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 best friend insists on cheating on her husband. I’ve told her that she should stop, because she admits that he’s been a really good husband who dotes on her and tries to make her happy. She basically just likes sleeping with hotter men, which to me can’t be a justification for infidelity because, well, isn’t the point of monogamous commitment supposed to mean you DON’T do that?
Her husband knows about it, and he wants her to stop because he’s heartbroken, but he’s too scared to leave because he’s scared he won’t get over her and so this is the best situation he’ll get in life. And he’s scared of custody difficulties, too, if they were to divorce. I’m having a really hard time not shutting this friend out of my life for good, because it feels like her moral compass is just backward? I really feel sorry for him and have a hard time supporting her. She keeps insisting that women should be allowed to cheat, almost as “reparations” for the history of gender politics in the world, and I just can’t bring myself to agree. I feel like it should depend on the individual relationship, and that cheating is wrong unless the other person has done something to deserve it. Her husband hasn’t. She even likes their sex life, she just feels like she “deserves” to be with other men.
I’m just really lost on what to do when I can’t change her mind. Should I just rip off the Band-Aid and shut her out of my life for good? Am I missing something—does she have a point in her argument?
I haven’t heard your friend’s argument, but what you’ve relayed doesn’t sound promising. Your own views give me pause too—cheating is never “deserved.” Having an uncomfortable conversation or leaving frequently are deserved, though, and incidentally, they are also your options with your friendship.
You describe this person as your best friend, so I imagine you’d be losing something significant if you lost this relationship. It seems like the only option you see is extreme—ripping the Band-Aid off and shutting her out for good—and I think it’s worth considering some less drastic steps. You can set a boundary around discussing her infidelities (her defenses and her adventures, both) while remaining her friend and simply conversing about any other subject. She might feel judged. She might agree but need to be reminded. You can also take a break—not speak for several weeks, or text only.
But if you find her behavior so intolerable you can’t agree to ignore it, that’s OK too. We’ve all got our lines past which we struggle to respect a person. You do not have to stay close with this woman, or stay friends with her, or even see her again. That’s entirely up to you.
Dear How to Do It,
Could you share how you approach a “I feel like our sex life isn’t going great right now, what’s going on at your end?” conversation? I adore my partner and don’t want to hurt their feelings by saying things that sound like criticism, or leave them with the impression that I have a list of things that I want from them. At the same time, I know there’s a lot going unsaid, and I’d like us to say it! We’re both sensitive people; one of us is much more experienced than the other, and life has been particularly hard this last year and a half, which is nearly the entire span of our relationship. From various sources, I’ve gleaned “don’t do it when you’re grumpy/hungry/tired/naked” and “use ‘I’ statements,” but I’d love some more guidance.
—State of the Union
If you’re the more experienced partner, I imagine you’re feeling some pressure to do it right. You’re still human. You get to make mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes. Take some deep breaths and remember that your partner is an equal. If you’re the less experienced partner, maybe there’s some desire to achieve the norms of what you think they’re used to. But each relationship has its own norms. You might develop more ease or experience with noticing things, naming them, and discussing them, but every new pairing means figuring out how you relate to each other.
This year has completely sucked. In a crisis, we tend to delay difficult things. We focus on getting through this moment, getting the next set of needs met. I don’t think we can count on a break. It’s best to have the talk now.
One thing you can do is script and rehearse what you’ll say beforehand. Delicate phrasing can be stressful in the moment, and you know what you want different so you can craft those lines ahead of time. You also might be able to think about how you’ll respond if they have feedback that hits a nerve for you, or if you need more clarity to understand something they say. Think about what you’ll suggest if it seems like a break is called for, and also what signs your partner gives if they’re getting overwhelmed. You’ll want to keep an eye out for those.
Remember you don’t have to do it all in one go, or even in one week. This can be a process, and you can take it in manageable chunks.
Dear How to Do It,
My wife and I have been married for 12 years. I’m in my early 40s and she’s in her late 30s. She grew up in a house where her parents rarely kissed in public, let alone talked about sex openly. I grew up on much of the opposite side of that. (It’s a well-known fact of how and when my brother and I were conceived.)
Our sex drives are very different. I could do it just about every day, and I think if we went months without sex, she’d be fine. Our sex life is pretty simple: She wears sexy lingerie for me occasionally. We tried a free sex swing once we got from an online sex store. But beyond that, 69 and doggy style is about all she’s up for. When I ask her if she has any fantasies or what turns her on, she says “no” or “nothing really.” A lot of times I wonder if she’s just having sex with me to keep me happy.
