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 girlfriend of three years is amazing—kind, smart, talented. The total package. But she has this one habit that really grates me. Any time she does something, whether it’s cook dinner or show me a presentation she made for work or give me a gift, she gets annoyed when I don’t follow up my compliment or “thank you” with constructive criticism. So I’m always having to say “dinner was great but the potatoes were a little bland” or “the PowerPoint looks good but the colors you used clash.” Naturally, this also applies to our sex life. Every time we have sex it has to be followed by my critiques of her “performance.” I never have any critiques! She’s great in bed! To avoid a fight, I’ve started just making stuff up. But to be honest, nothing turns me off like having to keep a running list of lies about what she could do to improve. If I don’t criticize her afterward, she has a panic attack. I’m a guy, I kind of just want to pass out after sex. She does see a therapist for some issues with her parents from when she was growing up. They were loving but also the kind of family that always had to be “the best” at everything. Even at their family gatherings they’re all trying to one-up each other. I’m not sure if she’s talked about this to her therapist or not. I’ve asked but she waves me off. I know she doesn’t think there’s anything wrong—she just says she likes to know how she can improve at different things so she can become a better person. I don’t want to break up with her. How can I get her to stop begging me to talk badly about her?
—Critical in Carolina
This question reminds me of the ones we get from people whose partners demand they talk dirty to them (typically during sex)—spontaneous creativity is far too much to ask from a partner. Some people simply don’t have it in them, and insisting that someone produce language that doesn’t come naturally to them is a way of controlling them. It is reasonable to expect a certain engagement with our self-improvement from our partners because an outside perspective can be very useful. But that improvement should be done on their terms, and in the service of improving the relationship, not just one of its participants.
Maybe … tell her this? Explain that she’s making unreasonably taxing requests, being overly controlling, forcing you to lie, and turning you off in the process. All of that is technically criticism and if it results in positive change, it will indeed be constructive. I know that’s not the criticism she wants, but it’s the criticism she needs. Hopefully she doesn’t take it too hard, but if it makes her wish she never asked and she stops, it would still qualify as a success.
Dear How to Do It,
My girlfriend and I have been dating for close to a year now (five months of that was long distance). We really love each other and are very intimate in everything but the sex. I love having sensual affectionate sex, looking in each other’ s eyes, going slow and exploring the crevices of her body. But my girlfriend is not like that. She can’t keep eye contact without feeling weird even in the context of a loving relationship and just wants to “get railed,” in her own words. I have been supplying what was demanded of me, but I find myself feeling very sexually unsatisfied. I’d never cheat on her, but how can I get her to see where I am coming from and try my kind of sex?
It’s worth getting to the bottom of why your girlfriend’s favors this flavor of intimacy, and going from there. Sometimes people’s sexual taste is a mystery to them; in others, it has seemingly clear antecedents. If there is, for example, trauma involved that makes her less amenable to looking you in the eye, well, at least you’d understand that she isn’t merely asserting her taste at your expense.
When two (or more) people’s erotic sensibilities align so much that mind-blowing sex comes naturally, it feels almost like a miracle. But for a lot of couples, something like a compromise is necessary—just because certain parts fit together, doesn’t mean all the pieces of our shared sex life automatically fall into place. In these cases, which I think are more common, sex works when you both work on it, finding a middle ground that satisfies each person’s taste in sensations to at least some degree. If one is unwilling to give the other what they’re looking for, it can be a clear-cut sign of incompatibility. I’m afraid that’s what’s going on here, but perhaps not. It’s worth figuring out, so start talking.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 52-year-old divorced woman and excited to explore my submissive side for the first time. I met a 54-year-old, well-educated dominant guy online who seemed really great. We met once for coffee and then met for sex last night. He’s been in the kink community for at least a few years, while this is all new to me. We talked about our interests a lot in advance. I told him I was interested in things like restraint, rough play, and spanking. I like anal sex, but I hadn’t told him yet. He told me he liked ass play and talked about taking me from behind. I wasn’t interested in anal sex our first time together and since we hadn’t discussed it, I assumed we wouldn’t do it.
