How to Do It

I’m the Man That Women Warn Each Other About in Public. Now I Have a Dilemma.

A man stands next to an X.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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,

I am a compulsive masturbator. I love to go at it when there is some risk involved. I have an unrelenting desire to be watched/caught masturbating by a stranger. I’ve masturbated in my car, in various stores while shopping, and various public settings. The more taboo and risky, the more I enjoy the rush of endorphins. I am constantly daydreaming of a female stranger discovering me and happily wanting to enjoy the show.

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I have also been married for two decades. I’ve painfully shared this fantasy/fetish with my wife. I’m not fully clear on what I expect her to do about it. She seems to be accepting. Part of me feels like sharing my fetish with her somehow diminishes a portion of the guilt I feel from my own desires. She is far less adventurous than I am, and I don’t want her to feel pressured to do, feel, or say anything if she’s not comfortable doing so. I feel like I’ve understandably only caused her worry that I’m going to get arrested someday. We’ve occasionally exposed ourselves to each other in public and even been sexual in public settings, but she is far less risqué than I am.

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I get off on being in public settings with my zipper down (shopping, driving, pumping gas, etc.) and pretending like I don’t realize it. I’ve actually discovered a cashier at a local hardware store that actually tries to get a better view when I am checking out with my zipper down. But I know it’s the wrong environment and I shouldn’t be doing it. I want to be a decent person that doesn’t cause anyone harm. I seek a consenting respectful adult that enjoys watching, in person. I’ve performed in safe spaces online for people, but it tends to be boring and not quite what I desire. I’m not looking for another sexual partner or even a side relationship. I simply want to be watched and desired in person. I’ve seen a sex-positive therapist about it, and honestly, it only made me want to expose myself to them. There are several sex clubs and nudist groups that I’ve always been curious about. Unfortunately, unless my wife is just as curious and has the natural desire, I firmly have no interest.

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This has become a very lonely fetish. Am I naive for believing that there are women out there that really enjoy watching a man do that? How do I find people that would enjoy this? How do I even ask someone or even approach the question? Alternatively (and probably a better solution), with no outlet that causes no harm, how does one eliminate a fetish that causes them grief?

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—Exposed

Dear Exposed,

How to put this kindly so that you don’t shut down immediately? I think you have things fundamentally mixed up. You feel unduly guilty about your desires, which are out of your control. You don’t feel nearly guilty enough about your behavior, which is something that you do have control over (or at least more control over). Your stated intention of seeking “a consenting respectful adult that enjoys watching, in person” is betrayed with your method of finding one, which involves nonconsensual exhibition of your penis and masturbation. Consent is not achieved through trial and error. “I’m going to do this to you in hopes that you’re into it” is not how consent works. It’s a conversation that must be had in advance with clear lines drawn by all parties involved. Right now, you’re going around exposing yourself to people, and it’s quite clear that the thrill of ethical violation is part of what’s driving you. You’re prioritizing your endorphin rush over people’s feelings of safety and wellbeing, and their right to not have to look at some guy polishing his knob when they aren’t intending to do so.

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Your reasons for not pursuing your desires in forums that would allow you to do so ethically are bullshit excuses. Online exhibition is boring to you, and I suspect a major part of that is the intentionality your viewers bring to the table. They are not unsuspecting, thus they are unappealing. You “firmly” have no interest in sex clubs or nudist groups because your wife isn’t curious about them, and yet she’s shown you her disinterest in participating in your flashing and in fact seems only nominally accepting (whatever that actually means!), and still you persist. You seek to implicate her to saddle her with some of your guilt and she’s not taking the bait. You spell this out in your letter. I suspect a huge part of your wife’s unease comes from the unethical way you are playing out your kink, and that should hardly come as a surprise.

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Having fantasies about unethical behavior is one thing; engaging in said behavior is another. Therapy and counseling are going to be crucial here—what should be treated has less to do with your “fetish” and more to do with how it’s manifesting. A different sex-positive therapist could be useful, but you might also look at counselors who handle this very issue—Thrive Boston has an entire page devoted to it. The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers has a treatment referral page. If neither of these work for you, at least consider Sex Addicts Anonymous. It’s a start and it may provide more solutions as you go. You simply need to manage your desires differently, or someone may end up hurt or traumatized. What you’re doing now is insufficient and unconscionable. Make the change that your letter suggests you know you need.

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Dear How to Do It,

I guess this is only broadly sex-related, but I’m stumped about something I think you might be able to illuminate. I’m a lesbian who has recently become friends with my wife’s ex (they’re also friends). Among my other queer (mostly lesbian-identified) friends, this is a nonissue. Meanwhile, my heterosexual friends and family are, like, aghast when I mention it. I know it’s a cliche, but this follows a pattern of behavior I’ve noticed in my past and that I see mirrored in my friends’ lives: while friendship with exes is very common among queer women, the mere mention of exes provokes anything from discomfort to moral outrage among straight people. Why!? Am I just tapped into a particularly uptight network of heterosexuals, or is the ritual shunning of former sexual/romantic partners a cherished element of Straight Culture? I’m baffled and genuinely curious as to your experience/understanding of this phenomenon.

