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 lying to people and I’m uneasy. I’d like your opinion.
Here’s the story. Earlier this year, I joined an online community where men trade porn, chat about sex and, sometimes, masturbate together on camera. That can happen in group rooms or privately. Everything’s anonymous, and virtually all camming is from the neck down only. It’s very hot, and I’m having a lot of fun.
The experience reminds me of the time 20 years ago when I used to hang out in sexy, text-only IRC channels. One thing hasn’t changed: the ubiquitous “asl?” That’s how people ask each other their age, sex, and location, especially in direct messages.
I’m 50. At first I answered the age question honestly, because it didn’t occur to me not to. The results were dispiriting. Then I realized something. Early on, I rarely initiated private messaging. DMs came when I was hanging out with other dudes, masturbating, in video chat rooms anyone can watch. Guys of various ages apparently liked what they saw enough to reach out, and disappeared only when they learned I was born in the first Nixon administration. I guess my body looks pretty good? Honestly, the attention was flattering.
So I started experimenting and I adjusted my age down to … 35. That’s what I say now. No one questions it. I cam with guys in their 30s, and OMG.
My sense is people routinely fudge their age in dating profiles and such, but 15 years seems like a lot. My conscience bothers me. I am lying. I don’t like to lie. Most of these men would move on if they knew my real age. There’s no way to rationalize this. Should I stop?
Dear Gen X,
Yes, you should stop. You’ve explained this quite well to yourself. I think that sometimes the act of explaining our situation in a few short paragraphs helps us look at it in a usefully different way, even if we don’t share that writing with another person. That’s something to think on for readers who are reluctant to be vulnerable in public, no matter how anonymously, by writing in here—it can be enough to do it for yourself.
Speaking of anonymity: I do think you’re within your rights in these particular spaces to be vague. The number 50 feels significant. It has a weight. You can truthfully say that you’re in the middle of life, or that you got out of school some number of years ago. It’s unlikely that someone on an internet masturbation forum is going to get aggressive about an answer.
Either way, your conscience is bothering you. You’re doing something you don’t like. Figure out other ways to get your desires met.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a lesbian in my late 20s. For question-relevant context: When I say “lesbian,” I mean Kinsey 6, with not even curiosity about sleeping with men. Not only do I not find men attractive, the relative attractive or unattractiveness of a man is usually not even something my brain considers. (If I see a particularly attractive guy, I occasionally get a feeling akin to appreciating a Van Eyck and the artistry behind it, but that’s about it.)
However, for the past several months, I’ve been having intense, vivid sexual fantasies about a close friend of mine who’s a cis straight man. Not only is this awkward for my self-conception, but I’ve known this guy for years, he’s significantly older than me, and he has been happily married since long before I knew him. I am estranged from my family (evangelicals in the South) and have few relationships with other older people, so he also occupies a kind of mentor/older brother/cool uncle place in my brain, and this makes me feel gross as hell.
I KNOW that generally fantasies mean nothing—we all fantasize about things we’d never actually want, yadda yadda—but this is so weird that I’ve been going in self-psychoanalysis circles. While I have a high sex drive, I almost never have sexual fantasies, let alone vivid ones. (I’m not really a fantasist in general. I literally watch C-SPAN for fun and can’t remember the last time I read a novel, sexy or not.) These come on strong—I will be mid-masturbation or in the shower and be smacked unbidden with a fully formed complete sexual scenario. There’s nothing conscious about it, and I can’t seem to successfully redirect my brain to other, more deliberate fantasies. And it is super hot in the moment, until I get down off the orgasm train and feel incredibly confused and icky.
Can I get your sex-expert spitballing on the root cause here? Am I bi and my brain is bad at hints—though these fantasies never involve PIV or other stereotypically straight sex acts? Is this the result of COVID-enforced celibacy and loneliness and I’ve crossed a wire between platonic affection and sex? Do I deep down have a thing for this guy, or some sort of vague daddy fetish? I’m relatively inexperienced—is my brain latching on to an available personage out of lack of past partners to fantasize over? Is there a way to dump a psychic bucket of cold water on myself? This is beginning to affect my friendship. Even though I feel no sexy feelings for him during in-person hangouts, I have this guilt like I’m committing some kind of weird violation. It’s started to make me awkward and tense.
—Not You Again!
Dear Not You,
Instead of these intense “self-psychoanalysis circles,” I think it’s worth talking to a qualified therapist about what you’re experiencing. These thoughts are disturbing you, and a professional working with you over several sessions can help you increase your mindfulness and self-care skills. If that isn’t an option, you can try things like interrupting the unwanted thought by focusing on your breathing, standing on one foot while thinking about something that challenges your brain, or biting a lemon or holding ice. If focusing on your breathing is a struggle, start with four breaths every morning. Whatever pattern feels nice for you. I inhale for four seconds, hold for four, exhale for four, and hold for four again with empty lungs. Try variations until you find one you like. Slowly increase the number of breaths you take each time. Practice directing your thoughts to the air flowing in and out of your body, so you have an easier time doing so when you’re in the middle of a fantasy you don’t want.
