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 having a wonderful affair with a man. We’re both married, but we’re careful and responsible—it’s what we both need to survive in our marriages, and it’s what’s best for both of us. (Without saying too much, in our situation, divorce would destroy our big, happy, extended immigrant families. I’m not looking for judgment on that.)
The problem is social distancing because of the coronavirus. Our spouses and kids are now both home full time, and getting away to see each other has been impossible. I’m miserable without the sex and companionship, and so is the man I’m seeing. At one point, he suggested meeting in our cars by the grocery store. I obviously declined. Then today, he called me and said to go to my window and waved to me from his car (we live about two neighborhoods apart). I was moved by the gesture, but it worried me. I feel like I am on the verge of doing something risky, and all this time with my husband, who is a kind man, is making me want to lash out and tell him I don’t love him.
What can I do to keep my head on straight here? I would be cast out of my family if this came out, but this whole situation is making me feel out of control.
—Swelter in Place
Dear Swelter in Place,
Unfortunately, we’re in crisis mode, which means we have pretty clear-cut choices: Survive or risk our lives. In your case, you’d also be risking the lives of the family members that live with you. I hear you when you say you believe this affair is keeping your marriage afloat, but now it cannot. In the worst-case scenario, you are just going to have to keep your head down and wait this out. Or, you can run off with this guy, creating another isolation seal and hoping that both of you are COVID-19 negative and won’t infect each other. But you can’t have both; it’s too risky to widen your contact circle at the moment. It really doesn’t seem like the time to make such a life change, but if you must because you have the inkling that the world is changing anyway, well, I actually won’t judge you for that, either.
Meditate, work out, focus on what you have (and what we have left as a species) is my practical advice for you. Find an online therapist to talk to. You can use this moment for self-betterment, or you can be selfish and let yourself spin out of control. Decide who you are and live like it.
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Dear How to Do It,
I am a thirtysomething woman who is a moaner during sex—oftentimes a very loud moaner. My husband loves it. Not only does he say it’s very hot, but it helps him figure out “where I am in the process.”
Here’s the problem. A couple of months ago, we had sex with all my typical noises.
Afterword, I heard my 3-year-old son crying. He heard my moans and thought his dad was hurting me. I reassured him that this was not the case. All seemed well. At least until the next time we had sex. I wanted to make sure to be quieter. And I was quiet, but the problem was I didn’t orgasm—and that’s never been a problem for me. The same thing happened the next time … and the next time. Even when his parents had our son overnight, and I was ready to let loose, nothing happened.
I seem to have developed a mental block trying to keep quiet, and now it’s preventing me from enjoying what is usually just wonderful sex. How do I get over this?
—Stifled and Stuck
Dear Stifled and Stuck,
I think you have been thrown off your game. The moaning you describe can be a useful release, according to experts, in that it frees up energy that polite society would otherwise compel you to exert to suppress it. In this excerpt from Mara Altman’s Gross Anatomy that Time published, professor and researcher Lorraine McCune explained that suppressing reflexive grunts can negatively impact tennis players’ games. “When you squash the grunt, you’re having to use energy that you could have used for your stroke to suppress a vocalization,” she said.
What I think is happening, barring any major physiological changes that have taken place since you have stopped being able to orgasm, is that you are tripping over your own feet.
Suppressing your moans required a concentrated effort that impeded your free release, and now you are so hung up on getting it back that said release is still impeded. You’re thinking about it too much to enjoy it. You should concentrate on relaxing—a contradictory directive, I know, but it works with practice. It’s kind of like the process in meditation in which you focus on clearing your mind. Make sure, too, that you’re breathing. Another great point in that Altman excerpt is made by Urban Tantra author Barbara Carrellas: “She explained that if you’re not making sounds, then you’re probably not breathing very much, and breath is absolutely critical for an expanded orgasmic experience.” Do make sure your breathing patterns are the same as they were when you were achieving orgasm. If all else fails, see a sex therapist.
For some direct expertise, I reached out to neuroscientist Barry Komisaruk, who co-wrote The Science of Orgasm. He sent along a rather intricate metaphor to consider: “Maybe think of your moaning as if you are exhaling into a balloon, your orgasms as bursting the balloon, and inhibiting your moans as if you are squeezing shut the stem of the balloon. Then think of what you would have to do to release your grip on the stem. Only you would be able to imagine how to do that. Just like only you know what to think in order to wiggle your finger. Possibly thinking metaphorically, rather than directly, could help.” Good luck getting things popping again.
