How to Do It

I’ve Made a Truly Terrible Mistake With a Condom and a Vacuum Cleaner

Is there any hope?

A person vacuuming with a neon condom to the side.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Rawpixel/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,

This may be slightly outside your wheelhouse, but it is a sex-adjacent question. Due to a series of unfortunate events (my parents announced a surprise visit from 15 minutes away; I was frantically vacuuming and knocked over the bathroom trash can), I vacuumed up a used condom. A very lube-y, very recently used condom. I own a cheap, canister-style vacuum, and I have no idea how to un-lube it, or whether I should be bleaching it, etc.? I wasnt even the one who was having the fun!

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— Whoops!

Dear Whoops,

In the HTDI crossover that I didn’t foresee happening until receiving your letter, for help on this I asked the cleanest person I know—a person so clean that she goes by A Clean Person as her professional designation. I’m referring to my friend Jolie Kerr, who has written an advice column and hosted a podcast, both called Ask a Clean Person. Kerr, who additionally wrote the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha, is well seasoned in doling out advice, and so I’m not going to interfere with her sparkling prose. She has a vision and as a fan, I am thankful. I’m just going to turn this one over to her. You’re welcome!

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The good news here is that cleaning a canister-style vacuum is a very straightforward job; the bad news is that, even when a used condom isn’t involved, it is an incredibly dirty one.

You need to know that second part in order to literally mentally and physically prepare for the task, otherwise you will be absolutely miserable about the entire thing, and there’s really no need for misery here. Basically, you’ll disassemble the vacuum and wipe it clean either with a dry microfiber cleaning rag or with a slightly sudsy and damp version of the same (more on that in a sec).

But it’s the “disassembling” part that comes with some warnings: Even after emptying the canister, which is the first step in this process—wait, no: The first step in the process is to unplug the vacuum!—the act of disassembling a vacuum is going to leave dirt and dust and hair and whatever else you’ve been vacuuming up all over the place, including an especially on you yourself. So! Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, maybe move the operations outside if your setup allows for that, and consider wearing protective gear like rubber household gloves and/or a mask, especially if you are allergy-prone. Maybe have some tissues nearby if you end up in a sneezing fit?

When it comes to the actual cleaning, as mentioned, things are pretty straightforward! The LW didn’t specify what brand of canister vacuum is in need of cleaning, which is actually lucky because this is a more helpful piece of universal advice in cleaning a vacuum, regardless of make or model: Google your vacuum+”user’s manual” and you will find, online, exact instructions for how to properly clean your vacuum and actually even more importantly — how, exactly, to disassemble the thing without breaking it.

With that said, I can still give you the basics: Your vacuum will either want to be wiped clean without the use of water, in which case you’ll use a microfiber cleaning rag to wipe out the canister and base plate, or it can be cleaned using soapy water. The soap, in this case, can be regular old dish soap. Nothing fancy required, even for lube! And don’t fret if you do have a vacuum that cannot be cleaned with soapy water—the lube will wipe away just fine using that microfiber cleaning rag, which can (and should!) be laundered post-de-lubing.

The LW asked whether bleach is required and, no it is not. (Actually, using bleach will probably nullify the manufacturer’s warranty, so!) I’m guessing the query about bleach has to do with the whole bodily fluids aspect of this particular cleanup job, but unless you’re planning to fuck the vacuum cleaner, I don’t think you need to worry about contracting an STD in this scenario. I do, however, think this is a time when wearing those rubber household gloves is a doubly good idea, for safety’s sake.

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Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I have been married for six years, and together for eight. At the beginning of our relationship, we had sex quite frequently, as with many new relationships. The sex was great—we had it often and she had little problem with climaxing. Once we got engaged, we settled into the “routine” of marital sex relatively quickly. For the first few years, we’d have sex once or twice a month, which I thought was normal, although I definitely was ready for more. After having our children, we hit a pretty solid rut in our relationship. Not just sexually, but emotionally. We were not communicating well and things were at their lowest for us. Then, in early 2020, we decided we had enough of not connecting and started using conversation starter decks” geared toward couples to try to get things back on track. It was more than a hit. We connected in a way we hadn’t in years, were back in sync with each other, giddy to get the kids to bed so we could talk more, and in general just be together.

