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 (33) and I (29) have had an open relationship since we started dating. We married very young and lived in separate cities for the first few years of our relationship as we went to different colleges. We agreed that we would get approval from the other over all our sexual partners beforehand. When we started living with each other, we never rescinded this openness but there was no need for it. However, after many years I have been contacted by a man, Dave, whom I went to school with and whom I slept with without my husband’s consent, under the guise of sleeping with my friend’s brother, Mike. Sex with him was always unpredictable and exciting so I have been tempted when Dave reached out to me wanting to continue with our sexual relationship but with one condition, he doesn’t want my husband to know.
Dave wants me to say that I am sleeping with Mike, whom my husband already knows and approves of. My husband does not know that Mike has a brother and Dave would like to keep it that way as he is a secretive person. He explicitly said he would not do this if anybody else knew. Mike does not care about being used for that and is willing to go along with it. As much as I want to, I’m hesitant about the moral ambiguity of it. I recently floated the idea of another sexual partner and my husband consented, asking if I had someone in mind. I told him that I was thinking about a college friend I ran into recently. He seemed surprised as we live in a whole different state but just told me to let him know once I made up my mind and reminded me that it was for only sex, he hoped I wasn’t falling in love with someone else. Dave and I don’t have a romantic attachment, he is a single man who is completely unattached, and I never once considered him any more than just fun sex. I miss the excitement and the thrill of being with others, so I have considered resuming the relationship under his terms. Is it a terrible idea to lie about this relationship with my husband? Especially after lying about it once before?
Dear Wanting More,
Yes, it is a terrible idea to lie to your husband about the people you’re having sex with, given the terms you both agreed to for your relationship. Yes, this is especially the case after having lied previously, and that much more so when the illicit sex you’re considering is with the same person. With the caveat that if coming clean would put you at risk of domestic violence, my advice is to tell your husband the whole truth.
I reached out to Eric Fawcett, a marriage and family therapy intern, who is practicing under supervision and has a special focus on communication, for some added insight. He suggests that this is more about values—your personal principles about what is important in life—than morals, or standards of behavior and systems of belief that include social norms and expectations of others. “Morality aside, she is actively betraying a core relationship value that she committed to with her husband, presumably because she believes the agreement supports her sense of what constitutes closeness and intimacy. She is caught in the middle, trying to play two roles at once, and for most people over time, the middle is a torturous purgatory and has serious ramifications for your mental and physical health,” Fawcett said.
There’s a risk in telling your husband the whole truth. He’ll certainly experience difficult emotions, and he might leave you. But there’s a potential reward of getting back into alignment with your values, and getting everything out into the open. “When we find we are able to safely share the darkest parts of ourselves with those closest to us, not only do our nervous system respond with increased calm, but we find that our partners and friends become more open with us, too,” Fawcett noted.
Set yourself up for success before the conversation by making sure you’re unlikely to be interrupted, have enough time to talk through complex emotions and responses, all biological needs are taken care of for both of you, and you’re in a reasonably comfortable place. “Her first statement should be short, succinct, honest, and rich in personal responsibility,” Fawcett said, giving an example: “I broke our agreement, an agreement that I contributed to and asked for, and I feel horrible, I have a pit in my stomach, I’ve tried to push it away, tried to bury it, and it came up recently when this guy reached out to me again.” Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s On Repentance and Repair is a great resource if you’d like a more detailed discussion of apology and what commitment to change can look like. Meanwhile, it’s worth looking for what Fawcett calls “little toxic incongruences,” areas where values, words, and actions are out of alignment, in the rest of your life. If you’re seeing a pattern of your behaviors contradicting your values, it’s worth doing some work on that.
Dear How to Do It,
I have a pretty unusual sexual fantasy: I’m a girl who wants a guy to shave my head. I’ve had a fetish for haircutting and head shaving since I was a teenager and it’s the number one thing that gets my engine revving. I’ve been thinking again about making the fantasy a reality, but I have my doubts. Is it worth making such a big change to my appearance for a one-time sex thing? I don’t think I would look bad with a shaved head and I don’t worry so much about being judged (I’m a college student in a liberal city), but it’s still a big commitment. If I do decide to go for it, should I wait to do it with a more long-term boyfriend (I’m currently single) or should I go looking for guys on the internet who share the fetish?
