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,
A little over three years ago, my longtime boyfriend and I decided to open our relationship. We’re honest and upfront with the other partners each of us bring home, and our own sex has been better than ever because of it. I trust that my boyfriend does not have any other women he’s slept with without telling me about them. The problem is that in this timeframe, he’s been with five women, all of them white. We do not live in some white-only community, and the odds of him selecting five women at random and getting five white girls is tiny. I talked to him about this, and he started getting very defensive and saying “he liked the girls he liked.” I don’t know how to deal with this. There definitely seems to be at least subliminal racism in his choices. What should I do?
— Keeping Count
Dear Keeping Count,
I think you should have another conversation about this (possibly multiple conversations) as calmly as possible. Your boyfriend’s defensiveness is not necessarily related to your approach, but it could be—people tend to get defensive when they feel accused or shamed. If you have accused or shamed him, try a different tack. Maybe push things in a broader, more philosophical direction: What does your boyfriend think of the notion of sexual racism, anyway? Does he see it as a problem? I think it’s important to keep in mind that while your suspicion is justified given your area’s demographic makeup, it is possible that this is just how things shook out, so you should give him the benefit of the doubt, at least initially. You may very well get to the point where he admits he’s only interested in white women. Then what? If you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone with such discriminating taste in bed, well, you’ll know it’s time to plan your exit strategy. The fundamental importance of consent means that no one has to have sex with anyone that they don’t want to, but it also means that you don’t have to stay with someone who only wants to have sex with white women.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 55-year-old married hetero woman. There has always been a mismatch in my libido and that of my husband over our nearly 21 years of marriage. We went through an extreme dry spell for over a year with my husband constantly complaining throughout marriage that I did not initiate enough. Sex seems very transactional with him, which turns me off and makes me feel objectified. He would ask me to “go down” on him like he was asking me to pay the mortgage or do the dishes.
Now that we are empty-nesters, we have made attempts to improve our relationship and sex life. I have made an effort to offer oral sex on a more regular basis and get out of my comfort zone, but now my husband has come to expect it up to three times per week. Although other women may feel flattered, he has also started with more verbal communication (“I really want to be inside you”). This is often said at inopportune times and makes me feel uncomfortable.
He never used to be this way earlier in our marriage. It would seem that he is attempting to make up for lost time by pushing intimacy frequently. He probably also feels he is getting older and that we should enjoy sexual activity while we can. When I rebuff his advances (because I’ve just given him oral that morning), he sulks and stonewalls me and says “I’m afraid things are going to back to before.”
He has told me that my standards regarding sex are too high, that I expect everything to be perfect to have sex. I have told him “I don’t need all the boxes ticked’” and that it sometimes just takes me time to “warm up” but also that I have the right to say “no” and he should respect that. Many times, I prefer to just perform oral sex because he finds it pleasurable, and I don’t necessarily need penetration. I feel other things we do together can also foster intimacy.
I cannot help feeling what I feel. I really am turned off when I feel sex is pushed on me even when it is with my husband. This has been an ongoing saga in our marriage, and I am beginning to wonder if something is wrong with me. The odd thing about it is the more he wants sexual intercourse, the less I do. I would ask him to be patient but then I am afraid I won’t be interested in sexual intercourse and he fears we will not have intercourse again (he is a very “black-and-white thinking”-type of individual). I am in counseling to address my marital issues and the resentment I feel with my husband. He would never go to counseling and that would never be a solution for him. I just don’t think a husband would treat his wife this way if he really loved her. I am feeling like a cold fish in this current state.
— Turned Off
Dear Turned Off,
I suspect the most pressing issue here is less about an absolute interest/disinterest in sex, and more about the context in which it is propositioned. Simply put, your husband’s approach is turning you off. In the dual-control model of sexual response, as developed by Erick Janssen and John Bancroft at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, and explored in books in the How to Do It canon like Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are and Ian Kerner’s So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, people have brake and accelerators. The former consists of that which turn us off (or obstruct us from being turned on), the latter is operated by that which turns us on. If something is hitting your brake, you’re not going anywhere. I think that might be what’s going on here: Your husband’s transactional attitude and pushy approach is turning you off despite his behavior being in ostensible service of turning you on. He wants to make sex happen, but his own drive is getting in his own way.
It might help to put this in perspective to him, so that he can understand the extent to which modifying his behavior may further his cause. Of course, it also might not. Could it be that you’re just not that into sex? Could you fall somewhere on the asexual spectrum? Maybe. That might be something to work through with your therapist. Would your husband go to counseling with you if he understood how dire the situation is? His behavior is leading you to feel unloved and turning you off. At the very least, he needs a new strategy and he’s not doing well at coming up with it on his own. Speaking of strategies, it might benefit you to turn his transactional thinking back at him: Tell him that he goes to counseling with you, there’s a chance that he’ll see an improvement in his sex life. See if that gets through to him.
