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,
“Clyde,” the guy I’m dating, is super vocal during sex. When we’re in bed, he’s constantly using cringe lines like “I love to look at your naked body,” or “you taste amazing,” or “It feels so incredible when you do that.” It’s like he read all this stuff on a sex-advice website and thinks I’ll enjoy hearing it. To put it mildly, I don’t.
Adding to my annoyance is the fact that, objectively, he’s just plain wrong. I’m a reasonably attractive woman in my mid-40s. But I’m a woman in my mid-40s. I have my fair share of stretch marks and wrinkles. I work out regularly, but I’m not a hot 25-year-old. I make every effort to be generous sexually and open to experimentation. However, any honest evaluation of my technical proficiency and creativity would result in mediocre scores at best. I’m not exactly bad in bed. But (as my ex-boyfriends can confirm) I’m just not all that great.
I guess Clyde is entitled to his (completely incorrect) opinion, but I really, really don’t want hear it. His well-meaning comments make me feel terrible about myself since they underscore my inadequacies. I’ve tried the old standby “shhh—don’t say anything so I can concentrate better on what you’re doing to me,” but so far have been unable to stem the endless stream of unwanted and unwarranted compliments. How can I get him to shut the fuck up?
—Maybe Earplugs Would Help
Take this with a grain of salt—it is, after all, being published on a sex advice website—but Clyde is not objectively wrong. The quotes of his that you shared describe his sensory experiences while having sex with you, which are so subjective that you could never know for sure whether they are or aren’t true, unless, I guess, you made a deal with God and got him to swap your places. Failing that, you can only take your partner at his word. You don’t know what it is to see with his eyes, taste with his tongue, or feel with his skin—you can only understand what that is like through his reporting.
And yet you don’t believe him. To quote Showgirls: Ain’t anyone ever been nice to you? Your reference to past boyfriends’ low ratings of your sexual performance suggests maybe not. What I’m getting in terms of the bigger picture is that you previously had a bunch of unkind critics as lovers, and now you have someone who actually appreciates you, and you’re annoyed by it. I think that’s really sad.
You seem content to stay this way, and your underachieving tendencies are underscored by your acceptance of being not all that great in bed. I just can’t get behind this ethos. Evolution is the point of living. I urge you to keep trying to do better. In the meantime, because the impression of Clyde that I’m getting is that he is an empathetic, considerate partner, you could try directness: “I know you mean well, but when you praise certain traits of mine, it makes me feel self-conscious about my shortcomings.” I have a feeling he may, in fact, respect your experience, which is equally subjective but no less real.
Dear How to Do It,
My partner and I (both women) live in a large city, and have agreed to open up our relationship. That part is going well—we’ve enjoyed sex with other people—but I’m running into a technical issue. I’d prefer to use the apps, since I’m mostly looking for men, while she prefers to meet people we already know since she’s exclusively looking for women. My profile indicates that I’m in an honest open relationship with a partner who isn’t interested in threesomes, but that I’d enjoy a friend with benefits. We wrote it together and picked good photos, but I have yet to pick an app and actually use it. I’m still trying to figure out what to do about work and my phone.
I work 40 minutes outside the city in a suburb, and I’m one of very few women in my fairly conservative workplace and field as a whole. I’m worried about being seen by someone at work, especially since my office is a giant pool of men my age. Do I put it on a tablet that lives only at home? Then I can’t swipe in the bar. Are there apps with “only near X location” settings? Do I have to invest in a second phone? I’ve been in this relationship for years, so I don’t know how that stuff works anymore! It’s not hard to find dick in person, but I’d prefer to give myself more options so I can be more selective.
Dear Technical Assistance,
Tinder’s Passport feature, generally part of a paid plan but occasionally unlocked for non-paying users, allows people to choose their location. This is also an option on Feeld, which actually may be the best dating app to try for someone in your situation. That app has an emphasis on ethical nonmonogamy, and as such, tends to attract people who aren’t so judgmental. That could also mean that if you were to be recognized on that app, it would probably be by someone who is likeminded. Of course, anyone can sign up for an app for the purpose of snooping and men and women are still held to different sexual standards, but being recognized on Feeld is something similar to running into a fellow closeted person at a gay bar—you can be pretty sure your secret will be safe, because telling on you would amount to telling on oneself.
You can also experiment with not including your face in your profile pics. Keeping your app activity confined to a particular device—like a tablet, as you suggest—is a great idea, because it will keep cruising from distracting you from your daily activity. (Since you’re new to apps, I feel the need to point out that they can very much become a distraction, and that since keeping you using them is the goal of most apps, it behooves the apps to get and keep you hooked.) You may end up finding apps to be a less than satisfying experience and come to realize the great worth of finding dick in person, but that’s your journey to go on, and who am I to get in your way?
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bisexual man who has had some difficulties finding a relationship. Although I’m attracted to men for sex, I’ve only ever felt romantically attracted to women. My issue is, despite living in a pretty liberal area, many women don’t seem comfortable with the fact that I’m bi. At 40, I’m on the edge of Gen X, whose casual homophobia is well known, so that may play a role in what I’m experiencing. It took me a long time to be brave enough to come out, and now I feel like I’m being punished.
