How to Do It

Only One Kind of Sex Turns Me On—and I Can Never Have It

Neon eyes are seen next to two shirtless men cuddling.
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’m a bisexual woman. When I was 11 or 12, my family was at a theme park. While we were waiting in line for a ride, two men in front of us in line started making out. It was nothing inappropriate, and it wasn’t a big deal because no one in my family is homophobic. I watched them out of the corner of my eye for a minute. To my memory, it’s the most sexually aroused I’ve ever been. (I almost had to excuse myself to go to the public bathroom and try to rub one out.)

Since then, my biggest “turn-on” is gay men. At first, I could get by and was still turned on by me having sex with men and women and thinking about it, but now it’s impossible. I always have to think about two guys together to “get there.” And I exclusively watch guy-on-guy porn while masturbating. It’s gotten to the point where I’d rather just masturbate than actually have sex with someone. Even when I’m being penetrated vaginally, I like to think that I’m a guy being fucked by another guy. (I’m definitely not trans—besides this, I love being a woman and have never had any kind of dysphoric thought or desire to transition.)

I even seek out media featuring gay men, like books, movies, and music, although I do it secretly because I don’t want to come off as some kind of weirdo. I feel guilty for fetishizing gay men, but it also feels like I can’t help it—the more I try to resist, the more it turns me on. I’ve dated bisexual men, and we’ve had MMF threesomes, but bi men are very rare in my area, not all of them are into group sex (understandably), it’s all a pain to set up, and to be honest I’m not all that crazy about threesomes, either.

I don’t have the greatest health insurance, and therapy is expensive. I did try to see a “sex-positive” therapist who was very woke, but after I tearfully confessed my fetish she shamed me for fetishizing gay men and making their lives harder, and called me a homophobe while I sat there and sobbed. So I can’t imagine telling anyone else about this. I do have diagnosed OCD, if that matters.

Is there a way to get rid of this very distressing fetish so I can go back to enjoying sex?

—Gay Agenda

Dear Gay Agenda,

The scare quotes around “sex-positive” to describe that therapist are apt. It is chilling that someone who behaved that way has ostensibly devoted her life to service. There is nothing positive about shaming a client for her desires, no matter how they deviate from the generic script of pro-social conduct pushed by supposedly well-intentioned people. Desires and fantasies are, for many of us, largely out of our control and, in their raw, immaterial form, innocuous. When they become problems is when they manifest as potential harm to others, like in the case of someone determined to act out their abusive fantasies. In the realm of thoughts and fantasies, your interest in gay male sex is benign. It has little practical possibility of becoming a reality, and you aren’t really pursuing what practical possibility it does have (i.e., in the MMF threesomes that are difficult to set up and underwhelming to you, at any rate). I think the main thing to be cautious of when you have an intense sexual interest (that many would refer to as a “type”) is that you may focus on the traits that excite you (a big dick, blond hair, dark skin) to the extent that you ignore the person they are attached to. That is how a trait-based fetish can make someone’s life harder. In your case, because you are not a gay man, you aren’t having gay male sex during which you could objectify the humanity out of a person. Your fantasies are not making anyone’s life harder, except for yours because of the distress they are causing you. And if in fact you are patronizing the porn of gay male sex workers by, for example, subscribing to their OnlyFans accounts, then, in your small, one-person way, you are actually making their lives easier. I entirely reject the feedback you received from this therapist, and I urge you to find a new one. Maybe try a gay guy! That would be so you.

Ridding yourself of an unwanted desire is not particularly easy and, outside of the realm of the anti-social, probably not worth the effort. Since you’re so into gays, I’m sure you’re aware of conversion therapy’s low success rate and legacy of trauma. For a previous column, social psychologist Justin Lehmiller told me about a method sometimes employed to rid someone of unwanted sexual desires that involves that person masturbating to right before climax and then switching images or fantasies to a desired one as they orgasm. Lehmiller described the success rate of this, however, as “modest at best.”

If your desires weren’t bothering you or interfering with your sex life, I’d tell you to stay on the dudes-doing-dudes beat. (I’m a fan of it myself!) But it does seem to be presenting an issue in interpersonal intimacy. I don’t think fantasizing during sex is bad or wrong, and it can be extremely useful for inducing orgasm, but ideally, you’d be having connected sex with your partner. Not always possible, I know, but something to strive for. You might just be someone who prefers masturbation over sex. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s fairly common. Embracing this part of yourself would certainly make matters less fraught, but again, I advise you to seek a different therapist with more compassion. It can be hard to find one, especially factoring in insurance limitations, but it’s not impossible. Keep trying.

Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I have been married for a few years now, and we have been poly for a little over a year. Every time we start to date around or try to find a third, he gets almost fixated. It’s all he thinks or talks about. We wake up in the morning and he’s on Tinder, or he’s constantly checking his notifications throughout the day. I try to bring it up to him, but he either denies it completely or tries to say I’m on my phone just as much. I’ve tried to communicate with him about how fixated he gets on trying to get with these other women, but he always just tells me I’m jealous. I’m tired of trying to communicate, I’m tired of always trying to get his attention. I just don’t know what to do anymore. It’s starting to seem like he just wants these new women instead of me.

—Perturbed Poly

Dear Perturbed Poly,

I believe your husband is chasing and reveling in what people in the poly community refer to as NRE, or “new relationship energy.” (It’s also sometimes called limerence.) The newness of your husband’s fixation is one of the few things you by definition cannot provide to him as a long-term partner, and it is, I think, one of the main draws of a nonmonogamous lifestyle. When harmonious, such a lifestyle provides the stability of an established relationship and the excitement of the unknown. It’s like having the marriage and honeymoon at once and theoretically, forever. A true best-of-both worlds situation.

But like so much magic, it has a price. This way of life requires diligent upkeep, and your husband is slacking off in his emotional chores. Poly expert Elisabeth Sheff wrote a brief piece on this issue for Psychology Today. While many come to recognize a partner’s NRE and accept it for what it is—an intense passing fancy—those experiencing it have an obligation to show their partner that their avowed priorities remain fixed. Writes Sheff:

Ignoring a beloved of 20 years in favor of a new flame of two weeks has created difficulties for so many poly relationships that community wisdom dictates overcompensating with the longer-term partner to avoid even the appearance of taking that person for granted.

To retain the closeness of long-term relationships, poly folks tend to make an extra effort to do special things for their partners of many years. This generally includes scheduling date nights, bringing flowers and other small gifts, paying attention, giving compliments, initiating sex in new and exciting ways, and generally proving in every possible way that they still highly value their long-term relationships.

If your husband wants the best of both worlds, as his behavior and lifestyle imply, he’s going to have to do better. He owes it to you to take your concerns seriously and to give you the attention you desire. Find a moment when you are in a peaceful, compassionate place with him, and ask him to read the above-linked piece by Sheff. See if it provokes a discussion, if he can recognize the behavior described in himself, and if he’ll make the overcompensating efforts prescribed. Self-awareness is a rare commodity, and sometimes people need to be shown how they’re coming off in order to understand it. So get nudging.

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Dear How to Do It,

I have a deformed leg. It’s not noticeable unless I’m standing or walking. I also love casual sex and don’t have time for relationships. Prior to the pandemic, I’d go out every weekend with friends and watch them all go home with different guys while I went home alone. I’ve had a lot of instances of guys chatting me up and asking me to go home with them, and then, as soon as I stand up to leave with them, they remember they have to get up early for work. It’s not a big deal—I’m the first person to say my leg is unattractive—but it is annoying.

Because of this, I’ve only been able to have sex with guys whom I know or who are in my friend circle, already know me, and are “attracted to my personality” rather than my looks. That’s fine, but I’m running out of male friends and it does make things awkward because I’d prefer to bang a guy and never see him again. I just want to have random one-night stands (post-pandemic) without having to “get to know” the guy for him to be attracted to me.

I know that as an unattractive woman I could try to go for less attractive men, but I’ve tried that, and I can never enjoy sex with men I’m not attracted to. The ones I am attracted to are not interested in my leg. I have a decent face and a great body that I work very hard to maintain. I’ll eventually have surgery to fix my leg, but it won’t be for a few more years and I don’t know if I can wait that long! How do I get some? I wanna hit it and quit it!!

