How to Do It

I Think My Boyfriend and I Are Breaking a Very Important Rule of Sex With Strangers

Hand holding a phone showing a dating profile with a blank photo.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by CoinView App on Unsplash.

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 partner and I (man and woman in our mid-30s) want to open profiles on an adult dating site (Feeld, probably?) to connect with couples and singles. We’ve had ethically non-monogamous encounters at adult resorts, but haven’t tried a dating site to meet people closer to home in hopes of landing on more “social swinging” relationships.

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There are a wealth of swinging/lifestyle podcasts with episodes about dating profiles, and omitting your face from “public” photos on the site (that is, visible to all members) is uniform advice. Of course, most often this is to avoid being identified on the site. Sometimes there are also vague mentions of “internet safety” but not much in the way of specifics. A few commentators have even suggested couples showing their faces can turn some couples off by suggesting a lack of discretion.

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We’d like to be authentically “out but discreet” in our lives, and my partner’s smile is our secret weapon! (Well… one of them.) There should be a good reason before we hide it. It feels weird thinking about presenting ourselves as faceless to adults we want to connect with. Outing aside, is there some real risk we should be worried about that should stop us from including our faces in (SFW) photos posted on couples’ dating sites? Also, we get that we might be in the minority, but would it be an actual disadvantage in finding connections?

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—  Not Anonymous

Dear Not Anonymous,

Your question inspired me to check out Feeld for the first time in years and what met me were a stream of faces. It went like this: Face, swipe, face, swipe, face, swipe, etc. I’m not sure how it would be in your part of the world, but at least in New York, face pics on Feeld seem to be the rule, not the exception.

The opposite is true on other, more swingers-centric sites like sdc.com and swinglifestyle.com, or so Dan and Lacy of the Swing Nation podcast (and TikTok) told me when I reached them by phone recently regarding your question. “From our experience, the majority of people on their public profiles don’t show their faces,” said Dan. “And that’s because there is a real stigma associated with our lifestyle.” (Note: Dan and Lacy don’t typically use their last names because of said stigma.) Dan told me about friends of theirs who’d been outed, one of whose custody battle has now been complicated as a result. Lacy said that after putting her visage out there, people have contacted her job and members of her family. “Luckily everyone in my life knows my heart and knows that what I do in the privacy of our bedroom doesn’t affect the person that I am,” she said. “Not everyone is that lucky.”

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That’s just to let you know the risks involved. One risk not involved, according to Dan and Lacy, is the kind of stigma you fear from other swingers. “I don’t think [showing your face is] a negative,” said Dan. “I don’t think anybody would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, you show your face?’… there’s never been a couple that’s been like, ‘We don’t want to talk to you guys because you show who you are.’”

Anecdotally, Dan gets the sense that things are taking a turn for the public. “I think there are quite a few swingers out there that are like, ‘Screw this, why can’t we just be ourselves and not be apologetic and live in the open?’” he said. “I think there is a wind blowing in that direction, so it’s exciting to see that.” So should you decide to post your faces, you could help usher in that change.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 29-year-old straight-ish woman in a happy and sexually fulfilling marriage with my high school sweetheart, a 29-year-old straight man. I’ve recently started reading more romance novels and webcomics featuring gay and lesbian couples, and uh, an unexpected idea has really started to turn me on: I wish I could have sex with my husband as a man.

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I don’t think it’s an identity realization, as I feel comfortable and happy as a woman in everyday life. I just can’t tell if it is a new formulation of a desire to be more assertive (which I know from an intellectual standpoint is genderless, and I’m already pretty assertive in bed) or just a desire to be the partner who penetrates? I’ve thought about pegging and I think my husband would try it but it seems not as great as the real thing…

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I guess I just feel kinda lost and I’m not sure what to do. There must be other women who are into this, right? Is there a name for this?

—   Is It Just Me?

Dear Is It,

I would tell you the name for this, but then the internet would have to kill me.

