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 man in my 20s. I’m currently dating a great girl, and I’m confident in my sexuality. However, ever since I was a preteen, I’ve had a fetish that seems to only be getting stronger. I get really turned on by being naked in locker rooms—by both the voyeurism and exhibitionism. I’m fit and well equipped and get lots of looks from other guys at my gym. I don’t think they are gay, either. I look, too, but never stare. I also find myself masturbating to locker room videos online, most of which I think are filmed without permission. On top of this, on a forum for guys into the same thing, I met a married guy in my city who says he sometimes masturbates in locker room shower stalls and catches all kinds of guys peeking. I have to admit that idea turns me on a lot. I feel some guilt about this—even if I am not leering and am acting normal for the most part, it’s very sexual for me and I know it would make other guys uncomfortable. I also feel some shame, despite knowing for sure I’m into girls, and I’m afraid of how my girlfriend would react if she saw the porn. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong. It’s definitely not going away, though.
—Eyes Wide Open
Stoya: Since I’m at peak PMS, I want to zero in on this writer’s shame. You feel some shame, despite knowing for sure you’re into girls? Let’s unpack that. I see hints of internalized homophobia in that line, and I think he’d be a lot more comfortable if he dealt with it.
Rich: Jane Ward’s 2015 book Not Gay kicked off a lot of discourse about “straight” guys who engage in “gay” sex, and I think it did a real disservice to nuance by being totally credulous of self-labeling. Given the societal pressure to be straight and the history of closeted gay, bi, and queer men saying one thing and doing another, I don’t necessarily think we need to take people at their word when they say they’re straight and do things that suggest otherwise.
Stoya: I’d go further. I think we struggle to self-report our sexuality across the board. There’s the genital response study from a few decades ago that focused on “arousal nonconcordance.”
Rich: Agreed, it’s hardly confined to “straight guys.”
Stoya: There’s no shame in being human.
Rich: Right. I think what happens is people say, to themselves, “Well, gay/bi/queer people are like this.” And their image is some stereotype that they see as negative. And so they reject labels. I think that it makes sense to acknowledge a fundamental difference in the sexuality of someone who seeks sexual contact and/or experiences with men, no matter in what form or frame, and someone who does not. Sure, you can think of labels as being confining, but you can also think of your own existence as helping to expand the parameters of such labels.
Stoya: I am hearing more about the latter lately: people who are a bit queer but read as straight cis guys and continue to identify as straight cis guys to expand that definition, specifically.
Rich: Ah, yes, I guess that’s the other label that can be expanded. I tend to think of “straight” as being unwaveringly narrow (does not have or desire to have sex or sexual contact with members of the same sex) and queer as the wavering, from the slightest pulse to seismic vibrations. Regardless, you like what you like! As long as it’s consensual, you’re better off embracing it—and if you’re not acknowledging it in your self-identification, I don’t know that you’re embracing it.
Which I guess brings us to the question of consent in this writer’s exhibitionist kink.
Stoya: This one is tricky. We can’t tell him to stay out of the locker room. Working out is great for people. And bathing after is probably good.
Rich: It’s 100 percent socially acceptable to be nude in a locker room too.
Stoya: You sort of have to if you’re going to shower. Never-nudes aside.
Rich: Or the people who put on a towel to take their underwear off, which is so awkward and often results in slippage that negates the point.
Stoya: The furtive quality of his kink might heighten the experience for him, too.
Rich: True, though I will say that men’s locker rooms are explicitly erotically charged in New York. I could count on my hand the number of times I haven’t been masturbated at in a steam room or sauna.
Stoya: Seriously? Do you go to particularly gay gyms?
Rich: Not even! My God, on Valentine’s Day a few years ago there was a note on the steam room door: “Due to inappropriate behavior, Men’s Sauna and Steam Room has been shut down until further notice.” The whole shower area was just a cruising ground. Guys walking back and forth, and then going from the steam room to the sauna.
