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 married for almost six years in an open marriage where each of us is free to pursue whatever outside relationships we want as long as we are honest with each other about what we are doing. It felt wild and wonderful and free and worked great—until one of my wife’s lovers betrayed her 18 months ago. He started suggesting she have sex with some of his friends, men she had never met, and I was suspicious. But she ignored my warnings and one night one of her lover’s friends lured her into a group session that turned into a gang rape by men who didn’t know or care about her and completely ignored her protests. She suffered physical injuries that took weeks to heal, got a couple of STDs, and of course was terribly traumatized and has been in therapy ever since. Her asshole lover (who didn’t take part in the rape) picked her up from his friend’s place and, despite her obvious distress, didn’t take her to the hospital, just dropped her off outside our house and drove away.
I was out of town on a job and my beloved suffered alone for days until I got back. She had been too traumatized to call me or anyone else, not even an ambulance. And when we went to the hospital, she refused to report it to the police, even with the encouraging support of the hospital staff. She was still recovering when the pandemic hit. I lost my job and she had quit hers after the rape, so we were home together all the time, with no one else. This was actually a blessing. It was tough financially, but we got by on unemployment and our savings.
It was a long time before she was mentally ready to become intimate again, but when we did resume love-making, I found it to be more wonderful than it had been before. I cherish her so much and I can’t imagine how I could have ever wanted anyone else. I got a new job in April, and she said she feels ready to start looking again also, although I’d be happy to provide for her if she wanted to stay home. I felt this was the right time to tell her how I feel about our relationship and suggest we become monogamous. I was really surprised and a little hurt that she doesn’t feel the same way—and is actually looking forward to “getting out there” again. We’ve been arguing about this constantly, and we’ve almost never argued about anything in all the years we’ve been together. She thinks I just want to keep her from being with other men and says it’s not my job to protect her. But I do think it’s my job to protect her. She also thinks I blame her for what happened, which I absolutely do not. I blame the men who raped her, and I especially blame her former lover, who quite frankly I would kill if I could. But I don’t blame her. And I really don’t want anyone else. I suppose I could be monogamous and agree for her to do whatever she wants, but now I can’t stand the thought of her being with other men. Honestly, I can’t understand how she can stand the thought either. She hasn’t even ruled out hooking up again with the lover who betrayed her because he claims he didn’t know what his friend had planned to do to her. This makes me furious and it also scares the shit out of me. What should I do?
—Open and Shut
If your wife feels as strongly about her nonmonogamy as she is indicating, it’s not surprising that she is unwilling to let circumstance change her, even circumstance as horrifying and traumatizing as what she experienced. She is not what happened to her, and her ability to separate her sexuality from that which was forced upon her could be a sign of healthy healing. I don’t know for sure—she could also be attempting to avoid dealing with her problems by burying herself in more sex. Her ongoing therapy suggests she’s more in healing mode than avoidance, but since I’m not privy to those sessions, I can’t say for sure. (It does give me pause that she would not cut off contact with this former lover, but I don’t know all the details there, either.) One thing that might be useful is asking her what her therapist thinks about the prospect of her resuming her active sex life. If the therapist is supportive, well, that’s two out of three of you who are OK with the idea.
Which leaves you. Have you done anything about your own trauma regarding your wife’s rape? You do realize that you are showing signs of having it, right? It was profound enough for you to attempt to reshape your relationship. I hope you’re also in therapy, or will now consider it. The reality is that sex tends to require vulnerability. When you walk into the house of a stranger or someone you don’t know very well, you’re taking their word for it that they don’t have a weapon in their nightstand or a camera hidden across the room. Some people exploit other people. This was the case long before your open marriage began six years ago, and it will unfortunately remain so. As long as people are content to exert power over each other, the possibility of abuse remains, particularly in intimate situations. Maybe your wife always understood this. Don’t feel bad if this experience has altered your philosophy and objectives, but also don’t fault your wife for her ability to remain herself.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve (25-year-old woman) been dating my boyfriend (30-year-old male) for nine months, and we’ve never had sex. Well, I haven’t received penetrative sex from him. We’ve never really even tried. We do plenty of other things—he goes down on me, I peg/finger him, we use a double-ended dildo. He needs anal stimulation to get hard and cum, which is totally good with me. I’m happy to give it. But lately it’s been starting to bother me that we haven’t had traditional sex. I know he hasn’t had P-in-V sex with many people (and no one in the last couple years). We’re starting to get more serious, and it’s making me kind of insecure that I’m not among the people he’s had sex with. I’m a very sexual person and just really enjoy being penetrated. Lately, when we’ve been in the middle of foreplay, I’ve had this crazy desperation for him to fuck me. We’ve talked about it a couple times. I’ve brought up Viagra and he’s open to it, but he’s never made the initiative to get a prescription. We’ve discussed him wearing a plug while we try so he can have that anal stimulation. I continue to bring up the issue here and there, but I’m conscious not to do it too often because I’m nervous about making him insecure or the problem worse. Any advice would be wonderful.
