How to Do It

I Had an Explosive Affair With a Co-Worker. Now He’s Back, and Something Has Gone Very Wrong.

A man and woman in a sexual embrace, fireworks around them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by LightFieldStudios/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,

Thirty years ago, I had a brief affair with a co-worker. We were best friends and he confided in me about his unhappy marriage. He had married his wife (who was somewhat older) when he was young and still a virgin, and he was overwhelmed by her cultural sophistication and sexual experience. That novelty began to wear off after a few years, but after they had a child, he felt he needed to stick with the marriage. We had sex several times, and it was marvelous, but then he felt guilty and said we had to stop. I don’t think he ever realized how deeply I loved him—I would have lived with him, married him, had children with him, or even just been his lover forever. But I couldn’t stand seeing him every day to be a sounding board for his emotional pain while he chose to stay with a wife he didn’t even like, much less love. So I got a new job in another city and removed myself from what had become my pain.

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Although I’ve had several relationships since then, I’ve always believed he was my one and only. I never entirely got over it. We stayed in contact over the years, and last summer, he emailed to let me know that his wife had died. I sent my condolences as I would to any friend and thought no more about it. But a couple of months ago, he called to say he wanted to get together and see if we could reignite what we once had. Even though I thought I had put it behind me, I found myself ecstatic with joy and hope and told him absolutely yes. We talked about it for a few days, and he came to live with me. The first few weeks it was all happiness—until I finally broached the issue of sex, and he said he hadn’t had sex in nearly 20 years, no longer missed it, and wasn’t interested in having it again. He seemed surprised that I was expecting it at all, and he suggested that we didn’t need it at our age (I’m only 56, and he’s 63!). I realize we never specifically discussed that sex would be part of our relationship, but I think that’s implied when “reigniting” something that was pretty hot, even though it was just a couple of months. I can’t imagine breaking it off now that we are finally together, but I can’t imagine never having sex again, either. I also am hurt that he wasn’t looking forward to it as I was, and it makes me feel a bit insecure that he doesn’t want me in that way anymore. What do I do?

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—Broken Dreams

Dear Broken,

I find it very strange that he’d ask to “reignite” what you had—which included enthusiastic physical consummation of the affair—and move in to your home without mentioning his two-decade-and-counting celibacy practice. This concerns me, and you should keep an eye out for any other oddities.

That said, some people aren’t interested in sex. Sometimes that’s lifelong, and other times it’s temporary or begins later in life. You might inquire, gently and from a position of curiosity, how his interest in sex waned. Details on this might help you understand that it isn’t about you—he’s been living this way for 20 years. You weren’t in his life again until a couple of months ago. Obviously this happened prior to your reconnection.

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Remember that this is all new, and things might change as you settle in with each other further. As you discuss this with him, you can make it clear your sexual feelings haven’t waned, and that this is an issue for you. That doesn’t mean he has to have sex with you, but it may help you gauge whether he will eventually be open to trying some sexual activity again or whether this will ultimately be a disconnect you two can’t bridge. It’s unfortunate that you’ve already moved in together, and I caution you to avoid intertwining further in any concrete ways like finance or business before you figure this out.

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Dear How to Do It,

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I’m a 46-year-old bi guy. I have a fair amount of casual sex, mostly with male friends-with-benefit types, and the occasional no-strings-attached hookup. I’m pretty open and versatile, and I enjoy most of the usual activities: mutual oral, rimming, anal, you know the drill. I’m not into anything really “kinky,” except for one thing: I’m increasingly into guys’ feet and toes, but only in the context of wanting to touch them or maybe suck a toe during sex. I don’t like the idea of dirty or otherwise gross feet, nor do I want to be stepped on, dominated with them, etc. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t have or want to engage in a full-blown foot fetish situation. My question is, how do I get what I want without sending the wrong message? I don’t want to come off as creepy or make anyone think I have a “foot thing”—I really just want a little contact with them during the usual proceedings. Nor do I want to bring it up and get shot down.

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—Dipping a Toe

Dear Dipping, 

Avoiding creepiness is about behavior—treat your partners like whole humans, regardless of what parts of theirs you’re interested in, read the room, and take no for an answer, and you’ll be fine. Finding incompatibilities in sexual interests is part of dating—that can absolutely feel like getting shot down, but it comes with the territory.

Broad categories like “into feet” (which you are, in certain contexts!) can be useful for situations where speed and efficiency dominate, like apps. And they can be conversation starters. But if we want to get what we want, we almost always have to have a more detailed discussion. It’ll help if you can frame what you’re hoping for in positive terms. Something like, “I like to touch and occasionally suck well-groomed feet as part of sex.” Put it in your own words. When it’s time to introduce the subject with a new partner, you can start with “I love fresh toes,” or “I’d like to give you a foot rub some time when you’re fresh out of the shower.” This gives your partner a specific scenario, and allows them to make a more informed decision, and also gives them precise information about what you’re turned on by in what circumstances.

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Dear How to Do It,

So this is a weird problem. Background: My husband and I have been together for 19 years, married for 16 years, and have worked together for 12 years. We have a 3-year-old. And we have been swingers for about a year now.

