How to Do It

There’s Something They Never Tell Straight Men About Opening Your Relationship

A man surrounded by male gender symbols.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Rafael Guerra on Unsplash.

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 read your recent response to a couple exploring nonmonogamy with interest, yet one topic routinely fails to be addressed: gender ratio. The gender imbalance present at open events and on dating apps is extreme. Couples exploring nonmonogamy need to prepare for the fact that men will routinely outnumber women by a ratio of 3:1 at best. Most NSA swingers events either limit or prohibit single males due to gender ratio disparity. At poly events, which tend to be more open, a 4:1 ratio is as good as it gets for non-bi men like me.

I’m really wondering what you think of this, because the issue is rarely discussed, until a newbie finds out the hard way.

—Odd Man Out

Stoya: There are very few areas of life where women benefit more than men. The economy of sex is one of them. At a swingers event, BDSM party, or poly munch, we have more options than men do. And I think that’s fine, given all the unfairness in the other direction.

Rich: That’s a great point. You know, we advocate for ethical nonmonogamy, but that’s a blueprint not a fully furnished McMansion. I think people are entitled to pursue pleasure, but they’re certainly not entitled to sex on demand. It’s called an open relationship, not an entitled relationship. Advocating for one isn’t handing out some magical panacea.

Stoya: And there’s the root of my irritation: I feel like the “hard way” framing is entitled.

Rich: Yes.

Stoya: Like they have a fantasy harem in their heads and are upset that that isn’t the case.

Rich: While this sort of thing may be more common in the swinger/poly groups he’s tried, and I understand the cumulative effect of frustration, it’s hardly a unique issue. Connecting is a challenge. You know, I might go to a bar (in a nonquarantine age) and be really horny and come home without a new sex partner. Oh well, try again next time.

Stoya: I agree that poly/swinger/kink events have a more stark gender imbalance. (You know, using the binary, which I fundamentally disagree with.) But, like, I never pointed that out to anyone because it just seems so obvious. Of course women are more rare in these spaces. When we do poke our heads into a sex space, we’re swarmed by thirsty dudes trying to cram us into their fantasies.

Rich: I can certainly see how it could create friction in an open relationship if one partner is getting more attention/opportunities/sex than the other. A guy I knew who started dabbling in polyamory scenes found this to be exactly the case—his girlfriend attracted way more interest, and there were people who only wanted to pursue her without him. Oh well. It’s a process. There is no certainty that you’ll find the outcome that you desire. That’s not nonmonogamy so much as it’s just life.

Stoya: Feeling like the odds are against you can be uncomfortable and frustrating. I see an opportunity for our writer to think about the areas where he benefits because of whatever his demographic specifics are. And I have a genuine question: Would he prefer to have a system where there’s a 1-to-1 ratio, but men sit on a lengthy waiting list?

Rich: Right. There’s yet to be a perfect matching system devised for human relations. That’s a big part of why this column exists. And I also want to mention that the writer’s channels for nonmonogamy are not the only ones—it doesn’t necessarily mean joining a group or attending gatherings of like-minded people, as useful as that can be. It can be done on a more one-on-one basis like via apps.

Stoya: He mentions the apps. I don’t know how he’s gauging ratios with the dating apps, but he does mention them. I think he should go to more of these parties. This week I watched a white-passing ally center themselves in a discussion that was meant to focus on the experiences of black women. Later, I realized that that had been useful, because I was able to spot some of my own problematic behaviors. I think observing the men at these parties can be useful in a similar way.

Rich: “Don’t be that guy”/”Be that guy.”

Stoya: YES. Exactly. With some improved flirting skills, he might be able to up his success rate to a degree where the gender ratio doesn’t matter.

More How to Do It

Recently, I went on a date with a woman I met on a dating app. It was pretty normal—we saw an exhibit and had a couple drinks. As we were leaving, I leaned to kiss her. She pulled away and was visibly distressed. I apologized and said I misread the situation, and she quickly made an excuse to leave. It was embarrassing and a little deflating, but it happens. I figured that was that. I didn’t hear from her for a few days, when she suddenly texted me a long and detailed message saying, among other things, that I had nearly assaulted her and it was never OK to go in for a kiss without asking first. She requested a phone conversation to talk through what happened, and I agreed. It was fine; she basically repeated what she had texted and I apologized and told her that I meant no disrespect. She said I should look hard at my understanding of consent. I was tempted to tell her she was being over the top, but she was upset so I rode it out. Am I right to think she was being over the top? We were not drunk, and I was not aggressive—I literally leaned in to kiss her, she pulled away, and that was it. It’s fine if she wants men to ask her before they kiss her, but I do not think that is standard practice. Is it?