Dear Prudence

The Real Issue

My husband is infertile, but he’ll only allow a sperm donor if we keep it secret.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to (Questions may be edited.)

Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online here on Slate to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Dear Prudence,
My husband “Rob” and I have struggled for almost 10 years to have children and we are now in our late 30s. My husband only has a 5 percent chance of fathering a child. We are discussing artificial insemination by a sperm donor and Rob said he would want to pick a donor who looked like him and had similar intellectual strengths. He also wants to give his own sperm sample at the same time and have the samples mixed so that he can psychologically maintain the possibility that the child could be his biologically. When we asked the doctor if this idea was OK, he said no. He said he believes children have a right to information about their specific biological background. Unfortunately, Rob doesn’t want to proceed if we have to inform anyone that the child is not his, even though intellectually he understands that the real father is the one who raises the child. Here’s my dilemma: I could afford a few rounds of artificial insemination from another physician without Rob knowing about it. Do I do it and, if it works, let him believe that we hit the 5 percent jackpot? Or is this the kind of information that would ultimately get out and potentially explode our relationship and damage our parental relationship with the child? Please tell me straight up if I’m terrible for even thinking such a thing could work.  

—Wanting a Baby

Dear Wanting,
It’s fortunate we live in a world in which there are many options to treat fertility as well as a belief that openness about how people came to be is their right. According to RESOLVE, the national fertility organization, doctors are reluctant to mix sperm because they feel it indicates that the parents who ask for this have not psychologically dealt with their infertility. Even if it were permitted, adding a soupcon of his DNA to the donor’s sample doesn’t sound like a useful feint for your husband. He would forever be looking for signs that the baby has his nose, and eventually he’d probably be driven to want a DNA test. You two have to have deal with the psychological implications of a sperm donor before conception. If you believe you can personally circumvent that inevitability by sneaking off to a fertility clinic, choosing the sperm donor of your dreams, and committing fraud against your husband and child, you need to do a lot of self-analysis in a short time, because your window for medical intervention is closing. You and your husband should go to a RESOLVE support group together, or a psychologist who deals with infertility, to address your sense of loss at not being able to conceive a child together. I hope this leads you both to come to terms with what you are willing to do to become parents. And if after that you both still choose to use a sperm donor, your husband should strive to be like the fathers profiled in this story, who understand fatherhood really begins after the baby arrives.


Dear Prudence,
My husband and his parents look nothing alike. We were married a few months ago and since they live in India, where he grew up, I had never seen them in person until a week before our wedding. When we picked them up from the airport, I was shocked! His facial features and body structure were completely different from theirs, especially his father. My husband is also much taller than both of them. I understand that genetics are unpredictable but a few other things make me wonder. One, he is an only child and mentioned that he believes his mother had several miscarriages during his childhood that were not talked about. Two, his parents are a bit on the older side. Three, he looks exactly like his maternal aunt and their daughters and is tall like her husband (6-foot-2). I’m pretty sure that his aunt and uncle are his real parents and my parents and siblings even approached me about it after the wedding asking if he was adopted. My husband adores his parents and maybe I shouldn’t say anything, but I can’t help being curious! Should I let it go or ask him what he thinks?

—Curious Daughter-in-Law

Dear Curious,
We all know how thorny and fraught the issue of parentage can be—just check out the first letter. But for you, your husband’s biological origins seem only to be a matter of kicky curiosity. What do you plan on saying to him? “Sweetheart, have you ever noticed that your parents aren’t your biological parents? It frankly couldn’t be more obvious. My whole family was laughing about it at the wedding. They thought you were adopted. But clearly your aunt and uncle did your infertile parents a favor and secretly had you and handed your over to the people you think of as your parents. Your so-called folks are really nice people, so I don’t mind. But when we have our own kids, we probably should clarify this, at the very least for genetic purposes, don’t you think?” Or you could go the dropping subtle hints route. “Wow, your uncle is so tall. Isn’t he 6-foot-2 just like you? And your parents are both short. What are the odds that you would more resemble an uncle who married into the family than your own father? Kinda crazy, huh?” You need to comprehensively drop this. If your family brings up their speculations to you, shut them down. Your have met your in-laws, so trying to play chromosomal Sherlock will at this point only undermine your husband’s love for you. Of course the scenario you lay out is plausible. There are endless examples of secret progenitors. And I also think people are entitled to know their own personal histories. But if you proceed to scratch the itch of your own curiosity, you will be making painful and embarrassing allegations about all concerned. If you are happy in your new marriage, cut off this speculation and be glad your mother and father-in-law have so warmly embraced you.


