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 and I have been married for 13 years. She is a successful business woman, admired and accomplished in her field, and a great mother to our three children. She’s fun and beautiful and energetic. And she’s also a mean drunk. It only happens a few times a year. When she drinks too much, she says things to me that are hurtful and spiteful and leave me wondering about how true they are. She has told me that my dick is tiny, that I’m a terrible kisser, that I’m the worst guy named “Mike” she ever slept with. (She was engaged to a “Mike” before me, and dated a “Mike” in college. What can I say, she has a thing for Mikes.) The alcohol makes her super horny, but I refuse to have sex with her when she is like this. She ends up berating me. When I refuse, she berates me even more and says that if I was a real man, I would screw her ’til she passed out.
I am open to the idea that I can be a better lover. And I am not providing everything she needs. I just don’t enjoy the humiliation part of it at all. It isn’t fun. I’ve brought these things up directly when she is sober, but she doesn’t remember saying them and insists that she would never have said them. I love sober her. I love sex with sober her. How much trust is in her drunk rants? And how can I better deal with them?
Dear Sober Mike,
“A drunken man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts” goes the adage, but in this case the man is a woman, and anyway, the adage isn’t entirely reliable. It is true that in lowering inhibitions, alcohol can operate as a truth serum. But not everyone is Mel Gibson. Lowered inhibitions may also affect one’s reasoning in other ways. For example, they could erode certain boundaries of etiquette, fostering negative behavior like lying for effect. In this case, the alcohol would be making it easier for your wife to just say whatever, true or not, for the sake of hurting you. The affected internal filter there would be one that regulates animosity, not truth-telling. The Gateway Foundation, a rehab center, offers some clarity on the range of inhibitions that alcohol can affect:
“Context can help determine whether drunks mean what they say. For example, heartfelt emotions are often genuine because people lack the rationalization skills to be devious and contriving. On the other hand, negative comments or anger may be a defense mechanism and not necessarily stem from truth. This is because a drunk brain may use anything it can to defend against perceived attackers—and this includes lying. Intoxicated individuals are more likely to respond emotionally in social situations due to inhibited emotional processing.”
You cannot be sure whether your wife has meant what she says—perhaps on the matter of your performance, she herself is ambivalent—but you can be sure that she has said cruel things to you, and thus is the kind of person who would do such a thing. Whether it’s the alcohol talking or not, she has said what she has said, and sometimes people show you a lot about themselves in their darkest moments. What’s further troubling is her sober response to your recounting of her drunken behavior. Does she think that you’re lying when you inform her sober self of her drunken words? Whether she “would” say those things is immaterial when she already has. One exercise that could test her actual investment in your emotional response to her inebriated outbursts would be to record her drunk and then play the recording back when she is sober, thus confronting her with the extent of her capacity for degradation and making your account impossible to refute. See if she’ll agree to you running tape the next time she gets loaded. I would do this via audio, as holding a camera up will likely be too much of a distraction and perhaps counteract the alcohol by inhibiting her behavior. Then again, holding up a camera while she’s drunk may give her the self-reflection she apparently finds it easy to avoid when drunk, and it could result in her modifying her behavior on the spot and not insulting you at all. There are a few ways to try this, but I think she needs the kind of rude awakening that a clear-eyed look into her own behavior will provide.
There are experts who define alcohol dependency not by the frequency of drinking but the extremity of the resulting behavior. In my experience, becoming mean when one is drunk is always a red flag. Sends me running for the hills. It would not be unreasonable to ask your wife to get help with her drinking. Couples counseling that targets this issue could be useful. You don’t deserve to be insulted, and you don’t have to tolerate it. Unless you’re not telling me the whole story (if you, for example, participate in the hurling of insults), this is her problem to fix, not yours to endure.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a straight, single woman in her late 20s, and I’ve been on dating apps on and off for a few years now. I’m reaching out because I’ve exhausted every other source of advice (including all my befuddled friends) about an experience I continue having over and over again on dating apps: I’m convinced I keep meeting closeted gay men. I’ll meet a guy I’m excited about, text with him for a week, and then we’ll meet—or, during quarantine, chat on Zoom—and they come off as absolutely, 100 percent not straight—they have “gay voice,” which I know you’ve already addressed on your column, and a specific body language. I realize this sounds incredibly judgmental and “dated,” but I’ve also known many men who exhibited these qualities for years and they have all ended up coming out sooner or later. I also know these guys could be queer or bi or something else.
But here’s the thing: They SAY they’re straight. In dating app profiles or conversations, they identify as straight men who only like women. This happens to me so often that I’m starting to think dating apps are full of closeted gay men looking for beards. I’m frustrated, confused, ashamed of having these thoughts, and I’m tired, so tired. I want to know: Have you heard of this phenomenon? Is it real? Am I crazy and just need to get with the times?
Dear Fruit Fly,
If you saw the most recent How to Do It Live, you already have this column’s answer, but I’ll type it in here anyway for posterity, and because that’s what I do. Stoya used her hetero male roommate to help give some perspective on what you may be perceiving (who says straight guys have no use!). He’s a photographer who frequently shoots women and says that when he talks to them, his voice raises a bit for the sake of collaboration. He softens his presentation to cultivate a comfortable (thus artistically advantageous) shoot.
