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,
My husband has a habit of staying out all night without telling me he’s not coming home, or telling me he’ll be home by a certain time and then actually coming back hours later. On our wedding night, he stayed out all night after I went home from the after-party bars at 2 a.m. Last week, my sister was visiting, and he left after dinner to meet up with his kickball team at a bar for an hour. He didn’t come home. When he texted me finally in the morning, he didn’t even come home to see my sister before she left. He came home several hours later. Recently, I was home for a holiday and he went to work in the morning, he made a point to say he’d come back around noon and to let him know if I needed any groceries. At 4 p.m. I texted him some things I needed. He saw the text at 6 p.m. and texted me he was coming home at 8 p.m. Usually, when he gets back, there’s no mention that this is bizarre unless I want to start a fight about it.
The issue isn’t exactly potential cheating because we’re in an open marriage (although I would like it if he wanted to have sex with me more often). We’ve fought about this a lot, but every commitment to be more communicative ends up fading. I’ve tried to say that I just want him not to sleep elsewhere more than a couple of times a month and to text me if it is going to happen, but we’re back to it happening at least once a week, and with no explanation. Am I asking for too much when it comes to communicating around this? I’ve tried to stop fighting about this and try to come to terms with it, but it seems to just encourage the behavior further.
Wow, this hits home. I found myself in virtually the same situation—a boyfriend of mine would stay out all night regularly, and while I was not into that idea at all, he didn’t have the decency even to give me the heads up when he would do it. I literally would have no idea when he was coming home. It turns out that he was intentionally avoiding me because he didn’t want any guilt. He was hiding things, namely drugs. I don’t know if that’s going on with your husband, but it sounds like he’s hiding something—perhaps something he can’t even himself face unless he’s in its thrall. My guy stopped this behavior only when he got sober. Drugs made him too self-centered to even be able to think much about how his decisions would affect me, even though I made that clear repeatedly.
You’re not asking for too much. He is. He’s asking you to tolerate repeated behavior that you have already expressed discomfort with. You have set very reasonable parameters and he has ignored them. When someone refuses to work with you, you can intensify the conversation (by, say, an ultimatum) or you can walk away. You aren’t being taken seriously or respected, so now it’s time to get serious and demand respect. If it’s impossible for him to respect you, why is he with you? And, more importantly, why are you with him?
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 29-year-old gay guy who, by all accounts, is relatively attractive. Yet I’ve always struggled with crippling anxiety around sex. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder/body dysmorphia since my early teens. Coupled with the fact that I’m below average “down there” makes the idea of getting naked in front of another person physically sickening (think breaking out in cold sweats, hyperventilating). To top it off, I’m not really into penetrative sex (ouch) so I usually prefer to play as a “side”—something I’m happy with but not exactly in demand in the gay community.
This has led me to withdraw from the dating/hook-up scene almost entirely. When I do occasionally push through and meet up with someone I spend the whole experience internally freaking out—do they really want me here, are they regretting this, are they just continuing out of obligation at this point, etc.—that I end up taking forever to climax, if I even can. This causes more anxiety. I don’t even bother going on dates because they inevitably lead to sex, which freaks me out, so I’ve also been single for the better part of my adult life.
As I’m pushing 30, I look back and only see my best years wasted. I’m not getting any sexier, and I feel like I’m looking down the barrel of a life of celibacy. But I want to have sex! I want to enjoy sex the way everyone else seems to. I want to end up in a sexually fulfilling (for both of us!) relationship someday. So, how do I get over myself and start enjoying sex?
—Skittish in the Sheets
Bette Davis—someone you may not be familiar with on account of your youth—believed that 45 was the ideal physical age for men. She expressed this in the ’60s, when on average, 45 looked quite different from how it does in our more exercise- and wellness-obsessed age. Time is a construct, and these things are highly subjective, but look, you still have at least 15 good years left in Bette Davis’ book, and that is not nothing. She was brutal! A lot of gay guys get laid into and well past middle age, especially since there’s a whole population of horny guys aging right along with them. Your best years have only been wasted if you decide that it’s not going to get better.
This is all about perspective. If your dates are inevitably leading to sex, there is an effective consensus that you are desirable, which is to say that people do want you there. You have no reported evidence to the contrary, and yet you are exhibiting what seem to be cognitive distortions, types of unhelpful thinking linked to depression. You can’t read these people’s minds and yet you are somehow convinced that you can, and said readings are of extremely low value. It’s very easy for me to point out your erroneous thinking and to tell you to do it differently. It will be much harder for you to actually do so. Your admitted anxiety, possible depression, and eating issues are all evidence that you could benefit from therapy. If you’re not already in it, get there. In the meantime, practice taking people at their word and what their behavior indicates—don’t jump to worst-case scenario conclusions. They’re only counterproductive. People could be thinking anything—literally, the possibilities are infinite. You can’t control that, but with some practice in the form of meditation, you can start to curate your own thoughts.
Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I (I’m a woman, both in our 30s) have been in a relationship for about four years, living together for three. We are interested in opening up our relationship but neither of us feels particularly rushed. Earlier in his life, he contracted HPV but has not had an outbreak for many years. He was just old enough to not get vaccinated early in his life, but I was and we have had no problems or symptoms of any kind being fluid bonded. However, I wonder about how and if to disclose this to future partners. We will always use condoms with others as a non-negotiable, and I know we should both be tested prior to anything happening, but what other steps should we be taking? Can HPV, um, live inside of my vagina, and should I abstain from sex with him prior to a hookup? How should we handle this? We would also be interested in a third and are unsure how to be as safe as possible.
—Taking the HPV out of P in V
Dear P in V,
HPV: to disclose or not to disclose. That is the eternal question, or at least one that has been asked repeatedly since this column’s inception. (It just feels like forever!) This remains a subject with no clear consensus—a source as high up as the Centers for Disease Control and Infection itself reports that “the benefit of disclosing a positive HPV test to current and future sex partners is unclear.” Because HPV is so prevalent and contagious (condoms may reduce transmission, yes, but the virus can also be transmitted from skin-to-skin contact), anyone having casual sex at this point should assume the risk and accept it. It’s just the reality. It’s why we have the vaccine. The vax does provide robust protection, but keep in mind that it only works to block certain strains, so if your boyfriend has or had a strain that you isn’t covered by the vax, you are susceptible to it. That said, it sounds like your boyfriend has had warts, and 90 percent of those are caused by strains 6 and 11, which Gardasil-9 does project against. Vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective, but if he has or had a strain that you’re protected against, you can’t shed it without being infected yourself. At this point, I don’t see what good abstaining from sex with him would be.
Notice that I said “has or had” because since your boyfriend contracted HPV years ago, his body may have already cleared it. In 90 percent of cases, the body clears HPV on its own within two years. There isn’t a routine HPV test for men, though men can get pap smears to detect HPV in the anal cavity. You could look into testing for you both. Then again, a lot of people don’t! You have to decide that for yourself, but rest assured that if you don’t disclose, you’re far from alone and perhaps in the majority.
Dear How to Do It,
I am in my late 40s (I’m a woman). My boyfriend is in his late 50s and recently started taking Viagra because of some ED-related issues, which is fine, no biggie. I know that Viagra doesn’t cause an insta-boner—you have to be aroused for it to do its thing.
The trouble is, he’s also been experiencing a decline in sex drive that he attributes partly to age and partly to work stress. I’d also say that it’s partly depression from the work stress—his job is toxic and abusive, and he’s actively trying to escape. He rarely initiates, and when I initiate, 9 times out of 10, I get rejected because he says he’s too tired/not feeling it/whatever. This hurts, but hey—he’s going through some stuff mentally that could affect this.
The problem is, when he does initiate sex with me, he does so after taking Viagra. Again, not a problem. But he approaches me post-Viagra already with a huge erection—sometimes when I’m in my fuzzy, decidedly unsexy winter pajamas. As I said, Viagra doesn’t cause an insta-boner. I occasionally expressed surprise at the random huge boner but am always happy to have sex with him. However, he left his phone unlocked near the bed a while back after we did the deed and he went to clean up, and I saw he had an incognito tab open to some very graphic porn. He’s since left his unlocked phone nearby post-sex several times with the same thing—incognito browser with porn. I’m realizing that he’s probably taking the Viagra, looking at porn, and then approaching me pre-boner-ed, so to speak.
I have no problem with porn. I do have a problem if he needs porn to get an erection to have sex with me. I feel like he doesn’t find me attractive enough to get an erection with just my own presence, and it hurts a lot. It doesn’t help that I am still trying to lose pandemic lockdown weight and am struggling. He has mentioned to me that my weight gain has lessened his attraction to me but in the same conversation said he felt hypocritical even mentioning it because he also gained a lot of pandemic weight and hasn’t lost it, and he still thinks I have a gorgeous face, breasts, legs, etc.
He has stopped going down on me and doesn’t even bother to finger me. Meanwhile, I’m happily performing oral sex and agreeing to anal even when I don’t feel like it out of a desire. In 15 years together I have never felt so alone.
I certainly don’t blame you for feeling the way you do. You are compassionate and generous, and it doesn’t sound like you’re getting very much in return for your giving. Your extrapolating is exactly why he should not have said what he did about his feelings about your weight gain—it just made your insecurity that much more tangible and, in the absence of any action on his part (i.e. breaking up with you over it), all you can do is just sit in his negative assessment. Not to mention the hypocrisy! It’s extremely shitty.
With that said, it is possible (I don’t know how probable but possible) that his pre-sex porn viewing isn’t directly tied to his judgment of your body. ED can make guys really insecure and there’s a chance that after he pops a pill, he pops on porn to make sure he can get up and ready for you. Even when guys know their boners will be chemically assisted, there can be some lingering doubt (“Will it really work this time?”) and that doubt, in turn, can make attaining that boner still difficult. He doesn’t necessarily deserve the benefit of the doubt, but you don’t deserve to shoulder all of this after you’ve already been made to feel bad. Sometimes despite its direct effect on us, the behavior of people we love isn’t about us. Then again, it is sometimes! Since you seem so upset, this is worth talking about. Hear him out and assess from there.
More How to Do It
I’m a 24-year-old woman with a 27-year-old guy. We’ve been together for almost a year, and he’s one of the most amazing, inspiring people I’ve ever met. I see myself becoming family with him. But I’m afraid of what will happen when he finds out the truth about me.