Every Thursday, Rich and Stoya answer a special question they could only tackle together, just for Slate Plus members. Join today to never miss a column.
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 single straight woman in my late-30s and have a friends-with-benefits relationship with a man in his early-30s. We started hanging out about a year ago, have communicated and laid out our rules and boundaries pretty well from the get-go (exclusive sexual partnership), and provided our full STD/HIV blood tests even before meeting up. He is well-endowed and the biggest I’ve had in terms of size, which isn’t the problem at all. Although he comes faster than me all the time, I do enjoy having sex with him. However, he kind of shared in the beginning when we were talking about kinks stories of experimentation in his past.
He’d received blowjobs from a younger gay guy when he is having a dry spell dating. I thought it was just an exemption and didn’t think of it. Recently, however, he initiated conversations about this kink and told me he’s bisexual only in receiving and giving oral blow jobs, yet adamantly does not identify as a gay man and wants to keep our arrangement. But I’m appalled. I’m a staunch LGBTQ ally yet I feel like he gaslighted me so he can keep that side of him a secret and maintain a machismo side by having sex with a woman. I told him I don’t want to be a part of that equation anymore, although I’m not going to lie and say I wouldn’t miss having sex with him. Can I trust that he can have safe sex with me and his side experiments at the same time? Please help.
Rich: I’m confused.
Stoya: I am so confused. And so I just want to do my habitual asterisk first: Get the idea of safe sex out of your head.
Stoya: There is no such thing, only safer. That “er” is very important for being engaged in reality. So now, what exactly is happening?
Rich: I don’t know. In the letter, if you read the last few sentences, it seems like he somehow wants to continue having these blow jobs with gay guys, but that’s not indicated above. It merely says that he told her about this practice, and now as they’ve had this friends-with-benefits thing, it’s not even a relationship proper, he’s shared more information. It seems like he merely expressed that this is an identity, not just a practice. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to pick up and do it. He may have had several women partners in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily mark him as a cheater. Certainly, that’s a possibility, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. So I just don’t understand. This just seems really biphobic to me.
Stoya: Yes that, and also, I am very stuck on this friends-with-benefits who traded full STD/HIV blood tests before even meeting up and laid out their rules and boundaries from the get-go, which includes exclusive sexual partnership. This does not fit with any friends-with-benefits framework that I have ever seen.
Rich: Yeah, no, I don’t understand what the difference between that and being in a monogamous relationship is. It sounds to me like they’re in a monogamous relationship.
Stoya: It does. We all know how I feel about labels. Right?
Rich: Yes, yes.
Stoya: So we’ve got so much going on in here: friends-with-benefits, exclusive sexual partner, closeted bisexual—
Rich: Kink. It’s also referred to as a kink, which I would not refer to getting blowjobs from guys a kink at all. That’s a Tuesday for me.
Stoya: Yeah, “initiated a conversation about this kink.” I want to know if she’s OK, because it seems like there’s a lot of categorization, strong beliefs, and—
Rich: Here’s one, gaslighting. This is not gaslighting.
Rich: Maybe he lied. Maybe he was dishonest. But you know why he was dishonest? Because of this reaction. This is why bisexual men specifically are insecure and are afraid of revealing their full identity because they have to deal with this shit as a result. And from women a lot of the time. I hear a lot of this from bi guys, that from straight women, there’s a specific stigma.
Obviously, bi people face all kinds of stigmas from all sides. That is a very specific one: “I’m a bi man. I like having sex with women as part of my identity, and I get a lot of pushback from straight women.” I don’t think that there’s any reason to assume that he has some kind of ulterior motive for having sex with women—to cover for his “real” sexuality, for example, as she described.
Stoya: Yeah, it all seems very full of projections, and like there are in a soap opera with all this plot put on the situation in a way that’s really unnecessary. So if this were my friend, I would say, “One, are you OK in a general sense in life right now? No? OK. Like the airplane, put your mask on before helping others.” And if the answer was that they are OK, I would say, “All right, are you able to… prevent all the judgment happening inside of you from spilling out onto this guy?”
