How to Do It

I Think I’ve Gotten Into Something Way Too Weird With My Hot Cousin

A woman touching her open mouth, with thought bubbles coming from her head.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Nastia11/iStock/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 will not sugarcoat this: I have been masturbating to photos of my cousin, who’s a few years younger than me. I saw him for the first time in years over the holidays and he’s simply an extremely attractive young man now. We don’t have a close familial relationship—he lives three states away—and I have no intention of acting on this. I should probably just unfollow him on Instagram, but is there anything wrong with what I’m doing? Is this abnormal?

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— Too Close for Comfort?

Dear Too Close,

Justin Lehmiller, social psychologist and host of the Sex and Psychology Podcast, has data on incestual desire: “It is unusual/uncommon for people to fantasize frequently about their relatives. In the survey I conducted for [my book] Tell Me What You Want, I found that just 3 percent of my sample said incest was something they fantasize about often.” As for whether your masturbation material is wrong, he notes, “That said, it is common for people to fantasize about things that are taboo more generally—and it’s often the case that people with taboo fantasies have no desire to ever act on them because they know it would be wrong or they are afraid of the consequences. So if you fantasize about something taboo that you know you would never do in real life, you’re certainly not alone.”

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So, the specifics of your situation may be abnormal, but fantasizing about things you won’t do is pretty prevalent, even when those things are taboo for good reason.

In the event that you’re distressed by your erotic enthusiasm, Lehmiller suggests speaking with a certified sex therapist. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists has a directory of therapists on their website, as does the Kink Aware Professionals Network. Lehmiller adds, “It may also be helpful to avoid triggers of the fantasy to reduce distress (in this case, unfollowing or muting the individual if their posts tend to trigger fantasies) and to expand one’s erotic repertoire. Research shows that it is difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of a fantasy that you do not want to have, but it is possible to learn or cultivate new sexual interests to focus on that you find to be more acceptable.”

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m starting to meet couples for consensual voyeurism, and I’m wondering if there’s an expectation for the voyeur to participate in some way, even if just to talk or touch oneself. Can I expect a fair amount of pushback if I want to be a silent and hopefully pretty statue?

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—Voyeurs de Milo

Dear Voyeurs,

The people you make connections with for the possibility of voyeuristic sex are all going to have expectations of you, but those expectations may differ wildly. And these people may have great communication skills, but they might not. You can help set yourself up for success by articulating what you want upfront. You say you want to be a “silent and pretty” statue, but I think you should be more clear—are you part of the tableaux? Do you also want to be looked at? Is there a mirror involved where you’re observing yourself as you observe? Are they viewing you as you silently and stoically view them? If not, why do you care about “hopefully pretty”?

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Once you have more detail about your ideal experience, you can broach the subject with potential sexual partners. Tell them what you want in broad strokes, and be prepared to give more specifics if they’re interested. Listen for their own boundaries and desires, too, and ask clarifying questions yourself. This is just called negotiating, and can also be thought of as a process of seeing if your wants line up. If you’re using dating apps, you might center your desires in your profile—people can self-sort before you match that way, and I personally default to efficiency in erotic encounters.

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My gut says there are plenty of people in the world who would love to put on a show for a statue, but that you might hit a string of people who don’t get what you’re after before you find them. If that happens and you get frustrated, remember that it’s OK to take a break from dating. And make sure to maintain your emotionally and intellectually intimate connections while you’re working out your sex life. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a single, straight man in his late 30s and I’m going through the mother of all dry spells. It’d be easy for me to blame it on the pandemic, but I think the truth goes way deeper than that.

I was raised in a religious household and even wanted to be a priest when I grew up (this was before I experienced my first post-pubescent summertime). And even though I gave up the church a long time ago, I feel like I’m still struggling to shake my prudishness. In my 20s I was awful with women, but I still had my fair amount of shots at one night stands that I always ended up walking away from since that just “wasn’t what I was supposed to do.” I didn’t even lose my virginity until my mid-20s and that was because a friend took it upon herself to “relieve me of my curse.”

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So now I’m getting closer to my 40s and I’m not any better at approaching women. A friend of mine joked about me seeking out a sex worker to help, and the “joke” stuck with me. Now I can’t help but think about it all the time. I feel like I’ve spent my life being what I thought everyone expected me to be instead of the man I want to be. And even though I’ve realized that, I still find it hard to break with social norms. Is hiring a sex worker really all that bad? Is it a good idea for someone like me?

