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Am I in a Healthy Open Relationship?

Hi Yana –

I’m in a happy, long-distance monogamish relationship with the human of my dreams. Really; things are so good. This is my first time having an open relationship, and I think we talk through things really well and effectively. He has several partners (all of which I’ve met and adore) and I can say really genuinely that I’m happy that he has these other sexual relationships in his life.

The thing is, even though I was the person to suggest an open relationship, I’ve had yet to “take advantage” of our arrangement, if you know what I mean.

There are a few reasons for this. I have a lot on my plate; between school and work and volunteering, there are no days off in my schedule and limited “free” time. It feels like a lot to prioritize my friendships, let alone go through the work of introducing a new romantic/sexual partner into my social circle.

The few people I had periodical, casual sex with prior to starting this relationship are not comfortable continuing sexual relationships with me after I’ve started this relationship (a decision I understand and respect). And honestly, I think I harbor a little bit of lovesickness for my partner, and therefore I don’t want to put myself (and truthfully, another person) in a situation where I can’t be fully present in our sexual encounter because I’m wishing I was with my partner and not them, you know?

On some level, I know this is okay. But I can’t help but ask myself, am I doing “monogamish” right? Is it okay that for now, I like having the option to sleep with other people even if I don’t readily take advantage of it?

Sincerely,

Lovesick Monogamish

 

Dear Lovesick,

Leaving the proverbial door open even just a tiny crack on any and all tethers to one particular place, person, or thing makes a world of difference in my commitment to that place, person, or thing. It’s not that I want to flake on my responsibilities or relationships: it’s more that if it’s my choice to be here I will be here more and better than ever. On the flip side, if I perceive no breathing room or exit, you bet I’m going to spend my time clamoring to find and utilize one.

Maybe you just find comfort in knowing that if you want to experience sex with someone other than your long-distance love, you can. But that doesn’t mean you HAVE to. Just because you’re surrounded by delicious cupcakes doesn’t mean you have to eat them all or even swipe your finger through the frosting. But put you in a room full of desserts and tell you not to touch any of them and you might start feeling extra sweet in the tooth and/or resentful of whoever slapped that rule on you.

So much of what you’re saying here in regards to protecting other partners from your lovesickness, keeping strong boundaries around your friend/school/volunteer time, and being extra comfortable with his other partners all sounds like you’ve got a really healthy relationship-self balance going on here. Whether monogamous or not this is quite a feat in itself so pat yourself on the back!

Many folks who practice this style of non-monogamy, where their partner sees a lot of other people but they don’t, come up against extra skepticism from friends, family, and acquaintances. People can easier accept the novelty of “having your cake and eating it too” as long as it’s “fair” even though non-monogamous relationships that rely on tit-for-tat scorekeeping often crash and burn; faux fairness is often masking some deep-rooted not okay-ness with relationship agreements.

I would imagine that you get a little extra of this skepticism due to your perceived gender imbalance of him “being able to sleep around” and you “just letting it happen”. But it sounds like you know and feel much better than that. If it’s my stamp of approval that’ll tip the scales in favor of you internalizing the belief that if it works for you, him, and the rest of the crew then it’s A-OK then yes! You seem happy! Stamp! You’ve got it!

 

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How Do We Get The Mood Back?

Hi Yana,

My boyfriend and I have been together for a long time. We moved in together six months ago into our new home in New Mexico. But, I’m really not feeling our sex life lately. I feel bad because my boyfriend is amazing, but I’m never ever in the mood to have sex.

Lately, we have sex once a month and it’s only because I feel bad so I just pretend. Is there anything I can do? We’re a rather conservative couple, but how do I get the mood back? We’ve just been together so long and work is so tiring that we kinda just don’t really think about it anymore. But it weighs on us. And I want a little excitement between us again. Any advice?

— Feeling Dry in the Desert

Long-term couples make a common mistake: waiting for The Mood to strike spontaneously. More-so, they both wait for The Mood to strike each of them, at the same and right time. The timing gets more particular still as we wait for the cosmic alignment of The Mood, our work schedules, menstrual cycles, etc. If we all waited for this divine intersection, we’d never have sex. You gotta manage that mood! Intentionally manage The Mood? *GASP!* “But what about sexiness?

