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 am a 60-year-old man returning to dating after a couple of decades. I find I mostly enjoy how women my age want to talk openly about relationship goals and potential issue in early dates, and I am meeting wonderful people with interesting life experiences. But those early candid talks now often include sex, and that’s where I’m getting tripped up and hoping for insight. Because, thanks to good partners over the years and some luck on the aging front, I’m exceptionally good in bed—vigor and stamina more commonly found in 20-year-olds combined with good foreplay skills and experience working around any aging challenges my partner may have. But if I say that, most potential partners are unnerved. They fear they can’t keep up or are just so startled they struggle to figure out how a relationship might work. Yet if I try saying a version of “I know my way around the bedroom,” they assume I’m hiding something. There are moments when I feel I’m defective for being good in bed as an (almost) senior. How can I negotiate this social challenge?
—60 Going on 20
Dear 60 Going on 20,
You merely need to modify your marketing. Nothing is compelling you to present your sexual gifts as you have been—since aptitude in bed is largely subjective anyway (even if you possess traits that are widely considered to be markers of a good lover, like stamina), changing your messaging would not amount to dishonesty. Focus on less intimidating language; describe yourself as “fun” or indicate that you very much enjoy sex. While I tend to find the amount of confidence you exude to be attractive, clearly people are finding it off-putting, and so your best course of action would be description rather than declaration. Be specific. Say what you would enjoy doing with your prospective partner. Ask her what she’s into. Transform this communication from decree to exchange. You aren’t defective for being “good” in bed; you’re just not conveying it well. Remember that sex itself is communication. Here is a prime example where you’re better off showing than telling.
Did we respond to your letter? Tell us what happened next.
Dear How to Do It,
I think I might have ruined my sex life and ability to be in a healthy relationship before I was 5 years old. I’m currently a 52-year-old man married to a 50-year-old woman for more than 27 years. We get along well. We have three beautiful adult children. We have our quirks and idiosyncrasies that get on each other’s nerves, but we are respectful of each other, and have enough in common that we seem to genuinely appreciate each other. We want to spend time together.
The one area we struggle with is that I’m a crossdresser. I always have been, and according to most articles on the internet, I always will be. I opened up to my wife within a few years after our marriage, but it creates tension between us, and I’ve struggled with self-acceptance. We still work through communication issues around my dressing and our sexual relationship. The sexual nature of crossdressing has long gone, probably by the late 20s or early 30s. I don’t know if it has become my security blanket, but the feel of a camisole or a skirt still brings me comfort and contentment. I enjoy a calm cup of coffee in capris and flats in the kitchen in the morning.
A bigger issue in our relationship is my sudden drop in libido after turning 50, and issues with erectile dysfunction. In addition, orgasms through masturbation do not feel the same in intensity. I feel different. And I’m struggling with finding the right help through the medical system. I have been transparent with my primary care physician regarding my dressing and feelings. They checked my testosterone through a blood test and the results were within the normal range, slightly lower than midrange. My labs regarding heart health indicate I’m in good health. I’ve asked for a referral to a specialist, but my PCP just seems to push E.D. medication. My primary concern is that it just masks any issue that might be going on in my body. Are there other hormones I should check other than testosterone for sexual performance? And if it is not medical in nature, does E.D. medication overcome psychological issues?
I also have more abstract questions: As I moved to desexualize crossdressing, have I conditioned myself to avoid erections? Have I desexualized myself through repression? When I was capable of penetration, I would try to stifle thoughts of wearing stockings or painted nails while having intercourse. In addition, I have had mild bouts of depression, and I obviously have anxiety around sexual performance.
To be honest, I do not know where to turn to. Ads for erectile dysfunction look like either cheesy soft-core porn or hypermasculine dick measuring contests at the gym—urologist, psychiatrist, endocrinologist, sexpert, I really have no idea who can help.
If you have been suppressing the erotic nature of your crossdressing for nearly three decades, it doesn’t stand to reason that your recent sudden drop in libido and erectile dysfunction are a direct consequence. This column has previously explored the question of whether someone could fully rid himself of a kink, and it’s doubtful. Since you took it upon yourself to do so and presumably have no background in sex counseling or paraphilia management, I can’t imagine your methodology was sound, even for such a dubious endeavor as sexuality suppression.
But sexual function (and sexuality in general) doesn’t always follow neatly identifiable cause-and-effect patterns. It can function as more a survey of your life’s landscape. For that reason, sex-positive counseling could be just as useful as medicine here. You’re the person who’s most capable of answering your own abstract questions, and a therapist could help you flesh those answers out.
It would also be useful for you to work through your negative feelings about E.D. drugs. The marketing matters far less than their efficacy, which is high. Your doctor presumably is aware of the canary-in-a-coal-mine nature of E.D., as an indicator of underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and has examined you accordingly. That said, a visit to a specialist might be useful—go down the very list you have and don’t stop until you have sufficient answers. (Start with a urologist.) E.D. meds can definitely have positive effects on your psychology, especially as it concerns performance anxiety, but I don’t think they’re going to be a cure-all for you. More likely, they’ll be part of a larger treatment process and package. Get to work.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve been uncomfortably horny all the time. No matter how I jack off, or how often, or to what, I have this head horniness that won’t leave me. It’s like mild chronic pain in that way that it’s hard to settle or focus on tasks. I’ve been jerking off at least four times a day for about three weeks, but after each time, I go into refraction without feeling much relief to this overwhelming horniness. Normally, I love my solo sex life, take my time, rotate through fantasies and media, and everything feels great. So I’m baffled, because this is a new problem out of the blue for me. And it’s been interfering with my work! It’s hard to concentrate sitting in a chair, and I’ve been spending an hour or two masturbating each day. (Which wouldn’t be a problem if I felt great afterward, but it’s like my mind’s not switching off). I’m late 20s, a guy, and not on any medication. Is there, like, a pill for this? An herbal remedy? A secret to jerking off so good that I can keep horniness at bay for 12 hours at a time? I’m assuming it’ll go away eventually, but it makes me uncomfortable not having an idea about what’s going on.
