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 man in his early 30s at home for the holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years. (I haven’t seen my family the whole pandemic, and we proceeded with these plans carefully, so I’m staying for a while.) I’m staying at my dad’s house, where my younger brother also lives right now after his engagement ended this year. He is an attractive kid and already has a new girlfriend/FWB who seems to come around often. I like (liked?) her.
The problem is that they are having sex constantly, and loudly, when she comes over at night. The house is not large, and our rooms are connected directly by the ventilation, and they knew I was home, so it’s not like they didn’t know I could hear them. If someone is even on the phone in the next room, you can hear everything. It felt a little ridiculous. We’re adults, not teenagers! So, I made a joking comment to my brother about it and suggested they try to do it when I’m not home while I’m here. He got a little embarrassed and said he knows, but his girlfriend knows I can hear and likes it. WHAT? This is not what I expected him to say, and I dropped it. I feel gross and definitely weirded out. I have two and half more weeks here and I don’t know how to approach this—I can’t exactly leave (what would I tell my dad?). Should I pretend we never talked about it? Is this not as weird as it seems to me?
Dear All Ears,
Sounds like the girlfriend is an exhibitionist (who is attracted enough to you to want to show off for aurally). But exhibitionism without consent is harassment. Your feelings in response are not merely valid, they are justified. I think this is beyond weird—it’s aggressive and selfish of her. I understand that the first conversation you had with your brother was awkward and a second is bound to be more so, but you have every right to tell him that this makes you uncomfortable and that they should turn down the volume for your sake. You made a completely reasonable request that deserves to be honored. If the girlfriend is made aware of this and keeps violating your ears, you have every right to tell her directly that you don’t appreciate it. This is one you don’t have to let roll off your back.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a gay man in my early 30s who has been in and out of the dating world. One thing I have noticed is ghosting. I do not like ghosting in any form and have done better with men telling me they are not interested. If ghosting does occur, I feel my feelings, recognize they were not for me, and am able to move on. What has been troubling me lately is men who have said they are uninterested, or have ghosted, only to come back. This has happened in the real world and on the dating apps. I cannot help but to be suspicious as to what was going on in the first place. As a result, I get confused by this and have typically either not replied or have said I am no longer interested. When this happens, I am usually told that I am being an ass, or seem to be offending THEM. This has happened on many occasions, and my question to this is how should I handle this? Is it better to respond, or let it go? How also do I not take this behavior personally?
There’s a lot going on here, and I have opinions about it all. Let me break it down.
I agree that ghosting is generally shitty and that people shouldn’t do it. This is especially so in the realm of dating, when the other party is quite reasonable to expect a response. I’m a bit less bothered by ghosting in a casual sex scenario, particularly one brokered by an app that is essentially functioning as a digital bathhouse. In theory, sure, you should be able to tell someone who wants to see you again that the desire isn’t mutual, but too often that kind of disclosure brings its own hassles. Sometimes you can’t win—people want a response, but then they don’t want to hear about themselves after inevitably following up to ask why you don’t want to get naked again. Also, this feedback is generally predicated on subjective taste, which could render the entire exercise futile—someone’s stroke may not work for you, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. Sometimes the most outstanding practical effect of these quasi-exist interviews is just to make someone feel bad. Disappearing into the ether seems compassionate in comparison, though the problem is that you don’t know how bad the conversation will go until you have it. It can also be annoying to have to engage at all when an objective infraction (say, a violation of consent or a flagrantly toothy blowjob) has occurred. It’s like: So now I have to put up with your shit and teach you about yourself? Hell no. It’s tough, and as with most things, you have to feel your way through each case as it comes. As the person getting ghosted, you have to realize that while it’s reasonable to expect politeness, it’s hardly guaranteed, and sadly, you aren’t even entitled to it. The best you can do is project your own ethical righteousness and hope people follow suit. When they don’t, at least you can understand that you’re better than the way you’re being treated.
The post-ghost resurrections—zombie daters if you will—that you mention are performing what I call “the long lap.” Why do people act like extremely slow boomerangs? It’s something I’ve wondered about a lot and can only guess at. When it comes to men who have sex with men, perhaps it could have something to do with something psychologist Walt Odets writes about in his insightful 2019 book Out of the Shadows: Reimagining Gay Men’s Lives regarding how a dude’s interest may forfeit his future with a mate:
There is something else I have heard a thousand times from gay men: “I am never interested in men who are interested in me, and those I am interested in never return the feeling.” What this peculiar, completely implausible predicament suggests is that the obstruction lies not in who other gay men actually are, but in what he, the seeker of relationships, feels about himself. The psychological mechanism is projection: when a man shows interest in another man, the interested man becomes a deviant homosexual in the eyes of his object, and this works bidirectionally. Both men feel some—probably unconscious—sense of their own homosexual undesirability and project the feeling onto each other.
Not everyone is dealing with this level of shame, but a lot of gay men well into adulthood still have a hard time totally accepting themselves. My guess is that this mechanism combined with people’s faulty memories can make for human boomerangs.
