How to Do It

My Wife’s Jealousy Has Forced Me Into a Secret Life

I keep trying to stop, but it’s not working.

Man looks guilty with hand on his face; neon eyes watch him from background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Yauheni Rak/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 have been masturbating to porn for most of my adult life. My wife and I have been together for eight years now, and I was pretty open with her when we met that that’s what I did. Our goal was to have absolutely no secrets from each other. It was already clear back then that this habit of mine made her highly uncomfortable, so I tried to kick it. The habit eventually came back, and she didn’t know about it until a bit over a year ago when it created a huge breach of trust in our relationship. So, I’ve tried to kick the habit again. And again. And again. It’s now at the point where she’s watching my every move like a hawk to make sure I don’t look at other women in secret. She says she has no problem with the act of masturbating, it’s the fact that I can have sexual attraction to random other women to the point of being turned on and acting on it that bothers her. That’s all I had for most of my twenties before meeting her, and that unfortunately defined what turns me on to some extent. From my perspective, I’ve always accepted I was never going to be the sole source of sexual stimulation in a relationship. It would be unfair of me to expect, and I dont believe I’m attractive/romantic enough to fully satisfy anyone. Am I the asshole here for being unable to completely turn off my desire to look at other women? I’ve even tried to find some help from a therapist, but he sent me down a rabbit hole of Proud Boy-adjacent “no fap” YouTube videos, and I got completely grossed out. I don’t want to hurt my wife’s feelings, and I want to regain her trust, but I feel like changing this part of my sexuality has been and will continue to be a losing battle.

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— Han Solo

Dear Han Solo,

Your wife having no problem with the act of masturbation but taking exception to the expression of lust that comes with it is like your wife having no problem with you being human—it’s the doing of human stuff that bothers her. It’s as though she’d prefer you to fall into a meditative state while whacking it. Her argument is entirely theoretical, and not at all practical, and it’s not even good theory. Desire is not something that is easily turned on and off—those who have attempted to do so in clinical settings (in response to distressing fetishes) have had limited-to-no success, according to a psychologist I interviewed for a previous column. I don’t think you should be asked to conversion-therapy yourself out of an interest in novelty, something that fascinates many people without harm. For many, to be engaged with humanity means being sexually interested. Your wife is taking your sexuality personally, which is inappropriate, as it is your sexuality that you share with her—it is not hers, per se. Your lust isn’t a threat to society or other people’s agency, and it’s not your wife’s business to intervene.

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By doing so, she risks promoting deception. Because changing one’s sexuality is so difficult, people who try and fail to do so then tend to be secretive when they inevitably act on it. Suppression yields misery. So no, I don’t think you’re the asshole. Attempting to alter your healthy desires will be a losing game for you, if not the both of you. It would be useful if your wife could understand that there is a wide range of sexuality beyond her immediate experience, and that is a good thing for the world because sex is good and makes people happy. Implicit in a no-secrets arrangement is compassion and understanding for one’s partner. She isn’t holding up her end of the deal.

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Dear How to Do It,

I need a recommendation for a sex toy. My husband is in his 60s and recently had a prostatectomy for prostate cancer. They caught it early, and he is doing well medically. However, the erectile dysfunction has been really hard on him. He never had any issues with that before, and it has been a cliff-like drop off in his ability to get and maintain an erection. They gave him Viagra and a penis pump, but those feel so medical, and I figured that there must be a great toy out there that would work on its own or in combination with those and feel more fun. Ideally it would work on a flaccid penis, have some type of cock ring, and maybe involve a little suction. Any ideas?

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— Happy Husband, Happy Wife, Happy Life

Dear H.H.H.W.H.L,

The reason why the treatment suggested by your husband’s doctor is medical is because it is. It’s a medical intervention for a medical issue. There isn’t any way around that, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to at least give the meds and pump a shot. Sometimes these issues take time to improve, so I’m also going to recommend sticking with it and not letting any initially disappointing results deter either of you.

