How to Do It

I’m Afraid My Sex Life Is About to Destroy My Very Public Career

Is it worth the risk?

A pair of hands with the wrists tied up in rope.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Suriyawut Suriya/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 recently discovered a love of rope bondage. I’ve learned a lot from books and YouTube, but now I would like to learn more in-person with other like-minded individuals. I live in a large city in a conservative part of the country, but there are clubs here that offer regular tying practice sessions. The next nearest city with similar resources is several hours away.

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The problem: I’m employed in a field which requires me to keep a spotless reputation (think lawyer, teacher, doctor). What if I encounter people who know me at one of the events, or later run into some of the people I would be tying (or being tied by) in a work-related situation? I have also heard stories about people surveilling the parking areas of such places and taking down license plate numbers. These situations could really derail my career and destroy my reputation if someone wanted to use it against me.

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Do you have any suggestions for safeguarding privacy and safety? It would certainly be more convenient to attend the local events, but would it be safe at all? Would the out-of-town ones actually be any safer? How have others in this position handled this situation? Or should I just forget about it?

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— Tied Up

Dear Tied Up,

However you do this, you’ll be taking some kind of risk. Going out of town does reduce the likelihood that you’ll run into anyone you know. You can always check in advance whether any event has a no-photos policy. For the people recording license plate numbers, you might take a cab or a rideshare app to and from the venue, or park somewhere nearby and walk over.

There’s this idea that anyone who sees you in a compromising position this way is also in a compromising position themselves, but the reality is that you might run into someone who has no issue with other people in your community knowing that they were in a rope-tying lesson. You could absolutely ask anyone who recognizes you to please keep your presence quiet, but asking doesn’t guarantee a yes or a commitment to that yes.

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You might split the middle by looking for rope classes that are being held online, in spaces where leaving your camera off is allowed. You’ll want to make sure that you’re logging in anonymously (Zoom, for instance, tends to automatically display your name) and that your camera is actually off.

At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide what you’re willing to risk to explore your new sexual hobby. That’s your choice, and in today’s political climate, it is a hard one indeed.

Dear How to Do It,

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I’m a single, mid-30s man struggling to find love and lust with the same female partner.

I came across pornography at a young age and began all kinds of self-exploration. That has seemingly evolved into me viewing sex in a single way—not for love-making or intimacy, but as “an expression of my naughtiness.” While now I’m much more comfortable in a submissive role, I consider myself a switch because contrast (in all areas of life) is something I find stimulating.

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Casual sex has always been easy and fun, but I’ve had trouble being transparent with past romantic partners. Fear of judgment is one thing, but I also feel protective of emotional partners and feel the need to take care of them. It makes me want to cuddle and kiss them all the time, but that greatly affects my sexual desire. This became worse in my last relationship, where it was the most I’ve ever emotionally connected with someone, but the sex was the worst and I had trouble maintaining an erection even though I was insanely attracted to her. I felt so much pressure to perform or risk a premature end to the relationship.

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I’m confused about how to continue dating after that experience. Has my sexual development completely separated my emotional and sexual needs? How can I feel comfortable confiding in, loving, protecting, spanking, and being pegged all by the same person?

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— Longing for Love and Lust

Dear Longing,

You absolutely might be struggling to sexualize a partner you care about because your sexual education was devoid of expressed care or examples of connected, lustful relationships. If this is the case, you’re an example of why we need good, wide-ranging, and intimacy-inclusive sex education early—before kids find porn.

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Therapy and coaching are two options for one direction to search in. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists has a directory of sexuality professionals on their website. Explain your issue, as you have here, and ask them what kinds of treatment they think might work well for you. From there you can evaluate whether you think their methods will be useful, and something you want to undergo. If one therapist isn’t a good fit, thank them for their time and try another. And it’s worth talking to your doctor about an erectile dysfunction medication to help your body get in line with your heart and mind if you encounter this issue in your next relationship.

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Another thing you might work on is being intimate with yourself. Spend an evening with only yourself. Have dinner, do something that relaxes you, and explore your body. Try touching parts you don’t usually touch, and ways of touching that you don’t usually use. Pay attention to your breathing. Draw the air past your solar plexus, through your belly, and into your pelvic floor. Listen to your feelings. Inhabit your body. Practice tenderness on yourself before you try again with a partner.

