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I Told My Boyfriend I’d Try Monogamy, But …

Hi Yana,

I’m in a relationship with someone who I really love and we’ve been together for three-ish months. Before we started dating he knew I wasn’t a huge fan of monogamy, but I agreed I would try and now I’m feeling trapped. He’s so important to me and I don’t want to lose him. I guess I don’t know how to talk to him about it because I want to be in an open relationship, but I’m worried he will get super mad. Help!

Oh No, I’m Monogo

Hi Oh No!,

When a monogamous person hears the telltale phrase “We should see other people,” they’re more likely to hear “I’m breaking up with you” and not “… AND keep seeing each other in an open and mutually satisfying relationship!”

Because monogamy has long been the preferred Western relationship style — what with the institution of marriage and fairytales — the monogamous mindset is a strong one that many of us take for granted. This means that when you tell your boyfriend that you want to be non-monogamous, rather than coming across as a valid, natural, or viable option, this might instead sound like a direct threat to your relationship.

A common response to emotional pain or threat is anger, especially when interpreted through male socialization. So yes, it’s possible that he may express anger when what he really feels is pain and fear. Unless this expression of anger is dangerous or abusive to you or him, it doesn’t need to be a reason to avoid stating your non-monogamous desires.

You say you don’t want to lose him, but if you decide not to tell him what is true for you, you will. Maybe not now, but certainly later.

My advice is to be both firm in what you do and do not want out of your relationship with him and also prepared with some options for him to look into for himself such as resources about polyamory from monogamous people (morethantwo.com has a whole section devoted to the complexity of navigating polyamorous/monogamous couplings). Give him the space to feel the big feelings and move through them rather than stuff them down (again, unless they are dangerous or abusive to you or himself).

Before you talk with him, sit down with yourself and determine what it is you envision for your relationship with him moving forward…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: The Fast and the Curious

Hi Yana,

Sometimes, when I’m in the mood to masturbate, I enjoy watching porn. The problem is when I do, it literally takes me no time to orgasm. Yesterday, I was feeling in the mood to enjoy myself. So, I started browsing some videos.

I barely started touching myself and felt the urge to orgasm in a matter of seconds. I stopped and tried to calm myself down, but it was too late. My body responded even without the stimulation

I’m a female in a heterosexual relationship. I don’t experience the crazy quick orgasm when we are intimate. Usually, there is an enjoyable build up to it. When I have this experience solo, it’s when I watch lesbian/solo female videos (which, I’ve always enjoyed).

So this raises a couple of questions:

Do you know why this might happen? Is it something in my brain chemistry due to the visual stimuli, that sets me off so quickly?

Is there a way to “fix” it? Sometimes, I really just want to experience and enjoy my body. Part of me feels like there is something wrong with me when it happens, and the other part of me hates the fact that I can’t enjoy the build up to the big O.

Sometimes I feel like this isn’t a “normal” occurrence. In your experience, have you ever helped or chatted with another female who experienced this?

— Quickie-on-the-Draw

Sex educator Barbara Carrellas can orgasm just from breathing. No touching. No porn. Just her, her breath, and her brain (watch her do it on barbaracarrellas.com). People get off from the feeling of fishnets, from the thought of their sweetie doin’ it with the milkman, from watching manicures smash into globs of silly putty (thanks, internet!). The erotic world is diverse. Weird. Kinky. Boring, even. It’s an amazing conglomerate of getting off how and where we can with whoever pushes our buttons and likes doing it (remember, always keep it consensual!).

The most normal thing about you, Quickie, is your underlying fear that your eroticism isn’t normal. If this fear weren’t so pervasive, I’d be out of a job (and happy for it!). But here we are — constantly worrying that the pre-packaged version of sexuality (hasn’t it expired yet?) should suit us just fine and if not then we’re to blame for being broken, perverted, or unfixable.

You know what kind of porn you like (and yes, it’s normal for folks to watch porn that doesn’t “match up” with their real life). You give yourself permission to watch it and enjoy it! You know how to get off both on your own and with your partner! All great things!

My casual collection of experiential knowledge shows that folks with vaginas orgasm anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes after the start of first visual and/or physical stimuli. An orgasm is essentially mental/physical stimulation build-up leading to pleasurable, automatic pelvic muscle contractions…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: Seeking Sex-Positive Ed for My Niece

Hey Yana,

Over Thanksgiving I spent some time with my awesome 18-year-old niece. I’m in need of your wisdom about a situation I’m trying to wrap my 30-year-old, feminist, protective brain around.

