How to Do It

After 45 Years With My Wife, I’d Like to Try Gay Sex

An old couple sits on a bench.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Matthew Bennett on Unsplash.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com. 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 am a 68-year-old man who has been married to a woman for 45 years, with three grown kids. Over the course of our marriage, we have been very active sexually, but for various reasons over the past five or six years, our sexual activity has declined dramatically. At the same time, over the past few years, I have become fascinated with same-sex encounters. Is this unusual, especially this late in life? How should approach this with my wife?

—New Leaf

Rich: When I first read this question, I chuckled a little and thought: This is what the right is afraid of. We get lax about the rules, and bam! Everyone wants a taste of dick.

Stoya: Bahahaha. Because of the stigma that still surrounds homosexuality in some circles, we don’t really have good data on how usual bisexuality is yet. I can say that, anecdotally speaking, sexual interest in multiple genders is normal in my world, but that’s my world.

Rich: It’s true. There isn’t a lot of data on late-in-life coming out either, but it’s drawn the eye of some researchers. I think this guy is probably experiencing a perfect storm of queerness being more socially acceptable than ever before in his life (I’m assuming he lives in the U.S.) along with him finally getting to a point where he’s comfortable with the idea that he may not be strictly hetero and/or that he’s in the market for novelty after spending decades as a sexual being. To answer his first question, I haven’t come across a lot of stories like this, but I also think a lot of people must be going through the same thing. CNN wrote about it as a phenomenon a decade ago (“Coming out late in life complex but not unusual”).

Stoya: I think we have this idea of people’s sexuality as static. And I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case. It doesn’t sound like this guy has been secretly totally gay and waiting to come out. His sexuality or perspective has grown or shifted—there is some research on that. (It tends to suggest it’s more common for women, but it’s complicated.) So I’m hoping for a world one day where the headline is “Developing New Sexual Interests as We Age Is Totally Normal.”

Rich: I also think that with the accessibility of sex today—via apps and the internet—people can immerse themselves in it so much that they find new points of focus to keep it interesting.

Stoya: And we’re able to see a much more varied picture of sexuality, exposing us to interests we might not have realized on our own.

Rich: Yeah, exactly. Seeing those things in motion, as it were—that there are actual humans who engage in acts previously thought of as taboo, and that said acts are actually, ya know, hot.

Stoya: I kind of wish he’d gone into detail about how they kept their sex life so robust for the first four decades. That’s unusual.

Rich: For real! Please send us your tips, New Leaf, so I don’t have to keep recommending Mating in Captivity!

Stoya: So I feel safe assuming that our writer and his wife have a stable, loving foundation. And that he knows how to pick a good time to have a sensitive conversation.

Rich: Yes. It’s encouraging that he’s not freaked out by this. Fascinated is such an engaged, positive word. I wonder where his wife is with same-sex attraction as a concept. And I wonder if it might be useful to plot some of this out with a therapist. It might not be necessary, but it couldn’t hurt.

Stoya: He might have an easier time navigating this situation with a therapist than he would otherwise.

Rich: Yes. Otherwise, a relaxed, low-key approach in very much the same tone as he wrote would be good. This is just a matter-of-fact occurrence and doesn’t need to be fraught. He can be very practical here, especially given the state of his sex life with his wife.

Stoya: Um. I do think he should proceed with extra caution given the state of his sex life with his wife. She’s probably post-menopause. She might be struggling with feelings of guilt or inadequacy regarding the sex they aren’t having lately.

Rich: These are great points. Hopefully there has been some communication about their waning sex. And I agree, sensitivity is key; I just think it would be useful if the tone he sets is not one of anxiety.

Stoya: Absolutely. I’m thinking along the lines of it being better to start from having discovered something about himself over, like, “We aren’t having sex as often anymore.”

Rich: Yeah, that’s smart.

Stoya: I think what you’re saying about how to come out is really useful. Nervousness is understandable, but don’t let it make the situation more dramatic than it needs to be.

Rich: Yes, and if this isn’t an entry to a conversation about divorce—which it doesn’t sound like it would be—it’s important to let her know upfront that their relationship is not in jeopardy. At least not as far as he is concerned.

Stoya: One hundred percent. And as much as it’s his sexuality, he does need to ask what she’s comfortable with, again presuming he wants to stay in this relationship.

Rich: I get the sense that he wants data as backup—“You can’t hold this against me because it’s not unusual, How to Do It said so”—and while that might be useful if she’s not overtly sex-positive, it sends the message that sexuality is only as strong as its subscriber list. That idea is not just backward—it’s false. He is what he is, and that’s all he needs for it to be OK.

Stoya: Good catch. On second read, it does seem like he might be preparing for a debate. Our weirdness is what’s really normal. Across all people, sexually and otherwise, the thing we all have in common is that each of us has some weird thing.

Rich: Yep. In a column that ran a few weeks ago, I quoted Michael Warner’s point that if normal did exist—someone who was straight down the statistical middle of every possible measurement—that would be weird.

Stoya: Yes! He’s fine exactly how he is, and he might want to work on really feeling that. Dig around for self-judgments and think through them.

Rich: Totally. And it really doesn’t have to be a huge life shift here—you can subscribe as much or as little to the hallmarks of queer culture as you want and still pursue same-sex experiences or just enjoy them from afar.

More How to Do It

I’m a mother of two lovely and happy kids, both in their early 20s. We’re very close and talk frequently. We started talking about sex early, and positively, and consciously kept an open line so they knew they had support if they needed it. My son had a long-term girlfriend in high school, and I came to realize they were having sex, so I just made sure he had the facts about safety. My daughter is beautiful but very shy, and I essentially knew she was a virgin through college. She’s now living in a big city after graduation and is “blooming,” I guess you could say. I am happy for her, but the problem, to be blunt, is that she won’t shut up to me about it! She tells me fairly graphic details about every man she dates, and even one time about a man she met in a bar and had a one-night stand with. I’ve registered mild objections to these conversations, but 1) I don’t think she has close girlfriends to talk about this, and 2) I don’t want to make her feel ashamed or like she can’t talk to me. How do I support her, remain positive, but at least set up some boundaries?