How to Do It, Slate’s sex advice column, now has its very own podcast featuring Stoya and Rich. Twice a week, they’ll tackle their most eye-popping questions yet in your earphones. The second episode each week and this transcript are available exclusively to Slate Plus members. For a limited time, become a member now and get $25 off your first year.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’ve got a bit of a moral dilemma that I’m hoping you can help with. My husband (M 36) and I (F 33) have been happily married for nearly five years. When we first got together in our 20s, we were completely transparent about our kinks and nonmonogamous leanings.
What started as a pretty standard swinging arrangement evolved to us playing separately or my husband occasionally watching or joining in with my playmates (e.g., MFM). My husband plays separately less often than I do, and we’re both OK with that. And while I do hook up with random guys here and there, a drastic reduction in business travel during COVID means I’ve spent significantly more time with just one other play partner who lives very close to us.
To be clear, this relationship is purely physical in nature and, oh boy, physical it is. This guy totally rocks my world in the bedroom (and every other room in our respective houses for that matter). I saw him several times before my husband met him and after finally having dinner and drinks as a group one night earlier this year, we decided to have a threesome. At that point my husband got to witness the fact this guy was not only off the charts in stamina but also very large downstairs.
We had a great time together that night but afterward my husband, probably in response to watching my reaction to my lover’s performance and equipment, made some pointed comments about both those things. They were mostly in jest but I could sense a slight twinge of jealousy in him. I assured him he had nothing to worry about and he legitimately didn’t. At the time.
Fast forward a few months. I continued seeing this other guy regularly. At home, sex with my husband remains very good by almost every measure, and any sense of jealousy from him passed. However, the sex is next-level great with the other guy. He hits spots that my husband physically cannot, and I got to a point where I am no longer able to orgasm from PIV penetration alone with my husband (clitoral stimulation still gets me every time). Herein lies my dilemma. I haven’t had the heart to tell my husband this and have gone so far as to faking orgasm with him. This has gone on for a few months, my husband is none the wiser, and my desire to have sex with my husband hasn’t waned despite the lack of orgasm from penetration.
Here’s where I’d love some advice. Do I tell my husband? Do I keep it to myself to spare potential hurt feelings, break it off with my lover and hope I “recalibrate” to my husband’s equipment? Do I keep things as is and just keep this secret to myself?
—Fake It til I Make It
Dear Fake It,
You have to ask yourself what good it would serve to tell your husband that the other guy rings your bell with far more resonance. I can’t imagine any. You already know that he has some feelings about that guy’s ability and endowment—letting him know the full extent of the disparity may push him further into insecurity, and perhaps disrupt your happily consensual nonmonogamy. While I think honesty is very much the ideal to strive for, there are things we must keep from the people that we love in order to spare their feelings. You are doing nothing wrong by enjoying sex with your play partner; you just happen to have a stronger sexual connection with him. This is something you risk in an open arrangement, and though the physical reasons you give may be the extent of the explanation, there’s probably some psychology in there as well. Maybe you enjoy sex with this guy so much because of the very noncommittal nature of your connection with him, for example.
The main reason not to tell your husband about this is because you are still having “very good” sex with him. Your newfound inability to orgasm through PIV sex with your husband would be more of an issue if you didn’t have clitoral stimulation to get yourself there. In short, you have everything in place to continue having gratifying sex with both of these men, whom you appreciate for different reasons, which is completely reasonable as they are different people. You have a good thing going on both ends; don’t rock the boat.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 33-year-old gay man in Montana with a problem. I’ve never had good sex, and I’m starting to worry I never will. In fact, I’ve not had ANY sex since 2015. My last sexual encounter was in 2019 and didn’t progress beyond some heavy making out. I’m fit and told I’m attractive; when I open dating apps I receive plenty of offers, but I’ve never been able to commit to doing the deed. Every time I consider it, my anxiety kicks into high gear. Cold sweats, shaking, the works. I back out every time.
I would like the next person I sleep with to be someone I have genuine romantic interest in. Somehow, I feel that would “cure” my sexual anxieties. But when I reveal to a potential how inexperienced I am and how long my dry spell has been, I get a disappointing mix of pity and scorn in response. I hear from friends I should just “break the seal” and hook up to get it over with, that it’ll be easier once I’ve taken the plunge. Do you think this is good advice? Am I being naïve in hoping that finding “the right guy” will make this easier? I feel I’m missing out on so much, and that it’s all my fault.
Let’s think about “fault” for a second. If your lack of sex were all your fault, there would be no dilemma. You’d be in complete control of your feelings and ensuing behavior, and you’d be satisfied with that. You and I wouldn’t have the pleasure of making each other’s detached and semi-anonymous acquaintance if you were steering this ship.
Clearly, what’s going on is somewhat beyond you. I don’t know where the anxiety is coming from, but I suspect you won’t make headway until you do. If you don’t know, it might be worth talking to a professional to work through things until you reach an answer. What exactly is keeping you from the sex that you are setting out to have when you open those apps?
