Every Thursday, Rich and Stoya answer a special question they could only tackle together, just for Slate Plus members. Join today to never miss a column.
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’m 64 and my husband is 65. We’ve been together for nearly 40 years. He is still crazy about me, thinks I’m beautiful and sensual, and has always had a much higher sex drive than I have. In fact, since my breast cancer surgery seven years ago and the estrogen-blocking medicines I’ve been on, my sex drive is pretty much zero. But he’s loyal and honorable so he’d never have an affair or pay for sex, so he’s devised a different routine.
He masturbates to all these fantasies he has about me. When we were younger and sexually active, he used to love telling me his fantasies hoping I’d act some of them out, which I did. I would occasionally wear lingerie and high heels or put on a little lipstick. When I learned that he had fantasies about me smoking long white cigarettes, I’d smoke them for him once in a while. In his fantasies, I am just as horny as he is. I love sex as much as he does in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and even in the middle of the night. I initiate sex. I give him head, he gives me head. We have sex in semi-public places. I wear sexy clothes. I enjoy smoking, talking dirty, wearing little vibrators in public, and all that kind of stuff.
The real me doesn’t do any of that. But the fantasy me apparently does and likes all of it and more. Is my husband cheating on me with me? It’s like he’s having an affair with his dream girl, but it’s me. Or at least a younger, more adventurous, more sensual version of me. He used to masturbate in our bed in the mornings, one hand touching me for connection, I suppose, but I found it irksome, all that commotion in the bed in the morning and I told him. So he stopped masturbating in bed and instead just goes downstairs to his office.
He tells me that it isn’t so much the orgasm he seeks, but instead the intimacy with me. He says it grounds him and connects him to the real version of me. Outside the sex part, we’re good loving partners. We enjoy doing things together, cooking, walking, and shopping. He feels like he’s found a solution to our unequal sex drives. One that gives him the intimacy and adventure he wants without me actually having to be intimate with him. I’m not so sure it’s healthy. What do you think about all this? Is he crazy? Am I?
—Wish I was Hornier.
Rich: We have two paragraphs and then in the third we get to, ”Is my husband cheating on me with me?” And it’s like a record scratch. What? I didn’t know that it was leading up to that.
Stoya: Oh, I loved this one. If this was a literary experiment designed to give us a puzzle and also impress us and readers, bravo. I quite loved the turn of phrase, “Is my husband cheating on me with me?” You know I am a person with a representation of my own vulva out in the world. Several thousand representations, really.
Rich: Yeah. Very few could say that.
Stoya: That makes this line particularly resonate with me in a way that I don’t think is relatable at all whatsoever, except to 30 other people in the world. But here we are and it’s the How to Do It chat.
But anyway, it clearly bothers her. I think that is the most relevant thing. I am so excited to dig into “Is my husband cheating on me with me?” But the most important thing is regardless of if it’s cheating or not, and regardless of the solution that her husband has found, this solution does not work for her at all whatsoever. I think starting from there is important.
Rich: I find it a little bit strange that the letter is so graphic about his fantasies to the point of almost… it’s not erotica per se, but that second paragraph does not strike me as being written by somebody as sex averse as this person is. I would think that we’d get a glossing over of his fantasies as opposed to them being enumerated like this.
Stoya: I can go one of two ways in this. One is that this is why I feel it might be more literature than a request for help. And two is people who are very, very put off by something sometimes retain a painful amount of details. And then when they are relaying it, it especially seems like people often are venting as they’re writing these things. It might have been just an outpouring of every single thing.
Rich: We’re generally against the idea of thought crimes, and so I can’t really envision a scenario in which I’m going to agree with her that he’s doing something wrong by having these fantasies. I don’t think the fantasies are wrong. Perhaps what might make her more comfortable is if he stopped sharing them entirely, much like when he stopped masturbating next to her. Because otherwise, what is the alternative? Is he just supposed to have zero sexuality to match her lack of interest? I mean, that’s just not feasible.