I kid, but your experience is adjacent to an extremely controversial concept that many (but certainly not all) trans people find offensive and misleading called “autogynephilia.” Coined by sexologist Ray Blanchard, it proposes a reason for transness in people who were assigned male at birth: because they’re sexually aroused by inhabiting a female body. Many trans intellectuals vehemently disagree with Blanchard’s theory and suggest it and Blanchard’s work have been hostile to trans people. Transgender activist Andrea James posted a succinct takedown of Blanchard here, while writer Julia Serano wrote a “scientific case against autogynephilia” here. With no skin in the game, I find James and Serano’s pieces convincing because I am wary of clean cause/effect explanations when applied to something as complex and ephemeral as gender identity. Less research and fewer prescriptions have been applied to trans men along these lines, though “autoandrophilia” has been used to describe the feeling of sexual arousal by inhabiting a male body in people assigned female at birth (and is just as loathed by many trans thinkers and people who think about transness as autogynephilia). Blanchard has called such people “autohomoerotic gender dysphorics.”

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You rather clearly state that you are not dysphoric, so that paragraph was a bit of a detour into material that apparently does not apply to you, but I felt I’d be remiss to ignore since you specifically inquired about terminology. Sometimes I take the scenic route—so cancel me. To speak more to your situation, sometimes people who experience the fantasies you’re having are called “crossdreamers,” but this term, too, is not without its own controversy. In this post on /asktransgender, a few commenters accuse crossdreamers of being trans and in denial. Again, I think that’s overly simplistic. How could anyone know for certain what other people are thinking and feeling enough to be suspicious at this very notion? And why wouldn’t it be possible to have such a fantasy given the wide spectrums of gender and sexuality, and their frequent overlapping? I’m willing to believe you’re real—maybe too real for any of the inherently reductionist terms I’ve mentioned in this answer. Maybe none of these words apply to you, but certainly people have expressed feeling the way you do.

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You’re not alone, and I don’t think you’re actually very lost. You have a fantasy and an idea of how you can make it (more) real. A strap-on may be “not as great” as the real thing, in your estimation, but consider the alternatives (phalloplasty, or not engaging in this kind of play at all) and how much fun people seem to be having with strap-ons. Worth a shot, even if it’s a shot of blanks. If you’re inspired to be more assertive, be more assertive. I wonder if the frustration you feel is a matter of some deeper identity issues that you’ve uncovered or pangs from desires that have yet to be realized. My suggestion is to explore and see whether that scratches your itch, or if you need heavier equipment to do so.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a single Asian-American man in my mid-30s that is looking to try online dating after taking a few years away. Part of the reason why I stepped away from online dating was that at the time, there were a lot of profiles at the time that had “No Asians” in their profile. Granted a few also had the full list of anyone non-white, but there were a frequent number of profiles that were just “No Asians.” One profile spelled out why she didn’t want to date Asians (the usual stereotype about small penises).

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It took me a few years to accept that regardless of whether or not the person was just a racist or just wanted to find someone that they shared a closer cultural background, that ultimately it saved me from wasting time on them. That said, in part because I’m a first-generation Asian-American born and raised in a relatively white community, I’m often perceived as not Asian enough among Asians. So online dating had already been challenging without having my day ruined by being reminded that a lot of people don’t like Asians for frankly racist reasons.

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While it doesn’t ruin my day anymore, I’d like to minimize being bombarded with that. I get enough of it as a healthcare worker during the pandemic. Are there are any apps or sites where this is less of an issue, or do I just have to grow a thicker skin and accept that it’s part of online dating?

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—   Asian Bear

Dear Asian Bear,

There are definitely apps geared toward an Asian-American base, like Alike and EME Hive. However, these would inevitably put you in touch with other Asians whom you feel judged by. That feeling of not being Asian enough is, in fact, fairly widespread, according to Jin S. Kim, a psychotherapist whose purview includes race matters. As a Korean-American, Kim said he related somewhat to the situation outlined in your question. He said he’s been working through issues surrounding identity and self-worth with his own therapist.

Your question as to whether you need to grow a thicker skin prompted this response from Kim: “Perhaps. The reality is there is racism in this country, particularly in its own flavor against Asians. That is something I don’t want to accept, but I can’t turn a blind eye to. Knowing this mindset, if there are people who put [“No Asians”] on their profile, they’re probably not going to be someone you want to associate with.”

