How to Do It

The Only Thing I Really Desire in My Sex Life Is Illegal

What now?

A woman next to a coffin.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ranta Images/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, 

I’m a woman with a necrophilia fetish. I know it’s rare, but it is me. Nothing turns me on except for dead people, especially the corpses of younger men. I’ve never been able to have a real relationship because of this. I work in an industry that allows me frequent contact with dead bodies, although I have managed to “behave myself” thus far, because I have a decent level of self-control and am never totally alone with bodies, anyway. Still, I can’t help but occasionally sneak in a feel where I can. I find myself fantasizing on the job.

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I often feel both conflicted and frustrated about my fetish. In some ways I love it (my work turns me on!) but also hate that I cannot even talk to anyone about this—none of my friends would accept me, and my coworkers would absolutely have me fired.

I tried joining a BDSM club last year in hopes I could maybe find new friends who could be more understanding of odd kinks and maybe even role play. But this did not work out for me. I have a hard time connecting with people, and the more I thought about role play, the more it didn’t appeal to me, knowing the other person would still most definitely be alive, warm, and with a pulse no matter how realistically they could act. So I’ve just felt like I’ve been keeping this deep, dark secret bottled up inside me that I cannot share with anyone and cannot outwardly express. I suppose my question is, how does one handle having a fetish like this? It surely is not going away. In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to fully embrace and express it in a way that’s safe, legal, and not harming anyone. But the world is far from perfect and I feel that if I say anything at all to those I know, it’s only going to cause me a world of hurt and a lost career. I’ve dealt with a lot of personal demons over the years, but this has far been the worst.

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—Dead Inside

Dear Dead Inside,

You have an inconvenient kink, and that’s tough. You’re right that, according to most researchers, your predilection isn’t likely to change. Even if you found a partner willing to lie in an ice bath for a while before sexual activity, they’ll still be alive. You’re also right that this world isn’t set up to allow you to express your sexuality. In theory, I also believe a person should be able to donate their body for whatever purpose they’re comfortable with, up to and including for the sexual pleasure of others. In practice, corpses become germ bombs pretty quickly, and there are legitimate reasons why that isn’t possible.

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In your day-to-day life, I’m glad you’re exercising self-control when you have access to corpses at work, but it’s worrisome you are “occasionally sneaking in a feel.” I’m not here to shame you, but you might consider a line of work without these temptations and the possibility of committing a crime.

Long term, I encourage you to bolster your fantasy life. Look for ways to engage your sexual desire alone. Build out scenarios that work for you in your imagination. Collect images that make you feel aroused. If you’ve got any skill at drawing, you might cartoon your carnal desires. You might also search for similarly minded people on forums, with an eye toward preserving anonymity. A quick web search turns up a couple of threads that seem useful to you. My hope is that having someone you can talk to, even if it’s anonymously and across the internet, will help lessen your burden.

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Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I recently decided to open our marriage, and our solo acts have been fun. The big deal right now is that we’re flirting with and have had virtual dates with a couple who are both women, and we’re moving toward an evening together. One is bi, like my wife, and the other is a lesbian. We had a threesome with another woman in the past, but my brain cannot handle the way-too-exciting idea of three women in a room with me, even though I clearly won’t be the main attraction. I know this sounds like a ridiculous issue, but I’m honestly not sure how to approach this scenario. Any advice?

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—Fourth Wheel

Dear FW, 

The first thing is to understand that this isn’t really about you, and it sounds like you’ve got that covered. You’re a participant who is definitely attractive to one party, definitely not attractive to another, and possibly attractive to the third. Your place is on the sidelines this time, and you seem comfortable with that. Awesome.

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You might masturbate first to take some of the edge off. What is everyone OK with doing, and with whom? Is it OK for you touch yourself while they have sex if you’re in the background? Even if you’re sure the answer will be yes, isn’t it nice to feel specific approval? “Yes” can be such a fun word to hear. Once the evening starts, you’ll want to let the women lead the action and call the shots. The same applies for any desire to get involved in the trio’s physical interactions.

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If you start to feel overwhelmed, you can easily take a break. You can sit back with your hands on your knees and observe. You can let yourself be swept away by the scene you’re witnessing. And if you’re distressingly out of your depth, you can always leave the room for a bit. Maybe you go to the kitchen to bring some snacks and water. Maybe you step outside and take some deep breaths. Too much of a good thing can still be too much.

I hope it’s everything you and all parties involved hope for. Good luck.

Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have been together for about 10 years. We are each other’s first marriage, and we do not have kids. He is thoughtful and funny and reliable and kind. When we first got together, our libidos were both healthy and strong, and we enjoyed fairly regular sex. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, and until recently, was able to keep it at bay. However, about four years ago, I sustained an injury that kept me from the gym for several months, and I quickly gained a significant amount of weight. Since then, my depression has spiraled out of control. I was raised to believe that being fat is a moral failing, and even though rationally understand that is an abhorrent idea and my parents were wrong, I cannot get past it. Because of this, I have no libido. My husband feels undesired, and I feel like a failure. He tells me often that he is still very attracted to me and he thinks I’m beautiful. He says he does not want to open our relationship, and he does not want to separate, but I know how frustrated he feels. Last night, he was being uncharacteristically pushy and we argued about it, and he said he didn’t know if we should stay together. Today, he apologized and walked it back. Every time we are in public, all I can think about is how mismatched we look and what people must think. Every time we are at home, all I can think about is how disappointed he must be in me. When I try to exercise (going to the gym used to be my therapy!), I just feel physical pain and mental humiliation. I tried going on antidepressants for a year, but they made me gain even more weight and somehow decreased my already almost nonexistent libido.