—Breaking Bad

Dear Breaking Bad,

In the years that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve noticed a few running themes, and one is church-induced sexual shame. You’re not alone—far from it—and there are resources for this: Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Shameless and Tina Schermer Sellers’ Sex, God, and the Conservative Church are books I’d recommend about healing religious sexual shame. Shameless is meant for people who grew up in the church and may still practice, and Sellers’ book is written for clinicians who are seeing patients with religious shame and goes into the history of anti-sex Christianity. Both question what purity culture teaches from a believer’s perspective.

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You might be best off working with a sex-positive therapist who can help you work through your internalized beliefs, and decide what is actually you, who you want to be, and what you want to confront and dismantle. If you decide to go this route, remember that you’re looking for a therapist who is a good match for you. If the first one you see fits, that’s great. If you aren’t feeling good about the connection, it’s OK to look for another clinician.

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Hiring a sex worker is complicated. I’ll assume that you would do this through legal channels, such as in Nevada outside of certain counties, or in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, or any other place that has decriminalized or legalized direct provision of sex work. Informed consent is important for you and for the sex worker you hire, so please be upfront about your situation. Like other professions, sex workers have different aptitudes and specialties within their fields. Some have no patience for teaching, while others love virgins and would likely be thrilled to see you. If you’re going into a brothel or other group place of business, tell the host about your background and ask if there’s anyone they particularly recommend. If you’re approaching independent providers, let them know during the booking process. You’ll have to decide for yourself if seeing a sex worker is a good idea for you, and if you decide to, remember that you can slow things down, stop sexual interaction, or even leave early if it’s overwhelming or you realize it isn’t for you midway through.

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Sex can feel increasingly important the less we’re having it. Take time to be kind to yourself, and tend to the relationships you value in your life while you seek out physical intimacy.

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

Dear How to Do It,

I have a low-stakes dilemma that I was hoping you might be able to help me with! I love my husband very much, love being his wife, and I especially love having sex with him, but due to certain constraints (him being a virgin until we started dating, my not having a vagina, me thinking prep and cleanup for anal is to much of a hassle most nights, etc.), our sex is mostly the same every time we have it. I like intercrural and oral sex, but it’s come to be most of what we do and I am desperate to shake things up.

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I’ve suggested a couple things to my husband that I’m enthusiastic about and have always wanted to try, but when I ask him what sort of things he’d like to engage in, he tends not to have an answer beyond “the stuff you just mentioned.” That’s a pretty frustrating answer! That being the case, I was wondering if you could offer me a couple things we could do to shake things up, or a way to open my husband up to exploration about the things he might like to do in the bedroom. I want to please him and incorporate his fantasies into our sex just as much as mine, but is hard when he seems unsure of what he’d like.

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— Ready for Some Spice

Dear Ready,

Some people don’t generate spontaneous fantasies. Some people aren’t kinky, don’t need variety, or are happy as long as their partner is happy. It sounds like your husband is at least one of these. Incorporating his fantasies is a beautiful desire, but it might be impossible. Accept him as he is—which sounds like is not very creative sexually—and take a moment to dwell on all the reasons you love him and all the wonderful things he does bring to the table.

You can absolutely lead the way here, and present him with different ideas that appeal to you. To generate these ideas, use your own fantasies, and maybe watch porn that features bodies like y’all’s to get ideas for how to combine in novel ways. Since your go-to is intercrural and oral, I’m wondering if you’ve thought of incorporating a masturbation sleeve. I have a few Fleshlights laying around because of my licensing deal with them, and have had a lot of fun taking the sleeve out of the case and using it to add new texture to a handjob. I can’t speak to the squishyness of other brands, but your local sex shop or an online retailer can probably answer questions about that. You also might elaborate on the intercrural sex you enjoy by experimenting with backs of knees, elbows, between your feet, and the crease between your neck and shoulder. And you can incorporate new textures with clothing or fabric, like synthetic fur, leather, latex, and satin weaves. You’ve got this.

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— Stoya

More How to Do It

I saw my girlfriend of six months being orally pleasured by her neutered male dog. She doesn’t know I saw her. I don’t know what to make of this. We both come from fairly conservative backgrounds and have limited sexual experience. I can’t imagine discussing this with her. But I can’t get the image out of my head. I really like this woman, and one side of me wants to say it’s no big deal, just another way to masturbate. But this is bestiality, right? Isn’t it technically illegal, or at least immoral? I keep wondering what she’s thinking while we have sex, and my appetite for oral is nil now. This is sad because we had been communicating well about sex (a first for me). I can’t talk about it with friends like I usually world. So I ask you, how weird is this? What would you do?

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