—I’m Up Here

Dear I’m Up Here,

If you’ve only had sex with guys whom you know, then the hit-it-and-quit-it lifestyle you aspire to is merely theoretical. You cannot say it would be right for you without actually having experienced it. There’s a chance that, if you were able to bang with the frequency you claim to desire, you’d find yourself quickly acquainted with the shortcomings of that way of life: clingy partners who don’t (or won’t) get the message that yours was supposed to be a one-time thing, the emotional awkwardness as you transition from spending a burst of time extremely up close with someone to never wanting to see them again, the at-least-occasionally unsatisfying sex with a partner with whom you have no chemistry but don’t realize it until after the clothes are crumpled on the floor. This is not an attack on casual sex, which I think is a fun hobby and potentially soul-nourishing—I’m just trying to give you some grass-is-only-greener perspective.

(If I’m interpreting this wrong and you have had casual sex with randoms, then it is indeed possible, just perhaps more difficult given your disability. Not everyone is going to have the amount of sex that they wish for, and managing disappointment is a crucial part of life.)

You might, however, increase your prospects and/or the efficiency of nailing them down, so to speak, by using apps in which you announce your disability upfront in your profile. It may yield fewer takers than a profile that doesn’t mention it because people are dicks and afraid of difference, but at least it would eliminate the excuses that you hear from guys who were interested until you revealed your leg. You might look for a partner who also is differently abled—he’d probably be more understanding about your leg, for one thing. There are plenty of hot guys with disabilities out there.

The rejection you’ve experienced is unfortunate, but I’m glad that you are taking it in stride, as you claim. I’m bummed to read you refer to yourself as an “unattractive woman,” which sounds like a distortion—although, given the way you have been treated, your rationale for arriving there is understandable. You have a “decent” face and a “great body,” and you find yourself in the company of guys who are interested in sex with you until your reveal. I don’t think your leg defines your beauty—you’re just meeting people who don’t have the maturity or empathy to handle it. Don’t let them define your beauty either. They don’t deserve to have that power.

Listen to the women of Thirst Aid Kit discuss the PG-13 virtues of Netflix’s Steel Magnolias.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m in the best relationship of my life. I’ve always lived quite a sexually open life before now; I’ve had one-night stands and relationships of various levels of emotional attachment, nothing life-changing. My current partner is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I’d list a load of cheesy stuff, but really I’m just confident that this relationship is what I want and he makes me happy. I’ve never had that before; I always wondered if it was right.

He tells me that his past is similar to mine. Several relationships, some casual, some less. He has given me no reason not to trust that. But I can’t believe him. I feel certain that there’s someone he loved more than me, someone he’d rather be with (someone more literally anything). The little information I do have about his past I store up, and when I feel down it plays around and around in my head like some slideshow that just drives me insane. I get upset and I take it out on him. I try to challenge my thoughts and ask why he’d still be with me if this were the case—surely he’d leave and find something that lives up to what he’d experienced? I know what I’m doing is irrational and hypocritical. I have a past, and everyone has a past, and I have to accept this. I’ve been in counseling for over a year now. I’ve tried talking to friends and family and my partner. I just want to let this go.

—Going Crazy

Dear Going Crazy,

In your anxiety’s worst-case scenario, your partner has loved or loves someone else more than you. So? Even if that were true, he’s with you now. Regardless of other factors, he has prioritized you. If having the option to leave and staying anyway isn’t a sign of love supreme, what is? His presence is his proof, and his space in your life is much realer than the alternate scenarios you imagine. Besides, I don’t think love works like a health bar in a video game, fluctuating in measurable amounts and capped at a certain level. I don’t think you can say, “Well, his ex got 75 heart points but I only have 52, so I’m losing this round.” We love different people for different reasons, and in my experience, the proverbial heart expands as life is lived to capacities that one never could have imagined.

Definitely talk to your counselor about your anxiety if you haven’t done so. The sooner that you accept this negative thinking as coming from within, and not without, the better off you’ll be.

— Rich

More How to Do It

I’m a gay white man in his mid-20s, fairly liberal, and have been both disgusted and inspired by the ongoing reckoning with America’s racism (I attended protests when they were going on in my area, I gave some money to anti-racist organizations, have been educating myself, and so on). I know that it is a process, and there is no “one moment” when you suddenly become a good white person. My issue is this: I am really into race-play BDSM, specifically as a dominant party. A Black FWB introduced me to it a few years ago. I feel as though this is a bad look in the current climate, or that my turn-ons reflect a deeper problem with my thinking. Is race play as a white man a no?