Q: I'm in my early 60s, and though everything else about our relationship is great, my wife is not interested in sex anymore.
Over the last year, I became curious about being with a man — specifically, a man I've known for more than 20 years. Some years back he confessed he was very attracted to me, and that he would very much like to have sex with me if I was ever interested.
While visiting him about eight months ago, one thing led to another and we had sex, with him taking things slow and allowing me to explore at my own pace how far I might go.
The thing is, I'm still very attracted to my wife — am I discovering I'm bisexual? And how do I integrate that, or not, with my wife? I feel like I want both.
A: At the risk of stating the obvious, it strikes me you are bisexual — at least according to my definition, which is "a person who has a strong sexual and emotional attraction to people of both the opposite and same sex." People quibble about whether or not bisexuality exists — I think it does — but that won't help you figure out what to do now.
For starters, you are having an affair. Yes, it's with another man rather than a woman, but don't think for a moment that means it "doesn't count." I can assure you that your wife will think it does!
Even in a sexually quiescent marriage, few wives want to share their husband. That means you must prepare yourself for the possibility that she will want to end the marriage if you tell her. However, she may find out anyhow, in which case she'll feel doubly betrayed. And speaking of which, do you really want to lead a double life? That presents not just ethical but all kinds of practical problems.
So it's time for some honest self-inquiry: What's really going on in your marriage? Are you both still in love with each other?
Your wife deserves to know about your new sexual identity — and therefore, regrettably, your affair — so please see a therapist together. The outcome, as I said, may well be divorce, but it's equally possible that she will understand who you are and want to stay married. You can see the peril in this course of action, but I think it's the only way to be fair to your wife — and maintain more than a sham marriage.
Q: My 91-year-old father told me he is watching "naked women videos." He also told me he is having problems masturbating and wants a vibrator.
I know he is lonely (we lost our mother last year) and that this behavior is normal, but my sisters and I find it odd that he revealed it.
I guess he feels comfortable telling me because I'm a nurse (and his main caregiver), but he is a Christian and feels guilty about doing it. "What you do in private is OK," I've told him, "but there's no need to tell me about it."
We are concerned that his behavior may signal the start of Alzheimer's. What are your thoughts?
A: The world of someone who has aged into their late 80s or early 90s has often "telescoped down": Many of their old friends are gone, and they may not feel comfortable confiding in new ones (typically from a senior-living environment). They may also feel they have less control over their lives, as evidenced by your father's lack of awareness that he can simply order a vibrator online.
I don't believe that your father's interest in sex — or the fact that he has disclosed much more than you feel comfortable hearing — necessarily indicates impaired brain function. True, changes in his memory or personality may have removed some of his inhibitions about discussing sex, but as a nurse, you are, after all, his primary "consultation authority." It also sounds as if he is asking for your approval, or at least your understanding and permission. I find it touching that he is willing to share this much with you.
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Finally, don't discount the impact your mother's death has had on him. Although it's awkward for you, he may have "promoted" you in his mind to the adviser/helper position formerly held by his wife. Losing one's spouse typically sends the bereaved partner into a tailspin, degrading their ability to cope—and often even sabotaging their will to live. That makes your support at this moment doubly vital!
So try not to get too hung up on the novelty of this disclosure. Just be as compassionate as you can, reminding yourself how much solace sex can be in a life where so much else has fallen away. There's really no reason to deny your father that comfort.