My niece lives in a small town, far from her friends, and has been dealing with some depression. She told me that she’s been driving to meet up and have sex with dudes from Tinder. There have been at least two. I think they’re in their 20s, maybe older. She’s been kind of reticent about details, so I’m thinking there might be some more that would make me more concerned.

When she first told me, I was like “Cool! Sex-positive! Get it girl! Always tell your friends where you’ll be! Condomscondomscondoms! Get tested! Call me any time!” But the more I think about it, the more concerned I am about her emotional health, and the way that she might be using sex less-than-safely.

I’m certain that she hasn’t had pleasure-positive or consent-focused sex-ed and I worry that all the terrible messages about sex that accompany female socialization are setting up this amazing young woman to get hurt.

Are there ways I can encourage her to take care of herself without shaming her?

— Sex-Posi Auntie

Dear Sex-Posi Auntie,

Use your cool, younger-aunt status to your advantage and find a way to talk to your niece about the difference between sex for sex’s sake and sex that feels good, affirming, and consensual. This conversation could be sparked by a sex scene in a movie, a lyric in a song, or you could get real intentional and hold a little viewing of my TEDx talk, which talks about just this — how young people learn about sex in a way that dangerously divorces it from sexual pleasure and consent.

The sex-positivity movement has done wonders in the ways it’s prioritized pleasure over disease, choice over shame, and health over stigma. However, sex-positivity can be wrongly conflated with “all sex is good sex, and the more sex, the better!” “Sex positive” doesn’t mean that all sexual experiences are inherently positive or that we should ignore the things that can be negative about sex.

Rather than throw a sex-posi blanket over your niece’s experiences, lead her through an exploration of the nuances of healthy sex that honors her sexual agency. The World Health Organization’s great definition of “sexual health” prioritizes pleasure and consent:

“A state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination. and violence. For sexual health to be maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected, and fulfilled.”

Examine both sides of the sexual coin with your niece — both what feels rewarding, safe, and empowering and what feels scary, unhealthy, or unsafe…continue reading…

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My Guy Shoots the Moon Too Soon

Hi, Yana!

I’m a 22-year-old woman in a hetero relationship with a guy I’ve been seeing for almost a year. We have a loving and communicative sex life, but are perplexed by a persisting issue! When we are fooling around, he occasionally ejaculates early and/or unexpectedly. He says it still feels like a full orgasm, but sometimes doesn’t even feel that good. We’ve had a hard time identifying when and why it happens. Hopefully you can help provide some insight!

— Prematurely Perturbed

Dear Prematurely,

Premature ejaculation is the most common sexual dysfunction plaguing the penis, affecting around 30 percent of men. You’re right to be curious about why this might be happening as getting down to the root of this issue is key to treating it: is the spark lighting this early lift-off fuse in his head or in his … other head?

Culturally and socially, men’s sexual issues tend to be medicalized — think the popularity of the little blue pill — while women’s tend to be viewed psychologically, socially, and relationally. This is congruent with the sexual story most of us are fed as youth, which centers the male sexual experience quite literally around his erection and orgasm while women are left to achieve orgasm through relational means (via gaining the comfort to give direction, receive pleasure, and initiate conversation about how this here clitoris actually works).

This does a disservice to all and in this case, has set your boyfriend up to feel extra failed when his erection pops then flops, as our standard sexual world can’t possibly orbit around a flaccid axis, right? Wrong!

Erections are just one tool in our sexual arsenal and making sure to not forget fingers, mouths, and toys is a great way to interrupt the cyclical nature of any sexual “dysfunction.” Meaning, if and when the cork does pop early, remember that the pleasure party doesn’t have to stop, which will take the pressure off next time and won’t reinforce the narrative that he and his penis are responsible for all the fun and/or ruining said fun.

There are physical and psychological causes and treatments for premature ejaculation…continue reading…

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My BF Hangs with my Ex-BFF

Hi Yana,

I used to have a very toxic friendship with one of my female friends. She always made jokes at my expense, was very judgmental, temperamental, and didn’t show me much respect. I cut off ties with her, but she and my boyfriend of over two years are still friends.

