Dear Prudence

Mind Your Own Birds and Bees

Do my friends and family really need to know how my same-sex wife and I got pregnant?

Emily Yoffe.

Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
I’m a 30-year-old woman, married to a woman, and three months pregnant with our first child. We’ve begun sharing the good news with our nearest and dearest, but I’m befuddled by some of the reactions. After exclaiming “Congrats!” most people launch into questions about the mechanics of our pregnancy, everything from “How did this happen?” to “Who’s the donor?” to “Which college did the donor attend?” It would be one thing if these were acquaintances or strangers, where I could brush them off. But how do you tell dear friends and family members that the ins and outs aren’t any of their business? My wife and I aren’t ashamed; we simply don’t think the donor’s biographical info or the details of our fertility treatments should be up for grabs. I get flustered and say more in my answer than intended. Is there a quick way to shut down the conception questions without offending our loved ones?

—Baby on Board

Dear Baby,
“How did this happen?” are four words that should not be uttered consecutively to a woman who has just told you the happy news of her pregnancy. Of course you are entitled to tell your loved ones nothing. But I’m not sure shutting down the subject of the paternity of your child is the best approach in the long run. As gay people marry and have children in greater numbers, this is something many more couples will have to address. In one sense your situation is similar to that of heterosexual couples who go through fertility treatment. Some share their experiences with those closest to them; others prefer to keep it entirely private. In another way, it’s analogous to adoption in that a child born to a gay or lesbian couple requires genetic material from a third party. Adoptions used to be shrouded in secrecy, even shame. The identity of the biological parents was sealed, and some children were never even told. Fortunately, that’s all changed, and it’s accepted that children are entitled to know their biological origins. Musician Melissa Etheridge and her then-partner Julie Cypher finally revealed their children were fathered by David Crosby because they felt keeping the secret was a burden, and their daughter, at age 3, was asking if she had a daddy. (And yes, I’m aware that Etheridge’s romantic life has been as tumultuous as that of any rocker.) Of course, David Letterman won’t be pressing you on national television for the name of the father, but in just a few years your son or daughter will be wondering, and you want to be able to answer in an honest and in an age-appropriate way. It’s important, especially when you’re around family and close friends, that your child doesn’t get the impression there is something embarrassing or shameful about his or her conception. That’s why I think that you should give your family and friends the general information, but say for now you’d prefer to keep the details of the father’s identity private. You could say something like, “The biological father is a dear friend, but he’s not going to be involved in the raising of our child.” Or, “We used a sperm bank and the father not only went to college, he appears to be a delightful person.” Having a confident and comfortable response to your loved ones will be good practice for conveying to your child this topic is a happy one and not taboo.


Dear Prudence: Third-Wheel Twin

Dear Prudence,
After being married for 10 years, I developed an interest in dominance and submission. I don’t know where this new interest came from, but I began having frequent fantasies of submitting to a powerful woman. I told my wife that I’d like us to try it, but she declined. She wasn’t judgmental or condemnatory, she just said it wasn’t for her. I tried to get over it, but it became an obsession. I felt that if I didn’t find an outlet, I would explode, so on three occasions I visited a professional dominatrix, in secret. They were incredible experiences and even exceeded my fantasies, but three was enough. I fulfilled my desires and was done. Although these encounters were highly erotic, they did not include sexual acts. That was two years ago. Since then, I’ve felt quite guilty about having deceived my wife. She believes I’ve always been faithful, and I feel like I’m living a lie. In the interest of having an honest relationship, should I confess?

