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’ve been dating this girl for over two months. She’s way out of my league in terms of both socioeconomic status and physical attractiveness, and I consider myself very lucky for it. Our relationship seemed perfect, and I was already planning what ring to buy for her until she came to me with a disturbing confession. She admitted to me that a major reason she’s sexually attracted to me is because I am a descendant of a Holocaust survivor, and she has a persistent sexual fantasy of being a Nazi concentration camp guard who is overpowered and raped by a male Jewish prisoner. I’ve rejected the idea before, both because I find wringing sexual pleasure out of the Holocaust tasteless and because I don’t have violent sexual desires. Regardless, she is insistent that I “give it a try.” She even went so far as to buy the costumes for both of us.
While the suggestion is obviously offensive, she’s always been willing to engage in whatever fantasies I’ve desired without a complaint, including allowing me to invite my old flame from college into our bedroom for a threesome. I feel guilty rejecting her first-ever sexual request of me, even if it isn’t terribly respectful. On the other hand, I am beyond uncomfortable with it, and I don’t know if I could force myself to go through with it. I once even suggested to her that she could live out this fantasy with another person in an open relationship-type arrangement, but she insisted it has to be me. I even suggested a compromise of other rape-fantasy role-play scenarios that don’t involve genocide, but she said that doesn’t work either. Should I just go through with it? Is there some other compromise I can offer? Is it reasonable for me to flatly say no? Should I, as one friend advised me, “run the hell away”?
—Don’t Understand Gentile Sexuality
Dear Don’t Understand,
A partner’s past permissiveness does not transfer them credits to spend on whatever they want sexually. There is not tit-for-tat obligation in sex. But even if there were some kind of one-for-me-one-for-you rule, a kink as elaborate as your partner’s does not necessarily equate to something like a threesome in terms of the required emotional and dramatic effort. What has been proposed is not a “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” type of situation; it’s more like, “I’ll scratch your back and then require you to sexualize generational trauma from mass genocide.” While I don’t believe that any fantasy play between consenting adults is off-limits, no matter how taboo the premise (sex is, in fact, a way to get close to certain facets of existence that are otherwise too far out to broach), I do believe that the key is that both consenting adults should want to do it. You are uncomfortable with this, and it is completely reasonable that you would be. No judgements, but the notion of the Holocaust has hardly been known to make panties drop. Are you cool with being fetishized for your lineage? Is that an adequate trade-off for having someone who is superficially out of your league and just plain … out there by most measures? I don’t think so. Don’t do something you know that you don’t want to do. You have offered the best compromise possible. It is reasonable for you to say no. You don’t have risk getting winded by running the hell away; a brisk walk will do you just fine.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m in my mid-60s, in a partnered relationship with a man a few years older than I am. We’ve been 24/7 partners for about five years; together much longer. Our commitment to one another is solid. In the past year, thanks to the pandemic and to the #metoo movement, which I fully support, I have been thinking about my sexual past, from my first experiences to the ones I had last week. As I sift through the past, it is becoming clearer to me that many of the sexual encounters I’ve had during my life weren’t exactly “consensual.” I was inexperienced, or afraid to say no, or emotionally manipulated, or inebriated, or all of the above. In fact, after reading a story in the New York Times a while ago, which quoted a good number of women who had experienced everything from ogling to rape, I realized that a lot of the touch I have received from men over the years was not wanted. I just didn’t know how to stop it or, more honestly, was afraid to stop it. Some of these experiences were awful. On the other hand, I’ve also been fortunate to experience wonderful sex with generous and caring partners. So it’s not all bad.
Nevertheless, all those close calls and unwanted groping in situations I did not feel in control of are popping up now, present in a very real way. I find myself feeling panicky and vulnerable during sex, often eager to just get it over. I do experience a sense of intimacy and closeness once sex is over, but during foreplay, especially, I feel traumatized, for lack of a better word: tears form, I feel panic; I want to cover myself and stop everything. But I don’t. I don’t know how to tell this story of my past to my partner without sounding a bit pathetic, as if I have jumped on the #metoo bandwagon, even though I might not belong there. I’ve not experienced rape. And truth be told, I’m beginning to recognize that I have some trust issues with this partner: times when he’s forgotten I’ve made a request to forego something particular during sex and has just forged ahead. Or I’ve said “not now” and he’s wanted to carry on with foreplay, assuming I was saying no to intercourse only. Part of me believes, sadly, that my experience is no different than most women’s experience with sex—at least women my age who grew up in a less-than-woke time in America. Part of my wants to take time to acknowledge my own history, good and bad, to sort through some of the pain and sadness. Another part wants to forget it all and push ahead because, after all, others have experienced far worse. What do I do with this?
—Dazed and Confused
Your newfound conception of your sexual history is not pathetic, and while I understand your self-consciousness for how your motives may be perceived, MeToo isn’t a bandwagon and getting sexually assaulted isn’t a trend. Your revelations illustrate the effects of group healing, which does not operate like a contagion but an awakening. Culture just nudged you and said, “Hey, look at your life differently.” And you did, and here we are.
I don’t believe that you should continue to neglect your trauma. You did that before and look what happened: It came back. Your erasure was cosmetic. Others may have experienced “worse,” but pain is relative and anyway, who’s counting. I talked to psychotherapist and writer Vanessa Marin a few weeks ago for another question and she discussed some sexual assault survivors’ tendencies to downplay their trauma using the same comparisons you did in your letter. Take your time and sort through the pain and sadness. None of it was your fault, and it’s no coincidence that it’s coming up as you maintain a relationship with a man who has also betrayed your trust and violated your consent. The gravity of his infractions is something for you to determine, and your verdict should inform your next steps in the relationship, whether it’s forging ahead with a new sense of awareness or cutting things off. If therapy is possible and at all attractive to you, find someone who specializes in sexual trauma and start talking.
