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 in love with my cousin and I don’t know if he knows. Growing up we were very close. Our family was always together doing family events. But around age 14 we lost contact with each other. We both grew up with very different lifestyles. We just recently—almost one year ago—reunited. I am 44 now and he is 46. We started chatting on Facebook, then over lunch, then dinners, then one overnight at his house turned into a week here and a week there. Due to an unfortunate situation with my daughter, I decided I needed to move away from her toxic behavior. My cousin urged me to leave and stay with him.
He welcomed me with open arms. It started out so innocently. He lived in a small travel trailer so we just shared the bed, after all, he’s just my cousin. But it became physical one evening. That led to an every single evening event. At first, it was just like oh well, we are just having fun and enjoying ourselves. Plus it’s not like anyone’s going to find out. I’m still a pretty new widow and have been at my breaking point in life, so I really have a who gives a fuck attitude anyway. But slowly but surely my feelings for him have gotten stronger and stronger every day. I know what love feels like, and I’m head over heels for him. I’ve never had so much satisfaction in bed sexually before. I’ve never had multiple orgasms every single time with anyone before. I don’t understand any of this and I don’t know if he knows how I feel either. What do I do?
—Lusting for My Cousin
Paging Dr. Oz! (He says it’s fine.) The love connection you describe is one possible (predictable, even!) outcome of any such intimate relationship. However, there is fucking around and finding out, and then there is fucking around with your cousin and finding out. It’s somewhat unusual that this occurred with someone you were close to as a child—more commonly, that closeness tends to designate family members as off limits. But you are who you are (cousins) and you’re in the situation that you’re in (being in love with your cousin after having multi-orgasmic sex with him). At this point, you have to weigh the potential familial upheaval this arrangement could provoke with your feelings. Is it worth potentially alienating your family, who may likely react negatively (and viscerally at that) to the news that kissing cousins among them are doing way more than kissing? Maybe it is! At the very least, it’s time to have a discussion with him about moving forward—maybe this is just sex to him, in which case, you can put off making major life decisions at least for a little while longer.
Taboos in our culture dictate that the advice, I suspect, coming from most people would be, “Find another guy.” That would certainly make your life easier, but you’ve found what you found, and it seems inhumane to suggest breaking it off with him because of a culturally-held ick factor that doesn’t really have much practical foundation outside of a breeding context, a dramatic power imbalance (like the kind dictated by a major age gap), and the general disruption it could cause within your family. If you can navigate that potential disruption, who am I to tell you that you should stop loving the person that you love?
Dear How to Do It,
Is there such a thing as an incompatible personality type for certain sexual experiences? I’m a straight, married woman in her 40s and have been interested in a threesome for some time. I’d also like to try sex clubs. I’m more interested in initially pursuing these things without my husband, which he knows and agrees with. The problem is I’m not sure if I’ll be able to meet anyone to try these things with because it has always taken a bit of a connection for me to be interested. Not necessarily a big emotional connection but a shared sense of humor, similar interests, and a fun conversation. I’m not sure if those things can be achieved at a sex club or with a couple who are explicitly interested in finding a third (which is a big fantasy of mine—being a third for a hot couple). Do those sorts of connections happen in the places I’ve mentioned? Is there something I can do to foster those sorts of connections? I had a lot of sex before I met my husband and the best times were always with people I felt a vibe with, even if it was a one-night stand.
—Working Up the Nerve
Dear Working Up,
Different sex clubs have different vibes, and I only have limited experience with hetero-leaning swingers spaces. But generally speaking, socializing and camaraderie are very common in those forums. Sex spaces catering to men who have sex with men tend to be much more to the point (I went to a mostly straight sex party a few years ago, and by midnight people still weren’t really going at it), and yet, I’ve still seen and experienced a lot of socializing and chattiness in those places. Even in dungeons! There’s usually some kind of common area with refreshments that tends to be a bit less sexually oriented than other rooms or areas in the club. Any ethical scene would completely allow people to get comfortable and make a connection before proceeding to sex. Any sex party that makes you feel pressured to get down before you’re ready to is a sex party you should leave immediately.
It may take some trial and error to find the right space and crowd, but beginner’s apprehension is real, and experienced sex partiers know this and emphasize making everyone, beginners included, feel comfortable. The best thing you can do to foster these connections is to embrace and assert your agency—showing up with an open mind, and social intentions will help set your tone. If this palpably frustrates people who want to have sex on sight, they have some lessons to learn about seductiveness. For your purposes, let those people filter themselves out with their pushiness. As these spaces offer a plethora of options, filters are necessary and if someone wants to do that work for you, they’re doing you a favor.
Help us keep giving the advice you crave every week. Sign up for Slate Plus now.
Dear How to Do it,
My husband and I have been married for 28 years. We have always had a good sex life and companionship. We went through a bit of a hard time when we had stage three cancer, but we got through and now he always says if we can get through that we can get through anything. We have always had kids in our lives, as I brought a child from a previous relationship with me and had one of our own shortly after.
