How to Do It

Our New Apartment Came With a Provocative Nightly “Show.” My Wife Isn’t a Fan.

But what if … I am?

A man looks through binoculars; neon eyes float around him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Voyagerix/iStock/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,

Six months ago, my wife and I moved into a high-rise in a major metropolitan area that has a balcony with a very good view that happens to include two nearby luxury hotels. As anyone knows, luxury hotels play host to all varieties of amorous activities—but weve been surprised the extent to which participants in these activities proceed without closing the curtains. On almost any given night, our balcony provides us box seats to whatever is going on in these hotels. Initially, my wife and I dismissed this as a humorous side effect of moving into a high rise. But more recently, its become a point of contention. My wife thinks that the only appropriate response to seeing action in these hotels is to laugh it off and ignore it. I have a bit of a voyeuristic streak and will watch if presented with something that turns me on.
Ill even admit to occasionally breaking out the binoculars. My (probably self-serving) justification for feeling okay about doing this is that these people are well-aware of the fact that theyre in a high rise in full view of several buildings where people may see them. My wife, however, thinks that anything beyond incidental sightings is an invasion of privacy.

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So, my question for you is whether Im creepy and should turn away? Or is it acceptable for my eyes to linger, since these people must be aware of their exhibitionism??

— Vexed Voyeur

Dear Vexed Voyeur,

I agree with you on one point: Your rationale is probably self-serving. Further, your justification depends on an assumption that is anything but proven. It’s certainly possible that some people are aware of the potential they have to be seen, and perhaps that’s even part of the thrill for the true exhibitionists. But height and distance can go a long way to making people feel cloistered off, even if they aren’t. These people that you are assuming are completely aware of their potential to be observed may, in turn, assume they’re too far away to be made out and/or that only a true creep would bust out the binoculars.

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I think applying your fuzzy reasoning to another scenario might be useful: Someone may leave their front door open, fully aware that a person could walk in. This, however, is not an invitation, and if someone did walk in, it would constitute an unlawful entry and extremely questionable behavior on their part. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

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The ethics of voyeurism remain a subject of debate, and simply viewing what makes itself available to you is largely legal. A person could hardly be faulted if arousal follows. I’d draw the creepy line is where effort must be put into seeing more, especially when those who are being watched could very plausibly be unaware. If the person who lives in a building next to you by a few feet is consistently showing their bare ass and has quite obviously looked back at you, you can assume that person is aware of what they’re doing and is, in fact, offering a show. The same can’t be said for people in a hotel with enough distance between you that you require binoculars. I’m with your wife on this one. I don’t think seeking out this kind of entertainment makes you a bad person, but since you asked whether or not it’s creepy, I’m obligated to confirm.

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Dear How to Do It,

My long-term roommate and on-and-off friend with benefits and I recently made it a point to officially start dating. There have been several big red flags to this relationship, and I think we were both prepared to call it off it didn’t seem to be working out, but surprisingly it’s been very loving and tender and drama-free—something I honestly never expected.

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The big “problem” to me is that our sex life completely died since we became official (problem is in quotes, because he doesn’t seem to think it is one). We went from hooking up almost every night to having maybe sex once a month. Usually afterward, I start a tense conversation about how weird it is that he doesn’t want to have sex anymore. He’s definitely got some personal stuff he needs to work through, but mostly he is just insisting sex was something he did because other people expect it, or something he does when he’s drunk. I can’t really reconcile the past several years of him initiating things, of talking about our likes and dislikes, of trying to call things off and not being able to keep our hands of each other, with this person that just says he doesn’t really need sex. He’s offered to focus on pleasing me, but he never initiates and never wants to do it, even if I say direct things like “I’m horny”; he still gets hard and stuff when we cuddle, but I don’t feel comfortable starting anything, since I feel like it’s just something he’s doing even though he doesn’t want to. If I ask directly if he wants to have sex, he always just says “if you want to.”

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We both have had various forms of non-monogamous relationships, and I think he’d be happier if I just slept with someone else, but I don’t want to! I feel like I traded my favorite hook-up friend for this nice but asexual boyfriend (not knocking asexual folks, but that was not our arrangement for years). I have had partners that completely ignore my sexual needs in the past, and I told myself I would never do that again, but I don’t really understand the point of calling things off, because our daily life probably wouldn’t change that much, and I would just lose the physical and romantic intimacy that I do get. I want him to get therapy, but he’s super resistant to the idea. I also don’t like the idea of holding the relationship hostage to force him to “correct” something if this is his real self. But why wouldn’t he have mentioned his feelings about sex in all our years of friendship? I feel like I’m avoiding the obvious, which is that it’s not going to work out—but I hate the idea of losing an otherwise fun and rewarding relationship because my sex drive is too high or something.

