How to Do It

My Wife Says Her Big Revelation Won’t Change Anything. But What if I Want It To?

This might be wishful thinking.

Woman resting her head on a man's chest.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Rustic Wanderlust/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, 

I’m a straight man in my late 30s, and my wife of 10 years recently came out as bisexual. She says that nothing about herself has changed, she’s just acknowledging an attraction to women that’s always been there, and that our relationship will stay entirely the same, which is mostly great! The thing is, part of me WANTS a change.

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We’ve been monogamous since we started dating, and while our sex life has generally been good, I’ve always had a desire for other partners that she just doesn’t share. Many years ago I made peace with the idea that we probably won’t ever try a threesome or have any degree of openness in our relationship. But now I can’t help but wonder if, with a little encouragement, she might be convinced to try exploring her interest in women—and if doing so might someday open other doors for us that I’d long presumed to be closed. (Even if it doesn’t, it would make me happy to see her have a fun new experience.) Is it reasonable to think I might be right, or am I just engaging in wishful thinking? Should I try to nudge her toward seeing a woman?

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—Change Will (Hopefully) Do Us Good

Dear Do Us Good,

It might help to remember that the Kinsey scale, which measures the spectrum between extreme homosexual orientation and extreme heterosexual orientation, is completely separate from a monogamy-to-other-possibilities scale. The latter would measure a person’s interest in sex outside of their committed partnership, their partner or partners engaging in sex outside of their committed relationship, and group sex—with or without their partner(s) involved. On one end, we’d have complete and total monogamy. On the other side, you have the extremes of each category I listed above.

The Kinsey scale is entirely different. While a person might be super bi, and also very interested in having additional sex partners on their own, in their partner having additional partners themselves, and in sharing experiences with the same additional partners, the complete opposite is also possible. Interest in one area does not equal interest in another. You describe your wife as not sharing your desire for other partners.

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Rather than “nudge” your wife, or give her “a little encouragement,” toward having sex with someone who isn’t you, spend some time thinking about the details of what you want. Novelty? Adventure? Multiple partners, at separate times or simultaneously? Voyeurism, whether that’s watching or hearing about it after or imagining what’s happening while your wife is on a date? Then have a conversation with your wife. Briefly let her know that her coming out sparked a whole range of fantasies, and you’d like to talk about mutually pleasurable ways to incorporate them—whether that’s going to sex clubs or fantasizing out loud together during sex—and hear if she’s got any ideas she’d like to explore herself. She may never (or may!) be interested in sex with other people, but the two of you might find some other interesting possibilities.

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New Year, Same Problems

For an upcoming special edition of How to Do It, we want to hear about the messy situations plaguing you that you’d like to shed in the new year. A husband’s affair turned reality TV? A brother and sister with the wrong idea? Secret files of alien erotica? Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear How to Do It, 

I am a trans woman and my least favorite part of anal sex is…well, the part everyone else likes: prostate stimulation. For some reason, the more my prostate is directly stimulated, the less I enjoy myself. I like the feeling of something going in and out of me, but the pressing of the button that makes most people apparently feel great, just makes me want to stop. When I use toys I can manage to keep this to a minimum but during sex with my partner, it is much harder. As gender affirmation surgery is not on the cards any time soon, I want to find a way to make anal with my partner more enjoyable. When I type “How to minimize prostate stimulation during anal sex” into Google, I get a thousand how-to guides for the opposite. Is there something we can do to get the experience of anal sex without me feeling uncomfortable with every thrust?

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—Prostate Avoider

Dear Prostate Avoider,

I reached out to a friend of the column Dr. Evan Goldstein, anal surgeon and Founder and CEO of Bespoke Surgical, who sent over some ideas in an email. After he established that this isn’t an easy question, he described the lay of the land, “It’s clear that prostate stimulation occurs during anal play. We must think back to our anatomy, which tells us that the prostate is located more anteriorly (toward the front of the anal canal and pelvis). It’s about 4-8 centimeters inside and, during stimulation, gets engorged with fluid, leading to and finally emptying during orgasm.”

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Goldstein’s first tip is to change your angulation.

Consider lying on your stomach or being in doggy style because it allows for the penetration to be angled in the opposite direction of the prostate. Anything that angles away from the front of your body. You may actually be doing this when you use toys on your own without even knowing it. So, try to mimic this during sex and/or use these toys first—before or during sex—which will hopefully set the correct stage. Also, try to engage in less thrusting and focus more on leaving the toy or phallus inside or at least shortening the thrusts.

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You can also take steps to reduce swelling and associated sensitivity of the organ. “Another option is getting off before sex, which empties the prostate, thus making it flatter and less possible to become engorged. That may kill your vibes, but it might be a useful tactic,” Goldstein said. And, if you’re feeling tolerant of risk, “While I’m not a huge fan of desensitizing lubes, about 30-40 minutes before sex, you could use a lube shooter, angled in the direction of the prostate. This may limit any discomfort or diminished pleasures,” he noted. Desensitizing lubricants can raise your risk of overextending yourself, since, if you can’t feel what’s happening you don’t hear your body’s signal to stop, but you’re capable of weighing the risks and making your own decision. If all else fails, you might look into seeing a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floors. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It, 

I’m a woman in my late 30s, never married. I’ve had a few serious relationships but also significant periods of being single. I’m totally OK with that and am in no rush to find “the one” if ever. However, I would like to have more sex. Like, a lot more than I do, which is not much. I’ve tried using the apps to date but got so fed up with ghosting and getting stood up and people who were entirely inaccurate about almost everything.