I found this particularly interesting because it hits on an issue that isn’t really discussed much in broader conversations of queer acceptance: It can make straight guys’ lives easier, too, and directly. It gives the normative among us more space to present as nonnormative. If masculinity is a construct, a veritable pose, an environment more accepting of certain markers of queerness would help straight guys feel comfortable cutting the shit or adopting behavior that previous decades would be considered “too gay” and an affront to their manhood.
I don’t know what’s up with these guys you’re encountering. I haven’t read anything documenting the cultural phenomenon you suspect is afoot, and certainly gay men have their own apps to play on. I’m not saying that no one is closeted and in the market for a beard anymore, but given the state of acceptance in many places, I would assume those guys would be more difficult to come by and not, as you suggest, as common as contoured cleavage at a drag show. Your suspicions certainly could be accurate, but there are any number of reasons why they’re projecting behavior that you associate with gayness, some of which you acknowledge.
What I think it comes down to is that you’re connecting with guys that you’re not attracted to. The way a person carries him or herself has a lot to do with their appeal, and you’re just not buying what they’re carrying. Stoya recommended merely stating in your profile that you’re looking for men with deep voices. In a context like Grindr, many would be quick to label such a request as femmephobia and a product of internalized misogyny, and maybe it is even in your case (you can answer that question better than me, and besides, I’m not being paid enough to be your shrink). But I think in a hetero context, it’s probably less hurtful to respectfully state such a preference upfront. Try that? If nothing else, use it as a filter, immediately signaling that it’s time to move on to the next one. It might cost you some time, but dating is a slow, annoying process, as I’m sure you are aware.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 28-year-old woman dating a 52-year-old man. He’s my first long-term partner over 30, and we’ve been dating a little more than a year. I love him deeply and our sex is mostly great: We have extensive foreplay, he’s very attentive and passionate, and he’s great with his fingers and oral.
My (minor) problem is his premature ejaculation, paired with my desire to be pounded harder, faster, and longer. I enjoy intercourse more than any other form of sex. The problem has greatly improved since we first had sex, from a very quick come after dry-humping to us being able to do more foreplay and enjoy more positions during intercourse.
However, I feel like we’ve hit a plateau the last six months, and he and I disagree with how to address it. He says he wants to come less often during sex to help “preserve his energy,” and that doing so will help him last longer over time. I think that him coming as often as possible during sex could help desensitize him, though I admit I don’t know his body like he does.
Currently, our intercourse is relatively slow, and he often pauses and withdraws his dick completely to stop himself from coming. This happens even when we skip foreplay and go right to intercourse. Sometimes, he even asks me to stop moving, which I find disengaging. I haven’t explicitly told him that I’d like to be pounded more because I do still enjoy our sex and I don’t want him to feel bad.
Does ejaculation work differently for older men? What can we do to increase the duration of not-stop-and-go intercourse, and how should I bring it up? He and I are usually very open and good at communicating these types of things, but I don’t know how to resolve this disagreement.
Dear Keep Going,
Ejaculation can definitely work differently for older men. One study of 500 couples found that median intercourse time (as defined by the time between the penis is inserted until intravaginal ejaculation) decreased significantly with age, from 6.5 minutes in guys 18 to 30, to 4.3 minutes in the group above age 51. Interestingly, aging can play a direct role in premature ejaculation. As Aaron Spitz, a urologist, writes in The Penis Book: “Some men become premature ejaculators later in life in order to finish before they lose their erections.” In that case, E.D. drugs could be beneficial—without feeling the need to hurry things up before his erection subsided, he could just stick around and stick you for longer.
The stop-and-go method that your guy is currently using and underwhelming you with is recommended by Spitz. Something that your partner maybe hasn’t tried is pelvic-floor exercises in the form of Kegels which are often mentioned anecdotally as a treatment option but also have shown promising results in at least one study. Keep in mind that your frequent-ejaculation strategy may not work for him given the way the refractory period tends to lengthen throughout life. As many men age, it becomes more difficult to reload with even more stamina. There’s Something About Mary isn’t everyone’s reality.
Bring this up by highlighting all the good stuff upfront. Reiterate what you told me: You love him deeply and your sex is mostly great. You have extensive foreplay, he’s very attentive and passionate, and he’s great with fingering and oral. Butter him up and tell him that you’re in the mood for a different flavor. Ask how you can help him achieve it and encourage him to start doing exercises or look into med options with his doctor (aside from E.D. drugs, SSRIs are sometimes prescribed because of serotonin’s effect on ejaculation). Frame it as a project, not an obligation—something that will help make your sex life even better than it is already. And maybe view it that way yourself. You should be banged how you want to be banged, but if the worst-case scenario is some middling intercourse that rounds out otherwise excellent sex, it might be worth counting your blessings before you start shopping for another stud.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a man in my later 50s, and have been happily married to my best friend for close to 30 years. Unfortunately, my wife went through early menopause over 20 years ago. Her libido plummeted, even with hormone treatment, and as a result our sex life steadily declined, until six or seven years ago when she announced that she was “done with sex.” There are other medical complications, too, so that just about any type of physical intimacy can be painful for her. We’ve been intimate only a handful of times since then (penetrative sex at most once or twice per year, on average, and manual or oral play another one or two times per year).