From my perspective we connected very well sexually. While I came many times, he had difficulty remaining erect for vaginal sex and when I gave him a blow job. I don’t know if this is an issue for him in general or just happened with me. He didn’t say anything about it. He was hard enough to have sex doggie style. While doing so, he started to put his dick in my butt. I said it wasn’t a good idea, but a few minutes later he tried again. I let him. He went at me hard with no lube. In the moment it was OK, but I was bothered by the fact that I said no and that he tried again right away. Later when he initiated sex again, I asked if he had cleaned himself since his dick was in my ass. I didn’t think he had and was turned off by this. He said he was only in a little. I said no, he was totally in. He got up and took a shower. When he came back, I asked why he said he was only a little inside. He said he didn’t know that we had anal sex and was embarrassed by it.
I didn’t/don’t believe him. He insisted this was the case. It is clear that asses turn him on. My sense is he might need anal to come, or at least needed it last night. If so, it wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem, but he needed to bring it up rather than just doing it. This is a consent issue. Is it possible for a dominant man who is turned on by asses to not know he was having anal sex?
I’m with you. I don’t believe this guy either. While anything that you can imagine within the realm of human possibility (and many things beyond!) is not only possible, it’s already happened, this guy had to know what he was doing. He said he was into ass play and intimated he wanted to do it with you. He tried to do it, and you demurred. He tried it again and you let him. He then invented two separate lies to somehow soften the notion that his hard dick was up your butt without lube. I wasn’t there. I’ve never met this guy and I never will, so I have no way of being absolutely sure, but I have as much faith that he was fully cognizant of what he was doing as I do that intelligent life exists in the universe beyond earth (there’s just no way that humankind can be as good as it gets, especially when people pull violating bullshit like sticking their uninvited dicks up other people’s asses and then lying about it).
If guys couldn’t tell the difference between vagina and asshole, they wouldn’t be so fixated on penetrating the latter, often to their partners’ chagrin. This one consciously violated your consent, and then denied doing so with cowardice. It’s up to you how you’d like to rectify it. At the very least, he showed you up front that he’s someone who doesn’t respect your agency, someone who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants and then cover that up later. He illustrated that he’s not a good partner and doesn’t deserve your time. Bare minimum: Don’t give this guy another second of it.
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Dear How to Do It,
A couple weeks ago I felt like my fiancé was acting very suspicious. Hiding his phone whenever a message popped up and just kind of cagey in general. When he left his phone sitting around and was in another room, I decided to check his messages. While I admit this was a total invasion of privacy on my part, what I found confirmed my worst fears.
He had been texting with someone else he has hooked up with in his past and made plans to get together for sex but said he wanted to keep it a secret. Obviously, I knew nothing about this until I found the message, as I thought we were in a fully committed monogamous relationship. He claims he had no intention of it ever actually happening, but he canceled once, and reached out to try again; the second time it got to the point of my fiancé sending an address at which to meet up. And when it fell through a second time, he reached out a third time trying to make it happen. I don’t know how I am supposed to believe he had no intention of anything happening in person.
After I found the message, instead of just leaving I gave him the chance to explain himself because I do really feel that I love him. When discussing it, I told him I felt as though he had cheated on me by making explicit plans to sleep with someone else. However, he claims it can’t be considered cheating since it was only talking over text and he “had no intention of actually meeting up” with the other person. He then went on to say that he was really only even talking to anyone else because he feels that I don’t initiate sex enough and that he feels like I don’t desire him. Which is not something he had even remotely mentioned before this.
I told him I would be willing to stay and try and work through it. But now it feels like he’s pressuring me to get over it faster when I am just trying to take my time and process the situation and decide if this is actually someone I can still see spending the rest of my life with. On top of that, he doesn’t seem to understand how hurt I am by all of this or think I really have a right to be since in his eyes it wasn’t cheating and was essentially “the same as porn.”
He swears nothing physical ever happened and nothing even through text will ever happen with anyone again. He said he is willing to change for me, but I really don’t think that’s a change he should have to make now, after he’s already proposed, and we have never been in any type of relationship that wasn’t monogamous. It feels more like something that should’ve stopped a while ago, and I had no idea was happening at all.
