How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every Thursday night, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I love my husband. We’ve been together for 14 years. The issue is before we were together, I had an avid sex life. He has never really cared about sex. We haven’t had any in five years (he has a bad back and no sex drive). I’ve tried talking to him; we’ve tried therapy. No changes. Last year, I started sleeping with someone else. It’s amazing. Husband has no clue. My issue is that I don’t feel guilty. I don’t want to leave my husband, but I refuse to live without sex. Am I a bad person? I sleep with this guy about once a week, and to be honest, I’m much happier now and a better wife because I no longer am resentful.
—The Good Wife
Stoya: I think asking if she’s a bad person is kind of a cop-out.
Rich: Yeah, that’s not the issue.
Stoya: She’s a human—just a human, flawed like the rest of us—who is doing a bad thing. She can control her actions.
Rich: Right, she has demonstrated why she’s doing this and the (perhaps surface-level) benefits it has for the relationship. She’s not without reason; she’s coping. Nonetheless, she shouldn’t be cheating.
Stoya: She signed up for a committed, monogamous thing.
Rich: Something I still can’t quite wrap my head around, after a year of working on this column and being asked countless questions regarding failures to meet monogamy’s high standard, is that many people seem to prefer deceiving their partners to having a hard conversation with them.
Stoya: If these letter writers ever decide to come clean or are found out, they’re going to have to have that hard conversation anyway.
Rich: I guess they’re afraid that even introducing the notion of non-monogamy will be a deal breaker? That their partner, in fact, can’t handle the truth?
Stoya: That makes sense. Fear prevents people from doing all sorts of things.
Rich: I understand that this conversation is difficult to have, but it’s the 2020s. There are models and resources.
Stoya: And divorces. You don’t have to stay in a relationship that isn’t meeting your needs.
Rich: Well, this is where the real question of goodness comes in, right? To maintain a certain lifestyle, people take liberties or even betray their partners. And sure, in this case, it benefits the husband in a way, but it benefits her more. And so she’s lying for personal gain, which is not quite a hallmark of good person–dom.
Stoya: I’m skeptical about the benefits for the husband.
Rich: I can see how getting laid regularly would improve her mood and take the heat off him. It might be a shortcut to results that could be achieved through more ethical means, but I buy her last sentence. You don’t?
Stoya: I don’t. I’m thinking of a couple that’s close to me. The husband came to me and said he was thinking about cheating because his wife couldn’t meet his needs. He had an interest in BDSM. He—against my advice and insistence that cheating is always wrong—went ahead and did it. Almost tore the family apart. Collateral damage everywhere. Turns out SHE WAS INTO BDSM. The wife.
Rich: See? A conversation could have changed everything. I agree that cheating to ease pressure on a sexless relationship is, uh … cheating. It’s just the wrong way to go about things. At best, it’s a Band-Aid that will likely cause agony when ripped off. So even if she’s happier and a “better wife” at the moment, there’s no proof that this will be sustainable.
Stoya: And how exactly does she think he’s going to feel when he finds out she couldn’t give him the respect of an open conversation? If that pair of people in my life are any example: devastated. Abandoned. Disregarded. And infantilized.
Rich: Where are they now?
Stoya: Happily together doing who knows what with god knows what leather implement. There’s still some residual strife in their family, but it’s been a few years.
Rich: So the shortcut ended up being a long road. Go figure.
Stoya: So, the letter writer thinks she’s a better wife now. But if this affair comes to light, she may have a negative effect on more than just her husband.
Rich: Yeah, it’s a huge risk that may not be worth it. Her reasons for wanting sex outside the relationship are valid, but her execution is potentially lethal to her marriage.
Stoya: I’m not very charitable with these things, so I’m hoping your kindness will temper my harsh take. I think she should admit her infidelity to her husband and take whatever consequences descend.
Rich: I think our job here is to weigh the reality against the ideals; we don’t give out passes just based on how common this is. A lot of cheating spouses doesn’t make cheating OK. Your hard line here is completely warranted. She should stop and come clean.
Stoya: Any tips on how to, um, do it?
Rich: I would reference their past work on this and the fact that it didn’t resolve much, sexually. In some cases, explaining too much can get in the way of your apology, but here I think it would be useful. It’s a really complicated situation. I think it’s important to confess and explain why she thought the betrayal was necessary.
Stoya: She might ask that therapist they saw for a referral and do a couple of sessions so she can be really clear about her motivations and separate logic from self-serving justification.
Rich: An impartial mediator would be so useful for both of them. They could meet again with their therapist or look for a new one.
Stoya: Good idea.
Rich: The husband is under no obligation to forgive, but if he’s been paying attention and feels a sense of emotional responsibility, he should understand how they got here.
Stoya: Agreed. She might also want to prepare by thinking through how she’ll respond to various scenarios. Like: He blows up and leaves her immediately, says he doesn’t care about the physical, or is hurt and needs time but is willing to discuss open options.
Rich: Totally. It’s time for her to apply her reason beyond her own immediate needs.
More How to Do It
I saw my girlfriend of six months being orally pleasured by her dog. She doesn’t know I saw her. I don’t know what to make of this. We both come from fairly conservative backgrounds and have limited sexual experience. I can’t imagine discussing this with her. But I can’t get the image out of my head. One side of me wants to say it’s no big deal, just another way to masturbate. But this is bestiality, right? How weird is this?