And yes, it seems to be a modern practice to take offense when one is called out for being offensive. I will sound like an old man here, but I don’t care because I think this is true: This seems to be especially prevalent in millennials and younger generations. It’s as though the social imperative has shifted to it being considered impolite to mention if someone has wronged you, which leaves you expected to take it on the chin in silence. It really seems like a lot of people just cannot deal with the idea that they may have done something wrong, and by putting that in front of them, you become the bad guy. I think this is stupid, and I recommend pushing back against it. Once I was in the checkout section of the Whole Foods in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was initially low-key bedlam. A woman rammed me with her cart, crashing into my Achilles tendons. That sucked! Reflexively, I turned around and looked at her. The look she returned was of such contempt, it was as though I had rammed into her. I told her, “That’s OK, don’t apologize,” and you know what? She didn’t! She just glared some more. We all have the choice to be so brittle as to shut down at the suggestion that everything we do isn’t perfect, or we can just act like humans and admit to our glaring flaws. I don’t really think I need to emphasize what I think is the best path here.
But also, acting like a human means letting things go. Sometimes pointing out someone’s folly is easy and will take up very little time, sometimes, as I mentioned above, it’s simply not worth the complications. If someone that you know on a first name basis starts to give you shit because you pointed out that they were shitty, you can chalk that relationship up to a lost cause and move on. There are other people out there more deserving of your time. Learning how to not take this stuff personally is a process that involves dismantling your own ego. People who mistreat you in all likelihood mistreated people before you, and they’ll mistreat people after you. You don’t deserve it, and it’s coming from them entirely. It’s not about you. This is easier to say than comprehend, but just try to hold onto that. The behavior you describe witnessing is self-invested and inconsiderate. There are a lot of self-invested and inconsiderate people in the world, unfortunately, but there are also a lot of generous people who will treat you as you deserve to be treated. Finding them isn’t easy, but you will know when you do. And you will.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 63-year-old man who, after several years of celibacy, recently started a new relationship with a woman my age. During the time I wasn’t in a relationship, I relied on masturbation as my primary sexual outlet, and while I had no problem getting an erection, I noticed that recently it took a long time to orgasm with some stopping and starting.
I’ve now run into an issue with my new relationship. While I can become erect, when we start having sex it goes away. My partner is very understanding and suggested trying ED drugs, but is this the only alternative? Will booster drugs be a part of my life from now on? Obviously, this has shaken the little bit of confidence I’ve had, which is part of the reason I remained celibate for long.
I’m not convinced that your masturbatory habits caused your ED. Your ED may be a natural consequence of your age, or it could derive from a psychological source like anxiety. It could be a combination of these factors. Luckily, ED drugs are useful not just as vasodilators but as anti-anxiety meds—the assurance they provide can make all the difference. I realize that certain factors may make them less than ideal solutions (they can be pricey, depending on your insurance and quantity needs), but if your hesitancy is a product of your pride and/or medical mistrust, I highly recommend doing whatever you can to get over those things. You have some other options, like a cockring and/or a pump, but I think many urologists would tell you that the meds are going to be your surest bet. It’s also wonderful that you have such an understanding partner who isn’t demanding more than what your body can provide. If getting back into the swing of sex is as easy as popping a pill beforehand … try the damn pill.
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Dear How to Do It,
The pandemic and having more down time—combined with finishing my studies—has given me time to consider my personal life. I’m a 23-year-old sexually frustrated virgin (female). I’m single, never been on a date and I want to change that. Pre-pandemic, I considered myself straight as an arrow. Now though, I realize I was lying to myself and I think I might be bisexual. I’m aroused more by females rather than males, and over the years there has been a couple of crushes on friends (females) where I brushed the thoughts aside.
My family and friends are not religious or conservative, I think they would be accepting, but I just want to sort of experience and experiment first. I’m looking to start dating and meet someone, I don’t know how to do this though. I gather online is probably my best option, especially considering the small town I live in, but I also don’t really want people stumbling across my profile (my sister is on Tinder!). How do you suggest meeting someone during a pandemic?
— Getting Out There
Dear Getting Out There,
Currently, I have no ability to smell or taste. I’ve tested negative for COVID multiple times this week, but I don’t trust ‘em. Normally, I’d tell you to find a local queer space and dip your toe in there, but given the surging rates of the virus, I can’t do that in good conscience right now, unfortunately. Instead, try apps that you know your sister isn’t on (there are, for example, ones specifically made for queer women like HER) or start even smaller and more chattily on reddit (/bisexual may be worth perusing). The thing is, when you come out, even just a little, you risk someone stumbling on your profile. You can either put yourself out there or not. You’ll find it’s a lot of effort to stay clandestine, and a minimal profile without any pictures isn’t going to get much play. You should absolutely go at your own pace, but I think you’ll find ultimately that the sooner you get over this fear, the more human connection (and fun!) you’ll be able to have.
More How to Do It
I’m a bi woman married to a straight man. My sex drive and sense of adventure are both much stronger than his. He will mostly only have sex at night in bed, two possible positions, once a week or so. I’ve tried talking to him about what I like and what he might like, getting strategies from my therapist, initiating with different times and places and scenarios and acts, but he really can’t get into anything other than our current basics. I love him and he’s a great partner, but this leaves me sexually frustrated. I’m wondering about outlets that are not cheating but that might give me some of what I’m missing. I read in your column about men masturbating together online and am curious about trying this with women when I have some time to myself. However, I don’t know where I’d even start to seek this out. Any tips?