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 married my college boyfriend, but not right away. The two years in college we dated were really fun, rewarding, and exciting. But neither of us thought that it was likely that we would find our “forever person” in college, so when we graduated, we broke up and went to do our adulting things separately. I moved to another part of the state, so there was enough distance to make it more practical.
It was eight years between the time we broke up and got married, during which time I dated about a dozen guys. And I slept with all of them. It was fun and interesting to get to know different people, and I especially enjoy the heady nervousness and excitement of a new relationship. None of these were one-night stands, but some of these relationships were also as short as a month long.
After I got married but before the pandemic, my job required regular travel. I would travel around 10 to 15 times a year, and those trips would normally be no less than three days and usually the entire week. I would usually go to the same four to six destinations in some combination during the year, including conferences. And I would flirt with men while I was away on these trips.
I never flirted with work people (“don’t $#!% where you eat” is a rule I always follow), but I might flirt with a guy at the health club I’d get a week pass at, or if I was eating alone at a restaurant, or doing something else during my down time. I have NEVER slept with anyone while traveling. But there have been a few times where I might have kissed someone goodnight or allowed for some “light petting” under the table (and over clothes). This would be after a fun evening of getting to know a new guy and hanging out somewhere around town. There have also never been any repeat dates. I’ve never thought of this as a way to find an out-of-town lover. I’m very careful with my drinks and who I chat up, and so far I’ve never felt particularly in danger. I know you and your commenters probably think I’m vain or needy of validation from men, and maybe that’s a little true. I do like the attention, but I also like getting to know these guys, too. I’ve always found the early parts of relationships exciting.
But I am also in no way interested in leaving my husband. In fact, because of the pandemic, all our travel stopped (he travels for work sometimes too), and we’ve both worked from home for the last two years. And we also decided to have a baby and welcomed our daughter last fall! Because of the pandemic and the baby, I think my travel opportunities are going to be extremely limited for the next few years at least.
So all this is getting around to my problem. I really miss going on first dates. I miss that heady excitement. But I am not going to try and do it here in my home city. I almost feel like I need a “fix.” My husband and I still have sex like college kids. Actually, we’re better than we were in college! So it’s not frequency of sex or who I’m having sex with that I’m missing. I really feel like I’m missing first dates. I feel like this is a gray area when it comes to whether this is cheating or not. I’ve never slept with any of these men. Nor have I had an “emotional affair” with them since there has never been time to establish that. I delete their numbers almost as soon as the date is over. Yes, I’ve kissed some men, so if that’s cheating, then fine. I’m not asking you to absolve me of that. My husband is pretty chill and open-minded, but I’m not sure if this is something I should ask for permission for or forgiveness if he ever stumbles on one of my dalliances? There’s been a little over 10 of these “first dates.”
—Addicted to Love
Dear Addicted to Love,
Not to question your assumed identity, Addicted to Love, but I think what you’re actually addicted to is newness. This may have something to do with your dopamine activity. Some years ago, a psychiatrist named C. Robert Cloninger developed a personality evaluation that in part tests for novelty-seeking (or neophilia), the Temperament and Character Inventory. The quality can be extremely useful. In 2012, Cloninger told the New York Times: “Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age. … It can lead to antisocial behavior but if you combine this adventurousness and curiosity with persistence and a sense that it’s not all about you, then you get the kind of creativity that benefits society as a whole.”
From your description, you’re definitely persistent. But it also sounds like you might be making it all about you. It took you some dozen of these dates to get around to seriously considering notifying your partner that you’re seeing other men in romantic contexts on the regular. Would you be cool with the same lack of consideration? The fact of it alone would be enough to shock a lot of people, regardless of their stance on nonmonogamy. (By and large, people who buy into nonmonogamy tend to do so when it’s consensual and not unwittingly foisted upon them.) Your predilections are innocent, but the way you are practicing them is not. This is only a gray area because you say so—a good way to determine whether what you’re doing is cheating is whether the extracurricular behavior has been explicitly OKed by your partner. If it hasn’t, it makes sense to assume it’s cheating, since most people raised in Western culture expect monogamy by default. Sanctioned deviation from monogamy calls for a conversation with your partner, at the very least. Cheating has more to do with betraying reasonable expectations than it does any single act.
I think the only way to move forward is to share your interests in first dates with your husband and allow him to decide whether this is the kind of relationship he wants to be in. I think it’s less necessary to divulge your past. That might cause more problems than it’s worth. The ritual of confession is designed to make the confessor feel better. What’s done is done, and to mitigate drama, cast your eyes toward the future, not the past. (Though if he asks you if you’ve engaged in this behavior before, I think you should be honest. Basically, withhold until doing so makes you a liar.)
There’s also the matter of the guys you’re seeing in this very specific context. What are their expectations? You’re fostering romance only to ghost after the initial encounter. Perhaps given your out-of-town status on these dates, these guys would be dumb for expecting any more, but are you considering their feelings at all as you tend to yours?
I don’t think there’s a real issue with your friendliness and I’m not too bothered by your pursuit of attention—it’s probably not the best way to groom your self-image (the real work there lies within), but it’s so common to seek external validation and, indeed, it does feel good. Having intimate conversations with strangers isn’t a problem in its own—it’s how you go about it. You’re being emotionally messy. Clean up.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 71-year-old woman and have a weird question about the etiquette of oral sex. Because of repeated injuries to my anal sphincters from abuse when I was very young, I have bowel control issues. Diet and medication give me reasonable control, but I cannot control farting. I simply cannot no matter how I try.
