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 with a decent amount of sex experience, but not much relationship experience. All my relationships have been a year or less, until now. At three years, I have for the first and hopefully last time moved in with someone. So far things are going well; we have lived together for six months without issues. My boyfriend is a creative and playful man who becomes very sexy and intense in the bedroom, which is great. I add this context because I’m having a somewhat strange issue with him.
Our neighbors had to move overseas recently and gave us their old cat. He made up a rhyme for her, which is funny and cute. It goes “hey miss cat, you’re so sneaky, running around, though your limbs are creaky,” the last part is because she has feline arthritis. Later, when we were in the bedroom doing some light S&M, I remembered him playing with the cat and started to crack up. He was puzzled and sort of offended. It ruined the mood, although we went on to have more basic sex.
This is the first time I’m seeing these funny day-to-day things with someone. How do you keep viewing someone in a serious and sexy way when you also see them singing to the cat? I love him and of course I’m still very attracted to him, but it’s a little harder for me to see him as a dom now.
I mean this in the kindest possible way: You have some growing up to do. The good news is that you’re being offered the opportunity to do just that. Living with your boyfriend has given you a window into his private existence. His ability to love a cat (and write some bars about her) is not at odds with his capacity for domination. Surely you’re familiar with the concept of containing multitudes. A front-row seat to someone’s home life means that it’s in your best interest to be open to those multitudes. Surely there are more on the way.
Since we’re examining a dynamic between men, and since masculinity (as an ideal, and by extension, something to fall short of) weighs so heavily in so many relationships between men, I’d like to meditate on that for a second. Masculinity is in part defined by a chill, a relaxedness, an absence of expressed emotion. That just goes to show how it operates as a front—even if boys are socialized to withhold their feelings from the world, those teachings don’t eradicate the feelings. They make them harder to articulate. They’re down there. I’d argue that part of the fun of hooking up with butch guys is unwrapping their layers to that gooey middle. A huge turn-on of mine is hearing a dude moan in a way that suggests he’s giving himself over to the situation and thus is vulnerable to the pleasure that I’m helping facilitate. That is some satisfying penetration.
I think you may be coming up against something Esther Perel has written and spoken about at length: Eroticism and familiarity can be at odds. The more you know about someone, the less you may find them hot (which is part of why sex diminishes in frequency and intensity in so many long-term relationships), and in Mating in Captivity, Perel prescribes a few strategies for creating eroticizing distance in your relationship. I don’t know if you’re at the point where you need to start an alternate email account with which you can swap steamy notes with your man, or setting up weekly dates in hotel rooms for a sense of altered reality, but maybe there is something to be said in creating a bit of space now between you and your partner to cultivate a mystique. I’m not sure how you’d begin to draw those lines—I wouldn’t start at the cat, as that animal was left by its previous family and should receive all the affection you and your boyfriend have to give. Perhaps at this early juncture, it’s enough to know that you’re going to see some things while living with someone that make him a bit more difficult to objectify. It may be getting in the way of your boner, but seeing your partner as a whole human is ultimately a good thing. Accepting that completeness is going to do a lot for your long-term prospects. One can be kind to and funny about animals while also great in bed. Queer men, in fact, are often adroit in a wide range of skills and talents, but owning an ass is owning an ass. Compartmentalize if you must.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a man dating another man, and I have a question about asking him to not groom. I love a big bush on a guy. Natural hair is very hot to me. He is beautiful downstairs, but he insists on trimming his pubes to a very tidy mane. Men in his family/from his background tend to be very hairy, and he says he was self-conscious from his school sports days about being a Yeti down there. He also says he just feels more comfortable this way. But damn, I want to see him at his full glory. Is it just as inconsiderate to ask him not to shave as it is to ask him keep it shaved for my benefit?
Dear Yeti Lover,
I mean, it sounds like you have asked him in so many words and he has provided a full explanation. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with one more nudge—“Would you mind not shaving for me?”—but be prepared to take no for an answer. If cutting his hair makes him more comfortable, it may be key to his enjoyment of sex. (Conversely, a lack of comfort is something that often shuts people down and can prevent sex from happening at all.) If your choice is between your own aesthetic gratification or lying next to someone who feels good about how he looks, well, is that really much of a choice? You know the right thing to pick.
