[Content note: purity culture]
Dear Captain Awkward,
I am married. My husband is a very lovely, supportive man, very devoted and considerate, and a great father to our small child. We’ve been together nearly a decade, and married for most of that time. We are a good partnership. He was the first person I ever slept with – the first person who liked me that way that I wasn’t either freaked out or repulsed by. Before him, I was a total wreck every time I liked-liked someone and, thanks to my religious upbringing and eating disorder, severely neurotic about the importance of sex and being naked and all that crap. After him, I’m a lot more relaxed about it, thankfully, and I’m not sorry he was my first (though I am sorry he was my ONLY), because he made it really easy.
But our sex life is…problematic.
I have very little in the way of pants or OMG!CRUSH feelings for him any more. I’m not sure I ever did, really. I liked him enough to want to try it, and not so much that I was freaked out by it, and I enjoyed his company and being in a relationship, and I came to love him very much. I still do, even if I don’t particularly feel “in love” with him. But I also don’t particularly want to fuck him. Or rather, I can’t really be bothered to do the work of doing it the way we normally do it, because I’m tired and it’s not going to do much for me.
He was my first sexual partner, so I hadn’t ever had a chance to explore what I liked sexually except in the confines of my own head (more on that in a minute) or what it was like to have sex with someone I was burning with lust for. He, on the other hand, explored A LOT, so he came into the relationship knowing pretty well what he liked and what he didn’t, and what he likes is pretty vanilla. Admittedly, I haven’t been totally forthcoming on the things that might work for me, though when I’ve tentatively put out feelers for a bit more kink, he’s not really been keen. So I got shy and backed off, and we always default back to the same thing. I’m still really inhibited about talking about sex. And I hate to admit it, but I’ve faked orgasms for the whole of our relationship. I know, this is a bad, bad thing, but he was trying so hard, and at the beginning, it was all new and I just didn’t want to say “this is not going to happen” every single time. Or, you know, ever. So it’s become kind of self-perpetuating.
Additionally, my fantasy life has been fucked up in the extreme since I was an early teen. It was one of those “masturbation is bad, thinking about sex is bad, ergo the worse the fantasy is, the sexier it is”. I don’t put any moral judgement on the content of fantasies, so I don’t feel GUILTY about it, but I’ve found a lot of it incredibly disturbing when considered when not horny. I don’t actually want to play out any of my actual fantasies with him, because they’re more extreme than I think I would actually enjoy in real life. But I don’t get turned on with the stuff that we do, I don’t get turned on by him (though at least I’m not turned OFF by him), and I don’t know how to get that way.
And…I don’t want to spend the rest of my life never having pants feelings and never, ever really having great sex. But I don’t know what we would actually have to do that would result in mindblowing sex for ME, that could be a happy medium between what he’s comfortable with (and he’s NOT really comfortable with kink) and what actually turns me on, and I don’t know how to communicate that to him after all this time without completely destroying his trust and hurting his feelings. I don’t know how to talk frankly and comfortably about what turns me on without getting embarrassed because I’m freaky or how to deal with his reactions if he DOES think I’m freaky and doesn’t want to try anything else.
Captain Awkward, I really want to have pants feelings for him. I want to want to have awesome sex with him. I want to HAVE awesome sex with him. I want to stay married to him, I just want the sex part to be better. How do I move this forward so that I’m sexually satisfied without destroying our relationship as it stands?
Liar Liar Pants Sadly Not On Fire
Hi Pants! This is Corporal Dianna here. The Captain asked me to write a response to this question in her stead, as I write frequently about this area. I’m going to answer this as I would if it came through my email, as I do get these kind of questions from time to time.
This is…a big question. But you’re not alone, so take heart. You are not somehow freakish or weird for discovering that your husband and you have some incompatibility after the wedding, especially if you were raised in a culture that forbid exploration until then, and you’re certainly not alone in questioning it and wanting to be satisfied.
