this pandemic.
—Have I Been Tricked? I Think Yes.
We don’t actually know if he’s lying and/or cheating. His behavior certainly sounds suspicious, and this doesn’t feel at all like kitchen-table polyamory, a type of poly relationship structure named because ideally all the lovers and lovers of each other’s lovers would be able to share a cup of coffee around the kitchen table—the opposite of the behaviors you’re describing.
There’s a really simple decision to be made here. Do you want to date someone who is only available for short periods of time? Who might cancel abruptly? Who wants a significant D/s dynamic straight out of the gate? It sounds like you don’t want that, and I don’t blame you. Pandemic loneliness is real, and I don’t want to discount that, but if you sounded even a little less certain, I’d be trying to talk you out of pursuing anything with this guy and returning to your app when you’re ready to find something that’s more in tune with what you want.
Dating apps, and the BDSM scene, are fairly unregulated adult spaces. As my therapist says, this isn’t Disneyland. You’ll run into people who seem great and turn out to be anything ranging from mildly off-putting to legitimately dangerous. If your submission involves any kind of restraint, that potential for danger is doubly relevant. If you decide to continue seeing this guy, please make sure a responsible friend has his description and any identifying information you have about him, and knows where you’re meeting and what time they should expect you to check in by. Just in case.
Dear How to Do It,
My girlfriend and I (cis lesbians) have been together for about a year. She is kind, hardworking, hilarious—everything I’ve ever wanted in a partner. She’s very dominant, which I love, and she has always been mostly the one “giving.” I was still an active participant—I gave mostly oral and some fingering. She verbally and nonverbally expressed to me that she really enjoyed this. For the last several months, our sex life now consists of her giving me orgasm after orgasm. Don’t get me wrong—they’re amazing! But I haven’t even seen, let alone had a role in, her finishing in a long time. This is by her request—she said that she has vaginal discomfort during sex. At first I didn’t really mind getting more attention, but as time went on I’ve tried asking for more details about what she’s experiencing and checked in to see if she might want to see a doctor. She always gently changes the topic. She doesn’t even take her pants off when we have sex anymore.
The fact that I can’t reciprocate is making me feel so nervous and insecure that I’ve stopped engaging in as much foreplay with her because I feel bad about the prospect of turning her on and then not helping her finish. I don’t kiss or touch her the same way that I used to, because it feels like leading her on. It feels almost like I’m using her. Does this count as “lesbian bed death”? She says she’s still attracted to me, but I find myself worrying about it more often than I’d like. I know sex doesn’t have to include orgasms for both parties, but it always did for us, and I just don’t know how to interpret this change. I want to open a conversation with her about this, but I’m not sure how to go about it.
Dear Bottoms Up,
The LGBT Foundation contextualizes the concept of “lesbian bed death” within the reality that couples of all orientations experience a decrease in sexual interaction over time, especially when the rest of life gets hectic or stressful. But it doesn’t sound like that’s what’s happening anyway. You’re still having sex—it’s just very, very you-focused. We can both form hypotheses about what’s going on with your girlfriend. It could be medical, it could be emotional, something could have shifted about her relationship to her body, or it could be something else entirely. But your instinct to have a conversation is the best way to find out. In fact, I think this is a two-part conversation.
One part involves inquiring precisely about her discomfort around discussing the subject. Establish the boundaries of your curiosity and what your goal is. Maybe something like: “I’m struggling to understand why you won’t talk to me about what’s going on with your genitals. I want to strike a balance between knowing my partner’s inner world and your need for privacy.” Then ask gently for clarity around her unwillingness to discuss the situation: “Are you comfortable giving me any insight into why we can’t talk about this?” If she isn’t, drop the subject.
The other part is about your feelings around being the sole recipient of stimulation. Note that I didn’t say pleasure. It is entirely possible that she derives an immense amount of pleasure from stimulating you. You might start with: “I’ve been nervous about engaging in foreplay with you lately, and I’m stuck in my head about it.” Give her space to indicate whether she’s comfortable proceeding, and if she is, let her know what you’ve told me about concern around leading her on. Let her tell you what’s OK for her and what’s frustrating, and most importantly, believe her.
You’re the best-positioned to decide which conversation to broach first. If one goes poorly, give it some time before you try the other, and use the data from that interaction to fine-tune your approach in the future. Even if both these conversations go well, I suspect that you may have fleeting hesitancies in the moment anyway the next time you two have sex. When that happens, make the choice to believe your girlfriend when she says she enjoys the way the two of you have sex. Make that choice over and over. It’ll get easier with time.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 41-year-old woman in a relationship that’s beyond wonderful—except for the sex. He has an issue with premature ejaculation that I initially didn’t understand two years ago when we started dating. I thought he was nervous and kept waiting for him to explain why sex lasted about 20 seconds. When I raised it a year later, I discovered he didn’t even realize it was an issue. (Apparently, his ex-wife never mentioned it in over 20 years!) Now he’s on medication for the premature ejaculation, and his time is up to maybe a minute. But it seems he’s now not consistently keeping an erection. I would say that size is somewhat of an issue as well—I can’t feel much, and he slides out often, so the positions are very limited. Even with medication, he can’t handle me on top because he comes too fast. He puts in a lot of foreplay effort, and I can orgasm that way, but I can’t help feeling bored. It all feels like a regression to my pre-sex life—just fooling around. My libido, which at times has been low, is now almost nonexistent. I don’t know if it’s because my body has given up interest or if it’s just how I’d feel in any monogamous relationship at this age anyway. We have sex maybe every few weeks, and he’s sensitive to the fact I’m not interested. I could tell after the last time that he was ashamed, and I was too depressed to make him believe it doesn’t matter.
