How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
Just more than three months ago, I discovered that my husband of 25 years was having an affair. For two years. The facts rolled out slowly. First, I found out she was 23 when he met her (and he was 58). That was hard to digest. Then I found text messages between them that revealed modeling pictures of her. She is beautiful and a model! That was blow No. 2! How could a 55-year-old gray-haired mom whose body had three kids compete with that!?
Three months into trying to recover from all this with the help of a therapist and figure out how or if to rebuild our marriage—he emphatically wants to, but I am still hurt to the core—I still felt that I wasn’t getting the full story. The facts didn’t add up. Finally this week, starting our fourth month on this, he told me his young model is trans. He had a two-year-long secret love affair with her, seeing her twice a week. He admitted to getting turned on by trans porn for the past five years, and one day when I was out of town, he went to a trans party at a gay bar to make it real. He landed his model on the first try, or so he says. Now, miraculously, he says he’s over the trans attraction and says it can’t fulfill him. He says I make him complete. (We’ve been having daily sex for about a month now.) I don’t believe him. I believe he is scared to explore his sexuality in fear that it will upend his lifestyle. Is trans attraction “baked in”? Can you ever be “over it”? He was with her for two years! I can’t find any help online.
—The Other Woman
I don’t believe him, either, about being “over the trans attraction,” but here’s where we differ: I don’t think it makes much of a difference. His interest in others doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with you. This is true of many partnered people. Taste and desires don’t evaporate when people commit to a monogamous partner; they just learn how to manage them. Many fail, as you are all too aware. It’s not fair. He had no right to cheat on you. I can’t say for sure how devoted your husband is to saving your marriage, but he is giving you tangible evidence that he’s committed to rebuilding a gratifying sex life in the form of daily banging. That’s not nothing. I don’t think he’s telling the whole truth about his outside desires, but maybe he feels that to do so would be to further jeopardize the repair of your union, especially in its current, brittle state. This stuff is massively difficult to navigate, especially between two people whose views on these matters don’t necessarily align.
There are plenty of people who identify as bisexual or omnisexual but have a single monogamous partner. That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily left unfulfilled because of all the sex with people of other genders they could be having. Really, the same goes for even the straightest of straights: People like more than one thing, but they opt into a monogamous lifestyle for a host of valid reasons including stability, perceived safety, and to please their partner. Some people are monogamous because it’s what feels right for them. They say they’re “wired that way,” and I believe them. Many committed people masturbate to porn featuring idealized body types that their partners do not possess. For some, that is precisely the point.
I sense your objective here is to ferret out whether, in revealing his capacity to be attracted to a woman who is trans, your husband has revealed an immutable and defining feature of his sexuality. You may now be wondering if he is only attracted to trans women and thus is unable to be attracted to a woman who is cisgender, such as yourself. This is not necessarily so. Many men have completely internalized that trans women are women, and thus make no such distinctions. But even if he enjoys certain features trans women may have that cis women don’t, he may also have a broad palate. Liking one thing doesn’t cancel out other things, and the idea that it would is quite retrograde. It reminds me of the way bisexuality was erased for decades by people who thought a man sleeping with a man made him definitively gay. The more we know about sexuality, the clearer it is that black-and-white interpretations of it are overly simplistic; it’s one big spectrum of grays.
I think you should stop dwelling on this particular aspect of your husband’s infidelity and start thinking about whether you can trust him again as a partner. I hope when you mention a therapist, that means you’re both going. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
The first time I had sex with the woman I’m currently seeing, I gave her “the best oral of her life” (her words, not mine). Now she’s come to expect it every time we’re intimate. The problem is: She doesn’t want to be exclusive, and I don’t want to get oral cancer. I’m fine taking things at her pace on the relationship front, and I don’t want to know how many other men she’s sleeping with. We always use a condom during vaginal sex, and I imagine she makes her other partners do the same. But that’s no guarantee she’s 100 percent clean, and HPV isn’t generally tested for (and she never even mentions getting tested). How do I break it to her I don’t want to keep going down on her, given our current situation, without her thinking I’m trying to pressure her into exclusivity?
