How to Do It

Something Very Weird Is Happening When I Get “Close”

Is there any way this is normal?

A woman having a headache in bed with a neon brain.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AlessandroPhoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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’m asexual and in my 30s. I do masturbate a couple of times a month, but I don’t think I’ve ever had an orgasm—mostly it’s more like the satisfaction of scratching an itch, which I do until I get bored, or my hand gets tired. (This may be related to being on SSRIs more than half of my life, as I understand it.) When I want to masturbate it’s more like it’s just something I need to do, like a nap when I’m tired or a glass of water when I’m thirsty. I don’t have any shame issues, I have nice relaxing fantasies—nonsexual, solo activities that I find satisfying and comforting. It’s been this way for over a decade.

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Two big changes have happened recently for me: I’m starting to actually get a building, stronger sense of pleasure, which would be great except the second change. Right as it starts getting close to being really good … I suddenly get a splitting headache. Like, nausea, seeing spots, can’t-walk-straight headache. I’d never had a migraine before this happened the first time, and now the last few times I tried to masturbate, it’s been up to 12 hours of light sensitivity and nausea and misery. Is this a thing that happens to people? The people I normally would bring this up to (like family or friends) struggled fiercely with the whole “asexual” thing, and I don’t really want to handle talking ace masturbation practices with them. I also don’t want to trouble the medical system right now with what might just be a thing that happens sometimes. Thanks for your help.

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—Masturbatory Migraines

Dear M.M.,

What you describe sounds like a sexual headache, sometimes referred to as an orgasm headache, though a headache that appears just before or during the onset of orgasm is, in fact, one type of sexual headache. It’s very considerate of you to not want to bother busy medical professionals, but unless you’re in an area of the world that is currently being absolutely ravaged by COVID or war, you should get yourself to a doctor. You’re worth it, and there are plenty of places with the bandwidth to examine and treat you. These headaches might indicate nothing more than a condition that is confined only to masturbation, but they might also indicate a much more serious underlying condition. And if they are just sexual headaches, they could be treated with prescription meds like beta blockers and indomethacin. If you’re in the U.S., you won’t be able to get those without going to a doctor. So go to a doctor. Why are you still sitting there reading this? Go!

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Dear How to Do It,

I recently found out my husband has been going to random chat sites like Omegle to have cybersex with women. Apparently, his porn addiction got out of hand, and he wanted something more “real.” I’m mortified because I just had our third child. We are both on the same page that this is considered cheating. How do I go on having a connection with him when all I can think about is all the women he video-chatted with? Is there a way to be with someone after they’ve cheated on you? What if some of these women were underage? I’m just at a loss, and I need advice.

—Dazed and Confused

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Dear D.C.,

First things first: If your husband had sexual contact with underage girls, it’s important to figure out whether this should be reported and what it could mean for the safety of the children in your household. You didn’t provide enough concrete information for me to determine a proper course of action, but this is potentially serious and the severity of the infraction should dictate your next steps. I realize that this is part of the infidelity (or might be, given your oblique phrasing), but it’s also its own issue.

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More broadly speaking, the successful repair of a relationship is predicated on effectively treating the underlying issues that led to the infidelity, according to Talal H. Alsaleem, a marriage counselor who bills himself as an infidelity recovery expert and wrote the book Infidelity: The Best Worst Thing That Could Happen to Your Marriage: The Complete Guide on How to Heal From Affairs. “If it’s related to a mental health problem, it’s really important to figure the individual issue,” Alsaleem told me via Zoom. “They need to know that issue is going to be fixed, what’s the prognosis for that issue, and if this is something they want to sign up for. Simply saying, ‘I’m going to therapy,’ by itself is not going to cut it. A lot of people hide in therapy. There has to be a concrete way to see if those issues are going to be resolved.”

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Inevitably, repairing will take work. “A common mistake people make is they discover infidelity, they get upset, they hug and make up, and then somehow think trust is going to rebuild itself without having a concrete why,” Alsaleem explained. “If there’s trust, it’s pseudo-trust because it’s not really based on concrete understanding of the reason that led to it as well as seeing concrete evidence of those issues being fixed.”

In the meantime, you should figure out what you want. Do you want to be with this person who cheated on you? You should understand that while staying together may seem like the most convenient option, logistically, it’s hardly your only option. Alsaleem warned against remaining in the relationship on principle or even for the sake of the children. “The primary reason for rebuilding a relationship is because you know the individual has the desire and capacity to fulfill my needs and his needs,” he said. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

A couple of years ago, I reconnected with a friend of mine from my past. We talked online for a couple of years, but during the pandemic we really started talking a lot and hit it off and started seeing each other long distance. I have known for years that she had done some very extreme BDSM photoshoots and porn, and I didn’t have a problem with that; she continued doing them until recently when she stopped at my request. I told her I didn’t have a problem with her doing them in the past, but if we were going to be trying to make a relationship work, I asked her to hold off on doing any further shoots. It just felt weird having her with other men if we were going to be trying to date.