The two obvious solutions would be a) get him to use dildos or b) ask for an open relationship. The latter frightens me because I believe it would crush him (he’s suggested as much, in talking about others). Also, I’m not sure how I’d feel about a sex-only relationship, which is what I’d be looking for. I don’t have time or interest for a romance on the side.
—Losing My Libido
Dear Losing My Libido,
I’m sure this guy is great—you were willing to overlook his lack of penetration prowess for a significant amount of time. There are other great guys out there, with their own quirks, who might be a better match for you. You won’t find them unless you have space in your life for them, and I think you’re doing both you and your partner a disservice by settling when you’re not satisfied.
You say that a request to open up the relationship to get your penis-in-orifice desires met would be difficult to hear, and you’re not sure how you’d feel about it regardless. And while a sex-only relationship can be a wonderful ideal, in practice there’s a lot of safety concern and time put in to find partners, natural growth of emotional and intellectual intimacy over time, or both. Erica Jong’s “zipless” encounters tend to require a lot of preproduction in real life, and familiarity tends to breed at least friendliness. So you can broach dildos or an open relationship with your dude, but I think you should break it off gently and start searching for someone who checks all of your important boxes.
Dear How to Do It,
Ten years ago, my then-fiancée got a two-month gig out of town, where she almost immediately ghosted me for her co-worker. She stopped answering or returning my calls and texts, sometimes for days at a time. This was days before our wedding, when pressing issues about the big event in her hometown needed to be discussed. For example, when I would ask a simple “Where ya been tonight?,” she would say, “At dinner with Andy.” When I would press her on why she didn’t call me all day or answer her phone during dinner, she would say, “It is rude to take calls during dinner,” or “We had lots of work to discuss.” If I pressed further, she told me I was controlling, too jealous, or had anger issues.
I married her. When I met her co-worker, I apologized to him, saying I was sorry I was dragging him into my jealousy and drama, and he replied, “I wouldn’t have married her.” A few years later, my wife “opened the marriage” after she had fallen in love with another co-worker. I was all but given an ultimatum, after being groomed with some Esther Perel books, that I needed to open the marriage or else. We had a baby at this point whom I was taking care of while I worked from home. That affair ended, and she loved me again. But now there is a new man and a new open marriage ultimatum. Again, I am the one who is too jealous, too controlling, too angry to agree to this totally normal need of hers. But I am angry and jealous. Who should I be angry at, her or me?
—My Dinner With Andy
Dear Dinner With Andy,
You’re navigating a deeply complicated situation and having a lot of feelings that sound valid and understandable.
Rich and I both recommend opening up relationships a lot. He recommends—and I agree with—defaulting to the more sensitive partner. I’d add that if the more sensitive partner’s needs feel too rigid or tight for the other, then it isn’t a functional match. And that having these discussions early tends to save heartache.
Regardless, what you’re describing isn’t OK. And the anger you’re experiencing is justified. It would probably help to talk to a therapist, ideally a sex-positive one, but I understand that isn’t always an option. It can be hard to think through a complicated stack of feelings. It might help to examine the ways you’ve successfully navigated complex emotional situations in the past. Did you journal? Is there a friend you relied on? Do walks or showers help you process your reactions and thoughts? The goal here is to get to a place where you can figure out what your terms are—what you need to feel safe dedicating yourself to a relationship, how much of yourself you’re willing to give, and what you want from your partner. You’ll want to let things that feel certain sit for a while and do your best to think through possible scenarios.
This is extra complicated because there’s a child involved. I know leaving your co-parent might not be an option, but if it is—make that clear. Tell your wife that you can’t tolerate this sort of relationship. Make your needs known and be direct about the changes that are necessary for you to thrive. Good luck.
More How to Do It
I’m a guy who is single after nearly a decade in a mostly monogamous relationship. I’ve been dating and hooking up a fair bit, “making up for lost time,” etc. Recently, one man who I had dated/slept with a few times reappeared and began pursuing me again. I responded positively at first but found myself not replying to his texts, and eventually he took the hint, but then asked me: “Just curious, why aren’t you interested? I thought we really hit it off.” The truth is, we did. But I have not replied, because I’m embarrassed to have realized the reason is that his dick is smaller than I’m used to. I’ve never thought this would matter that much to me, and I’ve seen so many advice forums reassure smaller guys that anyone who would reject someone for his penis size “is an asshole anyway.” Am I one?