—Submissive No More

Dear No More,
I assume you’re saying that although you’ve been a very naughty boy, your genitals were not involved when you went to get yourself disciplined. I think it’s fair to say that while you were skirting the edge, you have not been unfaithful to your wife. Going to a strip club is erotic, but it doesn’t constitute infidelity. Let’s say you confess. If you open this box of whips, you and your wife will be forced to discuss what you did and why you kept it secret. Even though you can assure her that the urge has been slaked, she will be left having to contend with the image of you trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey with another woman’s leather boots on your back. You indicate you have a good and loving wife, so doing that to her seems unnecessarily punitive. You dealt discreetly with an odd episode (oh, the quirks of the human psyche!), and no one got hurt. If it will make you feel better, I command you to keep quiet.


Dear Prudence,
I live with my girlfriend and her 10-year-old son, with whom I get along very well. However, I have a major problem with the lack of boundaries. He slept with her until I moved in about a year and a half ago. He has adjusted to sleeping on his own, but she still sleeps with him anytime I’m not around. I can’t watch a movie with them because he lies on her and rubs her legs the entire time. In public, he presses against her body and kisses her chest. At a restaurant he has to be touching her the entire meal. He walks around naked at bedtime, and when she puts him to bed he gives her a massage. He also touches and rubs me when we sit down to do anything. Most guys I know don’t treat their mother like their girlfriend, but he doesn’t show any signs of stopping. I believe it’s Mom’s job to set boundaries and help him understand that he isn’t a little baby anymore, but I don’t know what to do.

—Mean Boyfriend

Dear Mean,
Some night, after the nude display, the rubbing, and the massages are over and you and your girlfriend are alone, suggest watching the movie Cyrus, in which Jonah Hill plays a grown version of your young man. As the credits run, it should spark a lively discussion. I suppose when you first moved in, things were a little odd, but the boy was still young enough that his behavior didn’t seem alarmingly compulsive. As the old joke goes, “Oedipus, schemidipus, I just love my mom.” But by age 10, it is concerning that your girlfriend and her son remain Velcroed. That he also rubs up against you indicates he’s not just marking his mother, but that he is developing a global problem with appropriate behavior. You are in an odd position, and I don’t mean only when little Cyrus is engaging in frottage with you. You are neither father nor stepfather, but you are more than just an observer. Situations such as yours are why it’s so important for people to have clear expectations about their roles, and an ability to discuss and adapt as relationships shift, before moving in with someone and becoming in loco parentis. This is especially necessary when the parent seems a little loco.

Talk to your girlfriend. You can use your expertise as a male to explain that it’s time her Cyrus started becoming more independent and putting some actual physical space between himself and her. Sure, you are likely to get some pushback, but if you don’t have the kind of relationship that allows for such a conversation, then you have to wonder what you’re doing with her. If you’re all going to remain a threesome, you have a real obligation to make sure Cyrus doesn’t become that young man on the subway in the raincoat muttering and standing way too close to other commuters.


Dear Prudence,
My younger brother is trying to become a real estate agent, and my husband and I are selling our apartment and buying a house. The apartment was an investment by my husband and his parents—I moved in after he bought it. His parents are using their longtime agent for the new transactions. I brought up my brother with my in-laws, but they said they wanted to stick with the person they know. My family is now saying that I have betrayed them. My father has disowned me, my mother has screamed at me, and they all say that I should give my husband an ultimatum: Either he uses my brother or I leave him. My family says I am being controlled and that I married my husband for money, which is untrue. They say they will not be part of my life because of this. What can I do?

—Torn Apart

Dear Torn,
This sounds like a great opportunity to foreclose on a relationship with your family, at least for the time being. They falsely accuse you of marrying for financial advantage, and now you are being disowned for not forcing upon your in-laws an unearned financial advantage for your brother. I can just see the logo on your brother’s business cards: “Hire me, or I’ll make your life hell.” This can’t be your first indication that your family is volatile and bizarre, but what you do now is keep your cool. Tell them you will not listen to their threats, and if they want to cut you off, you wish them well. Focus on how lucky you are to have missed whatever personality disorder they all seem to suffer from and that your marriage has brought you a loving and supportive new family.


Discuss this column with Emily Yoffe on her Facebook page.

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