Recently, I found instant messages from another woman. Needless to say, I was stunned and hurt. My husband says it was just “chatting” and nothing happened nor did he want anything to happen. I was just recently diagnosed with endometriosis and the timing of this couldn’t be worse. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, that my disease (despite the fact I stood by him when he had his) was getting in the way. He said that wasn’t the case, and it was just a “mistake” and since it upset me so much he would stop and not do it again.
But since that happened, I feel a “disconnect’ with him. I still enjoy being with him, but can’t look or feel the same way about him. I know he didn’t physically cheat on me, but it still feels like a betrayal. He’s hot and cold—I never know what he’s thinking now. It just seems like we can’t get on the same page since this happened. What do I do? I really don’t want a divorce or open marriage.
He did betray you, and I hope that he adequately apologized—his vowing to stop the behavior is a good sign, but your letter describes him as downplaying his transgression. Hopefully, he acknowledges the pain he’s caused you. But even then, you still won’t be out of the woods. Time is often necessary to rebuild trust—it is one thing for a (roughly) unfaithful partner to apologize, it is another thing to atone. That means living the apology. I suspect this is too new for the trust to have been rebuilt (and certainly his hot and cold attitude is no help in that matter). If you want to see this through, trusting him may look like a suspension of disbelief for a while. You have to go out on a limb and actively engage in the process of trusting him as you once did—provided that he warrants such mental heavy lifting. Reminding yourself of the fact that you trust him and why you’re with him at all may be useful. The disconnect is not great. I suspect he’s dealing with a good amount of shame and perhaps cannot quite embrace the full extent of his offense. He should, though, and you might want to look into counseling. An impartial third party could help you both see the other person’s perspective and get you that much closer to being on the same page again.
Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear How to Do It,
This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I really like stepmom porn. It ticks a lot of boxes for me: messed up power imbalances, titles/name calling (mommy, good girl, etc.), and a storyline (I’m one of the three people on the planet who actually needs the plot to get turned on when watching porn). There are just a few problems: It’s really gross! There are a lot of pedophilic undertones that I really do NOT like, for example always emphasizing that the stepdaughter is 18 or has just turned 18 or something like that, or referencing that the daughter is still in high school but she’s 18 so it’s totally okay! Or mentioning that the stepmom has known and raised her daughter since she was a child, which is also extremely gross to me.
I feel silly complaining about this, because really, why would I expect porn about a stepmom and stepdaughter having sex to not be weird and creepy. It’s practically in the description.
I also feel weird because I’m a virgin and have never been in a relationship, but I have talked to a few people where porn comes up and I always feel extremely uncomfortable. For one, I’m a trans man so it’s already weird to explain that I like lesbian porn. I feel like I’d have to write a whole five-paragraph essay explaining why I like stepmom porn, which 1) no one really cares why you like what you like, 2) explaining it in depth just comes off as extremely defensive (“I’m not like those other creeps that get off to barely legal women, I promise!”) and 3) I feel like explaining your kinks comes off as pretty strong and possibly off-putting to a lot of people. Again, 20-year-old virgin here, so maybe I’m wrong.
I guess I’m asking for ways to find ethical porn that I like? Is that even possible? And how do I explain this to people I’m interested in without coming off as extremely creepy and gross?
—Horny But Creeped Out
Dear Horny But Creeped,
First, you should do everything you can to absolve yourself from guilt over your porn taste. Fantasizing and doing are two very different things, and in fact, something like stepmom porn (itself an animated fantasy… unless the participants are actual stepmother and stepdaughter) is a way of exploring certain taboos in an ethical framework.
The near-illicit nature of this porn (and the fantasies it brings to life) is undoubtedly what makes it so attractive to some people, but many people, as you describe, can be repulsed by the very same things that turn them on (in this case, the “pedophilic undertones” you mention). Dig into that. Is the repulsion part of the kink? If not, what do you like about this stuff? Writing out that five-paragraph essay might actually be useful for you, if only to glean the elements of the porn you’re responding to, which may be present in other forms.
I think the other thing to do is just to expose yourself to different stuff. These fantasies are fine, and that you’re having them as a trans man may illustrate nothing more than the intricacies and complexities of your specific taste/experiences. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you or that you are worthy of judgment, despite how “weird” it is to explain that you enjoy lesbian material. But if you want to branch out, then branch out. Watch other ethical porn and see if anything takes. (My How to Do It partner Jessica Stoya wrote a great op-ed for the New York Times about ethical porn a few years ago—she lists some names that you might want to start with.) You’re young—your taste is likely still forming and there are many factors that can contribute to this. You really also don’t have to explain your porn preferences to anyone, either. It’s personal, not especially useful information for conveying your character, and sharing it may only serve to stigmatize you. Discussing porn taste with a partner can help cultivate intimacy and/or provide areas for exploration during sex, but it’s hardly a requirement.
More Advice From Slate
I am a 33-year-old married woman, and I have been on birth control since I was 16 years old. My sex drive was always pretty moderate. Once or twice a week was plenty for me, and my husband was the same way. Sex is and has always been an important part of our relationship, we’re open and honest and we like to try new things together. We’ve always had very satisfying and exciting sex, but we could also go two or three weeks without having sex if we were tired, busy, or just not feeling it. About four months ago, I stopped taking birth control for health reasons, and boy, things have changed. My sex drive is HIGH.