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 ex-girlfriend and I broke up right before lockdown. When things got serious, we decided to try the friends-with-benefits deal in order to have unprotected sex without risking getting COVID. We made a deal that if one of us met and wanted to have sex with someone else, the other person had the option of continuing in a friends-with-benefit role aware that the former was having sex with someone else, too, or opting out of the role altogether and leaving the friends-with-benefits relationship.
Well, she recently confessed that almost immediately she began having unprotected sex with four other men over the course of our deal, which ended on Thanksgiving. I knew she was having sex with someone else but couldn’t confirm it, and she denied it. I asked her three times, and she denied it all three times, and accused me of gaslighting her. I hoped she was at least using protection. She wasn’t. When I went to see a friend platonically, my ex-girlfriend accused me of having sex with her and we got in a huge fight—while she was the one having sex with others. After things ended, she used the potential for sex to control me so I’d do things for her but never had sex with me again.
She recently revealed her other sex partners and said she was a relationship anarchist. At once, I felt relieved because I wasn’t crazy; I felt validated because I knew she was lying; and I felt angry because she never let me know so I could opt out. The issue isn’t that she had sex with others—we weren’t a couple (though I had feelings still). The issue was that she broke our deal and didn’t allow me to opt out. The other issue is that with all that unprotected sex, we could have gotten an std or COVID, and she was being irresponsible having unprotected sex and not letting me know. I’d have opted out at the beginning.
She apologized for hurting me, but doesn’t think she did anything wrong. I impressed upon her the health issue she could have caused (one of her partners has unprotected sex with a lot of different women). She also confessed she wasn’t in love with me during our exclusive relationship before the friends-with-benefits deal, and she then claimed to have borderline personality disorder, though it is undiagnosed.
My question is: Did she really not do anything wrong? Am I overreacting? Does she make a valid claim that she didn’t inform me because she has borderline personality disorder? And maybe that’s also why she immediately began having unprotected sex with multiple partners, even though we had a deal? Does her behavior follow the relationship anarchist rules and was she within her rights not to tell me anything and lie about all of it because she is a relationship anarchist?
I’m unimpressed by your former girlfriend’s use of borderline personality disorder as an excuse for egregious lack of caution for your health—in the middle of a pandemic, no less. Borderline can be treated, and people with BPD are still members of society with responsibilities to other people. It’s true that people with borderline frequently experience more intense emotions than neurotypical people do, which can lead to dysregulation of affect. And fear of abandonment is fairly common, which can lead to extreme behaviors to attempt to avoid losing people. But none of this makes what she’s done OK.
She withheld information about who she’s been sharing sexual fluids and air with, while she was sharing sexual fluids and air with you. This occurred in a relationship that was specifically negotiated to require disclosure. She didn’t disclose. She didn’t allow you the chance to make a decision with full information. You aren’t overreacting. Her claim that she didn’t inform you because she’s diagnosed herself with a personality disorder is lazy and avoiding the issue. She might actually have BPD, and it might be why she made that deal with you and then had sex with four other people without telling you, but that’s less of an excuse and more of a wake-up call to get treatment. And her behavior absolutely does not follow the tenets of relationship anarchy—an egalitarian, extraordinarily open relationship framework that prioritizes individual choice.
As The Cut put it in 2018, “Relationship anarchy (RA), a term coined by Andie Nordgren, is a relationship philosophy which draws its tenets from political anarchy, the main one being that all relationships (romantic and otherwise) shouldn’t be bound by any rules not agreed upon by the involved parties.” I want you to pay really close attention to that last part: shouldn’t be bound by any rules not agreed upon by the involved parties. Rules must be agreed upon by the involved parties. Relationship anarchy doesn’t even necessarily mean non-monogamy. Don’t let your ex-girlfriend talk you out of her bad behavior any more than she already has.
Remember the letter writer who said she was “politically opposed” to heterosexuality and dating straight men? She wrote back about the reaction online. Read it in the How to Do It newsletter, and sign up for more follow-ups here.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman who, so far, has exclusively had sex with men. I don’t shave my pubic hair because I don’t like to. The hair protects the area from harmful bacteria, and I also figured hey, I’m a grown woman, and grown people have hair down there! The issue is, the vast majority of the guys I’ve been with did shave, and when they saw I didn’t they seemed… offended? Like, I wasn’t matching their level of effort. I’ve also had guys express discomfort with going down on me because of it (“I don’t like hair in my food”—more than one man). I feel bad! If they didn’t shave, I could call them cowards and hypocrites and move on, but all this manscaping has me rethinking my approach. Should I shave in the spirit of etiquette and reciprocation? I don’t have sex particularly often, so I’d still have my bush the majority of the time. Is it worth it?
I think people who are offended or confused by pubic hair on a woman aren’t mature enough to have sex. Having a preference for shaved, trimmed, or fully grown is one thing, but being offended? Please.
“I don’t like hair in my food.” Seriously? No.
