In & Out
Q: Last month I learned that my husband has been having sex with other men for quite some time, all men whom he met in Internet chat rooms and later met for sex. While our sex has declined in both frequency and quality in recent years, we've occasionally had sex—always unprotected, as I believed we were each other's only partner. I've been tested and don't have anything. We haven't decided yet whether we'll stay married (we have three children together). What I can't figure out is whether he's gay or bisexual. He insists he's straight, just sex-starved. What's your verdict?
A: Sorry, but there's no way for you to know what your husband "really is" in terms of his sexual orientation since you can't get inside his head—or his penis—to figure it out. It's entirely possible to identify as a heterosexual and yet still experience same-sex sexual thoughts, feelings, attractions or behaviors. Many people feel more comfortable identifying themselves as straight; after all, heterosexuality is more socially acceptable and something many people have spent their lives identifying with, even if they have same-sex attractions. Coming out as gay or lesbian can be very difficult; visit the website of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (www.pflag.org) for resources and information. Coming out as bisexual can be even trickier, since not everyone views it as a valid sexual orientation, claiming it's simply a transition between straight and gay (as in, "bi now, gay later"). Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality (Oxford University Press, $27.50) may give you some insight.
But what about this attraction issue? Can men have sex with other men even if they're not attracted to them? Absolutely. Gay men endure sex with wives they're not attracted to, trophy wives fake orgasm with their old or otherwise unattractive husbands, and the world keeps turning. Check out 101 Rent Boys, a great documentary about male prostitutes for other men—some who identify themselves as straight or are even married—for a glimpse at the complexities of sexual behavior. However, your husband put some serious effort into his sex-capades with other men. I'd guess, then, that he has at least some attraction to men, and perhaps some attraction to taking risks or keeping secrets.
Sexual-orientation labels aside, it seems like the bigger issue is one of honesty. Your husband lied to you. Plus, he put you at physical risk by continuing to have unprotected intercourse with you while having sex with other partners. Even if he used a condom during every act of outside sex (or only had oral sex with them), he—and consequently you—would still be at risk for herpes and the human papillomavirus (which causes genital warts), neither of which can be protected against through condom use. I guess that's where I'd look for a verdict. People work out all kinds of arrangements, including a wide range of open relationships where one or both people can have other sex partners. If you want to stay married and work something like that out, then good luck. It's challenging but so is monogamy—and both can be done successfully. However, honesty and feeling like you can truly trust your partner are important to many relationships. Counseling or sex therapy (find a professional through the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists at www.aasect.org) may help you both articulate the relationship characteristics that are needed, regardless of whether you stay married or part ways.
Q: Debby, I love your column and I've got a good question for you. My wife and I no longer have sex. We haven't had man-in-woman sex since February. She started giving me oral sex, but that has stopped. I have multiple sclerosis (MS) with increasingly limited mobility. So my question is this: How old are women when they stop wanting to receive or give oral sex? (My wife is 42.) Also, do you think she is just not into me because of the MS?
A: There's no magic age when women stop wanting to engage in oral sex; some women only begin liking it in their forties or fifties. Your MS may be related to changes in her sexual interest but perhaps not in the way you think. Is it possible that she's turned off by your MS diagnosis or its effects? Sure. It's also possible that she's stressed out about MS and its unpredictable nature, and it's her concern about your health that has caused her sexual desire or interest to plummet. If you've had MS-related erectile problems, she may blame herself (rather than realizing that many men with MS have similar problems), wondering perhaps if she's still attractive to you. There may also be totally non-MS reasons why she's not interested in sex right now, including stress about work, family or her own health; body image; medications; hormonal changes; or other relationship factors (how are you getting along?). You recount what she doesn't do for you, but what do you do for her? Consider what you can do for your wife that's not sex-related, but that will make her feel loved and special. Sex therapy may be helpful, too, not because there's necessarily anything "wrong" with your relationship, but because you two have undergone significant changes in your life, and sometimes it's helpful to let a professional tag along as you try to figure out what these changes mean for you two. Finally, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has fantastic resources online (www.nmss.org) related to intimacy that I'd encourage you two to check out.
Send letters to Debby Herbenick, MPH c/o Time Out Chicago, 247 South State Street, 17th floor, Chicago, IL 60604, or send e-mail to email@example.com.