Several times I’ve had women react negatively. One woman ended the date. Another expressed that she didn’t want to “have to compete” with both men and women for my attention. One admitted that she was uncomfortable, didn’t know why, and “probably needed to work on that.” I felt a real connection to her and we had been seeing each other casually for several months before I came out to her. It hurt when she ended the relationship. In dating apps, it’s worse—many just ghost and one even said “ew” and blocked me.
The only other out bi man I know had no advice for me. He is 38 and had done most of his dating in red states. He had some absolute horror stories to share in that regard. His wife is six years younger than him, also bi, and they’re the happiest couple I know. Should I just exclusively date queer people from now on? How do I deal with this? Should I date younger (within reason), more-accepting millennials instead of women at or above my age?
—Tired of Rejection
Dear Tired of Rejection,
The stigma you describe is unfortunately far too common, and yet from the outside, it’s jarring every time I hear a bi or pan guy discuss this specific rejection. I have to wonder whether it’s some kind of carryover from the way men who have sex with men were regarded too often in the pre-HAART AIDS era (the so-called “plague years”): as biohazard. There is also the notion that bisexual men aren’t real—they’re just deceiving people as they work up the courage to come out as totally gay.
This is, of course, a fallacy. Bisexual men do exist and to help answer your question, I reached out to a real, live one who has written and spoken about this subject on multiple podcasts, my friend and fellow advice columnist Zachary Zane. Zane, who writes Men’s Health’s Sexplain It advice column and is the author of the upcoming book Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto, has said that dating queer people has mitigated the stigma he faced as a bisexual man. Bisexual women, for example, get it, because they live it.
To your particular query, Zane recommended being upfront about your sexuality to prospective partners. “Don’t wait ‘several months,’ to come out to a woman,” he wrote in an email. “I would actually write in his dating app bio that he is bisexual. That way, if someone matches, they know and are clearly OK with him being bisexual. Will he get fewer matches? Yes, but that’s the entire point. You only want to match people who are comfortable dating a bi man. Often, you’ll end up connecting with other bi women who specifically don’t list that they’re bi in their bio because they don’t want to be fetishized and solicited for threesomes. But they will be very happy to connect with another bi man.”
He also suggested a queer-friendly app like Feeld, and suggested that OkCupid’s functionality would allow you to search specifically for bi women. Good luck!
Dear How to Do It,
I was rock-solid convinced that polyamory and open relationships didn’t work for me after some experimenting a few years ago. But now I’m a year into a deeply secure and communicative relationship and I really want to have sex with other people, and fantasize about my partner having sex with other people. My partner shut this down hard after an honest conversation, and I think we might eventually break up over sexual compatibility issues long-term. I’m committed to trying to make it work.
Despite this, I can’t tell what makes me feel comfortable and excited about new people for us in this relationship when I’d felt terrified and betrayed by the concept in the past. This began long before other sexual incompatibility reared its head. Part of me wants to figure out what about this relationship makes me feel so safe and hot for us with others in case we can’t make it work, but a bigger part of me just feels guilty about the entire thing. What could’ve changed?
—Yes, I’m in Therapy
If only you had been carrying me around in your pocket your whole life, I might be adequately equipped to take a good stab. But since that’s not the case, I’m just slashing in the dark, like Michael Myers at the end Halloween. How may your partner have contributed to your current stance on nonmonogamy may have something to do with security. Perhaps there is something rock-solid in your relationship’s foundation that made it clear to you that outside sex would not be disruptive. Some partners make us more jealous than others. Beyond what your partner contributed, though, we could reasonably chalk this up to a change in you enacted by something as simple as the passage of time. Some notions that initially seem insurmountable become navigable through sheer familiarity. Unlearning the cultural imperative of monogamy (that is, in fact, so ingrained that it seems to many to just be their natural default setting) takes time. It’s a big idea to get used to. What initially seems frightening becomes less so when you know people who are actively participating in it (and seemingly enjoying it), as well seeking out media that explores open relationships, which is increasingly common. Taboos, by definition, lose power when people talk about them. (This is something conservatives get right—exposure can make progressive ideas effectively contagious. What the right gets wrong, in my opinion, is that those progressive ideas are harmful. They are not. Options allow us to think beyond our current iterations.)
When you’re young and just starting out in romantic relationships, it’s easy to take for granted the logical endpoint of monogamy: When you settle down with a partner, you will only be having sex with that person for the rest of your life (or, for the rest of that person’s life). No one else, ever. The rest of your life seems so far off in your 20s, even your 30s or 40s. After a certain point, however, it doesn’t anymore and you can get a much better grasp on the implications of this way of living. And I think that grasp propels some people to seek alternatives. Sometimes it results in a “midlife crisis”-style torpedoing of a relationship through deception and cheating. But increasingly, people are seeking other ways to negotiate commitment with the desire to at least theoretically drink from another trough. And that’s why nonmonogamy is increasingly an option. It’s not going to be for everyone, but because so much of fear is predicated on the unknown, it only follows that the more one thinks about something, the less scary it will be.
More How to Do It
For as long as I have known her, my wife has been interested in “incest” role play. While it isn’t my cup of tea exactly, I have been willing and happy to support her in her exploration of this kind of fantasy and role play. Recently, though, things have started to move in a more extreme and uncomfortable direction—involving her brother.