You mention a religious upbringing, and some negative sexual messages during your formative teenage years, but don’t say what your religious beliefs are now, so forgive me if I make an assumption that’s incorrect. What you were raised in sounds like sex-negative evangelical purity culture – no sex before marriage (especially for women), and then promises of mindblowing sex after (which often results in a lot of disappointment). Additionally, purity culture has the trappings of no masturbation or sexual exploration by yourself, which forces many people into sexual repression.
Through my research of interviewing women like yourself, I’ve discovered a trend – one which atheist blogger Libby Anne documents here – in which women who experienced purity culture growing up develop extreme kinks or “disturbing (to them)” nonconsensual fantasies that scare them a little when they consider them outside of the fantasy world. I want to assure you, first and foremost, that this is surprisingly normal for someone raised in purity culture, and there are all sorts of longwinded reasons as to why.
Purity culture isn’t one that lends itself well to women speaking openly about their sexual kinks, fantasies or even basic desires, and you’re probably remembering some ingrained parts of that when you try to speak about it with your husband. That’s okay. That happens. I decided to throw off the shackles of purity culture years ago, and I still have latent embarrassment about a lot of those related things (the other day, I spent twenty minutes waffling over whether to mention menstrual cups in a conversation on Twitter. Menstrual cups!). But, using your words is pretty much the only way to solve this particular dilemma.
You can’t predict or control how someone else will feel about information you give them or discussions you bring up. Since this is not a workable situation for you, it is important that you say what you need to say. It is better, in the long run, to work with your husband to get to a point where you can both be sexually satisfied and figure out ways to increase compatibility, than it is to protect his feelings and fake orgasms for the rest of your life. Honesty, as they say, is the best policy.
So how do you communicate this? First, determine what needs to be communicated. There’s a lot of stuff in this letter that needs to be discussed, and it’s all wrapped up and intertwined. But I’ve teased it out into four main points that might help you boil things down:
See how all these different levels ultimately result in dissatisfaction, and there are various reasons for it? So there isn’t going to be one simple solution or script that will magically solve all these issues.
If you have the resources, seeing a couples’ sex therapist (one who is not religious in nature) may be useful for the both of you. This places the conversation in a safe, guided environment that will allow you to become more comfortable with the discussion and for your husband to understand your side of things better.
If that’s too much right now, or isn’t financially feasible (therapy is expensive), try to start with a conversation, away from and outside a hot and heavy situation. There’s no easy, set script for a situation like this, but doing it in a way that doesn’t spring it on him mid-coitus is probably a good strategy. In the interest of guidance, here are some do’s and don’t’s:
Now, you have understandable fear that he’s going to be disappointed/sad/angry/upset that you’ve been faking all this time. And it is okay for him to feel those things, and the initial reaction may need some time for him to get over, depending on what reaction he has. But you also shouldn’t beat yourself up about it – what you did then was what worked for you, and now it’s not working anymore and you want to change things in order to make your relationship better. Apologize, affirm that his feelings are valid, and make it clear that you are being honest so that you can move forward in this as a couple. This sort of discussion is going to happen over several conversations, not just one.
This is, at heart, a communication issue that has a lot of emotional/religious baggage attached to it. Evangelical purity culture makes discussing sex openly and honestly –especially talking about compatibility issues – hard. But remember that you are not alone in having these issues, and this is something that you two can work on, together, to work toward the awesome sex life purity culture probably promised you.
I’ve just scratched the surface, but a helpful book for further reading might be What You Really Really Want, by Jaclyn Friedman. It’s an exploration of how to figure out your own sexual proclivities and explorations aside from what various different cultural influences are saying. As the great prophets say, know thyself.
Dianna Anderson is an author and blogger from South Dakota. Her first book – DAMAGED GOODS – is an exploration of feminist theology and sex-negative American evangelical purity culture. It is due out from JerichoBooks in early 2015. She blogs at diannaeanderson.net and tweets @diannaeanderson.
