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 wife and I are in our mid-30s with two kids and have been married for nine years. Overall it’s been a good marriage, but not without its ups and downs. Over the past few years we’ve tried some new things such as opening up to sexting other people, threesomes (mfm has only happened so far), and even solo dates and playing. I believe I can speak for her and say we’ve done these things mainly because it’s exciting for both of us and it turns each other on. She’s recently gone on a solo date and had sex with a guy that we’ve had over a couple times before. It was the first time either of us have had sex solo since we’ve begun this. I had a couple uneasy feelings about it at first, but eventually liked the idea and encouraged her to do it.
Well, since then (about a week later), she told me he reached out to her saying she should apply for a job where he works, and she’s considering it. She’s been at her current job for over 10 years and is unhappy with it and must have expressed this to him at some point. Initially I reacted with “I don’t like that.” After thinking about it, I apologized for being so blunt. I want her to be happy and would support her if she chose to do it, but for some reason it just feels like too much, too fast. The job doesn’t seem like something she’d hate, but not particularly love either in my opinion, and would take a slight pay cut at first. I don’t think they’d be working with each other directly very much, but is it reasonable for me to be skeptical of this or am I just afraid of change?
Dear Uneasy Peasy,
Skepticism here is reasonable; making your wife’s mind up for her is not. There is an expression I use often that warns against taking on romantic entanglements so close to home/daily routine that they may create future complications: Don’t shit where you eat. If your wife were to take a job at this guy’s place of employment, she’d be doing the inverse—she’d be eating where she shits. That’s even less hygienic. It’s a bad idea to make life-altering decisions while fueled by new relationship energy and the attendant exhilaration that she seems to be presenting. Were things to not work out with this guy—and there’s a good chance of that given how little time she has known him—it could create a totally awkward situation that she’d then be tethered to as the source of her livelihood. That awkward situation could easily slide into prolonged agony, and as her partner, your support will be expected. It’s one thing to find yourself in deep with a co-worker as your life unfolds; it’s quite a different thing to dive headfirst into the shallow end. Warning that your partner may be about to do so is your duty.
This potential outcome warrants your wariness. I think you’re also justified in not liking how fast this is going. But some risks are worth taking, and the opportunity for a dream job is one of them. Your wife’s career is ultimately your wife’s decision, and in order to convince me that your veto should even be considered vis-à-vis her agency, you’d have to demonstrate that this is a job she actually wouldn’t like and thus would just be taking it to get closer to this guy. You have not done that by providing supposition instead of evidence. This job doesn’t seem like something she’d hate but is something that she would not particularly love either in your opinion. Her opinion is worth far more. Talk to her about this. Tell her you’re skeptical and ask her to convince you that she’s considering this prospect for vocational reasons as opposed to romantic ones. Explain to her how her life decisions, while hers, affect you. Let her assuage your concerns, and if she can’t, tell her that and continue the conversation until one of you is convinced that the other has the solution that honors your collective best interests as a couple.
Dear How to Do It,
My cis boyfriend of two years is fixated on my breasts. He kneads them like dough and could spend hours suckling on my nipples. The problem is that my breasts get sore with the slightest touch. I’ve asked him to touch me only with his fingertips or not to use his teeth, but after a few minutes, he returns to what he was doing. I’m a nonbinary person in my 30s, with a complicated relationship with my body. Even if he touches me lightly or uses only his tongue, frankly I find it … boring. I find most touch boring. Some nights, I just lie on my back, completely dissociated from the experience of him going after my breasts. Unfortunately, his idea of foreplay is only this. He gets bored of fingering me and thinks it’s strange that I finger myself during sex. My clit is the only way I can orgasm or even feel any pleasure. I’ve tried positive reinforcement when he touches me in a pleasurable way. I’ve tried talking to him when we’re not having sex. He listens to me and agrees—and then goes back to doing the same old things the moment he gets aroused. Is there a better way to communicate with him? I want to have sex, but sometimes I feel the effort of both relaxing my body and showing my partner what works for me is too much. I’m tired of being so in my head.
