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,
My wife and I (a man) have been married for 18 years. For much of that time I treated her poorly sexually, coercing her into doing things she did not want—such as certain kinds of role play, anal sex, and public sex in an adult theater. I resented her when she wouldn’t accede to my requests. I even cheated on her six years ago.
I started going to therapy, and then a couple years after that, my wife and I began couples’ counseling and things improved gradually. Then, two years ago, my wife told our counselor that she didn’t enjoy sex with me—every time during sex she was hit by intrusive thoughts and negative feelings about me. That led to a sex moratorium until she was ready.
She started going to individual counseling as well. We then slowly went through a program of sensate touch to get her to accept and like my touch again. Things improved such that she started to initiate sex with me and enjoy it. My wife also got on some different medication to help her with anxiety.
Things were improving slowly until recently. My wife takes THC edibles about once a month to help her relax. A month ago, she had an edible and then an hour later we went to engage in what was supposed to be just a blowjob. It started out as a BJ, but then I started touching her breasts, and soon she insisted I just suck her nipples (which is something she hadn’t liked for a long time due to role play mentioned above), which quickly brought her to orgasm. That has never happened before! We proceeded to have what she called “the best sex ever,” with her having many powerful orgasms.
Since then we’ve had sex three more times, each time after she had an edible. And one additional time after taking an edible (this time THC & CBD) and doing some stretches, she ended up having many orgasms just from stretching or me pushing on muscle pressure points, with no genital stimulation. My wife is more interested in sex and enjoys it more. She definitely feels heightened sensations (such as in her nipples and lips) while high and has experienced more and longer orgasms. But is there anything we should worry about with this, especially given our past?
— Riding High
Dear Riding High,
Generally speaking, yours sounds like a success story: You had major issues with consent and coercion, you went through counseling, and you were able to reconnect with your wife sexually. That you could do this after being married for nearly two decades is no small feat. Many couples who have less ostensibly severe reasons for the dissolution of their shared sex life stop trying. Your amount of effort and success on the refresh suggests strong love and a close bond, and/or a perhaps saintly amount of forgiving on your wife’s part.
I believe people can change, and so to keep things simple and optimistic, I’ll refrain from doubting your account. If I were in a relationship where I was repeatedly coerced, I’d wonder a lot about the very fabric of a person that would allow them to mistreat someone they claim to care about and just how much of that can actually truly change. But I’m also a big believer in forgiveness, especially to people who put in effort to make things better. But even if everything checks out in my limited perspective, the question of whether there’s anything to worry about regarding the state of your relationship is much better handled by you. Do you feel coercive tendencies attempting to infiltrate? Are you prioritizing your wife’s agency and pleasure at every moment? Do you indeed, after all this time together, finally feel like you’re on the same page? Ask yourself these things, and if you see any indication that you’re regressing, address it in counseling.
The marijuana component doesn’t trouble me at all. Some people seem to take a hardline stance against any substance use and sex, but I don’t think that really jibes with reality. People of all kinds of genders and presentations dig getting a bit lifted and then naked. I think there’s an issue when incapacitation is involved, particularly when one party is more altered than the other(s), but recreational marijuana from a seasoned user is not likely to incapacitate. In fact, study after study suggests that many (most, even) marijuana users find the drug to be a sexual enhancement. These studies are all based on self-reports, but some have suggested that cannabis can enhance women’s orgasms, among other sexual responses. It sounds like your wife is such a woman, and that she has found a key to unlocking sexual pleasure.
There’s much more research to be done on what exactly causes such an enhancement, though the authors of one paper speculated: “As many patients use cannabis to reduce anxiety, it is possible that a reduction in anxiety associated with a sexual encounter could improve experiences and lead to improved satisfaction, orgasm, and desire.” It sounds quite possible that your wife has found a dependable anxiety antidote in marijuana. Good for her on that, and on finding her way to forgiveness and pleasure.
Dear How to Do It,
I am hoping this is a quick and easy question—I’ve always been monogamous, and I am currently single. I started chatting with a guy through a website, and it got sexual fast. No issue really. After very dirty chat and some exchange of pics and vids (even a live video chat), he asked my relationship status, which I divulged, seeing as I have no ties. He then got cagey, so I asked about his status, and he told me he was married. I asked what she knew of what he was doing (we met online where people claim to be looking for texting buddies, but it’s understood that conversations are likely to get sexual), and he said that she knew he was an exhibitionist and they had somewhat of a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.
Having never really explored this type of situation, but as an avid reader of the column and the good advice to only engage in ethical nonmonagamy … does this cross the line? Is this just fantasy that doesn’t hurt his partner? There is zero chance I would ever meet him in person.
— DADT Doubter
Dear DADT Doubter,
I’ve seen “don’t ask don’t tell” from both sides now—I understand what it is to be in such an arrangement. I also understand what it is to be in intimate proximity with someone who claims to have such a policy in place with his partner, but after talking through it more, it becomes clear that it’s wishful thinking on his part and the partner is not asking because he’s not telling because they never really talked about it. That’s how “somewhat of a don’t ask don’t tell policy” reads to me—I highly doubt that the “somewhat” swings in the other direction and that she might ask/he might tell on occasion. This sounds like a contract written only in his head.
Will it hurt his partner? If she doesn’t find out, probably not, at least, not directly (though patterns of lies tend to catch up with the people who tell them). However, I wouldn’t move forward without getting more information if you want to be strictly ethical. It also seems like you could find someone else on that app who has a policy with a partner that isn’t qualified by “somewhat” or someone without a partner at all. A much safer bet!
