How to Do It

I’m Dating Men Again for the First Time in Years. I’ve Noticed a Big Difference Between Then and Now.

What is going on here?

A woman with a ghost floating over her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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 am a straight woman in my early 30s who ended a long-term relationship about a year ago. I’ve always considered myself lucky in dating and in love. Before my relationship, I was always the girl with the most dates lined up, the most “suitors” if you will, and had a very active sex life with multiple men. Fast forward some years, and I’m single again. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to attract the same amount of men as before, but voila, I have a very active dating and sex life again.

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However, I wouldn’t be writing to you if there wasn’t a problem. Back in the day, I used to meet everyone in real life. The majority of the time, these hookups would lead to multiple meet-ups, with guys I would see on and off for months or even years. Now, five years later, I’m using apps to meet up with guys, and boy are the results different. I seal the deal on the first date with almost all the guys I go out with—again, this was the same pattern that I was used to when meeting guys in real life—but now, the guys don’t seem interested in meeting up again, and some even ghost me. (It’s worth noting many of these men are in their mid-30s, so not on the super young side.) I don’t understand what’s going on. All of them seem super interested in me and eager to jump into bed when we meet up, and then poof, they’re gone. Five years ago, I couldn’t get AWAY from all the men trying to build longer relationships with me. What’s going on here? Is there something inherently different about meeting people on apps than there is in real life? Are men on apps just looking for one night stands? I’m not necessarily looking to lock any of them down, but I am used to having long-standing casual relationships with multiple men.

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—Not Like It Used to Be

Dear Used to Be,

Dating on the apps is different—the way we filter for what we’re looking for is a bit like ordering a Domino’s pizza, in a way that I suspect contributes to objectification. Dating in your 30s is different too—people tend to be either staunchly casual or very focused on finding the partner they’ll raise a family with. And this is all happening during COVID, not to mention the other upheavals, a period when many of us are reevaluating our priorities and generally under a lot of pressure.

The ways people treat us sometimes become part of our identity. Not necessarily in an “I’m hot” kind of way, but in a “dating frequently means navigating partners wanting more from me than I’m interested in giving them” way. It’s weird when that changes. But dating is usually a process of meeting people and sorting out whether we fit in each others’ lives at that moment. It sounds like you’re hoping for a few long-term sexual partners, and maybe to go on dates with them as well. I believe you will find that again, with enough time and patience. You might find you need to communicate more upfront about this with new partners before things turn sexual. Or it may happen organically. Take note of the changes you’re seeing, try a few different apps, and see how your experience varies. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It, 

I (woman, middle age) have recently tried a sex toy for the first time. I didn’t have any interest in them before—not an aversion, just got along great without them and didn’t think about it. I’ve always had great orgasms with partners (men, always involving clitoral stimulation) and by masturbation.

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The toy I’ve been using is a rabbit-type dildo with a vibrating clit stimulator. When I first used it, I was amazed at how quickly it made me come. If any complaint, it happened too quickly once the vibrator was turned on. I had a lot of fun with it for a few weeks, then it seemed like I became desensitized to it. At about that time it also became difficult, sometimes impossible, to get myself off during masturbation. Never had this happen before. I put the toy away and after a while I was able to orgasm again.

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Is this common with this type of toy? Do I just need to use it sparingly? Try other types of toys? I’ve heard mention of “desensitization” somewhere in passing, but so many women seem to use their toys regularly with no problem. I like the penetration and clit stimulation this provided. It was very, very hot.

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—Toy Story

Dear Toy Story,

Desensitization is something many people are wary of, and that doesn’t mean that vibrators are inherently problematic. One review of research actually found they’re generally a boon to sexual function, not an impairment. In a quick email exchange, Epiphora, a sex-toy reviewer, suggested this might be a buzzy vs. rumbly issue, but if buzzy is what you like, it’s what you like. For more information, you might check out her FAQ entry on desensitization here.