A cock ring is another, nonprescription option, but I don’t think that what you need is another addition to the pile of things your boyfriend is supposedly open to but not actually trying. It’s safe to assume that he’s putting these possible solutions off for a reason, and for our purposes, let’s assume that reason is a simple case of disinterest. Everything is not for everyone, and maybe you have happened upon a guy who just isn’t into what people consider to be the act that definitively validates sexual attraction. In that case, if you’re willing to live with that, I’d advise you to find alternate paths to pleasure. But hey! You’ve already done that. You’re ahead of the curve, practically speaking; it’s your thinking that hasn’t quite caught up. It would be unreasonable to take someone else’s taste personally. You are either down or not. Sitting around and wondering why you aren’t the one to convert him to penis-in-vagina sex is imposing your own hierarchy of sexual practices on him. It makes the situation about you, as opposed to accepting the common ground of pleasure that you’ve found, which is about both of you.
If he is hung up on his hang-up and wants to explore, perhaps even remedy, his allergy to PIV, he can talk to a therapist alone or with you. But if he’s content with the pleasure he’s receiving, your efforts amount to squeezing blood from a flaccid dick. You might get some, but it’s not going to be the geyser you’re chasing. If you want PIV sex because it’s something you enjoy and you’re not getting it with him—and it sounds like that may at least partly be the case—it’s completely fair to search for a relationship that will provide it. If this is more a matter of principle, though, you’re going to have to grow up and embrace reality.
Dear How to Do It,
My biggest fantasy involves mutual masturbation with a stranger, in person or virtual. Not like in a creepy flasher way but in a mutual, they’re really into it too way. I’m pretty fit and well-endowed so I’m assuming someone out there would be into it. My partner and I are currently in the process of negotiating under what conditions she’d be comfortable with me doing that; I’m fine to never follow through unless she’s 100 percent fine. If we do figure out how to make this work, how would I go about setting this up? I’m assuming there’s websites for this sort of thing, but which ones are safe/safe-ish? I’m male and not too picky about who’s going to be on the other side of this, probably be into both men and women.
—Watch Me on the Internet
“Safe/safe-ish,” as in what apps will definitely result in you leaving a hookup with all your body parts intact? No clue! Apps and websites don’t castrate people; people castrate people. The truth is that virtually any scenario in which you’re spending private time in private quarters with a stranger is potentially dangerous. The truth is also that such danger rarely rears its head and is hard to predict when it will.
But if you accept the risk, as many of us do, there are plenty of options. If you’re looking for solo partners, BateWorld might be your jam. Or a masturbation club of some sort might be a good place for you to start. There are all-male versions (site NSFW) in most major U.S. cities, and there are some co-ed clubs as well. Here’s one in Florida with a very web 1.0 site design, so that’s fun. I can’t vouch for any of these, but I hear good things about NY Jacks if you’re ever in New York City. Be aware that sex parties of any kind sometimes violate local ordinances (New York’s sanitary code, for example), though raids are uncommon, which is obvious in how openly these parties are thrown. For female partners, swingers’ groups or FetLife might be worth a try. Good luck and stay pointed at the ground (or yourself), unless otherwise requested.
