How to Do It

Um, It Turns Out My Boyfriend and His Mom Are a Lot Closer Than I Realized

Is it crazy to still marry into this family?

A woman makes a cringe face next to an adult son and mother hugging.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by GlobalStock/iStock/Getty Images Plus and fizkes/iStock/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,

My partner “Chris” and I have been together for 6 years, and I recently learned something shocking. We were splitting a bottle of wine and started talking about things in our past that would surprise the other. Chris certainly won: He told me that he had sex several times with his own mother, “Sheila.” She had been recently divorced (from her second husband, not his father), and was going through a dry spell. They tried it once on an impulse, and both enjoyed it, so they kept doing it until the rush wore off. To put this in perspective, he was in his early 20s and she was in her early 40s. We are both in our 30s now.

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Chris said that he wasn’t traumatized by the experience, and I believe him. They still have a warm relationship. Sheila is a lovely woman, and until I learned this I had no trouble seeing her as a mother-in-law. Now I feel like our relationship has completely changed. Whenever I see her, I want to blurt out that I know what they did. (Chris said that I can have a discrete conversation with her about this if I want.) The weird thing is that I feel like we are competing as women now, and she would have something over me if she knew that I knew. Does this make sense? Not to mention that Chris and Sheila violated an ancient taboo. It seems like this should bother me. My relationship my Sheila feels different, but I still feel the same about Chris. I am still thinking about marrying and raising children with him. Am I crazy?

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— Not Sure About Being Mrs. Oedipus

Dear Mrs. Oedipus,

No, you aren’t crazy. It would not be surprising if you ran in the other direction upon hearing that your guy had sex with his mother, but to claim that’s the only acceptable reaction is to suggest that he deserves to be stigmatized for life. I don’t think he does. Because what he did—seemingly with no precursor—does violate a widespread taboo that the vast majority of people in our culture just cannot surmount does make me wonder about his overall psychological state/romantic outlook. But it is certainly conceivable for someone to engage in this kind of behavior, not want to do it again, and emerge unscathed just because, well, anything is possible. We can’t say for sure who people are based on their past actions. They, like us, are just people who have pasts.

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It’s probably a good idea to do this in general, but what I’d do in your particular case is approach further commitment like buying a used car. Just like it would be foolish to just jump into buying before having a mechanic check it out, I think it would be a mistake to jump into marriage/children without the input of a third party. Ask him if he wants to go to therapy together, talk to the therapist about this exactly, and see what their take is. Another thing to consider is that even if “Chris” and you are square and his sex with his mother simply will not affect your relationship, you still have to deal with his mother, and this information, as you report, has changed how you view her. You describe conflicted feelings, in which you want her to know that you know but at the same time don’t. Understand what you’re signing up for if you marry this guy—at minimum, awkward holidays and other milestone events. Your future with Chris will almost certainly involve her. Even if he never puts his dick anywhere near her again, you’ll probably be reminded of it regularly as long as you’re with him. What you should be asking yourself is: Can you handle that?

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Dear How to Do It,

I met my partner about 20 years ago when we were in our early 40s. We were head over heels for each other and the sex was great! He/we never did get cunnilingus figured out, but he had magic fingers so that was fine. His only complaint was that I couldn’t get comfortable with talking during sex (it’s a PTSD thing). But for the first half of our relationship, we embarrassed my kids by acting like kids. As I said, it was great! So here’s the problem: Along the way we’ve had several joint replacements between us, we filed bankruptcy, I developed diabetes, and he developed erectile dysfunction. Oh, and he also developed a mental health disorder with several involuntary hospitalizations. There were years when we just weren’t having sex due to pain, fatigue, and stress on both our parts.

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At this point, he’s interested. I’m interested. But he seems to have forgotten everything he ever knew about sex. We’re onboard with lube, toys, and non-PIV fun. Except that he kisses like a baby—you know that slack open mouth thing little kids do? And he consistently forgets that foreplay is a thing. I’m 60, need time to warm up, and foreplay is mandatory as far as I’m concerned. He can’t seem to find my clit or vagina despite coaching and often hurts me accidentally while he tries. I think some of this is related to his meds, which do a great job of keeping him out of the hospital but have major side effects, especially on his memory.
Any suggestions? We are a pair no matter what, but I’d like us to be more than roommates again.

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— Rusty Roommates

Dear Rusty Roommates,

If you’re comfortable steering the ship, do so. Every time. If he isn’t absorbing the information, you might just have to instruct over and over again. While this may be taxing, it’s better than the alternative: not getting laid or getting hurt as you attempt to do so. If you can eroticize the instruction and dom him, well, that’s all the better. Hopefully he’s at least aware of his shortcomings as a result of discussions you’ve had, but if not, I think it’s time to talk. Reaffirm your interest and your excitement about his. Establish that there are some things you’d like to try, and would he mind following your lead? Following orders? Submitting entirely? See if that approach gets you anywhere, and if it does, you’re already on your way. Stay patient—it’s not a short order, but it will pay off.

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Dear How to Do It,

Im a 25-year-old straight woman who has always been extremely turned on by physical intimacy and sex between men. I had a threesome once with two guys in college that is still the hottest experience of my life, even though they didnt do more than kiss each other. I have lots of LGBT friends, and several poly friends. I think I could be very happy in a long-term relationship with two bi men. I love to think of having a child with each of them, and having both a two-income household and a stay-at-home parent.

