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Dear How to Do It,
I’m in a relationship that has been wonderful up until this point. My issues are with Snapchat, and how often my boyfriend is on it, as well as his behavior about the app when I’m within distance of seeing what’s on his phone.
I’ve absolutely never had a question about his faithfulness until now—but he was also never on Snapchat all the time until we got stuck in an apartment together during a COVID wave. I believe he was on it all the time at work, and now that work is at home, I’m constantly seeing him on it. He gets cagey about it if I’m next to him when someone Snaps him. He won’t open it until after he’s gone to the bathroom or the kitchen, somewhere out of view. He has noise-canceling headphones on some of the day while he’s working. I’ve come in a few times (his back is to the door when he’s at his desk) to ask about lunch and if he’s on Snapchat he will immediately turn the screen off and put his phone down.
I don’t know if I’m being paranoid or not. Is this normal Snapchat behavior? I’m 33 and never really got into it. However, a quick Google search declares Snapchat as destructive to relationships and often a tool used to cheat. How do I bring this up without sounding like I’m paranoid?
While it’s absolutely possible that your boyfriend is using Snapchat to view sexual content of people in a way that you would find threatening or unacceptable, it’s also possible that this is about privacy.
When the pandemic started, many people quarantined with their partners. Maybe it seemed romantic or had a summer-camp feel at the beginning. By the time a few weeks had passed, even our pets were acting like they needed some space. After four months, I desperately needed a break from my beloved, platonic domestic partner of over nine years. We were on top of each other, we were trying to navigate not having the privacy necessary to verbally vent about each other’s reactions to the pandemic, and his worked-in-radio ears couldn’t handle my new habit of getting drunk and singing at the top of my lungs with no sense of what a key is. I went home for a few weeks to get that break, and it helped a lot. Similarly, Snapchat may be your boyfriend’s escape, and he might be trying to protect his sense of individuality—to preserve something that is his.
Take some time to think—using what you know of your boyfriend from dating him for this long—of other potential reasons for his behavior. When you feel like you’re looking at a range of possibilities, and you can genuinely ask the question, you might start with “What do you get out of using Snapchat?” If he’s willing to have a conversation with you about it, you have the opportunity to listen and to ask follow-up questions. If he won’t, your suspicions may be founded.
Dear How to Do It,
I got my first toy—a vibrator—about six months ago. I enjoy its intensity and ability to make me finish quickly, but that’s also the problem. Although I know that vibrators don’t really reduce sensitivity, I do understand that the vulva becomes accustomed to that kind of stimulation. But when I forgo using it, it takes me much longer to finish than before ever having used the vibrator, which makes me concerned about being with a partner sans toy. This is made more complicated by the fact that my relationship with masturbation is testy (despite a relatively high sex drive) because of discomfort that I’ve mostly learned is totally irrational with no origin, but still manages to pop its rude little head up sometimes. For the sake of both issues, I’ve occasionally gone a few weeks without masturbating or skipped using the vibrator during sessions. I’ve also favored audio over porn recently, or used calls with a partner. How do I reacclimate myself to coming without the vibrator? Or without any assistance, for that matter?
Dear No Vibes,
Some sensations and stimuli are going to be more arousing, or contribute to a stronger orgasm, than others. Each person—including you—has their own sexual response. We’re all going to like some specifics—vibrator, audio erotica, video porn, and so on—more than others. That’s OK.
Our sexualities frequently shift as time progresses: whether we want a relationship and what we want that to look like, what we want to do with our partners, how orgasm-focused we are, and what we aren’t interested in. And, since you mention having a vulva, you may experience changes in your sexual response over the course of a menstrual cycle. Not all people with lots of estrogen are sensitive to hormonal changes this way, but some of us are, and it could be a factor.
The discomfort you describe around masturbation is worth examining. What are the messages that pop up? Where do they come from? Can you dismantle them with logic? Writing, talking with a trusted friend, or spending time alone with your thoughts are all possible ways to explore your feelings. And if messages around partnered sex come up, those are worth looking at too! What does the culture you were raised in tell you about a partner’s obligations during sex? A partner with a vulva? Do you believe these ideas?
When you’re masturbating without your vibrator, or whatever the specific is that’s giving you the strongest orgasms, you might focus more on the journey. If you haven’t taken a tour of all your small genital parts lately, spend some time feeling around and seeing if anything is different. You’ve found one way of pleasuring yourself that works very well—what are the others?
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 20-year-old who is getting back to looking for a relationship, since where I am is becoming less restricted COVID-wise. I am also very moralistic when it comes to having sex, and I am concerned how it will affect me. Basically, I view sex as an act of true devotion, and I can only do it with the one person who I truly love (which, for me, has a lot more criteria than most people). It has a basis in Christian values, but I interpret those values with a little looser meaning. However, with how commonplace sex has become in modern relationships, I feel afraid when I want to get into a relationship with someone because of those morals. Is it better to stick to my convictions and follow what I believe in rather than what most people do? Or is it detrimental to hold such high expectations for myself and whoever decides to have a relationship with me because of how restrictive my beliefs are?