—Not What I Expected
As long as he’s causing you discomfort, in your head is where you’ll remain. And so, it’s time to stop asking and start telling. Your boyfriend is causing you pain and his idea of foreplay is one-sided. He’s not having sex with you; he’s having sex with himself using your body. It’s great that you can talk about this stuff with him in nonsexual settings, but too much space between the discussion and the act leaves room for convenient memory loss. Have a conversation with him in which you tell him how distracting, painful, and boring this sort of play is. Tell him he’s been ignoring this information during sex and the next time he does it you’ll remind him then and there. And then when he does it, say, “Ouch, that hurts.”
If you have a complicated relationship with your body, he will need to as well. Instead of him flipping into default mode and being guided by supposition of what feels good, he needs to be receptive to what actually does feel good, per your experience. If he refuses to listen, he’s showing you that he is ill-equipped or just uninterested in being the partner that you need. Act accordingly.
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Dear How to Do It,
As of December of 2019, I entered my first relationship pre-pandemic, and it was like I think any person would assume their first relationship would be. It was fun, mysterious, and I looked forward to seeing her again and again. Over the course of the however-many months it was, I introduced her to my friends, family, and vice versa. I’d also like to mention that we were talking a year before we met up since we’d matched on Tinder and the relationship was somewhat long distance over text and FaceTime. After a couple of dates when things were going relatively well, she invited me to spend the week with her at her house near campus. It was reading week for me if I remember correctly, but anyways I was there for that week with her.
By that point, we were starting to have sex and it was good. This is the part where I mention that I have been sexually assaulted … I’m not sure of the terminology I’m actually supposed to use, but long story short, my uncle jerked himself off in front of me on multiple occasions and it caused a huge family divide—the opposite of what I wanted to happen. My mom believed me, and my dad didn’t and made the entire situation about how he was the single most person who was holding the family together. They made me question what happened to the point that I actually apologized to his wife even though I knew what happened.
Anyways, my girlfriend and I were having sex one time and like most lesbians, she has a bag full of sex toys. There’s this one she uses in particular that’s intended to stimulate your clit. She didn’t ask me and attempted to use the toy on me and I had a breakdown. It was awful. I’m not sure if that’s rape or sexual assault because she’s someone who regularly asks for consent (she did at the beginning just not before using the toy on me). It triggered me and after I was able to recollect myself and head back into the room, she held me and apologized and we both cried. Since then, consent has been big for me. There are times when I don’t really care, like if she wants to kiss me or initiate, but even then like 7/10 she’ll ask if she picks up on me needing more verbal cues.
Fast forward and we’ve been having more morning sex. Mind you, I’ve been in and out of therapy but these discussions with my therapist like what happened at her dorm haven’t come up. So, I’m like half-asleep and I don’t remember her asking me for my consent, but morning sex is somewhat of an irregular regular for us, and I’ve told her that it’s nice so she doesn’t always need to ask for consent. However, I have told her that because I’m more emotional right now, it’s important to me and I need her to ask before doing anything. Long story short, we moved in together and she’s touching me and I vaguely hear “it’s all right, it’s all right” before we start having sex. When I confronted her about it, she said that she asked if it was all right and said I nodded, but I don’t know … I left the room because I didn’t believe her and it upset me, recouped, and came back to tell her that that’s what I thought she said and if it was because maybe I was just half-asleep and imaging things, that it wasn’t OK. That based on what’s happened to me, I stressed that that’s not something that’s OK with me, and I’ll need her to ask more explicitly for consent next time because I don’t remember her asking or saying that. I also kind of asked her to apologize and she told me she did nothing wrong, I think I was just looking for emotional support and affirmation. She can be stubborn. What do you think?
