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 three months into the most wonderful, intense, and delightful romance of my long life (I’m a 60+ cis straight man). My amazing new love is as excited about our relationship as I am. Alas, although I am single, she is married with little kids and lives in another state. She wasn’t entirely honest with me about her relationship status when we first fell into bed—she was wearing a wedding ring, but we didn’t talk about her situation until the morning after. She wants to keep our love mostly secret for the moment (we both have a few confidants) until she figures out how best to unwind her 10-year, somewhat troubled marriage. She is starting down that path with psychological counseling and finding a divorce lawyer, but it takes time. She understandably wants to figure out a way that minimizes the disruption to her kids’ lives while getting us to the point where we can be open about our relationship sooner rather than later. We both know that secrets have a limited lifetime.
I am OK with either her opening her marriage—unlikely given her husband—or getting separated and eventually divorced. We talk every day and see each other a few times a month (she has to travel for work a lot, and I go wherever she goes). I love her dearly but hate living a lie. I do understand her wanting to be strategic and protect her kids from unnecessary harm. How long should I tolerate being in the closet? How can I judge the pace of the steps she is taking towards honesty? I’m a longtime reader, so I know how much you disapprove of “cheating,” but how would you manage this process if you were in my shoes?
— Willing to Wait, but Not for Long
Dear Willing to Wait,
What is time? To prescribe you and your tolerance a rounded number—six months, a year, two years—would be just as arbitrary as the concept (that is, the way humans understand and feel it) itself. The truth is, there’s no template for you to work off of. There’s no How to Make Your Cheating Legit manual, and if there were, it would undoubtedly be bullshit and way too broad to apply to the intricacies of each relationship it would purport to speak to. I think the most important thing is to see regular signs of progress—different time markers mean different things to different relationships, but the passage of time can be useful for discerning momentum. Every few months, assess: Is your partner actually making changes in the service of being with you, full-time? If the answer is consistently yes, it’ll be easier to hang in there.
I do not mean to take the wind from your sails, but I’d be extremely careful if I were you. Your writing seems guided by the euphoria that new relationships bring, and while that feeling is true and valid, it can also create distorted perceptions. Also, a three-month infatuation is little match for a 10-year marriage. These things sometimes work out, but it’s hardly a surprise when they fizzle. I’m also a bit uneasy by the way you characterize where her head is at: She wants to keep your relationship secret “until she figures out how best to unwind her 10-year, somewhat troubled marriage.” That sounds like major, “When I get around to it” vibes, but it could just be your syntax. Don’t allow yourself to be strung along, and don’t be surprised when it turns out that her established family (as flawed as it may be) ends up taking precedence over you. I wouldn’t put up with that for long at all.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 22-year-old gay transman (with mild autism, if it’s relevant), and I have a question about two bad encounters with a man. A local gay bar I often go to has a monthly party in the backroom that often gets pretty wild. Both times I’ve attended, I’ve encountered the same cis man (probably 30s-40s) who signals that he wants me to kiss and fellate him. This is something I’m comfortable doing. Though I don’t find him very attractive, I know that most gay guys aren’t interested in someone who looks like me, and therefore, I don’t mind sucking his dick if it’s the only dick available. The problem is that he also tries to get me to do more, namely anal intercourse, which I’m not comfortable with, at least not with him and where everyone can see.
The problem is, I don’t know how to communicate this. Moving his hands doesn’t seem to work. I don’t want to actively hit or shove him. Trying to talk to him is impossible due to the volume of the music. Also, I tend to freeze up when stressed, which might’ve looked like consent to the guy. The first time I ran into him, he penetrated me roughly without lube, causing bleeding and pain. The second time he didn’t succeed—the bouncers told us to knock it off, which allowed me to slip away. The first time I kind of brushed off what happened, but the second time I was seriously distraught for the rest of the evening. If I run into this guy again, I don’t plan to engage, because it’s not worth the trouble. Here’ s my question: Is this normal gay bar behavior? If I want to avoid situations like this, should I just stop visiting such spaces? Would addressing this with the bouncers be worth doing? If he’s pushy with a lot of people, perhaps it would be best if someone reported his behavior? Also, what should I do if I find myself in a similar situation with someone else? Thanks for the help.