Dear Gun Shy,
You don’t say which flavor of Christianity you base your values in, and you don’t elaborate much on your looser interpretation. Regardless, you’ve taken a step toward self-determination. You’ve altered what you’ve been taught to fit yourself better.
If you believe in the authority of human representatives of the church, you might ask your religious leader for some private time to discuss what you’re thinking and feeling. If they aren’t open to the conversation, you might consider a different person or even a change of church. If you hold a personal relationship with God in higher esteem, you could pray and do whatever else helps you hold yourself open to guidance. Go back and read the passages that Christians draw their relationship strictures from, and think on what the words mean to you. If you run across a passage describing Jesus’ love for all of humanity as we are, you might take a moment to dwell on that, too. Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Shameless seems worth a read, as well. If you find yourself arguing with it, those feelings hold information. Respect your contrary thoughts and ask where they come from.
Sticking to our own convictions—the ones we decide for ourselves—is ideal. We won’t always be able to do so, and we might not always do so when we can, but it’s something to strive for. As you date, knowing that you’re much more sexually conservative than someone might assume, you’ll want to be extra clear about what sex means to you. And, since it’s so important to you, you’ll want to protect yourself by taking things slowly. If masturbation is something you’re comfortable with, I recommend putting effort and resources into enjoying a sexual relationship with yourself.
Dear How to Do It,
After being with my soon-to-be-ex-wife for the last 13 years, and nearly a year into divorce proceedings, I’ve been trying to get back out there again. Recently, I went out with a woman, and things went well. We really hit it off, and things got physical but stopped just short of sex. She and I are both definitely looking forward to getting sexual, and I’ve set clear expectations (and confirmed her expectations) for what I’m looking for—essentially friends with benefits, with neither of us actively dating anyone else. All that said, the last time I had sex with a new person was 13 years ago, she had no previous partners before me, and I had been tested and knew STDs were not a concern. Looking at this in 2021 with no relevant experience, what questions should I be asking potential partners before we get down, and do you have any tips for phrasing that won’t kill the mood?
—It’s Been a While
Dear Been a While,
Public health concerns are a great place to start. Before we get into the sex-specific stuff, there’s COVID. You can warm up on the subject of disease control with a discussion of stance on vaccination and comfort levels with different densities of crowds. You can then shift the conversation to how you each handle sexual health. Vulnerability can be difficult, but this is a great opportunity to share that you haven’t done this in a while and aren’t sure what the social norms are now. There’s a good chance she’ll be able to empathize, regardless of how much recent experience she has dating. What one person assumes to be normal for everyone may be completely illogical to the next.
Speaking of wildly varied definitions, I have no idea what you mean by “stopped just short of sex.” If fluid has been exchanged—like if you put your mouth on this woman’s vulva without a dental dam—you should address safer sex practices and how frequently she gets tested sooner rather than later. You can also ask if your partner has had the HPV vaccine, and you can give yourself a refresher course on STDs and testing. Condoms are a super simple way of drastically reducing the chances of transmission, and they’re very effective at preventing pregnancy. If you’re struggling after 13 years of monogamous marriage, try different materials and thicknesses, make sure you’re wearing the right size, and consider incorporating them into your masturbation for a while.
Widespread consent culture is something that might be new to you. The OMFG model is a useful one—consent is ongoing, mutual, and freely given. Ongoing in the sense that consent is renewed from moment to moment. (For instance, if someone stops leaning into you, that’s a nonverbal sign to slow down or begin to withdraw.) Mutual in the sense that every person involved agrees and where the two of you overlap and find areas where you’re both interested. And freely given is about the absence of coercion, inebriation, or other states where a person isn’t capable of giving real consent. This isn’t to say that you can never have sex after a couple of glasses of wine, but it’s best to avoid that until you know each other well and have established functional communication during sex. It’s also never the time to try something new no matter how awesome of an idea it might sound at that tipsy time.
An example of consent: One partner says, “You know, I think fisting is hot, and I have pretty small hands.” This is not a direct question, and the other partner has a number of options, spanning “Absolutely not” through “I’ve never wanted to try it” or “Hmm” to “That sounds like a great idea, let’s do it!” The first three of these sample statements are not consent. The last is. And some sample lines that are less … girthy: “I’d like to kiss you.” “May I hold your hand?” “I want to bury my face in your neck.” “Do you like receiving oral sex?” “How do you feel about penetration?” If it helps you feel prepared, write your own—tailored to what you’re into—and practice them in front of a mirror. Direct questions are best when you aren’t sure, and statements of desire can be potent. Choose your words with the absence of coercion in mind.
Questions about what your partner likes, what risks they take with their bodies, and what they want to do together in this exact moment will hopefully be an ongoing part of your relationships. You might kill the mood a couple of times—both as you find the ways of expressing yourself that work best for you, and if you encounter someone who doesn’t want to or isn’t used to having direct conversations about this stuff. Most moods can be revived if you’re patient.
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