How to Do It

We Thought Our Sex Toys Were Safe Under Padlock. We Came Home to an Awful Surprise.

Two women kissing and a trunk behind them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear How to Do It,

My wife and I, both women, have a trunk in our bedroom that we use to store sex toys and other things related to our sex life, like handcuffs. It’s plain and non-descript, and we store it in a corner, half hidden by the wardrobe. When our nieces and nephews started coming over and playing games like hide-and-seek, we took the precaution of adding a padlock. As it turns out, the kids have been no problem. They respect rules about which rooms they can hide in and never seem to nose through our stuff. The problem is my mother-in-law.

She came to stay with us for a week while my wife was recovering from surgery, and I had my hands full with work. We were initially grateful for her help until it became clear that she was poking through our stuff. I found things moved around in our bathroom cabinets and my jewelry boxes. We raised it with her. She denied it. On the last day of her scheduled stay, I came home to find her screaming at my sick wife about the trunk. She had gone into our room and snapped off the lock with tools from our toolbox. It wasn’t a flimsy lock.

She turned on me and yelled about me corrupting her daughter. According to her, “Normal women don’t have six sex drives. Sex is a male thing.” She had basically understood lesbian relationships to be more akin to close friendships than sexual partnerships. She said I had messed up her innocent daughter and should seek medical help for my sickness. My wife and I just told her to get out, and we’d send any stuff she left behind. She did so, but now has told the whole family about what she found, just lying open in our bedroom. She’s trying to convince my wife’s sister never to bring her kids around here again and even gave my brother a call to do the same. He laughed at her and hung up.

My wife, who is still in recovery, is extremely upset. Her mom has always been low-key homophobic but seemed broadly accepting of our relationship as the years went by. This is something else. I would be happy never to speak with this woman again and boycott family events with her, but my wife doesn’t know what to do. Her mom is a widow and actually relies on us for support in the normal run of things. We live nearer than her other daughter and often buy groceries when she’s short on money. Now she doesn’t want to speak with us until we agree to never have children in our house again and get mental health help for our perversions. We’re never going to do that, obviously. Can you advise on how on Earth we proceed with my wife’s family from here? Is a relationship possible with my mother-in-law after this? We’re hurt, mortified, and at a loss.

Stoya: How much is the mom usually like this?

Rich: Right.

Stoya: Because if the mom’s usually like this, you check in with the wife’s family, and they go, “Ugh, Mom.”

Rich: Yeah.

Stoya: And then you kind of collectively figure out, based on how much each person is interested in tolerating it this time, how you’re going to do whatever you feel obligated as family to do—without this, the digging through the toy chest, and then being really judgmental about it.

Rich: I do find the power dynamic to be kind of interesting and perhaps useful in our writer’s favor because they’re helping support this woman, who then basically just acted like a tyrant, went through stuff that was cordoned off as being not for anybody else’s use, and then presumably still expects them to take care of her and buy her groceries. I mean, it seems like she has way more to lose than they do.

So, what happens if you say, “Sorry, you’re cut off,” not for real, but just as a tactic? Cut her off for a few weeks and then see what happens. I mean, obviously, she’s not going to starve. She has other family members that will take care of her. Perhaps, when everybody sees what a pain in the ass all of this has created, then they will be more sympathetic to the two people whose privacy and sexuality have been violated by this woman.

Stoya: Oh, yeah. They’re hurt and mortified for a reason and at a loss because this is a lot.

Rich: I mean, it’s terrible. And it’s also got, it has right-wing groomer-accusation vibes, kind of like if queer people are having sex within five kilometers of a schoolhouse, then abuse is taking place. It’s all obviously ridiculous. To have somebody ignorant kind of attempt to foist their worldview and experience on you is maddening.

Stoya: Wait. Wait. Sorry. I’m just seeing these lines, “Trying to convince the sister never to bring the kids around again.” The brother laughed at her and hung up. Mom is just like this. This is her default setting.

Rich: But wait, this is the letter writer’s brother, right? “She even called my brother.”

Stoya: Oh.

Rich: So, it’s the wife’s sister. I get the sense that the letter writer’s family is liberal or understanding enough. It’s the wife’s family that may be persuaded by this kind of reveal. They probably have a more conservative background. That’s the sense that I get.

Stoya: I would say, whether the mom’s family is kind of on the fence or on her side, or the mom’s family is like, “Wow,” because of the groomer accusatory vibes that you pointed out, it is perhaps worthwhile to exercise caution if this couple thinks that they would like to have children themselves. The United States has been going in a very interesting direction, and lesbian and kinky may be more of a lightning rod than it was five years ago.

Rich: Yeah. It reminds me of the stories that you hear about poly people whose ignorant relatives get involved and report them to authorities, and then they have their kids taken away because somebody else decided that how they were living didn’t work with parenting, even though they really had no idea.

If I were in this situation, I would make a list of the people that I cared about on the other side, who might be persuaded by this news, and just talk to them directly. Granted, maybe they’re extremely conservative and hypocritical, as many conservative people sometimes are, and won’t be able to see this point.

But the point is: “This is our sex life. We’re allowed to have it. We’ve done everything we could to keep people out of it, including buying a padlock. Nobody is at risk here. This was nobody’s business until she made it everybody’s business. So, I would prefer, as your family member or your in-law, to just relegate it back into that realm of nobody’s business. None of this ever should have happened, and this woman is, frankly, acting completely out of pocket. This is just totally inappropriate, never should have happened, and isn’t really worth considering.”

Stoya: Yes.

Rich: I would just start calling people and say, “Look, I love my niece. We had sex toys all this time. Nothing bad happened. I’m a person worthy of respect and love, irrespective of the dildo in my trunk, so nothing’s going to happen from this.”

It’s a real make-or-break moment. It’s a real test. It sucks to have that information about yourself put out and to have yourself be up for judgment, as a result of somebody else’s decisions, but that’s just what it is. So, hopefully, the other side of the family is reasonable.

Stoya: Right. Also, when the letter writer says, “Is a relationship possible with my mother-in-law after this?” I mean, Do you want that?

Rich: I don’t think that she deserves it, is the thing. I just can’t imagine taking money and help from people and then turning around and doing that. It’s beyond the kind of cruelty of the judgment and the violation of privacy. It’s: Why do you think that you’re so entitled that you get to have people do stuff for you, and then you get to smear their names? What is with you? Are you royalty? Why on Earth do you feel entitled to do that?

Stoya: Yeah.

Rich: So, I mean, I don’t know. That, to me, would just be it. I think the letter writer is an extremely patient person for even wanting to consider continuing the relationship.

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