Dear Prudence,
More than two decades ago I was a naive 18-year-old who married an extremely sexually, emotionally, and physically abusive man 13 years my senior. After 12 years of hell I escaped with my children (who are now in their teens). It was a difficult journey, but today I am married to a wonderful, successful man and we’ve been together for six years. Here’s my problem: My 76-year-old ex-mother-in-law just emailed me threatening to release to my family a video of me taken by my ex-husband 18 years ago showing me with another woman. I question the existence of such a clip, but because I spent much of my marriage inebriated in order to cope it is possible it exists. I’m not concerned about this having any risk to my marriage, but I haven’t mentioned this to my husband yet with the hopes of having an action plan in place first. If the video does exist my ex likely gave it to her when I first left him 10 years ago. I suspect my pressuring him into getting a job (he’s been jobless by choice for years) to pay for thousands of dollars owed in child support has triggered her actions. I don’t even know if my ex even knows about my mother-in-law’s threat. Please, what do I do?

—Is It on Tape?

Dear Is,
First of all, calm down, because I’m betting there is no tape. Maybe your ex once mentioned to his mother—in laying out his case that you were an unfit mother—that he made such a tape of you. The fact that he would do this, then use it as evidence against you to his mother, and that she would now threaten you with a nearly two-decade-old dirty movie shows that they are both unfit as human beings. I think you should not respond to her in any way. I expect your silence will be met with a resounding non-appearance of said “video bomb.” If, by some unlikely chance, your mother-in-law does have this mythical clip, and she sends it to your kids, just imagine their reaction when they get an eyeful of about two seconds of it: “Eww, gross! Grandma is sick!” But again, I don’t think it will ever come to that. You need to tell your husband. You crawled out of hell, and this beacon of decency is going to support you. It might be worth it for the two of you to discuss your options with a lawyer and put your mind at ease. But the supposed evidence of your experimental days is about as likely to show up as is the back payment for child support—that is, not likely at all.


Dear Prudence,
My husband empties his nose into the sink or into the shower by simply blowing with water. I cannot stand the sound. Every morning and night I hear it, and it is very loud. He also makes loud sounds every morning and night when defecating. It’s like he has diarrhea every day. When he comes to bed after this I am completely grossed out and it has killed our sex life. What should I do?


Dear Disgusted,
I guess the book about your marriage would be called Fifty Shades of Brown. I hope when your husband empties his nose, he keeps the water running so his effluvia is whisked down the drain. Since you don’t say otherwise, I assume when he defecates it is in the toilet. There’s not much more that you can ask of someone as far as that process of elimination is concerned. Maybe you are one of those people who does not produce mucous or feces, but I’ve read both The Holes in Your Nose and Everyone Poops—both volumes I highly recommend for you—so that couldn’t be true. The solution seems to be that when your husband is performing his ablutions, you make sure you’re in another room. If you’re in another room when he’s having a bowel movement, unless you are truly concerned there is something wrong with his gastrointestinal system and you want to urge him to get a checkup, I suggest you just accept that this is something human beings do. If the fact that your husband has bodily functions means you can’t be sexually aroused by him, then, as a wife, you’re full of crap.


Discuss this column with Emily Yoffe on her Facebook page.

More Dear Prudence Columns

His Crime, My Punishment: I was raped by my boyfriend’s friend. Now I’m afraid my boyfriend will leave me if I tell him.”
Unwilling Amateur: My friend may have uploaded a sex video of his ex. Should I tell her?”
While I Was Sleeping: A friend nursed me through serious illness—and now he won’t leave me alone.”
A Too-Beautiful Mind: My 4-year-old just scored high on an IQ test. Is she doomed to a life of high expectations?”

More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

Despicable Me: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman mortified after accidentally insulting a colleague.”
Thou Shalt Not Sleep With My Son: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman who receives death stares from her mother-in-law the morning after sex.”
Three Families and a Baby: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man whose daughter got pregnant at a house party and wants the owners to chip in.”
Boob Delay: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose fiancé wants to schedule their wedding around his sister’s breast augmentation.”

Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.