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— Not What I Signed Up For

Dear Not What I Signed Up For,

In addition to finding yourself in a relationship with an apparent disparity of desire, you’re trapped in a sort of paradox: This is effectively your problem, but only action taken by your boyfriend will solve it. And that action would most certainly require some sort of therapy, which he has indicated he’s not interested in undergoing. Unless he changes his mind, you’ll likely continue to bear the brunt while he skates by on apathy. Ask yourself whether this is the kind of situation you want to be in, and how long you can endure, and then plan accordingly.

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As specific as your letter is, it’s very difficult to determine what’s going on with your man without hearing from him directly (and even then, given the scraps he’s tossed to you by way of an explanation, I’d wonder if he’d be willing to or even capable of revealing what’s up with him). “My sense would be that he’s ambivalent about being in a committed relationship and mainly saw her through a lens of opportunistic casual sex,” wrote psychotherapist/sexuality counselor Ian Kerner, author of So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, after I shared your letter with him via email. “This is kind of a common situation with FWBs where one partner potentially wants a real committed relationship and the other doesn’t but sometimes it moves in that direction anyway.” Kerner wondered, too, whether your boyfriend is having performance or anxiety issues that he’s masking with his claims of no desire, or that maybe his stated dependency on alcohol is affecting things if he’s not drinking at the moment. Perhaps too, he’s never held the same view of your sex life has you have. “What could be passion to her might have just been horniness meets opportunity,” wrote Kerner.

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Kerner also floated the idea that this issue could be a reaction to what AASECT-certified sex therapy supervisor and past president of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR) Daniel N. Watter calls a “relationship deepening moment.” Such a moment can trigger something in someone that causes him or her to self-protectively shut down, Watter explained to me over the phone. “I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody like this had in their background either a significant loss or a childhood that was characterized by being suffocated or smothered or controlled or something like that,” explained Watter, a practitioner of existential psychotherapy, which looks at problems through the lens of how they threaten one’s existence. “When the relationship deepens at a certain point, there’s a triggering in the unconscious of whatever that earlier childhood trauma may have been that then sets off this alarm system. That’s why I call it ‘self-protective.’ It’s trying to pull them back from getting too deeply involved in something that would produce either hurt or loss or loss of autonomy.”

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Watter says he’s seen what you describe a lot and that typically all parties in the relationship he’s examining are left perplexed by it. He said that he doesn’t believe that your boyfriend’s issue is with you or sex, per se, but unconscious issues deriving from his past, which makes solo therapy advisable.

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What to do then? You can impress the importance of therapy on him. You can move on, of course. Or you could attempt to scale things back. “I don’t know if this is the kind of situation where you can put the toothpaste back in the tube, but if they decided to go back to a more casual relationship, it might resolve itself,” said Watter. It doesn’t sound like this is a viable option for you, though. At any rate, good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

Im a guy who started having sex later in life, in his 40s. You two helped me out with the recommendation of Come As You Are and really helped when I picked up ACE, as it all clicked and I figured out I’m asexual (that one can both be kinky and asexual was a revelation).

Recently, I was fooling around with my girlfriend, and she asked, “Do you have a condom?” I went to put one on, and the erection was gone. I tried pumping with my hand to get it back, but it wasn’t happening. My girlfriend could not have been cooler about it and said nothing. I provided stimulation by other means until she came. She tried to return the favor with a hand job and again in the morning, but both times, it wasn’t happening.

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I chalked it up to work stress. But as a result, I’m replaying the situation and thinking “Could I be at ‘fault’ for the penis getting stage fright?” I’m still pretty new to sex stuff, and this was going to be the first penis-in-vagina intercourse I had with my partner. I’m a recovering Catholic, so I carry guilt, and I’m not horny per se—I’m more interested in sex to be closer to my partner with the upside of sex being a mild amusement, so maybe that’s why my penis went flaccid. I also worry that since I previously treated sex with myself as way to kill a few minutes, I might have killed my cock’s sensitivity. My partner’s hand job was not to my taste—but I appreciate the effort and feel really weird saying “Could you spend less time on the shaft and more time on the head?”