Gay bars aren’t always the safe spaces they should be. Guys are grabby, and from what I’ve observed, the grabbiness tends to present in direct proportion to the environment’s sexual charge. Even at (public-ish) sex parties where conduct guidelines were posted on the walls, including explicit notes on consent, I’ve had guys grabbing at my dick before so much as saying hello. That’s not a fine how-do-you-do at all. Consent should never be inferred, but always obtained through direct discussion and/or affirmation. I don’t think anyone has to accept a single stroke they’re not OK with, but I’ve tended to tolerate a bit of unsolicited touch given the free-flowing nature of the venue. (Depending on my mood, I’ve also slapped some hands away, looked directly at the perpetrator and said, “No.”) Other people might have stricter policies, and good on them.
Penetrating someone without explicit consent, however, is in no scenario “normal gay bar behavior.” It’s not OK, and you shouldn’t be expected to accept it. It’s not fair for this situation to be foisted on you. How you view and process it is up to you, but the first scenario you describe is rape. If this guy did, in your generous reading, interpret your freezing up as consent, he has a lot to learn about consent.
I want to be clear that this was in no way your fault, but since you ask about navigating these environments in the future, here’s my practical advice. I don’t think that this behavior you describe is typical of backroom/public-sex experiences, and this man certainly sounds like a bad actor. But at the same time, if you want to roll in these environments generally, you should be ready to make your agency felt. The guy you describe might not have been able to hear you say, “No,” but he certainly could have read your lips, especially when accompanied by vigorous head-shaking. I’m not advocating violence, but a shove to signal someone to back off can be useful when that person will not take a hint. You should not be imposed on in the way you describe in your letter, but when you are, you should be able to signal your lack of consent clearly. If you don’t feel so empowered, indeed, you should probably avoid these spaces.
You could definitely talk to a bouncer or the party’s promoter about this, but it may be difficult to convey who you’re talking about if he’s not there. If he is there, you risk him finding out that you reported him and retaliating. I’m not saying that’s likely, but it’s possible, so be careful if you go that route. If you find yourself in this situation again, do everything you can do convey that you’re not OK with what’s been proposed. Say no, shake your head, wave your arms, walk away. If you find this too difficult (which is totally ok!), you may not want to enter situations that could call for it.
Dear How to Do It,
I (35, male), have been in a relationship with my partner (36, female) for almost 11 years now. Overall, it’s been pretty good. Despite all the years we’ve been together, the sex is very good. I compare it to a couple of old sports team partners who understands what the other is thinking before he even moves, kind of a Messi-Iniesta sort of relationship.
But some four years ago, my partner was diagnosed with depression. This has affected all aspects of her life, including sex. The frequency took a hit, but more importantly, I feel neglected. I completely understand that when even getting off the bed is a fight, sex is the last of your priorities. But I feel left out, not valued enough. I have tried to be as supportive as I can and I love her, but it’s been four long years. I am becoming tired of waiting for her to feel better. Recently, she had a panic attack that ended with her in psychiatric ER. Since then, she’s been feeling better, got into more focused therapy and has also made efforts to reignite things sexually. But I fear it may be too little, too late.
So here is the real problem: I have a really high libido. Like, real high. I’m on a light dose of SSRI and my libido is still as high as ever. What’s even “worse,” is that now I can last longer due to the antidepressants. And on top of that, I have lost several pounds and got into exercise. I feel better than ever! So it’s frustrating to have all this sexual energy in me but not being able to release it.
We do have sort of an arrangement: Before we met, I used to cam a lot. I had an account on a popular streaming platform, and I enjoyed the attention I got. I don’t do that anymore because she expressed that she wasn’t ok with it, but she said that she has no problem with me taking pictures and posting them on adult sharing sites, “as long as you don’t show your face.”
Here is when things get tricky: I post my pics on some subreddits, and I love the attention, I enjoy being able to perceive myself as a desirable person. Of course, this being the internet, almost everyone that messages me or comments is male (which I also enjoy, but it’s not really my cup of tea). About a week ago, I started chatting with a girl (who I’ll call her V). And it has been an incredible experience. We got into sexting, and she has made feel like the hottest man in the world! I can’t remember the last time I felt this good about myself. We live two continents apart, so us getting together or something is completely out of the question. And I get it: Fantasies are always more fun because they are not real. But V has reignited a part of me that I thought was gone, or at least, in deep sleep.