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—Just Friends

Dear Just Friends,

First let me hit you with my theory, and then I’ll give you some research data.

In the absence of trauma or some other drastic and objectively valid reason for cutting communication with and harboring resentment for an ex, we can assume that many people hate their exes because that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s at least somewhat culturally inherited and its source is the cult of heteronormativity, which holds the binary of man/woman as its primary concern. That binary thinking sets the tone for other binaries: Subservient/dominant, caregiver/breadwinner, good/bad. People trade the freedom to think critically for this doctrine that pervades culture in several ways—from things parents tell their children to pop culture to the law. I think part of why people do this is they’re desperate to fit in, and it is much easier to fall in line than to interrogate. If you know that some behavior “should” trigger jealousy, you can fall in lockstep instead of examining why and how relevant to your interior life culture’s teachings actually are. I think there are tons of messages in our culture that pit exes against each other—think of how many romcoms are premised on the notion that the person who breaks up is the bad guy while the person who is broken up with is the good guy. In general, real life is too complicated for such pat explanations and yet they persist like all fairy tales do because humans love stories, clean lines, and rules. For many, the heteronormative family means order—precisely defined roles, reliable support. Given the world’s chaos, you could hardly fault a person for finding this desirable and striving to adhere.

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But many queer people have the gift of insight that comes from living outside a prescribed system. When you don’t fit in a box, it’s easier to see “natural order” for the farce that it is and resist defaulting to certain mores because society said so. You automatically exist outside of culture’s mainstream discourse so you don’t have to play by its rules. Another reason the particular principle you wrote in about is easily dodged by queer people is because our community is so much smaller. A lot of queer people like to stick together and not have enemies within our teams, which sometimes means you stay friends with exes. Not being bound by culture’s hetero cliches empowers us to assess why a relationship didn’t work and come to peace with it, instead of feeling resentful that someone who wasn’t perfect for you broke your heart and ruined the romcom in your head.

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To be clear: There are straight people who remain friends with their exes. A 2017 study that ran in the journal Personal Relationships argued that “research suggests that the majority of people have such a friendship with at least one of their ex-romantic partners.” Shared children create bridges that many former partners maintain out of necessity and desire, alike. Plenty of queer people go on to loathe their exes, as well. But I think your assessment that queer people find it easier to transition to friendships with lovers is spot on and it’s simply because being different makes us more adept at the finer points of relating to each other. We rarely have the opportunity to go on autopilot and have the status quo do our steering. I think this is a wonderful thing and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not saying that every queer person is an iconoclast or necessarily progressive. I just think the queer experience of living in a straight world can impart certain skills and enough people with those skills help define a subculture, which carries its own sway.

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That study, by the way, found that LGBTQ respondents had more PDFs (that is, “postdissolution friendships”) than their straight counterparts. A relevant piece of the discussion:

What is driving LGBTQ individuals to have more PDFs than heterosexuals? Previous research has emphasized the central role friendships have in the lives of LGBTQ individuals—they offer a cornerstone of support, intimacy, and acceptance for cre-ating and sustaining meaningful identities in a dominate culture at odds with their norms and minority status (Nardi, 1999; Weeks, Heaphy, & Donovan, 2001). Since these friendships are so integral to the lives of LGBTQ individuals, they may be disinhibited from severing the tie with a partner after a breakup. Harkless and Flowers (2005) found lesbians and gays were more likely than heterosexuals to agree with “When a relationship is ending, one of my biggest fears is that I will lose the friendship” or that it is important “to remain friends with someone whom I’ve had a serious relationship.” Given this, the corollary that LGBTQ individuals have more lifetime and current PDFs makes sense.

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Dear How to Do It,

If you wash a condom, is it still safe? To be clear, I’m not talking about reusing a condom, which I know is a no-go. I’m talking about rinsing it under water to remove the lubricant. I ask because both my partner and I have neurodiverse-related sensory issues that make all but a few specially picked lubes feel awful, and we’re having trouble finding an unlubricated condom that fits.

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—Condom-imom

Dear C,

There is no truly reliable data to provide an ironclad answer for this question. I suspected this much when I started to research it, and then it was confirmed when I reached out to Planned Parenthood and received a response from Dr. Sara C. Flowers, the organization’s vice president of education and training. “The truth is that we don’t have research or data directly answering this question,” she wrote in an email.

