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,
How do I quit having sex dreams about my friends’ husbands? I’ve been very happily married for 10 years, but thanks to antidepressants lowering my sex drive and the exhaustion of parenting tiny tyrants, we’re only having sex about once a week. That’s fine right now (we know this is just a phase), but my brain is craving a more frequent release. This is something I’ve noticed before—any time I go too long without an orgasm, I start having sex dreams. But to my great annoyance, my sex dreams are never about my own husband, but my friends’ husbands or, occasionally, my ex-boyfriends.
I absolutely hate this! Having sex dreams about my friends’ husband’s makes me feel really uncomfortable, and I feel so awkward around both my friends and their husbands when I see them. Aside from the obvious answer of “have more sex,” is there a way I can stop these uncomfortable dreams? And why do I even HAVE sex dreams about other men?!?
— Naughty Dreamer
Freud would tell you that these dreams (all dreams, really) represent some sort of wish fulfillment. But I’m not Freud, nor do I subscribe to the idea that certain symbols can be interpreted unilaterally across all dreamers (your cigar might be my hot dog—these are dreams, anything is possible!). It seems just as possible that what might appear to be latent desire for your exes and your friends’ husbands is just your brain’s natural tendency toward novelty. It might not be about the specific bodies you are envisioning, just the fact that there are many. People enjoy variety; maybe your unconscious mind is expressing that.
As to how you can control your dreams, you might want to look into lucid dreaming.
It’s so hot right now that the New York Times just ran a how-to piece on it. Basically, you’ll want to maximize your chances of realizing you’re dreaming in the moment by logging your dreams to spot patterns (which will then potentially be easier to recognize while dreaming), as well as get into the habit of “reality checking” (making sure you’re conscious while you are regularly in hopes that the habit will transfer to your dreaming habits). Also, you don’t mention masturbating in your letter. I’m sure you’ve considered it, but if you haven’t: Masturbating could provide to you the orgasms that you crave to tide you over between sexual encounters with your partner. I understand taking care of children may complicate this, but it’s probably easier to rub one off alone than to coordinate sex for the two of you. Give yourself a hand?
Dear How to Do It,
I am a man in his forties with a serious problem in my life that I cannot seem to resolve. On the one hand, I love having sex with women. I’m a good-looking, athletic guy and have had plenty of one-night stands. (I was a frat brother in college and had a great time.) I watch straight porn all the time. But I have no emotional rapport with women. I have spent a lot of time in all-male environments, and I have had almost no female friends in my life. Women seem like endless barrels of emotional need to me. I can’t stand their demands for constant complements, their insistence on monogamy, their hatred for pornography, their love for crappy Hallmark movies. So any relationships I have had with women has lasted for a few weeks at best. Honestly, I prefer sleeping with sex workers or going to strip joints with my buds.
On the other hand, my strongest emotional ties have been with men. I had numerous “guy crushes” in high school. I loved the male bonding in my sports teams, my fraternity, and then in the military. I really love my male friends and want them to put me first in their emotional lives. But they always leave me for girlfriends and wives. I’ve wondered if I was possibly gay. But I tried having sex with men and just wasn’t into it. I even tried a relationship with a man, but he left me when it became clear that I would rather beat off to straight porn than have sex with him.
This was all ok in my twenties when I could live a “bros before ho’s” lifestyle with a succession of roommates. But my contemporaries have mostly married off. I’m also aware that I’m aging out of the demographic when I could get a lot of casual sex from women. I’m worried that eventually, I won’t get any of my emotional or sexual needs met. Few straight guys are going to want a roommate or best buddy at my age. (My old pals spent most of their free time with their wives and kids, and are rarely up for a guys’ night out these days). I envy many things about gay men, but I’m just not interested in sex with men. I don’t know if a gay roommate would enjoy spending time with a guy who watches straight porn all time and occasionally brings chicks home. A relationship with a woman seems ridiculous, given my lack of emotional connection with them. Basically, I know that I want sex with women and emotions from men. That’s a hard combination to make work.
— Man’s Man
Hey bro, let’s talk women for a sec. It is true that people assigned female at birth tend to be socialized in the West to share their emotions more freely, while those assigned male are taught to hold things in. These learned sensibilities can clash annoyingly when members of each group find themselves in relationships later in life, as one tends to do what the other finds unnatural and distasteful. That said, I wonder how many women you’ve actually taken seriously enough to get to know, as your description of their interests reads like a laundry list written by an alien visitor from another planet who’s heard about women second-hand but not yet met an actual one. My partner in this column, Stoya, for example does not hate porn; she has been in it and directed it. Also, having spent a lot of time with her, I’ve never detected a particular affinity for Hallmark movies, nor has she ever demanded a compliment or rhapsodized monogamy. And that’s just one woman out of billions.
