How to Do It, Slate’s sex advice column, now has its very own podcast featuring Stoya and Rich. Twice a week, they’ll tackle their most eye-popping questions yet in short, fun, informative episodes. Subscribe to the podcast now wherever you listen.
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Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend of five years and I have a solid, emotionally fulfilling relationship with mild to moderate issues communicating. For the last two-ish years, sex has been very infrequent despite repeated efforts on my part to initiate. When I try to bring it up, he gets embarrassed and defensive, and claims to just be really tired from work. He does work a lot, but not enough to explain away two years of near celibacy as healthy people in our mid-20s. I have no reason to believe he is cheating, and he does not have ED.
I know the answer to this problem is keep talking to him. My question pertains to the way I’ve been coping with this dry spell. It may be a little … cruel.
I have a pretty high sex drive. I don’t get much out of porn, so I’m stuck pondering homemade scenarios, usually involving real people. For a while, I would think about my boyfriend, who I am extremely and frustratedly attracted to, but as the drought dragged on fantasizing about sex with him became a downer.
So a few months ago, I started thinking about being with my boyfriend’s best friend, and it was very exciting. I feel pretty guilty about it, until it’s vibe time and suddenly he’s the only thing that can get me going. I’ve never been particularly attracted to him, and if he actually hit on me, I would decline. It could be because my social circle has shrunk considerably during COVID and he’s in it, it could be an expression of some of the frustration I feel toward my boyfriend, or maybe a little of both? I’ve never been a cheater and I worry that this is infidelity in some way. I know if I found out my boyfriend was jerking off to one of my friends, I would feel awful! Is this cheating? Is this something I will need to disclose to maintain honesty in our relationship? Am I overthinking this?
Rich: People feel a lot of guilt, I’m learning, as I write this column and do this podcast. You get a lot of people who are disturbed by their own thoughts.
Stoya: See, I feel like Goldilocks, where I’m like, “This person has too much guilt. This person has not enough guilt. This person is just right.”
Rich: Is this person just right?
Stoya: I think this person is feeling a lot of guilt over not a situation that they need to feel guilty about.
Rich: Right. Yeah, I agree.
Stoya: So “thought crimes”—it’s a great sign off, it’s catchy. But also it’s a dystopian thing: “Is a thought a crime?” And I don’t think it is.
Rich: I don’t think so either. I think you’re allowed to have any thoughts. Thoughts do not have morality in themselves. It’s what you do with them. It’s what you do after them.
Stoya: Completely agreed.
Rich: I mean, this permits people to have really fucked up things in their head, but I feel powerless to that anyway. I can’t control what’s in your head. How are you going to legislate that?
Stoya: I mean, you can find other things to think about instead. If it really bothers you, you can be like, “Okay, so when I want to do blank, I will instead think about blank. When I want to eat really sugary stuff, I will instead drink a glass of water and pet my cats.”
Rich: You can also do this internally. Meditation can help you strengthen that muscle. It’s taught me a lot about choosing what I think about and what I don’t. You just push things to the side, like a cloud. You imagine this thought that’s taking up your head, and you just push it to the side.
Stoya: Yeah, and they float back, and you just calmly push it to the side again.
Rich: Exactly, exactly. So you can do that, for sure, but I don’t think that fantasizing is infidelity. I don’t experience it that way. And I think to have any standard there is to set people up to fail.
Stoya: Yeah. And I think this seems to bother the writer, so I think finding other things that function for them, as sexual stimuli, is useful. If it bothers them, they can change it. But I don’t think they need to feel guilty. It isn’t cheating. And I would say 100 percent do not disclose this.
Rich: Right. I think of the human fascination with variety. And fantasizing about whoever, including your boyfriend’s friend, is a way to cope with that. I mean, people are attracted to novelty. And in order to have, specifically, a monogamous framework, I think you’re going to need some outlet. It strikes me that fantasy is one of the healthiest and safest ways to do that. It doesn’t encumber your relationship, and that’s the wonderful thing about your thoughts, is that they’re in your head. Take solace in that.
Stoya: No one has to know. We know, but we don’t know who you are. So, effectively, no one knows, unless you tell someone, and you can just not tell your boyfriend or his best friend. It’ll make both of them feel really weird.
Rich: Yes. I think one’s mind is the safest space on earth, really. I would advise our writer, as well, to work through why, if they found out that their boyfriend was jerking off to one of their friends, they would feel awful. Because I think it’s a really healthy mature thing to take this standard that you have for yourself and apply it to somebody else. The empathy there makes sense, but why? What is it about that, that would bother you so much? Because you’ve been there—you understand what it is.
Stoya: That’s a really good catch. I feel like you can do some visualization, you can imagine sitting down and having your boyfriend say, “So your friend, Janet, I wank to her all the time.” And sit with that, and think about your feelings, what your body is feeling, what the sensations are, what’s coming up. Because why would you feel awful? I’d be like, “Yeah, my friends are hot,” but also I’m a slut.
Rich: Yeah, that’s definitely not in my emotional glossary to feel bad about finding my partner’s friends hot, or my partner finding my friends hot, at all. That’s totally fine with me.
Stoya: I’m wondering if it’s cultural norms? We get a lot of messages in the English-speaking West about how we should be able to everything for our partner. So I’m wondering if that’s part of the root of why they would feel awful.
Rich: Yeah, or just this general imperative of monogamy, which, obviously, is impossible for people to adhere to 100 percent, a lot of people. I mean, I do believe that there are certain naturally monogamous people, but I think this is a system that people, by and large, fail at, and that’s not their fault. I think it’s the fault of the system. Have you just been inundated with messages that what you’re doing is wrong? When, in fact, if you logically tease it out, it isn’t. I don’t know. It could be.
Stoya: Yeah. You have a wonderful opportunity to think through it yourself and decide for yourself what is, and is not, good.
Rich: Yes. But if I’m the moral police here, I say you get a pass. You’re totally fine; probably less worry should be put into this situation, I would say. That’s easier said than done, of course, but try to work toward accepting yourself and being okay with your fantasies.