How to Do It

I Live With Six Brothers. I Have Sex With Two of Them. It’s Fine, They Know.

What I don’t know is what to call this relationship!

One pensive-looking man, with a bunch of question marks blinking above his head and two men standing with their arms crossed behind him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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,

I (a man) live in a large house along with six brothers, all adults and close to each other in age, two of whom I am having sex with. I am naturally much closer to them than the other four. “Yarin” and “Ferdinand” are both fully aware that I have sex with both of them. With the exception of occasional flares of jealousy on Ferdinand’s part (based in insecurity; we’re working on it), it seems to suit all of us very well. The house we share the rent for is large enough that I’m sure the other four brothers don’t know about the sex.

The problem is that I don’t know what to call this arrangement, even to myself. I’m often uncomfortably aware of just how unconventional it really is. When with one or both of them in public, I don’t know how to answer when people ask what Yarin and/or Ferdinand are to me. Yarin usually answers that we’re friends, which I don’t mind. Ferdinand has brazenly answered that I am his boyfriend whom he shares with his brother, which I DO mind. That part isn’t anyone’s business! Ferdinand is somewhat hurt by this, as he is openly affectionate with me in public and expects reciprocation, but I’m a quiet person, while there are Mardi Gras parades more reserved than Ferdinand. My sex life is absolutely not the business of random strangers. Should I follow Yarin’s lead and just say we’re friends? And can I tell Ferdinand to cool it in public?

—Oh, Brother

Dear Oh, Brother,

We use labels as linguistic shortcuts, knowing that they couldn’t possibly convey the richness of the lived-in experience that they represent. But on the upside, they make understanding your life slightly easier for other people. You’ve given me a rather hearty paragraph, and I still have no idea what to call this. Your situation defies easy summation. You need not a label, not a paragraph, but an essay, at least, to explain yourself. I don’t know if there’s love involved here or if your relationship with these men is purely about sex. In the former case, you’d be the “hinge” of a polyamorous V … with two brothers. But you’re the authority here, and naming this configuration is ultimately your call, not mine.

Additionally, I don’t know why six adult brothers would be living in a house together, why their parents weren’t more concerned with overpopulation and what it might mean for a looming water shortage, how you found that house and were able to claim a bed, and why you all aren’t monetizing your kooky living situation via a reality show. I just don’t know! Your question has left me with … questions. I assume it will for others, as well. If you feel like making strangers’ heads spin, by all means lay it all on them, but it would probably save everyone time and confusion to just say you’re friends and tell Ferdinand to cool it. It’s what you want to do anyway.

Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I had a threesome with a mutual friend a while back. It was fantastic, but we have no desire to repeat the experience, partly because we didn’t feel any physical chemistry with him. We’ve found a way to all enjoy each other, though: We have our own private porn channel of sorts. We tease each other with GIFs, often of threesomes or moresomes. My wife and I often use it as foreplay, and he knows that and is happy to be included. Sometimes I even throw in a pic I’ve taken, or we’ll do a live video chat with him. He’s a voyeur, and we’re exhibitionists, and it plays to all our kinks, and we feel safe with him. We’ve gotten each other off quite a bit this way. Is this a healthy boundary? We’re far enough off in kink territory that I feel a need to reality-check.

—Three in Theory

Dear Three in Theory,

Your situation is so mired in mixed signals they’re even embedded in your telling of it to me, an innocent bystander. How can you have a “fantastic” sexual experience that is lacking in physical chemistry? That’s like taking a bath without getting wet.

Regardless, continuing to flirt with someone that you aren’t interested in having sex with again is essentially inviting annoyance and awkwardness. It seems quite likely that your spurned third will at some point request a repeat that you will have to turn down, probably in confusing terms (“It was fantastic! But nah … ”). I don’t actually see the boundary that you’re asking about, so I advise you to erect one that is more substantial. That said, if he’s aware and on board with the fact that you’re transitioning what was briefly a physical sexual relationship into a phone-based one, and he carries no expectations beyond those, I don’t see anything wrong with what you’re doing. Just know that without precise communication about what these exchanges mean to you (and what they don’t mean in terms of ever having sex with him again), you’re leading him on. And you wouldn’t want to do that, now would you?

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a man who has never had a girlfriend or had sex before, but there was a guy from high school who hit me up about nine months ago and started asking me out. Even before that, he would make advances toward me, but I would always deny them. I finally caved and decided to try it but without me doing anything at all. The only thing that happened was a blowjob on me that felt dull and completely unfulfilling. A few months later, we met again, and the same thing happened, just in a closer and more confined space (a car) where the only difference was a little intimacy on how close we were to each other. I touched him, but I immediately regretted that decision in the moment. I think about him at night sometimes when I’m masturbating, but it’s only brief, but then in the middle of the day, it gets me excited at the possibility of meeting up with him again.

