How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to firstname.lastname@example.org. Nothing’s too small (or big).
Every Thursday night, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a straight Asian woman in her mid-20s who has been dating a white man in his late 20s for almost two years. We have a very stable relationship—we have a healthy amount of sex, we like each other’s friends, and we never fight. We recently took the step to move in together, and it has been going well. We purchased a computer together to share when we work from home (we both work in an industry that requires a specific kind of machine). Yesterday, I was on the computer and opened the web browser. It opened a “private window” he hadn’t closed with many tabs of porn open. I of course don’t care that he watches porn. But I noticed that the porn was quite brutal, involving domination—he is very sweet and vanilla in bed with me—and especially domination of Asian women by white men. I’m well aware of the kinds of fetishes men can have toward Asian women from college dating, but my boyfriend has never shown any signs of this. Should I be worried? I know porn can just be fantasies, but the nature of this porn has me wondering if there are layers to my boyfriend I don’t know about.
Stoya: This one is a doozy, huh?
Rich: For sure. To start, yes, I guarantee you there are layers to your boyfriend that you don’t know about.
Stoya: I’d say that extends to girlfriends and all friends. We all contain multitudes and will never fully know the depths of another person. Trying is sort of the fun part.
Rich: Exactly—the new information can work like a reward. You put in the time, you learn something.
Rich: And look, this is true sexually, too. Sadly this information is not much of a reward: Now the writer has to figure out if her boyfriend’s sexualized racism is showing. Obviously this would be much less of a thorny issue if she stumbled upon the discovery that he’s into, I don’t know, furry or looner porn.
Rich: You know, balloons. Popping, blowing up …
Stoya: AAAAAH. Popping. So I’m thinking about Martha Nussbaum and objectification here. Mutual, consensual objectification is part of sexual relationships, at least at the beginning. But there’s good—functional—objectification and harmful objectification.
Rich: Right. And she thought she was getting one kind, but then she saw a kind of Through the Looking-Glass version of her relationship dynamic via his browsing history.
Stoya: Also what is up with people not closing their browser windows? This keeps coming up!
Rich: I know!
Stoya: It is so simple and saves so much drama, heartache, and discomfort.
Rich: I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt here, but whenever we get one of these I-stumbled-upon-information-on-a-computer-my-partner-uses questions, I’m at least slightly suspicious that conscious snooping was involved.
Stoya: Speaking of subterfuge, I wonder if he was maybe a little bit wanting to come out about this.
Rich: That’s always a suspicion as well. I have a friend who told me that his ex cleared his browser history literally every time he used his computer. She’d open it up, and the internet search bar was like untouched snow every time. That is how you don’t get caught.
Stoya: I know this is basically my catchphrase, but I think they should have a talk about it.
Rich: Oh yes, they must.
Stoya: The direct route might be a good one, with something like “I found a browser window open with all this porn.” Or even “Are you looking at BDSM porn with Asian women because you want to do this to me?”
Are there red flags she should keep an eye out for during their discussion?
Rich: Yeah, defensiveness for sure. Clear deception. Obvious lies. Unfortunately, I can’t really envision a satisfying trajectory for the discussion—maybe if he could convincingly argue that the porn he’s looking at is for catharsis only? I mean, how do you untangle his interest that relies on stereotypes of Asian women from his relationship with an Asian woman? That’s tripping me up.
Stoya: Sometimes various mental health difficulties can cause a person to get stuck watching or reading something they actually find horrifying? But it is hard to imagine.
Rich: It’s one thing to have a sexual side of yourself you don’t show, and it’s another when that side could inform your very real relationship, or even redefine it. In similar situations, it would be very easy to write something off like, “Well, this has nothing to do with me” … but this one very well might.
Stoya: Definitely. I don’t want to be alarming, but the direct answer to her question is yes, you probably should be somewhat worried. On guard. Wary.
Rich: Racism is insidious—sometimes people are just incredibly adept at concealing it, and then it comes out in their browser history.
Stoya: Or unaware because they aren’t paying attention, which can be really easy to be if you come from a lot of privilege.
Rich: It would be wild if he wasn’t aware of the sharp contrast in his dynamic with his girlfriend and the porn he’s watching, but it’s certainly possible.
Stoya: He’d have to be very obtuse, at least in this area.
Rich: Is there a solution here?
Stoya: The solution depends on his reaction when she broaches the subject. If he’s all “I don’t know what you’re upset about,” the solution is to get a new boyfriend.
Rich: Right. But even if he says, “I won’t watch porn like that again,” I worry that he’s revealed too much about himself for their relationship to continue, or at least continue as it was. I guess she’ll just have to feel it out to determine whether he’s irredeemably racist.
Stoya: Basically. This will be a rough one.
More How to Do It
I’ve recently become “official” with a guy I’ve been with for a few months (hetero, in our 20s). He’s a little bro-y, you could say—he was in a frat, his friends are mostly loud men, he likes beer and football on the weekends, and so on. Not my usual type, but he’s quite sweet and attentive to me behind closed doors, especially in bed. However, there’s one thing that keeps getting to me: He often says things about other women that are crude at best and misogynistic at worst. He’s made comments about an overweight woman eating fries at a bar; he called a friend of mine a slut (a word she’d happily use for herself, but he did not say it that way); he made a weird joke speculating about how two lesbians we know have sex. Every time he does this, I shut it down and tell him that’s an unacceptable way to talk about women, and he always seems genuinely surprised, agrees with me, and apologizes. I think part of it is just the social environment he’s used to, where this kind of talk is apparently common. But I wonder if I’m too easy on him because I want to be with him and he doesn’t treat me this way. What do you think?