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’ve noticed a trend on social media of teens taking videos of themselves with the sounds of their parents having sex in another room. They have a look of horror on their faces, with a text that says, “Please say they are clapping!!” I find this incredibly rude and just gross. My husband and I have a 14-year-old who looks at TikTok all the time. To our frustration, we have had very quiet sex for years so our kids don’t hear us. I like to think that my daughter wouldn’t take a video of the sounds of our bed squeaking (or even notice if it does), but I don’t know, since teens now want to get likes even if it’s at other people’s expense. We both find it distracting and have become a little paranoid. Her phone is taken away at night, but having three kids of varying ages, we are too tired to consider sex at the wee hours. I have no idea how to have a sex life anymore. In normal times we would just wait until they all were in school, but they are all virtual all year. We sadly joke that come August things will be normal again, but neither of us want to wait that long! Any suggestion on how to get over this is much appreciated.
We’re living in a worrisome time. Anxiety clouds forming over the big stuff have a way of raining down on all the little stuff, too. But I think your description of paranoia is pretty apt.
I checked my instincts with Dan Kois, a Slate writer and co-host of the Mom and Dad Are Fighting parenting podcast. Here’s what he had to say: “I’m sure somewhere on TikTok, some teen is posting such a mortifying video, but it’s not as if your child has shown any interest in doing so. Have you talked with your children about respecting other people’s privacy on social media? One thing you certainly ought to do if you have concerns about your kids’ posting is make it clear to them that your family’s values include not exploiting other family members for content without their permission.”
So you don’t necessarily have to take the painfully embarrassing tactic of directly telling your kids they shouldn’t post videos reacting to the sounds of their parents having sex. You can make more of a blanket statement about privacy and permission to record. The latter should sufficiently imply the former. And this lesson about asking people for consent is a good one to instill regardless.
Dan continues, addressing your angst: “It’s normal to feel a little uncomfortable about your kids hearing you have sex, but you seem to have let that anxiety overwhelm your sex life. If your kids hear you, it is not the end of the world. They might be squicked out, sure, but you’re not traumatizing them; you’re providing incidental evidence of a healthy, loving sexual relationship as it exists in the real world. Wake up early in the morning when your teens are still asleep, brush your teeth, lock your door, turn on a white noise machine, and go to it.”
You also might institute a “mom hour” during which you get uninterrupted privacy. You don’t necessarily need to use that hour amorously, but it sounds like you could use some time with yourself to relax.
Dear How to Do It,
I wasn’t allowed to date in high school, had a brief and lousy relationship in college, and then met and married the first man who was nice to me. He was a great person, but our 20-year relationship was much more a partnership in raising our daughter and building a small farm than anything resembling a marriage. He was 24 years older than me and had much more life experience, which basically boiled down to a minimal sex life (four to five times a year) for the first 12 years and zero intimacy for the last eight. I’ve struggled with mental illness for years and turned his lack of desire for me into a meh attitude about sex in general. He passed away four years ago. A year later, l had a brief, lousy relationship with someone who l learned quickly was addicted to sex, drugs, the pursuit of money, and himself, and l ditched that loser after six months. Another year passed, and a co-worker started flirting me up. He’s nice and respectful and amazing in bed, and we have great communication. I told him at the start of our relationship that I’m never getting married again; as terrible as it sounds, I’m perfectly content with one night a month, dinner and breakfast and see you later. For 18 months, things were great. We hooked up a few weekends a month, until the virus hit and his mother was diagnosed with dementia. We haven’t spent any alone time together since mid–January 2020.
My problem is that another co-worker has started hinting that he’d like to spend time with me. I’m attracted to him, too. l don’t think we’d be compatible in terms of lifestyle and common interests, but l love our conversations and wouldn’t mind an occasional hookup (although I’m not very attractive, and l have no idea what either of them see in me). What really sucks is that we’re all co-workers, and even though we’re all single and none is a supervisor over either of the others, l don’t want to cause any friction or drama at the office. I also don’t want to hurt or upset the guy I’ve been seeing. For the last six months, I’ve been mentally downgrading the other guy, but l can’t deny the attraction. I guess l have two options: Tell the guy I’m seeing that l will occasionally be hooking up with someone else and give him the choice to either accept it or move on, or continue to avoid the feelings I’m having for this other guy while l deal with the loneliness and hope our situations change for the better soon. I have no one else to ask for advice, and l hope you can help me figure this out.
—Don’t Even Know What I Need
Dear Don’t Even Know,
Sex with one co-worker is potentially dramatic enough. I think adding a second to your dating rotation would be courting disaster. Yes, you are all single adults in presumably similar roles, but telling one co-worker you’re going to start seeing another would almost certainly introduce that friction you want to avoid.
Conspicuously missing from your letter is any discussion of your sexual relationship with yourself. Do you have one? What’s it like? Have you seen your genitals? Do you know where to touch them to make yourself feel best? Do you engage in perfunctory, goal-oriented masturbation? Do you dedicate hours to lavishing pleasure on yourself? You also might spend some time connecting with your body platonically—considering your parts and the positives they bring to your life. Can you thank your neck for supporting your head all day long? Can you appreciate the pelvis that carried your child? Maybe there’s some other specific that brings you joy.