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But! We know enough to say that treating a condom in the manner you propose can provide more protection than not using one at all. “Water isn’t inherently bad for condoms. Think about it like this: You can and should wear a condom even if you’re having sex in a pool, shower, or bath—in other words, having sex in water. This isn’t much different than using water to rinse off the outside of the condom before using it.” If you’re going to try to rinse lube off a pretreated condom, be careful that it doesn’t tear. Flowers recommends doing so after putting it on: “If you unroll a condom and then rinse it, it will be more challenging to roll the condom back up so you can put it on correctly.”

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“Remember: the most effective condom is the condom you use,” Flowers said. “And there are lots of different brands, sizes, and styles of condoms to try out, so it’s also worth continuing to look for an unlubricated condom that fits well for you. And while ideally you would find a condom that doesn’t have lube and add your own lube, rinsing off a pre-lubricated condom and then adding your preferred lube is better than not using a condom at all.”

For some specific guidance, I turned to Melissa White, CEO of online condom retailer Lucky Bloke (she also runs The Condom Review). Melissa pointed to Unique condoms, which come in regular, snug, XL, and XXL sizes. These are not latex, but instead made from polyethylene resin giving them uncommon strength and a texture more akin to cling wrap, White told me via phone. White says Unique condoms are only lubricated on the outside (whereas lubricated condoms tend to have lube on both sides) and with a small amount of lube, at that. White said that once on, a washcloth should be enough to wipe the lube off.

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This is but one suggestion. Finding a solution may come down to trial and error, which may be frustrating, but hopefully at least a little fun, too. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

Due to an early childhood accident, my 14-year-old son has a perineal urethrostomy.  His urine and semen emerge from an opening in his perineum, rather than from his penis.  Luckily, in every other way, his functioning is normal, and he’ll be able to father children if he so chooses.

What advice would you give him for broaching the subject with future sexual partners?  This may not be an issue for a few years yet, but it’s on the horizon, and he wonders what girls will think.  I’ve reassured him that, while I can imagine that it’s going to be stressful the first time he has the conversation, I’m pretty sure girls will be curious but not put off. I mean, it wouldn’t have been a big deal to me if any of my boyfriends back in the day had had a similar condition. (His response to that is basically pure, hilarious horror at the idea of my having had boyfriends back in the day.)  Am I off base in assuming that this is really likely to be less of an issue with his future partners than he worries it will be? And if you were a teen embarking on your sexual life, how would you tell your partner what to expect in this situation?

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—Concerned Mom

Dear Mom,

Your optimism sets a great example for him. The truth is that he could be judged for this, but it won’t necessarily be the case and his ability to play it for the not-big deal that it is may make all the difference when explaining it to partners. I think it’s going to come down to being clear and matter of fact. “I had a procedure that redirects my ejaculation to behind my balls” may elicit some follow-up questions, but it also emphasizes some potential assets: He’s not going to get anyone pregnant without intentionality. This operation was a good thing and it should remain in your son’s mind as such—if he can view it as a positive, conveying that to partners may also be helpful. After all, this procedure often comes as great relief to patients, as Dr. Andrew Jason Cohen, director of trauma and reconstructive urologic surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told me over the phone.

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“Most people that are considering this procedure have had a pretty lousy urinary quality of life,” he said. “Usually they’re pretty ecstatic about being able to urinate without a tube or pain or without needing multiple future surgeries to try to keep the urine flowing.”

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“Some of these ejaculatory concerns are much less high on the priority list,” he went on. “I don’t hear many concerns and complaints about it because people are so ecstatic about the benefits. This is not the type of thing that we’re doing hundreds of a year. These are relatively desperate situations where we have a good solution.”

It will be easier for your son to explain this to someone who cares about him, as opposed to a more casual partner, but I don’t think that would necessarily be impossible either. As a practical matter, Cohen suggested using incontinence pads or even having sex while wearing underwear (using the fly of boxer shorts, for example) to catch the semen. Your son’s functionality isn’t so different, regardless. “I usually counsel men that realistically, outside of the movies, sex is messy and it’s not going to really matter that much in the grand scheme of things,” the doctor said.

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The fact that your son’s quality of life has improved with no downsides on the functionality of his penis (but for his ability to ejaculate out of the end of it) is major and terrific. I love that you have a relationship with him in which you can discuss this stuff. You’re setting him up to be comfortable enough to articulate this to his partners. Whether they accept him is a crap shoot, like all intimate communication is. It’s a burden to have to explain such a thing, but with the right attitude and communication tools, he can make it as easily as possible on himself. He’s already well on his way. Great job.

More How to Do It

I’m a woman in my early 30s, and I’ve been dating an amazing man for the past several months. We’re both head over heels for each other and definitely see a future together. We have an amazing sex life, which both of us have described as the best either of us has ever had. But recently, he threw me for a loop with a head-turning proposal for what we should do next.

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