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 (46F) met a (44M) who seemed charming. But, on the second date, he started to tell me about his vices. He failed school due to coke addiction and he is a casual smoker. I thought, well he has his life together now and I can tolerate a rare cigarette. Then, after his third drink, he confessed that he still does coke and just left alcohol rehab! His personality changed and he got sullen about his inability to keep relationships. He then begged me to sleep with him.
I was uncomfortable and didn’t trust him but I tried to empathize. I told him I also had things I wasn’t proud of and I had enjoyed casual sex but now wanted monogamy and to get to know someone first. He freaked out, demanded to know how many people I had slept with, and then ended the date and escorted me out of the bar. He texted me saying how sad he was that he couldn’t date a woman like me because of my history. I was royally pissed that he slut shamed me after I listened to him with compassion. I told him not to feel sad, he did me a favor, and that at least my “addiction” brought couples together instead of tearing them apart. He said that I used his past against him which proved what a horrible person I am and that he made the right choice about me.
This guy is a hypocritical jerk and I never should have told him anything. But the incident has me doubting what I share with new men and when. I want my partner to know who I am. I’ve slept around a lot but I’m super loyal in a relationship. Is there a right way to own my inner slut without being judged for it?
—Wants to Be Slut Praised
Dear Wants to Be Slut Praised,
There probably is a right way for you to own your “inner slut,” but there’s no guarantee that any specific procedure will prevent you from experiencing judgment. Dating with the goal of finding a partner does involve judgment, on the part of everyone involved, in the sense that you’re considering whether the person you’re dating is someone you can build a healthy relationship with. Remember that each man is different. Some will absolutely react by shaming you, and they’re letting you know that they aren’t for you. Some will celebrate your sexual history. And others won’t have strong feelings either way. This particular guy was aggressive, rude, and excessive, though. I suggest blocking his number.
It’s worth thinking about what sort of acceptance you want from your future partner. Imagine possibilities from a shrug to a regular request to hear stories as part of your flirtation or sexual interactions. It’s also worth defining what monogamy means to you—both for your own behavior and that of your partner. Do you want to have a relationship where you speak openly about current attractions and past antics, while remaining physically monogamous? Do you want to share these stories once and never speak of them again?
My situation is different from yours—I’m less inclined toward anonymous hook-ups in recent years, but I’m involved with multiple people simultaneously. And keeping my sexual adventures secret isn’t very likely, considering that many were recorded in HD video and heavily marketed online. But I think the broad strokes of how I do it may be useful. On the app itself or during a coffee that can be easily fled, I’ll let the person know that I’m a sex columnist, which often prompts a question of how I got into this line of work. When I broach the subject of my career in pornography, I pay attention to how they respond. I’m also braced for a sudden shift in tone, like what you experienced, and am aware that this shift often comes weeks or months later, when they’re confronted with the reality of my work. I put effort into active transparency so we can both have an idea of how they’ll react before anyone gets too attached. You’ll have to evaluate your own goals and needs within your relationships, what you’re willing to be vulnerable about, and how much of other people’s projected shame you’re open to experiencing to figure out your own way.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m wondering if you have any suggestions on how to increase the emotional connection between two people during sex. For context, I love prolonged eye contact and expressive moaning, followed by cuddling and talking after. My partner avoids eye contact for more than a second; doesn’t make any noise during sex; and wants to watch TV, go to sleep, or get back to our day once we’re done. We have a loving, caring relationship outside the bedroom, so how can I encourage more emotionally satisfying sex? Is there a way to do it subtly? Do I need to be explicit about what works for me? Or would I just be forcing my own personal preferences onto someone who doesn’t want them?
—My Eyes Are Up Here
Dear Eyes Up Here,
Take some of those communication skills you presumably have from the “loving, caring relationship” the two of you have and start a talk about sex. What satisfies them, sexually? How do they feel about eye contact in general, and during sex? Are they happy to have sex as often as you? Do they have an overwhelming amount of tasks in their day and feel like they’re squeezing in more sex than they have the energy for? Get some idea of what’s happening on your partner’s end, and you’ll be in a better position to address the questions you sent.
It might be that you and your partner have to take a look at all the things each of you likes and doesn’t like, and look for overlap. It might be that you’re too far from each other, with regard to what each of you needs. When it comes time for this discussion, do be explicit about your needs, and focus your statements on yourself—for instance, “I feel more emotionally connected when there’s eye contact,” or “I need cuddling and talking after sex.” But don’t make any sweeping judgments about an objective ideal of what emotionally satisfying sex is, or take away your partner’s autonomy by deciding that broaching the subject would be forcing your preferences onto them.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 20-something asexual (aegosexual more specifically) and haven’t included other people in my sex life for several years. I’ve been fine with that, especially as I got a better understanding of the full scope of asexuality and how my own experiences relate to it, but I had been thinking recently about testing the waters by trying some low-risk ways of changing that. Since I get off on the fantasy of sex but have no interest in actually touching another person at this point in time, I figured something cyber would be the way to go. I hadn’t fully made up my mind about it yet, but it’s been sitting on the back burner.
Cue this online fandom community I joined a few months ago for a game I’ve been extremely fixated on. It’s been attracting adults but it’s a public server so there was always kind of a feeling of not going overboard with overly explicit conversations in case a minor stumbled in, so mostly just sticking to discussing things and characters in innuendos, maybe starting to scratch the surface into more explicit talk. That recently changed when the server owner got the idea to create an age-restricted channel to divert the more mature discussions to, that way the server could still stay public but without the extra risk. And…apparently, we’ve all been holding back significantly because the second it went live we all kind of spent the rest of the day packing it full to the brim with the smuttiest, most explicit scenarios I’ve ever seen.
