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 have always been overweight, but I have also thought of myself as the “attractive chubby girl.” You could say I overcompensated with flattering my curves and always going out with my hair and face done up nicely, and it’s my face that has been my biggest asset. I did OK with the boys, but I was never the “hot” girl. I married my sweet husband 11 years ago (I’m 37 now), and we have two young kids that are now blissfully school aged. The kids also added a few pounds to me and also the requisite belly softness. But I have always kept up the habit of trying to look nice when I go out.
The pandemic has been a complete nightmare of course. But it has had one completely unexpected side benefit. My husband had purchased a Peloton bike before the pandemic, which he primarily used. In the early months of the pandemic, he added a Tonal because he figured he’d never go back to a gym ever again. I should note that my husband is “husky” too. Think chef David Chang. Well, I started to use the machines very regularly as well, since there was nothing to do anyway, especially during most of 2020. Add to that my total anxiety around catching COVID, which really affected my eating, too, because I’m a total germophobe. And almost without being aware of it while it was happening, I lost 45 lbs! I mean, yes, I could see it, but it wasn’t something I was tracking.
Guys, I’m smoking hot now, if I can be immodest about it. My sweet husband is clearly a fan, while being careful not to be overly focused on my weight. So here’s the rub: When I go out, I get a lot of the “male gaze” and being checked out by men (and maybe some women too?). And this is even when my face is half-covered with a mask. A little while ago, a whole group of college-aged boys turned and stared at me as I walked by them. And I have to say that I LOVE the attention. Yes, it’s sometimes gross and inappropriate, but I love knowing that guys look at me now and instead of thinking “She’s cute for a fat girl,” they’re probably now thinking, “Whoa, I’d tap that in a heartbeat!”
I’ve indulged myself a little by doing some flirting with some guys, and it’s clear to me that I could easily find myself having sex with practically any hot guy I set my sights on between the ages of 20 and 60. I love my husband and my family, but I feel like I missed out in my 20s being doted on by cute guys and having crazy sex with hot men. I know I’m asking how I can have my cake and eat it too, but I would really love to eat some of that decadent-looking cake while I have the perfectly nice Betty Crocker yellow cake at home. Any advice?
— Cheat Day
Dear Cheat Day,
An open relationship would allow you to have your cake and eat it too, but you would have to make sure your bites are judicious. Too many rich desserts can distract from your life’s meat and potatoes (I’m referring to your family). I think you should pursue some kind of nonmonogamy, first checking in to see if your husband is up for it. If he is, you will want to both agree on ground rules: These would concern the exact terms of your openness, including how much you’d both participate in a sex act coordinated by the other, as well as frequency, whether repeats are allowed, if there are any people who are off-limits, such as friends of both or either of you, etc. From casual swinging to pursuing additional poly relationships, the sky’s the limit with nonmonogamy, which is why it’s important to proceed with moderation and communication. You referred to your husband as sweet twice in your letter; it’s probably best not to torpedo what you have with him to compensate for past missed opportunities.
And that’s the thing. Say your husband doesn’t want any kind of open arrangement, and you have to choose between sowing your wild oats and keeping your family together. It’s much easier for me on paper to make the obvious decision for you (keep your loving family!), but I think this is nonetheless the smartest path forward for you. You may come to find that after some dabbling that you want to return home. Traditional family structures and monogamous relationships are not for everybody, but neither is a life of leisure. That kind of loving foundation that you have will almost certainly prove to be a very hard thing to replicate.
Have enough casual encounters and it starts to just seem like a hobby wherein your face (and other parts) is very close to another for a brief period of time, over and over again. Sometimes the most exciting parts of sexual adventure are the attention and flirting, and actually sex can be a comparative letdown. In other words, you may already be having your cake and eating it, too, and you may find that the current portion control is actually perfect.
Either way, best of luck, and congrats on the new bod.
Dear How to Do It,
I have a problem at the intersection of laundry and sex. The internet is awash with answers about how to get cum out of fabric, but I have a slightly different problem. I’m a woman who gets more wet than average when I’m turned on, and I also really like the blunted sensation of my girlfriend touching me or using toys over my underwear. Results: My underwear is soaked, and it doesn’t seem to always wash fully clean with regular laundry. I tried the techniques I would use for bloodstains or other proteins (soaking, cold water, stain lifters), but no luck. What should I be doing to solve this problem? I wear lots of different types, but it tends to all have that cotton panel that just doesn’t get fully clean.