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Habituation is absolutely a thing, too. When we dial into exactly what makes us orgasm the best—whether that’s speed, strength, or some other quality—all the other methods can begin to pale by comparison. To that end, I suggest you switch it up with other toys and stimulation with your own hand or grinding. Use penetration sometimes, and sometimes not. Use the rabbit sometimes, and sometimes not. And if you’re orgasming more quickly than you’d prefer, you can always try a lower setting, or back the toy off physically when you get close to climax.

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Dear How to Do It, 

I am 74; my wife is 18 months younger than me. We have always had a sex life that can only be described as transcendent. We’ve both always been fully satisfied with an afterglow that lasts into the next day. But my wife has been hit with anxiety and depression because of the pandemic. And we spent the summer looking after grandkids, which pretty much suspended our usual date nights. So now she reports no particular desire to resume what we had, although she is amenable to helping satisfy me when requested. I miss our old sex life. Is that now gone forever?

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—Not Dead Yet

Dear Alive,

I had a great big giggle over “Not Dead Yet,” so thank you for that. Depression frequently decreases libido, and anxiety can prevent people from being able to let go of concern for the future and be present in the moment. I don’t know whether your old sex life is gone forever, but it does seem like your wife needs some support.

Without bringing up sex, can you ask her whether she’s open to speaking with a therapist? Regardless of whether seeing a mental health professional helps her return to an enthusiastic participant in transcendent sex, it will help her. It’s important that this conversation be about her and her needs, not about your desire to return to the sex you used to have. If your wife isn’t open to therapy, there’s still hope that she’ll balance back out with time. Either way, though, these things take time. It may be months or even a couple of years before she heals. You’ll need to lean on your patience. And in the meantime, you can use all of those memories to bolster your masturbation.

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Dear How Do It,

I decided to treat myself to a fancy high-end thruster, and my god, this thing is amazing. However, my pelvic floor is very strong and I tend to clench up if I’m getting at all close to orgasm and apparently I’m toned enough to entirely stop the thruster from … well, thrusting. If I try and relax, I don’t come at all. It’s a really good quality piece so it’s not a case of upgrading. So maybe there’s some technique of holding the thing I’m missing here? This is hands down the most fantastic sensation I’ve ever gotten from a toy of any sort and I’m sure if I could get close without my body stopping it, this thing could absolutely give me the best orgasm of my life. Please don’t say my body’s just not suited for a thruster!

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—Magic Machine

Dear MM,

Are you using enough lubricant? If so, I have one, single idea—push out when you start to clench. It’s counterintuitive, but it might be just the thing. All I have to support this is anecdotal evidence from several years performing anal sex in porn scenes; in my experience, pushing out helps the penis get in, and you retain the tension most of us need to experience orgasm. Give it a shot, and good luck.

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I’m a woman in my early 30s. About a year ago, I started dating a man around my age from an app. The relationship became sexual quickly, and it has remained more or less the same since then. We’d have dinner once or twice a week, and sometimes he’d stay at my place the whole weekend. We’re both busy, and I work long hours at home, so this balance made sense for us. But I really did like the guy and it seemed like we were moving toward something more serious. He texted me constantly and was pretty doting. 

A few weeks ago, I invited him over as usual, and he said he was leaving town to travel for a week. He phrased this weirdly, I thought, so I talked to him more, and it seemed clear he was going out of town with another woman. I asked him directly and he confirmed it. He even said he’s actually been seeing this other woman longer than me! I asked if she knew about me, and he said she “also” knew they weren’t exclusive. I did not know that about us. He could tell I was surprised and apologized, and said we could talk more when he got back. I haven’t returned his follow-up messages yet. In a conversation about this with a friend, she pointed out that we never talked about exclusivity and said it had seemed casual, and that’s true, but after a YEAR, is it really possible he failed to mention a whole other girlfriend to me by accident? At the very least he could have said, after we spent Christmas together (!) last year, that he still intended to sleep around. We’ve always used condoms, so I’m not that worried about STDs, but I feel really duped. 

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