You have to let people be what they are. I’ve had a similar experience with my boyfriend. I’ve asked him to let his chest hair grow, he’s heard from men who aren’t me at parties that he has “nice fur” in the event that he falls behind on his grooming;, and yet, soon enough, it’s down to sparse-if-any hair. I’ve asked guys not to wear deodorant to bed and have been turned down. Oh well. Do you. The thing about this stuff is that if it’s deeply entrenched in a man—such as in cases stemming from childhood self-consciousness, like your guy’s situation—you’re no match for it. You can’t swoop in and ask him to rearrange his strategies for comfort based on your taste. You can’t cleave off his history, nor should you want to. This sounds way bigger than you, but I don’t think a follow-up conversation about it is unreasonable. Just come in with low expectations.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a cis woman in my early 20s in a relationship with a trans woman around the same age. We are, for the time being, monogamous, though we have discussed being non-monogamous in the future. The issues is that I whenever I think about her sleeping with men, which she has discussed wanting to do, I start to feel very, very, protective. To be clear, I’m not jealous—- I would be very happy for her if she found a great guy, but I get very worried about finding said guy. I feel like trans women face so many challenges in dating, and I hate the thought of her with someone who treats her as a sexual curiosity rather than a person, or worse, tries to hurt or kill her. I don’t necessarily have this same concern with other women, because I feel like she would be better able to defend herself. How should I address this with her (if I should at all), if the issue comes up?
— Not Jealous
Dear Not Jealous,
You are very thoughtful … and more than a little paternalistic. It is true that trans people experience disproportionate violence, but it’s also true that trans people are people who may be aware of the stats and yet choose lives that aren’t dictated by fear. The woman you are dating lives in the same world as you do, so let’s presume that she has access to the same information and the added benefit of first-hand experience. You, meanwhile, are anxious from without. Your claim of not being jealous but concerned will only seem legit if you keep your anxiety at bay and listen to what she has to say on the subject. Unless she is excessively naive or blatantly ignorant, don’t assume you know more than her about trans issues, including self-protection. I think a conversation on this subject is reasonable, even if it’s only for your peace of mind, but do your best to curb your suppositions and prepare to hear that your partner feels fully capable of taking care of herself. If you can present things in a way that emphasize your concern while acknowledging that you actually don’t have the life experience that would make you an expert on this subject—“Obviously, violence against trans women is a problem in our culture. Does that inform any of your decisions regarding hooking up/partners?”—you can help guide the conversation to a place of affection and empathy rather than risk putting her off with over-protectiveness.
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Dear How to Do It,
How long do I have to wait after rimming someone to kiss them on the mouth and/or eat them out? I know you’re not supposed to do ass to pussy for penetrative sex, but don’t understand how exactly you’re supposed to manage that for oral.
—Rim and Proper
Dear Rim and Proper,
Get out your stopwatch! I’m kidding. “Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for how long to wait when you move from one body part to another … this depends more on your and your partners’’ comfort,’” wrote Dr. Lina Rosengren-Hovee, a professor in the department of infectious diseases at University of North Carolina’s department of medicine, in an email after I shared your letter with her. I’ve seen people describe the hazards of moving from ass to mouth during sex, but there’s actually limited data on the precise risk posed by moving from part to part.
That said, there are risks, which include proctitis, an infection of the anus and rectum, which Rosengren-Hovee writes is often caused by STIs, such as gonorrhea, Chlamydia, syphilis and LGV, but it can also be caused by other organisms that typically cause gastrointestinal infections (diarrhea and stomach flu). These include Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, Giardia and several others. Also, hepatitis A and B can be spread via rimming.
To help prevent infection, you have your choice of barriers like dental dams, Saran Wrap, and tongue condoms, though efficacy on all is hardly 100 percent with those. Rosengren-Hovee said research has suggested that cleansing (including gentle douching and washing the perianal area) can help reduce infections that cause proctitis. Certainly avoiding anal when there are signs of illness (from stomach bugs to STDs) is crucial. You can also try helping things along by taking time out during sex to clean up a bit. “There is also no evidence for washing your face, brushing your teeth or using mouthwash between anal and vulvar/vaginal oral sex, but there is certainly no harm and could potentially reduce the amount of bacteria in and around your mouth,” wrote Rosengren-Hovee.
Like any good doctor would, Rosengren-Hovee also wants to remind you to get tested frequently, make sure your Hep A and B vaccinations are up to date, and apply lube liberally during anal. “Even in the absence of penetration, lube will protect the sensitive skin in and around the anus and reduce the potential for STI and HIV transmission by minimizing tears in the skin,” she wrote. The more you know!
More How to Do It
I am a 34-year-old woman and I’ve been with my boyfriend for 13 years. We don’t have kids (yet), we have a great relationship, the sex is always good, and we hardly fight. I honestly cannot complain: He’s the type of man every woman would want. He’s caring, very thoughtful, funny—I could keep going, but you get the point. Anyway, I feel bad for even thinking this way, but I am not and never have really been physically attracted to him…