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,
My husband has admitted to agreeing to meet another woman at a hotel to hookup about six years ago. He told me that he messaged her online for a month, they agreed to hookup, then she didn’t show up but he did. The thing is, he has also said he can’t remember what platform, app, or website he talked to her on. He doesn’t remember the exact time frame during which this occurred. He doesn’t remember what car he drove to meet her, if I was out of town or not. He doesn’t even remember her name. So something doesn’t add up for me. I only want the truth of what he did or didn’t do. I want to get past this. I’m happily married, but we’ve gone around and around with the same q-and-a sessions about this for almost two years. The truth is what I seek. How do I get that from him?
I know it’s not possible to learn all of the things he can’t remember. I’m a very logical thinker, and I need the pieces to fit together so I can put it away. I’ve explained how I feel to him, and I want to keep our marriage regardless of the answers he gives. I could believe there would be some things he wouldn’t remember, but not knowing how he talked to her for a month? You would think that in getting ready to step out on his wife, he would remember where he was, what car he sat in anxiously awaiting her arrival, what app or social media platform he used to use. I’m seriously over it. I need the truth, and it is starting to affect all aspects of my life knowing that he knows. He’s had issues in the past and even when confronted with proof he sticks to the “lie till you die” motto. How do I get the truth? Is it me or can it be possible he doesn’t remember? I feel a fool for even asking when I know the answer.
— In Love with a Liar
I don’t want to let your husband off the hook, especially since he has already exhibited the “lie till you die” pattern of behavior that you mentioned. He really might be lying to you about this hook-up that wasn’t—after all, he isn’t dead (yet). I want you to feel secure in your intuition. I’m being extra careful here since I’ve been caught being too generous with the benefit of the doubt at times, and men in particular have a way of showing just how much they don’t deserve it. You know your husband way better than I do, and if you feel like something is amiss, it probably is.
However, I want to suggest a possible explanation as to how your husband might be telling the truth about not remembering details that you consider crucial. Negative emotions like shame and guilt were found in a 2018 study to be associated with poor working memory, which is crucial in the formation of long-term memory. Perhaps he felt so bad about his prospective cheating that he unconsciously did not form vivid memories of it. I definitely have a hard time retrieving details of things I knew I would want to forget. I understand that the details here are important to you, but you could see how in another frame of mind, such things might be so immaterial as to be forgettable. This was six years ago. From what I can glean, the information that you seek is just color that is far less damning than that which he has already admitted.
Then again, if coordinating meetings with strange women is something your husband has done chronically—say via variety of platforms/apps/websites, during different timeframes, using multiple cars, and when you were both in and out of town—well, certainly the details would start to blur and one particular instance would be harder to retrieve in full. I don’t know that’s the case, but it’s yet another possibility. Regardless, I don’t think it’s going to help you to be so fixated on details, but I also think that you should trust your gut. He might not be forthcoming with his truth, but at least you have yours. If you can’t trust him, it’s going to be really hard to maintain a harmonious and healthy relationship.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a man in his mid-30s who hasn’t had sex since December 2019. Of course, it’s because of the pandemic: I used to live in a major American city, but moved in with my parents last March. I lost my job around the same time my lease was up, so I put my things in storage and have since been living in the bedroom where I first masturbated. Ah, nostalgia.
I understand the lack of sex is a real thing many people are experiencing right now and is simply a result of the times. So I figured, while I can’t have sex, masturbating would suffice (because it typically does). The problem is that nothing turns me on. I do get an erection—not an amazing in-the-throes erection, but an erection nonetheless—and I do finish, but it all feels so mechanical. Like putting on socks. It’s the act of masturbating, without any delight. I didn’t think much of it in the beginning, but after a year of scrolling through pictures, Instagram, shuffling through my mental rolodex of masturbatorial fantasies and finding no joy, I’m starting to wonder if something else is afoot.
