Every Thursday, Rich and Stoya answer a special question they could only tackle together, just for Slate Plus members. Join today to never miss a column.
Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 30-year-old bisexual woman, and I’ve never really had sex. I really would like to, but I’ve had a lot of trouble finding a partner because of my body.
I am quite fat. Always have been, and likely always will be because nothing has ever made me any less fat. I’ve had two serious relationships in my life, both long-distance relationships with women. Sex went the same way for both of them. When my girlfriend and I finally met in person, she just wanted me to eat her out and then go immediately to sleep and didn’t want to touch me at all. I didn’t press it at the time because I know no one is entitled to sex, but it left me with the feeling that even if someone is in love with me, that won’t be enough for them to overcome the fact that my body just isn’t very attractive.
Logically, I know this isn’t a universal truth. I know fat people have sex. I know ugly people find love, but I just don’t know how, is there somewhere else I should be looking? Something in particular I should be doing? I don’t know a lot of people where I live and I had to stop using dating apps because people kept matching with me just to tell me that they thought I was ugly and I should kill myself. And I only have so much patience for that kind of treatment.
Stoya: Oh my God!
Rich: Yeah. I didn’t know that happens. I know people are awful to each other on dating apps, but I guess I didn’t realize the extent to which people go out of their way to be awful to each other.
Stoya: I mean, people in the mid-2010s—it’s different because I’m a publicly notable sex worker—but people on like open social media, Twitter or whatever, in the 2010s would drive by to tell me, I should kill myself. But, one, I didn’t realize someone would match with someone on a dating app to do that. My God, the amount of effort—
Rich: I know.
Stoya: And I didn’t realize it was happening to average civilian women. I thought this was something that happens to me because of what I’ve chosen to do professionally. And this just feels so completely unfair to me. She has not put her body out there as a product. She’s innocently trying to use a dating app and people are being the absolute worst to her.
Rich: It conveys very well just the way that stigma can play out against fat people. I think this often comes via in-your-face reminders of what so many people in the world think of you. People have this belief that, well, your body is like that because you’re not doing anything about it. So effectively this logic implies that, much like sex work, you put yourself out there. You’re fat, you put yourself out there, this comes with a territory.
And it’s grossly unfair in both situations, in any situation. The idea that people go out of their way to make other people’s lives sad is just disheartening. The world is so fucked up and there’s so much to despair about without civilians bothering civilians for the way that they look and what they’re doing in their lives that have nothing to do with you. You can really just save everyone time and stay out of other people’s lives.
Stoya: Just keep swiping.
Rich: It’s really sad to me. Reading this really bummed me out.
Stoya: I just want to offer this woman a hug. I want to be like, look, I’m completely vaccinated. I have an N95 I can wear, I will sanitize my hands. Would you like a hug? That is how I feel. But to the action points, I think taking a break from the apps is a good idea because you only have so much ability to be exposed to that kind of treatment before it starts to get to you. So like preemptively saying, this has happened a few times, I’m just going to back away from the apps before it damages me emotionally and take a break and maybe come back in a couple of months.
I mean, I think… I’m so hesitant to say this.
Rich: Give it a try.
Stoya: The sex-positive community has its limitations. So there’s this instinctual twitch inside me that wants to be like, find the sex-positive community. But there’s also this knowledge that actually, the sex-positive community might be a different kind of absolute jerk to this woman. Because, even though it’s not like the mainstream porn ideal or the mainstream reality ideal or the mainstream fashion ideal, there is an ideal, and I don’t personally know if that ideal is anti-fat. So I don’t want to send this woman into a space that might be completely hostile to her all over again.
Rich: Yes. Likewise, I did a little bit of looking around for apps for fat people. In 2020, Refinery 29 ran a piece, “Fetishisation & Feelings: The Fat Girl’s Guide To Plus-Size Dating Apps.” The writer describes WooPlus as “the most wholesome among them,” which is important since I’m sure objectification and fetishization is a real threat in this territory.
Maybe there’s a small amount of objectification you put up with or even enjoy in the pursuit of sexual pleasure. We all have what we have and people respond to that. And sometimes the sexual connection happens first and that is an objectifying experience. Sometimes it’s mutually objectifying. And from there you can grow the relationship and sometimes that doesn’t happen and it’s sad and frustrating in its own way. But I do think that at least a space like that would reduce the drive-by insults.
I think this is going to be difficult no matter what, but I don’t think it’s impossible. As the writer states, fat people have sex, they do, they have a lot of sex and they connect. And I think that understanding how much objectification you’re willing to put up with, how much you want to play into that is probably an active experience, that you probably have to ask yourself all the time and it’s probably not easy sometimes. There’s not a clear-cut way to navigate that.
