How to Do It

My Husband Won’t Let Me Out of a Sexual Agreement We Made Decades Ago

Our deal isn’t working out anymore, but he won’t listen.

A woman looks forlorn next to a neon contract and pen.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo 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 was 25 when I married a twice-divorced man in his 40s and agreed to something I now regret. Because his previous marriages had failed due to his cheating, he proposed that we have a “limited open marriage,” in which he could have sex with other women when he was traveling on business. At the time, he would go to a couple of conventions each year and a few short, out-of-state trips. It seemed reasonable to me, and I didnt ask for reciprocity since I couldnt imagine wanting to have sex with anyone else. Although I had a lot of sexual experience, I had never actually been in love and I was head over heels.

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Fast forward a couple of decades, and he is now on the road more often than he is at home and I am sex starved. He has not lost his libido with age, and we have absolutely stellar sex, but I go days and sometimes weeks without it while he has other women all over the country and even some overseas. And its not just casual encounters or sex for hire—there are several women he has been seeing for years. I told him I want the same thing: to be able to have sexual fulfillment when he is not available. Many of our friends (married and single) are polyamorous, and I have had lots of offers that I have always declined but would like to accept. But my husband insists I have to stick to our original agreement. I really want to do ethical non-monogamy, but does his refusal to grant me equity give me an out to just take lovers without his consent?

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— Raw Deal

Dear Raw Deal,

Ideologically, you are in the right. Nonetheless, cheating would still be wrong. Your husband is violating what I think is a cardinal rule of consensual nonmonogamy: Allowing your partner to change their mind. Open relationships frequently require multiple kinds of openness. If you want to be a stickler regarding rules that have been laid out, you can’t be surprised when your partner becomes exasperated and then fed up with the relationship. I can’t conceive of any compassionate reason why your husband would want to maintain the double-standard that has defined your particular brand of openness. “A rule’s a rule” is a cruel principle when that rule doesn’t have to be so and in fact is doing more harm than good. Further, the idea that it’s OK for him to experience sex with other women, but that you can’t experience the same with other men could be rooted in the type of misogynistic ideology that goes something like: Boys will be boys, and girls will be whatever boys want them to be.

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I’m curious as to just what his rationale is for wanting to disallow your extracurricular fun—have you tried making him say it out loud? Perhaps all it would take for him to see the folly (and likely sexism) of his ways would be to have the words tumble out of his mouth. If that still doesn’t work, I totally understand why you would think that it’s right to take up partners yourself, and it’s about as close to a morally righteous reason for cheating as it gets.
But cheating is still cheating—this is the supreme rule. Ethical relationships are relationships in which both partners are aware of what’s going on. It’s not wrong to have sex with other people, but you can’t lie about your sexual activity in a healthy relationship. If you go that route, prepare for it to catch up with you sooner or later.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am a gay man, and a couple of years ago, I had a sexual encounter that started normally and consensually but ended up in a gray area. I was giving him a pretty standard blowjob when he grabbed the back of my head with both hands and pushed his cock into my throat. He was both long and girthy, and because of the way he had grabbed me, I couldnt easily pull away. He thrusted several times and I started gagging, so he eventually let up. I let him know that it was too much for me, and we went back to a normal blowjob, but then he did it again. He finished, and I never saw him again after that.

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I had some pain and discomfort in my throat for several days afterward, but it subsided. A few months later I started having issues swallowing food, particularly things like bread and rice. I never had this issue before. The first doctor I went to about it just told me to eat more slowly. The issue came and went periodically, but last year grew more regular so I went to a different doctor. This led to me getting an endoscopy and being diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis, a rare disease where white blood cells called eosinophils build up in the esophagus. The inflammation is being treated now, and I am no longer having issues swallowing food.

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The doctor wasnt able to determine the cause of this disease in me and said little is known about its origins in general. I know you have some trusted specialists you turn to periodically. I am wondering if you have ever heard of long-lasting damage being caused by this type of oral sex, and if its possible that the eosinophilic esophagitis was caused by this sexual encounter.

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— Hard to Swallow

Dear Hard to Swallow,

Indeed, little is known about eosinophilic esophagitis, as Dr. Sarita Patil confirmed during a recent phone conversation I had with her. Patil is an academic physician scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, an allergist and immunologist, and she helped found Mass General’s Adult Eosinophilic Esophagitis Program. Few people, if any, know eosinophilic esophagitis (or EOE, as it’s called for short) better than Patil, and so it is with confidence that I reprint her assessment of your situation: It is unlikely that oral sex caused your EOE.

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“We don’t think it develops from any kind of traumatic experience to the esophagus,” explained Patil. “It’s an allergic disease. It’s a chronic, immune-related disease.” It is similarly unlikely that your trauma even triggered your EOE—what is more likely is that after the rough and forceable oral sex that was foisted on you, the pain you experienced as a result drew your attention to the area and so you became more sensitive to it. This is more likely a matter of correlation than causation, but it could also be a total coincidence that you went through what you did only to be diagnosed with EOE.