I don’t know that ripping the Band-Aid off is really what you need. If your anxious response to the notion of hooking up has any grounding in trauma, a hasty encounter could just leave you worse off. While not everyone needs to have a romantic connection with the person they’re having sex with, some people do, and at 33, I’m willing to trust that you know enough about yourself to know what you need. So pursue that. If the “dating apps” you’re using are less euphemistically considered hookup apps (do they end in a “d” or “ff”?), try out ones that aren’t so bathouse-y. Pete and Chasten Buttigieg met on Hinge and they seem to be doing well. Re: Hinge, Chasten told the New York Times in 2018: “I wanted a platform where you’re not necessarily inundated with hookup culture and sex.” Anyway, try Hinge and you might meet someone like Pete or Chasten!
Or go out and meet people in person—I can’t imagine that Montana is a hotbed of queer culture, but there are queer-oriented things going on in your state. Join them. Being in front of people may eradicate the uncertainty-based fear you are experiencing. If you feel like you’re missing out, well, start finding things in which to involve yourself.
Dear How to Do It,
For the first 10 years of my adult life, I identified as a lesbian, and also as a strongly independent, self-sufficient person. I was in one multiyear relationship that ended because we were becoming too codependent, and I knew it wasn’t what I wanted.
I’ve recently started having sex with men. It turns out I’m way into it—and very into being submissive. Now I’m starting to think about dating again. But I’m scared of being in a heterosexual relationship. I’m worried about losing my queer identity. I’m even more scared of sacrificing the independent life I’ve built. Weirdly, I don’t feel any shame about telling my friends about my newfound kinks, but the idea of someday introducing them to “my boyfriend” makes me want to gag. Having a male partner just seems anathema to everything I understand about myself. I feel embarrassed even thinking about it in private.
I know this is nonsense. I don’t want to push away people who could be wonderful partners just because they’re men, especially not when I’m sexually oriented toward that crowd these days; but that’s exactly what I’m doing. What can I do to get over my internalized “heterophobia”—and even more importantly, my anxiety about losing my independent, go-it-alone identity?
Your life is expanding and your mind is slow to catch up. You’re holding onto principles and ideas about yourself that your body has since rendered untrue. Having sex with men doesn’t make you less queer—it just makes your sexual palate larger, which one could argue makes you, in fact, queerer. Beyond the mechanics, I think of queerness as openness, a willingness to think and exist beyond certain structural imposition, even when you’re rubbing up right alongside of said structure. The ideas you have imposed on yourself about your identity can be just as rigid as those that come from society. Either way, the only path to happiness is to let yourself be. You may remember feeling similarly disconcerted when you started having sex with women. I certainly did when I started having sex with men. It’s often hard to reconcile what you are with what you’re supposed to be, no matter if the voice is coming from inside or outside of the house. Gay was not the vision I had for myself, and yet there I was—with enough practice I found the ability to accept myself, and I think you can as well.
Understand that having sex with men doesn’t make you anything but someone who is having sex with men—at least for now. What this means in the bigger picture of your identity you will determine in time. It’s still so new, and you’re still catching up. Take it slow, keep your hookups casual. Retaining and losing identity is something people grapple with irrespective of the genders of their partners. If you look at this as something that you’re doing for you, and not a rush to shack up ASAP, I think you will keep your head on straight … er, queer.
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Dear How to Do It,
I am a straight man in my late 20s. I am currently single, but am casually keeping an eye out for people I might like to date, and I’m on a number of apps. I also subscribe to a few OnlyFans pages (the total monthly price comes out to about the same as a gym membership, if that is relevant). My question is: When should I disclose this to people I date? I figure it’s probably not a good plan to detail my porn-viewing habits on a first date (unless they ask first), but I also want to relatively quickly filter out potential partners who would consider OnlyFans subscriptions “cheating” or otherwise not permissible. How can I best strike a balance between not oversharing and not lying by omission?
Dear OnlyFans Fan,
I don’t think you really have to worry about lying by omission here. It is safe to assume that any straight man in his 20s is viewing porn, at least from time to time. I do understand your desire to filter people out quickly, though. (I applaud this impulse—the world has a lot of people in it and you won’t have time for all of them, so best get out your red pen and commence to crossing out.) Unfortunately for you, this is the kind of thing that you can only tell is an issue when it becomes an issue. If you talk about it too early, you will come across as indeed oversharing and (to many) disconcertingly attached to your porn. I mean, maybe that’s what you are, and maybe it would be good to be upfront about it. I tend to think of an individual’s porn use, though, as no one else’s business as long as it remains in the realm of no one else’s business—that is, as long as it’s legal and its financial/time impact cannot be felt by the other party.
We’ve gotten plenty of questions to this column about these matters, and I rarely side with the person who is judging their partner for their porn uses or imploring them to give it up. Perhaps, then, you can broach this topic more generally—what does your potential partner think of pornography, generally speaking? What do they think of its proliferation on the internet and do they have opinions on porn consumers? If you find someone who is largely sex positive, someone who views sex work as work, you’re probably in the vicinity of compatibility on this issue and will have something to work with, should push ever come to shove.