There’s still a pandemic on, and while vaccines are beginning to roll out, we’re far from finished with the fiasco. Now is a good time to turn inward. Another line of thinking to consider is what you want out of a relationship. You get to have desires. You probably have needs and requirements. You’ve had enough experience to have some idea of what you do and don’t enjoy. Getting a clear picture of what you’d like your romantic liaisons to look like will help you make decisions about whether a certain potential partner is worth pursuing. And as for the loneliness, that’s a sign that your platonic and familial relationships could use some tending. The physical act of sex may alleviate skin hunger, but you need intellectual and emotional connection, too.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bisexual female who has been dating a girl on and off for the past eight months. We have a bit of a tumultuous relationship: We get together, then we break it off and still stay connected when we’re “broken up” or “in limbo.” I realize that this may not be the best pattern, but I’m also self-aware enough to know I’m not ready to give “this” up. I really love her, and I feel as though I have some lesson to learn here. The issue is that we have never had a super active sex life to begin with. She doesn’t seem to like when I initiate, she’s not very responsive to sexy pictures or texts, and she openly admits I have a higher sex drive than her. When we do have sex, it’s great, but in our current limbo stage, we haven’t had sex in two to three months. While on Christmas vacation she sent me a sexy voice text once, but no real conversation when I tried being sexy back. I want to get laid but am tentative about trying to sleep with her since she doesn’t seem to like when I initiate. I don’t know the rules here. Is it considered cheating if I go sleep with someone else right now? What kind of person would I be if I do?
—In Limbo With My Sex Life
This relationship definitely sounds tumultuous. Also tortuous and tiring. There aren’t really “rules,” and I don’t think it matters so much if sleeping with someone else is considered cheating so much as it matters if the person you’re trying to date will consider it cheating. If you’re insistent on seeing this through to the bitter end, you’ll want to make your choices according to your on-again, off-again girlfriend’s moral compass.
But to be clear, I think you should bail. Now. The two of you don’t match sexually, and you don’t describe any positive traits of the relationship. It’s OK to say, “Hey, you’re great, but we aren’t a match.” It’s OK to be alone for a while, it’s OK to have contained hookups without a relationship, and it’s OK to decide to be friends with someone we adore but don’t mesh with physically. There’s also no rule that says you must learn some undefined lesson—or perhaps that lesson is that it’s OK to move on, even if you love her.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a cis woman in my late 20s who is trying to figure out my sexuality. I had sex with a man one time in college, and I have not engaged with anyone in any way sexually in five or six years. I have been very focused on my education and my career, and have not invested much (any?) energy into my love life yet. I masturbate almost every day but never watch porn. Masturbation to me doesn’t feel sexual, in that it has no connection to people and I don’t need to be turned on to enjoy it. I just enjoy the physical sensation of orgasming. I don’t feel like I’m attracted to people in a strong way. I never see a hot person and think, “Wow, that is a person I would like to have sex with!”
I am now at a point in my life where I feel that it would be nice to seek out a partner. I also presume that I would enjoy sex with another person since I enjoy it with myself. But I very much feel like I don’t know what I’m doing or how I identify. The idea of dating has never seriously appealed to me before. I think it’s partly that I would rather spend my time with my friends whom I know I like than with someone who I maybe might like, and there hasn’t been a need for me to date to feel socially or sexually satisfied. But even more so, I think it’s because I don’t feel like I know what I want!
Over the summer, I will be moving somewhere where I don’t know anyone, and I would like to explore the possibility of dating and seeking companionship and possibly sex. Since I don’t feel like I’m actively attracted to people, I don’t even know if I’m interested in dating men, women, or anyone in between. I feel like I have to figure out some more things about myself before I can date, but I also feel like dating would help me figure out those things about myself. Do you have any advice on how I should approach this?
Dear Late Bloomer,
Dating is a process of finding out what we like and what we don’t. It’s also a process of sorting through people until we find ones who fit particularly well with us. The two affect each other—what we like determines who fits with us, and qualities of people who fit well sometimes become details we like. But right now, since there’s a pandemic on, you’ll want be careful about who you’re sharing air with, much less saliva. So perhaps your time in the immediate future is best spent meditating on what you want rather than swiping (or however you prefer to safely meet people).
I’m having this mental image of your vagina sitting in front of a computer with a white page and a blinking cursor—vagina’s block. Are there any scenarios you’re curious about? Like, are you interested in vulvas or penises? Do you wonder what it’s like to have your ass licked? If so, you can set yourself a short-term goal to create some kind of direction, and you’ll have a fun activity to suggest when you do find someone you’re interested in engaging in sex with. You might also spend some time imagining different scenarios. Would you enjoy sending flowers to someone? Receiving them? Do you want a partner you can have shared adventures with? Would you prefer a very casual hookup? How about Netflix and chill? Whatever you can think of. Now do all of that over again with sex. Do you want to give oral? Receive it? Do you want to involve toys? Would you like to be penetrated? All of this will help you when it’s time to communicate.
Do you get faint whiffs of attraction? If so, it might be worth following up on one of them. Some people find that their sexual desire is linked to their emotional investment in the person or the degree of safety they feel. Good luck.
More How to Do It
I’ve been married for about 10 years. About a year ago, I had a brief affair. We realized it was a mistake and ended the relationship. He lives far away, so I haven’t seen him since. Neither of us told our spouses about it, and we have no intention to. I’ve never done anything like that before, and I won’t ever again. I feel bad about it and wish it hadn’t happened, except in one respect: The sex I had with this man was off-the-charts amazing. Like, I didn’t realize that sex could be like that. Sex with my husband is fine—but I feel like I’ve been watching a black-and-white TV my whole life and I suddenly discovered Technicolor exists. I don’t want to go back to this ex, but I can’t stop thinking about the sex. I realized that I get very turned on by things that are out of my husband’s comfort zone. I can’t talk to my husband about it—telling him about the affair would only hurt him, and when this kind of topic has come up in the past, he has been very clear that if anything ever happened, he wouldn’t want to know. How can I get over this?