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 boyfriend and I have been together for two years. During the first year, we had normal sex, and a lot of it. But we’ve been in a long-distance relationship during these most recent times. While sexting or talking about fantasies, he keeps mentioning anal sex and how he would like to eat my ass, and he has become obsessed with it. I’m not sure if I like it, but he’s pretty excited about trying it. Should I tell him I find it gross?
Yes, voice your discomfort early. Leaving him with a false sense of expectation will create tension that will be its own kind of pain in the ass. You might also want to clarify his seriousness about pursuing butt stuff IRL—this could be just a fantasy for him, and he could be happy to keep things confined to the discursive realm. If you’re feeling not totally opposed to the idea—and, for the record, anal and eating ass can be part of “normal sex”—you can at least entertain continuing the conversation, working through your ambivalence and trying to come down firmly on a yay or nay. But if you know it’s a nay, give him the nay, and make your way onto something else.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 72-year-old woman who looks and feels about 15 years younger. I ended a relationship about three years ago. My ex could be emotionally abusive and we both drank heavily during our time together. I finally went to AA for help with my drinking, and shortly afterward, I left him. I was so happy to be independent.
Only recently, I’ve started wanting an intimate relationship with a man. I’ve always been sexually active and loved sex with the right person. I recently was with someone in a very brief sexual encounter. Since I don’t drink, I casually mentioned that I was a member of AA. He was out the door in minutes, looking like a deer in the headlights. He has not contacted me since. I have been feeling terrible about this since he basically bedded and ghosted me within an hour. I feel ashamed I had sex so quickly and was rejected for my alcoholism and my need for AA. Now I’m wondering if the stigma of alcoholism will prevent my ever meeting anyone else. I haven’t met anyone in AA. I’m afraid to mention it but it is an essential part of my life. I don’t want to give up having a partner, but I’m afraid I will never be able to find someone who accepts me as I am.
—Sober and Lonely
Don’t let one jerk define your future. Sometimes it seems like people are just looking for a reason to ghost. What’s nearly as bad as the rejection is the lack of an explanation. When he slammed a literal door, he left a figurative one open for your worst suspicions. Who knows what was going on in this stranger’s head? Maybe he had a bad experience with someone in AA, or maybe he has drinking issues that he feared your sobriety would force him to face, or maybe what he’s looking for in a partner is someone who will indulge in some butt-chugging with him and you effectively announced why that won’t be possible. You just don’t know. By saving himself from the awkwardness of having to explain what was going on in his head, he gave you the burden of having to figure it out. Certainly not cool, although rejection never really is, even in its most delicate packaging.
But there are plenty of people who don’t drink or don’t care either way if their partner does. You can find one! Put your youthfulness to use. And keep in mind that we live in a fast-paced world where people race to the next best thing. As difficult as it can be to take in the moment, when someone rejects you early, they’re doing you a favor in the long run by not allowing you to waste any more time on them than you already have. He’s left you open to finding someone who actually deserves your time.
Dear How to Do It,
I have been dating my boyfriend (we’re a straight couple) for a year and a half. He has truly been a breath of fresh air after a string of abusive exes. He is big on consent, always builds me up when I am down, and really has done his best to understand my issues with anxiety. To me, he is perfect, but he is constantly beating himself up over his ED. Through reading your column, I have learned this is a fairly common thing. And after he explained it wasn’t due to a lack of attraction, I have done my best to be supportive. He has always made up for it in other ways, and my libido is lower than his. I give oral and follow his lead to help him, but he sometimes has trouble with penetrative sex. It really upsets him, and I try to be as supportive as I can and tell him it honestly doesn’t bother me. How can I help so he doesn’t feel that he has to apologize for hours over this, and help him believe me when I say it doesn’t bother me?
—Up and Down
Dear Up D,
Maybe it’s time to put this in a different perspective for him: You could tell him that while his ED doesn’t bother you and you’re satisfied by the workarounds, his self-flagellation is killing your boner. The problem here isn’t what he can’t control, but what he can. He’s ensuring that this is a big deal despite your sanguine response, which is no way to reward your patience and understanding. Clearly, the problem is beyond you, which makes his response that much more useless. It seems like he could use some help—a doctor who could prescribe him ED drugs and/or a sex counselor or therapist. While a supportive partner can be so helpful for someone going through ED, they’re no substitute for a trained counselor, nor should they be expected to provide that level of service. As kindly as possible, the next time he goes into one of his marathon apologies, ask him if he’d like to do anything about it, and provide him with some or all of these suggestions.
Dear How to Do It,
I started to post this question in your live-streaming session recently but got cold feet. Here it is: I’m one of the many people who got divorced during the pandemic. After having sex with one person for eight years, I’m having a lot of trouble getting in touch with my solo sexuality. We were pretty codependent, and over the years, my sexuality became so intertwined with his that its genuinely difficult to imagine having sex with anyone else. As well, there was a lot of trust broken in our relationship (an emotional affair with the person who used to be my best friend), and the thought of making myself vulnerable with another person is just…not in my capabilities right now. Worse, I came across his sex pics when checking out his fetlife profile after he moved out and it was absolutely devastating. I know that this is self-inflicted and it wasn’t cheating, but I still cant’ get them out of my head nearly a year later—images will pop up when I’m trying to masturbate, for example. I have a hard enough time being present in my own body due to a significant history of trauma (sexual and otherwise), which I’m working on in therapy but remains present in my life. Any tips on how to banish these old ghosts and get in touch with myself (literally or figuratively)? Thanks!
—In Sexual Stasis
Your recent life events and lingering trauma may be the primary culprits here, but I also wonder what else might be going on. Can you locate other potential factors that might be contributing to why you’re leaning so heavily on the “shun” in masturbation? Is it anxiety? Fear? Guilt? Have you ever enjoyed masturbating? Was your libido robust with your partner?
This could be explored with your therapist—who I hope is sex positive, and willing and able to provide some guidance in sexual matters. (If not, you could look into a sex therapist who specializes in trauma.) Keep in mind that this is a difficult time for sexuality in general—stress and anxiety in response to a pandemic are chewing holes in people’s libidos. And inertia spreads. I think this quote from Sadie Allison regarding pandemic-era masturbation dry spells is on point: “It’s a fairly well-known fact that having sex can lead to wanting to have more sex. For those who are quarantined alone, this isn’t an option like it typically is—which can mean that you’re not experiencing this sex-driven enhanced libido.”
That’s from a 2020 Well+Good piece called, “There’s a Good Reason You Don’t Want to Masturbate Right Now—but Here’s How to Change That.” Included are several tips that you might want to consider, like exercising for a libido boost and engaging with erotic media (like books or videos). You could also turn to a long-form resource—masturbation guru Betty Dodson’s Sex for One is a classic of the sex manual genre. In it, Dodson describes interactions with a friend who never consciously masturbated. Dodson recommended a multitude of hand techniques (making circles, rubbing the pubic mound, touching clitoris), reading erotica, fantasizing, trying a vibrator, using the water of a tub, etc. The water finally led her friend to orgasm. It’s worth picking up. As for the images of your ex that you can’t unsee, I feel your pain. The best thing I’ve ever found to help me unfocus on that which my mind can’t quite shake readily is meditation. Might be worth looking into starting a practice if you haven’t already.
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