I’d tried to all: FMF threesomes? Sure. MFM threesomes? Fine. Celebrities? Why not. Various power dynamics? Cool. Freaky scenarios? Interesting. Female friends? Oh hey. Female friends I’m sexually attracted to? It worked better, but none of those friendships would lead to actual sex, so why put my sexual energy into these fantasies? Wait, am I into men? Nope. Exes? Heh, that’s fun. People I used to be friends with? Yep. Porn? It technically worked, but …
I had my yearly physical recently, and my blood tests came back normal. I do struggle with anxiety, and while the past year hasn’t done much to alleviate it, it’s not worse than it usually is.
Also, I’m an avid meditator, so things feel as in control as they can be. I used to work-out regularly, and while I didn’t do much over the past year, I’ve gotten back into some normalcy and am starting to feel goodish about it. But I generally don’t feel sexy or sexual anymore. Am I just hitting pandemic blergh-ness? Am I just getting old? Is there anything I can do to reignite my imagination and sex drive? I got a new job and am moving back to the city this summer, so maybe once things are opening up and the world’s collective horniness is in the air, I’ll find my groove. But I also fear that this lack of … whatever this is … will continue once I’m back. Until then, is there anything I can do to feel desire?
— Aspirationally Horny
Perennial HTDI source Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist and Kinsey Institute research fellow, recently sent me some data from a study on pandemic sexual attitudes and practices that he led at the Institute that was funded by retailer Lovehoney. While there are a lot of statistically significant findings regarding Americans’ reengagement with sex post-lockdown, there’s also a lot there to suggest the sex lives of a significant portion of the population have been negatively affected by the pandemic. For example, 28 percent of respondents reported they’re having less sex than they were before the pandemic (versus the 35 percent who said they are having more and the 37 percent who reported no change). Nineteen percent said they’re masturbating less (40 said more and 41 reported no change). Almost half reported experiencing at least one sexual problem during the pandemic and the most common was low sexual interest (21 percent). So, look, you aren’t alone. The processes by which different Americans arrived at this lessened desire most likely vary from person to person and are informed by a number of factors in individual cases, so let’s just chalk things up to pandemic ennui and hope that things get better. Your age may have something to do with it, though if your bloodwork came back without any red flags, your current deflation probably owes more to circumstance (not that completely untangling nature from nurture is ever going to prove gratifying or even possible).
In terms of reengaging, make sure you’re getting good sleep, definitely keep up the exercise (try to get to where you were at when your desire was really pumping), and consider sex therapy, which could help bring to your attention things about yourself that you may be missing. And have patience! It’s a rough time for everyone, and there’s nothing like stress to make a dead boner deader.
Dear How to Do It,
I started seeing someone new a couple of months ago and tribbing/grinding plays a big part in how we fuck. We usually wear our underwear during it, and we both have a great time. Over the past month, it’s happened to me not once but TWICE that I’ve gotten an ingrown pubic hair on my pubic mound (i.e. the place I’m often pressing into my partner’s junk)—these ingrown hairs have been painful, extremely inflamed, and accompanied by a pus-filled cyst. I kind of love gross things, so I’m not too bothered by it, but it does make fucking more painful/impossible. My question is: Are these being caused by sex, and if so how can I stop them from happening? I haven’t had a partner before this one where tribbing is such an active part of how we fuck, which might explain why it hasn’t happened before. (I trim my pubes with scissors but never less than around a millimeter, so I don’t think hair removal is the issue.)
— Searching for the “Root” Cause
Unlikely as it seems, some bumps may indeed be caused by sex—specifically, the kind of high-friction sex you’ve been having—according to associate professor and program director of Wayne State Dermatology, Dr. Steve Daveluy. Daveluy wrote in an email that tribbing usually doesn’t cause skin problems, although enough friction could cause irritation and the random pimple on occasion. However, based on your account, Daveluy says you may have a condition called hidradenitis suppurativa, or HS for short.
“HS causes painful red lumps, boils and tunnels in the skin that can have pus and drainage,” wrote Davluy. “It commonly affects the armpits, groin, buttock and under the breasts. We don’t fully understand why some people get this condition. It seems to be a problem with the hair follicles. It affects about one percent of the population and it’s three times more common in women than men. Friction is trigger for many people, which is why your story makes me think that you may have HS. For some people, even tight clothing can be too much friction and cause flares.”
