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 was invited by my close girl friend to go sailing with folks that she didn’t really know. It was us (both women in our late 30s), the boat captain (married man old enough to be our dad), and his friends. We had a great time sailing, swimming, and drinking wine. Everyone got quite drunk except for me. To make a long story short, my friend got blacked out drunk, put the moves on the old captain, and he ended up fingering her loudly while I sat shocked nearby. The other passengers heard the whole thing too. My friend made eye contact with me, and I’m pretty sure she got off on me watching. She doesn’t remember any of this, and I’ve given her a watered-down version of the events.

My questions are: is this normal? I don’t like to think of myself as a prude or a kink shamer, but my sexual experiences are very vanilla. I have juicy fantasies, sure, but seeing the live show was somewhat shocking to me. Did I react appropriately in the moment by basically pretending like I didn’t notice? In the future, should there be consent from me to be a participant in this kind of scene? And should I give my friend the full details and let her know that I was uncomfortable? She and I are open with each other, and I think she’d want to know. I’m really not judging (I find her preference for old men a little icky personally, but it’s her life). I just don’t know the etiquette here.

—Caught between the Orgy and the Deep Blue Sea

Dear Deep Blue Sea,

Is it normal to watch your friend get fingered by a married man who’s old enough to be her father while black-out drunk on a cruise? I can say with confidence that the majority of the world’s population has never experienced such a thing, and it would make great gossip fodder to anyone who knows any of the involved parties. It is certainly unusual.

In absence of the implicit possibility of such sexual activity (like if this were a swingers cruise, or you were sailing off from a location where public sex is pretty common, like Fire Island), it was absolutely inappropriate for this to be sprung on you. Like sex itself, any kind of blatant exposure to sexual activity in a nonsexual venue requires consent from potential viewers in order to be ethical. You would have been justified to make your discomfort known, say by verbal means or by turning around or getting up to position yourself where they were out of view, but because it can be hard to draw a line in real time, especially when the jovial environment is vulnerable to party poopers, it’s completely understandable that you reacted the way you did. You’re not the rude one here! You’re not required to acknowledge your friend being spontaneously fingered by an old dude on a boat.

We all have to decide our boundaries while hopefully incorporating compassion in those decisions. It makes sense if you want to forgive your friend—she was, after all, black-out drunk. I’m going to be a little judgey here: The older you get, the less cute getting shitfaced is.
A lot of people grow out of that behavior, and a lot of people who don’t grow out of it have problems with drinking. I think as a friend, it’s your duty to be the eyes of someone whose own have gone bleary. That means I do think that you should tell her what happened—if you hold nothing against her and forgive her, lead with that so as not to shame her for something she did when she was out of control, something that is in the past and can’t be undone. Perhaps being presented with the truth will make her rethink getting so fucked up in the future, or at least meditate on her relationship with substance. Approach with love and you should be fine.

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I have been married for 30 years. At times it has been very rocky, and we separated for a year and a half. After we reconciled and went through lots of counseling, we eventually opened our marriage and entered the world of ethical non-monogamy. That went very well for three years. Then, over a weekend getaway, a lot of resentment and anger over our far past came up for my wife, and there was a lot of fighting and crying. We have tried to move forward from it, but with that as the kick start, the last few years have felt like I am living with someone who wishes I was not around. Now, it has reached the point where I can no longer perform with her sexually. I have normal performance with others more often than not. I know a lot of the “things she does” that make me feel this way.

I don’t know how I can fix this without discussing these things with her, and asking for change …
but how do I have that conversation without sounding like I am blaming her for my problem? I am talking about things like talking to me without seeming distracted or bored, laughing with me, touching and kissing and hugging, all the little things that would make someone feel wanted in a relationship; and then also, things like lights on or lights off, eyes open or eyes closed … just so many little things, but it is like death by a thousand paper cuts. I am open to any suggestions, but she already feels like I just blame her for everything, and clearly this is my problem, so I am really stuck.

—Flaccid and Flummoxed

Dear Flummoxed,

When discussing this—and I think you should do so—frame it not in terms of what your wife doing wrong, but as an opportunity to examine what’s off with your chemistry. You state it in your letter: “Clearly this is my problem.” Keep that vibe. It’s OK to let your wife know that you’re craving intimacy and affection, but instead of providing her with a laundry list of things she should be doing/doing differently, ask her what she’s open to. You can mention specifics like more kissing and hugging and connected conversations. These are things that you should be doing together, and if you aren’t making an effort to incorporate them, you’re part of the problem. Blaming her for their lack would be an outright distortion.

The other sex stuff—lights on/off, eyes open/closed—may come down to personal taste and does not necessarily reflect any feelings about you and/or your sex life with her. I think in such cases, you can inquire as to whether she has a reason for such preferences, but her preferences likely bespeak her comfort levels and probably aren’t worth poking at as you’re trying to reestablish a sexual connection.

You do sound like you could both use a third party to heal, and I’m not sure that the conversations that I’m suggesting are really going take care of that to the full extent. Finding a therapist/counselor who is well versed in ethical non-monogamy could be very useful, especially since your wife expressed years of resentment during your weekend getaway. That kind of stuff doesn’t always evaporate during the act of unleashing.

Also, I have to wonder after reading your description of your dynamic whether she’s actually interested in rekindling the sexual relationship, as well. If she’s making you feel like she doesn’t want you around, what room is there within that treatment for an active sex life? Is this something you’ve discussed or are you just assuming that it’s time to repair that aspect of your relationship? You might want to start with some clarity there first—if it turns out she is, in fact, interested in resuming sex with you, perhaps she’ll be open to suggestions in a conversation about rekindling strategies. In other words, I think you need to have a bigger-picture chat to establish priorities and determine whether you’re on the same page here. Do that first.