I really don’t want to meet with him again, though, because he’s put an ultimatum that we must make out, and I want my first kiss to be with a girl. Also, I fear that this could evolve into something that I really don’t want. I love women and would love to get married and have kid(s) someday, but I suppose this is a hurdle I must cross beforehand. I’ve given this some thought before, and I assume it’s about that time in my life (seeing as I’m 23) that I have some kind of emotional connection and that this is satisfying that desire. He’s not even attractive, nor is he my type. If there are any tips or recommendations you can give me to avoid these feelings with him, that would be greatly appreciated, as it causes me stress and angst.

—Confusing Feelings

Dear Confusing Feelings,

It seems that you have a long way to go on your journey to self-acceptance. I think what you’re afraid of happening has already happened. The call’s coming from inside the house. In a consensual relationship, things will not evolve into something that you don’t really want … unless you want them to. I think your fear is wanting to because you want to. You say you don’t want to meet with this guy again, but the reason you’re asking about it is because part of you does. Let me try to clear this up as simply as possible: It’s OK to like what you like.

What I think is happening is that you’re struggling with the idea that you could be sexually attracted to (or at least stimulated by) men in the abstract, and what’s complicating matters is you aren’t particularly attracted to the specific man you’ve had sexual contact with. Note that this does not mean that you’re only attracted to men, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should continue experimenting with this guy. I don’t like that he’s pressuring you to make out with him—you’re better off with someone who is respectful of your boundaries and inexperience. Imagine if you found a guy that you were physically attracted to and also gave you great head. They’re out there. The push-pull of excitement and revulsion is not unique to your experience; attraction to people of your own gender is a big idea to get used to for some. I think you should certainly pursue sex with women while at the same time giving up on the dream of how things are supposed to be. Your concept of your future is based on cultural narratives that so far have nothing to do with your life; sexual contact with men (or a man), however, does. Since this is a sex advice column and not a conversion therapy how-to, I’m not going to tell you how to avoid your feelings. They are valid, and they contribute to your identity. Embracing them would be a good first step toward relieving that stress and angst.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a divorced man in his early 50s. I met my current girlfriend a few months ago. She’s my first serious relationship since my divorce. She is, largely, all the things my ex is not, in good ways. I enjoy being with her immensely. But … the last time I entered into a serious relationship, I was in my early to mid-20s, and I ended up married. I have no real reference for what love feels like as a mature, established adult. It was all hormones and nervousness and sloppy grins in my youth. And I wasn’t really “me” yet. Well into middle age, it’s not about hormones and nervousness anymore. The fact that I don’t “want” this girlfriend all the time, and am taking it all in stride without fretting, seems weird to me, compared with the only way I’ve known what falling in love feels like up until now. Does new love tend to feel different for mature grown-ups than it does for barely-adults?

—Too Grown to Be Giddy

Dear Too Grown to Be Giddy,

There are many possible reasons why love feels different now than it did previously. Obvious ones include that you’re with a different person, and your life is not what it was 30 years ago. When you’re in your early 20s, you’re less likely to be tethered with serious responsibilities like kids and a mortgage. You may not yet know pain or grief. The passing of time will give you more to worry about and less availability to throw yourself into something dick-first.

“As we get older, we are more likely to know ourselves (needs, values, preferences, what works and what doesn’t for us, lifestyle preferences), and what works for us and what doesn’t,” Terri Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great and professor at Oakland University in Michigan, told me via email when I reached out to her for some perspective. “The person we select as a relationship partner is more likely then to be compatible and chosen based on those compatibilities. Opposites attract when we are younger, but similarity is what keeps people together over the long run.” Orbuch also pointed out that as we get older, we tend to mellow emotionally and emphasize emotional fulfillment in relationships.

Another thing to keep in mind is your brain. Being in love is said to facilitate the brain’s release of dopamine, and dopamine levels may decrease over time (they can fall by as much as 10 percent every decade). Mind you, this is a rather simplistic interpretation of neuroscience (which itself can’t explain the entire experience of love, but provides some ideas of why some things may feel the way that they do). It does seem possible that you just have less juice now than you did then, and so love’s rush is less intense. Almost certainly, your testosterone levels are lower 30 years on, which is perhaps why you don’t “want” your new girlfriend all the time. If this is at all concerning to you, have your doctor run some tests. Overall, though, I think you do have reference for what love feels like as a mature, established adult: the life you’re living. You color in the picture more and more each day, and really, part of life involves being surprised or even mildly disappointed with the way it all shakes out. We grow when we accept it nonetheless.

—Rich

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