Is your misogynistic-cliche laden description of women what makes you uninterested in relationships with them, or is your lack of interest forming your perception? Hard to say! But I’ll take you at your word. Your sexuality is what it is. Specifically, if you want to put a very fine point on it, it sounds like you are heterosexual (with women) and homoromantic (with men). If you read Angela Chen’s book about asexuality, Ace, you’ll see that there’s a wide range of configurations out there, and just because you respond one way to one gender doesn’t mean you will with the other. (“Allos, too, might decide that they are heterosexual and biromantic, or bisexual and heteroromantic,” is literally a sentence she wrote—“allos” refers to people who aren’t asexual and thus do experience sexual attraction.) Functionally within the realm of queer culture, you could easily fit on the asexual spectrum. There are definitely asexual men who are interested in other men romantically (and within that subset, those who don’t practice monogamy), so that might be a good lead for you. The online asexual community is vast; you might want to look into it.
It’s true that the combination you seek is difficult to make work, but that’s true for anyone whose sexuality is as specific as yours. You’re just going to have to work harder. You could wring your hands and complain, or you could get out there and do it. In addition to my guidance to refrain from painting women with a brush dipped in caveman smegma, I have another tip for you: Don’t go into things assuming that people won’t be attracted to what you have to offer. Some won’t, some will, and negative thinking is only going to get yourself in your own way.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight male and have been in a relationship with the same woman since high school, who we can call “Jen,” for over seven years. A few years ago, there was a period of about four months that Jen and I were not together. She said she needed to find herself and eventually she ended up sleeping with another guy, but came back into my life with a lot of regret from what she calls a one-time mistake and we have been together since. During the time we were not together, I was very depressed. Jen cut me off completely and I felt very alone. I ended up meeting a really sweet woman (we can call her “Summer”) in a college class and, even though Summer was dating another guy, we would spend a lot of time together. Summer and I would casually hook up. I knew I was not the only guy she was with at the time, but it was nice to have someone around. Although Summer and I did fool around, we never had sex, and most of it was just laying together, talking, and enjoying the moment. When Jen and I got back together, I told Summer I could not continue seeing her and that rebuilding what I had with Jen was more important. She insisted that we could continue what we were doing and no one else would have to know, but I knew it was not right. We attempted to stay just friends, but I found myself struggling to close off what we once had, so I abruptly and rudely cut off communication for the health of my renewed relationship.
Fast forward to a few months ago. Three years had passed, and I still felt horrible and guilty for how I treated Summer. She has been in a new long-term relationship since we last talked and I was happy for her. On a few separate occasions, I would type out a message to send her just to delete it later. Eventually I talked to Jen, who knows the history, between Summer and I, about messaging and apologizing to her. Jen said I should get closure, and so I wrote out a message apologizing for everything. I expected to be left on read at best, but right away I got a message back. Summer said she appreciated me reaching out and if I really was sorry, I could make it up to her by being friends. We reconnected as just friends with very little tension which was refreshing, and it was all going great for a few months. I had someone back who really helped me through a rough time, and I felt I was doing the right thing. She talks about her and her boyfriend getting married as I talk about mine and Jen’s plans also and it was all going really well.
Then last week I went out with her and a few friends and she started touching my arm and hair and being very flirty. Later that night she told me she never had gotten over what we had, and that she does not want to lose me again, but she still has feelings and wants to act on them. She has made it clear that she does not want to end things with her boyfriend over how she feels, and I told her do not want to ruin what I have with Jen. Yet she keeps coming onto me, and I am having conflicting emotions with this. It feels nice to have her back in my life, and I cannot say I am not tempted by her, but it is wrong and I know this. I said how I felt about her but that we cannot cross the line of being more than just friends. She however does not see it that way, and has told me she will respect my boundaries, but cannot lose me again and cannot deny how she feels.
I really thought I was doing the right thing by reconnecting. I love having her back in my life, but the more time goes on, the more I feel guilty about this entire situation. Jen doesn’t know about her coming onto me, and I do not want to have to cut things off with Summer again. I really hate myself for creating this problem, but I have no idea where to go from here. What do I do?
You’re in fool-me phase two with Summer, which is the shame-on-me (as in: you) phase.
She has always been the person she is now, so it’s hardly a surprise that’s still interested in rekindling this illicit flame with you. I don’t know her, but I have a strong feeling from your letter that part of what is appealing to her about a potential affair with you is precisely its illicit nature. Her time-spanning interest in pursuing a sexual relationship with you while keeping her partner in the dark reads to me like she fetishizes cheating.