Stoya: Delany’s Times Square lives!
Rich: No doubt. Locker rooms are really their own universe. I was buddies with a couple whose rules were “We only play together unless one of us is in a steam room, in which case all bets are off.” Locker room play was written into their verbal contract! I get how this guy is particularly turned on.
Stoya: Y’all make circus people look puritanical. And the situation just got stickier. Because some people would be thrilled to know what this guy is feeling, while others would feel violated.
Rich: Yeah, and it does strike me that for straight guys who just want a steam and have no interest in jerking off with another guy, it really must suck. (I should note that some gyms have strict policies, and anyone caught dick-in-hand runs the risk of losing their membership or even legal trouble.) I’m not a big fan of public sex, so it kind of sucks for me too, actually. I just don’t go into them.
Stoya: Whatever the case, the locker room is probably a different story though.
Rich: I do wonder if it’s just like that in NYC or what. I went to a gym’s sauna in Colorado Springs and it was not sexual at all.
Stoya: The other guy mentioned here claims to have jerked off in stalls and lives in the same city, so our writer either lives in NYC or NYC is not an outlier.
Rich: To your previous point, I think in general he should pump the brakes and only show off to guys who obviously want to see him. You know, there are glances, and then there are glances. If he wants to jerk off, he could treat one of those guys to a private show in a stall with the curtain closed. Although the same risks apply as in a sauna or steam room, and we’re entering cheating territory with his girlfriend, if we haven’t already been there the whole time.
Stoya: Yeah, this is where the girlfriend’s consent comes into play too. There’s a line past which she’ll feel cheated on, and he needs to establish that line, which means coming clean with the girlfriend whose reaction he fears.
Rich: Yes, and regardless of her reaction, I hope that he can understand that his desires—exhibitionism and voyeurism with other men—are 100 percent OK in the abstract. It seems like the main attraction is that this is happening in a locker room, but I wonder if a masturbation club would be useful for him.
Stoya: I think you’re right.
Rich: I was reading about them today, and there are a lot of self-identified straight guys who like to jerk off with other dudes. From Slate’s piece on them: “The results of ‘Is mutual masturbation gay?’ were 465 to 100 that mutual masturbation is not gay.”
Stoya: As though anything is binary like that, but yes.
Rich: Right. I think that’s the main thing. As not gay as it may be, it’s also not not gay. And take it from me, that’s OK!
Stoya: Even if the girlfriend freaks out and turns into a shame monster, it’s OK. Even if he’s feeling confused and shameful himself, he’s OK.
Rich: Even if this is as far as he ever wants to go with guys, he’s OK.
Stoya: Even if he goes all the way through to taking a dick the size of my arm up his butt, he’s OK, and he can identify however he wants. But he really might want to deal with his feelings around that before he broaches the subject with his girlfriend or strides into the steam room.
Rich: Agree 100 percent.
Stoya: I don’t believe his first line where he says he’s confident in his sexuality.
Rich: That was a dog whistle of insecurity, which is totally reasonable to have in a world that’s most welcoming to heteros. It’s not right, but it’s OK.
More How to Do It
Last year, my husband of two years—together six—and I were out to drinks with his childhood friend and the friend’s fiancée. When we were several in, we were talking about losing our virginities, and his friend’s fiancée made a comment along the lines of “well, you know what they used to do.” I did not know what they used to do! It turns out they masturbated together as teenagers, which included “giving each other a hand.” I was taken aback, but my husband was embarrassed, so I shrugged it off. Recently, I was out with the fiancée for her bachelorette party. My husband was at the bachelor party the same night. Someone joked about them getting too friendly with strippers, and the fiancée said they were more likely to get too friendly with each other. She said she suspected they still do it now sometimes, but she doesn’t care because it’s “just jerking off.” I’m now kind of paranoid about this! I did some Googling that suggested this is a fetish for some guys who are with women. Um, is it?