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“Sometimes you become aware when there’s a healing process in the esophagus,” explained Patil. “I see a lot of patients in the EOE clinic who have had their disease for a really long time. And sometimes they’ve known they have the disease, but sometimes people come in and they don’t think about their difficulty swallowing on a regular basis. It’s just not really obvious. Once we make their esophagus better by treating their disease, all of a sudden when they get exposed to their culprit allergen and have symptoms, they say, ‘Oh wow, it’s much worse now than it was before. Did I make my EOE worse by treating it?’ The answer is no. You just feel it more.”

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Patil also noted that the esophagus itself is “a bit difficult to traumatize” because its upper area is protected by a layer much like skin. It sucks that your hook-up was so negligent of your discomfort and consent. He sounds like a dick, but neither he nor his dick caused your EOE in all likelihood. In fact, he may have indirectly brought it to your attention. Shitty way for that to happen, but at least you’ve had successful treatment.

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Dear How to Do It,

What is the best way to masturbate a normal-sized dick—6.5 inches long when I’m hard? I feel like Ive always done it the same way since I stumbled onto my usual method when I was 11 or 12, and Im wondering if theres a promised land Im missing.

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— Curious

Dear Curious,

There is no best way to masturbate any size dick other than what works for said dick and its owner. This is a good thing, for even if it were possible to draw up some universal prescription, that would really take the fun out of exploring. I have to wonder what would drive you to write in such a question (especially since you yourself did not explain it). The general rule is: If you can make yourself come, you’re doing it right. There are, of course, ways to potentially enhance pleasure: You could try a receptive sex toy like the Fleshlight; you could experiment with prostate massage; you could edge yourself (masturbate until you feel like you’re going to have an orgasm, stop before the point of no return, allow yourself to calm down, and then go again, over and over again). If you’re uncircumcised, figure out if rolling the foreskin back or keeping it over your head feels best for you. Try lube if you haven’t. I remember reading when I was young that masturbating with your non-dominant hand gave you the experience of someone else doing it for you, but that fantasy was dashed by the terrible hand job given to me by this phantom other person. What works, works. Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken, but do optimize if you’re feeling adventurous.

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Dear How to Do It,

I have been with my boyfriend for two years. We’re about to move in together, frequently talk about getting married and having kids together, everyone who knows us says our relationship is perfect … only I haven’t wanted to have sex with him in months. The most enjoyment I’ve ever had with him was right at the beginning of our relationship when we both went back to our respective families over Christmas and had extremely hot phone/text sex. I mentioned this the other day as something I’d like to do again, and he brushed it off as something we didn’t need now we were in a “real” relationship, and that he’d only been going along with it for my benefit anyway. When I look back on the last two years I struggle to think of times when I’ve had any kind sexual agency in this relationship, or to think of what I would even be able to identify if he asked me what I would like to try to do to improve it. I sort of assumed this would blow over and didn’t say anything to him about it—only then I caught feelings for someone else (a woman, for the first time in my life), and I’ve realized my sex drive isn’t dead, it just feels like it is with him. My whole family thinks I’d be completely self-sabotaging my one chance at true happiness” if I were to end things. How can I begin to explain that it’s not as perfect as it looks without airing this stuff to them all?

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— Not Perfect

Dear Not Perfect,

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I think you only begin to explain it and leave it at that. Offer the tip of the iceberg and say little else by way of elaboration. “We aren’t compatible,” should suffice, and if it doesn’t, make it suffice. I’ve been in this situation before, and I’ve had the challenge of having to contend with certain parts of queer culture (like fixed bottom/top roles) that I knew my largely heterosexual family  wouldn’t be able to relate to and might judge me as superficial for caring about anyway. But sexual incompatibility is a completely reasonable justification for discontinuing a relationship. Your family thinks you’d be sabotaging your chance at true happiness, but if you aren’t having good sex (and, even worse, feel that you are without agency), your family is wrong and this is in fact not your chance at true happiness, because your happiness isn’t true. Also, no offense to your family, but your “one chance at true happiness?” Nice confidence! Besides, it seems like you’ve already got a woman in the wings to prove them wrong, and setting the precedent for a direct but vague explanation as to why your current relationship is ending (if in fact it does) will prepare you for sharing a similarly curt rationale if/when your queer relationship ends, because believe me, they’re probably not going to get that either. Whatever. It would be absurd to live for your family. That would dash your chances at happiness. Live for you and find it where and with whom you can.

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— Rich

More How to Do It

I’m a straight white male in a happy poly relationship with several live-in girlfriends and a wife, in addition to what the girls call my “conquests.” My issue is that not only do I have a high sex drive, I also have insane stamina to back it up—in our house a “quickie” is three to four hours with “normal” being six to eight hours—even finishing myself off can take hours. This can be damned annoying at times. My doctor and the specialists I’ve seen have recommended that I try different lubes, lotions, creams, etc., etc. But they don’t really work. How can I reduce my sexual stamina?

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