It was perhaps my hookup starved, commitment-phobe, idealistic and naïve side that encouraged me to start a Friends With Benefits thing. Obviously there was the consent of The Friend, but prior to our first, drunken “Oh, what? We’re making out?”-night that began FWB, I had given the whole concept some thought and considered him as a viable candidate. (Cue lightbulb thought that I am insane.) So obviously, mid-fun this is awesome, I can hook up with someone I like and trust and can talk to, and I don’t need to shower more often for or hang out with him when it’s inconvenient for me or expend a lot of emotional energy on besides friend-emotions. FWB not only means no icky-boring boyfriend situation, but no need to look for random dudes/d-bags at bars and parties! Seems perfect!
However, I am both paranoid and awkward. I don’t have a great track record in ending things/flings. I watched “No Strings Attached” and lamented the fact that they ruined a great thing with emotions. Augh. I barely have enough time to hang out with my friends let alone let FWB rom-com its way into a real relationship! I think I’ve been clear with him that I’m only interested in FWB and that is what we have agreed on, and I think he knows me well enough to know that I am not a secret hoarder of “The Notebook”-like fantasies. HOWEVER, I am a little worried that he might like me too much. I went home for the summer which afforded some metaphorical cooling down, but also allowed me to obsessively recall the details of the hookups and wonder if The Friend might be too attached.
Dear Captain Awkward,
Like many single guys, I have a number of women I am interested in. And each relationship is fraught with its own issues leading to none of them moving forward. Perhaps you’d like to help me solve all of them? If you can’t do that, at least help me figure out who I should still try to date and who I should write off as a lost cause or terrible idea? That would be real swell.
1) The Ex
I moved a few years back, so all of our conversations are pretty much online at this point. (I generally don’t answer my phone when she calls because if I did, she would call ALL THE TIME. But after a few years of this, she’s stopped calling except for rarely, so it works out.) She still loves me. And I still love her. And we’re both still attracted to each other. And this is all why we were dating in the first place. But she has NO IDEA what boundaries mean, and appears unfamiliar with the concept of “alone time”. When we were dating, I did not get to have my own life. It’s why I had to break up with her. It’s why I’m hesitant to get involved with her again. On the other hand, is it insane to let boundary issues ruin what is otherwise a good relationship with good sex?
2) The Almost
A friend of mine who I ALMOST dated, but after our three-night stand (we, uh, sort of skipped the dating part) she was talking about kids and I basically said, a) slow the fuck down, and b) I don’t want kids. She said she couldn’t date a man who doesn’t want kids, and I didn’t really have a good answer to that. But then she contacts me every few months and says how much she wants me, and how perfect I am, and how it wouldn’t have to be right away, but if I would just want to have kids eventually, she’d be willing to move here. I could probably just tell her “I might want kids, so let’s see what happens,” but this would be a big ol’ lie because I DON’T want kids, so I feel like telling her anything else would be misleading. And it’s like every time she calls it drives me crazy because she’s all “I miss you, I want you, just tell me you’ll want to have kids,” and it’s almost like she just wants me to say it to make her feel like it’s okay to date me, in which case maybe I should just tell her it’s a possibility, but I feel icky about doing that especially if I’m misreading and she actually thinks liking her a lot is going to make me want kids, which, no.
3) The Married Woman
You probably see this and right away you probably think it’s a terrible idea because having an affair is bad. But this woman and I have been friends for about two years, and she has recently told me that she and her husband have an open relationship and would be open to starting something. This is crazy, right? Like, people who are married don’t just get to be with other people and have it be cool, right? Because this feels totally weird and crazy, but on the other hand I like her so maybe I should just get over myself? I DON’T KNOW!
4) The Co-Worker
I know if it goes badly, it is going to make my job a living hell, because even though we’re not in the same room, it’s a small company and news travels fast and I just don’t want to deal with it. Plus she recently got divorced, and I’m not sure she’s totally in her right mind at the moment. Those are reasons against. But she’s a fellow programmer who also appreciates old film noir stuff and whenever a bunch of us go out for drinks after work, I wish I could spend more time talking to her because I feel like we have a lot in common. I think if we weren’t co-workers, and she hadn’t just gotten out of a messy divorce, I’d totally try to date her. But maybe these are two good reasons to either forget it or at least delay indefinitely?
