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When the Other Woman Is a Man

Discovering your husband's secret sexual life with men.

Let me share with you a scenario I’ve seen again and again in my practice: You’ve been in a long-term relationship with your husband. As his wife, you think that everything is as it’s always been, that it’s a good relationship and when you have time to have sex, it’s always good and satisfying.

 Cemile Bingol
Source: IStock by Getty Images; Credit: Cemile Bingol

Then one day, some tiny tug from your intuition makes you wonder about the time he is spending online when you’re not there. Or maybe you see a suggestive text on his phone from someone you don’t know. Or maybe you are curious as to why he sometimes doesn’t come home after work at the usual time.

You ask him about this, and he becomes evasive or defensive, maybe even tries to gaslight you, but you know him well—at least you thought you did—and sense right away that he’s lying about this. You become confused and hurt that he would lie about this, and you can’t help but look for other clues as to why.

Then one day he’s away and you find that he hasn’t logged out of his laptop, and you feel the urge to look at his browsing history. Much to your dismay, you discover that he’s been visiting gay porn sites—lots of them—or gay chatrooms.

You’re overwhelmed with a sense of betrayal that he has hidden from you something like this for all these years. You feel as though the ground beneath you has radically shifted and you’re scared and angry. You begin to question yourself: Is this my fault? Am I not enough for him in bed? Was I wrong to spy on him? Eventually, confronted with the solid evidence you’ve found, he admits that he’s been surfing gay porn sites, or even that he’s had sex with a man outside of your marriage agreement. But he insists that it meant nothing, that he still loves you and wants to be with you. But now you can only think that he’s been gay all along and never admitted it. You’re devastated, and you should be.

Is This Your Fault?

First of all, you need to know that none of this is your fault. You did nothing to make this happen. You needn’t feel guilty about any of it. This may sound crazy to you because, for you, sexual intimacy is such a vulnerable and rather sacred thing, but even though this is happening to you, it has nothing to do with you.

Many women I work with who discover their husband’s secret life project onto her husband that he must have romantic feelings for these men, but often it isn’t true. In fact, for the majority of men I’ve counseled over the years about this sort of thing, there was no romance involved. It is purely a transactional sexual event, acting on fantasy and taboo desires.

Why Didn’t He Tell You at First?

Most heterosexual couples have never spoken to each other about their deep-seated erotic dreams or fantasies. Each partner may hold back certain erotic desires from fear of being judged. The truth is that our erotic desires evolve over time. He may not have truly known nor understood. He may have had an inkling that he sometimes felt attracted to sexual contact with men, but it was not an acceptable thought, so he simply dismissed it, or thought perhaps that it was just a weird kink.

But over the years, suppression didn’t work, and he found himself oddly turned on by the idea of sex with another man. He couldn’t really tell you or admit this to anyone else—men typically don’t talk about such things. He doesn’t think anyone would understand because he doesn’t want you to think of him as gay.

And maybe he isn’t.

That’s a difficult concept for most people in our culture to grasp. I have written extensively about it in my book, Is My Husband Gay, Straight, or Bi: A Guide for Women Concerned About Their Men. We have accepted a cultural meme that if a man has sex with another man, he can be nothing else but gay.

Let me tell you about a conversation I had at a formal dinner some years ago. The fellow next to me and I were talking about sexuality. As if to emphasize his point, he lay down his fork, looked at me, and said: “If a man has sex with another man, he’s gay. Period.”

So, I put down my own fork and asked, “What about when a woman has sex with another woman? Do you call her gay or a lesbian?” He paused and said, “I call that college.”

Everyone at the table laughed, but it was a perfect illustration of the skewed ideas we have about sexuality, and especially the double standard that men in our culture must bear. Men can’t have erotic urges toward other men and still be considered straight. This is true not only in straight culture, but in the gay community as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve argued this point with gays, bisexuals, and straights. The reality is that men are sexually fluid far more often than we can admit.

Where Do You Turn for Support?

Where are you as the injured woman going to turn for support, especially if you really don’t want to simply throw the relationship away, but rather find a way to save it? There are no support groups that I know of where straight men can get a grip on their same-sex erotic fantasies or actions. And so rather than deal with the underlying issues, these couples continue in silence about these things. He says, “Don’t tell anyone, please,” and you don’t want to out him because it will shake up all your relationships with friends and family.

Therapy is an Option

In therapy, I first help him listen to you, witness your feelings of anger and betrayal, and understand, validate, and empathize with those feelings. I have sessions with each partner separately in order to help them understand themselves. Often, the man doesn’t even understand why he is interested in sex with men and he can’t explain it. When I ultimately bring them together, I remind them that because we are not encouraged to talk about sex, we never discover the rich nuances of erotic drives.

Then we can undertake the work of helping him determine for himself whether he is, in fact, straight, bisexual, or gay. Yes, he could be any of these things. Whichever he is, it doesn’t take away from everything else you know about him. He is still the person you fell in love with, even though to you he now feels like a completely different person.

Will He Leave Me?

Surprisingly, I always thought a woman’s first concern would be her health regarding HIV, AIDS and STIs/STDs, but I’ve mostly found that her primary concern is whether or not he is going to leave her. Sometimes after the information about his sexual interest in men comes out, the sex between them gets even better because he feels known and authentic and doesn’t have to hide this part of himself, while she is relieved to know he still wants her.

When I work with these couples, I have no agenda regarding whether or not they should stay together. In the end, the lesson I derive from all of this is that we as a culture must come to terms with and accept that there is such a thing as men’s sexual fluidity. Just because a man has one sexual thought about another man doesn’t mean he is not straight. We need to deal with and remove the shame that surrounds this for both partners and try harder to discover what is really going on.

There is hope. There is help. You don’t have to suffer in silence.

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