So, I guess the cyber came to me, and it’s perfect that it happens through fictional characters to keep a degree of separation between myself and the scenarios described and I do want to explore this further. (This group’s become really tight-knit and supportive over the last little bit, so it’s definitely not a question of trust.) I just don’t know how much (if anything) I should disclose going forward. Would it be worth my time to outline where I’m coming from and what my comfort level is or is it one of those things where this doesn’t even scratch the surface for your average person and I’m just overthinking it because of my own inexperience and sexuality (and risking getting into TMI that could make other people uncomfortable and take away from the fun fantasizing aspect)? This feels really intimate and vulnerable in a way I wasn’t expecting. Realistically, if I get too uncomfortable or overwhelmed, I know I can just take a step back from that channel for a while. But how do I proceed while I’m still feeling out my boundaries around this?
Dear Horny Ace,
You’re interested in building fantasies together with other people, online. That’s the salient point here. Do try to remember that all of these categories—aegosexual, cybersex, etc.—are slippery, made by humans, and based on what came before, whether we’re refining an idea or carving out space against it. The ideology of sexual orientation can be very useful for introspection, and for connecting us to thought, discourse, and peers. That same ideology can be a tool for exclusion, used by some to keep others out. And we can even self-exclude, waiting for a situation that is an exact fit for our specific needs and desires.
Think about the ramifications here. OK, if you feel like you’re overwhelmed you can step back from the channel, but will you miss the community? If you don’t participate in this escalation, do you think you’ll miss having been a part of it? Do you have friends outside of that community who you can talk to about your feelings if you find yourself in over your head? Do you have a strong self-care practice that can help ground you if you feel like the world is sliding sideways? Once you’ve got an idea of the risks, and your mitigation strategies, you can evaluate whether the potential reward is worth it.
I imagine there’s an area for posting fantasies and another for more direct conversation. You might see whether anyone else has expressed trepidation, excitement, or any other feelings toward the direction this channel is taking, and share a sentence or two about your own emotions there. Or start the thread yourself in the appropriate place. I also think you might enjoy reading Samantha Cole’s How Sex Changed the Internet and the Internet Changed Sex: An Unexpected History, for its examples of how sexual interactions online developed along with the technology.
Listen for feelings of absolute yes, and of maybes that mean no, within yourself. Go slow, check in with yourself often, and remember that you can always say “No, thank you” and even use the block button if someone neglects to respect a boundary you express. You’ve got this.
Dear How to Do It,
59-year-old straight guy here. My similarly aged partner of three years (I would like it to be for life) and I have an adventurous, loving, and monogamous sex life. Her ex-husband was a sex addict and that traumatized her. I don’t mind, and even kind of like it, when a partner tells me that she finds someone or something hot or attractive. For her, that is a death blow to the relationship—it feels like an actual betrayal to her, no matter how remote the possibility of actual contact or follow-through (i.e., someone in a film or a performer at a concert).
This is not something I do regularly—I am not an ogler or a creeper and I respect her feelings—but on a couple of occasions I said something that to me felt innocuous and it led to intense (and to me, unreasonable) anger and jealousy. The worst is when she just suspects my feelings, and I’ve never actually said or done anything. Also, it infuriates her that I would not be jealous in a reversed scenario. Besides my refraining from ever saying anything to trigger her—which is the obvious correct and respectful course of action—how do we deal with these differing levels of jealousy? Again, by her account and mine, our sex life is fantastic—we push boundaries and have fun and feel ever more deeply connected when we make love.
Dear Just Wondering,
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists says that they do “not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder.” And this is something Rich and I have discussed previously. So, if you and your partner are invested in this idea of sex addiction, you may want to seek out a different source for advice. In case you’re open to my stance of skepticism, though, I’ll proceed.
I’m not able to assume your meaning when you say “traumatized” and “trigger.” If your partner is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, know that refraining “from ever saying anything to trigger her” is utterly, completely impossible. Being gentle is a worthy goal, but you will set yourself an unachievable task if you try to never, ever say or do something that brings up difficult memories and emotions. If your partner wants help with her inner world, the answer is to support her in seeking out a therapist, while understanding that treatment can take years, and emotions can become more difficult to manage during the process. Take some time to consider whether working through this with her is a commitment you feel ready to make. And whether you’ll be getting what you want and need out of a relationship.
If your use of “trauma” and “trigger” is more casual, the impossibility of perfection and the reality of your partner’s sometimes intense anger and jealousy are still worth reflecting on. You can have conversations about what jealousy means to each of you, why she is infuriated by the absence of jealousy on your end in hypothetical scenarios, and where her jealousy comes from. You can talk about what each of you sees as a possible way forward, and think about whether there’s potential for growth for you as individuals and as a pair. But don’t tell yourself, or her, that you’ll never trigger her again. Look for signs that the two of you are respecting each other, and learning how to navigate difficult moments together—if you don’t see them, reconsider the relationship.
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My ex and I recently broke up. It was a very intense but short-lived relationship. Our sex life was out of this world. I’ve been putting myself out there again and have had a few sexual experiences, some better than others. The problem is, I had some of the best sex of my life with my ex, and all I can think about when having sex with literally anyone else is my ex.