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 wife (45 cis female/bi) and I (43 cis male/bi) have reached an impasse in regard to open relationships. We’ve enjoyed threesomes in the past and last year we decided to go for an open relationship. Through dating apps we each met various people for each other. I met a few people and went on a couple of dates, one of which I slept with. My wife also met a few people online but mainly landed with someone that she already socially knows. They were already social media friends and were already in the habit of “liking” each other’s posts. We live in a large-ish Midwestern town but the arts side tends to be tiny. I was, in my opinion, irrationally upset as my tryst was made to be solo and private (no social media overlap), whereas I felt hers was too obvious to our mutual friends/colleagues and decided (mostly through my own insecurity) that we shouldn’t continue the open relationship. My wife agreed with stopping it all and we both did stop all contact with our dalliances.
But I want to resume the open relationship aspect and need to come to the realization that she’ll have other lovers. I’ve discovered that I have a totally, irrational issue with my wife sleeping with other men. This fear has not come up when we sleep with women so it’s obviously a macho ego issue I’m coping with. It’s funny because I’m the most chill, passive, “beta” guy you’d ever meet. I’d love a bit of guidance.
—Open But Apparently Not to Him
Dear Not to Him,
I’m not sure that the issue you’re encountering is “obviously a macho ego” thing, in a simple and direct way. It’s really tempting to blame everything on the patriarchy and male ego. Generally speaking, our society adores an oversimplified version of Occam’s Razor: ”The simple explanation is the truth!” Your letter is a bit unclear, but it seems as though there were multiple differences between the threesomes you and your wife have had, and this pair of trysts the two of you have engaged in solo. Yes, the person your wife went on a date with is a man. However, these also appear to have been your first dates without each other. And the person your wife went home with is within your wider social group.
When you say you “each met various people for each other” on dating apps, I’m not sure what that means but am guessing that you were picking out potential dates for your spouse, and she was doing the same. So I’m also wondering if you derived a sense of control, and therefore a feeling of safety, from your involvement in your partner’s choice of partners, which was then threatened when she chose a partner she knew through other channels.
The language you’re using—”tryst” and “dalliance”—has connotations of a contained interaction. I’m not assuming that you and your wife are treating your partners like props, but there’s more of an established model for threesome partners as guest stars, and a wider tendency to develop intimacy and rapport with people we’re going on individual dates with. Are you feeling concerned that your wife will become emotionally attached to someone she dates, has sex with, and engages with socially? Are you feeling concerned that you’ll develop a significant relationship with someone you date? Think about how your date went, and your emotions during and after it.
Are you feeling fear of being found out by your community? If you and your wife agreed to be secretive, you might be feeling like a boundary was crossed. If you and your wife didn’t discuss how low of a profile you’d keep, consider whether you made any assumptions that are leading to feelings of violation. And if you and your wife agreed to be public about being open, it may be that you’re experiencing regret about that. Also, think about why you want to engage in an open relationship. Do the introspection—if journaling works for you, great, and if you have a friend you feel comfortable talking about this with, they’re another outlet. Spend some time feeling your emotions. Get your thoughts together, and make a list of the subjects that seem like they need some discussion. I think you’ve got this.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 33-year-old woman in a long-term relationship with my boyfriend (35). I also have a pretty severe sunken chest. We finally have the resources and saw the doctors to determine that yes, it is affecting my quality of life significantly, and yes, it will need surgical correction. I am going to need far more invasive, open chest surgery. The best-case recovery time is going to be six to eight weeks. Very likely, it will be longer than that.
I’m looking ahead to when that will happen and I’m worried about my boyfriend. He’s definitely the hornier of the two of us, and sometimes I feel a little inadequate because I know he’d want to have sex more frequently than we do. (I want to add that he never pressures me or makes me feel bad in a direct fashion, I just know he’d like to have sex more often and I’m usually not feeling it.) I can’t imagine wanting to have sex after surgery for a while, and while he’s gone all noble and saying that he’ll take care of me, he’ll manage, he’ll be fine, etc., I know that while he means that now, he’s going to be very frustrated when I’m in convalescence.
I was hoping you could pass along some tips for things I could do to get him off which don’t involve me moving much or putting any sort of pressure on my chest. I don’t need them right now, but I was hoping I could at least get some idea of what I’m doing before I go in for the operation.
Dear Medical Planning,
You’re having invasive surgery done on your chest. This is not the time to be coming up with creative workarounds to doctors’ orders. When they say “no physical exertion,” ask what that means. If you’re considering any kind of sexual activity (having an orgasm, for instance, or giving your boyfriend a hand or foot job) ask about that specific activity. If the doctor says no, or that it’s best not to, listen to them.
Spend some time thinking about where your worry is coming from. Does your boyfriend pressure you indirectly? Do you have some ideas about your “duties” as a girlfriend that are creating pressure inside yourself? What’s behind your disbelief when he says that he’ll manage, and be fine? When you’ve got a clear picture of why you’re feeling so much concern over your boyfriend’s libido in the lead-up to your surgery, broach that subject with him. Have the talks before you go in for your procedure.