We’ve always had ups and downs with the frequency and last year we tried doing it every day for a month. It had varying degrees of success. After a few days, she wanted a break for a couple days, then we did another couple days and sort of repeated the cycle until the end. She found it harder to orgasm the more frequent we were having sex. We’ve since settled on scheduling it twice a week, and that seems to be working well. Spontaneity has never worked well with her. She almost always shuts me down and says “how about tomorrow.”
She is only able to orgasm using vibrators. I used to be able to get her off with my tongue but she only likes that a little now and wants to get right to the vibrator. Really only one style works, a mini wand. We have a magic wand, too, but most times, she says it’s too much stimulation. If we have too much penetrative sex before focusing on her she says she can’t climax. There’s a good amount of time that I’ll be using the vibrator on her for a while and, while she’s getting pleasure from it, she just can’t quite bring herself to orgasm. She’ll get very frustrated, ask to stop and that’ll be the end of the night. If I try to talk to her about it, she gets upset and feels like she’s disappointing me and she’s upset at herself for not climaxing. She says she gets no pleasure and doesn’t feel much of anything when we have intercourse. She has depression and anxiety and is on meds for those.
I want to help her so she’s able to let some of these expectations go. I feel like sometimes she’s in her own head too much, and when she thinks it’s taking too long, she starts worrying and almost expecting it not to work. It almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I love her deeply and will do anything for her. I feel much closer to her and our relationship is so much better when we’re having good, regular sex. She feels the same, so we both have the same goal. I’m just struggling to make that happen. Most of this is on me to solve since she gets overwhelmed when she has to try and solve things like this. I feel like she’s somewhat embarrassed to tell me a fantasy or exactly what she wants or what turns her on. Thinking about sex or having spontaneous thoughts about it seem rare for her. But knowing how she grew up and what her parents are like, I wonder if it’s just too ingrained in her not to talk about it.
If your wife is curious, you can be there for her—you can read Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are yourself and suggest bits that might interest her, you can listen, you can work on intimacy and physical connection outside of sexuality—but you can’t make her work on things she doesn’t want to, or isn’t ready to. Digging for fantasies, or exhuming her childhood, aren’t as helpful as looking at the present and near future. In a moment that’s already intimate, you might ask your wife what she’s feeling. Give her plenty of time to respond. If she starts to look overwhelmed or distressed, withdraw your request. Follow up a day or two later and feel out whether more of that kind of communication is welcome. Start engaging sexually in small ways that feel less daunting for her. Take it slow, and keep your expectations low.
If all you want to do is really help her let the expectations of orgasm go, let them go yourself. Remind her that her pleasure is a destination in itself, and she doesn’t need to orgasm as long as she’s enjoying herself. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a queer, nonbinary person in their 30s who’s usually perecived as female. I have been married to my wife for six years now, together 11. We have an open relationship because of ill-matching sex drives—I am often eager for it, she’s a blue-moon sort. It’s working really well for us, but there’s a big road bump about to hit.
My wife landed a job after a year of COVID layoff hell, and I couldn’t be prouder. But it means moving to a new state about two hours from where we live. I fully plan to visit monthly so I can see my two current other partners still, but I also know I’ll have to seek out new ones. The idea of it is depressing! Wading through the apps that I’ve tried is legitimate work. I had just found the sweet spot for me in terms of partners and how often I could see them. Having to do it all over makes me want to just close the door and seek out a way to turn off my hunger for sex entirely. Any suggestions on how to avoid that end and get over the absolute fear of talking to (mostly male) strangers again?
First, I think you should invest in a new sex toy. Something that gives you stimulation. Maybe that’s the newfangled upgrade of a favorite vibrator, maybe that’s a latex bra, maybe that’s a larger butt plug. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a porn subscription? This is to keep you occupied while you’re looking.
Second, divide this into portions. Sure, you’ll eventually fill two—or even three—spots, but you’re doing this one at a time. Right now, you’re looking for one lover. You have no idea who they are. Write down what you want, and what you want to do with this person. One paragraph on each. From that, you can build your profile. Mentioning that you’re new to town is likely to attract attention and be a natural opener for people. Whether you put that in your bio is up to you.
Remember you can take breaks. If the apps get exhausting, you can mute them or put your profile on temporary hold. You don’t have to go on, or continue, any date you aren’t into. And you’ll still have these existing relationships. Good luck.
More How to Do It
A couple years ago—about 10 years into our marriage and amid our trying to fix some desire discrepancy issues—my wife confessed that she cheated on me with a good friend of ours, someone who was in our wedding party and has since made moves on her. This took place about a year before we were engaged, so a long time ago. While we have come a long way, it’s taken me a long time to get over this because of certain details. The biggest of these details is that she told me he performed a particular act for her, one that she enjoyed—an act she has never, ever let me perform on her.