We were able to talk about the challenges to our sex life until a few years ago, when I noticed that any time I brought up how I was feeling, she would say something to the effect of “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that—it just makes me feel guilty.” I don’t want to make her feel guilty, and I don’t want to harass her, although she insists that she has never felt harassed. I think that in the past six or seven years there has been exactly once when she responded to an explicit request with an unenthusiastic “well, I suppose we could try.” The other few times we’ve been together have been late at night when she has initiated it, or when she has invited further contact in response to gentle kissing or cuddling on my part.
About five years ago, I started counting sequential rejections. I stopped counting when I was rejected for the 1,000th time in a row. I have been trying to eliminate/minimize everything in my life that stimulates my libido. When I can no longer tolerate abstinence, I make exceptions and masturbate. Occasionally, I watch porn, but that has become boring. I focus on my breath and constantly work to sublimate my sexuality. At this point, I have done every sane thing that I can think of to reduce my own sex drive to as close to nil as I can get it, but it still intrudes constantly.
We learned the hard way a number of years ago that an affair is also out of the question. While my wife had always insisted that she would understand, and be OK with it if I had one (she had one about a year before we were married—and we developed a set of rules to allow her to explore the other relationship), we quickly learned that what worked for us in our 20s didn’t in our early 40s. She was too jealous to tolerate my being emotionally connected to anyone else (at least if there was also a potential romantic component). What happened was that I met someone at my gym that I was attracted to. I told her about it, and at first she said that it was fine with her if I wanted to spend time with this person—and even asked me if I wanted to have an affair. The rest of the details are not important—the bottom line was that while I did kiss this other woman, and kept my wife well informed as to how I was feeling and how the experiment was progressing, it was clear that the tensions and confusion were jeopardizing our marriage, so I gave up going to the gym and severed my connection with the other woman. An affair is now out of the question. I would rather kill myself than cause us the kind of pain we felt back then.
But when I am really being honest, I have to admit that living without intimacy is barely tolerable. I find myself swearing under my breath, or having to take a deep breath and close my eyes when I have erotic or flirtatious thoughts. I am pulling away from my wife—any type of affection threatens the internal walls that I try to maintain. I am at a loss. I am lonely, I miss being intimate, I miss playing with her, and I miss feeling close. I do not like feeling so distant from her, but neither do I like having to push my libido back down when it inevitably rises in response to something as innocent as a hug or holding hands. I am uncomfortable with initiating a conversation about any of this—I do not want to harass her, I do not want to “make her feel guilty.” While I admit that has an appeal, and on some levels might even be preferable than masturbating, it feels much too distasteful to me.
How long will it take for age to naturally eliminate my libido? Are there options left open that I can’t see? Where are the lines between harassment and honest dialogue? What do other couples do when health issues rob them of intimacy?
You’ve given me the advice column equivalent of a multicourse meal to chew on, and while I appreciate the vast context you’ve presented, for the sake of efficiency, I will just tick off your questions. While testosterone is often believed to decrease naturally over time, there is some data suggesting that this more likely has to do with lifestyle than aging, per se, which means that your libido may remain vibrant for years to come, perhaps until you die. For some, this would provide hope. In your case, it’s cause for despair. Poor guy.
In addition to what you’ve already tried, your options include counseling (I highly recommend this, but I have a feeling your wife won’t go for it) and divorce. You’ve otherwise explored your options, and the bummer is that you’ve done a lot that I would have recommended if you hadn’t already done it. While I understand that this is painful for your wife to talk about, it’s also painful for you to live through, and I don’t believe it’s inappropriate to discuss any outstanding issue between the two of you, even if one party isn’t interested. These things don’t go away. If she were as considerate about your libido as you are about not wanting to harass her, you’d have a much better shot of resolving things. Her reasons for not wanting sex are justified and unfortunate, but they don’t negate your reasons for wanting it. It may come down to two options: opening things up or splitting. If you actually would consider divorce, a serious conversation about the future of your relationship is in order. I think an ultimatum, even, is in order. But if separation is out of the question and you are entirely convinced that nonmonogamy is a no-go, you are accepting your predominantly sexless fate. In that case, at least you have someone to ride it out with. No matter your situation, it could always be worse.
More How to Do It
I keep getting in arguments with people, friends—even progressive, feminist friends—who are older than me and try to take on a bit of a “mom friend” vibe, about whether women and gay men under 25 are able to consent to sex. I am told, at least once every couple weeks, that if you’re under 25, you’re incapable of consent because your “frontal lobes are still developing.” When I point out they suspiciously only apply the argument to women and gay men, they either tell me I am too young to understand, too inexperienced to understand, or too autistic to understand. Is there real, actual, verified, and peer-reviewed scientific data that says people under 25 are unable to consent, or are people selling me bad information in the guise of concern?
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