I think I'm straight. Now what?
April 21, 2008 11:33 AM   Subscribe

After a long time in a lesbian relationship, I'm coming to the realization that I think I'm straight. I don't want to leave my wife (I really love her), but I can't stop thinking about men. Please help me figure this out. Sexually explicit details inside. NSFW

When I met the woman who I ended up marrying, I had never thought about sexuality. I had had a very few relationships with men, but was very young. When she told me she was interested in me I thought I could give it a try, fell in love with her, and started identifying as bisexual.

At first the sex was awful (we were both inexperienced and had no idea how to have sex, never mind lesbian sex), but it got better. Over time, though, I found that I had the best orgasms when I fantasized about men during sex. It took a long time for me to tell her this, but I did, and she was fine with it. Eventually it came to be that I could only orgasm when I fantasize about men. She knows this too, and it doesn't bother or worry her at all.

It bothers and worries me. I feel like I'm not having sex with her, rather, I'm masturbating with a hands-free vibrator. I've tried not fantasizing, I've tried keeping my eyes open so that I can see her, and all it does is keep me from coming, make me frustrated, and tire out her arm.

Thinking about this, I've realized several things: I have never really checked out other women in a sexual way. I see a sexy woman and I think "I'd like to look like her" rather than "I'm sexually attracted to her." I look at men, though. The only times I've ever fantasized about women are in fantasies where men are watching me have sex with a woman, and still, the fun only starts when the man/men join in. All of my porn is straight porn, or else it pictures just one woman, and I always identify with the woman and not with the person off-scene who is playing with her.

Recently, my wife and I have pretty much stopped having sex. I know this is partly just a function of being in a ltr, but I feel more and more like we are best friends who happen to share a bed, rather than romantic partners. We've bought toys, we've watched porn, we've tried a bit of kink, but nothing seems to be bringing back the spark. I'm horny, but just don't want to have sex with her. She has said the same, but has said that I'm seeming colder and colder.

I love her so much. She is my world and my light and my heart. She takes care of me, makes me feel beautiful, makes me feel special, makes me want to be a good person. She's my best friend, my confidante, and I trust her implicitly.

Still, I fantasize about a stubbly chin nuzzling against my neck. I dream of being the shorter one in a hug. Of pressing my face against a flat chest, wrapping my arms around narrow hips. I think about sex with a man. A lot. Not any particular man, just a man.

Am I straight? How can I know if I'm straight as opposed to bisexual? Am I just stuck in a monogamy rut? Can I fix myself for this relationship or am I fucked? Am I going to come to a realization ten years down the road and leave my wife for a man, like so many of my older lesbian friends did in reverse? How can I prevent that from happening?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

I think you know the answer.
posted by jouke at 11:41 AM on April 21, 2008 [6 favorites]

As a straight guy whose never doubted his sexuality, I can't begin to tell you what the right thing to do is. But I can tell you this: You have the power of choice, and the power to determine and make the right choice for you. Trusting in that goes a really long way towards working towards an answer.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2008

Even if you're not straight, your marriage isn't working. Get out of it and then pursue who/what you're interested in.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:47 AM on April 21, 2008

It sounds to me like you're straight, and have fallen in intellectual love with a person who happens to be a woman. You love your wife intellectually, but not sexually. Such a relationship can be wonderful, I understand, but only if both people are really OK with never having sex. It doesn't sound like that's the case here, with either of you.

You've been honest with your wife, and that's great, but you haven't been honest with yourself yet. Fighting your true sexuality doesn't work out for straight people any better than it does for gay people. You know what you need to do.
posted by cerebus19 at 11:51 AM on April 21, 2008

Just fyi. I identified as a lesbian for a long long time before I decided I wasn't anything. I'm pretty much a true Kinsey X (no interest in sex whatsoever). Part of my issue with finally coming out was that the lesbian communities were/are not particularly friendly about anyone leaving the fold. Sexuality is, at least if we're open about it, pretty fluid. I wonder if you've talked to your wife about this. I don't know if there's a way to "know for sure" but you might want to try counseling...
posted by Sophie1 at 11:56 AM on April 21, 2008

You might talk to your wife and see if she wouldn't let you take a lover on the side. You don't talk about wanting a man in your life romantically, and that you're happy and comfortable in your marriage, only that you'd like to fuck a dude. See if your wife won't let you do so. Maybe she wants the same thing? Maybe she wants to join in?

