How to Do It

A Guy Claims I Could Have “Sexually Transmitted” My Depression to Him

Uh …

A shirtless man with neon pills in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Asaf R 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).

Dear How to Do It,

I am a man who has persistent depressive disorder. I am friends with a transgender guy who I’ve known for two years. For a short period of time, we were sexually intimate. We each cleared STD tests before we were intimate. He insisted on condoms for vaginal and oral sex, and even suggested a dental dam be used by me when going down on him. We didn’t have a dam and I went down au naturel. A few weeks later, we were having a beer at a bar, and he told me that he’d watched a video on YouTube that talked about the sexual transference of gut microbes and bacteria through oral sex. He told me because I suffer from depression that there is a chance he could get depression passed to him via my gut microbes, and he said he has to look out for his self-preservation. I was shocked into silence. He kept saying he doesn’t know if it’s possible, but he watched that video and he doesn’t want to take any chances. I didn’t say much after he spoke. I followed up later that night with a text message to him asking if he still wanted to be physical with me. He said yes. I was confused. What I heard in that bar exchange is that he fears getting depression from me, and yet he still wants to be physical with me? I felt immediately our sex was over.

I’d never heard of sexually transmitted depression, and in my follow-up with a physician, my psychiatrist, and my therapist, neither had they heard of such a thing. My friend and I have not been sexual since that talk at the bar. We’ve discussed the conversation once, and I told him I respect his beliefs but I do not agree with them.

It’s been 16 months since we talked about it. We are friends and we occasionally have dinner and go for walks. The truth is I have a growing resentment toward him. I feel stigmatized. Where once we shared experiences together and grew intimate, now I fear he’ll judge me again. I feel like he got away with stating a fear at my expense. Imagine if I’d insisted on condoms because I feared getting transgender cooties. That seems nuts and insensitive too. I don’t value his friendship the way I used to, and recently, he started dating a woman, which also bugged me. I never expressed to him the stigma I feel and how my resentment has grown. He has no idea how I feel. Should I tell him?

—The Other STD

Dear the Other STD,

I’m assuming that whatever YouTube your friend watched Frankensteined evidence of a link between depression and microbiome makeup (like this one) with the idea that sexual activity could influence the microbiome (like this one, involving mice). These studies and others like them have by no means conclusively determined anything—they merely suggested, like most of their kind, that more study may be warranted. They represent an inkling of an inkling. As far as I can tell, no study (or scientist for that matter) has actually suggested that depression can be contracted through sex. To make absolute sure, I reached out to an expert who did not want to be quoted or named here (wonder why!) but nonetheless told me that they had never heard of any such thing, just like your doctors. I trust them, and you should too. Your friend was on some conspiracy-theorist bullshit. You bore its brunt.

This information was ridiculous and baseless, and I agree that you were unfairly stigmatized. Your friend’s behavior reminds me of someone in the ’80s (and later!) who refused to bathe or eat with someone with AIDS. That was a terrible way to treat people, and so is the behavior you describe. Truly insensitive to your condition. I don’t really think you needed to invoke a false equivalency about being transphobic to prove your point (you don’t get a star for not being a bigot). I know that you didn’t ask me semantic advice, but you’re in my playpen, and this is my Play-Doh sculpture.

Should you talk to him about it? My, uh, gut reaction is no. You’d just be inviting drama. There’s virtually no way for you to have that conversation without it being fraught, and whatever catharsis you may achieve by expressing these feelings to a less-than-significant other could very well be swallowed up by ensuing conflict that just ends up making you feel worse than you already do.

But! It seems very clear to me that you have very strong feelings for him. You’re still thinking about this 16 months later? Your resentment is, in fact, growing? His dating a woman is making you feel some type of way? Sounds like love or something like it to me. I think you should look inward and consider why this matters so much to you when you know it’s ridiculous, and why you’ve kept this person in your life despite anger you’ve never been able to resolve. If you do confront him and a fight happens to erupt as a result, so be it. It could actually be good for you. You could use some help moving on.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a woman who has been happily married to a man for a few years. We are deeply in love, and we were both pretty young and inexperienced when we got married. We both learned how to “do it” with each other. Unfortunately, I have now experienced a sexual awakening that seems to have happened at the worst possible time. I constantly find myself having desires to have sex with other people. A threesome would not even be out of the question for me. I have discovered that I am attracted to women also, and I would like to have a sexual experience exploring that as well.