Davluy recommends seeing a board-certified dermatologist, as HS can worsen over time. “I don’t want to scare you, but if you look at photos online, you can see how severe it can get,” he said. Good luck with that. I’m not going to peek—even the vague image in my head is sufficiently ominous. Davluy also recommended buying an over-the-counter 10 percent benzoyl peroxide wash, which has been shown to help with HS and may help your irritated hairs even if they aren’t being caused by HS. Additionally, smoking can cause HS to flare, but the trimming you describe shouldn’t. Daveluy recommends leaving your hair a bit longer than stubble length to mitigate irritation.
“HS is under-recognized and we’re trying to spread awareness to the public and to doctors, since not all doctors are great at recognizing it,” he wrote (he also provided a link to the HS Foundation for more info and support). “If you’re close with your family, I would also recommend you mention the boils to them. You can just leave out the sexy parts of the story since family doesn’t need to know all your business. I recommend talking about it because it can run in families, so you may have a mom, dad, or sibling who may be struggling with boils too, and you could really help them.” Each one teach one. If your tribbing helps identify just one family member’s pain, well, that’s more than most people can say for anything they’re doing in bed.
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Dear How to Do It,
So, my husband and I like rough sex. One of our favorite things is him choking me. We probably do this a little bit every time we have sex, but if the lights are on so he can tell when I’m getting close to passing out, we’ll do it so I’m close to passing out or occasionally so I briefly pass out. He always stops as soon as I do, so I’m never being choked while passed out. We really enjoy this, but is it too dangerous? If he really does stop as soon as I pass out, am I at risk of brain damage or dying or something?
Also, when I was pregnant with our first child, we pretty much stopped having any kind of rough sex, because we were scared it could hurt the baby. We’re starting to think about having a second child, so I wanted to ask—can rough sex hurt the baby? The choking specifically? What about spanking, slapping, and punching? If those things are dangerous while pregnant—and if the choking is dangerous regardless—do you have any suggestions for what to do instead? I love to be dominated but don’t love to feel a lot of pain, so that’s why the choking (pretty painless but very dominant) has been so fun for us. I’m so afraid you’re going to tell us to stop, but I’m also afraid of accidentally dying and my husband ending up in jail for murder!
— Bag the Gag?
Well, I guess you have to ask yourself what you fear more: Me or death. We both smell like hell, but I have not yet entered my caftan phase—I’m sure it’s coming, but I want you to be able to make as informed a decision as possible.
Kidding aside, when I looked into a similar question last year, I found that the risks involved in breath play include brain damage, inflammation, and elevated blood pressure. What made me ultimately rule against recommending choking during sex was something psychiatrist Madeleine Castellanos told me via email: “It is impossible to control how much or how little hypoxia will occur with erotic asphyxiation, even if there is a partner present, and it may only take a minute or two to result in death or permanent brain damage.” I understanding people enjoy choking during sex, and I fear coming off as wielding a puritanical scythe by actively dissuading it. For the sake of harm reduction for something people are going to engage in anyway, I encourage you to turn to Google—there are explainers on the safest choking practices (generally they involve pressure on the sides of the neck as opposed to doing anything that might crush or obstruct the front) that could inform your continuation of this play.
Beware that maternal hypoxia is a known cause of fetal brain damage, according to this paper, which found that in addition, it delayed the development of motor reflexes in mice. And it is also true that trauma to the uterus could cause problems for the fetus inside, including placental abruption. You made it through your last pregnancy without rough sex—why risk it this time? Sometimes it’s better not to have everything you want exactly when you want it. Trying to preserve the life growing inside of you is one of those times. You can get into things like verbal domination, role play, and light bondage while keeping your womb out of harm’s way.
More How to Do It
Given the extended period of physical distancing we’ve been experiencing, I have begun to explore online dating. Particularly, I have been looking for someone who both shares my sexual interests and is a good human being overall for the possibility of a long(er)-term relationship. While I feel like I might have found this person recently, the fact that they are a high school teacher and have a strong interest in role-playing student-teacher and my own dating history make me wonder if this kink is a healthy outlet for someone in their position or a foreshadowing or indicator of something more sinister. What do you think?