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,
Recently, I was hooking up with a guy from Grindr who was behaving a bit oddly. He invited me to his apartment building but said we had to meet in the building’s pool showers and not his apartment because he was being “discreet.” I assumed that meant he didn’t want the neighbors seeing him bringing random men. When I got to the locker room—private stalls, no one else around!—we started to do our thing, but he got extremely paranoid at any sound, like a door shutting down the hallway, and we had to keep pausing. (It was silly, but he was hot, so you tolerate things.) After we finally finished, we were getting dressed in the locker area, and he said, “Sorry if I seemed jumpy, but I’m married and I live with my wife here.” Wife. In an apartment down the hall. Dude! I just gave him a look and left. I felt a little guilty after—and then I thought of times in the past when I suspected a guy was married for various reasons and I just didn’t ask. Sometimes, I didn’t ask and saw those guys more than once. The only difference this time is that the guy said it out loud. What do you think is my level of responsibility here? I avoid profiles that explicitly out themselves as married and looking for down-low play. But if I get the vibe and neither of us says anything, should I feel bad about not asking?
Rich: So, while reading the second sentence of this letter, I thought to myself, “This guy is married.” And then … it turned out that the guy was married. I don’t know if I’m psychic or just slutty.
Stoya: How frequently do you run into married guys on the gay apps?
Rich: Married to women? Not too often. Married to men and in (what they say are) open arrangements is much more common.
Stoya: OK. I was wondering if you had more experience encountering this or were simply more aware of the signs than I am. When I read it, I was thinking it’d turn out to be about living with one or both of his parents or having a kid—and also how to arrange for someplace more comfortable than a locker room.
Rich: Well, usually “discreet” dog-whistles some sort of discord with pursuing casual gay sex and the reality of one’s day-to-day existence. It could mean being generally closeted, or not wanting your neighbors to find out that you’re having sex with strangers, or what you mentioned. But when people creep around and invite one over but not in, “He’s married and she doesn’t know” is where my mind goes.
Stoya: Ah. I think our writer can forget “should” and listen to the feelings he’s having now. He’s writing because he does feel bad, and that feeling is letting him know where his boundaries are.
Rich: I think that’s very astute. It’s not your fault when someone deceives or lies to you. Part of what many people enjoy about these kinds of hookups is that they’re breaks from one’s everyday life. They are by definition decontextualized. You hope that people give you enough information to decide to go forward with the anonymous sex in a manner that allows you to make ethical and informed decisions, but there are few set rules, and so behavior varies widely.
Stoya: There is no real norm for anonymous sex. There is a norm for married partners assuming monogamy, and this guy seems pretty furtive, so I worry she doesn’t know.
Rich: Yeah, my interpretation is that she most certainly does not.
Stoya: I feel like the little bit of guilt is a reasonable reaction, then. I don’t think it’s our writer’s job to tell her, but I also don’t think seeing this person again is a good idea. Significant guilt would be too much—he didn’t set his cap for a man he knew was married.
Rich: Yeah, it’s well within the married guy’s responsibility to disclose that information; once it is disclosed, some of the responsibility is transferred to the recipient. If this is something that vexes him, he could ask ahead of time. I mean, there typically is SOME negotiating or probing before “Come over.” He could add it to his pre-hookup survey that I’m assuming includes questions like: “What are you into? When are you looking to do this?”
Stoya: I do think it’s the responsibility of individuals to ask about these things if they care one way or another: “Do you have other partners?” “How significant are they to you?” “Are these relationships committed?”
Rich: Is it ethical not to care about these questions with casual, potentially one-time partners?
Stoya: I’m not sure. I’m not sure if it’s asking too much. I received some negative feedback a few columns ago about a woman who’d felt betrayed when a partner revealed his nonmonogamy after their first hookup. I advised her to ask first next time. The criticism was that I should have chastised the nonmonogamous person for not having the talk earlier. So maybe I’m too permissive with these things.
Rich: Well, the nonmonogamous person wasn’t asking the question, right?
Rich: I don’t feel obligated to advocate to people who aren’t asking; it’s more efficient to keep things practical.
Rich: I had a conversation recently with someone who has been in a sort of secondary relationship with someone who is married. And that person’s partner doesn’t know. So this person I chatted with is basically facilitating cheating over the course of many years. And I asked how they, a very smart person who’s read all the books about sex ethics, feel about that. And they said: “Look, it’s not my favorite thing. But in some way, this relationship I have with this person is keeping their primary relationship afloat.” That could have been rationalizing, but there also could be truth to it. It’s very easy, from behind a screen, to say, “No! Yes! Good! Bad!” And part of our function is to idealize by virtue of the fact that we have distance from the scenarios we’re presented. But we’re doing a disservice if we aren’t considering the knotty ways these things manifest practically. If this stuff was easy, people wouldn’t be writing in to strangers.
Stoya: I think the bottom line for our writer is you care. You should ask so you don’t do something against your morals. As to whether other people should care, I’m not sure. And I know the heart wants what it wants, and we all make mistakes, so he shouldn’t beat himself up over anything here.
Rich: Desire is complicated. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that there’s a component of fetishization here on either participants’ parts.
Stoya: For sure.
Rich: Something can be repulsive and thrilling at the same time.
Stoya: Jesse Bering’s Perv.
Rich: There are also no guarantees that a stranger looking to shoot his load won’t lie for the sake of getting what he wants. So you can make informed decisions from there and maybe not make guys who are acting shady your repeats. Depending where you are, there are often plenty of guys who are willing to engage in this kind of play openly and ethically.
Stoya: Or maybe even don’t sleep with the shady guys in the first place? And now that we all know what “discreet” can be code for, he can use that as a filter in the future too.
More How to Do It
The other day my new male roommate left a pair of his underwear on the bathroom floor. I’m also a guy. I have no idea why I did it, but I picked them up and smelled them. Then I masturbated to the smell. Then I felt horrified with myself and wondered what the hell I was thinking. How bad of a violation was this? I feel like such a creep—but also keep getting turned on by the thought of it.