Dear How to Do It,
I was recently contacted by the daughter of an ex-girlfriend whom I had dated many years ago. When her mom and I were dating, she was a young child. Fast forward to now, and I’m in my 50s and my ex’s daughter is in her 30s. When she initially reached out to me, I thought nothing of it. When her mom and I were dating, I treated her daughter as if she were my daughter. We got along well, and I loved her as a parent loves their children. We’ve been talking on the phone for several weeks now, and I get the feeling that she wants more than a platonic, or parent/offspring relationship. She wants us to “get together,” and I feel like a creepy old man for even considering it. She has grown up to be a very attractive young woman. I know that I’m not looking for a committed relationship right now with anyone, I don’t want to hurt her feelings, or lead her on, but I have to admit that I’m a little intrigued by the prospect of sex with her. Should I explore this avenue, or should I make a U-turn and avoid that street?
—“Creepy Old Man”
This column truly attracts a type of person who wants to do incest without doing incest. I gotta say, I almost admire the ingenuity of a scenario such as this, which is a butterfly kiss away from that taboo.
With any outcome, I wouldn’t really be jazzed to hear about such a pairing, but here’s why I’m going to suggest the U-turn: It could really hurt this woman’s mother if she found out. You should care about this because you cared enough about her at one point to treat her daughter as your own. Maintaining that level of dignity is Good Personhood 101. Additionally, consummating this relationship could end up proving disturbing to both you and the woman that you used to (I’ll repeat this for effect) love as a daughter. You won’t know until it’s too late. The fantasy of imminent sex and its reality can be genres apart, and just because you’re both grown adults doesn’t mean that you can’t traumatize yourselves and/or each other through reckless decisions.
Also, you have no proof that she actually wants sex from you; it’s a “feeling” that you received from her invitation to “get together.” Sometimes getting together means getting together, and not living out what may be a decades old incest fantasy. Showing up with those kind of expectations based solely on inference could annihilate a person’s childhood. So don’t. If something makes you feel like creepy old man and you’re of creepy old man age, you’re receiving a call from inside the house. Pick up the phone and listen.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’m a regular HTDI reader; thanks for your advice and insights. Recently, I’ve been wondering about something I haven’t seen addressed in your column: a penile implant as a possible solution to ED issues. I’m in my mid-60s and beginning to experience ED issues. In particular, getting hard enough for PIV sex with my wife. I started using Viagra and Cialis about 10 years ago for the problem and those have been reliable to get me erect and ready for play. Until recently. The pills are now becoming a hit-or-miss solution. I’m open to all suggestions, but I haven’t really read anything in HTDI about penile implants. And it seems like a great solution: Boner on demand that will keep my penis usable for as long as I or my wife wants it. (Now, I could be wrong about the boner being usable indefinitely.) But what are the “cons” of a penile implant? I realize that penile implant surgery isn’t covered by my medical plan, and there are normal risks associated with the surgery itself. And those are major concerns, to be sure. But I’m hoping to keep having sex with my wife for as long as I’m on this side of the dirt, so I’m still intrigued with penile implants. Are there many other downsides to penile implants? Thanks.
—Intrigued by the Never-Ending Boner
A prompt after my own surgically implanted robo-heart. To answer your question, I talked to Dr. Arthur Burnett, a professor of urology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the director of the school’s Sexual Medicine Fellowship Program. Burnett told me that he performs about 80 penile implants a year and he’s written extensively about the procedure.
Burnett is a big believer in penile prosthetics, whose efficacy is backed by some 40 years of history. The relative rarity of these prosthetics owes to their invasive nature, as well as some doctors not quite understanding their usefulness. Burnett told me that good candidates for prosthetics are people with a high risk for losing erections, such as diabetics and people with penile deformities like Peyronie’s disease. “[These surgeries] are something that can restore a man’s sense of wholeness, not to mention his function,” he said.
As for the cons, any time a person has something implanted in their body, there is risk of infection. But the chances are slim with penile prosthetics. Burnett says this occurs in one out of every 100 penile implants. Infection would require removal of the device, and too much scarring or other changes in the penile area could prevent the ability to repeat the procedure. You should also keep in mind that even in an ideal scenario, this procedure is not reversible. “You can’t say, ‘I’ll try a prosthesis, if I don’t like it, in two years from now I’ll just try some Viagra,’” explained Burnett. “Your penis structure will have changed so medications or other more minimal options are likely to be unsuccessful.”
That said, theoretically one could, as you point out, keep having sex beyond the point of orgasm (provided that you want to—the refractory period is often characterized by both a physiological inability to get it up, as well as a temporary disinterest in doing so). And some insurance, like Medicare, in fact, does cover these prosthetics. Private plans “may or may not,” which might mean you have to endure a pain in your ass well before you get that rod in your dick, because that’s the way insurance goes in the U.S. Good luck!
More How to Do It
Due to a smaller-than-average penis and lack of confidence regarding it, I have struggled for years to maintain relationships, and my girlfriends and partners have all decreased the amount of sex we had, some gradually, some precipitously, with many of them cheating on me. Only one ever told me my size was the issue. As someone with anxiety and depression, I often turned to alcohol to deal with these feelings of unworthiness and loneliness; conversely, while inebriated, I often gained the confidence to negotiate fairly regular hookups, none of which turned into anything. I am also significantly overweight, further (de)emphasizing this body part. Now I am two years sober, have lost some weight, and am starting to feel good. Do I bring my penis size up with the next sex partner I have? And how?