Because if you can’t treat him with a reasonable amount of trust, and you can’t empathize as someone who identifies as an LGBTQ ally, with the reasons that a person might withhold a very stigmatized part of themselves until they feel more comfortable, then that’s not functional. It would be cruel to continue this relationship.
Rich: I mean, she describes herself as appalled. And through that lens, I can’t see this as anything but just the perpetuation of stigma. So it’s like you may think that you’re an ally, but you’re an LGTQ ally. The B is missing from your allyship. You’ve been given a situation in which you could show your allyship, and you’re frankly failing. So I think that this is a matter of self-reflection. And if you think that you are that person, that ally, then you should be that ally. That doesn’t mean that you have to have sex with this guy, but it seems to me a very simple case. Your partner that you enjoy having sex with just came out to you as bi and now you’re kind of melting down about it. That says everything about you and nothing about him. Again, we’ve been given no indication that he wants to continue these relationships, or that he wants to deviate from your enforced monogamy. So this is all in your head. It’s time to step up and be the good person that you think you are.
Stoya: Well, in the interest of empathy, I’m going to consider a couple of things that might be happening on her end. Has her trust been damaged in significant ways in the past in these kinds of situations, which is resulting in this very emotional reaction and impairing her ability to evaluate the trustworthiness of this new partner? If so, you’re not past that or OK. And also, are there other things that she didn’t mention about this person that lead her to be suspicious of the truth of what he’s saying? I mean, if I were presenting a situation to get advice, I would put those details in there. I would put too many details.
Rich: I totally agree. I think in this case, the deception that is presented here, while you could make a legal case that you’ve been lied to, technically speaking, we tend to, as allies and queer people ourselves, forgive the lies that people tell before they come out. It’s just kind of part of the process. It’s kind of part of the easing into comfort with another person that you might not initially share the full truth of your totality as a human being. But that’s in every aspect of getting to know someone, right?
Stoya: Also, how are any of us supposed to know what other people’s lines are when they don’t communicate them? It’s like, well, did you go into this and say, “I’m really open, but there’s this one thing that I am completely squicked out about, so I am asking a direct question”? No. And how is he supposed to know that these blowjobs from other men are the thing that’s going to send you spinning? You have to be reasonable about this stuff because otherwise all human interactions are going to become, “Here is an exhaustive list of everything I’ve ever done that could possibly be considered offensive or weird, so if it comes up in six months, you don’t feel lied to.” And that is not a way to have any sort of social engagement.
Rich: Yes. And just to reframe the situation and provide maybe an alternate kind of logic to it, it seems like it wasn’t the blowjobs per se. She was fine to assume that the blowjobs were a matter of desperation. But it’s the identifying that seems to be the issue. And to me, if a so-called straight guy is getting some on the side from men that he has literally no attachment to, that feels a lot more like easy come, easy go. It doesn’t count toward my sexuality. Maybe if I’m with a woman, I think it doesn’t count as cheating, versus somebody who says, “This is my sexuality, this is who I am as a person. This kind of is part of the fabric of me.” There’s a little bit of a more intimate relationship implied when you say, “This is my sexuality.” And maybe from that, you take it a little bit more seriously. And maybe from that, you say, “And I don’t do that when I’m with a monogamous person.” You know what I mean?
This is a real generalization, but if you want to apply logic and extrapolate, I’m more inclined to trust a bi guy who’s doing everything on the up and up and talking about it versus a straight guy who’s getting back alley blow jobs and not telling anybody about it.
Overall, just cool your jets. Have some perspective and maybe a little bit more empathy here. He had real conceivable reasons for broaching the subject the way that he did, and you had the opportunity to empathize with or reject him. But empathy is always kind of the side that I would recommend.
More Advice From Slate
My partner and I have been together for six happy years. Here is my (female) problem: He and our gaming friends (all male) have this habit of making gay jokes constantly. They think it is hysterical to just tack some fellatio-related quip onto every. damn. sentence.