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 am a man married to a woman. We have been together for more than a decade and have children together. We get along well and we care for each other. I was raised in a very strict religious household where I internalized a lot of shame regarding my body and sex. I was in my 20s and very inexperienced when I met my now-wife, and she was honestly my first and only real relationship. I was beginning to think I would never have a relationship, so I settled for what I could get after years of no success.
I have done a lot of work on myself both physically and mentally in the interim and I am unrecognizable from the person I was when we met. I had no self-confidence, addiction issues, was overweight, and dressed like a slob. In retrospect, of course I had no dates; I was undateable. Today, I am sober, and I am told often how conventionally attractive I am thanks to my newfound passion for fitness, clean eating, and fashion paired with tons of self-confidence. My wife has done some work on herself too—mentally she is in a much better place. However, when it comes to taking care of her body, she started off obese and is even heavier than when we met now. She will try gimmick weight-loss things here and there but resist doing what actually works, eating a caloric deficit and working out. Spending several hours a day smoking weed is her priority. I realize it is who she was when I met her, so while I wish she would discover a love for fitness, I know it’s futile to try to change another person. But this doesn’t change the fact that my attraction to her is close to non-existent. We are very well off financially, she doesn’t work, and I spend my time pursuing hobbies and business interests that align with my passions.
After I peeled away the layers of my sexual shame, I discovered I have an exhibitionist kink and would never enter a monogamous relationship were I to do it over again. Additionally, I live in a major hub of the adult entertainment business, and as an entrepreneur, I could easily make a living in the industry on my own terms. I have befriended many people who work in various aspects of the sex industry and I find it’s with them I can truly be my authentic self. I have even been offered roles on film and would have done it just for the experience if I wasn’t married to a partner who has fiercely held beliefs about monogamy. If I could describe my perfect life, I would make adult films on my terms while having a primary relationship as well where we were both free to explore together and independently. I feel like it’s a cruel trick fate is playing on me. When I was single, I was unfuckable. Now that I am married, I am hit on constantly, and could literally be having sex with porn stars. I had previously brought up the idea of an open marriage and my wife blew up, nearly divorced me just for suggesting the idea. She has expressed desire for her to have sex with other women while maintaining our relationship, though, which feels unfair to me.
This brings me to my question: How do you tell your spouse that you want to do porn without getting divorced? I am racking my brain to figure out a solution that doesn’t involve either blowing up my family and hurting the ones I love or repressing my true self and desires.
Dear Glow Up,
Congratulations on working on yourself. Your newfound confidence sounds deeply enjoyable, and you seem pretty proud.
I want to do a little bit of expectation management on this perfect life you mention. I spent about 10 years working in mainstream (heterotypical, male-gaze-oriented) pornography. There were absolutely fantastic adventures involving seas of co-worker flesh, and I’ve made some wonderful friends. It’s also a job, and one without union protections for workers. I have had sex in July in the desert in full sun at midday. I have had sex for eight hours on a table because the camera and lights were having trouble. And I’ve been in scenes where one of the performers—occasionally myself—is physically struggling that day. As much fun as the sex can be, porn performers are there to give a compelling show for the camera, and sometimes that’s a major effort. Other kinds of sex work have a similar focus on the other—professional domination is about the client, camshows are about the customer’s satisfaction, and escorting and sugar-dating are built around the patron’s pleasure. You might not find as much sexual self-expression on set as you hope, and if you choose to make your work deeply personal, the market may not be there. Neither of us can say whether you’d have a long, fulfilling career in adult films or a short and lackluster experience. Taking that path is a risk. A gamble. And, just like your marriage to your wife, that is your choice to make.
When you say you feel this is a cruel trick fate is playing on you, I wonder where your sense of agency is. Strict interpretations of religions tend to encourage adherents to believe in preordained outcomes. Whether your background was Christian or not, you might find some solace in the ex-evangelical movement in its similar themes of body shame and sexual repression. While you were reacting to your upbringing and dating prospects at the time, you did choose to get serious with the first person you had a real relationship with, and to get married to her. Now you’ve got more choices, with a lot of risk involved—torpedoing your home life stability, but also the risk of mechanical injury, like penile fracture, and sexually transmittable infections—compounded by the fact that once sexually explicit images of a person are on the internet it’s likely they’ll continue to surface and people who are known to have been sex workers often face issues with banking, housing, and future employment. You say you’re very well off financially, so maybe that last part won’t affect you, but your financial situation might change.
Find a sex-positive therapist you respect, and spend a few months digging in to what you think you’ll get out of a new life of “freedom” and a career in adult entertainment, why you want this, and what you’re risking losing. Because there isn’t a guaranteed way to tell your spouse that you want to perform in porn without getting divorced.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bisexual woman in my 30s. I’ve had sexual partners of various genders, including several girlfriends, but I have never gone down on anyone with a vulva. The reasons for this are various—some of the women I have been with are trans and don’t have a vulva; some of my partners haven’t been into either oral, or receiving more generally; sometimes we simply never got round to it. I like performing fellatio and like receiving oral, so would be more than happy to get down to it, but the opportunity has never presented itself. This has come up a couple of times in conversation with other queer woman friends. The response has sometimes been pretty hostile, and it’s beginning to get in my head and is affecting my dating life. At my age, having been dating across the gender spectrum for over a decade, there is a general assumption that I will have done certain things, including eating someone out. I’m worried that I’m going to disappoint—be an obvious novice—if I don’t tell someone it’s my first time, or come off as a bad lover (or bad bisexual?) if I let someone know first. So: Is this something I should disclose, and if so when and how? And any tips for overcoming oral performance anxiety?
