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,
About a year ago my wife began a side hustle. It’s taken off quite unexpectedly and we’ve come to a bit of a crossroads. Does she lean into this side hustle and maximize her earning potential or does she scale back? It’s a pretty common and frankly a good problem to have. The complicated part of what the side hustle is… pictures and videos of her feet. She began it as almost a joke after one of her coworkers turned her on to the idea. My wife has a knack for photography, marketing, and social media so she’s created an incredibly lucrative little side business.
It’s mostly anonymous—but some of the more lucrative opportunities/offers/requests would require more of her identity to be out there. We’ve got little kids, careers, and family members/friends I’d rather not have to have these conversations with if it can be avoided. A few customers in particular are offering to pay ridiculous sums of money for things like worn socks and custom videos. My wife feels like she’s toeing the line (haha) but we’re not sure we can afford to quit now. It’s the most financial freedom we’ve ever had.
—Toeing a Line
Dear Toeing a Line,
I wonder why you are writing in and not your wife. There could be any number of benign logistics that led to this; one not-so-benign possibility, though, is that she’s cooler with the situation than you are. Maybe she isn’t worried about having the hypothetical conversations that you fear. If there is such a disparity, that’s something to sort out between yourselves. Weigh the pros and cons of expanding the side hustle. While I don’t think any kind of sex work is shameful or deserving of ridicule, I understand how participating in it can complicate one’s life and relationships. That said, “I’m a foot model,” is probably a way easier thing to explain than other kinds of adult entertainment. It’s just a short distance from being a hand model (a few feet, even!).
In any event, this doesn’t seem like much of an issue. Among the reasons this kind of DIY content is convenient for creators is its customizability. One can go as far as one wants and draw their own boundaries. I don’t think your wife needs to decide whether to maximize earnings or scale back—she can stay in this Goldilocks position of financial freedom and anonymity. Worn socks won’t give her identity away—custom videos might. She should just keep doing what she’s comfortable with. No need to get greedy.
Dear How to Do It,
My girlfriend (of a little over six months) every two weeks or so accuses me of checking out other women or wanting to be with someone else, and is paranoid about me cheating and has nightmares about that. I categorically have no idea what she’s talking about. Nothing I say or do seems to make any difference and she has no suggestions for how I can make her feel more secure despite my pleading. I’ve asked her to tell me in the moment when she thinks I’m checking out women but she doesn’t, I only hear about it later. I spend virtually all my time with her outside of work and the gym and we have a very active sex life.
She is my first girlfriend and we’re both in our late 20s, so I’m a bit clueless about some things. She’s had one prior relationship where she was cheated on. We both have our trauma histories, to put it lightly, and she’s done much less work than me on it so at times I’ve suggested therapy or that we go to couples counseling (which I would pay for), but she doesn’t go for it. I love the relationship besides these false accusations as she’s otherwise one of the sweetest, kindest people you’ll ever meet. But I know that this is an objective red flag that I feel is poisoning the foundation of our relationship and that it should be resolved before we can go further in the relationship, such as moving in together, marrying, or having kids. What can I do to help her feel more secure in our relationship? I wouldn’t want to have to break up over this.
—At a Loss
Dear At a Loss,
It would suck to break up over this, but staying in this relationship may in fact require that you put up with baseless accusations indefinitely. I don’t see this changing unless she makes a drastic change. Can you live with a permanent red flag in your backyard? Does the love you have for the relationship supersede the discomfort and frustration of being accused of looking at other women (which, by the way, is not at all a punishable offense in other arrangements)? You report being a bit clueless, but you know you aren’t being treated properly. You are young and the relationship is still new—my advice is to find someone who doesn’t take their trauma out on a person who is caring for them, or at least someone who’s willing to actually work on said trauma.
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Dear How to Do It,
When my boyfriend and I first got together, he seemed insatiable. Fast forward nine months and he doesn’t want to have sex often. We’ve both been going through some stuff, separately and as a couple, so some combination of that and what I assume are just different sex drives means we differ quite a bit in our needs. I would rather be with him but am also happy to take care of myself and frankly am tired of fighting about it and feeling rejected. This leads to the issue at hand: He is wildly offended when I masturbate. He tells me it hurts his feelings and is offensive to him. When I ask how he’d have me handle it, since I’m trying to just quietly take care of myself without bothering him or getting into an argument over sex (and he only occasionally becomes aware of it), he says I’m invalidating his feelings. I can accept that we have different sex drives, but I need to be able to address my own needs. How can I help him understand that it isn’t an indictment of him, that there’s nothing dirty or wrong or insulting about it, but that yeah, I’d do it less if he wanted to do it more…?
—Ready or Not, Here I Come
Dear Ready or Not, Here I Come,
Your boyfriend is being unreasonable and, in fact, invalidating your feelings, specifically those of horniness. This might be someone you just cannot reason with. If that’s the case, you’ll have to decide if you want to put up with a relationship that isn’t providing the sex that you want and giving you grief for pursuing your own release. It could be that your boyfriend’s brittle feelings are wrapped up in shame (maybe he feels like he should be more sexual than he is actually inclined to be), which may make him particularly difficult to reach.
One tactic you could try is teasing out his logic: If you can’t have sex with him as often as you’d like or masturbate without causing a fight, what does he expect you to do about your needs? Does he think a partner deserves control over another’s body and pleasure? Is his ideal a complete synchronization of sexual appetites with a partner? Maybe you can undo some of his illogic by making him spell it out, though I wouldn’t hold my breath. He isn’t giving you empathy or your sexuality the respect that it deserves. If this is what your relationship looks like nine months in, I can’t imagine what a couple of years will bring. If he refuses to work with you, consider working your way out.
Dear How to Do It,
My partner and I have agreed to live a polyamorous life. We have adopted the overall goal of “polyamorous even without actively pursuing partners.” This is partly because I think that neither of us is in a place (energy, capacity, or desire) to pursue other folks but we always want the door open. I love it, it transforms committed life into always feeling single (flirty, curious, confident), but we still have support, stability, and commitment that is fulfilling. We are both in stages of change in our lives and I want to stay together, but I do not want to limit either of our’s options. How can I constantly remind my partner that I reaffirm our ideals without making them worry I am “on the hunt?”
—Polyagony But Happy
Live your goal. This is about making good on your word, showing as much as, if not more, than telling. If you don’t want your partner to worry that you’re on the hunt, don’t be on the hunt. Don’t act thirsty at parties, don’t announce that you’re actively looking for some action. Assuage fears with honesty and compassion—try to be as unoffendable as possible if your partner voices (reasonable) doubts or concerns about your motivation. Use this as an opportunity to connect further and take advantage of your new relationship philosophy and the novel ways it may foster expressing love. You’re already there in terms of your shared ethics, just practice what you profess.
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