How to Do It

I Became Totally Ripped in My 20s. This Has a Strange Effect on Everyone I Date.

A ripped man.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo 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’m a man in my late 20s with an issue I have noticed recently that I am not too sure how to handle. When I was younger, I was constantly teased about being overweight. When I became a teenager, I got into weightlifting and have been consistent at it since then. As a result, I have gotten very muscular, so much so that people have mistaken me for a bodybuilder.

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While in my early 20s, after I came out as gay, I wanted to only be with muscular men. As I started getting older, I recognized that bodies change over time and my “muscular guys only” stance was shallow and limiting. Recognizing this was huge and I soon realized how attracted I was to men of all body types and sizes. In fact, what I get most attracted to are someone’s facial features (I’m a sucker for off centered noses), demeanor, smile, and voice.

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Thanks to this, I have gone on dates with various men, but I have noticed an issue which tends to come up. If I am on a date with someone who is not muscular, they tend to seem insecure. They will often say, “I don’t get why someone like you is into me” or “don’t be disappointed because I don’t have a lot of muscle.” I try to assure them of my interest and let them know that I am pursuing them because I am attracted to them, but if I’m being honest, it’s a bit off-putting to hear these things. Especially in the early stages, it feels deflating and seems that I have to prove that I am attracted to them. Whether sexting, flirting, or even after just having had sex, they will express their surprise or disbelief that I would want them usually saying, ”muscle guys want muscle guys.” Many of these relationships whether for continued hookups or dating end up not going anywhere, and while I used to take it personally, I have to wonder if I’m just rubbing up against others’ insecurities. Having been shamed for my body growing up I am very aware of not talking about my eating habits, talking about others weight, or giving unsolicited advice about working out to others, so I’m glad that I’m not be obnoxious in that area, but I do mention how I go to the gym as it is a hobby of mine that I love. Outside of doing these things, how can I assure someone who doesn’t like weight training or sports that I am legitimately into them?

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—Muscle Bro

Dear Muscle Bro,

Your issue could be filed under “hot people problems,” but I don’t think it should be dismissed as such. Hot people have problems! In this particular case, time is your friend. After you tell people you’re legitimately into them, show it. Stay engaged and attentive. Don’t give them reason to doubt you. You can solidify your intentions by sticking with guys when it makes sense. Continue seeing them. The longer they see you hanging in there, the more serious you’ll seem.

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Theoretically, at least. Your dates’ logic isn’t exactly sound. If muscle guys want muscle guys and you’re with a guy who isn’t a muscle guy … what is it exactly that they think you’re doing? Research for a role? I understand insecurity, and I understand the tyranny of beauty standards, but what you describe is so extreme it seems like a rampant inability to take a compliment. It’s like how Chilli sang in TLC’s “Baby-Baby-Baby”: “Long as you know that I could have any man I wanted … but still I choose you.” Sounds like a brag, but it’s actually flattering.

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You could also change tack and accept what these guys are putting out as data. You don’t have to change their minds. Perhaps you’ll know you’ve found a potential partner when you encounter someone who doesn’t express such insecurity in the face of your interest. The ability to see beyond one’s prejudices and take expressed interest at face value is a sign of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a wonderful quality in a partner. Dating is a process of ferreting out people’s habits and thought patterns and determining whether they jibe with yours. It seems like you’ve met a lot of people whose don’t. Maybe keep looking.

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Dear How to Do It,

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I’m a man in my early 30s living near a college campus. A few months ago, I planned a one-time thing with a student. I figured it was kosher because if it she wasn’t having sex with me, it might be a different stranger with whom things might go poorly. We met up as planned, but I couldn’t stay hard because of an unfortunate fetish she had. I realized I wasn’t comfortable sleeping with her because of her personal circumstances—she is 18, has never been with anyone else, is religious, etc. I told her to find another student, but she continued to ask me to finish the job for months. Eventually, she texted me when I was high, and we had sex.

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The problem is she still initiates encounters, and sometimes I let her, as guilty as I feel about it. (I am regularly tested for STDs and there was no risk of pregnancy. Most of our encounters have been consensual.) I’m not sure why she’s doing this, even though I’ve asked. This is not what I’m looking for right now, since I’d rather pursue a relationship with someone closer to my age. How do I remove her from my life in a sensitive way?

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—Pupil Paramour

Dear PP,

I was ready to answer your question straightforwardly and then I got to this: “Most of our encounters have been consensual.” Record scratch. What does that mean? Whose consent is not being upheld, and in what context? That seems like a much bigger problem than how to end this. But I will try to answer your actual question.