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When I look at my husband, I still get butterflies—to me, is the sexiest man in the world. But my body will just not cooperate with my brain, and I never, ever feel sexual, even though I desperately want to. I’m considering talking to a therapist on my own—but should we talk to a sex-positive couple’s therapist instead? I wouldn’t know where to start. Is there any medication for women that might help with this? My OB says I’m not yet menopausal (I’m in my mid-40s). Any advice you might have would be appreciated.

—Not My Old Self

Dear Self,

I really don’t like that your husband got pushy. We’re still navigating a sexist history of women as property—sexually available at all times—and the persistent idea that our partners should be available to meet all of our sexual desires are widespread and pernicious. It’s only within the recent past that we’ve expressly affirmed spousal rape is rape. Personally, pushiness about sex is a dumpable offense, but you’ve got 10 years invested and seem happy with him otherwise.

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When you’re ready, Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are—which Rich and I recommend frequently—might help you understand your sexual response system and help you figure out how you, and possibly your husband, can help your body get on the same desirous, butterfly-having page as your mind.

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Uprooting our internalized phobias is a huge ordeal. If you want to have a therapist’s guidance and support, I think that’s a great idea. I don’t think you necessarily need a professional though. Most of us react to uncomfortable feelings by trying to minimize them—changing the subject, manufacturing a distraction, or dissociating. The next time you start judging your body, ask for more. Get all the ugly stuff out—whether that’s talking to yourself, talking to a trusted friend who has agreed to emotional heavy lifting, writing, or whatever else helps you express yourself and vent emotions. Ask: Why do I feel this way? Where does that come from? Do I believe it? Intellectually, no, but emotionally yes? Why? What exactly am I feeling? Shame? Disgust? Grief? This will be messy and difficult. Make sure you’ve got a list of solid coping mechanisms to take care of yourself afterwards with.

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You’re struggling, and the relationship is struggling, so if you can’t see an individual therapist and couple’s counselor at the same time, you’ll have to make a decision about priorities. Do you think alleviating the issues between you and your husband will ease your suffering? Or do you think easing your suffering will help dismantle the issues in your marriage? If it were me, I’d start with myself, but it’s a tangle, and you’re the expert on where is best to begin.

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Dear How to Do It,

After several years of subtle (and at times overt) flirting, I slept with my friend, whom I consider to be someone I trust deeply. I had a wonderful time and would like to do it again. Are “bed buddies” still a thing? Can we be friends with benefits? What’s the etiquette? Wait for them to text or call but try not to be so I clingy to scare them away? Have “The Talk” to set boundaries and expectations? Pretend like it was a one-time thing and continue on with life? I would so much enjoy adding this layer to our relationship without complicating things. Am I asking for too much?

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—FWB

Dear FWB,

Adding another layer inherently complicates things. You’ve already complicated them by adding sex, even it it’s a one-off.

Etiquette is pretty tied up with should, which is a concept that makes my lip curl. Having added this new layer to your relationship, take a look at what it is. Have a talk about what each of you feels the relationship is, and see if you match up. If you don’t, see if you can sort that out. If you do, proceed to what you’d each like the relationship to be moving forward. Are you open to being friends—real friends, who aren’t afraid to send text messages and seem clingy—who also have sex? Do they want romance? Do you want romance? Do either of you want to have a formal commitment? Does that involve monogamy? Or are you each free to do as you please with other partners?

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Text and call as often as you would otherwise. If they’re acting a bit out of character, try to empathize with where they might be at—a place similar to yours—and try not to take it personally. When you do talk to your friend, listen carefully to what they’re saying and do your best to hear everything they’re trying to communicate. Ask follow up questions if you aren’t sure about something. And be prepared to do some sharing and vulnerability yourself.

All of the relationship structures you listed are possible, in theory, but you’ll need to have a discussion with your potential paramour to know what’s possible in praxis.

More How to Do It

My girlfriend (mid-40s) and I (50-year-old man) have been dating for 10 years. Our sex life was always great, but it has started to slow down as my age creeps up on me. In the months before COVID, it slowed even more as I was dealing with some unrelated health issues. But then COVID hit. I work in health care, and between that and her already near-hypochondria, our sex life came to a halt. Now we’ve been vaccinated, and I wanted to broach the subject of returning to our physical relationship. Not an easy thing to just bring up, and I wanted to be respectful, so I asked one night: “Can we maybe talk at some point about rekindling the physical side of our relationship?” And boy howdy, her reaction.

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