— Out Damned Spot
Dear Damned Spot,
This is indeed at the intersection of laundry and sex, but since your destination is cleanliness, I’ve turned once again to my friend and favorite clean person, Jolie Kerr a cleaning expert, CNN contributor and author of the New York Times bestselling book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha. For many years and across many sites, Jolie wrote the advice column Ask a Clean Person, so she’s well versed in the format at hand. I’m just going to sit back and let her do her thing. Take it away, Jolie:
I am so happy and so sad for this letter writer, because her WAP is a fantastic and also incredibly functionally frustrating problem to have. And, judging by the keywords she used in her letter, I’m also so pleased that her research on this problem led her to the vast body of work I’ve personally contributed to the subject of sexual stains! To really drive that point home, when I describe my job to people, I often say that cum stains are my bread and butter. Which leads me to another very frustrating thing: Literature on the subject of the staining caused by vaginal fluid exists, and I know that because I have penned the literature, but it’s harder to find because there isn’t a term for it that’s as Googleable as “cum stain” is. It is my dream that in 2022, someone resurrects “On Language” for one single column devoted to this important subject.
While I wait for the Ghost of William Safire to address the iniquities in human sexual fluid terminology, let’s solve this lady’s problem, or at least make some attempts at doing so. I might as well go ahead and say this now, even though I typically don’t like to lead with the bad news: It may just be that LW is a woman who will need to replace her unders more often than other women. That sort of sucks! On the bright side, do you know how many women would kill for a puss that juicy?? Let that take some of the sting out.
There are three things I’d like to suggest LW try out to see if one or a combination of all three solves the problem.
Stain Treatments & Techniques
LW already knows that vaginal fluid is a protein stain, but let me offer a quick refresher for everyone else: For the purposes of stain removal, all sexual fluids can be treated the same, because they fall into the same category of stains — protein stains. Protein stains are best addressed with an enzymatic stain pretreatment product. My favorites are Zout and Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover.
Now, LW has clearly already used an enzymatic stain remover and is still having problems with her underwear not getting fully clean in the wash, and I think I know why. There is an especially irritating thing about protein-based fluids and this is it: When it dries, it dries like glue. From a functional standpoint, that means that if you toss a pair of protein-soiled underpants in the hamper and then apply the enzymatic stain treatment days later when it’s time to do wash, that dried-on protein will laugh right in your face.
The solution, then, is to apply the stain treatment product to the protein as soon as you can. In my own life, I store my stain treatments (plural, yes plural!) behind my hamper so that they’re right there where and when I need them. I find it makes performing stain remediation in a timely fashion much, much easier.
Another thought I had when reading about this particular problem, is that reducing the load size when doing laundry may also help. Without boring you to absolute death on the subject of laundry loads, there are two basic ways to express the size of a load of wash, in pounds or in terms of how full the drum of the washer.
Fullness will be the more helpful metric for LW; I would suggest that when washing a load of laundry that includes underwear, she limit the load size to medium, which means that the drum of the washer is not more than half full. The idea behind that is to allow the soiled underwear plenty of room to move, allowing water and detergent to fully penetrate the fibers, resulting in a more thorough clean.
My final suggestion has some flaws, but I still think it’s worth mentioning: Panty liners are helpful products for women dealing with secretion issues of any kind, whether it’s discharge or urine or sexual fluid.
I hope these suggestions prove helpful! It all may sound like a bit of a drag, but these are pretty small tweaks to make to your laundry and personal care routine once you get past being annoyed that a quirk of your biology — which again, I would really like to celebrate!! And God, how lucky is your girlfriend??? I thrive on positive feedback, and I would brag for days if my mere presence caused the continual ruin of my girlfriend’s underthings! — means some extra work for you.
Dear How to Do It,
I asked my boyfriend why he stopped performing oral sex me a couple months ago. I do it for him every time we have sex. His response at first was because he couldn’t breathe well. Then, when I pressed, he came back and said my belly gets in the way. I personally don’t believe that is possible—I’m not that big of a woman, and his face is nowhere near what belly I do have. After he thought about it for a while, he felt like crap for his choice of words and he apologized to me. I’m still very bothered by this and hurt after two weeks. I know he loves me and would never want to hurt me, but this really stung bad. Am I being silly? What do you think is really going on here?