You’re not wrong about pubic hair having a natural role, and tiny cuts from shaving too much can increase the risk of HIV and other STI transmission. But really, it’s your body, it’s your choice, and I think you should look at this as a very efficient weeder-outer of people who have incompatible ideas of what women should look like.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve been with my partner for about 12 years. We’re in our 30s. We have three kids. His sex drive has seemed to increase a lot the last few years. Mine has seemed to drop considerably. As in, I could completely never have sex again or masturbate and I’m almost certain I’d be fine with that for eternity. He, on the other hand, would prefer sex every single day.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I have pretty much zero desire, but that’s not the only issue. I still have sex, hoping it will somehow ignite my spark. My main issue is I can’t disconnect my mind and be in the moment. It’s not the usual “performance anxiety,” in-your-head things. My mind is so busy thinking about EVERYTHING imaginable. Conversations I’ve had, to-do lists, things from a million years ago that seem to pop into my head at the most inopportune times, like how to redecorate my bedroom, things about the kids, a plot to a TV show I watched, etc. Just all over the place. This happens during foreplay and the actual act. So I never actually get turned on during foreplay since my mind is on other things. No matter how hard I try to just not think and to just focus on what my body feels. But my body feels very little. Most touch just does nothing for me anymore.
It has been bothering him that I never make a move, that it’s usually always him initiating. It’s led to many arguments and hurt feelings. It’s bothering me that I can’t get in the mood or feel hardly anything. I can’t get engaged with my partner or the moment. The thought of sex repulses me sometimes. It’s not my partner, just sex itself. And thinking back to the majority of my previous partners and encounters, I realized I was never really into it then either. I’ve very rarely ever had orgasms in those encounters. It seems I was mostly just having sex for the benefit of my partner at the time, not because I wanted to or was turned on. This has also been the case with my current partner many times throughout our relationship, but I’ve also achieved orgasm with him and desire at times. More so than any previous partners and relationships. Just not at all the last few years.
I know this year has been an extraordinary year for us all and brought new levels of stress in all areas of our lives. I’m sure that’s somewhat contributed to my current situation and I wish I could find that as the source of my issue, but this has been ongoing pre-pandemic. Though it definitely doesn’t help that I have been stretched to the max all day between kids, virtual schooling, household upkeep, chores and everything else. I rarely find downtime to relax or do something for myself. My partner seems to make the move as soon as our heads hit the pillows. After long days without a chance for me to transition from go-mode to more relaxed. Could this be the issue? How can I fix this? How can I get my mind to shut up and actually want sex again? Please help.
—Unengaged and Uninspired
There’s a book we mention a lot in these parts called Come As You Are, written by Emily Nagoski. It talks about the dual model of sexual response through a metaphor of brakes and accelerator, as studied by John Bancroft and others through the Kinsey Institute. I’m wondering if you have a sensitive brake and a stiff accelerator, because of what you say about not being inherently interested in sex combined with what you say about being distracted when you do have it. The book has worksheets to help you figure out your own sexual response, and I’ve heard from many people that reading it gave them great insight into their sexuality.
And while we’re adding to your bookshelf, you might find Angela Chen’s Ace interesting. She covers asexuality in depth, and you might find something that resonates.
In the meantime, meditation is another thing that could help. If you practice acknowledging and letting go of thoughts, you’re likely to have an easier time doing so when you want to focus on sex. You can also borrow from tantra by creating rituals to mark the transition from efficiency to eroticism. Your partner can participate, or they can give you space to prepare alone.
In the meantime, try to be patient and gentle with yourself. We’re all going through a lot this year, and that absolutely exacerbates existing issues in our sex lives, in our work, and in our interpersonal relationships.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 45-year-old married woman, and I don’t have a lot of sexual experience, but I have masturbated for years. That said, I cannot figure out how to have an orgasm. My hubby tries things with my clitoris that feel like I’m going to have one, and then, just as things are getting intense, it’s like my body decides that area is not interested anymore—like all the good feelings just dissipate and we have to try some other motion or location or something. That said, the closest I get to orgasm I think is when I imagine him spanking me, but he doesn’t feel right about doing that. So I just don’t know how to get there. I’m not sure I have ever had one.
Masturbation is a great place to start. This may seem a little daunting, but here’s what I want you to do: Get a mirror and a flashlight, and take a look at your vulva. Pull your labia gently apart. Find your clitoris. Look at your taint. All the parts. Next, touch yourself in various ways and on those different areas. Get really granular with it, like, “Does my clitoris like to be gently stroked on the top left side? Or, “Do I experience positive sensations in the crease between my inner and outer labia?”
Have you tried watching spanking porn or reading spanking erotica? Pandora Blake’s Dreams of Spanking is one resource, and there’s a Tumblr page called Spanking Theatre, which hosts some stories to start you off with. There’s also an enormous trove of written erotica at Literotica.com. Fantasizing about spanking is a way to explore that part of your sexuality without crossing a line with your husband.
I’m wondering if you feel anxiety around the idea of orgasm. The way western culture puts so much pressure on female orgasm can backfire and have a dampening effect on our ability to get there. If so, you might set a timer for an hour and masturbate or engage in digital and oral sex with your husband with the explicit intention to not orgasm. Focus on what feels good, and stay present in the current moment—not worrying about times you’ve not orgasmed in the past, or thinking about a future orgasm, but staying with the now.
There’s also a chance that you can’t orgasm. Various studies report different numbers, but something like 5 percent (or more) of women simply don’t have orgasms. If that’s the case, please don’t let it stop you from pursuing pleasure and enjoying sexual interaction. Good luck.
More 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 nudist.
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