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 in my 30s. I was just recently diagnosed with HSV-1. I acquired it from a man I dated who did not disclose his positive status, claiming that he didn’t know he had to tell people. He then dumped me in a very cruel way, and the whole process has been really horrible and disheartening. He believes that this is not the big deal that I think it is, and that he does not need to disclose his status to any future partners. I tried reaching out to my doctor to see if she could talk to him about it, but because of privacy laws, she reported that she could not unless he came in to her office. I don’t know what to do or how to make him realize how emotionally traumatizing it was so that he does not do this to another person.
You can’t control other people, only yourself—and that’s if you’re lucky. Ideally, this guy would have disclosed HSV-1—that’s generally the kind known as “oral herpes” and associated with cold sores—even though two-thirds of people under 50 carry it globally and he’s not alone in thinking it’s no big deal. In terms of influencing his behavior, all you can do is let him know the human toll of his callousness on you and hope for the best.
For yourself, you might want to interrogate exactly what is so traumatizing about carrying a virus that is in most cases benign and treatable. HSV-1 is the most common type of herpes, and it is a lifelong infection, yes, but physical symptoms tend to be relatively rare and cause little more than an intermittent bumps for a few weeks. Its profile as a life-ruiner was constructed in part by a salacious media. Meds can help decrease your contagiousness and control your outbreaks, if you have them. I have to wonder if the one-two punch of the herpes and then breakup has colored your experience—maybe if this guy were more understanding and inclined to stick around, this wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. Regardless, from my perspective, it’s just not. I know you might feel alone, but take solace for what it’s worth that you now carry a virus that 50 to 80 percent of the adult population in the U.S. also has. Not alone by a long shot.
Dear How to Do It,
At the beginning of our relationship, my husband and I couldn’t keep our hands off each other. Now 10 years, a mortgage, and a few kids later, we are on different pages when it comes to sex. My husband wants quickies and multiple times a day. Sex is probably in his top two priorities. I don’t like quickies anymore. Quickies are painful for me because I’m not lubricated enough. I’ll do it for his pleasure, but it isn’t ever enjoyable. He’s unhappy when I say I don’t like quickies, but he’s equally unhappy that I don’t enjoy it when I give him a quickie. Our kids are young and therefore often coitus interruptus, and my brain is constantly thinking about all the things I need to do. Therefore, sex isn’t the foremost thing on my mind. To put it on the front end, I need time and foreplay to get in the mood, but my husband doesn’t get it or doesn’t have the patience for it. He thinks I should just automatically want him when he walks into a room, which is how he feels about me. How can we find our way back to each other sexually?
—Frustrated in Florida
Dear Frustrated in Florida,
The question isn’t how you can find your way back to each other—it’s whether your husband will find his way to the lighthouse you’re operating, from which you’re also shooting off fireworks, sending smoke signals, and lying on a foghorn. In other words, he needs to listen to you before this place burns down.
In not very much space at all in your letter, you have diagnosed your issue. You have plainly laid out why sex right now isn’t a priority, per se, but how it can work for you, and he is not just ignoring that, but actively unhappy when you aren’t on board with having sex in a way that is both painful and alienating. Sex should not hurt, and it’s really not cool for your husband to sulk when you don’t want to have sex that hurts. You have enough children to take care of—you certainly don’t need another in the form of an adult man.
The way I see it, your husband has a choice: He can have sex in a way that is pleasurable to both of you, or he can not have sex at all. I can certainly understand that his libido has not changed the way yours has, but he’s not going to will you into maintaining his exact sexual appetite, so he will have to work with you. I think if you put it in stark terms—we can do it this way, or we won’t be doing it at all—he may get it. If you refuse to have sex with him until he gets it, he’ll really get it. Also, look into using some lube if you’re still having issues with dryness. That much can be helped.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 30-year-old man and three years into a relationship with my boyfriend (same age), and I don’t feel attracted to him anymore. I have been cowardly enough to not tell him because it progressively started happening, both because I did not want to hurt him and because I did not want to lose him for something that I was considering a normal reaction over time. But last week, I had sex with another guy I met during drinks after work, and the issue has escalated.
For context: My boyfriend and I met and fell in love after a few months of friendship. We lived as an almost-married couple straight away, sharing a house and making plans for the future, even professionally and financially. Sex drive from my side took a progressive downturn after the first year and a half, first because I was just not feeling as connected as I had. Eventually, I tried to avoid having sex, until I gave it to him but thought of other guys to not give away the fact that I was not enjoying it. I believe what started to turn me down is the lack of novelty, the lack of flirt, but mostly the fact that his body has lost tonic. I must say that this relationship came into my life as something new and unexpected, as most of my sexual life was marked by many different and diverse partners, and most of them were one- or two-off sexual partners. That is why a part of me always thought that I could be just used to having many partners instead of one. While a monogamous relationship seemed hard to think of before him, with him, I always thought it could have worked.
He has always been jealous of my past and anxious about the comparison with our current relationship, to the point that he will question aggressively all my previous sexual partners before him, asking for details and making assumptions. It’s generally left in me a sense of dirtiness and shame. All those arguments always ended up with him getting enraged that I’m trying to hide something, and in me closing up and getting angry, but I also am constantly questioning this relationship against the others. This lasted for the first year, until the point that I asked him to stop and please focus on us rather than others. He understood and has tried to repair the damage done, asking me to be open about my sexual needs, but today I still find it difficult to open up about my fantasies and needs.