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 30-year-old single gay man semi-actively dating. Recently, the idea of being in a throuple (more than one partner) sounded great. I matched with a 40-year-old guy in a committed but now open relationship. He and his boyfriend have been together over a decade. He was transparent and open about the situation, and we decided to meet for a hookup/hangout. We ended up really connecting and both would’ve pursued an exclusive romantic relationship had we both been single. Come to find out, I was his first foray with their newly opened relationship. I tend to fall hard and he did too. Things started to get complicated quickly. He took a week to “process” with his partner, which was fair but frustrating. We met a second time and discussed the situation at length. We still felt connected and wanted to continue some sort of relationship. I quickly became frustrated by my placement in his priorities (could only meet on certain days, which were only ever week days, sleepovers weren’t an option without a lot of planning, etc). While the connection was fantastic, everything else became too complicated too quickly. How do I delicately extricate myself from the situation without losing a potential friendship? Where did I go wrong?
— Three’s Company
Dear Three’s Company,
Something that you mentioned that is actually tangential to your main situationship issue makes me want to nonetheless check your head. So let’s start there. I don’t really think that a throuple is something to pursue conceptually. (I’m speaking generally, outside of poly-specific scenes.) It’s more like something that happens to you. Connecting with one person that you want to stay connected to long enough to constitute a relationship is hard as it is—connecting with two guys about as equally becomes exponentially harder. You’re to romantically connect with each of them, and then both of them together as a trio, while respecting the distinct connection they have already set together. That’s a lot of different relationships to make all work at the same time, and it requires a lot of care on everyone’s part. If there isn’t mutual and (roughly) equal love coming from each person to each person, it’s likely to turn into a huge lift that quickly won’t be worth the effort. Love is what makes it worth it.
So I think the best you can do is stay open to a throuple, and take it as it comes. As a new addition to a relationship, you’re in a strange limbo between guest and architect—you must respect the original unit while carving out the space that you’re to fit in. When things are off-balance, an experience like the one you went through is hardly a surprise. This dude fell hard the first time he was let out in his yard, which probably freaked him and his partner out. They just started this thing—you hardly picked season pros. These people have 10 years between them and you were frustrated that your presence wasn’t enough to command priority on sight? Unless you’re new to earth or really that stunning and charming, that doesn’t make sense. While the guy you connected with may have been thinking with his oxytocin, he has a partner who isn’t so charmed and could talk some much-needed sense into him. Would it really have been OK with you if the guy actually made you the priority you wanted to be, dumping his decade-long relationship for someone he didn’t know? If it’s possible, step outside of yourself and see this situation objectively.
I know it sucks to connect with someone on ethical terms and then find out that the rules have actually changed and your presence is what enacted the amendment, but all things considered, it sounds like these guys have handled their own uncertainty and insecurities with minimal drama, at least as it involves you. They sound cool as hell. Be happy that you don’t have to start wading in their shit. I don’t think you need to extricate delicately. Your presence, through no fault of your own, zapped them with a voltage that may have been uncomfortably high. I think you went in with good intentions and you and the dude got high on new relationship energy, but it’s time to come down and see the situation with clarity. Next time, be extra careful with the partnered people you fall in love with and always, always make an effort to win over the boyfriend, even if you’re doing that from afar.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’m suffering from something of a crisis of confidence. I was raised in a pretty religious household and was even convinced that I wanted to be a priest at one point. Even after growing out of that and distancing myself from the church in my teen years, I still found myself holding onto a lot of the ideas it instilled in me with regard to sex. I was a kid who wanted to be a radical, but when sex was involved I defaulted to being a prude. I didn’t end up having sex for the first time until I was 25 years old. Fast forward to the present and I’m a 38-year-old man who’s only been with six women and who has zero long-term relationship experience. I know that sounds like I’m obsessed with “numbers,” but what I’m really struggling with is just experience or lack thereof. I feel like I have no clue what I’m good at and what I need to work on. And as a result, I still get petrified into paralysis when it comes to approaching attractive women. I have zero confidence and it’s keeping from living the kind of life I want. How do I get out of this headspace?
A lot of guys find confidence in their balls. This can result in very selfish lovers, who only think of sex in terms of how it pleases and flatters them, but I think you could actually use a pinch of selfishness. What one is “good at” and needs to “work on” can matter less than their raw passion. Connected sex with someone who’s really enjoying himself is, for a lot of people, preferable to an icy performance from someone with proficient technique and the hallmarks of objective goodness in bed (like stamina). It can be really hot to watch horniness steer someone into having exactly the kind of consensual sex that he wants to be having with you.
You frame sex like a burden. It’s a kind of work to excel at in your letter. Try pursuing the pleasure itself. What do you want to do, and who do you want to do it with? Initiating those conversations will still require effort and it may still be petrifying, but accomplishments come much easier when you have a goal in mind. The pursuit should be your incentive to push through and fake it till you make it. Confidence is only going to help you here. Conjure it. Pull it out of your ass. If you don’t, you won’t ever get to experience the kind of life that you want to live. In addition to letting testosterone galvanize you, let fear as well.
More How to Do It
I’m a lesbian in a decade-long relationship with my fiancée. We get married next summer. I found out she was having an emotional affair since August of this year with a woman she’s talking to online on the other side of the country. When caught red-handed, she said she would end it. Our sex life hadn’t been great these last couple years—stress, depression, a big move, her working constantly, us being on opposite schedules, the works. The thing is, I love her more now than ever before, and since this revelation and her ending the relationship, we’ve been more honest with each other with what we need, not only in bed but from each other. We’re now indulging each other’s kinks, which we were both too afraid to ask each other about. Our sex life is now better than ever. My question is twofold: Is it really possible to survive this infidelity, and would I be a fool to still marry her next summer? She’s truly the only one I want to be with; I love her with my everything, and I cannot imagine a life without her. Could this truly be just a blip in the radar, or are we doomed?