My problem is that a new partner loves going down on me, and I do enjoy it. It’s not been an issue so far as we have had only a few encounters. But what should I do/say if I toot when he’s eating me out? Many times, I simply have no warning or sensation of an impending fart. I think I might bolt for the bathroom or die of embarrassment. Please give me some suggestions—and feel free to laugh at this. Partner knows of my history and sphincter issues.
Thank you for the laugh pass, but I decline: You’ve been through enough already. If your partner is aware of your history and issues, he may already be anticipating sharing intimate space with your farts. If he doesn’t, a conversation ahead of time is probably the best way to mitigate embarrassment. But also, “excuse me” or “sorry” will suffice. People fart during sex and the world doesn’t end, nor does the sex. (It can be especially windy during anal, when the penis may be pushing in air that then escapes involuntarily.) You can experiment with strategic placement of a cushion with charcoal in it to absorb the smell—this kind of padding worn in underwear proved effective in absorbing fart smells in one admittedly limited study. But I think what’s key is your approach. If you don’t make a big deal about your farts, your farts are less likely to be a big deal.
Dear How to Do It,
My partner “P” and I are in the process of opening our previously monogamous relationship. We’ve done the books, the podcasts, the zines, and we’ve both got experienced therapists. We have other non-monogamous friends we reach out to when things are challenging. We have been living together for two and a half years, were together for many years before that, and our communication is great.
However, the first time I had sex with someone, P was triggered. I thought the relationship might end, but we were able to repair it. That experience left me feeling very vulnerable, though, so when P had sex with someone, I was then triggered. (By “triggered” I mean both of us literally have PTSD that was activated. ) After getting an STI after these encounters, we decided to close and reevaluate. It felt like we were falling into a bad cycle.
We’re both feeling more secure and want to give it another go. We have daily rituals, two weekly date nights, a weekly check-in to bring up issues, and a schedule for long-term “planning chats” where we discuss our plan to adopt kids, change jobs, etc. to ensure we feel like we’re growing together, not apart. We’re having regular sex that is really hot and fun. We’re on the same page about what we want out of this: friends we casually screw sometimes, either individually or together.
That said, my prior three relationships all ended when the person I was dating left me for someone else after lying to me about it, and my old fears are back. Now that we each have a couple dates lined up in a few weeks, I find myself becoming more paranoid that P will find someone “better” than me romantically and will leave me. P has also expressed similar fears to me. I feel better about things this time around and excited to explore my sexuality in a new way, but the fear of the old cycle is still there. Do you have any practical recommendations besides “it’s just going to suck until you find equilibrium”?
Dear Being Brave,
The fact of the matter is that any day, at any point, regardless of whether you and P are open or not, one of you could meet someone else who sweeps you away and out of your current relationship. That’s called existing in the world. What’s encouraging about the dynamic you describe is that you and P are regularly communicating, and you’re both open to changing things up as mutual feelings dictate. Communication is the key to making an open relationship work. It’s not a guarantee, but those are few and far between in life, anyway.
I hope that you keep evaluating. If nonmonogamy continues to trigger you, if it’s causing more fear than pleasure, and if it takes on the features of a process with little output to speak of, reconsider closing things back up. You could attempt an in-between arrangement, in which you only play together or set up stricter boundaries (meeting for play only, for example, not dates, which by their nature are on the romantic side of things). I don’t know how much any of that will matter, though, if you aren’t right as a couple. It sounds like you’ve given every reason for P to trust you, and you them—now you just have to do it.
Dear How to Do It,
My spouse and I are two trans men on testosterone. While it made them break out more, it made me into a walking boner. We both were on the “not super interested in sex” side of things when we first started dating, but I was always more into it than them. Now that I take T, I’m incredibly sensitive. And my partner is someone I’m incredibly into, so I’m almost always ready to go.
But the problem is the how, and the how often. They can go months without it, and when the urge strikes them, there’s no lead-in, just sex. And I’m responsible for strapping up. This is OK sometimes, but I am more of a receiver, which at the beginning of our dating I was told was fine because they were a giver.
I’ve received maybe four times in three years. I’ve asked, tried to schedule, and communicated that this is a need of mine that I feel is going unmet. I get told, “I don’t think I’m good at it. It’s too much work.” I’ve made it clear if it’s not “enthusiastically given,” I don’t want it.
Do I sit them down and talk about me finding another person solely for this need? The rejection and what feels like my needs being ignored is making me resent them a bit, which feels awful.
—Gift That’s Tired of Giving
Yes, I think one way of rectifying this issue is by having a conversation about opening things up—that you have a tangible goal and pragmatic attitude may help assuage fears that typically pop up about these issues. (See above.) But try to keep your approach soft—the idea is to have a discussion, not a confrontation. Sitting your spouse down and telling it like it is may be off-putting. You should also adopt a more understanding perspective.
While you’re at it, keep this in mind: What you describe does not read to me like rejection. There is a difference between rejection, which is active, and apathy, which is not. Your spouse is less into sex and the things you like to do during it. That’s not about you; it’s about them. You are enmeshed, as many couples are, so your resentment is understandable, but not exactly rational nor is your response objective. Set yourself up for success by being as clear as possible, and try not to let emotions foment drama.
More How to Do It
I’ve been with my husband 14 years, married 11 of those. Before we married, I discovered he had female friends and exes that he kept secret from me. He “didn’t know how to openly talk with me,” he said, but he could with these other women. He swore it was platonic. I forgave him and we moved forward. But over the years, he’s given me reason to be suspicious again. So, I recently catfished him—and I’m not sure what to do with what I found.