Dear How to Do It,
I love to eat my man’s ass. And he loves it, too. It took almost a year, and five bouts of strep, for him to piece together that I get sick if he is not absolutely pristine before I insert my tongue. I visited an ENT after having strep three times in three months, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell the doctor what we suspected. But the science baffles me—I can’t argue with the apparent cause and effect, but frankly, I’ve eaten a lot of ass, and he is the only one I seem to have this issue with. It’s not like he has been “dirty” when I go down, but I also can’t imagine how a quick external soap and water helps—I pride myself on a deep tongue.
Is our chemistry just off? The ENT shrugged off a suggestion that I’m a carrier of strep and prefers not to do a tonsillectomy on an adult. So, me and my guy just have the wrong chemistry?
Dear Prolific Rim,
To procure you an answer, I checked in with Dr. Evan Goldstein, a surgeon and the CEO of Bespoke Surgical, a practice specifically catered to gay men’s sexual health. This means Goldstein knows butt stuff like the back of his hand or … a body, actually (he previously weighed in with comprehensive douching guidelines to this column). He told me via email that the ass and rectum are full of bacteria, and that if one like streptococcus overpopulates, it can disrupt the balance of the area. “With an abundance of bacterial load and you licking away, it can very well be causing the inoculation and, subsequently, the development of strep throat,” he wrote.
One possible cause is douching, which can alter the bacteria in the area, especially if performed frequently or with a shower attachment for prolonged periods. Goldstein recommends using a formula that is pH-balanced and isotonic “so that it does not strip the lining of your rectum or anal canal and, in theory, will not alter your microbiome.” He developed and sells such a formula; he also recommended external cleaning with the antibacterial cleanser Hibiclens.*
Both you and your man could benefit from antibiotics—they could help decolonize or depopulate the strep in him and they could be used in a prophylactic manner by you. “A one-time dose of an antibiotic may be just what you need to diminish the bacterial load causing your strep throat,” he wrote. Your man would probably benefit from an exam by an infectious disease doctor. And Goldstein reminds both of you to find a doctor with whom you can speak frankly about these issues. “It’s important you find an ENT who is willing to evaluate and treat you, with all of our community’s concerns in mind, even the sexual ones,” he wrote. Good luck!
Dear How to Do It,
I am a bi woman in a marriage with a straight man. We have been together several years, and recently decided to open our relationship, because I want to experience being with women again. (I had only a few experiences before I got with my husband, and he is supportive.) Since we got together before all the apps and whatnot were around for dating, this is my first experience with them.
Unfortunately, there is no lesbian equivalent of Grindr—all my research shows the attempt to develop a successful app hasn’t panned out for whatever reason. I have gotten on Tinder and matched with several people, but people don’t seem to want to talk. What gives? I often message first, and try to make it interesting or appealing. I never get replies back. I feel like this is going nowhere, and it’s frustrating. I live in a large liberal city, so it doesn’t seem like there are any shortage of women. Is there something I can be doing better in initiating a conversation, or do I just need to go down to one of the many gay clubs, forge an old-fashioned conversation, and hope for the best?
—Hey Anyone Up?
Dear Hey Anyone Up,
Have someone you know and trust—maybe your husband if he’s OK with being involved in this process—evaluate your profile to make sure that you are presenting the best version of yourself with flattering pictures and sparkling text and all that. Self-awareness is a rare commodity, and we can all use some help in that area from time to time. There are definitely some dating apps for queer women—HER is one—but not being a queer woman myself, I can’t provide a faithful endorsement. I would also try BiCupid and/or OkCupid, which have reputations for being more poly-friendly. Part of the issue here might be that many people who are looking to date don’t want to do so with someone who is already attached. (I see “no partnered guys” or “no couples” in profiles on gay dating apps all the time.)
And look, dating apps are frustrating. Your experience is hardly unique. To a certain degree, almost everyone on apps goes through what you describe. They are useful, sure, and they’re basically all you have for making such connections at the moment. But when things “get back to normal” or whatever they get back to, definitely try to meet people face to face. I’ve had much better luck making lasting connections that way and after being cooped up for months and months, you’re going to want to get out anyway.
More How to Do It
This weekend I went to a party where I watched an acquaintance, “Bob,” (who is new to town) making out with “Ted.” Ted is HIV-positive and has a history of not mentioning his status to men he sleeps with. I know this because I slept with him and found out afterward (I asked about STDs before we hooked up and he said “none,” and we used condoms). I confronted Ted and he said he was on meds and undetectable, but I was still very angry about the lie. Other men have mentioned the same story. Should I tell Bob about Ted, and if so, what, specifically, should I tell Bob about Ted? That he’s a jerk? That he’s HIV-positive? Or do I just tell Bob to play safe and hope that’s enough?
Correction, April 1, 2020: This article originally misspelled Hibiclens.