I recently got back in touch online with an old friend who I am genuinely excited to be reconnecting with after more than a decade. I knew him when we were both in our late teens. He was fun to be around, but a mutual (male) friend described him as “needy.” I was glad to hear that this characteristic of his was not just in my head, and that he made this impression on men too. He had this way of making you feel really bad when you said no to him; it’s not that he would pressure you, exactly, but his disappointment would become this entity that lived in the air between you and him. I don’t know how else to describe it. Despite this quirk we were good friends; he obviously had a thing for me, but he was one of those dudes who obviously had a thing for all of his female friends. (I should mention that he never used the Disappointment Monster to try to get sex; he was more of a generic attention vacuum.)
Through Facebook I know that he is now openly poly and involved in kink and tantric sex communities and that sex is very important to him. And that is great! I don’t think people should feel bad about being open about their sexuality! But.
As we’ve been reconnecting, we’ve done a bunch of discussing what is going on in our lives, and he brings up sex, briefly, all the time. Like, the list of what he’s been up to lately is sex and work and hobby X. I tend to just ignore it (“hobby X? I love hobby X! Let’s talk so much about hobby X!”), but it still makes me vaguely uncomfortable; I’m significantly more private about my sexuality. I can’t tell whether it would make me uncomfortable if anyone were to work sex into every conversation, or if it specifically has to do with the Disappointment Monster and his history of wanting more from me, or both. I think to him, sex is not only something that he likes to do / talk about, but a big part of his identity in a way that it isn’t for me. I’d feel bad telling a friend not to talk to me about their (non-sexual) interests, and of course I wouldn’t ask a friend who was a sexual minority to “stop shoving their sexuality in my face.” (I realize that the situations are not exactly analogous, but I worry that essentially that’s the kind of bigoted request I’d be making if I tried to set some sort of boundary in this area.) He isn’t pressuring me for anything– we don’t even live in the same city. The thought of asking him to stop makes me feel hypocritical and sex-negative, but I can’t deny that I’d prefer he stop. Should I try to get over this, or ask him to change?
Dear Sex Neutron,
Whether your friend’s “needy” past makes him, specifically someone you don’t feel 100% comfortable talking about these things with, or whether he’s doing that oversharing thing that people do sometimes when they discover the One True Way To Come, or whether he’s deliberately testing your boundaries to see if you’d be willing to sleep with the New, Improved, Sexier Him (distance is not always an obstacle to the horny heart, so definitely don’t discount this as a motive), or whether you just have different styles and comfort levels around what is private information, your strategy of zeroing in on the stuff that you are interested in and gently redirecting the conversation is excellent and probably exactly what I’d do in your shoes.
When you do that, what does he do? How does he react? Does he get it, and change the subject, or does he always manage bring it back to sex?
Because if you said “Sounds fun, but honestly, my sex life is the only sex life I’m interested in” or “Hey friend, it sounds like you’re really enjoying that and I’m happy for you, but I tend to be really private about sexy stuff and I’m not really one for hearing about other people’s adventures in detail” and he said “JEEZ, SEX NEGATIVE MUCH?” that sounds suspiciously like you trying to set a boundary and your friend trying to typecast* you in order to get you to ignore your boundary and keep listening to his stuff that you said you didn’t want to hear more about. If you ever find yourself being accused of being sex negative, having no sense of humor, not understanding jokes, being a ______ kind of person, etc. when you try to enforce a boundary, try agreeing with the person about the characterization and then restating your boundary. “I agree, I probably am very sex-negative or whatever you say. Also, I don’t like discussing sexy topics with you, so stop, thanks.”
But if he were like “Oh, ok, I’m sorry, I just get really excited sometimes, but of course I don’t want to make you uncomfortable!” and (more importantly) stopped bringing it up so much, that’s probably a dude you could hang with. He could be forgiven for being hurt to find out that you are not as close friends as he thought you were, or for having an initial reaction of “Wow, why didn’t you tell me? Now I’m so embarrassed” to which you could say “It’s okay, I understand being excited and wanting to find other people to talk about that stuff with, but I’ve figured out that I’m not the right audience for that. Let’s just reset, ok?”
If he’s grown up into someone great, I hope you have a long and productive friendship. If Captain Sulks-A-Lot re-emerges, or if he keeps incessantly bringing up sex, you now have some information that will help you decide how much you want him in your life. If he can’t hang with someone who doesn’t want to know all about his sexual journey, then he has some decisions to make about whether you are compatible as friends. Fair is fair!
As to your other worries, there are people who really enjoy talking about sex with their friends and telling all the dirty details, and people who really, really don’t. In fact, there are people for whom relentless sexualization, sexy chat, sex positivity, “heh, I’d do him/she’s hot/my body is ready” and other Notes From A Boner are downright triggering. And there are friendships where you yourself may be more comfortable talking about that stuff, and other friendships where it’s all filed under NOPE. You are the boss of which friendship is which, and you are allowed to negotiate that on a case by case basis. When my long-ago roommate, M., decided to creepily display her sex toy collection and her photo album from her many visits to the Folsom Street Fair to dinner party guests of mine, the problem was not “sex negativity” or anti-BDSM sentiment. The problem was that she didn’t know anyone well enough to know what they were into, and that she was doing a creepy power play to get off on their discomfort and then make fun of them for being “repressed” when they were like “can u not, total stranger.”
In summary, dear Letter Writer, I don’t think there is anything wrong with you for being leery when “Friend Who Was A Lot To Take At Times” becomes “Friend Who Brings Up Sex In Every Conversation” with you. That’s a volatile combination. It’s okay to create some distance – redirect him, change the subject, say “Hey did you see where I changed the subject back there?” and see how he reacts. Your comfort matters here, as does your consent. A good friend is not going to want to make you squirm about this.
*Someday, if I have a TARDIS or other Wayback Machine, I am going to use it to zero in on the words “I thought you were more mature/cooler/could handle this/don’t be such a buzzkill” that older dudes use to skeeve on younger girls. Throughout space and time I will travel to the place where that is being said at the moment it is being said, and I and my companions will jump out of said TARDIS, and we will say unto the girl, “You do what you want, because you are the boss of you, but I bet that you will be happier if you tell this dude to shove it and get out of here. Need us to wait with you while you find a ride home?”
Comments closed 1/30/2015 5:38 pm CST.