DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been married to a wonderful man for 5 years. I grew up in a strict religion and felt sexually repressed for most of my life. Then I met a man several years my junior who loved me and converted for me to marry me. We’ve gone through a lot together, a few health scares, deaths of family members. We have an autistic son with visual impairment. He’s been my rock and support.
Our sex life is ok. I’ve always had a high sex drive and for the past several months it’s been in overdrive. I think he realized that I’ve been holding back, and he found a safe judgement free app we can use to share our fantasies with each other. It turns out we both want threesomes with another woman. We discussed it further and I told him that I’m actually bi and am interested in swinging. He said that was awesome and he was down for it! What proceeded was 3 days of great sex and fantasies. Then he jokingly slut shamed me for being interested in swinging and then that night we had a bad sex session and then he told me he wasn’t actually interested in swinging. I now feel ashamed and raw. We reached out to a sex therapist who concluded that I was the problem. That when my husband said yes and looked up swinging clubs, that that meant he was thinking about it, not that he was interested. And that I have self esteem issues that are getting in the way of my getting over this.
I feel betrayed that he essentially lured me into a false sense of security to disclose my deepest darkest secret and then rejected me. I can’t leave him. We have a special needs son and I make 5 times as much as he does and he’d take me to the cleaners. Short of inventing a time machine, I don’t know what to do or how to proceed. I found the therapist judgements and hateful but realize that if my husband and the therapist both say I’m the problem, that they’re probably right. I don’t know what to do. I haven’t had sex with my husband since. I’ve always been socially awkward and am lucky I found my husband. Do you have a script I can use in my head before psyching myself up before sex that I can use? I’m not the biggest fan of “get over yourself, you’re damaged one” that I can from our therapist.
Lost and Bi in PA
DEAR LOST AND BI IN PA: This is an interesting letter, LaBiPA, not so much because of the content — this is actually a fairly common issue — but because the roles are reversed. Most of the time when I hear from someone in a hetero relationship whose desire for more adventurous sex caused problems, it’s usually the man who tripped over his dick. It’s less common — not unheard of, but less common — for the woman to be both the initiator and the one who moved faster than their partner may have been comfortable with.
Now, there’s a lot to untangle here, but let’s start with where things went wrong and why. The issue here is that it seems as though you jumped the gun and pushed things too far, too fast. This is actually a very common problem when someone starts to roll out a kink or a fantasy they’d like to try. Their partner is ok with it, maybe even finds it hot, and there’re a few days of talking it out that lead to all kinds of exciting sex. But when the kink-seeking partner tries to actually make the fantasy happen, the whole thing hits a giant brick wall at 30 miles per hour. The problem is that the would-be-kinkster took things a step too far. Their partner was warming up to the idea, even enjoying the erotic charge that came from fantasizing about it… but as anyone who’s ever thought about, say, jumping out of a plane can tell you, there’s a vast difference between fantasizing about it and the reality. Even people who are legitimately interested in trying this new thing, whether it may be swinging, threesomes or forms of non-monogamy, may suddenly discover they have second thoughts about trying it. In fact, this has tripped up many couples when it came to opening up the relationship; everyone was on board until one of them actually banged someone else and the other partner had a freak out over it.
That seems to be what happened here, LaBiPA: you and your hubby may have been getting charged up over talking about it, even looking up swingers clubs and talking about theoretical plans… but he still wasn’t ready to make that last leap. You took things farther than he was ready for and he balked. And honestly, it’s understandable. As much as society tells us that a MFF threesome is the ultimate male fantasy, it can be hard for some men to see someone — male, female or enbie — going to town on their partner. The same goes for any form of swapping; it can be fodder for fantasy, but a harder thing to do when you’re meeting the person who’s about to get down with someone you love.
Now that having been said: it REALLY wasn’t cool for your husband to make jokes about you being “slutty”. If he’s uncomfortable with the situation, actually saying “hey, y’know what, I’m not sure I’m as into this as you are,” would’ve been far better. Making jokes about you being hornier or just more into non-meat-and-potatoes sex than he is may have been a reaction to feeling weird about things, but it’s inappropriate, hurtful and profoundly unhelpful all the same.
In an ideal world — and what you should do next time, assuming there is a next time — is take baby steps. Talking about it, fantasizing about it together, even looking up clubs is one step. The next would be to talk things out: what would this look like? What would we want in an ideal guest-star? The following step would be to start considering potential options together; that might mean browsing dating apps or going to bars and just checking out people with no intent of actually talking to them or approaching them. The next step might be to visit a sex club, strictly as tourists; you both agree in advance that nothing is going to happen, you’re just going to check out the vibe and see how you feel, etc. Another step to a potential threesome would be possibly having you flirt or dance with someone else at a bar. If you get to the point of bringing someone home, then you have hard limits on what is and isn’t allowed for the first time, and so forth. Taking these steps makes it easier for everyone to gauge their comfort and to tap the brakes if it’s going beyond what they’re ready for. It also gives a more reluctant partner the chance to get acclimated to the idea and decide that this isn’t so bad and maybe the next step will be ok too.
Unfortunately, you didn’t do these things and as a result: your husband stomped the brakes (in a not-terribly great or understanding way) and you all ended up in couples counseling over this.
That’s also where I start to have questions about the way you present the fallout to the whole misadventure. It sounds a lot like you’re the frustration of coming close to fulfilling a fantasy — and your self-esteem issues — color your perception of what went down afterwards. For example: while I get that you’re upset — you were so close to this awesome adventure! — I don’t think your husband betrayed you or cruelly manipulated you in order to… I dunno, go “PSYCHE!” because f
k you, that’s why. It sounds to me like this was an honest fantasy that he was willing to explore until it started feeling like it was going faster than he liked. Similarly, I think you need to take a step back and look at exactly what was said, rather than how you felt (and still feel) in the moment. Did your sex therapist actually say that “you’re at fault and you’re damaged,” or did it just feel this way? There’s a vast difference between “you could have done this in a different way,” and “you’re a freak and should be ashamed.”
It’s not impossible that the therapist did frame it that way; God knows there’re some truly awful and sex-negative sex therapists out there. But it sounds a lot like you’ve swung from excited for sexy fun times to “this just proves I’m an awful person” and that’s affecting how you interpreted things.
While you examine things as dispassionately as you can, I would suggest talking to a different therapist — first by yourself, then possibly with your husband. A sex-positive therapist — one who isn’t going to tell you that you’re “broken” — can not only help you process your feelings about this misadventure, but can also help facilitate the conversation between you and your husband. They can also help develop a roadmap for future adventures, in a way that doesn’t end with one or the both of you getting your feelings hurt, or worse. The American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory on their site that can help you find the sex-positive therapist or couple’s counselor that can walk you through how to talk this through and ease the pain that this has inadvertently caused you.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org