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In & Out

TOC's sexpert tackles your most penetrating questions.


Q I am a fortyish female in a committed long-term relationship. The relationship and the sex have been the best of my life. My boyfriend likes to blindfold me and inflict torments on me like spanking, light slapping, pushing, hair pulling, nipple clamps, etc. During this time he also likes me to tell him I am a slut and he likes to hear me tell him detailed information about past encounters with other men. This goes on for generally no more than 10 to 20 minutes, after which he will spend 40 minutes or so pleasuring me manually, orally and with toys. When we consummate the session, he often likes me to call him by the name of the man I was telling him about. I find this a bit confusing. Why spend the time “humiliating” or “degrading” me and then spend an enormous amount of time satisfying me beyond my wildest dreams? Any ideas?
A Not really. There are a range of reasons that women and men give to explain, understand or provide meaning to their behaviors, fantasies and forms of sexual expression, so it’s impossible to know precisely why your boyfriend does what he does. Maybe he thinks the first 10 to 20 minutes fulfill his fantasies and that the final 40 minutes are for your pleasure (or vice versa). Maybe he enjoys the emotional highs and lows of moving from power differentials, or from being dominant at first and submissive (pleasing) later. Maybe he simply saw it in a movie or dreamed about it one day, tried it out with you and you seemed to like it, so he kept it up. Total, random guesses on my part, so please ask him for his own reasons and explanations if that is important to you and—more important—ask yourself what you want and to what extent this kind of sex works for you. Why shine the light solely on your boyfriend? What about yourself? It sounds like you do, in fact, participate in all of these sex activities. Nipples, after all, do not clamp themselves, and he can’t make you tell him about past encounters with other men unless you are being threatened or coerced. (If that is the case, please consider counseling (aasect.org) or other assault-related resources such as RAINN.org.) How do you feel about participating? And can you consider ways to talk to your boyfriend about what you like and don’t like, and how this form of sex does or doesn’t work for you? You said nothing about what you want from sex—only what he does. However, you did say that this is not only the best relationship but also the best sex of your life, so it sounds like you might dig it. And if that’s the case, does it matter why he likes it and why you like it? If you dig some of the power play, clamps and such, you might enjoy reading Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism (Mystic Rose Books, $24.95). You might learn a few new tips (and perspectives).

Q I am a 36-year-old man who has only tried to have sex three times, years ago. All three times it didn’t fully “work” and the women made me feel bad about failing at sex. I couldn’t stay hard and I stopped trying. I want to have sex. I am attractive and successful at my job. I have a great house, a cool dog, I like to travel and I wish I could share life with someone–but I am afraid to fail again. I have thought about Viagra, but I don’t like meds; and have considered a prostitute but I am worried about diseases and getting arrested. I know this sounds strange, but is there any legal way of learning about sex in a more hands-on way?
A Although uncommon, some sex-therapy clinics offer “sex surrogates”—women or men who are trained to offer more hands-on, participatory sexual experiences to sex-therapy clients. Sometimes this involves sexual contact, other times it involves other types of touching or just talking. Surrogates are not prostitutes or escorts; they are trained professionals who work in collaboration with your sex therapist to meet your therapeutic goals. They are not at your sexual beck and call, nor are they used by most therapists or recommended for all clients. Locally, you can learn more about surrogates and their role in therapy from the International Professional Surrogates Association (surrogatetherapy.org). Sex therapy (even without a surrogate) is often effective for erectile problems, confidence issues and building relationship skills.

Q This isn’t really a sex question, but…I recently started dating a guy that’s superperfect for me, but has one major flaw: I’m two inches taller than him. I’m starting to get used to the idea and I’m a lot more comfortable in public with him than I was at first, but how do I stop people from staring? It’s bad enough getting stares as a woman that is 6 feet tall, but add a 5'10" guy to the mix and I get some crazy looks! I really don’t want this to be the reason I’m not comfortable around him, but I can only take the stares and judging for so long.
A How we choose (or are hesitant to choose) dates, mates and everyone in between has everything to do with sex. The fact is, you can’t change your date’s height. Ever. You also can’t change your height, nor can you change how strangers look at or feel about you. You can leave the relationship, but it sounds like you want to give it a try. So consider changing your perspective—both about his height and about strangers’ stares. Some Eastern philosophers suggest that when you come to a place where you feel uncomfortable, it might also serve as an indicator of an area where you could do some growing. (See Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You [Shambhala, $6.99] for more about this concept.) Maybe your perceptions about dating, love, sex and gender could serve to be challenged. What odd gender ideas do we have that women have to be shorter than the men they like, love or want to play and be naked with? What does that say about sex, power and relationships in our culture? Other tall women make it work: Take Nicole Kidman and most everyone she’s ever dated or married. Or supermodels and their often shorter partners (e.g., Elaine Irwin and John Mellencamp). Now consider your perspective about strangers. So people look at you—big deal. It doesn’t mean they are judging you. Many women wish they were taller and maybe they’re looking at you with envy. Similarly, many women (and men) wish they were brave enough to break arbitrary societal norms about gender and height. Maybe people are looking at you and admiring your relationship, or are curious, or maybe they are checking you two out because they think you’re hot together. What’s a good response to the staring? One, reassure yourself that chances are, it’s good staring (and even if it’s bad staring, that’s more about their own issues than you). Two, do something that makes you feel more confident—tell yourself how awesome you are, how lucky you are to have found each other, how brave you feel for moving beyond outdated cultural ideas about height–or just make out wildly and make people jealous (or excited). Don’t worry about nosy strangers. Enjoy your life, live it in a way that works for you, and have fun with your relationship—even if the kisses take place two inches lower than you’re used to.

Send letters to Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., c/o Time Out Chicago, 247 South State Street, 17th floor, Chicago, IL 60604, or send e-mail to inandout@timeoutchicago.com.