You might want to read The Ethical Slut. It works very hard to provide you with an idea of the sorts of emotions and issues you might go through as you explore a non-monogamous relationship.

I think you're making a mistake in trying to figure out what you "are"; the label does nothing but restrict your open mind. It's a lot easier to focus on what you need when you aren't also trying to figure out whether or not what you need falls inside "acceptable" for the sexuality label you've chosen.

I think it's an even bigger mistake to assume that the only solution here is to leave your woman for (the fantasy of) a man--there's a whole fuckton more to a life partner than a sex partner. Unless your wife is telling you otherwise, there's no reason to assume that it's either her or happiness. Work out what you need to be happy, and then work with your wife to achieve those needs. From how you describe her, she seems open and supportive.
posted by Netzapper at 11:56 AM on April 21, 2008 [9 favorites]

It'd be helpful to know how long you've been together and whether you have kids together.

Am I straight? How can I know if I'm straight as opposed to bisexual?

Labels are NOT going to help you at all. You want what you want, your fantasies are your fantasies. At some point you thought you were bisexual, and presumably identified yourself to others as such. This turned out to be possibly not completely accurate. There's no need to say "I'm heterosexual now" when that might not be accurate in a year or two. You don't have to commit yourself to an orientation and stick with it come hell or high water. The lesbian police really aren't going to come and get you.

Am I just stuck in a monogamy rut?

I don't think so, if you're consistently fantasizing about another gender. I have fantasies that will never come to fruition, but I also (and primarily) get off on my partner.

Can I fix myself for this relationship or am I fucked?

I don't think you can change your wiring. You are attracted to masculinity. There is no rhyme or reason to it, anymore that I can't explain logically why I like chocolate ice cream or cajun music. I just DO, and while I can abstain from the ice cream, I can't be talked out of liking it.

Am I going to come to a realization ten years down the road and leave my wife for a man, like so many of my older lesbian friends did in reverse? How can I prevent that from happening?

Only you can decide if you can ever be fulfilled and happy in a monogamous relationship with your wife. I am fine with knowing that some of my sexual fantasies are almost certainly never to be fulfilled; but that is a conscious choice and commitment I have made.

Still, I fantasize about a stubbly chin nuzzling against my neck. I dream of being the shorter one in a hug. Of pressing my face against a flat chest, wrapping my arms around narrow hips.

This sounds like loneliness, and perhaps you think a man would make you feel less lonely than a woman (from a hetero perspective, I don't think so, except on a temporary basis). Do you have enough nonsexual physical contact with your partner? Do you feel protected and safe with her? (This is the feeling I get when strong arms wrap around me.)

Some other options to discuss with your partner:

1. The obvious: opening your relationship to allow sex with men. This is, of course, a whole can of worms.
2. The not-so-obvious: getting your masculinity fix without sex. This is the function that many gay men serve to single straight women. I liked being around butch gay men, being able to touch them and be touched by them, without actually feeling pressure to have sex with them. It gave me my "testosterone fix" that made me much less lonely when I was single.
3. The really out-there possibility: a threesome with a FTM that might feel safer to your partner than a biological male, but still bring a masculine aspect into your sex life.
posted by desjardins at 12:00 PM on April 21, 2008

I don't think labels are where your problem lies. Sexuality can be pretty fluid, especially over time, and can be heavily driven by context. (eg: men can be all "Kiss of the Spider Woman" in a prison, or young women at a liberal arts college can do the LUG thing, without saying much about what their practices would be in a different context, or at a different time in their life.) But the way you "know" is by doing, and remembering that things may change yet again. You felt hetero at one point, there was a point you felt bi, now maybe you are feeling like you are over at the hetero end of bi, or the bi end of hetero, or whatever; in a few years it could be something different altogether.