Because she has spelled out her feelings, which seem to go beyond lust but not far enough to blow up her life and piece it back together with you as her primary, to stay in touch with her is to lead her on. Your conflicting emotions are in all likelihood sending her mixed signals—your mouth says no, but your continued proximity, knowing how she feels and how difficult a time she’s having controlling it, suggests, “Maybe…?” Is there something extraordinary about this person that compels you to keep her around and in the friend zone, which given your chemistry seems akin to mental manual labor, a supreme act of self-control and conscious effort? Certainly there are plenty of people who could be described as nice to have around without threatening your current relationship. If Summer’s presence isn’t life-enriching beyond the ego boost she regularly administers (not to mention the delicious agony of deferred sexual tension), there is no reason to keep spending time with her … unless you’re the one who’s interested in blowing up his life for the sake of being a side piece. This configuration with her is already causing you guilt, which is to say that it’s taking from you. Is what she’s giving you in this sexless arrangement really worth it? You’re friends with benefits … without the benefits. Objectively, there doesn’t even seem to be a hard choice here.
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Dear How to Do It,
I have been married for almost 14 years. In the past few years, I became friends with my neighbor. I have had sexual fantasies about this guy and I often find myself dreaming about him and thinking about him just out of the blue. I have written a song about him and am now writing a book that has a lot of my life in it. I really like him way more than I should. I don’t want to pursue a relationship with him because I am married. I do want to be romantically involved with him but not have sex with him. My husband does not like him. I have never told this guy how I really feel (bad idea, rejection, and embarrassment). I haven’t told my husband about my feelings for this guy (bad idea).
In the meantime, my relationship with my husband has deteriorated, and I am now ready to move on with my life without my husband. After my husband told me that I did not pull my weight in the marriage and said some other hurtful things, I find it hard to be attracted to my husband. We haven’t had sex in over six months, and I am not sure if I want to have sex with him anytime soon. I had a conversation with my husband and let him know that I no longer have sexual interest with him, and he said that he would wait (crazy right?). This whole time I have felt like I am cheating on my husband mentally and emotionally. I feel like I am lying to myself and not being fair to my husband. I now believe that I am asexual but not sure how long it is going to last. I feel guilty for liking someone else (I think it is just lust and infatuation). I also feel guilty for staying with my husband because it is safe and a sure thing. I have wrecked my brain, and now I am exhausted. What in the world is wrong with me? Does this make me a horrible person and what can I do from here?
Dear Wandering Wife,
I’m not quite sure what you mean when you say you think you’re asexual—asexuality, as defined in the above-reference Ace, an essential text on the subject, means a lack of sexual attraction to other people. By definition, aces can experience all the things that come with allo (or non-asexual) sex (including the enjoyment of it) except for lust. And lady, you’ve got lust in your life. You’ve fantasized about your neighbor. Could your current claim that you are interested in romance but not sex with him be a product of your guilt?
You spell it out pretty plainly: Your husband hurt you, you fell out of love, you’re ready to move on. It seems like your mind is a step or two ahead of you, via fantasies about your neighbor. This is often how things go: We make our minds up, and then we do things. It’s a process that starts from within. I don’t quite buy the idea of “mental” cheating because I don’t believe in thought crimes. You’re allowed to envision another life for yourself—without doing so, you’d never be able to pursue it, and you’d be stunting your own growth. Emotional cheating tends to describe very close relationships with another person defined in part by an element of secrecy—basically, you’d need a party in addition to yourself to be involved in order to qualify. You just seem sad and ready to go. Get yourself a good lawyer and ride off into the sunset with your guitar strapped to your back. It will make excellent fodder for your songwriting. You might even get a whole breakup album out of it.
More How to Do It
I have a married friend that is very, very hot. He’s also one of the nicest, truly kind people I’ve ever met. I’ve met his spouse a few times, and they seemed pretty nice, though a bit older than my friend. Last summer we were chatting about something, and he let it slip that they haven’t had sex in years! I was shocked and sad for him. He clearly misses being touched (they don’t even sleep in the same bed). But, he’s a good guy, and wants to honor their marriage vows. At what point is it OK to point out that his needs are just as relevant and should be honored? I’ve suggested that he try to have that discussion, and perhaps seek “permission” to find an ethical third party to provide the physical attention. He is afraid of rocking the boat and causing an issue. But he’s indicating more and more distress. I’m frustrated for his situation, but if he won’t ask permission, and is too ethical to cheat, what other options can I suggest for him?
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