Stoya: Well, that’s where the sign-off comes from, “Wish I Was Hornier.” I got the sense she would prefer to be matching her husband’s sex drive at least to a certain degree while staying within her comfort zone. But she’s not. And I imagine one part of it is that she feels she should feel desire. He’s loyal. He’s honorable, they’ve been together for 40 years. He’s still crazy about her. She wishes she was hornier. She was happy to wear lingerie and heels and lipstick every once in a while, and smoke the cigarettes every once in a while. There’s some impulse to have a physically intimate connection. That is what we traditionally think of as being part of a romantic partnership.
Rich: Yeah. But in terms of if he’s doing something wrong, if he’s somehow wronging her with his thoughts, I don’t think that we can really justifiably argue that. I think it’s what you do with the thoughts that’s where you may encounter problems.
Because it’s a losing game anyway. It’s a fool’s errand to say, “You can’t think about that.” Because then all the other person has to do is just not tell you or lie to you: “OK, I’m not thinking about that.” You’re not going to get in somebody’s head and legislate that. You’re just going to have to deal with the fact that people think things that maybe don’t jive with the way that you think.
Stoya: Yes. And also sometimes we think things that we don’t particularly want to be thinking about ourselves or that don’t jive. Thoughts and feelings just happen.
I suspect also that hearing about it is off-putting because she feels essentially no sex drive. At the very least, it’s probably like being offered cake when you’re very full. And also there’s probably some self-expectation of engaging in some way, and the two are pulling at each other. I think asking him to stop sharing these things would be maybe a good way forward because I don’t think he is harming her with his thoughts. But I also don’t think that this dynamic is working.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, he’s making due given the situation that he has. The fact that they’re still together, that he’s not cheating on her or paying for sex or doing anything, probably has a lot to do with him having this fantasy. He needs some kind of outlet and that’s what he’s using.
A little bit of compassion should be extended to understand that, again, the thoughts are going to arise and what do you do with them? Well, here’s a thing. Given all of the alternatives, this kind of fantasy play seems the least hurtful. It’s just about managing that.
You can imagine a similar letter from his perspective. But he’s not the one writing in and that’s telling. He seems to actually have it sorted out.
Stoya: Maybe we’re going to see it in a couple of weeks and we’ll get to revisit.
Rich: It might actually be a decent exercise for him to write that letter for her to really understand what he goes through. I mean, they’ve been together for 40 years and she’s never matched his libido, and yet he’s hanging in there. A lot of people would’ve tapped out by now, and he didn’t.
You can look at your partner and always find something that could be improved, something that could be fine-tuned to match your capabilities and interests. But that’s not really the point of being in a partnership. That’s not really how things work. You’re not going to nag somebody into being the perfect clone or the perfect image of what you would want in a partner. You’re two human beings. What I see is one human being who’s maybe a little bit annoying with certain things, but who’s really, it seems, doing his best.
And at the same time, I understand that it can be a burden to be so pursued by another person that you’re not interested in a certain way. But there is really something beautiful about the fact that this guy is so devoted to this woman that he’s been with for 40 years, and she’s still the object of his fantasy. A lot of people would talk about that as an ideal in a certain way. I think it’s being happy with what you have, which is quite a bit.
Stoya: I do think it’s very much worth thinking through everything from how much are the two of them holding hands or sitting with their legs touching through to whether she would be OK in an afternoon or evening, so it’s not commotion in the bed in the morning. But basically, would she be OK under certain conditions with him touching her while he masturbates again sometimes? Things like that could give him some connection. And again, if this was like, “Oh, we’ve been together for a year,” the advice would be, you’re not a match.
Rich: Yeah, it’s not really working out.
Stoya: But it’s been 40 years, they’re great partners together, and he’s this devoted. I think it’s very much worth trying to figure out how to make the best of the situation for both of them—within the parameters of what is actually OK for her
More Advice From Slate
I’m a 39-year-old woman. When I was 20, I met my first very well-endowed man, who in a way “trained” me to take a large penis. Since then, I’ve been in two monogamous long-term relationships, both with average-size men. I hate to admit this, but I left both those relationships because the length just didn’t cut it for me.