I don’t tell my boyfriend not to see her or contact her, because that would be toxic, but it does make me very uncomfortable for them to hang out together. How do I approach this with my boyfriend while still keeping my relationship healthy? Thank you!

— My Beau is Friends with My Foe

 

Dear BFF,

In my workshops about sex and relationships, things always get a little complicated when the vibrator demos are over and it’s time to talk boundaries. Typically, workshop participants are clear on some things: “My body my choice,” “Don’t touch without consent,” but it’s in communicating their boundaries with confidence where the situation gets sticky.

This “boundary confusion” tends to happen with people socialized as women who are socially instructed through experience and cultural mores to be polite rather than assertive, passive rather than in control of their bodies and affections, and/or grateful for rather than discerning about the attention directed toward them.

Therefore, when it comes time to clearly state boundaries (what we desire, what we don’t) we feel ill-equipped, disempowered, or just plain “bitchy” for doing so. This can come out in small, seemingly innocuous ways like instinctively apologizing when someone runs into you on an otherwise empty sidewalk, or in directly harmful ways like feeling unable to speak up when we’re relationally unhappy.

The other boundary-blocker is the fear of controlling our partners. A great way to check in with yourself about whether you’re being communicative or coercive is to ask yourself: What are my expectations? Can I accept a “no”? What do I expect my partner to do with this information?

If your goal is to express your vulnerable feelings to your partner (“My history with Foe makes it hard for me to feel at ease about your relationship. My deepest fear is that eventually you’ll start treating me the way she used to”) you are likely communicative. If your goal is to change, put down, or control him, you might be in coercive territory (“Y’know I just thought you were better than Foe but I guess you’re not. Stop seeing her”.).

Clearly stating boundaries for yourself concern what you own and what others may only access with your permission. This includes the physical (your body, affection, sexuality, and time) and the mental (your intimacy, your emotions, your trust). The only person you can control is yourself. In this way, clearly stating boundaries (“I don’t want to have a relationship with Foe”) is different from rules you place on somebody else (“Stop contacting her”)…continue reading…

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Our Post-Abortion Sex Life

Hi Yana,

I got pregnant this past summer after my birth control failed — I got to be part of that lucky 0.04 percent of IUD users who this happens to. I got the pregnancy terminated and all is well. Or, I guess mostly well. The issue is my partner and I have both been having some anxiety about having sex after what happened. Having an abortion was 10,000-percent the right decision, but, of course, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy was a super intense, stressful, hard situation that we don’t want to repeat any time soon.

I went right back on birth control after the procedure and we’ve both mostly accepted that what happened was just an unfortunate, rare fluke, but we still can’t shake the nervousness about it happening again.

We’ve been having sex much less often than we did before because of this, and we both agree that we want to get back to our original frequency. Any advice on working through our feelings/fears so we can get there?

— Getting Back to Business

Dear GBB,

Even when an abortion is the right decision for you, it can be a harrowing experience physically, emotionally, and of course, sexually. First, know that having anxiety about after-abortion sex is entirely normal as sex is precisely what led to this stressful situation to begin with (well, the highly statistically improbable birth control failure certainly didn’t help things, did it?).

Rather than punching the gas pedal, trying to zoom forward into “normal” again, try to explore gradually letting up the brakes (see Emily Nagoski’s wonderful book Come As You Are for more on her sexual accelerator/brakes analogy). If a major brake on your sex drives is the fear of your IUD failing you again, beef up the backups by using condoms for a while, take an extra precaution with the pull-out method and/or track your ovulation cycle.

Rather than rushing ahead, remind yourselves of all the pleasure that can be found outside of penis-in-vagina penetrative sex like using mouths, hands, toys, or masturbation to enjoy mutual orgasms without the procreative chances.

I spoke about your predicament to an acquaintance of mine who had an abortion. She reports taking a few months to reclaim her sex life and says you can expect a stop-and-start sex life for a while and advises to always speak up about how your body is feeling. “I’d think I was okay to be physically intimate because I was in the mood,” she said, “but sometimes my body would just kind of shut down and that’s okay. Let your partner know what you’re feeling in the moment because it can sneak up on you. But you don’t have to feel like there needs to be a logical answer to it.”…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: I’m a Queer Woman in a Hetero Marriage

Dear Yana,

I’ve been thinking about writing to you for a long time. My husband and I are about to celebrate 11 years as a couple and we’ve been married for six. It’s been amazing and so much fun to spend all of this time on planet Earth with such a soul-mate dreamboat of a life partner.