Dear How to Do It,
I need help. I have been married 11 years. Sex with my husband is horrible. We were both relatively inexperienced when we got married, so I had hoped things would get better over time. It hasn’t. Vaginal sex is horrible. My husband is much longer than I am, so he ends up painfully stabbing my cervix. We have tried different positions where I have more control over the depth and tempo, but my husband gets frustrated and ends up grabbing and twisting so he can stab more deeply. Manual stimulation is horrible. It is too aggressive and painful for me, and my husband doesn’t get anything out of it at all.
My husband usually isn’t interested in focusing on just kissing or other types of physical intimacy. On the occasions when we have tried, I end up getting grabbed or twisted in a way that is uncomfortable, so neither of us enjoys it. Anal sex is HORRIBLE. Performing oral sex is … OK. Maybe that’s a place to start? But—this might sound stupid—my lips get tired well before my husband orgasms, so it isn’t working as a stand-alone activity. My husband isn’t comfortable performing oral on me. I don’t like the idea of having sex outside of a committed relationship, and my husband is opposed to the idea of an open marriage anyway, so that option wouldn’t work for either of us. I’ve tried forgoing masturbation for months. (I have never had difficulty achieving orgasm on my own.) I have been taking estradiol both orally and topically. I don’t think I am a lesbian, as the idea of having sex with men is appealing, even if the reality never approaches the fantasy. I might be on the asexual spectrum somewhere given my general aversion to having sex with strangers. But declaring myself “asexual” would not make me any happier or more at peace with my sex life, so I don’t think the label is helpful.
I recently turned 40, and I am filled with overwhelming sadness that I may never be able to have an enjoyable sexual experience with a partner. I alternate frequently between trying to accept this and desperately trying to change it. My husband says he would do anything for me to enjoy sex as much as he does. But I am out of ideas. What are your ideas for what else I can try to move my sex life from horrible to pleasant? How do I brainwash myself into believing your ideas will actually work so that my expectation of horrible sex doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
—Stabbed by a Penis
I’m not in the business of brainwashing or being an accessory to brainwashing, so I can’t help you there. You may be able to have an enjoyable sexual experience with a partner, but perhaps not with this particular partner. I don’t buy that your husband would do anything for you to enjoy sex because … he’s not doing it. Sex shouldn’t be painful, and if it is, a compassionate partner will change what he’s doing to make it pleasurable. He’s under no obligation to perform oral or anything that he isn’t comfortable with, but again, his refusal makes his claim hard to swallow. He isn’t listening to you. I’m not sure how much of this you’ve told him, but even if you’ve said nothing, he’s not listening to your body. If his manual stimulation is painful and aggressive, you can say, “Ouch, that hurts,” and walk him through what would be pleasurable.
That he gets “nothing” out of something performed to make you feel good pretty much says it all, though. For your situation to improve, he’ll need a basic lesson in other people’s pleasure, and that necessity freaks me out. He’s too old for that. I don’t even know how old he is, but anyone who’s been married 11 years and is causing his partner pain during sex is too old for that. An 18-year-old is too old for that. Even more than a sex thing, this is a basic empathy thing. Counseling may be in order if walking him through is too much for you. So might be breaking up and starting anew.
On a purely practical level, something you might start with, should you choose to forge ahead, is the Ohnut, a ring worn at the base of his penis that can control his penetrative depth. He’s going to need more than an accessory, though, so do not give him the impression that slapping one of these suckers on will instantly transform him into a tender lover.
More How to Do It
I’m a woman in a heterosexual, monogamous marriage. I love my husband, but throughout our five-year relationship, our sex life has had its ups and downs. It has mostly involved what I thought was my husband’s fairly continuous masturbation while he is at home and I am at work (we work different schedules), which he says leaves him undesiring of sex with me when I get home. We’ve fought about this many, many times, with him promising to change and leading to some “up” moments, only to be right back to the same issue a few weeks later. He’s also lied many times about the amount of time he spends masturbating (and watching porn), and I’ve felt like he’s constantly hiding something from me.
Well, a few days ago, I caught him in another lie, and I told him we were either going to see a marriage counselor or I was leaving. He agreed to counseling. Later that night, however, he decided to tell me the truth about what’s really been going on.