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However, one of the cards had a question: “What is something you have been scared to admit to your partner?” With a great sense of nervousness, she replied, “I faked all the orgasms I have ever had with you. You have never made me orgasm.” She expected me to react in anger, but I sat there in kind of stunned silence. I sat there thinking about how she would fake multiple orgasms in one session when we were dating and realizing she did it just to avoid bruising my ego. The truth is I wasn’t mad at all. I was grateful she told me, but truly sad that I had failed her in that area. After additional conversations over the course of a few weeks, we had even deeper discussions about this. She admitted that no man had ever given her an orgasm and that the truth was: She really has no interest in sex whatsoever. A lot of this stems from having body-confidence issues (her words) and general discomfort around the topic. She admitted she never felt comfortable with anything sexual and has never really had any desire to have sex in general. For her, it was always something to “keep my husband happy” and was more about checking something off the marital list than enjoyment.

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Still, since we had hit such a high point in our relationship, communication, and attraction to each other, she agreed that we could work on it. I took it upon myself to earn to be a better lover, open myself up to what it means to be a better partner, and learn more about what it would take for her to be comfortable enough with me to enjoy sex. And I mean I went ALL in: I bought multiple books on the subject, from Come as You Are, She Comes First, and Mating in Captivity. I devoured podcasts, TED talks, blogs—anything any everything I could to educate myself and come to a better understanding of sex from a woman’s point of view. In my eyes, I was the failure for not letting her feel comfortable enough to share this with me earlier and learning how to be there for her.

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Her reaction to this was incredibly positive. She told me she was glad to have a partner that took that admission so well and was willing to put in so much effort to become better. It was a startling realization for me to see just how hard it is for a woman to get in that space compared to a man. We were starting to explore things. I could feel her stress on the topic melting away. Things started to improve. We were trying new things, sex was a bit more frequent, and it just felt like things were heading in the right direction.

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Then … March 2020. Things just fell off a cliff with everything else in the world. To be honest, we would not have survived had we not gone through our relationship transformation barely three months before it happened. Sex went to the wayside, as I am sure it did for a lot of parents. The stress of working from home, the pandemic, wildfires, and everything else set us back quite a ways. We still talked, and the relationship is solid. But in late 2020 she told me “I am just not in a place to have or want sex right now. I don’t know when I will be. I know you need it, so I don’t want to take that from you, but just know I’m not really feeling it, so to me it’s about one thing: getting you off.” And that is where we stand. To her, we are back to checking something off the list, the kind of sex I had never hoped to go back to. All the progress we made in the sexual department (even if it was small) has been erased. After everything, we have gone through the thought of having such one-sided sex doesn’t appeal to me. I have tried going back to the decks of cards that worked for us before and even bought some new ones, but to no avail. At this point I am hitting a wall in this. How can I help get past that barrier to the point where she is even willing to try? She has completely shut down the notion of even trying to start down that path again. Am I just doomed to this one-sided sex forever? Is it even possible anymore for me to get her motivated to try to improve that part of our lives?

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— In a Rut

Dear In a Rut,

I noticed one book that wasn’t on your reading list: Angela Chen’s Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. It’s a good one, and I think everyone should read it, but I mention it to you because it may pertain to your current situation. Your wife has told you repeatedly that she has no interest in sex. In my mind, that at least suggests the possibility that she is asexual. I don’t mean this as a diagnosis, but as something you should consider. Maybe ask her? If she doesn’t have the vocabulary to even answer that question, suggest reading Ace together. Much like those decks of yours, it may at least stimulate conversation.

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Just for the sake of achieving some perspective, let’s hypothesize that she is asexual. Do you see how generous she’s been? She has selflessly taken one for your team of two for years. For only your sake, she has engaged in behavior in which she has no interest. I understand you’re not wanting to have one-sided sex (being in the thrall of mutual desire is part of the point), but imagine things from her point of view. Imagine what it’s like to have one-sided sex when you’re the one without a side. That’s pure labor she has taken on without complaint, as if she’s a volunteer mechanic who’s tinkering under the hood of a car that will get her precisely nowhere.