And also: I just keep wanting to hook up with other people.

Five years ago, I hooked up with someone. And then I hooked up with someone else a couple years later. I told him and we went through a harrowing process of separating for a while, talking/crying for a million hours, bringing all of our shadows out of the closet, and reaffirming our commitments. The last several months have been really healthy and strong. And now I have a crush on a woman. This time I told him first and things have been really hard ever since.

We seem to have arrived at a fundamental schism: I feel like the truth of the person I want to be in the world is polyamorous, and his truth is monogamous. How do we reconcile that?

I don’t want to hurt him. But I also don’t want to not live my truth. But then, I’m like, should I just be going to therapy or something so that they can implant in me whatever mechanism he has inside of him to make him fine with monogamy? Ugh.

— Too Late to aPOLYgize

It takes a lot of emotional muscle to do the heavy lifting it sounds like you’ve both done to move through your transgressions and into your new relationship. And that’s exactly what this is: a new relationship.

As Esther Perel talks about in her amazing TEDTalk “Rethinking Infidelity,” after an affair, no matter how long-lasting or fleeting, the old relationship as you know it needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt anew with the raw material you now have in front of you: your self-assuredness in your queer and polyamorous identities; his new understanding of how/if/when to trust you; what he’s willing to forgive, forget, or hold onto; and what you’re willing to put aside or prioritize for yourself.

Relationships don’t thrive because we squash our differences, they thrive because we learn to integrate, tolerate, and celebrate what makes us different from each other. They thrive because we can support one another in our personal growth process while still remaining connected to each other.

This almost flies in the face of what we’ve been told — that relationships are about being more similar than different, and are more about compromise than self-definition. This is especially true for the monogamous ones.

The first step to getting anywhere near a place of seemingly contradictory-yet-connected co-existence is to define yourselves, for yourselves. As Perel waxes so damn poetically — Can you turn the crisis of infidelity into an opportunity?…continue reading…

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Are We Ready for a Threesome?

Me and my boyfriend of two years are looking to have a threesome. We are wanting to try it with a female, and a male. We are wanting to do this to enhance our sex life, and are not looking to add anyone into our relationship. We are both very open and honest with each other and think this would be a lot of fun for both of us.

But we both have a little tinge of fear of it complicating our relationship. I’ve heard it a million times: “Want a divorce? Have a threesome!” How do we know we are ready to get into something like this? Is there a good way to go about doing this that will ease the doubt that your partner could be more into the new person than you?

— Unsure About a Third

Want a divorce? Violate your partner’s trust and boundaries! Hold back your honest feelings in the name of “protecting” your partner! Have a threesome in lieu of telling your partner that you want to see other people solo!

What I mean to say is: Your relationship can absolutely survive a threesome. It’s not the threesome that kills it, but the relationship structure itself.

Is the basic infrastructure of your relationship sturdy enough not to collapse under the added weight of bringing someone else into your sex life? Can you and your boyfriend have honest discussions about your hopes and fears for this sexual experience? More importantly, is your relationship elastic enough to accommodate unpredictable physical, sexual, and maybe even romantic attraction to a guest-star?

I totally get the fear that your partner will be “more into” your special threesome friend. Our desire brain is like: “Threesome! Yes! Hot!” and then our anxious relational brain is all: “What if? What if? What if?” My advice to you is to control what you can control and then process the inner security it takes to handle the uncontrollable — namely, sexual, romantic, and relational risk.

Things you can control: boundaries and agreements made between the two of you and then between the two of you and your third. These include safer sex agreements, off-limits practices (for example, certain types of penetration, positions, sex toys, etc.), and logistical details (is this a one-night stand? Sleep over? Booty call or dinner date? Are you seeking someone from your friend network or an internet random?). Remember, though it’s key that you and your boyfriend are on the same page about these, your third person is also a human with boundaries and consent rights. Make sure he or she is informed about what is being agreed to and has ample opportunity to state personal boundaries.

Things you can’t control: nebulous things like feelings, desire, and physical displays of sexual functioning….continue reading…

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How Do I Get Better At Poly?

Hi Yana,

I heard you on Dawn Serra’s podcast Sex Gets Real and really appreciated what you had to say about personal boundaries in new polyamorous relationships. I’m a straight guy and my wife just started sleeping with another woman a couple of months ago. I thought I would be fine with it, but then when they started having real feelings for each other I got super jealous and asked my wife to stop seeing her.