Help us keep giving the advice you crave every week. Sign up for Slate Plus now.
Dear How to Do It,
How do I get my boyfriend to bang other girls? I’ve told him numerous times that I enjoy watching and hearing about his sexual conquests, and I want them to continue even when we’re dating. He keeps making vague statements, and hasn’t picked up a girl in the 10 months we’ve been officially together. How do I get him to get out of his shell and out there again?
— Go Get It
Dear Go Get It,
One way to dip your toe into opening up a relationship is to have sex with someone else together, which may require you to plan and initiate. But it could be the case that while you are cool with nonmonogamy, your boyfriend isn’t. Or maybe it’s simply too early in your relationship for him to feel comfortable opening things up—some people need to accrue more time to feel secure enough in their relationships to venture out. I guess it really depends on the nature of his “vague statements.” Is he saying them to placate you, does he feel awkward, or is he just not a real go-getter? If I had to guess, I think that he’s more inclined to monogamy than you are. If that’s the case, it’s probably you that’s going to have to conform to his comfort level, if you want to stay in the relationship. Given the putative mismatch, though, you may not want to. At least you’re figuring this out early.
Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bisexual man, married to a wonderful woman for a few years now. About a month into dating, I admitted to being bi to my wife, and told her I had experimented with giving oral to another man once. She was fairly accepting of my past, but it became clear that she was not interested in discussing my experiences further, and that it was a big turnoff. (I’m a very large and traditionally “manly” kind of guy, which she loves me being, and she said she didn’t like picturing me in a submissive role for another man.) The topic has not come back up since then, which is fine by me since while desires obviously remain, our sex life is amazing, I’m monogamous, and don’t want to do anything sexual with a man OR a woman.
The problem is that I lied. I had given oral to somewhere between 12-to-20 men, and bottomed for two of them as a teenager. Gloryholes in public parks were my science labs of choice in my teenage experimentation, though a handful of anonymous encounters occurred into my 20s.
Aside from cringing over the stupidity of those encounters, I don’t regret them and I’m not ashamed of them outside of the riskiness. I proudly and loudly support LGBTQ causes, but no one has ever asked if I’m bi, and it’s no one else’s business so I don’t go around shouting it. I don’t have any desire to cheat, or further experiment (hypothesis: confirmed, dick is good), I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, and I am completely committed to my wife.
Do I owe her the truth? I don’t like hiding things from my partner, but at the same time I cannot think of anything good that could possibly come from an out-of-the-blue confession. I waited for a few years for the topic to come back up so I could confess, but it’s clearly a topic that she avoids, so I have to assume it’s not going to happen. I want to be honest and have complete communication, but I also want to respect her fairly clear boundaries of not discussing this topic that she doesn’t want to acknowledge. Should I just let the past be in the past? Or rock the boat for no better reason than clearing my own conscience?
— Need a Recount
Dear Need a Recount,
When you told your wife about your past sex with men, you were coming out to her.
Coming out can be an extended process, and a messy one at that because of the lies some people tell along the way to make their lives easier. I don’t advocate lying, but I understand it particularly in this context, and I think compassion for queer people means forgiving the lies they feel they have to tell when they are in situations in which they don’t feel comfortable being their full selves. In this case, you calculated correctly: The woman who would become your wife was “fairly” accepting and uninterested in hearing more. If you told her the truth she may have unfairly judged you and you wouldn’t have the wonderful life you share now. She would have been wrong for doing that, and so in this respect, lying to her about the details of your sexual history was a useful correction. I think as it stands, she has enough information. She knows about your sexuality without being vexed by the array of cocks you’ve had in your mouth. You’re just as bi after sucking 20 dicks as you would be if you had indeed only sucked one. She gets the gist.
It’s wonderful when you have a partner with whom you can share your full truth, but some partners can’t handle the truth. There’s a difference between actively lying and engaging in deception, and leaving out details to make everyone’s life easier and happier. We all have thoughts and things in our past that go unspoken. Full disclosure will be virtually impossible until we have a way of transplanting our running monologues into other people’s heads. (And when we get there, who will actually want to do that?) In this case, you know where your wife stands here. Only tell her about this if keeping it secret seriously stresses you out or if you’ll be actively lying by withholding it. I give you a pass for passively lying here.
More How to Do It
Shortly after I turned 32 I suddenly, for no reason I can think of, started squirting when I orgasm. I hate it. I have to put down pads to absorb the mess or clench so hard I hold it all in, which doesn’t feel super great during orgasm. People have told me to just go to the bathroom before sex or masturbation and I HAVE TRIED THIS. I still squirt. I’m so frustrated. Is there anything I can do to stop it or manage it somehow? I hate that having an orgasm is now an ordeal.