I recently discovered that my on-again/off-again boyfriend of ten years has been using online classifieds to schedule encounters with men. He creates posts when he’s out of town for work and he’s very specific about what he’s looking for. The acts are punitive in nature (but consensual) and he is always on the receiving end of these punitive activities. I wish to note that I am not someone who snoops. Rather, I am the sort of person who notices patterns of behavior and things suddenly come to me when I’m cooking or on a walk. Based on the secular community my boyfriend grew up in, I suspect that his anonymous activities are the result of some early childhood trauma. Based on the activities involved, I believe he was either abused or witnessed abuse while his brain was still developing and these activities — along with his chronic use of pot (on top painkillers and a couple of drinks each day) — are an unhealthy coping mechanism. I don’t judge him for the acts themselves, nor do I judge him for his sexuality. But I am not okay with his lying and cheating and I very much resent his haphazard attitude towards my sexual health. He refuses to talk with me about this and the silence is further eroding my trust, to say nothing of the plans we made for our future together. Since he won’t discuss it, I have no way of knowing if he’s sought help, as he has in the past with other issues. I’ve spoken with one trusted friend about this, but I have otherwise kept it to myself. I love him and that will never change. But now what?

Boyfriend Troubling Secrets

Here’s what you know: there’s something about punitive (“inflicting, involving, or aiming at punishment”) theatrics makes your boyfriend’s dick hard — presumably — and he’s been seeking out other men who share his kink for consensual encounters. And here’s what you don’t know: why these punitive activities, whatever they are (spanking? flogging? flossing?), make your boyfriend’s dick hard… if they make his dick hard… which they may not.

Backing up for a second: While you claim to have intuited these facts about your boyfriend — the realization came to you while you were making soup or something — the details you’ve shared are waaaaaay too specific for this to be a mere hunch. It sounds like you suspected something was up and snooped on his computer or his phone. So, while you may not like to think of yourself as the kind of person who snoops, BTS, you are the kind of person who snoops. (The proof is in the snooping.) And snooping is always wrong… except when the person who snooped finds something they had a right to know about, e.g., massive debts, a secret second family, sexual risk taking that puts the snooper at risk, etc.

So, if your boyfriend is engaging in sex acts that place your health at risk and/or doing things that violate the spirit of your on-again monogamous commitment, your snooping was justified — retroactively — and you have grounds for going off-again.

But was your boyfriend doing anything that put your health at risk?

If spanking and/or flogging and/or some other mystery form of punishment (kneeling on marbles? writing out lines? watching the Met Gala?) is all he’s been doing with other men — no sexual activities, just punitive ones — he wasn’t putting you at risk, BTS, and your boyfriend may have rationalized his deceit for that reason. He may also have been reluctant to tell you because he thought you wouldn’t understand… and it’s clear from your reaction that you don’t. The proof you don’t understand: the huge, pathologizing leap you made from, “My boyfriend likes being spanked by other men,” to, “My boyfriend must have been sexually abused before his brain was fully formed.” Your boyfriend might have a history of childhood sexual abuse — many men sadly do — but not all kinky men were abused and not all men who were abused are kinky. And while his use of substances is concerning, his substance abuse and his kinks aren’t necessarily linked.

You have a legitimate beef with your boyfriend: He’s been lying to you, BTS, and if his meetups with other men involved more than punitive activities — if spanking and/or flogging was followed up by sucking and/or fucking — he put your health at risk and he owes you an explanation, an apology, and some lab work. (And you have a legitimate concern: your boyfriend’s substance abuse.) If you can keep the conversation focused on what he was doing, BTS, and stop making up shit up about why, he’s likelier to open up to you about the what and the why.