Stoya: I do have some experience being objectified. And it’s, first of all, even within that certain kind of feminist discourse, I’ve seen discussion of how objectification in small doses can be an important and healthy part of a sexual relationship. But also the way I get objectified is not like that. And it is often something that can be moved past. The big green flag with that for me is the duality, right?
Stoya: Is it, “Oh my God, you’re so hot. And I love your brain.” Is it “Your ass turns me on so much and I’m really excited to have a conversation over breakfast tomorrow morning,” right? Like, is there this like one, two, some of this, some of that, because that’s what then develops into regard and respect and all of those things that are humanizing. And then the objectification is this fun thing that comes to bear when it’s flirting time.
Because when it’s flirting time, yes tell me mind is hot. Yes, tell me you love this about my body. Yes, tell me you want to bury a part of yourself entirely inside me. Like that’s what we’re doing, right?
Stoya: And it’s nice to feel like the most attractive person in the world, but to have something healthy beyond a hookup, which our writer doesn’t really explicitly say, but I just have this assumption that they would like something beyond a one-night stand hookup. You want that green flag that says there is substance there. This person sees me as a person. This person likes things that have nothing to do with my physical form because my physical form, the aging process is going to happen. But it’s that personal regard of mutual respect—that’s what you can build a relationship on. And so you want to look for that. So if you’re in an objectifying space, keep an eye out for positive signs in that direction. And those are the people that you probably want to choose to interact with.
Rich: It’s different for me being a man, but at the same time being a gay man means that I am the object of men’s gaze. So I get a little bit of it. And I think where I draw the line is, I mean at this point, connected sex that is friendly from start to finish and can lead to a conversation is certainly my ideal. But I think at the bare minimum, I’m completely OK being objectified, but I’m not OK with only being an object. And so I think my litmus test is this about your pleasure only and, what I can do for you? Or is it about both of us? And sometimes what I can do for you is about my pleasure as well, depending on the mood I’m in or the power dynamic.
But I think that there is a way that people, especially in their approach at a club, I can tell if somebody is walking up to me and is asking me to essentially perform a service for them for free, versus wanting to connect and have this mutual experience. And it’s the latter that I’m going to take the path of and pretty much never the former. Because then it’s free labor and now I have to compete with your fantasy of me. Why would I set myself up to fail? In the midst of that, I’m definitely not getting off. Then I’m just worried about my performance. So, yeah, that’s where I draw the line with objectification. Again, this comes from a very privileged perspective, but it really is about: Just give me an indication that you are familiar with the concept of my ability to have humanity. And then we can talk.
Stoya: Also, I think something our writer can say is like, I keep coming back to this story. In my last four and a half months in New York, I opened up Feeld. I said, I’m here to get my pussy eaten. And my God did I get eaten. Obviously, I come from a point of immense privilege. I’m like, hi, I’m a former porn star. And I’m a sex-based columnist. Also sometimes I write about sex. I’m like, Disneyland is my cunt. But you should not be afraid to ask directly, would you like our sex to be reciprocal? If you’d like to have sex, what does that look like? Does that look like you doing me? Because that’s what I want.
You might not find the person who says yes soon, it might be some months, it might be dozens of people. But eventually someone is going to pick up what you’re putting down and say, yeah, I want to fuck you. You, the person with your body as it is, I can’t wait to get all up in that. And then that’s when you say, OK, let’s go. Because this thing where they’re like, oh, I guess you’re here to make me feel good. And then I’m going to go to sleep, like you’re some sex robot that I can just put in the closet. That’s not OK. It sucks. I mean, if that’s your kink then great, but that’s not this woman’s kink. And so it’s unacceptable and they deserve better.
Rich: Absolutely. And I think she can achieve it. Probably the major task here is just not letting the haters get you down, which can be really, really hard to do. But just keep in mind that every opinion you’ve received is a product of one person. One point of view, it’s not the world conspiring against you, even though fat people face disproportionate stigma and hostility. All of those opinions were from single sources and there are other single sources out there that will give you something far different. The opposite of that, the affirmation and the love that you’re looking for. It’s just a matter of finding it.
Stoya: I have one parting thought.
Stoya: Reporting people for telling you to kill yourself.
Stoya: Feels really good.
Stoya: It’s also good for the community, right? Weeds those people out. So if it happens again and you feel motivated, flag that, let the system administrators deal with it, please for your sake and for everyone else’s.
More Advice From Slate
My husband and I decided not to circumcise our son, born in the early 2000s. We felt his body was naturally perfect and did not want a scalpel going at his precious newborn body. At the time, we felt the majority of parents were feeling the same way and arriving at the same conclusion. Since then, I have heard different opinions on this topic, but not enough to fully understand what our son will encounter when he becomes sexually active.