Moreover, monogamy is a pretty flexible construct, too. At one extreme it can mean "don't even fantasize about other people." At another extreme, it can mean "don't bring home any diseases." Meaning, what is right for you and your wife is what is right for you and your wife -- not what other people think you should do, or what the labels define you as, or anything else. It isn't the label that matters -- it is how you feel, and what makes you happy. You could divorce your wife without resolving your sexuality, for example -- the unhappiness and the doubts about your sexuality may not be stemming from the same source at all, and fixing one won't necessarily fix the other.

Like desjardins says, there may be a lot of ways to get what you are wanting, especially if there are non-sexual ways to scratch that guy itch you have. Are there men in your life with whom you are close enough to snuggle, hug, and cuddle? Could you be missing guy-contact as much as you are guy-sex? Or are you missing the freedom and openness of being single (of whatever sexuality), more than guy-sex?
posted by Forktine at 12:17 PM on April 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

there's a whole fuckton more to a life partner than a sex partner.

This is very true—but don't minimize the importance of a good sex partner. A lot of straight relationships run aground because the couple loses the spark, too.

You and your wife both have a right to be sexually satisfied, and it doesn't sound like that can happen within the context of your current relationship. That means either an open relationship (which is fraught with its own complications) or breaking up (which is tough). Good luck.
posted by adamrice at 12:33 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Doesn't answer your questions but apparently you're not alone. From last week's Washington Post book review:

In the kick-off to her study of the malleability of female erotic longing, Diamond, an associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, writes:

"In 1997, the actress Anne Heche began a widely publicized romantic relationship with the openly lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres after having had no prior same-sex attractions. . . . The relationship with DeGeneres ended after two years, and Heche went on to marry a man. The actress Cynthia Nixon of the HBO series Sex and the City developed a serious relationship with a woman in 2004 after ending a fifteen-year relationship with a man. Julie Cypher left a heterosexual marriage for the musician Melissa Etheridge in 1988. After twelve years together, the pair separated and Cypher -- like Heche -- has returned to heterosexual relationships. In other cases, longtime lesbians have unexpectedly initiated relationships with men, sometimes after decades of exclusively same-sex ties. . . . What's going on? Are these women confused? Were they just going through a phase before, or are they in one now?"

Setting out to prove the theory that, for some women, love is truly blind where gender is concerned, Diamond presents her evidence in a fascinating, anecdotal fashion -- by tracking over the span of a decade the relationships of nearly 100 women who at one point or another had experienced "same-sex attractions." The women move from men to women and back again (or vice-versa), their sexual identity as changeable as their desires. Additionally, she delves into the brain science behind lust, love and infatuation, revealing that what draws women toward a particular partner is as much a function of biology as it is anything else. To her credit, Diamond avoids scripting her arguments in obtuse academese. With her compassionate, understated approach, she has stepped up the business of gender research.

posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 1:03 PM on April 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Anon, there could be any number of things going on here. Obviously, you know yourself best, but I'm just wondering if you've really considered all of the possibilities here.

I'm not trying to poo-poo what you're experiencing, but as with any fantasy, the reality may not be all you've made it out to be. Relationships with men are not just about the differences in body - the dynamics, the cultural baggage, the issues, the smelly socks - really, it's a very different kettle of fish. Fantasies are, by definition, idealised.

Second, your post indicates that you were not very sexually experienced before your current relationship. I don't think it is uncommon to feel a longing for things you didn't get a chance to experience. I can't help wondering if this might be less about "boy" and more about a shorthand for "other."

Finally, LTRs do experience ebb and flow in sexuality, and while I have not conducted an official survey or anything, I have to say that the people I know in girl-girl relationships uniformly report less sex than couples in any other configurations.

In short, I think there's possibly a lot of things that could be going on here. Even if all of this is noise and it turns out you really are straight or bi, I think you should honour your marriage and your partner and work through this in therapy. And I also second getting two copies of The Ethical Slut, which I think you might both find useful even if non-monogamy turns out not to be an option for you.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:08 PM on April 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

Am I going to come to a realization ten years down the road and leave my wife for a man, like so many of my older lesbian friends did in reverse?