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We were planning on seeing each other soon, but as the time of our meeting gets closer and closer, I found myself overcome with anxiety and feelings of crushing inadequacy. I had never been with anyone who had worked with professional doms, and I am terrified that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the experiences she’s had in the past with these pros. I talked my concerns over with her, and she was very loving and supportive, but I still have the feelings of inadequacy. I canceled our planned meet saying work was too crazy. I am terrified of rescheduling. She is an absolutely amazing woman, but I am afraid my fears will cause things to end before they ever really start. I had initially found her involvement in kink a turn-on, but now I am afraid it will drive us apart. Any advice on how to proceed would be appreciated. And to emphasize she has been wonderful and supportive and always very honest; this is all on me.

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—Kink Is Killing Us

Dear Kink,

She’s not just wonderful and supportive and always very honest; she’s accommodating, and quite possibly to a fault. She certainly had no obligation to abandon her professional pursuits at your request, and she did anyway and you still had issues. You had “no problem” with her work in theory … in theory. For as the potential commencement of a relationship approached, nothing about her had changed (other than her signaling that she likes you enough to honor your wishes regarding her life) and you choked. You either accept her or you don’t, and you’re not doing a great job convincing anyone that you do. I suspect you can’t hang. Sex workers get enough shit without being saddled by the baggage belonging to people who supposedly care about them. If you want to move forward, you need to come into the relationship with a clean slate, managing your own insecurities and abandoning your preconceived notions. This relationship hasn’t even started yet, and it’s being defined by your own private psychodrama. It’s possible that she just isn’t the right person for you; if you keep hemming and hawing and canceling plans, you will almost certainly show her that you’re not the right person for her.

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Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have been married for 23 years and together for 25. He is a straight man; I’m a bisexual woman. When we first began dating, he found that very hard to deal with. He said that my being bisexual meant there were twice as many people I could choose other than him. Over the years, this has ceased to bother him, which is great, but I haven’t stopped being attracted to women. A lot of my fantasies involve bisexual threesomes, either with another woman or another man. I’d love to share these fantasies with him, or even explore acting on them, but considering how threatened he was by my being bisexual in the past, I’m hesitating. I feel like I’m back in the closet because I can’t talk to him about this, and I have no idea how to start. Do I have to keep this side hidden forever? How do I bring this up?

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—Bisexual Back in the Closet

Dear B.B.C.,

I can’t predict the future or even begin to speculate on what is going on in the head of someone I only know through someone that I only know through a paragraph sent to an advice column. But! I don’t think your husband’s rationale made much sense previously. However much bisexuality expands the pool of potential suitors versus heterosexuality, the clear-eyed interpretation isn’t merely that your sexuality gave you more options. It’s that you had more options and still picked him anyway. He effectively won the queer-partner lottery, and I interpret his inability to appreciate that as mind-clouding insecurity. I would hope that in the quarter-century since he voiced this discomfort, he has grown up a bit and at least is now convinced of your loyalty, no matter how much vagina you had to pass up to get here. I’m glad your sexuality has “ceased to bother him,” but I wonder how present it is in your discourse. It’s a lot easier to be OK with something that basically never comes up. For all I know, he considers your bisexuality a “phase.”

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If it does come up from time to time, extend the conversation. If you find yourself commenting on a hot woman you’re both looking at on television, go one more and tell him what you’d like to do with her or about a recent fantasy. You can remind him that your sexuality has never been a threat to your relationship, but at the same time, his penis didn’t cast it away. It may be a wand, but it ain’t magic. If he cares about your emotional life, hearing his partner say that she still feels like she’s in the closet should prompt him to reconsider his previous behavior. I know we’re talking about extracurricular stuff here, but your inability to live as your authentic self is heartbreaking. Your hesitance is understandable; his rejection of you upon revelation, however, would be, in my mind, unforgivable. Even if he can’t take the very notion of opening your relationship so that you can experience women, he should at least accept your desire to do so. If he doesn’t, he isn’t accepting you entirely, and partial acceptance isn’t acceptance after all.

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— Rich

More How to Do It

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My partner and I have been together for 15 years. We grew up in the evangelical church hearing “No premarital sex! Women’s bodies should be hidden! Sex is dirty!” and so on. It took us YEARS to even know how to talk about sex, and we’ve been each other’s only sexual partners (after marriage, of course). We’ve discovered that sex is actually pretty great, and talking about it helps—who knew?! But I’m stuck on how to broach non-vanilla sex. I have two main problems: One, I’m curious and want to explore, but I don’t know what’s even out there. Unfortunately, porn isn’t an option—I still have too many layers of guilt to work through before I could enjoy it. Is there a nice list somewhere with a bunch of the things people do and how to do them? Two, how do we talk about these “adventurous” things without it being awkward? My partner has always been loving and patient and supportive, but I feel like I’d be bringing up something gross or perverted (thanks church), and I don’t know how to get over that.

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