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This is one reason why hooking up with 18-year-olds is like playing with fire: She’s so new that you end up being more meaningful to her than she is to you, and now you’re left with someone who’s clinging to you like a scared, wet kitten. You’re in such different places in life that it’s hardly a surprise the sex you shared means something entirely different to each of you.

For your part, it is completely reasonable to determine that someone isn’t a good fit after a hookup. It is unreasonable to determine that and keep hooking up, wondering why it’s still happening. I think the way you do this sensitively is one final message: “I’m sorry I’ve been sending you mixed messages, but it’s not a good idea for us to hook up anymore. Take care.” Leave the door open for an exchange, perhaps a discussion, but then end it there. What I’m proposing is not ghosting, but zombie-ing: You announce yourself as dead to her, and keep walking.

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Dear How to Do It,

I am a man in my late 30s. I married my college sweetheart, and we have had an amazing relationship since the moment we met. We both have good jobs, two kids, decent house, and even the dog. It’s exactly what we have always wanted, except maybe the stress that comes with my job, though having an amazing spouse undoubtedly helps. We also have copious amounts (at least for a married couple with two kids!) of what most would deem “vanilla” sex, but we wouldn’t want it any other way. I bet in the average week, we have sex four to five times.

Ever since I met this girl, the only thing I ever wanted was to please her. The way I look at sex is that my orgasm is pretty much guaranteed with enough friction, as has been the case thus far. While she isn’t impossible to make come, it usually takes a certain amount of intention (which I delight in) to get her there, and she usually does, but not always. When she doesn’t, we are both fine with it because, as she describes it, there are just times when it doesn’t matter what we do, it’s just not going to happen for her. I would guess that is about one or two out of 10 encounters, so really, not very often. We only have one “rule” for sex, which we’ve had from the beginning: I will never pressure her to cum, and she will never fake it. Luckily for me, her orgasms are uncontrollably powerful and, well, wet … very, very wet, so she probably couldn’t fake it even if she wanted to.

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The problem here isn’t her, though, it’s me. Because the most important thing to me is her pleasure, I have taught myself over the last 20 years to desensitize my pleasure to ensure my stamina is there, such that she can come before me. I’ve gotten really good at going really long. This sounds great, and it is, but it’s also the problem. It’s like I can’t help it even if I try not to, but I can feel my body change (though I couldn’t describe exactly how) when it starts to feel really good. It’s like my brain says no, you can’t come yet, she hasn’t cum, and my entire body switches into numb mode, and I can never really get out of numb mode completely. It means that we can’t have a “quicky” ever. If we don’t have at least 30 minutes plus some time to clean up, we just can’t have sex. We miss countless opportunities when we are both in the mood. Sometimes, it takes 45 minutes or more. This isn’t sexy for either of us, it’s embarrassing. I get worried about how tired she must be getting, which only makes it worse. Then when I finally do get there, it makes many of my orgasms less than satisfying. I have never told her this exactly because I do not want to hurt her feelings, and there is literally nothing she could do about it anyway. At this point, at best my orgasms are pretty good, but sometimes it’s more of a relief than it is a pleasure to come.

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She’s proven over a long time to be really good at sex. She puts just as much effort into my pleasure as I do hers. She’s in amazing shape, and I’ve never been more attracted to her. She deserves to get the same reactions from me that I get from her, but we agreed nothing fake, so I don’t “act” or embellish because that would be inauthentic. Recently, she has commented about how quiet I’ve become. I’ve never made a lot of noise anyway, but like everything else, it’s just gotten a little worse and a little worse with time. Feedback is so important, but my quietness IS the feedback, unfortunately.  When I masturbate, it takes about 4-5 minutes or less, and pretty much always feels intense, further confirming to me that it’s all in my head. Any ideas or techniques on how I can strike a better balance are welcomed.