Common, scientifically based, wisdom holds that hair grows between a third and a half of an inch per month. You’re likely to have enough length for a pixie cut in three to four months, which might factor into your decision. Meanwhile, I’m wondering what the details of your head-shaving fantasy are. If you’re most drawn to dramatic changes in length or overall appearance, a satisfactory head-shaving experience probably is a one-time, or at least once in several years, event. If the main appeal is something more like the feeling of a razor on your scalp or an aspect of power exchange, you have the possibility of treating yourself a couple of times a year, presuming you have willing partners.
You’d be taking a risk, without certain knowledge of how you’ll look and how you’ll be perceived, for a reward that is also uncertain—sometimes sexual specifics that work well for us as fantasies fall flat when we enact them, and other times something goes sideways and what would have been a wonderful experience becomes disappointing. With a long-term boyfriend who isn’t into head shaving, you’ll have the opportunity to establish trust, care, and communication, but disinterest in the act is a possibility and you’ll be waiting until you find, and build, that relationship. With a random fetishist from the internet, you can assume they’ll be enthusiastic, but you may not have chemistry. I think your ideal path is somewhere in the middle.
You’ve probably thought through several fantasies. If that’s the case, you’re in a good position to summarize what you want. Do you want genital stimulation during this event? To stimulate your partner’s genitals? Do you want to kiss? Do you want an element of role-play or power exchange? What are the feelings and sensations you want to receive? Is there anything you want to aim to give the other person? Would you like to have a video of the moment your head is shaved, any sexual interaction around that moment, or all of the above? From there, you might start chatting in kinky spaces—anything from building a profile that mentions your fantasy on an app that embraces kinksters, to directly searching out profiles of people who list associated keywords on a kink-targeted platform. Spend enough time exchanging messages to get a sense of the person, consider a phone or video call, meet in a public place for the first time, and follow all of the usual safety measures. Whether it’s worth it or not is something you’ll have to weigh for yourself, as is the decision about what context you’d like to frame fulfillment of your fantasy in if you decide to proceed.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have been together for seven years and married for six. We have two children, aged 5 and 2. Before we had kids we had a couple of threesomes, which we both enjoyed (I’m bisexual). In the intervening years, our sex life has been…lackluster. I had little-to-no interest (those two kids took six pregnancies, so I’ve spent a lot of time with my body having priorities other than pleasure). Since we’ve decided we’re done having more kids, we’ve been working on our sex life, and it has improved a lot. Novelty is extremely important to my husband, and the way he wants to meet this need is by having more threesomes. I am much less interested in this now than I was six years ago. We have so much more going on in our lives that the time and energy it takes to make threesomes happen on the regular basis my husband wants (once every one or two months or more frequently) feels insane and draining.
I also have some jealousy issues I didn’t have before. I’m feeling very much like I’m not enough sexually (even though I realize one person meeting every need maybe isn’t realistic generally… I don’t want anyone sexually but him). How do we move forward? We’re seeing a sex therapist, who has been very helpful, but I have major fear that we’re never going to see eye-to-eye on this, and he’ll wind up resentful or I’ll wind up feeling pressured into this to keep our marriage together. So far he has been great about working within the boundaries I’ve set, but he’s also very clear about what he wants this to look like long-term. I’m not OK with opening our relationship all the way (or rather, if we opened it, it would just be for him, as I’m not interested in dating, and I would consider that the end of our own sexual relationship), and I feel like he should maybe just be happy I’m willing to entertain this/participate at all. Am I the asshole for wanting him to take what I’m offering—a willingness to engage in an occasional threesome—and not expect it to be a routine part of our life? For what it’s worth, we’ve been on four dates in three weeks with other women, and while we haven’t had sex yet, the option has definitely been on the table so this isn’t a pie-in-the-sky scenario.