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Typing this out, I now see I’m bending over backward to avoid asking my partner to do something different for my sexual enjoyment. This is in line with my problem of putting others over my wants/needs most of the time. I’ll have some conversations with my therapist and partner about that in the near future, but on the chance I’ve got dick death grip going on, how would I go about resetting” my cock to be more sensitive?

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— Not So Handy

Dear Not So Handy,

I don’t believe your ED, which sounds situational and not chronic, is your “fault.” If all went according to plan, the sex would have been had, right? I think first-time jitters and the break you took to put on a condom (which a lot of people worry will lead to a loss of an erection, and so it does) comprised a one-two knock-out to your prospective intercourse. Stress is a known boner-killer. You were no more at fault than is a person who falls asleep during a movie or fails to hit a box jump at the gym. Things happen and our bodies have limits, our own volition be damned.

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I encourage you to push through your unease at giving handjob instructions. If someone is playing with your dick, they probably want it to feel good. Many people appreciate direct feedback to make their work easier. Anyone who’s had a variety of dicks in their hands or mouth knows intimately the meaning of the phrase “different strokes for different folks.” I think it is extremely selfish for someone to be so dedicated to their own technique that they wouldn’t modify to their partner’s taste. It’s certainly possible that your guidance could irritate someone who is extremely self-involved or detrimentally sensitive, but your girlfriend sounds cool and understanding (huge points to her for not putting on any pressure when your dick drooped) and may very well be amenable to directions. Administer them in a loving, exploratory way. Don’t demand, just ask a question starting with, “Could you,” or, “Would you mind,” or, “Would it be cool…?”

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In terms of resetting, you might want to experiment with refraining from masturbation for a time. After a period of abstinence, some people find their penises are sensitive to a variety of touch. Laying off makes you hornier sometimes. Try it out.

Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

My question is pretty simple: Is faking an orgasm unethical? I am a recently divorced bi woman in my early 30s. Ive been really enjoying having new sexual partners (yay!) and feel like I am re-learning a side of myself that was asleep for the last four years of my marriage. I can orgasm pretty easily from penetrative and non-penetrative sex, but honestly, the first few times I sleep with someone, Im so into the excitement of the experience that its hard for me to focus enough to actually come. So I fake orgasms because it allows me to get out of my head and into the thrill of the moment. However, now Im wondering if that is tantamount to lying, and I feel a little guilty about it. So, is it unethical to fake it?

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— Fake It Til I Make It

Dear Fake It,

There are definitely instances in which faking an orgasm seems unethical in terms of depriving people of useful information (it could keep an inconsiderate partner in the dark and give that person no reason to improve), and there was this past letter that showed how self-defeating faking it can really be (a quick fix is, by design, not a long-term solution). In your case, though, it sounds like what you’re doing is actually beneficial. You’re letting go for the sake of diving more into the moment. Making a commotion in bed, including screaming, can help some people focus on the pleasure at hand (since they aren’t making any internal effort to stifle the sounds that want to come out). It sounds like your faking might even facilitate real orgasms. This reminds me of an extremely enthusiastic partner I had that was so into our sex that I thought he had come two or three times while we were having sex, only to find out at the end that it was actually just once. Those early peaks were just moments of particular pleasure that he responded to with zeal. I didn’t think of this as deceptive—he was so into it, that he might as well have been orgasming, in fact. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. My advice is to keep doing what you’re doing, but don’t necessarily label your fake orgasms as real orgasms. Don’t lie and tell your partner that you’re coming, but do everything else—breathe hard, let your eyes roll back, scream, really let go. I think a lot of partners will interpret that as they will, and if anyone asks just tell them that you’re super enthusiastic. That’s a great quality in a sex partner. You’re fine.

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— Rich

More How to Do It

I have a dilemma. I’m a married woman, and my husband and I have a great relationship. I’m the one who pretty much takes care of everything outside the bedroom, so I prefer my husband to be more dominant and take charge in the bedroom. However, he tends to be a considerate lover, which means he asks a lot of questions like, “Are you OK?”; “Does this feel good or right?”; “Am I hurting you? Other than the occasional “you’re on my hair!” moment, which I am vocal about, the other questions are totally unnecessary. I’ve reassured him before, during, and after that he’s doing great, and I have brought up several times that I find the questions distracting, especially when I’m in the middle of an orgasm and they take from the moment. How do I start nudging him to be a little more dominant and to stop asking questions?

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