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 am a straight man and I have a girlfriend who travels a lot. When she is gone, my straight guy friends (some married) come over and chill. By the end of their time at my home, there is usually some reference to banging. Sometimes this gets kind of awkward, and they talk about relieving themselves. I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into this, but it feels close to happening—between us. I don’t know how I feel about getting sexy with a group of men or just one of them. I am wanting to know if it is “socially” OK to have casual sex with your straight friends wondering if you would have to consider yourself gay if you did.
Stoya: So do I invoke Foucault or Penthouse first?
Rich: lol. I was just thinking Penthouse. I love this question down to my balls.
Stoya: OK. You take Penthouse, I’ll take Foucault?
Rich: Yes, I mean, talk about fantasy. Straight guys whose horniness is so extreme it propels them to cross lines that they previously thought were uncrossable with each other. (I use “straight” loosely here, obviously.) The virility! The casual titillation! The, “It’s cool, bro”-ness of it all!
Stoya: So, in his History of Sexuality Volume 1, Foucault says something about “gay” being a label applied to acts, not people, only a handful of centuries ago. And we’ve heard from people in this column who aren’t sure whether they count as gay or bi or whatever identity label almost fits them. So while I’m not sure whether our letter writer is being serious or not, I do think he brings up an interesting question: How much longer are “straight” and “gay” going to mean anything concrete?
Rich: It seems like the days are numbered. I think there will always be people whose preference for one side is so firm that they are effectively one or the other, but I think for many—as minds open, and taboos loosen—they’re going to find themselves in the gray area of the middle. I think about Samuel Steward in instances like this. He wrote pulp erotica in the ’60s under the pseudonym Phil Andros. His books were unlike those of his contemporaries in that their sex-positive depictions of gay sex did not come couched with some sort of moralistic consequences—they were depictions of pure pleasure. He was having gay sex in like the 20s, before World War II, McCarthyism, etc.—before anyone had a sense of it at all. And so, the account in Justin Spring’s Steward biography The Secret Historian went something like: He’d approach guys and suck them off and they’d love it. And it would be sort of no-brainer: “Of course you can do that thing to me that feels good.” Just a totally practical approach. That makes sense to me.
Stoya: That also makes sense to me. I think our writer’s bigger concern is the social upheaval that could result from hooking up with a group of his friends.
Rich: That is a fair concern. Sometimes sex does make things weird later, even if a session goes well. And we’re talking about fragile masculinity here, which is sort of a minefield.
Stoya: Not to mention all of their actual partners …
Rich: Right. I do have some thoughts about labeling issues he brings up. Firstly, there is no one-drop rule for sexuality. Having gay sex does not make someone gay. Labels like “gay” and “bi” are necessarily shorthand—they cannot convey the entire complexity of someone’s sexuality, and in fact are probably mostly useful to orient others. I like to say: If a label doesn’t work, use a sentence. If that isn’t sufficient to describe you, take a paragraph. Hell, write a book! But don’t circumvent the label thing as a way of being dishonest. There’s a huge precedent of people who are queer but lie about it for the sake of their own social capital.
Stoya: Yes. In reality, most of us are much more attracted to details more specific than gender, even if we’re singularly attracted to people of one gender. So I’m wary of that when these labeling questions come up.
Rich: Right, exactly.
Stoya: Can we sidebar me for a second?
Rich: Of course.
Stoya: I’ve dated women and one person who identified as gender neutral, and have had sex with most kinds of people for fun and for money. I get read as straight. And I mostly let that happen, because it also feels not correct to identify as queer. So I’m not sure if that’s a slippery slope into lying for one’s social capital.
Rich: Yeah, that’s a great point. So in your case it’s more like, no co-opting an identity to which you have little cultural association, right?
Stoya: Yeah. Sort of a tight spot between transparency/solidarity and co-option.
Rich: Yeah, I think that illustrates my take-a-paragraph philosophy. Obviously, you aren’t lying about your sexuality—the receipts are often public. Like right here, for example.
Stoya: So, to our writer, if this really is a guy in a tight spot: You never have to consider yourself gay. And I suspect we’re going to be seeing an increasing amount of paragraph-identities in the future. Go ahead and get yours ready.
More 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 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 feel 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. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong. It’s definitely not going away, though.