Some people find a partner who is a great fit for them quickly, and for others it takes a long time. Partially this is luck and coincidence, and partially it’s about how specific and complex we are. It might take you a while to find someone who you can confide in, love, lust after, protect, snuggle with, and have blistering hot, mind-blowing sex of all types with. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

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I’ve been married to my partner for seven years, together for 11. Last night a politician came up in conversation with the same name as a high school friend of mine who tragically died at age 19 (so, like, 20 years ago). My partner didn’t remember me telling him about him, so I was reminiscing about how sweet and goofy he was and how his mom would let him throw the most epic high school parties. “His mom even slept on the couch one night so my boyfriend at the time and I could sleep in her bed! It was like my first grown-up sex in a real bed.” Nothing more about that boyfriend or any further details, just literally recalling old memories about an old friend and one tangential mention of a high school boyfriend.

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Then today my partner says, “Can you please not talk about having sex with other people? I don’t want to think about it.” He’s been…weird… about my sexuality before and has said things about how I “owe” him sex if I turn him down, and pouts when I say no, for example. I got upset and said that it was a passing reference, not a comparison or even a detailed recollection. He got super angry that I wouldn’t promise to never mention having sex with anyone else ever again.

I honestly can’t decide if that’s normal or not! Again, this was talking about a boyfriend I had when I was 16—like 15 years before I even met my husband?

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— Never Said I Was a Virgin

Dear Never Said,

Your partner sounds controlling, exceptionally sensitive, and transactional about sex in a way that it doesn’t seem like you’ve agreed to. Nothing you’ve written here seems normal or healthy, so I have a question for you: Why do you stay with him? What positive qualities does he bring to the table? What do you like about him? Do the things that attract you to him and make him a suitable partner outweigh this deeply reactionary and possessive streak in him?

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Has your partner shown ability and motivation to grow in other areas? Do you feel you can have a conversation about this with him, and expect him to change? You might think back on other tough conversations you’ve had together and use that insight to help this talk go as smoothly as possible. Make sure you’re both in a state where you can speak calmly—is anyone hungry? How’s the temperature in the room? Is there an urgent major stressor other than the topic? Are you both rested enough?—and dive in.

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It’s your choice. You decide to stay or go. You have to evaluate for yourself whether the juice is worth the squeeze, as it were. If you stay, spend some time thinking about what your limit is and make note of how close he is to it.

To answer what seems to be your question—no, it isn’t typical for a partner to be upset by hearing about consensual, happy sexual experiences from your past. It isn’t appropriate for your partner to tell you that you owe him sex in any context. His behavior is weird, and I’m worried about whether you’re OK in this relationship.

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

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Dear How to Do It,

This is probably an unusual question, but I’m looking for advice on minimizing overstimulation during sex. I’m autistic and suffer from sensory overload often. This usually results from too many significant sources of sensory input at once, and makes all of them abruptly unbearable for me.

It’s really getting annoying for my sex life, and the biggest problem is bouncing back from it. Usually after a couple minutes of retreating from the offending stimuli, I’m more or less back to normal, but when the offending stimuli include my nipples being hard or my vagina being wet, that’s not so easy. What can I do to avoid sensory overload in the first place, and how can I calm my body down quickly if it does happen?

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— Overstimulated

Dear Overstimulated,

Answering the first part of your question will require some help from you. What overwhelms you the most? Start there. If it’s bright lights, turn them off or include a blindfold. If it’s the smell of another human or of your own arousal, open the windows or use a masking scent that you find acceptable. If it’s noises, some kind of noise cancellation, ear plugs, or a masking sound playing in the background might help. Taste is trickier—the only ways I know of to mask taste are picking up a cigarette habit (not recommended) or using strongly minted breath strips (which may be inherently overwhelming themselves).

With touch, you’ll absolutely have to communicate with your partner. You’ll need to say “slow down” or “softer,” or even “don’t touch me right now for a few minutes” or “only hold me tight for a while, please.” You’ll also want to warn partners up front that while you absolutely want to have sex with them and experience all of the sensations that come along with that activity, you sometimes get overwhelmed and need some time to return to your usual state before you can continue interacting. Err on the side of overcommunication, and pay attention to how they respond—it’ll tell you a lot about how patient, understanding, and accommodating they’re likely to be once you’re engaged in sex.

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Specifically for your nipples, you can hold something warm over them to coax them back to a relaxed state. For vaginal lubrication, keep a small towel nearby to wipe off with. The idea is to reduce or entirely alleviate the sensation. Meditation can help clear your mind and help you refocus. For best results, meditate for a few minutes every day as a regular practice. It’ll be easier to reach that calm state if you’re doing it every morning as part of your routine.

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— Stoya

More How to Do It

Eight months ago, I started dating my now ex-teacher. I’m 26 and he’s 43. At first it wasn’t serious (for many obvious reasons, I had a hard time imagining myself getting emotionally involved with an older man who was also my teacher), while he showed much more interest in me. Things turned sour during summer when I had a brief fling with someone else and told him about it. We had a trip already organized and we decided to go anyway. After our return, I asked him if he was interested in getting more serious, and he agreed.

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