So do any of these seem like decent prospects? Should I just wait for someone with no issues? Or resign myself to life as a stereotypical lonely geek programmer?
Crap At Dating
Yes friends, it’s time once again for America’s favorite game show “DON’T FUCK THAT LADY!” where confused boys must decide between their better judgment or the irrepressible urges of their groin. And here’s the host of DON’T FUCK THAT LADY, Intern Paul!
Thank you, thank you everybody. I’m sure you all know the rules, so let’s get right to Door #1!
I am in what seems to be the early stages of a relationship – four dates in – and I need some advice in how to proceed.
The woman I am dating is a very lovely person (I am, by the way, a queer woman), we have a lot in common, and I enjoy spending time with her. However, for a start I worry that I enjoy the thought of dating her for two rather selfish reasons. First, that I have a habit of being the ‘carer’ in all my relationships with friends and sometimes family. With this woman, I don’t feel that this would be necessary so much and that’s quite a restful thought. Second, she’s more interested in me than I am in her. It feels bad to say, but I have a history (thankfully something I have been able to put aside and begin working through) of a very painful two-year unrequited love/lust for someone, which made me feel undesirable/unlovable/etc. Her being interested in me feels, after all that, very nice.
So I worry that my motivations in getting into this aren’t nice motivations, and further I worry about what I can give her back.
I don’t want a romantic relationship. I enjoy dating her, and sex with her, but I don’t want her to be my girlfriend. Not only is this a very busy time for me (last year of university), I don’t think I’d want her as a girlfriend anyway; I don’t think she’s someone I could be in love with.
I don’t want to bring her into my core group of friends. She already knows most of them through the wider social circle – I’m not ashamed of her. But if I bring her in it will be as ‘my date’ and that would change the dynamics I have with my friends. I’m not happy about the thought of giving up that dynamic.
I randomly swing into low energy/introvert mode. At that time, all further social interaction becomes a chore, and all I want to do is go home and read a book. With my ex, we would call a time out when on a date and both read for half an hour, so that worked okay. But I’m not sure how to make it clear to this woman that it will keep happening (I’ve already bailed on her twice when hanging out) and that it isn’t something about her.
I don’t want to sleep over at her place – I get insomniac in strange beds. She seems to have less trouble sleeping over at mine (as she has done so) but I worry that I’ll seem aloof.
I have an unpredictable libido with partnered sex, and also have occasional trouble orgasming. In the past, I’ve handled this by only dating/hooking up very casually – getting in touch with whoever I was seeing only when I felt like sex. I’d be happy to do this with her, too, but she contacts me a lot and I feel she wants to date more regularly. The trouble orgasming links in with the introvert mode – not only is it embarrassing for me when I don’t come, as I’m not very good about talking about it yet, all I want to do afterwards is say goodbye to the rest of the evening and go home.
With all this, I don’t know if I should be pursuing a relationship with her at all, and if I do I know she’s got a right to know a lot/all of this but I don’t know how to bring it up in a way that isn’t potentially going to hurt or offend her. She has not yet asked to be in a relationship or to hang with me and my friends, or for me to hang with hers, but as she does seem to want to date regularly I want to make things clear from the get go.
Thanks for this question! First, it gives me a chance to post the awesome trailer for Chicago indie filmmaker Wendy Jo Carlton’s new musical, Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together.
Cute gay women! Overthinking it! IN SONG!
Wendy Jo is the talented shizznit, people, and I cannot wait to see this movie.
Dear Captain Awkward,
My libido has largely picked up and walked off somewhere else. I’m waiting for it to come back from a trip to the corner store to buy cigarettes, but so far it hasn’t showed up.
It started in my late twenties after a series of flopping relationships and three years later I’ve hit my thirties and haven’t had sex in about three years.
The trouble is, I’m at a point where I’m looking ahead at the rest of my life and I don’t really feel like dying alone with seventeen cats. I only have one now, but we know how this story usually goes. Plus, while I don’t miss sex, I do miss affection and sleeping in the same bed with someone.