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Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have been married for 25 years and have always enjoyed a robust sex life, made more robust recently by our empty nest and a move to our dream home. We are very sex positive, as the kids say, and nothing has ever been sexually off limits as long as we both consent. So this leads to my two part question. One, I’ve had and used a vibrator for most of our marriage. I do have orgasms from sex but clitoral orgasms have a different quality and I like to have one as part of most sexual encounters. As I’ve gotten older and we have more time to enjoy sex without kids around, I’m rediscovering how much I like manual orgasms ( i.e. without a vibrator). These take longer than with a vibrator and require patience. Problem is, my husband never really took the time to learn how to make me come. I recently communicated that I’d like him to learn, but his efforts have not yet succeeded, and my clit end up feeling mashed and desensitized. How can he learn to pleasure me? Or should I just give up on this goal and be glad for the great sex we have?

Secondly, my husband as he’s gotten older has a harder time coming. (He’s on testosterone so I don’t think it’s a medical issue. He can come, he just needs a lot more stimulation.) As a result, we’re adding a lot of new stimulus, i.e., butt stuff, choking, clamps, etc. What resources can you suggest for me to learn some new ways to stimulate my husband as he ages?

—More Pleasure for Everyone

Dear More Pleasure,

Have you said to your husband, “You’ve never really taken the time to learn how to make me come, and I would love for you to do so”? You can sweeten it as needed, but I think going the direct route might be useful, especially if you haven’t tried it. Sometimes people, through no real fault of their own, have an empathy deficit and they just don’t get it when they aren’t getting it. Letting your husband know how pleasurable manual orgasms are, how much you’d like for him to help you achieve them, and that they require patience, could get the message through. You may actually have to show him, and again, emphasize the patience needed here. You shouldn’t feel rushed or self-conscious for taking the time you need, and since you’re both empty nesters in your dream house, it sounds like you have the leisure time required to get you off. Give him a real tutorial—even if it feels remedial—that is slow and well-articulated and if he is doing something you’re not into, let him know. Don’t be afraid to be verbal and direct—so many guys are so precise with their blow job directions, and that can be very helpful when your goal is getting him off. Project that energy.

In terms of new ways to stimulate him, it’s most important to try what he likes or is curious about. You don’t have to do the work for him here—you’re got enough on your hands already (literally!). If he’s specifically lacking direction, there are definitely some places you can look. A sex toy shop could give you some ideas even if you just peruse one like Babeland online. The Joy of Sex is a classic for a reason. Barbara Carrellas’ Urban Tantra is a big HTDI fav. An activity book like the The Yes, No, Maybe Workbook could also stimulate ideas especially as they apply to kink. There’s a whole cottage industry of sex games for couples that you could experiment with. There’s blindfolds, bondage, ice, and incorporating porn—truly the sky is the limit here. Think of this as a collaboration and explore him together.

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Dear How to Do It,

I live in an apartment complex, which I know means living with a certain amount of neighbor noise. My next-door neighbor in apartment A is an adult who lives with relatives (Im not sure of details, the family is very private) and is prone to loud echolalia, especially at bedtime. I solve this problem with a loud white noise fan in my bedroom in the evenings. Recently Ive started dating a new girl, and she finds the neighbor sounds very distracting during sex, so I also turn on the white noise in the bedroom if I know shell be coming over. She has roommates, so we spend more time at my apartment than hers. We try to keep it to a shared-wall friendly volume—my girlfriend is pretty quiet, and I think the fan helps too.

Well, my other next-door neighbor in apartment B has now slipped two notes under my door in the space of a week complaining about the white noise specifically. I have no idea what to do about this, since it was supposed to help keep the peace. Do I ask the neighbors in A to try to be quieter—Im not sure its possible? Do I tell the neighbors in B that Im just trying to ignore the A noise, and suggest they invest in a fan too? Do we annoy her roommates by camping out at her place? Do we just turn off the fan and make everyone uncomfortable with the loudest sex we can?

—Neighbor Problems

Dear Neighbor Problems,

As much as people hate talking to people they don’t know very well, especially about things on which they may not agree, and as cute as notes slipped under the door are, yes, I think you should have a conversation with the neighbors in B. It’s a lot easier to be annoyed by the anonymous dwellers of apartment C (that’s you) and their loud white noise when you haven’t come face-to-face with their humanity or the reasons why they’re generating white noise. Explaining what’s up will let them see that you’re in a bind and that you aren’t just being negligent (or worse, intentionally trying to annoy them). See if they have any suggestions for you—it seems odd to me that they’d have an issue with the white noise fan (or even register it as a racket, since the whole point of white noise is to create an ambient sound sponge), but you should hear them out. Ideally, you’d be precise and say that the fan is to not only block out A, but to ensure your intimate moments aren’t shared with B, but I don’t even know that you need to explain that much if you aren’t comfortable with it. An explanation of A’s apparent issues and your attempt to manage them might be all that’s required. Perhaps everyone needs to be using earplugs more.

If you have another room that doesn’t share a wall with B, it might be worth relocating your sex there. And yes, you should probably consider using your partner’s place more frequently—it makes sense that you’ve been doing it at yours, but that’s mostly because of the theoretical privacy that your living alone confers. In practice, you don’t have much of that privacy, and the neighbors in A and B, given the lack of sonic boundaries, can be viewed, as cohabitants who could be disrupted by your sex and its sounds. Seems like your respective living spaces are, at this point, equally inconvenient, so there’s little reason to choose one over the other.

There may not be an easy answer here, but see if B will work with you. If that fails, try talking to A, but do it delicately. You could also attempt to hit up your landlord for better soundproofing in the apartments, but as in virtually all cases of hitting up your landlord for anything: Good luck with that.


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