How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
To the outside world, I’m a straight man. I’m married to a woman, and have always identified as heterosexual. Lately, though, I find myself attracted to women, men, and transgender women. I’ve never had sex, or any sexual experience, with anyone but a woman. I sometimes find myself wishing I was single, so I could have new sexual experiences and explore these attractions. My wife and I have a great marriage and a great child. I would never want to jeopardize my family just for sex. How do I talk to my wife about my new attractions and fantasies? Or is it best to keep things to myself? I fear that if I told her how I feel, it might cause the beginning of the end of our marriage.
Stoya: How narrow is his wife’s definition of acceptable sexuality?
Rich: That is key. In general, I want to know more about his fear of revealing such information and why he thinks it would cause the demise of his relationship. Is it anxiety, or based on a true story? Is it based on any previous discussion? Is he hoping to get it off his chest, or does he want permission to explore? The gulf between monogamy and nonmonogamy can seem vast and taking that leap is scary, so it makes total sense to wonder about how such a revelation would change things even in a relationship that has no history of suppressive discourse.
Stoya: His last line very much sounds like fear to me. It’s very unclear whether that reaction is logical. I’m hoping that—since they’re married—he’s got a decent handle on what his wife’s limitations of sexual acceptance are.
Rich: Because that will answer the question as to whether it’s best for him to keep this to himself.
Stoya: And this is pretty high-stakes, given the family responsibilities.
Rich: Ideally, no, it’s not best to keep this stuff to oneself, but if it’s going to disrupt a relationship that he wants to hold onto and he’s not going to stray anyway as a result, then we’re already working with suboptimal communication.
Stoya: Realistically, he could absolutely lose his wife and access to his children. These are possible consequences if his wife reacts with disgust and panic. He should tread very carefully here.
Rich: He should evaluate past conversations that touch on extramarital attraction, or queerness. He can dip his toe in the water if it doesn’t seem like something that will cause the relationship to spontaneously combust, based on what they’ve already talked about.
Stoya: If it seems functional to broach the subject, though …
Rich: Yes—at the very least, he should speak to be heard, and if the mention of this will cause a communication shutdown, he will not be heard.
Stoya: If she’s open to the topic, simply sharing the new attractions he’s experiencing is a great place to start. “Honey, I don’t know what’s going on with my sexuality lately, but I’m getting turned on by all sorts of new stuff.”
Rich: I’d even open with a caveat: “This doesn’t mean I’m not attracted to you, or that I want our relationship to end.”
Stoya: For sure. And he doesn’t have to have it all figured out. He can bring his confusion and curiosity to the conversation.
Rich: And if this is unspeakable, he may want to evaluate the relationship not in terms of its sexual limitations but its communicative ones. Can you stay in an arrangement that effectively suppresses your expression? Some people may say to that, “Yes, my partner is worth it,” and it’s a selfless stance. But I, for one, couldn’t abide by that.
Stoya: Once again, we’re encouraging our writer to think through how much of themselves they’re willing to forgo to stay in their relationship.
Rich: A social life, after all, is a series of negotiations.
More How to Do It
I live in an apartment with stereotypical “thin walls” and with frequently noisy neighbors. This isn’t a complaint. I actually enjoy hearing them have sex and commonly masturbate while listening. I recently had a friend over, during which time we overheard the neighbors going at it. My friend commented that it must be so annoying to have neighbors like that, but I confessed that I enjoyed it and would sometimes masturbate to it. My friend was very offended by this—she thought it was a massive invasion of the neighbors’ privacy and equated it to hiding in their closet. My belief is that since the neighbors would understand the limited soundproofing of the building, they then concede the right to auditory privacy when they’re very loud. So as long as I am within the confines of my own apartment and not trying to actively record them or use some sort of sound-enhancing equipment, I have not invaded anyone’s privacy. Have I overstepped, or am I in the clear?