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I am not at all sexually attracted to women, and for personal reasons, I would not feel comfortable in a relationship with a man who is intimate with other women, or any relationship where everyone involved is not equally important to and intimate with everyone else. Which, from all Ive seen and read, seems to be depressingly rare. When I list myself as polyamorous on dating sites, all I ever get are straight man/bi woman couples (even though I clearly say Im only interested in men) and straight men who are already with one or more other women. Literally not one M/M couple looking for a woman.

Just how unusual is what I want, and how can I go about looking for it without constantly having to say no to involvements where I would not be comfortable, which often ends up triggering my insecurity and anxiety issues? Do I need to state exactly what kind of relationship Im looking for? How would I avoid sounding hung-up and overly picky, and would people actually pay attention? Or should I not list myself as poly, just look for bi men (where are they all hiding?) and talk to them about this if we match? Do bi, poly men who would be happy only having sex with one woman even exist?

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— How Weird Is This?

Dear How Weird Is This,

“Just how unusual is what I want” she asks! Like I can put a precise number on it. In my experience of writing this column, having to respond to the prompt, “Quantify my weirdness,” is actually more difficult than proving a negative. A lot of those negatives can be proven, or at least plausibly argued given the right expert. “Just how weird is this extremely uncommon thing I’m into” is like: ??? We are all, to some degree, weird. At least you know what you want. That’s more than a lot of people can say!

Here is what I think you should do: Try Feeld. I’m not saying this because I’m paid by the nonmonogamy-friendly app (I’m not!), but because I’m a user and I’ve seen quite a few bisexual/pansexual men on it, and a limited but visible “homoflexible” population that is specifically interested in expanding their experience with women. I don’t know if I’d say you’re “hung up” any more than the next person who likes what they like (or at least has vivid fantasies), but you are picky and you’ll save everyone time by expressing that and cutting to the chase. Do bi, poly men who would be happy only having sex with one woman even exist? I don’t know! Seems possible. Perhaps you can be the one to convince them to give it a crack.

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I think you’ll do well to keep this all as a framework for what you want without investing too much in expectations, as you’re likely to be disappointed and/or frustrated if you lean too hard on those. Take small steps and understand your specific fantasies exist in your head and have no real-life basis. Try meeting actual humans before you decide the precise design of your spawning and caretaking plans. You might also try to expand your purview—would a relationship with a bi dude who likes threesomes scratch your itch? You may find that it has to, but hopefully it all works out for you.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a sex positive queer chubby man over 40 and, after years of body worries and image issues I’ve finally gotten to a spot where I’m comfortable in my own skin (guys—go to therapy!) My problem is this: I recently visited my first gay campground—it was awesome—I wore short caftans, skinny dipped, kissed more than a few hot guys of all shapes and sizes, and enjoyed the sun on my skin. The only down side was running into an acquaintance of mine (let’s call him Bill). Bill’s partner is a sweet guy who actually encouraged me to come out and camp there. Bill always been a little catty and weight-obsessed, and during my stay, he inferred multiple times to multiple people that he wishes he could “just not care about how he looks,” while referencing me. I laughed it off a few times, but finally he pushed me over the edge by saying “Well, if TED can just let it all go I guess I’m trying too hard with my diet.” I read him for filth, which made more than a few people around laugh but sent him into a fury. Now Bill’s partner says if I want to go camping there again to tell him when, because Bill says I “ruined” their special place, and he won’t “share” it with me anymore. I also fell in love with this place and I don’t want to give somebody else control over when I can and can’t come … advice?

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— Caftans and Camping

Dear Caftans and Camping,

Unless Bill’s partner has some kind of literal ownership stake in this campground, he doesn’t get to say when you can and cannot be there. He is not the boss of you, nor is he the king of that castle, as it is not a castle but nature. Realize that by asserting your prerogative to visit the campground whenever you damn well please, you may encounter drama should Bill and his partner be there; but it doesn’t sound like you will mind that very much and I have full faith that you can hold your own.

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As satisfying as it is to read the account of your smackdown of a fatphobe, I do have to wonder how actually comfortable you are. Only being completely nonreactive would read as convincingly unbothered. That said, it’s OK to be bothered and it’s also justifiable to highlight someone’s rudeness even if it doesn’t actually hurt your feelings. It’s the principle, I get it. I’m always going to attempt to point people in the direction of the practical and attempt to forgo principle for principle’s sake, if for no other reason than to save themselves from grief, but I think your response was appropriate. That guy should be embarrassed about acting like a bitchy queen without any wit that warrants such a pose. What an amateur!

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— Rich

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I have been married for 16 years. We have sex about once a month, after kids and lots of life stuff, and that’s fine for me. I think he’d like a little more, but he’s seemed OK with our current pace. I know he masturbates pretty frequently—he goes to a particular room, and I know what’s up—but I try to respect his privacy. Recently, I was cleaning in that particular room and I brushed his laptop, which was not password-protected. You probably know where this is going: He had left some porn up on the screen. The thing is, it was bisexual porn.

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