I think the crux of the matter is right in this line. I would guess, and it's only a guess, that the narrative of the confused lesbian in a heterosexual relationship coming late to the realization of her sexuality is one that you're pretty familiar with. I'd further guess that in your community it's a fairly supported story, thick with implications and overtones, that has all kinds of connotations of emotional freedom, personal liberation, and sexual awakening. My guess is that were you to ask this question as a woman in a heterosexual marriage, if you were to talk about it with your friends, the answers would mostly (completely?) support the idea that staying in the unsatisfying heterosexual marriage would be some sort of travesty, perhaps with hints of political oppression attached.

This is not exactly the same situation, but it's analogous enough that you should be asking why and how it's different, and what parts of the "Lesbian Awakening" trope are applicable to your situation.
posted by OmieWise at 1:15 PM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just something to think about: it may seem inconsequential what label you give yourself. But it's not. There's admitting to yourself that you are sexually attracted to men -- very much so, apparently. Embracing the label of "straight" is an additional step; it all of a sudden puts you (and your wife) into a prewritten narrative. It will change how you (and she) view your history together. If you do break up, it may make it easier for her to have this narrative: "we were good together, but then she figured out she was straight" is in some ways easier than "I thought we were good together, but really she didn't love me enough". On the other hand, you are now "that woman", the one who thought she was gay but really wasn't. We've heard stories. It doesn't feel good to be "that woman".

Then again, identifying as "straight" means risking the loss of the queer community, which you may have come to value. And the queer identity, which you may also value.

It's complicated, is what I'm saying. There are a lot of issues, including your personal identity, your relationship, and your community.

I'm betting that you would, indeed, find a sexual relationship with the right man to be more satisfying, more "right". What you have to do now is weigh the goodness of your current relationship against the chances that, sometime in the future, your desire for a satisfying sexual relationship will be too much. Is it better to end it now, given that very real possibility?
posted by wyzewoman at 1:54 PM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

maybe it's time to open the marriage up. you clearly love your wife, and you clearly have some sexual needs that she can't meet.

i think there are circumstances where mindful sexual infidelity can save a relationship--the classic example being when one partner is disabled or de-sexed; the less classic example being where one partner has a fetish the other can't stand.

if you love her and want to be with her, then you need permission from her to explore straight sex. (of course you would have to allow her to pursue other women or some other kink that you are not into.)

maybe you'll find it's not something you want to do long term. maybe it's just curiosity getting the best of you. or maybe you fall in love with a man and decide to break up with your wife. it's a can of worms, to be sure, but i think it's one you have to open.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:14 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

If your relationship ends, that doesn't mean that it was a bad relationship or a bad decision. You and your wife obviously have a good history, but she needs someone who wants to rip her clothes off, and you need someone who you lust after.

Towards that end, I would first try to bring that back into this relationship that you value so much. You've tried toys and kink. Have you tried role-playing your fantasy of sex with men? It sounds like you're afraid to really open this discussion up with her because you're afraid of the implications for your relationship, and that would limit how far you could explore this through role-play. Try allowing yourself to close your eyes and fantasize without guilt. A sex therapist might have more ideas.

If that failed, I would broach the subject of non-monogamy, so as to preserve your relationship while fulfilling both of your sexual needs.

Then as a last ditch option I would consider ending the marriage and exploring relationships with men while freeing her up to find lesbians who dig her. Last option because she's your wife and you love each other and it's not easy to lose that.
posted by heatherann at 2:20 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Check out the Ethical Slut
Forget the labels, focus on what you want.
posted by Furious Fitness at 2:32 PM on April 21, 2008

I went through pretty much exactly the same thing with my first long-term GF as I realized that, while I loved her and we made great partners, I just wasn't attracted to her. We broke up, it sucked, but now we're really good friends and I no longer feel guilty and anxious about my sex life.

Yes, I'm a lesbian. Yes, I was fantasizing about other people. No, they weren't men. I don't think it actually matters - point was, I didn't want to be having sex with her, particularly. This was bad for both of us, and breaking up was, ultimately, good.