Since the incident, he has said I can now check his phone whenever I want, since I said I was honestly having trouble trusting him. But I don’t want to have to check his phone to be able to trust him. And if he knows I’ll be checking what’s to stop him from deleting the evidence if something else were to happen in the future before I can find it.
He has agreed to go talk to some kind of counselor or therapist to see if we can get back to the level of trust and intimacy we had before. I just don’t know if I’m making a mistake by even trying and not just getting out. I haven’t felt comfortable going to any of my family or friends to talk about this as I feel they would all jump to my defense and say to leave. But I do love him, and I’m just not sure if leaving is a decision I would regret down the line.
This is the only credit I’ll give your fiancé: He gets at a good point. Cheating is subjective. It can look different in every relationship, depending on the boundaries that have been set. One couple may allow flirting with third parties, while another may have a strict policy of only having eyes for each other (or at least behaving like it). A couple in an open relationship where sex with others is permitted may still experience cheating if someone violates the terms of their arrangement. It comes down to trust, which is the product of reasonable expectations being upheld. Right or wrong, monogamy is the default in Western culture, and couples are assumed to operate in that structure unless otherwise specified. If your fiancé wanted to wander outside of the strictures of monogamy, he would have had to present that to and have it cleared by you.
Generally, we can assume that anything sex adjacent with someone else, including sexting, making plans to meet up, sending nudes, etc., would also violate a monogamous arrangement and constitute cheating. Sometimes stuff like this—visiting a strip club, for example—might seem to fall in a gray area, in which one party feels that because he or she was not specifically prohibited from doing something, it’s allowed. This generally involves playing dumb and being willfully ignorant of one’s partner’s feelings. Close relationships require a certain amount of intuition and the sort of erring on the side of caution that accompanies respect. “Would my partner be angry if they found out I was doing this thing I’m not inclined to tell them about?” is a good question to ask yourself when you happen upon morally shaky ground. “Why am I inclined to keep this a secret in the first place?” is another. In practically every case the answer to that second question is, “Because my partner would not approve.” To move forward anyway is to consciously betray your partner’s trust and to disregard their feelings as unimportant or unreasonable.
Your fiancé knew he was doing something wrong by hiding his behavior. He then obviously lied about his behavior being rooted in fantasy, when it seems clear that if he had his way any of three times he tried to make it so, it would have become reality. Then he blamed it on you, and now he’s once again disregarding your feelings by downplaying the pain he caused you.
If this were a story about a guy getting carried away in a moment, or even letting some infatuation sweep him up over a period of time with his horniness for this other person rendering him blind to the life he’s building with you, I’d be more forgiving. But this all seems extremely intentional on his part. He isn’t owning up to his behavior, he’s blaming and dismissing. What actually might have ended up being no big deal in the scheme of a long life spent together, he’s making a big deal by showing how comfortable he is with disregarding you. He’d rather show you why you’re wrong than admit that he is.
He doesn’t strike me as being willing to learn and grow from this, but for the fact that he’s willing to go to counseling. Sometimes people can be so stubborn that it takes someone on the outside of their relationship to point out how shitty they’ve been for it to actually sink in. You love him and you see a future with him. While I think it is at least time to envision alternate life paths, I’m an optimist and a big believer in therapy, so I am going to cautiously recommend that you at least give couples counseling a try. This way you can at least say you did it. You worry that leaving may be a decision that you regret down the line, but keep in mind that based on his cruelty and disregard, you may also regret staying, and perhaps soon. Good luck.
More How to Do It
I am the guy who did the stupid thing from a hundred overheated online stories: I slept with my straight roommate when we were both drunk. I am the only gay guy (seemingly!) in a shared house of five guys, and this was very much unplanned. I was totally fine with it, and he acted like he was too, but it’s clear he’s not. A month later, I now hear him having loud sex with women regularly, which I definitely never heard before. He’s not hostile, but he won’t really look me in the eye either. The other roommates have asked me if I’ve noticed him acting strangely. Is it wise to bring this up with him, or should I just let it go? Again, I know I am dumb.