Now my wife is really hurt. I’m trying to be more positive about the whole poly thing and am trying to get better about it and go to poly meetings and stuff like that, but it’s really hard.

I thought poly was just sex, but I guess it’s also about having feelings for other people so I should’ve known better. I’m sure I’ll come around to it eventually. Any suggestions on making it easier?

— Fighting My Feelings

Dear FMF,

Non-monogamous relationships (much like all relationships) are hard work. While monogamy typically has unspoken rules that people adhere to (don’t have sex with other people, the goal is marriage, let’s spend most of our time together), non-monogamous relationships such as polyamory don’t. Folks in non-monogamous relationships have the freedom (and challenge!) of creating relationship agreements that work for all people involved.

In non-monogamous relationships if the “don’t have sex with other people” rule is absent does that mean that all expectations are out the window? No way. My first question for you, FMF, is what were/are your agreements with your wife for your non-monogamous relationship and what was the process like in making them?

From your question, it sounds like 1.) You were a little blindsided by your wife catching feelings and 2.) Aren’t super into it. Like all consent practices, an important aspect of the process is that everyone involved is adequately informed as to what they are agreeing to.

This is what’s so problematic about proposals like “Netflix and chill?” If I say yes to this, what am I agreeing to? Five minutes of Netflix and an hour of sex? One episode of Broad City and 30 minutes of making out? Binge-watching Stranger Things and stuffing our faces with popcorn?

If your agreement-making process with your wife was the equivalent to “Polyamory and chill?”, not nearly enough time was devoted to creating your relationship agreements. This lack of informed, enthusiastic consent has led you both to a place of hurt feelings and at least the temporary halting of her relationship with her female partner — a painful place for all of you!…continue reading…

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Staying Sexy in Our 60s

Hi Yana,

I am a 66-year-old man who is in love, and in a new relationship, with a very sexually active 60-year-old woman. I have come to the conclusion that I could use some help in fulfilling her sexual needs. Can you recommend any particular vibrators and/or other toys? Also, where can I purchase them?

— Fell in love after all these years

Hurray for thriving sex drives after 60! Our youth- and sex-obsessed culture does a great job of convincing us that sex ends after 50 — Shoot, maybe even 40.

These stereotypes about who is “allowed” to be sexual and enjoy sexual pleasure are harmful. Sex and sexuality is a part of our entire lives even if it changes shape as we go along, and the more we talk about sex beyond the socially sanctioned bracket of 18-30 years old, the better.

So let’s talk! My very first recommendation is that, if you can, you seek out an in-person, boutique sex toy purchasing experience such as a visit to Oh My Sensuality Shop in Northampton. Their knowledgeable, trained, friendly staff can help you pick out products particularly suited to your needs much better than Amazon.com can, plus you’ll be supporting local business while you do.

Nothing says “This is the dildo for me” like getting to hold the actual floor model in your hands, feel the texture of the material, gauge the size, and see the color in real life. In person you can also test dozens of lubes on your fingertips, put the particular zing of a vibrator to your palm, and feel the unique snap of a slapper.

In my utopia, one of these shops would exist in every town. But they’re simply not accessible to all. When shopping online, stick to boutiques that are part of the Progressive Pleasure Club (progressivepleasureclub.com), a membership-based group of sex toy shops around the country that all prioritize ethical sex toy selling values such as inclusion, consent, and a rigorous sex toy selection process. This is a great first step in weeding out all the crappy materials and poorly made toys a simple Google search of “vibrator for my girlfriend” will provide.

Sex toys have become both higher-end and more beautiful in the last couple of decades as stigma declines and pleasure-positivity skyrockets. Your girlfriend’s body has likely shifted in its 60 years to require a little more patience and gentleness when it comes to penetration and vibration. Check out softer silicone vibrators and dildos such as those made by FunFactory (especially their G5 line), JimmyJane, JeJoue, and Lelo. These companies create toys that are rechargeable, body-safe, and easy to clean. Their models also boast a variety of vibration settings — so she can experiment with what works for her — and are graceful and sophisticated in their design and aesthetic. Many of these toys don’t project vibration into their handles either, which is nice for wrist/hand joints that get sore easily either from arthritis or just livin’…continue reading…