Depending on what you’d like to do, there are some other options. If the goal is simply for his pleasure, you might experiment with vibrations. While hard efficacy data isn’t really there, one review found “a trend towards better erectile function with [penile vibratory stimulation].” You can try any vibrator, but there are some like the Pulse that are made specifically to be worn on the penis to stimulate its sensitive underside. If you’re looking for help with penetration, you have the options of a strap-on, a penile sleeve worn over the penis, or a stretching brace device like The Elator. All can be used in combination with the treatment you already have in hand. A positive attitude is essential—try to approach this as an adventure toward rediscovering pleasure as opposed to a chore. This review of various non-surgical strategies for the recovery of erectile function suggests that “the enthusiasm of a patient’s partner for a particular treatment may influence the patient’s long-term compliance with the treatment.” Since you’re already inquiring, that tells me you’re up to the task. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

My fiancé and I have a fantastic sex life. Were both middle aged divorcées, and while we arent the first partners for each other post-divorce, I can attest that this has certainly been the best. We dont live with each other, and we usually meet up for these sessions when our respective children are with our exes. Occasionally there will be a sleepover when one of us has their children, but thats never really been an issue. Our kids get along, know what our intentions are, and dont raise any eyebrows when one of us wakes up at the others house. I mention all this for two reasons: As most of our sex happens without distractions or barriers, things tend to get more than a little raucous. Were very loud honeymooners when we have time alone, which I enjoy. In contrast, we sneak and are super quiet around our kids after hours, which, by the way, is also fine for me. Im getting the impression, though, that my partner is starting to not be fine with the quiet sexy time after hours. They tend to avoid coming over lately when my child is in my care, and more and more nights end in front of the TV, instead of rolling around in the bed if I come over and they have theirs.

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Weve also had more and more conversations about ED and menopause, all serious and possible if not inevitable outcomes in the future. I dont really enjoy these conversations, even the light-hearted ones, especially after weve had sex for the eighth time over the weekend. Obviously, I dont want to marry this person for the sex alone, but there seems to be some hesitancy and concern about our physical relationship in the future that I do not share. I understand the frequency of sex is going to decrease, especially after the years go on and we see each other every day, but I dont know how to divert the conversations away about a possible demise to our sex life. I attributed most of this as getting old, but again, Im not in it for the sex alone. But the conversations are getting more and frequent while the sexual occasions decrease. How do I become a better, supportive partner as time goes on, while making them feel satisfied sexually?

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—Pre-Old Couple Sex

Dear P.O.C.S.,

It sounds like you’re doing just fine at the moment, but something you might want to investigate is why your fiancé seems so anxious. Fear over future outcomes is obstructing their (and, by extension, your) enjoyment of the present. Live in the moment! Remind them that you have no illusions of the limitations of your so-called honeymoon period that you’ve found yourselves in, that sex often wanes as relationships go on, and that you’re in this for more than just boning. Assuage their fears, refrain from escalating, and receive it all—even the concerns you’ve heard a million times by now—with compassion. If your partner’s anxiety goes beyond sex, it might be something for them to work on, perhaps with a professional. But all of this seems manageable, and even if it stays where it is, some less-than-comfortable conversations seem like a small price to pay for marathon sex weekends.

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Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I have been married for 10 years. Both married before with varying sexual backgrounds. Sexual chemistry for me has never been a problem with the women I have been with but her sex history is complicated at best. My problem is what chemistry we did have has completely evaporated. I’ve tried everything from toys, to role play, to telling her if she wants a girlfriend on the side (she has a bi past), she’s more than welcome to have one. Basically, anything that with jump start her sex drive. Some of her medications are making matters worse. Meanwhile I’ve been more than a year without intimacy. I’m close to solving my problem without her, but hesitate because that isn’t an answer either. What type of counselor would be best to help? Sex, marriage counselor?

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— Beyond Frustrated, Beyond Blue

Dear B.F.B.B.,

Often, issues with sex are actually symptoms of bigger problems in relationships. Be that as it may, you’ve targeted sex as a primary concern, so a couple’s counselor who advertises sex issues as a specialty would probably be a good place to start. That said, a sex therapist would probably work just fine, as well. Because so much of sex is about communication (I’d argue the act itself is its own form of communication), a sex therapist should be able to help with issues that relate to but go beyond sex. If I may give you some advice about approach: Please make compassion a priority. Your wife’s lack of a sex drive may be what’s ostensibly affecting your sexual frequency, but that’s only part of a picture. Relationships are emotional ecosystems constructed from feedback loops. Go in not with a her-versus-me approach, but with a team mindset. The only win worth acknowledging is one that benefits both of you at the same time.

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— Rich

More How to Do It

I love going down on my wife. She loves when I do. It’s the most reliable way to get her over the edge, or give me a break during intercourse. But for the last few years, she’s been too sensitive for my face—my facial hair specifically, even when I’m freshly shaved. I am capable of a very close shave. Having tried the usual cartridge razors, I usually use a double-edged safety razor, but even going against the grain with a straight razor leaves her raw (and me dealing with bumps and ingrown hairs for days after). I’m about ready to go for chemical or laser hair removal, unless you have any ideas.

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