Dear Deep Throat,
I don’t like to police language, because I’d rather let people say what they are inclined to and tell on themselves. But I’ll tell you that a huge red flag when someone discusses sexual health is the use of the word clean, thus implying those with STDs are “dirty.” Clean tends to signal that someone doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. Experts and other knowledgeable people on such matters don’t use the word clean.
Sorry to say this tracks in the overall context of your letter. This woman may have already been carrying HPV when you started seeing her. Same goes for you. It’s a highly contagious virus, and it’s estimated that 80 percent of people will have some strain of it at some point in their lives. Maybe you gave it to her! Then what? More contemporaneous partners may increase the risk, statistically speaking, but if she’s already had an active sex life thus far, a few more partners aren’t going to move the needle that much. Moreover, you’re still having sex with her, and while condoms may reduce the risk of HPV transmission, they hardly eliminate it. When you have sex, you implicitly accept the risk of contracting a virus that is virtually omnipresent. And by the way, the specific risk you cite is a small one: The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that only 1 percent of people who “develop a high risk type oral HPV infection ever cascade into cancer.” The results of a Johns Hopkins study released in 2017 also suggested that this cancer is rare. That’s why widespread testing still isn’t recommended.
Your proposed course of action is so poorly thought out that, in fact, I just can’t bring myself to believe your concern here is confined to the realm of sexual health. I think this is also (or even chiefly) about trying to control the behavior of a nonmonogamous sex partner. If you’re actually concerned about HPV, get vaccinated, and talk to this woman—you imply you two haven’t even discussed your recent STD tests in general. Now that’s risky behavior.
Dear How to Do It,
My husband doesn’t seem to know if and when he has an erection. Is that unusual? For example, if we’re making out in bed and I’m wearing sexy lingerie that I know he likes and I ask him if he’s hard, he’ll say he doesn’t know; he has to touch himself to get the answer. Same response if he’s putting the moves on me—he can’t tell me if he’s hard yet. I don’t ask him every time, but I do enjoy this light dirty talk, knowing I’m turning him on physically. Aren’t men supposed to be intuitively linked to their penises? (Penii?) Shouldn’t his penis be sending him signals “I’M READY, I’M READY, NOW NOW NOW” or “HUH, she’s kinda hot, I’m awake”? I know he finds me attractive; I know he enjoys all the phases of making out, heavy petting, and sex with me. I’m not worried about that. If he’s not hard yet, he knows I’m fine with that answer and will just keep kissing and doing other activities, including moving on to my playing with his penis. My question is instead about how penises and men’s brains work.
It’s safe to assume most people know when they have a boner. At peak hardness, it throbs to the point of discomfort (if left unattended) and it makes your pants dance. It could knock over a glass on the nightstand with a sharp turn of the torso. Kind of obvious. In the days since first reading your question, I’ve polled some penis-having friends and all have confirmed that they are intimately aware of the status of their erections, as they arise. I tend to be as well, but I have surprised myself from time to time regarding the extent of the tumescence. Occasionally, I find myself harder or not as hard as I thought I might be (you’re probably aware that there’s a range of hardness a penis can experience in phases). Perhaps, then, beyond a bodily disconnect, this is a communicative one. Your husband may be aware of some action down there but is unsure as to whether his dick is hard enough to penetrate, and he thinks that’s what you’re asking. Maybe he doesn’t want to write a check that his half-hard dick can’t cash.