—Three’s a Crowd
Dear Three’s a Crowd,
Four dates in three weeks is a significant show of good faith on your part. Your description of the effort required to find threesome participants as “insane and draining” opens up the question of how much of this labor has been put on, or taken up by, you. Fair, given your low interest in threesomes, would look something like your husband inviting you to second meetings with women he’s already found himself. He should’ve already met them to get an idea of what they’re like, disclosed the boundaries the two of you have as a couple, and shared pertinent information—what they look like, their energy, and their interests—about them with you. He’s the one pushing for this, so he should do everything possible to minimize demands on your time.
The fact that you aren’t interested in dating other people, and especially the fact that you would consider a relationship structure that allows your husband to have sexual interactions without you to be the end of your sexual relationship together, seems to indicate that you’re monogamous. You say he is operating within your boundaries but is clear about what he wants the future to look like—at least one threesome per month. He says this stems from a desire for novelty, but you don’t mention any other methods of introducing novelty into a sexual relationship, and specifically say that threesomes are the way he wants to fill this desire. I’m not able to make guesses as to where your husband falls on the spectrum between “married you knowing that you’re monogamous and assumed he’d be able to change your relationship structure orientation” and “thought he was also monogamous and is now realizing that this isn’t the case,” but, either way, I’m getting the sense that the two of you don’t line up when it comes to how open, or closed, you want your relationships to be. Your feeling that you aren’t enough, sexually, for your husband strikes me as accurate, and I’m hoping you (or your husband) aren’t dismissing this reality through the label of jealousy.
Think about what you need to be happy in a relationship. Consider all the options, from divorce or preserving the marriage and household while consciously deciding to take sex off the table—with him going on as many dates as he pleases while you refrain from sexual interactions or find a situation that fits your needs—to, yes, continuing to compromise. Get clear on what you’re actually willing to commit to long-term. Make a record of your boundaries and needs before you bring these options to your husband, and be clear about your hard limits. Proceeding with sexual interactions from a place of emotional consternation and distress increases your likelihood of issues in the moment or down the road, so have these talks before you dive into any group situations.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m aromantic and bisexual, and am struggling with how to initiate relationships. I’m interested in friends-with-benefits style relationships, where I can be comfortable and hang out with friends but also get physical. The thing is, I know these relationships will never lead to something romantic. How do I get it out in the open that it’s just sex and friendship without seeming like I’m using them for their bodies? I’ve received a lot of romantic expectations, and I want to cut all that out, but it’s so important to everyone else. It’s exhausting. I just want to fuck and have friends, without it being a big ordeal. How can I minimize the explaining and apologizing for who I am?
—Are not Ace
As long as you’re clear about your boundaries and what you’re interested in participating in within a sexual relationship, and cautious to only proceed sexually with people who seem to comprehend you when you’re expressing these limits and desires, there’s no need to apologize. That said, you’re looking for partners in a culture that presumes romantic intent and is full of narratives involving a hard-boiled love interest changing, given enough time. So, while this shouldn’t be your responsibility, you’ll save yourself the trouble by being very clear. Exceptionally direct. Assertively blunt. Instead of saying “I don’t participate in romance,” and leaving it at that, you might go with “I’m aromantic, which means I don’t engage in romance, and that’s a part of my identity that I don’t anticipate changing or want to change.” As always, please put this in your own words—it’ll be more authentic and less awkward.
What I do think you owe your partners is an opportunity to learn more. You might point them to a resource that you feel articulates your own feelings and practices around aromanticism, or offer to have a conversation where they’re able to ask questions. You can make this a back-and-forth, in which you share thoughts and emotions about different aspects of interpersonal relationships. These discussions are a great way to get to know each other and understand whether you’re a good fit for both friendship and frolicking.
There’s no way to guarantee that you’ll find relationships that work for you without going through at least one, and probably several, big ordeals. That’s the unfair drawback to embracing our differences—people judge, argue, or even ostracize. Take breaks when you’re starting to feel worn out and spend time with the people in your life who accept you, engage in activities that bring you joy, or do anything else that helps you feel whole. Eventually, you’ll meet people whose desires and needs match what you want and are willing to provide.
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