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In terms of meeting people to date, I’ve had better luck with just encountering people in real life. I meet fewer people than on the apps, but a higher percentage of them are worth meeting. But what I would really like to do is just hook up every once in a while. I’m happy to go out for a drink by myself and chat with the bartender or whoever’s around, but I rarely get approached and never manage to turn that into anything else. I’m also happy to meet potential hookups in other ways, although I would prefer not to get back on the apps.

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I think I’m reasonably attractive and outgoing, but I feel like there’s some element here that I’m missing. I know that the media tells us that women can have as much sex as they want and that men are the ones who are always looking for more, but my experience is the opposite. Other than wearing a sign that says “Want to come back to my place?” what can I do?

—Pick Me Up, Please

Dear Pick Me Up,

There’s a whole range of possibilities in between waiting to be approached—unless I’ve misread you—and wearing a sign that directly propositions all onlookers. You might try, however proactive you are now, being, say, 20 percent more so. If that’s not helping, try turning the volume up even more.

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You say you’ve had better luck encountering people offline, but would like to “just hook up” every once in a while and describe going to a bar to try to achieve that. I’m guessing the former describes meeting people in the course of daily life and building rapport or even relationships, and the latter describes a desire to have fairly physically driven sex, which might also include a desire for that sex to be kind of contained. There’s also a possible range here. You might split the middle by finding a sex partner who you have a friendly ongoing relationship with that is overtly and specifically limited to your sexual interactions, or those plus the occasional friend activity or good chat over coffee the next morning. If you look for that kind of arrangement, be clear about your boundaries and theirs.

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Generalizations about women and men are, generally, inaccurate. And if you’re feeling like you, as a woman, are therefore on the power side of a sex economy and should be overwhelmed by options, it’s probably pretty hard not to take the situation personally. Many factors go into a person’s interest in sex at all, and many more go into an interest in sex with a particular person. This brings me to my last suggestion—if you’re into group sex, or kinky sex, or any kind of sex that tends to attract a community with events, and go to those events, you’ll meet people with similar interests.

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Dear How to Do It, 

I’m a 50-something lesbian who is recovering from cancer. I’m one-year post surgery and treatment and starting to get back to my old life. The problem? I had tongue cancer and as a result, the rebuilt “flap” (that’s what they call it) in my mouth no longer moves. I can’t lick my lips or stick out my tongue…to say nothing about my ability to swallow or eat solid food or even speak the way I used to. And if all THAT isn’t bad enough, kissing me now is like kissing a goldfish and there’s no way I can go down on someone anymore.

So how do I go about getting back to dating? Of course, I realize that there are some women who prefer to be the giver and not the receiver when it comes to sex so my inability to perform wouldn’t be an issue. However, in my experience, these tend to be very butch women (sometimes even stone butches) to who I’m just not attracted to.

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It would be different if I was already with a partner and the two of us could begin to explore different ways of sexually satisfying each other but I’m starting all over again and don’t know how to navigate this with a brand new date. If I can even find someone who will accept me and all my limitations. I mean, I can’t even go out to dinner with anyone. Would anyone really choose to date a woman who can’t go down on them? To me, that’s the best (sexually speaking) best part about loving another woman.

—Lesbian Without a Tongue

Dear Without a Tongue,

You’re right—your situation would be different if you were already in a relationship. Your pool of potential dates will be that much more narrow than it was before. And you’ve got a lot of adapting ahead of you. Dr. Anne Katz, a certified sexuality counselor who has worked with cancer survivors for over 20 years, emphasized over email that body image and altered function are common challenges after cancer treatment. “While it is possible to adapt to these changes, the reality is that a person’s preferred sexual activity may not be that easy to adapt,” Katz said. And, when I asked Katz for any media depicting people navigating similar circumstances, she said, “There is virtually nothing in the medical literature or the consumer media about this woman’s situation. In fact, there is very little written about sexual problems for people with oral cancer (tongue, tonsils) even though it should be obvious that if you are limited in your ability to kiss or perform oral sex on a partner, not to mention speak clearly, this is going to cause a range of problems sexually.” To summarize, none of this is fair; I wasn’t able to find a book, movie, or adult film that you might find solace or ideas in; and I’m sorry you’ve gotten a raw deal.

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If you haven’t worked with a speech and language therapist yet, Katz encourages you to see one. She also recommends The National LGBT Cancer Network’s resources and support groups, and cancer.net’s LGBTQ+ resources page. Support groups may connect you to peers who are working on similar obstacles, and give you an opportunity to practice discussing your own particulars. If you’re able to access one-on-one sessions with a counselor, they may be able to help you adjust, work through anxiety, and express any grief, rage, or frustration. If you look at therapists who specialize in cancer, ask about LGBTQ experience and comfort with sexuality, and if you start from a list of sexuality counselors, ask about their experience with cancer survivors. “​​Support from a professional may be hard to find, especially for those who do not live in large metropolitan centers. But the internet (and COVID) has changed that and therapy/counseling is available remotely. It may take effort to find the help that is needed, but it is available,” Katz said, before cautioning that “there are no magic tricks—developing a new way of being sexual takes time and most of all, the willingness to communicate with partners.” In the meantime, put energy into the other parts of your life that make you feel good, whole, and nourished. I’m wishing you luck, fortitude, and self-empathy.

—Stoya

More Advice From Slate

I’ve been dating a guy for nine months and totally fell for him. Through a conversation, I found out his “ideal” life is to have a main and two side women. What he previously forgot to mention is that he’s already doing this and has been having sex with others.

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