How to Do It

My Dead Husband Is Haunting My Sex Life

I’m frustrated as hell.

Woman with hands over her mouth next to a neon ghost outline
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Syldavia/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 a woman whose husband died a few years ago. It was very traumatic, as he died at a relatively young age, and we had been extremely close and very much in love. I still have a strong sex drive but had no interest in dating for the first couple of years. It’s only been recently that I’ve been thinking about dipping my little toe back into dating.

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Like all widows, I have dreams about my late hubby. I’m also a person who sometimes has pretty vivid sexual dreams. Unfortunately, I’ve been getting a highly uncomfortable blend of these dreams. Basically, any time since hubby died, if I start having a hot sex dream about another man—bing! hubby appears in the dream, and I can’t go through with it because, well, he’s right there, damn it. He’s pretty much cockblocking (or pussyblocking) me every time. Last night, I was having a super hot dream, and there he was, right on schedule. I remember telling someone in the dream he was my ex-husband, not my husband, so I think on some level I’m trying to detach from him. But I definitely never get to the point in the dreams of saying, “Look, I love you and all, but you’re dead. Can you step out, dude? I got this thang going on.”

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I haven’t scattered hubby’s ashes yet. The plan was to do it last year, but then COVID. The place he wanted to be involves at least a long weekend, a couple of daylong drives, and an ocean trip. I’ve got the money and the time now and am hoping my state opens up enough that I can make it happen within the next few months. I’m thinking that might bring some final closure of some kind. Any advice on how to deal with it in the meantime, though? I wake up from these dreams frustrated as hell.

—Horny and Haunted

Dear Horny and Haunted,

I hope your instinct that scattering his ashes will help provide closure proves correct, and that you’re able to do so soon. You might also imagine scattering his ashes and saying goodbye now. Think about the place you’ll release them—what it looks like, what it will smell like, whether there will be wind. Spend some serious time fleshing out the image in your mind. Rehearse what you’ll say, if that’s part of the ritual, and listen to and acknowledge your feelings as they come up. Another thought journey that might help is imagining what you wish you’d said to him in the dreams. You seem like you have a clear idea of what you wanted to express. Maybe writing it out or imagining him in front of you as you speak could help.

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As for the dreams themselves, are you able to remind yourself of where you are in your timeline and able to choose who you’re thinking about? If so, when you wake up frustrated, masturbation with conscious control of your thoughts might help resolve your arousal. If your thoughts keep drifting to your husband when you’re awake, take a deep breath and return them to where you want them. The trick to this is repetition—you’ll likely need to refocus multiple times, and calmly doing so rather than getting frustrated is the goal. Meditation outside of masturbation time can help train this skill.

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Regardless, grief is one of the most difficult things we live through. It’s a process, and it may always be with you in some way. Be kind to yourself, and when you feel like you need a distraction, go for it.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am a 34-year-old straight guy, and as hard as I try to enjoy vanilla sex with my wife, I am constantly fantasizing about adopting a more submissive role in sex and even in our relationship in general. From a young age I have had fantasies revolving around orgasm denial and the psychological concept of losing control, coupled with some low-grade humiliation (being made to kneel or wear her underwear). I have sought out pornography in relation to these fantasies. Recently I have started to wear a male chastity device during my wife’s cycle when we definitely won’t have sex to try to curb the masturbation, to experiment with “living out” some of the fantasy, and to try to direct more of my sexual energy toward my wife.

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When we have sex, I often find I enjoy foreplay more than intercourse itself, and while our activity lasts a normal duration, I often feel deflated after orgasm and wish that it had been denied or deferred, as I love the constant erotic energy and sexual attraction to my wife that comes from long spells without orgasm. In the early days of our relationship (seven years ago), I tried to direct activity toward this fantasy by trying to create some asymmetry of orgasm through giving oral sex followed by trying to refuse her when she inevitably wants to repay the favor, and she said she found it “weird” that I wouldn’t want to climax and she didn’t want to play games. My ultimate desire is to have fewer orgasms and give her more, but whenever we have sex, she always gets me to climax (usually first), and I just want her to stop at some point or actively tease and deny me and “grant” me an orgasm on an infrequent basis (say monthly) at a time of her choosing.

