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 was in a long-term relationship (after getting a divorce) where the sex was absolutely mind-blowing. I had never had sex this good. Ever. But the person I was having this great sex with just wasn’t into more than that. The sex kept me in the relationship way longer than I should have stayed. It was a bad break up, but I had had enough—despite the mind-blowing sex.
Enter the new man that treats me like an absolute queen. No one has ever treated me this well, either. He’s an absolute keeper. My friends love him, my employees love him. He’s amazing. However. The sex is atrocious. He has a very small penis, and it’s made worse by his weight. I’ve tried spicing things up, but he gets offended. I feel like sex with the new guy is something I have to just “get through.”
My solution, I think, is to find someone on the side, and tell no one. I have a number of individuals I think would be game for such an arrangement. I know this is going to complicate my life, but I just don’t know what else to do. Going without isn’t an option in my book. If no one ever finds out, what harm is it?
— Side Eying
Dear Side Eying,
What makes something right or wrong is not defined by other people’s knowledge of it; that logic would foist the moral responsibility, in this case, on the person who’s being cheated on. I feel like you must know this, as you clearly aren’t a child? I guess virtually everything warrants reminding at some point.
But to break things down on your terms, the “if” in “If no one ever finds out …” is far too big of an if. Cheating is defined by its clandestine nature (only a true sadist hopes to have their infidelity uncovered by their partner), and yet so often it is uncovered. The problem isn’t the sex, but the lying necessary to facilitate it. I agree that you should be able to get yours and have a fulfilling sex life, but it should not come at the expense of your partner. This guy treats you like a queen and is universally loved by people close to you—and you’re considering betraying him? Think again. You’d be inviting toxicity into what sounds like a loving and harmonious relationship, which will threaten it at the very least and could end up torpedoing it. A gentle but frank conversation with him about your assessment of your sex life, I think, will be much more productive. You might express your frustration at his unwillingness to spice things up. You may even confess your temptation to cheat and inquire about opening your arrangement. If you want to keep things good—and it sounds like you do—treat him as ethically as he’s treating you.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a mid-30s woman married to my male partner of 15 years. We have a great sexual relationship and can communicate with each other; however, we don’t agree on one point. I am interested in opening our relationship for casual encounters with other people. This isn’t a new concept for us as we both follow various sex advice podcasts and columns. My partner has two main concerns: The first is that he feels that any sex outside the relationship is sex that he is missing out on, and the second is that he has no interest in sex with anyone besides me, so it would essentially be permission just for me. I feel that the energy and excitement of any interactions would be put right back into our own relationship. We have a wonderful marriage and life together, so I do not want to destroy it by acting without his consent. I know it’s a cliché, but I’ve undergone a self-awakening in my 30s and want to use this new confidence. What can I do to convince him?
— Awake and Ready
Dear Awake and Ready,
The thing to try—and I only recommend doing this if you’re sure he’s comfortable because it may end up in disaster if he is not, and as of the time of your writing, it really seems like he is not—is an arrangement in which you only play together. You get your newness, he gets to take part in the sex he would feel like he was otherwise missing out on. That is how many couples start their open arrangements, at any rate, so it might make for a good transition into your adventures in consensual nonmonogamy. But tread lightly. I say this a lot and I’ll do so again: When it comes to open relationships, you really have to defer to the most sensitive party if you want to maintain harmony. If he’s not OK with this, the relationship will not be OK. Choose your path wisely.
Dear How to Do It,
My wife and I (41-year-old male and female) have dramatically different libidos. It’s a constant source of friction, no matter how understanding we try to be of each other. Should I try an SSRI in an attempt to decrease my desire?
That seems pretty drastic, and could have effects on you that go beyond decreasing your libido, if your SSRI even does that. I would attempt couples counseling, considering consensual nonmonogamy, and reading up on strategies to deal with disparity in sex drive before I turned to medicine. Do you really want to chemically alter that part of yourself? Seems like a bad idea—though we get so many questions from people who want their less sexually interested spouses to change that your willingness to do is refreshing, I suppose. Getting at the root of the issue instead of popping it with pills is probably a better course of action: Perhaps your desire is spontaneous while your wife’s is reactive. Maybe something is hitting her break, while your accelerator behaves as though it’s under the weight of a lead foot. At the very least, you could read up on this stuff in Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are or So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex by Ian Kerner. It could, of course, very well be that your wife’s libido is what it is, and yours is considerably more active. If you’re intent on taking the medical route, please be transparent with your prescribing doctor about the reason you’re interested in SSRIs. I have a feeling many would dissuade you or think twice about prescribing them just to diminish your sex drive, but that will be nonetheless an important conversation to have.