I also miss my younger, more libidinous self. She was a lot of fun and I have some great stories because of her, but I genuinely don’t know if she’s ever going to open the front door, Fantasia’s in hand, or not.
I’ve thought about exploring sluthood. I think it might have the ability to re-awaken my dormant sexuality. But unfortunately, where my body goes, my heart often follows and I don’t want to put my emotions through the kind of rollercoaster it might entail (which, now that I think about it, may actually be why I stepped off the sluthood boat years ago). On the other hand, there’s a whole world of human experience, monogamous or slutty, I am missing out on and I think that sucks.
Option #1 sluthood=libido=emotional rollercoaster/soul-sucking loneliness and despair/fantastic sex/valuable life experience. Option #2 long-term relationship=no libido=companionship/awkward sex due to lack of libido/inflicting my lack of libido on some poor guy resulting in relationship trouble, or Option #3 get another cat.
Are there other options I’m missing?
I’m going to try to answer your question without once using the words “get your groove back,” but you need to do me a favor, too.
I don’t know how cats became the ultimate metaphor for sad, lonely spinsterhood and dogs became the symbol for carefree happy couplehood, but cats are just cats and dogs are just dogs. If you like cats, have a cat.
In my entire checkered past of dating, I’ve met exactly two dudes who were uncool with cats. One had a severe allergy. Understandable. One made a joke about how he was hoping that I didn’t have a cat, since I seemed really cool and he had trouble meeting cool chicks without cats, possibly as a Pick-Up-Artist-style trick to lower my self-esteem to get me to talk to him. You know how you don’t get me to talk to you? Pass off a shitty, lazy stereotype about single women in the hopes that I’ll try to prove that I’m not like all “those” women. I was exactly like “those” women. My answer was something like “Oh man! You’re right, I AM really cool, but I also have a cat. Too bad! We’ll never know what might have been.”
So your first step towards getting your mack back is to stop defining yourself as the the sad media picture of lonely single women whose singleness is a disease that needs to be cured and your cat is just one of the symptoms, like a furry tumor. Even in a joking, self-deprecating way. Even if Liz Lemon does it.
Dear Captain Awkward:
So, it’s like this. I met a great guy, and get this, it’s one of THOSE love stories where the girl winds up with the guy she went to school with, it was him all along! Hurrah for fairy stories!!!
So, all well and good and life is great with us, but the snag is he has an ex-girlfriend with whom he shared 20 odd (druggy) years. After they split they stayed friends (without the benefits) and were very close. She’s got some fucked up Bonnie and Clyde fantasy going on, romanticizing the good old days when they robbed book stores to feed their habits (yuck!) and, while she says she wants him to be happy with someone else blah blah, in reality is making all kinds of noises (via Facebook comments and sending cards in the post) to let me know that she and he were the golden couple and will be forever.
I can’t help but get jealous about their obvious ‘history’ but as we are in a (new) relationship I feel weird that she sends him cards saying how much she loves him, and sends them addressed from the love nest they once shared. She posts that she loves him all over his FB page, KNOWING that I’m going to read it. (Hello, we are over 40 btw not school kids!)
Is she trying to send a message to me? and how do I deal with it? We aren’t in the same country for a start, which helps, but I feel as if there are three of us in the relationship as he messages her and texts her EVERY day.. I am getting pissed off but don’t want to act like a needy jealous whinge-bag..
Thank you Captain.
Not Needy or Jealous (well ok, a bit)
Dear Not Needy, Definitely Jealous:
I feel comfortable saying that this woman is trying to send a message.
People don’t go to the Post Office on purpose and stand in line to get the special stamps that will send letters to other countries without taking a little extra effort to work that into their day. If you and your boyfriend lived in the same area as this woman, she would send you both a lot of messages, like sneaking into your house and peeing in all the corners and dressing up in your favorite clothes and rubbing her bizness all over your pillow so that you will go nuts trying to figure out why everything in your life suddenly smells like crotch.