I have had an ”ooh, he’s cute” crush on one of our co-workers for several years—it was a fleeting, occasional thought, not a real problem. But once my husband started swinging, and an male-female-male encounter was on the table, my crush became stronger. Then we went remote again for the pandemic, and not seeing him cooled my crush down. Now, though, it’s back, and it’s bad. Like I-can’t-breathe-when-I-see-him bad. Invasive, distracting, graphic NSFW thoughts pop into my head constantly. We’re definitely “work friends,” but I don’t know ANYTHING about his personal life. We’ve never met or heard anything about a partner, even if he has one. We don’t know his orientation. He’s never given any indication of interest beyond being friendly. Yet I have a desperate desire to sleep with this guy that is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. I heard through the grapevine that he’s leaving when his contract expires in June, and I have a crazy idea to slip him a note on his last day with my cell number and a request for a threesome. For the record, my husband is attracted to him too, but obviously not like I am.

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How do I get this obsession out of my head? Or, is there any way to let this guy know we’re swingers and into him without our other co-workers knowing? Thanks for any help you can offer!

—Thirsty

Dear Thirsty,

Saying nothing and never communicating with this person again seems unnecessarily prohibitive, and slipping him a note requesting a threesome seems extremely bold. It’s definitely an option, but I think there’s a middle ground. You can slip him a note with your phone number, email address, and an invitation to keep in touch. From there you can either gently inquire about his relationship status, or suggest coffee and do so in person. Once you’ve got some information—and are interacting outside of a professional context—you’ll be able to gauge whether flirtation and more is something he’s likely to be open to.

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I’d wait until toward the end of his last day at your workplace, but not so long that you risk missing your chance at a goodbye.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m an asexual woman, and I’ve been with my partner (a man) for more than three years. I love him dearly. He is so good for me (and good to me), and we’re talking about marriage. When I finally figured out that I was on the ace spectrum, that gave me the confidence to try seriously dating as an adult. My partner has been my first sexual relationship. He let me set the pace for everything we did, and has been wonderfully patient. He reassures me, when I freak out about it, that if I decided I hated sex and never wanted to do it again, he’d be OK with that.

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That’s just my anxiety talking because, while it took me a while to work up to having sex (by which I mean digital, oral, or other penetration), I do like it—I just have a really low libido, and it’s not a big need for me in a relationship, so I can go a long, long while without it. Day to day, I enjoy more “mellow” forms of intimacy, like cuddling, kissing, hand-holding, curling up in bed and reading to each other, and stroking and holding each other. Not heavy petting, if you will. My job is long hours, intensely stressful, and very emotionally draining, so sometimes, this is not just a matter of preference, but lack of energy to do anything else.

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We try to keep dialogue open about when one of us is feeling like we’re missing sexual intimacy. So far we’ve tried a couple things for these long spells between traditional “sex,” like cuddling/petting while he masturbates, erotic massages, and makeout sessions that may or may not end in me orally or manually getting him off. You’ll notice, I’m sure, the same thing he has—these mostly center around his pleasure/orgasm. I do enjoy these activities and get pleasure from them! But when I’m tired and feeling gross, or just not feeling interested in sex physically, I don’t want an orgasm. Sometimes I’m so worn and overstimulated after work I don’t even want to be touched (and obviously, those days, we don’t do anything). My partner says he’s still feeling a missing intimacy between us because part of the intimacy he’s craving is that of giving me pleasure—giving me an orgasm, specifically. I … don’t have any ideas for that.

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I could try talking to my doctors about playing with my meds, in case they are causing the low libido (it’s true that even my drive to masturbate has been down since I’ve been on these drugs), but it’s my opinion and that of my therapist that this is largely a function of my work, and secondarily just a part of me. I hate my job and I’m working on an exit strategy, but it could take a long time. He says this isn’t a deal-breaking issue, but that doesn’t mean, I think, that we shouldn’t address it. Do you have any guidance for what we can both do (or how we could reframe our thinking, maybe?) to meet this intimacy need when I don’t think I can will myself into wanting an orgasm when I … don’t?

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—No O

Dear O,

I think it’s wonderful that we’ve got so many men in heterosexual relationships who value female orgasm and giving pleasure. But this isn’t the first situation I’ve seen where that’s become burdensome for the woman somehow.

You have a very low libido, a presumably very stiff accelerator, and many stressors that are dampening any sexual desire you might have. Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are—my co-columnist Rich and I recommend it regularly—elaborates on the “accelerator” metaphor and the sexual excitation system based on sexual inhibition studies.* You might find some use in the explanations of different arousal styles, and how to encourage shy desire.

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That said, I’m not sure there’s much to do here beyond what you already are—and your communication in this relationship sounds strong. Aside from racking your brains together for anything that might be a sexual motivator for you, and then working out ways to engage and amplify that, I’ve got nothing. And that’s a project you probably don’t have the time and energy for right now anyway.

More How to Do It

I genuinely liked my ex-boyfriend, but I got the vibe he was desperate just to be with someone. He confessed that he didn’t lose his virginity until he was 20 to the first woman who asked, and he was still frustrated and embarrassed about that. When I met him, he told me he was very into sex—kinky, open-minded, high sex drive. I thought I’d met my match. Not so much. He was average in bed and didn’t take new direction well. He only wanted to have sex in two positions in the morning or at night and only in bed. He thought oral sex was the kinkiest thing ever. He wanted nothing beyond that. Anal sex was “gross,” sex toys were out, watching porn was “weird,” having sex in public made him nervous, etc. We did have sex a few times a week, but he turned me down a lot. Things got tense recently when I used a certain word to describe our sex life together.

Correction, June 3, 2021: This article originally misspelled Emily Nagoski’s last name.

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