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Dear How to Do It,
I recently got engaged to a kind and submissive man. I’m a submissive woman. You would think that it wouldn’t work out well, but he seems to enjoy being my daddy dom in real life, while we switch roles in the bedroom, sometimes multiple times a night. It’s amazing how that happens so organically too. I’m a little worried, however, that he might be dominating me as a way of providing service, meaning that it’s not who or what he really is. When I dominate him sexually, he is much more responsive, meaning he reaches orgasm easily. If he’s dominating me, he rarely comes. As for me, I enjoy both roles equally, but only in the bedroom.
I am worried about what could happen if he gets tired of being the one in charge. I don’t make a good 24/7 dominant. I’ve done it in a previous relationship because I felt I had to, and it sucked. How do we navigate being a dual-submissive couple? This is the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. I don’t need him to be in charge, but I can’t take over the daily dominant role if he goes all submissive on me a few years down the road. I have never felt so loved and cherished. Do you think we have a good chance of success?
—Sub to a Sub
When you write, “who or what he really is,” Plato’s Allegory of the Cave comes to mind, as does the entire genre of existentialism. My point is that we have, for centuries, questioned the nature of “reality.” Questioned whether we are able to perceive reality—whether we’ve ever seen it, and thus have the ability to compare other experiences to it and discern whether those are real. We’ve questioned whether reality is really a thing, whether it exists on this plane. Our attempts to describe reality are inherently incomplete, as a description is a representation. We must use metaphors, allegories, and feeble, limited language. Despite the impossibility of this task, try to articulate what “real” means to you in the general sense, and with regard to sexual preferences. Try to define what you mean by real. If you’re into reading, check out Foucault’s The History of Sexuality Vol 1, for his discussion of sexual orientation as identity—specifically, homosexuality, but I think the concepts are applicable—and Laura Antoniou’s The Marketplace series (warning: The books use master/slave language)–do your best to focus on the points made about the concept of reality within the BDSM scene.
You say your fiancé enjoys being your “daddy dom in real life” but that you enjoy dominant and submissive roles “only in the bedroom.” I’m not sure how one has a daddy dom in real life but confines their submission to the bedroom. That’s the first thing I’d talk about—where are the two of you at as far as engaging in a 24/7 arrangement of any sort? Does either of you feel like you’re doing that now? Do both of you want full-time BDSM of any kind?
Remember that the “couple” component of “submissive couple” requires as much thought and tending as the submissive section. What, specifically, feels more like daddy dom-ing, and what feels more like care for a soon-to-be spouse? Where, outside of the daddy dom dynamic, do your feelings of being loved and cherished come from? Lay the groundwork of understanding each other and communicating openly now, and you’ll have a much easier time navigating future issues—whether they’re the ones you’re currently worried about or something you haven’t imagined.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a male in my 40s, married to a woman I love dearly and with whom I have good sexual chemistry and good communication around sex. I watch porn and want to share with her but as I get older, I’m getting increasingly uncomfortable with the typical age of the actors (especially the females, who are almost all in their early 20s, while the guys are generally older). This is not just because of my wanting to share, but also for myself—I’m much more interested in women my own age.
A couple of years ago, I was thrilled to find Bellesa, which I felt much better about watching than the horrible tube sites that dominate online porn (and which made me want to give it up altogether). That being said, I’d love to find somewhere with authentic-ish and more female-focussed content like Bellesa, but with actors who are more age-appropriate (at least 30-plus but even better exclusive 40s), without them being gross MILF or “mature” fetish sites. Do any such studios or sites exist?
—Coming of Age
Dear Coming of Age,
I hear a lot about the sexual interests, and porn preferences, of other people. This sharing is usually in conversations with friends and sexual partners, messages from OnlyFans subscribers, and through this column. You’re far from alone in your desire to watch pornography that features women in their late 30s and older, in scenes that feel like authentic depictions of sexual intimacy outside of contexts of overt fetishization. There are many pressures toward archetypes in our society, and in the pornography created within it. Media about sex, including pornography, does affect how people think about sex, and the ways people think about sex do inform what sexual media gets made and seen. All that to say, you probably won’t find what you’re looking for on the front page of a tube site, and yet there is demand—of unknown size and unknown willingness to pay—for the kind of pornography you’re searching for.
Morgana Muses, now in her late 50s, has been creating explicit sex films for several years. She explores kinks, including bondage, and has stated age positivity as one of her values. Blue Artichoke Films—run by Jennifer Lyon Bell, who helped out here at HTDI last fall with an answer to a similar question—does have some videos with performers who are closer to your age. XConfessions, as Lyon Bell pointed out, is another potential fit for your tastes. Cindy Gallop’s MakeLoveNotPorn, and other sites that deal in at-home content created by couples, may also be closer to what you’re looking for.
Lastly, I reached out to Bellesa, and they emailed back a list of 15 films that feature women in their 30s. I won’t list them all here, and that list isn’t exhaustive anyway, but I want to specifically highlight Bellesa House episodes 8 and 36 where the performers have discussions about MILFdom and then sex outside of that framework. Bellesa’s representative also told me that they “intentionally” do not use age-based tags, which does make your search more difficult. Decisions to eschew categories based on age, race, and weight are often an attempt to resist the fetishization that you’re hoping to avoid. So do check out those episodes, and reach out to customer support for help finding similar videos. You’ll be proving that there’s a market for what you want, and providing an incentive to continue casting performers who are closer to your age.
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