— Loss for Words
Dear Loss for Words,
Yeah, that belly excuse doesn’t seem possible and, besides which, would be easily remedied by changing positions. (If you were on all fours in a doggy formation, he’d have easy access, but also if you were lying on your back in a rather traditional configuration, there shouldn’t be an issue.) In addition to being suspect, his words were definitely rude, and your emotional response is quite logical, as well as predictable. Sounds like some dumb-man shit. I don’t think you’re being silly, but if you know that he’d never want to hurt you and he did anyway, well, you can chalk this up to an error in judgement on his part and concentrate on moving on. You know your belly isn’t big enough to be an obstruction, and you know it was shitty of him to suggest that it is. Now you just have to believe it. That’s something that takes time. Reminding yourself what you already know may be useful.
But that, of course, would only bring you back to where you were when you asked the question about his cunnilingus cessation, and I think an actual reason might be most crucial to your ability to move on. He already screwed up; if he wants to make amends, he should come clean and you can tell him this. However, beware of answers you don’t want to hear. He could have any number of reasons, most probably begin and end in his mind, but they might still be tough to hear. If nothing else works, consider refraining from giving him oral sex for a period and see if that doesn’t spark a conversation. I bet it will!
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Dear How to Do It,
I moved into a duplex last year.
The person who owns the house lives in the other unit and is great, except … sound carries! They’re an early to bed, early to rise type, and I usually hear them moaning just around the time I’m sitting down to dinner. It’s much louder than their normal conversation volume or TV. I try to shrug it off with a chuckle, but I feel pretty ashamed and (unfairly) a little grossed out every time.
I love the apartment and have gotten rugs and curtains to muffle sound, but I think it’s coming through the vents. I don’t want to move, and it feels unfair to ask my neighbor to tone down a total of three minutes of noise a week. Their timing is variable enough that I’d have to wear headphones from when I get home until when I go to sleep. I think I’ve just got to get over it! Any advice for getting past the shame and getting a wry grin instead when I hear my neighbor going at it?
— Upstairs and Upstaged
Dear Upstairs and Upstaged,
Three minutes of weekly inconvenience barely qualifies as inconvenience at all. The obvious thing to do would be to put on headphones or leave your house for a walk around the block when you hear your neighbors indulge in their weekly quickie. But it seems like the very fact that sex is taking place is the issue, and your problem is less about the noise than the notification. Many people today seem to carry around the idea that they should never feel discomfort, no matter for how brief a period of time. I think none of us are entitled to comfort (the harsh shock of leaving the womb makes this many people’s earliest lesson), but that everyone is certainly entitled to pursue it. For you, I’d suggest getting to the root of the issue: What is it about other people having sex that makes you feel so ashamed and grossed out? You do, after all, realize that most of us wouldn’t be here without it? What’s your relationship to sex like? How much are you engaging with sex? It doesn’t have to be through having sex or looking at porn, but are you thinking about sex? Are you reading about it? Is it important to you at all?
In my anecdotal experience, people with their own sexual hang-ups tend to be hardest on the sex lives of others. This might be worth working through with a therapist. I understand, though, that you may fall somewhere on the asexuality spectrum or have other tangible reasons for sexual squeamishness. This may just be the way things are for you. There are all kinds of drawbacks to living in the thick of civilization, especially when you do so virtually on top of your neighbors in a large city. Objectively, the problem you present is a minor inconvenience, like having to line up to shop at Trader Joe’s or being asked to squeeze into one end of a subway car (during a pandemic, no less!) by a kid who wants to swing on a pole to some music for some change. These things are annoying, but so is life. If hearing three minutes of sex a week is a major issue for you, that probably says more about you than the inconvenience.
More How to Do It
I’m in a great marriage. Sex is regular, and happily we’re both getting more adventurous. But he’s slowing down a lot more than me—I’m female, in my 50s, and about 10 years younger than him. Sex definitely takes more planning and assistance than it used to, and he’s already started to mention that one day, he won’t be able to have sex anymore (he’s fine now). I am nowhere near ready to give up sex for life. My solution is for me to have a very discreet lover on the side and keep it to myself, but when I floated that, he was horrified and couldn’t believe I’d even suggest such a thing. He said he’d rather me tell him if I had someone else. To me that seems so unkind to him: “Here’s the guy who does what you can’t anymore, honey.” How humiliating for him! Would it be really bad for me to have a secret lover?