—Not a Cunning Linguist
You absolutely might encounter potential partners who are turned off by your inexperience with giving oral to people with internal genitals. You also might encounter people who are neutral or even supportive or excited. Dating is a process of figuring out whether we match well with potential partners.
When and how to tell people that you’ll be learning as you go is situational, and will depend on the person. If they’re casually talking about sex 10 minutes into coffee, you’ve got an opportunity to say something like “You know, I’ve been dating across the gender spectrum for over a decade and I’ve never given cunilingus.” You might follow up by asking them what they’re open to but have never done. With someone else you might want to wait until you’ve established mutual interest in sex, and have some privacy.
Even people who’ve given oral pleasure to many different people with vulvas start with no understanding of a new partner’s desires and responses. We might know the anatomy, which you might, too, but we don’t know how the individual likes to be touched, or where. OK, the clitoris is a good guess, but on the sides? With the hood retracted? Licking or sucking? Up and down? Side to side? Circles? And then everything changes and they want less or more or harder. So you communicate with your partner, and you try various kinds of stimulation, and you learn what they like. Sometimes you try something they didn’t know they liked. Sometimes they ask you to do something you’d never thought of. We’re always learning. Apply the skills and experience you have from using your fingers on others with vulvas and being eaten out yourself for ideas, and ask your partner if they have any desires or requests. Asking for clear communication during sex about what feels good is a great practice, novice or not.
Another thing that might help is remembering other first sexual experiences. How did you feel the first time you touched another vulva? Or a penis? If it was anything like how you’re feeling now, how did you work through that at the time? Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a woman in my early 30s, and about six weeks ago, my boyfriend of three years broke up with me. Prior to this relationship, I’d always had a strong sex drive, enjoyed regular friends-with-benefits arrangements, and masturbated regularly. During the relationship, I masturbated daily and we had good sex together about once a week (his drive was lower than mine). Our breakup was clean, fair, but sad. Post-breakup, I feel sexually locked out of my body. Not only does the idea of having sex with someone else feel actively repulsive to me, but touching myself is unappealing and seems to just make me cry. This confuses me—I’ve never not wanted sex before, and I’ve historically wanted it more during stressful or sad times for comfort. But I feel sad and squeamish about it now, to the point where I find even softcore depictions in movies etc. make me feel kind of sick. What’s going on with my libido? Will it come back?
—Locked Out in Louisiana
Dear Locked Out,
Six weeks is a pretty short time when we’re talking about the end of a three-year relationship, though it may feel like a lifetime. Focus on self-care for a while. Find non-sexual ways of connecting to your body and giving yourself pleasure. This might look like a long bath, self-massage, or intentional breathing. Maybe starting or returning to a physical practice. This hopefully looks like making sure you’re getting good nutrition and drinking enough water. If journaling works for you, make it a priority. If you can talk with trusted friends, lean on your social support. Losing one of our sources of comfort means we need to strengthen the rest of our coping system, and maybe add new skills to it.
If your reactions to depictions of sexuality in media get more intense, or you aren’t feeling progress in some way in another couple of months, reach out to a therapist. If you have health insurance that covers mental health, the company should be able to help you with finding providers who are in-network. If you don’t, there are still options. And many mental health practitioners are open to telemedicine. Keep in mind that there may be waiting lists, so do err on the side of making an appointment early.
Dear How to Do It,
My boyfriend and I are in college and in a long-distance relationship. We do not attend the same college, and are actually in two different countries. We get along great and spend as much time together as we can, but I miss having sexual contact with someone else. I have brought up the topic of an open relationship, but he has always been very against it. I, on the other hand, am very pro-open relationship, even one extending past the time we have to be apart. I understand he is uncomfortable with this, but I can’t shake the desire of just wanting to experiment. I love him more than anyone else and do not want to date outside of the relationship, but I would love being able to just casually hook up with someone else. I have looked everywhere for advice and have tried everything suggested, like offering to let him be with other people first, or letting him be present when there are other people involved. I don’t know where to go from here. I have a much higher libido than him, and I am pretty kinky. He has, for the most part, been willing to accommodate me, said he enjoys it, and actually discovered things about himself as well, but other people just seem to be where it is an absolute no. What should I do?
How important is an open relationship to you? And how important is this specific boyfriend?
You say your boyfriend has always been very against the idea of an open relationship. I’m guessing you’ve brought it up on at least a few occasions. And you say other people seem to be an absolute no. All signs point to monogamy being the only sexual relationship structure that will work for him, and it’s time to accept that. There’s a chance his position will shift over the next decade, but there’s no guarantee.
You also say that you can’t shake the desire of just wanting to experiment. Is this something that’s been on your mind for the past week? Or the past six months? How do you feel about that desire? And what do you want to do about it? As you’re making your decision, are you basing it on fantasies about what your hook-up life might hold or a realistic understanding of the gauntlet that dating can be? You’ll likely have some fantastic experiences, some awful ones, and a number of acceptable encounters. You’ll almost certainly have periods without partners.
If some form of non-monogamy is what you want, and this has become a make-or-break issue for you, let your boyfriend know in the most intimate form of communication available. I’m guessing in-person doesn’t happen often, and you may not want to wait that long. Video chat seems reasonable given the circumstances, with a stable connection and privacy.
If you decide to stay instead, make that choice knowing that your partner is monogamous and may be for the rest of your time together. Respect his boundaries, and let him broach the subject if he becomes more open to opening up.
More How to Do It
My partner (36-year-old man) and I (34-year-old woman) have been together for more than 16 years and have a wonderful relationship and a beautiful 5-year-old daughter. He is the love of my life, and I feel as strongly about saying that now as I did when I first fell in love with him. I have never kept anything from him. Lies chew me up inside, and I really can’t keep secrets—except one. It’s an awful, crushing secret.