Rather than trying to interpret these fantasies, try to think about how you take care of yourself after them. Would it help to write or type out your feelings? Can you curl up with a hot water bottle? Does stretching help you shake off ick? If you have pets or a bathtub, do either provide comfort? Make a list so you aren’t struggling to remember potential activities when you’re stressed out.
Your feelings are valid, and you aren’t committing a violation. Your recurring sexual images are out of your control. This isn’t something you’re doing on purpose, and if you could stop it, you would.
Dear How to Do It,
My wife and I have been married for 25 years. We are both in our late 40s. We married in our early 20s, and because of religious beliefs, we were both virgins when we married. Neither of us have ever cheated on each other or had sexual experiences outside of our marriage. I would say that we have had a relatively fulfilling sex life together, albeit one that is vanilla. We have sex about twice per week. Usually our sex is straightforward PIV. I am generally OK with this and don’t have a strong desire for oral or other variations.
Mostly my wife just prefers to have me on top of her in the missionary position. She can orgasm reasonably easily if she goes on top, but my concern is that she just doesn’t seem to want to do that very often. Every time we have sex I offer it to her, and she usually declines. (Sometimes during her “venus week” she will accept.) She just seems to want me to finish on top of her. I have asked her why she doesn’t like going on top, and she just says that she doesn’t feel the urge to have an orgasm and that it’s not that important to her. I have tried to explain that part of the reason I like her to orgasm is that it makes me feel like I can “do something” for her, and it makes me feel closer to her. But after I have made these explanations a few times, nothing has really changed. I get bored with missionary all the time, but I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do? Any advice would be welcomed.
Let’s look at the concept of feeling like you can “do something” for your wife. I suspect that’s partially your conception of yourself as a skilled lover. It feels good to feel like we’re good at things. That isn’t about her, that’s about you, and that distinction is important to make. I think it’s mostly a beautiful, deeply well-intentioned consequence of the heterosexual sex-positivity movement. We talk about closing the orgasm gap—making sure women orgasm—and general equality. You want your wife to have equal pleasure. The complicated part is that she doesn’t want it.
Your wife might not appreciate sex the same way that you do. She might not enjoy orgasm, either because she doesn’t desire it or because she finds it painful. Rather than trying to explain the reasons why you want the thing she doesn’t want, I think you should try to understand why she doesn’t want the thing. From there, you’ll be much better positioned to understand how this isn’t about you, but what you can do for her that she will enjoy.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 72-year-old woman who has been married twice previously and been involved in several long-term relationships over the past decade or so. I have finally come to understand that I do not belong in a marriage or a 24/7, live-in relationship. It really IS me! I am well-educated, self-supporting, younger-looking by about 10 to 15 years (or so I am told by others), dress well. I love to dance, specifically ballroom and Latin dance. I no longer take care of anyone, either child or parent, and am unencumbered. What I want now in my life is to travel with a man who can dance and who loves sex as much as I do. That’s it. How do I find that person safely?
I applaud your self-possession, but I’m left with a few questions. I want to make sure you’ve made the connection that traveling together usually involves a fairly 24/7 interaction. It’s worth thinking through whether you imagine this travel companion as someone who sleeps in the same room or as someone next door. In the case of the former, what makes this different from the relationship structures you’ve tried over the past 10 years? If it’s the latter, do your travel companion, dance partner, and sexual partner all have to be the same person? Could you travel with your dance partner and pick up sexual partners in your various destinations? Could you dance with your sexual partner in your place of residence and travel with a companion of any gender?
If you’re looking for someone to travel the world with for an extended period, who enjoys structured forms of dance, and wants to have loads of sex with you in ways that you’ll enjoy, that’s a pretty significant list of specifics—and of relationships required. I encourage you to take good scenarios as they come—a week in the Bahamas with Larry—while you look for your dream arrangement.
More How to Do It
I am in a relationship with the most incredible woman I have ever met. She is smart and funny, kind and generous. For the first six months we were just friends, but I started to have sexual feelings for her and began suggesting we move to the next level. She declined at first saying she had not had sex since she was had a medical diagnosis 10 years ago and was concerned impaired mobility would make it difficult for her to have sex or for me to enjoy it. I assured her that at my age, I was ready to forgo the gymnastics, so she finally agreed. It has been wonderful—but for one bizarre thing about her.