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Our relationship is very practical—we have young kids and high-powered jobs. She is the main decision-maker in the marriage, and she also has a lot of family wealth—it plays into my submissive nature to yield to her decisions, and sometimes it even turns me on. The main challenge for me is how to even start to communicate my desires to her, as I feel that all those years ago when she said it was “weird” means she will just say the same again. She doesn’t seem to have any interest in the concept of sex beyond the act itself, whereas for me it is always on my mind. I don’t really know what her kinks are, if any—I suspect she has none, given how openly she discusses some topics with me (whereas we barely ever talk about sex). How do I start to broach the subject of my desires, ensuring she is also kept happy, and while minimizing the risk of being completely rejected?

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—Submissive

Dear Submissive,

Even though you’ve had these fantasies since you were young, it doesn’t sound like you explored them before you got married or talked much about them after. Now you want to know how you can share them her without risking her being upset, unhappy, or rejecting you. I can’t help you with that. By broaching the subject, especially after she’s stated that she doesn’t want to play games, you’re taking on a risk. She might be upset. She might be unhappy. She might reject you, and that might take the form of refusing to engage in your fantasies or extend to leaving you and taking the children with her.

You have to weigh the possible outcomes, consider how likely each is, and make your own decision about how important your sexual desires are compared to what you value about your marriage. That’s your choice. I won’t make it for you. A therapist won’t make it for you. You have to do that yourself. A list of what you think you would get out of having your desires catered to might be a useful tool. Once you’ve listed everything, you can evaluate how realistic your expectations are. To put it bluntly, reality rarely lives up to our fantasies, and you’re probably imagining a perfect version of your preferences—as well as risking a significant amount of loss if this talk goes very poorly.

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If you decide this conversation is worth having, choose your moment—when the two of you have privacy and plenty of time to talk—and your words wisely. Draw on your experience of having difficult conversations with your wife about other subjects to figure out what the best approach is. Brace for her to label your desires weird, especially at first—it’s a possibility, and you’re best off being prepared for it. Think about what you’ll say if she shames you or dismisses you. Will you force the issue? Will you end the conversation, steering it to other topics, and try to revisit the subject later? Map out your plans for different reactions and outcomes, think about how you’ll execute them.

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And for other readers, please take this letter as a public service announcement to get your sexual specifics sorted out before you get married.

Dear How to Do It,

My stepson is almost 13. A few months ago, I checked his search history on his phone. He was visiting sites like Poopeegirls.com and Shittytube.com. No other porn sites (at first), just poop stuff. We are an open family, and his dad and I have had multiple, trying-to-be-age-appropriate talks with him about sex, porn, and consent. We try to talk about it in a non-embarrassed way when related topics come up, like in movies. But this one has thrown us for a loop!

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At first we restricted his access to the internet. We tried not to make him feel like he was in trouble, but we told him he had to be careful about content and that he had stumbled upon a more extreme side of the internet, so we had to take a pause to figure out how to deal with that. His dad has talked with him about it casually a few times, but we’re not entirely sure what to do from here. After we relax internet rules a little, I’ll check his phone again a few weeks later and I’ll see that he has tried to look it up again. I also saw he went to Pornhub recently. I installed a better parental monitoring app today. His young experiences with porn should be more vanilla stuff, not Two Girls, One Cup! I remember stealing my older brother’s dirty VHS tapes and watching Skinemax. Should his dad buy him a Playboy or something? Should we get him a subscription to a less extreme porn site? That just seems like it could open up a whole new set of issues. How do we talk about this with him in a way that doesn’t shame him and close him off from us, but that could help move the dial back from extreme to more age-appropriate?

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—I Hate the Internet

Dear Internet,

As much as you might wish it were so, sexual development isn’t a hierarchy of extremity. Some people are never interested in handjobs. Some mature 50-year-olds still love them. Some people are never interested in anything outside of the basic three positions with lots of tenderness. Others fantasize about humiliation, bondage, atypical fluids, or power dynamics as soon as their hormones start raging.