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Brian Keum, a professor at UCLA who has studied gendered racism toward Asian American men, suggested that changing your mind will be crucial to coping. “Changing the dating platform is not going to solve the issue,” he told me via phone. “It’s a Band-Aid. If you go to a different site, even one catering to non-white folks or that’s one more preferential to Asian men, you kind of have to understand why you’re doing that.” Keum suggested building pride via counter spaces, or “spaces where people hone in on those critical pieces about what it means to be an Asian man critically in this country.” These spaces might be individual therapy or group therapy. Keum also suggested consuming media that centers and explores the Asian American experience, like the Asian Not Asian podcast and the Fung Bros. YouTube channel.

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Keum says a lot of men are deprived of this discourse, starting at an early age. “We’re seeing in research that a lot of Asian American families do not talk about these issues when they’re raising kids, especially boys,” he explained. “You just want to create a counter narrative: That doesn’t define your masculinity. That’s just the white hegemonic masculinity norms being oppressive to who you are as an Asian man. They need to do that to sustain their power in this country.”

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To Keum, there are no easy solutions here because of the systemic nature of the problem. I would like to humbly submit another suggestion as a counter space: See if you can find an affirming party to attend. You didn’t specify whether you’re queer, but in New York, the Bubble T has been extremely well-attended, from what I understand, while catering to and affirming a queer and Asian clientele. Perhaps there’s a similar recurring event near you. And remember in your search that a lot of people suck, but not everyone does. Your issues are specific and should be tended to with precision, but a lot of people put up with a lot of shit in the process of attempting to connect with people. Don’t let them get you down. Don’t let them win.

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

Dear How to Do It,

I’ve always considered myself a heterosexual male. Sadly, until about a year ago, I’d never had anything up my butt beyond the occasional fingertip. Then, at 55 years of age, I tried a butt plug for the first time, unlocking whole new levels of pleasure. Increasingly, I find myself fantasizing about getting fucked in the ass while having my dick sucked. I’m open to any gender in any combination and find trans women especially hot.

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Here’s the thing: In these fantasies, I’m the one who’s centered. All of my needs are met. I’m pretty adventurous, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about having a dick in my mouth. It feels uncool and selfish to get all the attention and not fully reciprocate. What am I looking for? Are there people out there who love sucking dick but are OK with not getting sucked in return? Is my mindset too transactional? I don’t have the language to express what I’m even looking for.

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—   Getting It Right

Dear Getting It Right,

Like a lot of human communication, casual sex is often transactional in nature. (So is a lot of committed sex, in fact.) This is not an ethical problem when the transaction is mutual (though such intentions hardly guarantee good sex). There are absolutely people out there who want to suck dick as much as (if not more than) you want to get yours sucked. For some, the desire to give pleasure may even come from a selfish place. The world is teeming with cocksuckers, and it’s a wonderful world indeed.

Be aware, though, that more specific you get, the harder a time you’ll have finding someone to scratch your itch precisely—this is where the transactional mindset can create complications. It’s theoretically easier to convince a loved one to help you live your fantasies than strangers, especially because in men who have sex with men, versatility is so common and I think a lot of people bring to hookups an openness to possibly. Your desires, however, are not impossible to achieve and there is nothing wrong with trying to do so. Your letter painted a clear picture—I’d argue that you have the exact language to express what you’re looking for. So use it.

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— Rich

More How to Do It

I’m a man in my 20s. I’m currently dating a great girl, and I’m confident in my sexuality. However, ever since I was a preteen, I’ve had a fetish that seems to only be getting stronger. I get really turned on by being naked in locker rooms—by both the voyeurism and exhibitionism. I’m fit and well equipped and get lots of looks from other guys at my gym. I don’t think they are gay, either. I look, too, but never stare. I also find myself masturbating to locker room videos online, most of which I think are filmed without permission. On top of this, on a forum for guys into the same thing, I met a married guy in my city who says he sometimes masturbates in locker room shower stalls and catches all kinds of guys peeking. I have to admit that idea turns me on a lot. I feel some guilt about this—even if I am not leering and am acting normal for the most part, it’s very sexual for me and I know it would make other guys uncomfortable. I also feel some shame, despite knowing for sure I’m into girls, and I’m afraid of how my girlfriend would react if she saw the porn. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong. It’s definitely not going away, though.

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