All of this is hindered by the fact that I am married. My husband is very traditional and vanilla, and he has made it clear that he only wants it that way. I truly do love my husband, and I have no desire to break up my marriage. I also have no desire to cheat—that’s not who I am. My sex life with my husband is good, but not great or overly exciting, and I find myself wanting more, which leads to my fantasies about other people. How can I reconcile my desire to stay married with my constantly growing libido and attraction to other people?

—Gimme More

Dear Gimme More,

Let us, for the first time in the history of How to Do It, look to religious officials for guidance. Many of them are learned in ways of self-repression. In a 2013 BBC article about living a celibate life, a Buddhist named Vishvapani said meditation could curb sex cravings, while a priest, the Rev. Stephen Wang, said celibacy was possible when people “have an inner maturity.” In a piece posted in the online nun community A Nun’s Life Ministry, one Sister Julie suggests staving off urges with “a splash of cold water, or it may mean talking it over with a trusted friend or mentor.” She emphasizes the importance of a strong social network.

While you did not ask about a life without any sex, you did ask me to help you imagine a life without much of the sex you crave, so, in no particular order, to cope: splash yourself with water, meditate, grow up, and talk about it. If these things do not seem appealing to you (and why should they?), put some effort into broadening your husband’s mind. Inflexibility is a relationship killer, and I don’t think this is a problem you can fully solve within your union. Your abundantly straight-laced husband may not have signed up for a relationship with someone who has nonmonogamous tendencies, but that’s what he got, through no fault of either party. People change; interests intensify. At the very least, this isn’t just your dilemma. It is in his best interest to concern himself with your satisfaction for the sake of your continuing union. He may want to keep the relationship closed, but it would be at the expense of your desire, which means it’s only a matter of time before the main question you are asking—yourself certainly, advice columnists, perhaps—becomes: “How much longer can I put up with this?” I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor to stifle your cravings, but you’re playing a losing game.

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I got married five years ago with an agreement that we were allowed to see other people; we didn’t want to define our commitment with jealousy. Early on it was a nonissue because we were too busy with each other for anyone else. Early on in the marriage we also had to live apart for almost a year, and when the openness came close to moving from theoretical to functional, my wife hit the brakes, citing the difficulty of our time apart. Our relationship is my No. 1 priority, so I said “fine for now”; we’ll figure it out later.

Soon after our reunion, my wife’s health started going downhill—poorly understood, chronic condition—which eventually forced her to leave her job. We’re young, and it’s been a hard road with her health issues, particularly for our intimacy. I found myself hating my sexuality, resenting my attraction for other people as something selfish adding pain to my wife’s already considerable challenges. I’ve gotten through a lot of that and have reached a point of being open about my needs not being met. But we’re kinda stuck—my wife refuses to really engage with the topic. I want to hear about her fears, about what stands between her and honoring the vows we made to each other, but she’s not willing to discuss it. I feel wracked with guilt over putting my sick wife through this, but I feel like she’s leaving me with no option but to lay out an ultimatum, which is the last thing I want to do. I’ve stood by her through hell, and I want to keep doing that, but I feel she’s asking me to sacrifice an essential part of myself, and I don’t think I can do that in good conscience. I’m trying to be good, and be true to myself, but I can’t help but feel I have to choose.

—Open and Shut

Dear Open and Shut,

So, my standard answer in this column when it comes to talking to your unconvinced partner about nonmonagamy is: try harder. Speak more articulately, convey more urgency. With compassion and consideration, delicately pry the relationship open. (See the answer to the question directly above.) In your case, however, I’m urging you to hit the brakes. Your wife is sick. You’re right not to want to put her through more grief. I understand that her condition is chronic. I’m not sure what that means in terms of her wellness trajectory, but if she does have upswings or if there’s some sort of improvement in sight, wait until then to pursue this. I just cannot recommend leaving your wife in this state; it seems like something you will surely regret later. If her condition is static, how long has it been? I’d advise a substantial period, at least a year from the current status quo, before you hammer at this again. She deserves at least that substantial (albeit arbitrary) amount of time. Use it to really think about your priorities and how to live your life to reflect the person you are.