—Horny and Horny Again
I wish I could help you with a panacea, but the fact is that there’s likely no quick fix here. “While there are herbs and medications that can decrease sexual arousal, it’s up to an individual to decide if the cost is worth it for them, and they may or may not address other contributing factors,” Lauren Eve Tejeda, a sex therapist and relationship counselor at the Mind Embodied outside Denver, wrote in an email to me after reviewing your question. I’ve seen SSRIs discussed as off-label treatment for hypersexual disorder, given the antidepressants’ libido-decreasing side effects, but keep in mind that using these drugs for that purpose may come with its own side effects, particularly if you aren’t depressed.
Tejeda also explained that your sudden libido surge may not be so simple. “We’re often taught to think of sex as separate from the rest of our lives, and that what we experience as a sexual ‘problem’ must have a symptom-specific solution. Often, instead, there are other underlying experiences that, when addressed, can really help,” Tejeda wrote. “I work with a strong emphasis on the nervous system and how the need to regulate and even escape the emotional intensity of our world (e.g., anxiety, depression, work stress, relationship stress, pandemic fatigue, etc.) can show up in things like experiences of sexual arousal and desire, sexual satisfaction, masturbation, among others. For instance, what feels like a sudden increase in sexual desire that is unfulfilled by masturbation and is interrupting overall work day focus goals may be related to an expression of anxiety in the body, or other underlying emotional experiences.”
This is where a sex therapist could help you, even if it’s just a consultation. “Learning to recognize and learn more about our needs,” Tejeda said, “can help us expand ways of doing so to get those underlying needs and wants met in ways that feel aligned with our goals.” Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a city-dwelling man in my early 40s, in a polyamorous marriage with a woman around my age. Our marriage is nonsexual, and has been for many years. My wife has a long-term boyfriend, and stays at his place several times a month. We have no children. My wife and I consider each other to be primary partners because of the longevity of our partnership, our shared strong connection to our nephews, living together, shared finances, etc. I personally have not had sex in a few years, which I am not happy about. I am on Tinder and such looking for someone to date. I vastly prefer dating people to having random encounters. I’m well aware that straight men are typically at a disadvantage when it comes to nonmonogamy. I’m also not incredibly attractive, though I am tall. I don’t have much luck on the dating apps. When I (rarely) do find someone who is interested, she’s often too busy for a relationship, even a secondary one. (Also, it must be said that I haven’t gone on a date since the pandemic began, and I am not planning to until it is over, so for the time being, this is all rather moot.)
I say on my profiles that I am sober and in a nonmonogamous marriage. My wife thinks I should be upfront about not wanting something serious, but not share in my profile specifically that I am married. She thinks it is turning women off. Is this ethical, as long as I am clear about not wanting a serious, primary, monogamous relationship? Or should I be using Ashley Madison or similar (though I don’t want to meet anyone involved in unethical nonmonogamy)? I have also wondered if I should not share upfront that I am sober, that I might seem unfun. And if I take these things off my profile, at what point should I tell someone—first date, second? I welcome your thoughts on this.
As a gay man, I come from a long cultural line that has venerated the context-free, anonymous hookup, in which biographical information is routinely withheld and that, in fact, is part of the point. Were you only interested in random, one-off sexual encounters, I wouldn’t have an issue with you withholding your marital status. But that’s not what you’re looking for, and codes of conduct are context-specific. By withholding information about your marital status—and really any information that could reasonably be expected to be revealed upfront or at least very early on—you run the risk of wasting someone’s time. It might just be the hour or so that it takes to go on a first date, but time is the most precious commodity known to our species. It’s the only thing we’re all running out of. Your date will never get that hour back. I hear your wife’s point, but I don’t think you should leave that detail out.
That said, I think you should focus less on apps and more on your local poly scene. Since you are city-based, there is almost certainly a local group (or two or five) of ethical nonmonogamists that you can join. You’ll find a greater concentration of people who are looking for something similar, and you won’t even have to worry about explaining yourself or being stigmatized over your marital status. Win-win.
More How to Do It
I have been married for about 15 years to my husband, and we have two kids together. He is a kind and caring person, a good dad, and a thoughtful partner. We enjoy spending time together. The problem is I am 0 percent attracted to him and don’t have any desire for sex with him. He hasn’t changed very much physically in the time we have been together—it’s my response to him that has. I don’t like his natural smell, I don’t like the way his skin feels, I don’t care to look at his face, and I have no interest in cuddling. We have sex a couple of times a month, usually because I am horny and he is a convenient and willing partner, or when it’s been long enough that I do it to keep him from getting too grumpy about a lack of sex. I thought for a long time I was one of those people whose desire decreased as I got older (late 30s). Well, a couple of years ago, I had an affair that lasted several months, and I learned I do still desire sex. A lot. Just not with my husband.