The conversation about this started with him when he asked me recently to have more sex, once a day at least. I love him and my only desire, which has caused immense anxiety for a long time now, is to give him what he wants and deserves, but I can’t just do it. I finally told him that I don’t feel as much attracted to him anymore, and that might be given to the fact that he’s not caring too much about his body. I honestly never considered his body to be my perfect pick, but the mental connection always filled the gap. I can say I never had better sex with anyone else than with him, not even with guys who had “perfect” bodies. But I also don’t think he really appreciates me apart from my body. He gets mad at me constantly. He admitted to being an “asshole” sometimes and said he takes me for granted.
We were committed to create a change, to take care more of our bodies, taking care more of ourselves—until last Friday night, when I went for drinks with a friend and his colleagues from work, and I had flirted with another guy, and ended up having sexual intercourse. It was a night where everybody was keen on getting smashed given lifted restrictions, and that might have contributed, but the sex has made me feel amazing. It felt good, despite the sense of guilt during and after. It felt good because I felt appreciated, because I could taste a different body and because I felt like “if he doesn’t appreciate me, someone else will.” When I went home, I felt empty, as if I wanted to kill the relationship unconsciously. I told my boyfriend straight away the day after considering if telling him or not was just to take away the sense of guilt. He appreciated the sincerity, but also questioned the motive more than the action itself. And he obviously condemned my action as a betrayal: He would have preferred me to tell him before it happened. As usual, he is braver than me and got the point.
In short, what is going on with me? I love him and I don’t want to lose him, and I don’t think he wants to lose me either, despite the latest developments. Still, I don’t think I can give up on a satisfying sex life to stay with him exclusively. What could be the compromises for us both?
—Coward in Love
When your boyfriend told you that he would have preferred you to talk to him before getting with another guy, he offered you a preview to a potential compromise: an open relationship. That he didn’t break up with you as a result of your infidelity also suggests he may be down to pursue this option. Given the circumstances and the feelings surrounding them, this immediately strikes me as the best option to allow you to hold on to what you’ve got while getting what you want. It’s not a decision to make lightly or even one that many people can adopt without complications, but getting some outside help is a way to remain in a relationship that isn’t meeting all of your needs. It may feel strange to retain a partner with whom you aren’t having sex, but you should attempt to discern how much of that strangeness is coming from what culture tells us a relationship should and shouldn’t be. All of that is nebulous anyway; what is true is that you have one life and even within societal constraints, you have at least some degree of freedom to make that what it is. You may even find that legalizing outside sex in your arrangement recharges your erotic life with your partner.
It will require regular (if not constant) communication, and to some extent, tact will facilitate empathy. You can be straightforward about waning desire—it is common in long-term couples—but I wouldn’t hang it all on his body. Your continued interest in new romantic partners is quite common and has, in fact, been dubbed the “Coolidge effect” (after American President Calvin Coolidge). In his recent book, So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex: Laying Bare and Learning to Repair Our Love Lives, psychotherapist Ian Kerner defines this as “how sexual motivation renews itself in response to sexual novelty, often in the form of different sexual partners.” I do not think this interest in novelty is inherently bad or worth resisting. I see partnered, loving sex as a distinct flavor from sport sex with strangers; just because I have an abundance of chocolate doesn’t mean I stop wanting vanilla.
So I’d start with that conversation. If your boyfriend isn’t amenable to ethical nonmonogamy and you’re both intent on repairing the sexual relationship, take a look at Kerner’s book, which suggests several exercises for couples to try to reignite the sexual spark, such as discussing fantasies and/or taking in erotic media together. Good luck!
Dear How to Do It,
For the past few years, I’ve been dealing with a medical issue with the skin in my groin that turned my wife off from giving oral sex. My care team determined that we had hit the point of last resort: surgery. Everything went great, and after a recovery period, we were able to resume our sex. I had partly joked that this all means that blow jobs can happen again. She didn’t seem to share the same sentiment, not because she’s still turned off by being down there, but that she had embraced simply not having to give them. For her, giving oral was always just part of the routine, not something that got her really excited. I’m not expecting oral in every session, but it’s something I’ve sorely missed. In spite of her lack of passion for giving them, her ability is simply the best I’ve ever experienced. We’ve had talks about it, and she says she’ll restart again, but that never seems to happen. Short of begging, how do I convince her this is important to me and that I would like the occasional act?
—Recovered and Waiting
What you can do is what you’ve already done. “Begging” might actually get your point across, but don’t be annoying about it. Don’t be coercive. Talk to your wife again, gently—and accept that if it’s a no, it’s a no. Ask yourself if you could live with your life as is if it stays this way with a firm no on blow jobs. Would that make you want to end your marriage? Or can you be satisfied with fantasies and masturbation? Choose wisely.
More How to Do It
I’m a married woman. I had a three-month affair with an old boyfriend, “Jim,” that ended abruptly two weeks ago when I got an email from a friend saying “Check this out!” with a link to CNN. I clicked and a page with a video player showing a picture of the guest bedroom in my house opened. Huh? I later noticed the CNN link was actually a hypertext link to IPaddress/myname. I clicked play and a message popped up: “I know you’re watching.”