I’m willing to take you at your word that this is merely a matter of dirty-talk interference, but it’s possible that another factor underlies this scenario: anxiety. Are you at all worried about his sexual functioning? And even if you aren’t relaying your own anxiety, the question could be provoking it within him. “Are you hard?” could make him feel pressured. It might be fostering performance anxiety: By asking about his hardness, you might be inhibiting it. People are extremely sensitive about their dicks. I don’t want to deprive you of a go-to turn-on, but I recommend that you stop asking this question and answer it for yourself by copping a feel. If the results are underwhelming, keep copping.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a gay male in my early 30s who has been sexually assaulted on three separate occasions, each occasion by a different guy (all of them also gay), and all in roughly the same manner. Each time, I was out socially with a group of friends, and rather than make the long trek home, I would opt to crash at a friend’s place, either on the couch or in a guest room, with other guys also crashing there, and at some point in the night I would wake up to a guy giving me a hand job or a blow job, or both, while I was sleeping. In each instance, it took me a minute to realize what was happening, and then once I did, I was paralyzed in shock for a few moments before turning away and pretending like I was going to go back to sleep. Then the guy would stop, and after not being able to sleep for most of the rest of the night, I would slink out in the morning before anyone else was awake.
Again, these were all separate occasions and three separate guys. The first and second guy both messaged me after the fact, saying that they knew that they crossed a line, apologized, and I have since accepted their apologies and chosen not to associate with them anymore. My main problem has been with the third guy, who has never acknowledged what happened. And much more so than the first two, the third guy is part of a friend group that I socialize with on a regular basis. Even though it’s been a few years since this happened, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to be in the same space as him. I just feel really uncomfortable, not so much triggered, but suffering from what I imagine is a lack of closure. I know there’s a tendency in gay culture to sometimes treat things like this as no big deal, like these just happen, which I totally reject, but it’s infuriating to think that he might be buying into this and has been interacting with me as if this never happened.
I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but from my experiences he isn’t the most self-aware or considerate person. He’s also recently engaged, and I expect to be invited to their wedding. While I don’t want to continue a personal, friendly relationship with him moving forward, I would like to come to a point where I’m no longer so uncomfortable being around him in social settings with mutual friends and to be able to celebrate at his wedding, but I’m struggling with how to come to that point without the same kind of closure that I got from the other guys. I’ve been thinking about sending him a message, telling him how I feel and how what he did has made me feel since it happened, but I’m worried that he might downplay his responsibility or that it will make things incredibly awkward in the future when we’re socializing together in our friend group. I’d really like your input here.
First, I’m sorry that these guys did this to you. Like you, I reject the tendency to treat this (or any) assault as no big deal; you are living proof of the lingering trauma it causes. Sexual assault is a very big deal. Your history is unfortunate, but it has instilled in you an awareness of what will help you heal. You have every right to confront this guy. If you can withstand the potential awkwardness, I see no problem with inciting it. He should feel awkward moving forward—worse, even. (He should also feel lucky that you aren’t going to the police.) Your consideration for others is evident in your letter, but you owe this guy nothing. He’s taken enough as it is. And yes, any such confrontation comes with the risk of denial, defensiveness, or the downplaying of responsibility. That might happen, but I don’t think you’d be worse off than you are in your current state of limbo on this matter, and getting it off your chest may prove therapeutic even if you don’t get the contrition you’re looking for. By pointing out that what he did was wrong and has affected you for years now, he may think twice before assaulting someone else. I think you should go for it.
And if I were you, I wouldn’t attend his wedding.
More How to Do It
My wife never had sex before we got together, not even masturbation, because of her conservative upbringing. I started masturbation in seventh grade, and I first had sex while I was 16. We enjoyed ourselves the first few years. After that, she seemed to lose interest. I think she had a few real orgasms, but mainly faked them. Now, I always suspected this was because I am not very big—I’m about 3.5 inches erect, and I tend to ejaculate quickly. Because of this, I told her she could try another man, since I had many sex partners before we were married and she had none. I wavered on this a few times, but in one of my permissive times, she met a man and liked him. I tried to call it off, but she wants to go forward. Should I let this happen? I’m afraid he will be much bigger and she’ll enjoy him better, and I don’t want to lose her.