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Dear How to Do It,
I am a woman in my 50s, in a fairly new relationship with a man a few years older. We connect in so many ways, but sex has been different from the start. Our first few dates were platonic, which was fine. Then one day we were making out on the couch when he just pulled away and held his head in his hands. I thought maybe I had done something wrong.
A few days later while hiking side by side, he told me that due to prostate cancer, he had a radical prostatectomy a few years ago. He told me some of the consequences; if he comes, it will be dry. It may take him a long time or not happen at all. There are many things I enjoy doing that are uncomfortable for him. He doesn’t like blowjobs because he still feels sensitive due to having to use a catheter for several weeks. He does not like his anus touched, although he wants to try anal on me. One time when he kissed me, he was thrilled that he got hard, and only then did he feel confident to try anything else. In addition, he is on Lexapro. He was also left with urinary issues. Given all that, I’m actually impressed he was to start dating again.
My boyfriend is very sexually generous to me. He says he gets off by making me come. Ironically, this has put pressure on me, and makes it harder to do just that. Another issue is that when he does come, I can’t tell. Would it be wrong to ask him to just tell me? I also want a more balanced sex life; I would like to make him feel good too, but he doesn’t seem to be able to tell me anything he would like, and I am open to just about anything. Any ideas on post-prostatectomy sex? Will it naturally improve with time?
— Figuring This Out
Dear Figuring This Out,
While about 60 percent of people will return to pre-treatment function two years after a prostatectomy, Dr. Patrick Walsh (who invented the nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy and was interviewed for a previous column) writes in Dr. Patrick Walsh’s Guide to Surviving Prostate Cancer that he’s seen complete healing take up to four years. So yes, you may be able to count on continued improvement in sexual function. The erection your boyfriend experienced while kissing you is a great sign. Hopefully, he’s taking a PDE5 drug like Viagra or Cialis to help facilitate his erections, and he may also want to look into a cock ring for added support. (Vacuum devices and penile implants are also options, though the latter requires surgery.) Another good sign is that he’s already notified you of his issues. Walsh writes:
The first thing that needs to happen is that you need to involve your partner. The worst thing you can do—take it from a doctor who has seen the unnecessarily devastating effect ED can have on patients’ relationships—is to clam up; wrap yourself up in shame, self-pity, failure, anger, or any other negative emotion you can think of; retreat to a distant corner of the bed; sulk; agonize; and not talk to your partner about this. Your partner should understand what’s going on and should be part of the solution.
This is a pretty big ask, as your relationship is fairly new, but I think this will require a lot of patience and understanding on your part, as well as his. You may have to put orgasms on the back burner for a while and just enjoy sexual contact itself for now. If you feel pressured to have an orgasm, try to stop worrying about having one and just enjoy the pleasure he’s giving you for what it is. Similarly, if he has a lot of hang-ups deriving from his post-surgery functioning, it wouldn’t be wise to pressure him to experience anything that makes him uncomfortable. No matter how much you like giving blowjobs, if he doesn’t want one, you can’t give one. He wouldn’t enjoy it anyway, so what’s the point? Hopefully, though, if you can both get comfortable within the somewhat limited sexual possibilities that you have, it will open the door for more. The question for you is: Are you willing to take this on? It’s a bit of a challenge, but may reap rewards if you approach with patience and compassion.
More How to Do It
I am a woman who’s begun dating a man who it turns out is a virgin. He went to Catholic school his entire life. He’s focused on reading up on how to please a partner while he’s spent his time alone, and I’ve gotten the benefit of that, but he also didn’t know that you don’t need to be literally inside of a woman to get her pregnant when you ejaculate or otherwise get semen around her vagina. Are there any basic sex education materials freely available online? Is there somewhere that has the basics readily available? What does he need to know?