When Sex Gets Strange

By Hara Estroff Marano, published April 17, 2020 - last reviewed on May 5, 2020

HARA ESTROFF MARANO

We are a heterosexual couple close to 60, together almost five years. Recently my boyfriend cajoled me into engaging in “pegging,” which he seems to like a lot. He has occasionally talked about being bisexual and described encounters with males—then always says, “Just kidding.” He also teases me that I could be a lesbian—which I am not. He takes long solo trips a few times a year. He’s also gone much of the time to another apartment we have on the mainland, as we live on an island. Sometimes he comes back and quickly engages physically with me, other times days can go by with nothing. I’m not sure what to believe. But if what he says is true, I’m not comfortable and really need advice on what to do next.

Your boyfriend is giving off a lot of signals about bisexuality. It’s not likely that he is “just kidding.” It is far more likely that he is just testing your reaction to gauge what he can reveal about his own sexuality without scaring you away completely.

You both seem to get something out of being together, although the arrangement you have appears tilted towards his needs. After five years, maybe it’s time to also get the truth. After all, sexual pleasure is usually fundamental to a relationship. And you want to be sure that you both have the same expectations of your relationship. Further, you have a vested interest in all his sexual encounters. If he has sex with other men but feels it has to be hidden, he could be engaging in potentially dangerous practices.

What you need is a kind and informational conversation, not a confrontational one. You might tell your boyfriend that you’re getting mixed messages about what he likes sexually and that you’d like to know what his real preferences are. They’re not necessarily either/or. You might ask directly whether and how often he has sex with men and where and how he finds them. You may not like the answers; they may force decisions such as whether to stay in the relationship—which may be the reason why you haven’t asked him the obvious question all this time.

Feeling “cajoled” into any activity, including pegging, is not usually a pathway to pleasure. Expanding one’s sexual repertoire is one thing; engaging in a sexual activity you don’t enjoy is another, and corrosive to self-respect.

If you do find out that your boyfriend is bisexual, you may decide that the relationship is loving enough to save, even if it isn’t exactly the one you dreamed about (most aren’t). But for however long you share a home and a bed, you need to establish together a code of sexual conduct for each of you that is healthy and acceptable to you both and that feeds the relationship you do have.

Who First?

A romantic partner recently declared, “This has been all about you,” as the main reason for not continuing the relationship. My DISC profile is a very strong I (for Influencing others), which means I can have self-focused communication tendencies. I am proud that my successes have been the result of focusing on my personal journey, but I also volunteer and donate to various organizations. The internet abounds in seemingly contradictory advice: “Live your life for you” but also“Being the best partner really means being selfless.” How are these simultaneously possible?

Either you’ve been reading the wrong advice or misconstruing the messages; they’re not opposites. Living life for yourself means living in accordance with your own values and goals, as opposed to ones others set for you—so that you don’t become a pawn of others. It does not mean that you and your goals take precedence over or deserve more consideration than those of anyone else. In the same vein, being a good partner entails balancing the needs of two individuals when their needs are not congruent.

Personal journeys are fine things to embark on, but too much focus on one can assure a solo trip when you want a travel companion; it can blind you to the thoughts and feelings of those seeking closeness and mutual support. Self-focus easily slides into narcissism—a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, failure to see another’s perspective, and a tendency to exploit others. People who are self-focused often communicate it through the use of self-referential terms—me, my, I—as your personality profile reveals.

Give yourself a break. The next time around, start paying some attention to your partner’s state of mind. You may wind up with a broader measure of success.