Q: I’m a heterosexual cis woman in a monogamous marriage. My husband and I have always struggled to connect sexually, mostly because he has extreme anxiety that makes doing anything new or different difficult. He’s been in therapy since before I met him, but it doesn’t seem to be helping much. His anxiety has caused him to shut down every sexual ask I’ve ever made because he’s afraid he won’t “do it right.” He’s a PIV-and-nothing-more kind of guy, but I’m not asking for varsity-level stuff, just boring things like talking about fantasies, a little role-play, staying in bed on a Sunday just to have sex, etc. All of it is off the table. I understand he has a right to veto sex acts, but isn’t this all pretty basic, run-of-the-mill stuff? He’ll still get his PIV; I just want there to be other elements before the PIV starts. It’s still a no. Talking to him about this sends him into a depressive episode where I then have to spend hours telling him he’s not a bad person, so I’ve stopped bringing it up. I’ve tried to talk to therapists about navigating this issue, but most change the subject. One actually told me that it was good that we don’t have good sex, because if we did, we wouldn’t have good communication in other areas. (I never went back to that one.) This has gone on for so long that I’ve lost all interest in sex. My libido, which used to be very high, has vanished. Whenever he wants sex, I do it—but I dread it. Do you have any ideas on how I can navigate this topic with my husband so he doesn’t shut down? How can I make him understand that it’s okay to experiment sexually and it will be okay if it’s not perfect?
—Lost And So Sad
A: You’re going to have to call your husband’s bluff, LASS, and power through the predictable meltdown. That means raising—again—your unhappiness with your sex life, explaining your need for some pre-PIV intimacy and play, informing him this is no longer a desperate request but a non-negotiable demand, and then refusing to shift into caregiver mode when his depressive episode starts.
I’m not suggesting your husband’s anxiety and depression are an act, LASS, or that being made aware of your unhappiness isn’t a trigger. But if depressive episodes get your husband out of conversations he’d rather avoid—and if they allow him to dictate the terms of your sex life and treat your pussy like a Fleshlight—then his subconscious could be weaponizing those depressive episodes. And if you shift to caregiver mode every single time—so long as you’re willing to spend hours reassuring him that he’s not a bad person—then your grievances will never be addressed, much less resolved. So even if it means spending an extremely unpleasant evening, weekend, or few weeks with him, you’re going to have to raise the issue and refuse to reassure your husband. Line up whatever support you think he might need before you make your stand—you could also make your stand during a couples counseling session—and give him maybe one “You’re not a bad person, really!” and then refuse to back down.
And when he shuts down, LASS, it will be his therapist’s job to pry him back open, not yours.
And the sex you’re currently having? The sex you dread and don’t enjoy? The sooner you stop having it, LASS, the sooner your husband will come to understand that he’s going to have to give a little (so very little!) if he wants to have sex at all. If and when he does, then you can borrow a page from the varsity-level kinkster handbook: Take baby steps. In the same way people who are turned on by, say, more intense bondage scenes (suspension, immobilization, etc.) start with lighter bondage scenes (hands behind the back, spread-eagled on the bed, etc.), you can start with something small and easy for him to get right, like 20 minutes of cuddling in bed together on a Sunday morning before progressing to PIV sex.
Q: I’m a bisexual trans woman living in Europe. A couple of months ago, I began an amazing relationship with a woman who works as an escort. For a while, everything was as good as it gets, until I said something inconsiderate about her job and she took offense. We were having a conversation about “what we were” (girlfriends? lovers? partners?) and any rules we’d like the other to observe, and I said I’d rather not see her after she’d been with a client, I’d rather wait until the next day. She took this as me thinking her job was “dirty,” which was absolutely not my intention. I explained that I’d spent 10 years in open relationships and it was just a habit I was used to. (If you sleep with someone else, go home, take a shower, sleep off the emotions, see you tomorrow.) She said that her clients were not lovers, it’s completely different, and it would make seeing her complicated, as we work different hours. I immediately realized how she was right and said so. She was aloof for a few days afterward, and she eventually told me that she didn’t feel like she could be with someone who understood so little about her job. I pleaded with her to give me a second chance and told her that I’d never even met a sex worker before, so there was a learning curve for me, and she agreed that we could carry on seeing each other. But she remained distant, canceling plans and not replying, until she eventually told me that she was just too scared of getting hurt, because it’s happened so many times before. I was absolutely shattered. I spent the next few days drinking in bed and licking my wounds. I was falling in love with this woman, and I ruined it with my big mouth. After a couple of days, I started going about my life again. And soon enough, she started texting me, asking me how my day was, casual stuff, and it’s just really painful. I don’t know how to reply to her. If she has changed her mind, then I’ll date her again in a heartbeat, given how freaking amazing she is. But if she’s just (kind of inconsiderately) making conversation, then I can see myself getting my heart broken all over again. I’m torn between asking her to stop texting me and carrying on with the casual texting to see if anything comes of it. Any advice?
—Tearful Escort’s Ex Getting Really Lonely
A: If you two couldn’t handle a simple misunderstanding, TEEGRL, how are you going to resolve a serious conflict? Or forgive a profound betrayal? You know, the kind of shit people in LTRs do?
Actually, I’m being unfair: You seem perfectly capable of handling this misunderstanding, TEEGRL, it was your ex-whatever-she-was (girlfriend? lover? partner?) who wasn’t able to handle it. But in fairness to her—I need to be fair to everybody—sex workers are often shamed by romantic partners who pretended, at the outset of the relationship, to be fine with their jobs. Your comment about not wanting to see her after she was with a client could reasonably be interpreted as whorephobic. But your explanation—it was a rule in all your past open relationships—was reasonable, and your ex-whatever-she-was, if she were a reasonable person, should have been able to see that.
And perhaps she is reasonable, TEEGRL. Maybe she started texting you about casual stuff because she feels bad about pulling away and sees now that she overreacted. To determine whether that’s the case—and to determine whether she’s still open to dating you—you’ll have to risk asking the dreaded direct question: “Hey, it’s great to hear from you! I’d love to pick up where we left off, if you’re still interested. Are you? Please let me know!”