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—Stamina Stan

Dear Stan,

I’m not saying this to be a dick, especially because part of me admires your stamina despite its apparent consequences, but have you gotten really good at going long? It seems like you’ve gotten extremely capable of going long, at the expense of pleasure and your ability to relax during sex. It’s as though what might have been anxiety about coming too fast is now anxiety about not coming fast enough, and I believe therein may be your solution, or at least a start of one. If you could somehow start chipping away at that anxiety, I bet you’d find yourself coming faster. (Though if you started to come as fast as you do when you masturbate, you’d be back at the original issue of not lasting long enough to get your wife to orgasm first.) You could test this out by taking a page from your wife’s book and adopting a more laissez-faire attitude toward your orgasm, at least temporarily. The next few times you have sex, don’t even try to come. Try not to think about it. Allow yourself to come early or not at all, and if your wife finds this strange, well, she already noticed a change, so you might as well go all the way and let her in on what you’re doing. It’s considerate of you to want to refrain from hurting her feelings, but like you said, there’s literally nothing she could do about it anyway—what’s going on with you is beyond her even if your impetus was to serve her. Telling her about your situation might take some of the burden away and that too could shift the needle on your anxiety.

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Your situation reminds me of “The Gift of the Magi”: You effectively gave up satisfying orgasms during sex to give her satisfying orgasms during sex, but her overall satisfaction is also dependent on the satisfaction that you gave up. That’s illustrative of a strong connection. There’s a lot of generosity and love happening there, which is why I think it’s time to discuss this together (and even better: with a professional like a sex therapist or a couple’s counselor). You’ve been hard on yourself. Going easier might put you in a better place and, as backward as it may seem, allow you to serve her better overall.

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I are both in our mid-50s and straight. She had breast cancer recently and the subsequent chemo and medication regimen, while leaving her cancer-free (very grateful), has also made sex very painful and uncomfortable for her, with soreness that can last for a day or two. She never had much of a libido to start with, and now with pain and discomfort, it is dead. She hasn’t talked with a doctor about it because she never enjoyed sex much to begin with and isn’t interested in resuming. It’s been about a year since we were last intimate. She’s made it clear that she’s done, even with oral or manual sex.

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I can’t really blame her, seeing how much pain and discomfort it causes, but unfortunately, I am not done. My own libido is still healthy and I would still like to have sex. My wife doesn’t want me to have a relationship with other women, though, so something like opening the marriage is out of the question. Which means my own sex life is dead, too. But I do not want to be doomed to a sexual frustration-induced depression for my remaining 20 or 30 years, so I’m thinking the easiest way to deal with this would be to reduce my own libido, or even get rid of it entirely. Is there any way to do this? Medications or activities you can recommend? I know it sounds extreme, but I’m horny constantly and I’m always thinking about the sex I can no longer have. I think it’s causing me to be depressed, as well. Masturbation provides relief, but only for a few hours. I’m looking for anything that might help. Hell, I’d even consider surgery. Any ideas to cool my ardor? I don’t want to have take a cold shower every day.

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—Cancer Sucks

Dear Cancer Sucks,

I can’t blame your wife for not wanting sex either, and I think she’s a rock star for surviving cancer, but that doesn’t mean she’s right about everything. Have you actually teased out her logic with her? By making it clear that she’s done with sex and not allowing you to have any contact outside of your relationship, she’s called “cut” on your sex life too. I don’t think it’s OK for her to direct you like that, so the first thing I would do is discuss this matter further. It’s easier to change an opinion than a person’s sexuality. If her answer really is, “Tough,” and you’re willing to take that, she should at least acknowledge that you’re amputating part of yourself that is fundamental to your essence to stay with her. You could look into SSRIs, which are notorious for interfering with libidos, but do you really want to potentially mess with your brain chemistry like that? I wouldn’t, nor would I stay in a relationship with someone who expects me to cancel my sexuality because they said so. Life is complicated and we are sometimes called on to make tough decisions, but also life is short and sex is something that can make time feel like it’s stopped. What an absolute shame to feel like you have to give that up.

More How to Do It

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This weekend my fiancé (26-year-old man) and I (25 year-old woman) had a game night with two other couples. The three guys have a regular poker game with other friends, so we decided to end the night with Texas Hold ‘Em. Fast forward a bit and Im barely hanging on, just a few chips left. Then suddenly, a great hand—after the flop, Im sitting on four aces. I cant do much with it though because Im so low on chips. Then one of the other women, who can see my hand, says, “How many chips if she bets her dress?” My fiancé, the chip leader, says 20; I say, hell, why not, and make the bet. I win so it doesnt matter—Im still fully clothed. But it loosened things up.

A few hands later, “Bob” goes all in and loses everything, including his boxers. Hes, uh, lacking in that department, but no one cared. Then my fiancé, not exactly a giant, makes some snide remarks about Bobs size (“anyone got a magnifying glass”) and Bob laughs along but is clearly embarrassed. What I did next is what got me into a bunch of trouble.

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