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Your effort is commendable. If more men were as willing to learn how to (theoretically) pleasure a woman, well, we’d be receiving fewer letters to his column, for one thing. But if she’s not into sex, there’s nothing you can do to make her into it. You’re learning a language she doesn’t speak. If all it took to get what we wanted were good intentions, no one would ever need to get out of bed in the morning (an admittedly more attractive scenario when you’ve got someone who wants to be in it with you).

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Again, I can only theorize about your wife’s orientation. You can attempt to get some clarity (but please don’t pressure or annoy her about it—she’s done enough for you in this realm as it is). You should at least prepare yourself for a future in which, regardless of whatever label she may eventually put on it, if any, she never enjoys sex. Could you stay in that relationship? Could you figure out an open arrangement that allows you to stay partnered with her while pursing sex that makes you feel desired? That might be the kind of compromise you require.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am a straight woman in my 20s who recently started seeing “Brian.” So far, we’ve had two amazing dates and we’ve affirmed we really like each other. Physical contact has been limited so far to some intense make out sessions. I feel a strong connection and definitely think there’s the possibility of a relationship here, and I know he does too. Next week I’m going to another city to visit relatives, and while there I’m going to see my ex, “Tom.” Our relationship was fun but not especially serious and ended when he moved to this other city last year. We’ve remained friends and talk regularly. I had been planning to hook up with Tom when I visit, because we always had good physical chemistry, but now that I’ve met Brian I feel hesitant. If I’m honest, I still want to get together with Tom, but I know I’ll feel guilty lying by omission to Brian. My friends tell me I have nothing to feel guilty about and it’s too early to talk about exclusivity, and therefore neither of us should have that expectation. But I don’t know, it still feels wrong somehow, especially if (as looks increasingly likely the more we get to know each other) I end up having a relationship with Brian. Should I go ahead and do what I want with Tom and not mention it to Brian, like my friends think? Should I tell Brian about Tom, and if so how on earth do I have that conversation without hurting him? (I did mention I’d be seeing an ex I’ve remained friends with, but I’m not sure he remembers, and I certainly didn’t mention my plans to hook up with him.) Part of really wants to take advantage of the opportunity to have fun with Tom while I’m still single, especially because I don’t know if we’ll remain in touch long-term or if I’ll ever see him again after this. But I can’t help feeling like that’s dishonest and cruel. Help me puzzle this out, please.

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— Last Chance

Dear Last Chance,

Ask yourself whether the sex with Tom will be worth the guilt you’ll feel after. The sex will be confined to a fleeting moment; after the sex is, uh, the rest of your life. Mind you, I do not think that you should feel guilty: It’s early, you haven’t yet had sex with Brian or discussed exclusivity (what if he turns out to be a nonmonogamist?). You’ve actually gone above and beyond by even mentioning that you’d be meeting up with an ex. To anyone who’d care about whose bed your boots were about to be under, this information would certainly strike a chord. Sex with exes is so common that whenever someone hangs out with theirs, it seems fair to suspect that at least part of that time will be spent naked. I think if this mattered to him, it’s likely you would have sensed a reaction. Seems like it didn’t faze him.

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This call is coming from inside the house. I don’t believe that you’re tangled in a negotiation of societal expectations and your own desires—I think you had a plan in your head to sleep with Tom that your heart is threatening to disrupt because you’re falling for Brian. I also think you might be more monogamously inclined than you’re willing to admit. The only obligation you have at this point to divulge to Brian your dalliance with Tom is that which you are imposing on yourself. Unless something takes place that becomes need-to-know partner information during your prospective hook-up with Tom (like pregnancy or STI transmission), avoiding discussing it with Brian is not lying by omission. That would be like saying that because you haven’t farted in front of him yet (I’m assuming, maybe you have?), you’re presenting the fraudulent image of a gas-free existence. You’ve had two dates—there’s a virtual lifetime of information that you’ve yet to share.

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Is the pull of Tom really that great? Or are you merely carrying out plans you’ve set because, to add another layer of internal conflict, part of you feels like you shouldn’t actually have to drop them on principle? I think if the bodily draw were so intense, this wouldn’t really be a question. I also think if you refrain from banging Tom, you should do it for you and your peace of mind, not Brian. He’s fine.

Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

Im a gay man in my early thirties who lives in a one of the meccas of gay men: San Francisco. Im black, ripped, and easy to get along with. The hook up thing has never worked for me and after realizing this over the past year, I decided to look for men whom are interested in monogamous relationships. A perplexing situation has been happening though. Some guys after what I consider to be a pretty successful date will start behaving strangely. They will continuously text me daily, but when I ask to see them again, they will blow off my question and continue talking to me as if nothing has happened. One guy I had developed serious feelings for and was hurt by this. Another guy did this after what seemed like a pretty good first date. Another would say how much he enjoyed time with me and still would do this. This behavior made me upset and I figured they were not that into me. So I just stopped texting. I hate ghosting on people, but after being blown off when I asked what was going on, I kinda dont want to put in the effort at that point. What really gets me, though, is that after a couple weeks these guys will get upset with me and ask why I am not texting them anymore, prompting me to call and say that I am looking for someone more available and will need to end our interactions. One guy got really upset by my non-responses after I tried to get a hold of him via text and calling him to no avail for a week! Am I missing something here? Maybe I need to be more upfront about feeling hurt when this behavior occurs, but otherwise I am at a loss as to how to handle this pattern.

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— Confused

Dear Confused,

The pattern that you describe is peculiar indeed. In dating, people change their minds frequently, and you can never be sure if someone is misrepresenting their apparent interest until you get to know them (and even then, there is mystery). The kind of vacillating you describe, though, especially when the emotional boomerang comes back around and they become upset with you for your perceived aloofness has me wondering if you haven’t just had the misfortune of connecting with people are so self-absorbed as to impose their volatility on you, a virtual stranger (as opposed to attempting civil consistency).

Another theory: Your timing is off. During active text conversations, certain stuff can fall to the wayside as the deluge of words rolls in.

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And yet another theory: You’re being perceived as coming on too strong when you ask to see them again. Sometimes it only takes the smallest signal of interest (“I’d like to see you again”) to make people think, “Too much.” These people may pretend then that you didn’t say anything in order to keep things in neutral territory.

The reactions you’re receiving are data, and useful data at that. By that, I don’t mean that these people are right; I mean that they’re showing you upfront that they aren’t right for you. Dating requires a lot of guesswork, often in vain. It can feel like a test that you couldn’t possibly have prepared for, but receiving a failing grade on it stings all the same. I think the texting behavior you describe could reasonably be labeled as game playing. I gotta tell ya: I don’t have time for games. Those who want to play them in the name of getting to know me are doomed. My body rejects that kind of interaction. All of my boyfriends have arrived via a much more streamlined process: We hang out, we like each other, we mutually express interest in doing so again. We do that enough times and we’re boyfriends. It takes a while to find someone with whom the connection is so immediate. That’s what the process is all about—you’re just in the throes of the sucky part.

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I’m not sure if what I’m about to share pertains to your specific case, but it may. Regardless, it is wisdom from a book that I simply will not stop recommending because I think it’s so consistently dead on about interactions amongst gay men. In Out of the Shadows: Reimagining Gay Men’s Lives, psychotherapist Walt Odets writes about the failure to connect he’s seen in the population he writes about:

There is something else I have heard a thousand times from gay men: “I am never interested in men who are interested in me, and those I am interested in never return the feeling.” What this peculiar, completely implausible predicament suggests is that the obstruction lies not in who other gay men actually are, but in what he, the seeker of relationships, feels about himself. The psychological mechanism is projection: when a man shows interest in another man, the interested man becomes a deviant homosexual in the eyes of his object, and this works bidirectionally. Both men feel some—probably unconscious—sense of their own homosexual undesirability and project the feeling onto each other. In such a mutually projective scheme, anyone who shows interest is disqualified.

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I’m not saying this applies to you, but it’s yet another theory as to what may be going on with the men you’re talking to. And while it’s cold comfort, some explanation is better than no explanation.

— Rich

More How to Do It

I’m in a committed relationship with an amazing guy. My trouble? I’m poly; he’s not. I kind of discovered this recently and want to explore it. A friend of mine and I are really into each other. Neither of us is really looking for anything more than being friends with benefits for now. We’ve already fooled around some and we’re both extremely excited about it. Should I continue?

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