Even so, I feel awful. I don’t want to do anything that may hurt my partner, especially considering her state, but also, I feel like if this has made me feel good, and hasn’t impacted negatively in my relationship … then, why should I end it? I love my partner, I want to be with her, but I have needs that are not being fulfilled. I’d love it if my partner felt better and became herself again, but for the moment it is not possible. Besides, my desire and attention for my partner hasn’t waned a bit. I still want her all the time, but I understand that sex is not in her mind as much as it is in mine (when we do have sex, it’s usually awesome, btw). So, am I an awful person? I’d really like to get some perspective on this.
— Cam Guy
Dear Cam Guy,
No, you are not an awful person. The situation that you’ve found yourself in is a natural consequence of posting erotic material online. You talk and people talk back. (In this case “talk,” means posting pictures of your dick. Hey, that’s communication, too!) That said, I’m not sure how internet savvy your partner is, and it seems like there’s a good chance that she believes your erotic communication is a one-way street. You feel awful for a reason: You’re likely violating your agreement. If you weren’t, it would have been easy to explain this situation to her (or not explain it, depending on the terms of said agreement), and yet you’ve turned to us. We can only do so much, and there’s a reason why it often entails repeating what you (any of you out there) just said: The answer is right on the tip of your tongue, but you’ve elected to move your fingers instead. The ethical way forward is to tell your partner about this. You are not wrong or bad for wanting stimulation for your Energizer Bunny libido. That is purely practical. It may hurt your partner to hear this, but truth’s gonna truth. It seems like this outlet you’ve found is a good way to have your ego stroked without resorting to full-on sex with someone else (which I assume would be verboten).
Your respective relationships to sex make sense—her depression has stripped it of its priority status, your libido has made it the foremost priority. Neither of these has more moral value than the other; they just are. Explaining to her that you love her and want to stay with her is a good way to start a conversation about how you can pursue the sexual satisfaction that is currently eluding you. Something’s gotta give, and hopefully it’s not the entire relationship.
Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear How to Do It,
Can you advise a non-monogamous woman raised in an era of overwhelming STI stigma about HSV-1? In the past, I’ve had at least one monogamous long-term partner who was positive and never got it, but now that I’m non-monogamous, I’m really freaked out by hearing that a potential partner has a positive result. Given that oral-genital transmission is rising, asymptomatic transmission is possible, and condoms don’t fully protect you, how do I proceed? I don’t want to jeopardize my relationships with my current partners, I don’t want to keep feeding into this stigma, I don’t want to use condoms/dental dams for oral sex, and I feel really stuck.
I’m going to assume that when you say you don’t want to use condoms/dental dams for oral sex that means you haven’t, which means that you’re at least temporarily capable of overriding this stigma. I think what a lot of people do here is continue to override it, even when they aren’t having sex. It would be impossible to say how much oral sex is protected by latex and other prophylactics, but if you don’t mind me getting anecdotal for a moment, based on my own experience and observations (including but not limited to porn), I’d estimate that about less than one percent of what I’ve witnessed and participated in has included that kind of protection. I think many sexually active people just find a way to let go of that fear, if they ever had it to begin with.
What are you actually afraid of, and can you be sure that herpes isn’t just a proxy for your own feelings about shame for being nonmonogamous in a world that has likely blared in your face the virtues of fairy tale monogamy since before you even had the language to understand them? According to STD expert H. Hunter Hansfield, whom I interviewed a few months ago for our podcast, the biggest epidemiological concern about herpes is its correlation with HIV transmission. But this is largely a concern in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV rates in general are several times higher than global averages. Depending on your prevention strategies, your HIV risk may be extremely low, herpes or no. Another thing that might be useful is to read this piece that ran in Slate a few years ago, “How Herpes Became a Sexual Boogeyman.” It’s only logical to want to have as few infections as possible, but the piece goes to show that herpes’s reputation is outsized given the mild way (few breakouts, etc.) it often presents. The key to eradicating fear is knowledge, so get learning.
More How to Do It
My husband and I married young and have been together for 15 years. We have two small children together. I’ve never been intimate with another man. (He had one partner before me.) The sex has always been … fine. He is very into performing oral—although I think his enthusiasm outstrips his skill—but I prefer penetration or manual stimulation to get off. He’s average size and has never been a marathon man. My tastes have started to run less vanilla, and all I want lately is really rough sex with a big, hard dick operated by someone who really knows how to use it. I’ve recently started chatting online with a sexy, well-endowed man in a similar marriage situation, and that initially very innocent friendship has gotten increasingly inappropriate.