When you do finally talk about this—and I have no doubt that you need to do this at some point—investigate what happened to cause her to renege on your proposed openness at the start of your relationship. Was it really the transmogrification from fantasy to reality, or was there a specific fear, issue, or instance that inspired her reversal? Make sure you really understand this, for it may provide clarity on the root of her current mindset. I don’t think it’s fair of her to refuse to engage with this topic; it’s meaningful to you. You may very well have to bust out that ultimatum to get her to take you seriously and reveal enough about herself so that at least you’ll have the full truth to help you cope, should you decide to remain in your intimacy-deprived marriage. The communication issue here is at least as worrying as the lack of sex. There may be several reasons, in fact, why this relationship isn’t a good fit for you two, but you’ll never determine them precisely without transparency—when the time is right.

Dear How to Do It,

I have been thinking about my kinks and what I’m interested in with a sexual relationship, and I’ve decided that I’d like to try a BDSM relationship. However, being a young black woman, I don’t know how to navigate the inevitable fetishization and inappropriate dynamics that I’ll run into. How should I bring up power dynamics with a potential dominant?

—Figuring Things Out

Dear Figuring Things Out,

Because this question is decidedly outside of my wheelhouse, I’ve brought in some expert help from Mollena Williams-Haas. She describes herself as an “award-winning executive pervert,” an actress, a storyteller, and a BDSM expert. She is well acquainted with the specific issues that arise as a black woman in the world of BDSM. In her email response to my query, she reminds you that that particular world exists in the “default” world, so people bring plenty of their issues (including racism) to BDSM play.

Mollena’s response is such a great read that I want to reprint the bulk of it basically verbatim:

As a black woman living in the USA, you definitely have experienced prejudice, racism, bigotry … and you certainly can expect to run into that while exploring kink. The upside is that, among kinksters, we are committed to communication. Negotiation upfront; plain speaking about our needs, wants, and desires; and talking about exactly what dynamic you crave, is not something presumptuous or forward. It is central and necessary to negotiating any type of kink relationship. Sitting face-to-face with a potential dominant partner, asking them frankly about their history, politics, opinions, BDSM experience, and opinions on racism and bigotry, can provide a treasure trove of information as you explore a potential relationship. Bringing up power dynamics is our normal. Talking about the thorny issues of power exchange (PE) is our bread and butter and ought to come as naturally in a PE dating situation as sorting out what movie you’ll be seeing next Saturday. The “how” is as easy as, “I need to talk to you about how you plan to handle a PE relationship with a black woman.”

 Realistically, fetishization is unavoidable—again, this is not unique to BDSM. I’ve definitely had so-called “vanilla” dates with individuals who were not people of color where my intended suitor tipped their hand by revealing that they had “always wanted to be with a black woman.” This is not something I personally find appealing, and so those relationships were nipped—with extreme prejudice—in the bud. You will likely meet these same undesirables while traversing the BDSM community. You have a lifetime of experience in weeding out those who are not worthy of your time and attention based on their petty small-mindedness. Bring this savvy to the table when negotiating with a new dominant. Ask them, point-blank, how they’d handle the reality of the kinky, sex-based PE while also navigating the intricacies of a real-life racism, bigotry and prejudice. See what they say, see how their responses feel to you. You’ll quickly realize that your experience, common sense, and gut instinct will help you weed out those who will disappoint. And if someone does slip under the radar? Someone who seems wonderful at first only to subsequently reveal themselves to be unworthy? You will have gained valuable experience not only in the BDSM scene, but also in the “default world.”

Mollena, who is also the subject of a documentary, recommends pursuing only black doms to avoid this particular kind of racism, though she warns that other issues, like socio-economic differences and colorism, can come up even then. She also says creating a community of people of color within the scene could help you work through racial issues as they arise. Best of luck in this exciting new sexual endeavor.

More How to Do It

I hate the sounds my boyfriend makes during sex. Sorry to be blunt, but that really is the problem. He just kind of whimpers as things start to get hot, particularly if I kiss him on the neck or elsewhere on his body, and he legitimately sounds like a small animal in pain. He seems to realize these noises are unusual and off-putting—he constantly apologizes for making them, even midsex, but says he can’t help it. I’m really turned on by him otherwise, but I can’t go on forever hearing the cries of injured wildlife when we’re getting it on. Is it possible to manually adjust the sounds one makes during sex? Should I ask him to?