The whole labels/lesbian community side of it is a different kettle of fish, but I'd recommend crossing that bridge when you come to it - deal with your current relationship first, and then think about where you're going next.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:20 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

sounds to me like you are STRAIGHT. like you have never actually been GAY. you have to figure out what to do about your marriage.

but i would definately recommend you get acquainted with dan savage- his column, his podcast and his sass and attitude!
posted by beccyjoe at 8:05 PM on April 21, 2008

Sometimes people have sex fantasies about things they would not actually do in real life. It doesn't sound like that with you, though. You said you have been with men when you were younger and then hooked up with this woman. Essentially, you've skipped over the dating scene, which is an important part of many people's lives to let them find themselves, at least to some degree.

How about an open relationship? Would your wife be completely offended if you said you wanted that, and wanted to sleep with other men? I'm thinking she would be very hurt if this happened. As it stands now, your not sleeping with her is unfair to her emotionally and sexually. She deserves to have a loving, sexual relationship just as much as you do. So in other words, your fence-sitting is harmful. You have to decide, one way or another. Talk about all of this with your wife.
posted by zardoz at 12:04 AM on April 22, 2008

Jouke said it all, but...

I don't think your fantasies or your sexual identity are all that relevant to the most immediate decision you have to make. The fact that the sex has dried up is the big problem (no matter what the cause). If your sex life is absolutely non-existent with her, I'm not sure adding a guy to the mix is going to bring your sex life with her back from the grave. If you can't resurrect your sex life with her, your romantic relationship is effectively over. You can still have intimacy and respect, but the lust is what differentiates your relationship from just a good friendship. If your sex life has just slowed down, or you can bring it back to at least a ghost of it's former self, maybe there's some hope for your relationship.

If you do have to break up with her, always remember that it isn't a failure on her part or yours. Sometimes two great people aren't meant to be together for life.

I hope it works out for you. My own sexual fantasies are literally impossible to fulfill, and probably extremely unsatisfying to approximate, so I'm hoping that has nothing to do with the doom of a relationship.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:10 AM on April 22, 2008

I'm with the opinion of opening up the marriage. A marriage is many things: emotional intimacy, security, support, companionship, shared goals. Monogamy is a part of that package for many people, but it doesn't have to be, and you shouldn't feel that your marriage is through because you don't find sex exclusively with your wife fulfilling right now, any more than you should feel confused by "Am I gay or straight?". You want what you want, and it would appear that your wife is supportive of that, so long as you come back to her.

Would it be ideal if your partner made your girl-parts go flippy-flop as well as your heart? Sure. And it's understandable that you're disappointed and frustrated by the lack of that. But I don't see, from your perspective, anything that is incompatible with your wife outside of sex. You're not wanting to live with a man, you're not having fantasies about being a straight hetero wife: you're just saying that right now you prefer guys on a physical level, while emotionally being deeply attached to your wife.

So. Take a deep breath, sit down, and talk it over with your wife. It sounds like you have great communication already, so trust in that honesty and openness. "I'm really, really happy with you, and I really enjoy what we have together, but I think I might need to get my rocks off with a guy every once in a while. I don't wish a relationship with anyone else, and I'm pretty sure I need this to be happy, but I also need to come back to you, and to live my life with you. I don't wish to hurt you - what can we do to work this so it doesn't damage what we have?"

You have to be prepared for the answer to be "We can't". But if you have as solid a relationship as I think you have, it might be "Okay, here are some ground rules." You can't know until you ask - but any kind of communication has got to be better than the coldness and desperation you now feel.

Again, trust in that honesty. Don't have affairs, and don't preemptively throw away what you have just because of what you're feeling and are too ashamed to talk about it. You love your wife, and she loves you. Start from that, and see what happens.

The very best of luck to you.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:46 PM on April 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

sexuality is a spectrum and we change our minds constantly. Have you talked this through with your wife? Maybe couples counseling would help you two figure out where your relationship stands. Communication! Have you tried strap-ons?
posted by Ekidnagrrl17 at 8:07 PM on March 27, 2009

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