Many people, like yourselves, are completely grossed out by feces. It’s inadvisable to eat, for sure, but it’s also something that some people fetishize. Fetishes, including feces, existed long before the invention of the internet. And many fetishists, like our married man above, know at a young age what they’re into. A cursory look at poopeegirls.com shows this all looks consensual. The only consent violation I see here is your 13-year-old accessing sites that are clearly meant for people over the age of 18—that’s the law in the U.S., and pornographers generally try to stick to it.

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Along those lines, Slate editor and parenting podcast co-host Dan Kois does not think your partner should buy your stepson a Playboy or sign him up for a porn site. “I think every parent is totally within their rights to try to restrict the kinds of things their kids are experiencing online, but I also think they need to acknowledge that all such attempts are, in the long run, doomed to failure. At some point in his life—whether next month when he figures out a backdoor through your content blockers, or five years from now when he’s out of the house—if your son wants to see Cartman’s mom in German scheiße videos, he will be able to.” He notes that you can do the work of moderating his internet browsing in the short term, but the real task is preparing him for a healthy sexual life as a teenager and adult: “Helping him understand the differences (and similarities!) between porn sexuality and real-life sexuality. This means you (and especially your partner!) need to spend plenty of time talking to him about consent, respect, joy, making sure a partner is satisfied, and more.”

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So speak with your child about consent, which includes a discussion about accessing sites that are meant for adults. A talk about the rarity of certain kinks might be useful as well. You don’t need to go into specific detail—he’s probably embarrassed enough—but helping him to understand that some sexual acts are less popular than others will prepare him navigate the gap between his desires and the aversions of the general public. Take some deep breaths, and start trying to wrap your head around the fact that your son is growing into an adult with his own ideas about what is sexy.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a 72-year-old widow whose new partner is 75. He is very affectionate and good to me. He makes frequent references to sex in a crude way but absolutely will not talk about it seriously. Our sex life consists of me giving him oral sex every couple of weeks. In spite of being very loving, he shows no interest in me sexually. I had a great marriage to an older man who, like my present partner, had problems with erectile disfunction, but he made me feel like a hottie, and it was wonderful. My sexual self-esteem is now so diminished that I don’t feel capable of letting him know what I want. I have never been gorgeous but have maintained a pretty darned good figure and am very interested in sex. Attempts to talk with him about this have had no results.

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Most of the time I just try to concentrate on how good he is to me in other ways, but from time to time I feel resentful. If it is matters, he was, from what I can determine, a heavy user of all kinds of porn prior to our relationship but seems to have abandoned it. He knows that I have a visceral aversion to porn. I don’t think I can watch porn with him if that is the advice for addressing this situation. It probably sounds ridiculous to have this concern at my stage of life, but I wonder if you can give me any insight into his disinterest in my not-so-repulsive old bod.

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—Hot and Bothered

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Dear Hot and Bothered,

Your sexual interactions sound deeply one-sided. If that’s the case, your resentment is valid. Sex doesn’t require an erection. It doesn’t even require a penis at all. Your partner has other body parts he could apply to your parts for the purpose of pleasure. Your continued interest in sex is beautiful, and he doesn’t seem to appreciate this, much less cherish or nurture it. It’s like the whole world revolves around his penis.

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Maybe he’s great in other aspects, but that doesn’t mean he’s a sexual fit for you. I’m left wondering why you’re tolerating this. Is he otherwise a supportive, caring, and positive force in your life? Is it worth an utterly unsatisfying sex life? If that’s the case, I respect your choice and encourage you to invest in a couple of good sex toys. Make yourself feel like a hottie, bring your hot self off, and enjoy what he does bring to the table.

—Jessica Stoya

More How to Do It

I hate the sounds my boyfriend makes during sex. He just kind of whimpers as things start to get hot, particularly if I kiss him on the neck or elsewhere on his body, and he legitimately sounds like a small animal in pain. I can’t go on forever hearing the cries of injured wildlife when we’re getting it on. Is it possible to manually adjust the sounds one makes during sex? Should I ask him to?

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