—A Confused U-Haul Lesbian
I’m not at all liking the picture you painted of the encounter in question. From your recollection, your girlfriend told you that it was all right, took a nonverbal consent cue from someone who was more than half-asleep as gospel, and then fudged the truth by telling you that she asked if it was all right. Given your discussions about consent, and your reaction to her using a sex toy on you without specifically asking, she should have known better. At the very least, I’d expect a compassionate partner to apologize when confronted, not double down. She denied you empathy.
That said, I had to read your letter a few times to understand your terms. Consent is a big thing for you, and yet you told your girlfriend that there were instances in which it was not explicitly required, but then that proved too loose of a rule. I think for everyone’s peace of mind, you should keep your boundaries as clear-cut and simple as possible. If that means consent must be requested for every encounter, every position, every toy used, that’s fine! Whatever you need in this realm is fine. But stick to it. By going easy on someone, you make your rules harder to follow.
If the morning sex that your girlfriend initiated and ultimately distressed you with isn’t a dealbreaker, my suggestion is to set your boundaries in stone moving forward. Speak to be heard and mitigate confusion with clarity.
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Dear How to Do It,
My ex and I were together for a year and nine months. He was my first relationship and first sexual encounter. He is 15 years my senior, and we met when I was 18. I didn’t know about his actual age, or the fact he had a girlfriend on the other side of the country (we were both new to the area at the time) until a few months into dating each other. I was vocal about wanting a nonmonogamous relationship from the beginning, and continued to be until the end. However, he wanted more. When a dirty message (albeit unprovoked) came up on my phone several months after we met, he angrily told me that he didn’t want to be with me if I wouldn’t be exclusive. I was scared of losing him, and know that he knew he was pressuring me into commitment. I justified my sleeping with other men on two separate occasions, as well as sending explicit photos to others because I gave him a multitude of chances to see things my way (or to leave, which he ultimately did and should have a long time ago, as much as I hate to admit it) and didn’t enthusiastically consent to monogamy.
I knew he wouldn’t be OK with what I was doing, but at the time, I thought I was justified in my actions. I realize now that I in no way was and seriously betrayed him, even though I was never caught. I think it may be for the better for both of us now that it is over, although that is no excuse for what I did. I am seeing a therapist now to work through both the end of the relationship, and how I contributed to the unhealthy environment. I still love and care about him so much. He was my best friend. All of this information makes everything even worse, because I wonder how could I have ever done that to someone I know means so much to me. Do you have any advice for me on how to work on forgiving myself and move forward?
—A Victim of Circumstance?
Learn from this. You’re young and still learning things about yourself—including the extent of your imperfections. With this guy, you established your intent, you fell for him, he wanted something different from you than you had initially offered, and you caved, albeit nominally. Could the considerable age difference have had something to do with your agreeing to monogamy when you knew better? Quite possibly! That disparity, and the power dynamic that tends to accompany it, is at the least, complicating and often a coercive factor.
I think in your own way you tried to make this relationship work for you. Your methodology was flawed and unethical, but it was nonetheless an attempt to reconcile your needs with his. Ultimately, they were too different, and that’s why the relationship ended. Even without your cheating, it would have had to, unless either of you was willing to bend or otherwise revise your relationship philosophy so as to be virtually unrecognizable. You can acknowledge that you hurt someone while also understanding your reasons. Try to focus on the latter, and in future relationships, live by your word. It’s something that often takes time to perfect and you’re just starting your romantic journey. Good luck and stay sensitive.
More How to Do It
My husband and I (straight couple) have been together and monogamous for more than 20 years. We opened up a while back, although he isn’t interested in having other partners. I started seeing a mutual friend, and we ended up in something like kitchen table polyamory for about a year. Then my boyfriend decided he wanted to look for a monogamous life partner, so we broke up about a month before quarantine started. We have stayed friends, but it has been very difficult for me, emotionally and sexually. I am struggling to be his friend but not his girlfriend. Any additional insight is welcomed.