Mainstream depictions of sex show that sex is only sexy when it’s void of outright communication. Therefore, we think that if we intentionally manage The Mood, we can’t possibly also be sexy. But this simply isn’t true and is also in fact detrimental to your sex life. So, what do you do?

1.) Ditch the idea of The Mood as all-ruling and spontaneous. Bye, Mood!

2.) Verbally acknowledge to your boyfriend that The Mood as you’ve known it has fallen by the wayside (normal!) and that you’d like to respark your sexual connection.

3.) Schedule sex. Sure, if one of you gets food poisoning that night, you won’t be having the sex. It’s not a contract. But, carving out space for sex at least gives it a chance.

4.) Redefine sex. You don’t have to do the all-out, two-hour long, multi-orgasmic marathon sex date to have it be successful. Maybe you’ll make out hot and heavy for an hour and then call it quits. If you give yourselves permission to do these smaller sexual activities, it’ll likely lead to more. But, knowing that it doesn’t have to makes the whole thing less daunting…continue reading…

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My Boyfriend Might Be Gay. Should I Care?

Hi Yana,

I recently began “dating” my best guy friend over this winter break. He’s told me that he was raised by a super religious mom and that when he was younger he “rebelled,” and experimented with other men, which he blamed on his homophobic upbringing. He told me he’s had sex with another man, but has since concluded that he was straight. I didn’t ask many questions other than, “So, do you think you’re gay?” to which he responded, “No, I’m not gay.”

The night after this conversation, I invited him to dinner with my friends and he brought a male friend. During dinner, they both mysteriously disappeared to the bathroom for over 10 minutes and returned within seconds of each other. When we all went back to my house to hang out, they spent most of their time close together, making flirtatious eye contact, and practically cuddling on the couch. All of my friends noticed these intimate exchanges, too.

The thing is, my boyfriend isn’t really my boyfriend officially, though we have had conversations about being “exclusive.” We’re best friends first, so if he’s gay or bisexual, I’ll deal with it, but I don’t understand why he’s hiding it from me.

Am I being paranoid? Should I talk to him about this? Is he flirting with this guy in front of me because he wants to get caught? I’ve already asked him if he’s gay, and he said no, so why am I obsessing over his sexuality, and how do I deal with the potential fact that the guy I love may be identifying as straight, but secretly hooking up with his male friend?

— Boys Will Be Boys?

Dear Boys,

There’s a lot happening here, made more complex by cultural norms that sort of approve of straight women hooking up with each other, but condemn any and all sexual experimentation between men. Other things that make this situation complex are his experiences in his earlier years, which don’t seem to have given him the permission to explore the differences between his sexual experiences and sexual identity.

It’s totally possible to identify as straight and still hook up with men. That’s something people do and are entitled to do as everyone’s sexuality is theirs to define. Similarly, people are entitled to identify as bisexual even if they’ve never experienced sexual acts with someone of the same or different gender. Your identity isn’t a passport, you don’t need a stamp to prove you’ve been there. But knowing this for yourself requires permission to explore, which maybe hasn’t been granted to your boyfriend.

I want to propose a different, possibly unpopular, way of looking at this situation: Rather than playing sexuality investigator and making it your mission to figure out “who he really is,” view this issue as a communication and boundaries problem. Though figuring out your boyfriend’s sexuality certainly feels important right now, it also isn’t entirely necessary to resolve your particular situation…continue reading…

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How to Have a Discussion about Self Lovin’

Hi Yana,

I’m a 19-year-old male college student. I just started to masturbate, but I don’t know how other people will react if I get into a relationship with them and tell them about this. I would like to know how to be fully comfortable with pleasuring myself as well as see how to bring up masturbation in a relationship. Thank you!

— Seeking Masturbation without Hesitation

I’m reading your question in two different ways: the first is “How do I tell my partners that I just started masturbating at the later-than-average age of 19?” and the second interpretation is “How do I tell my partners that I’m into masturbating, generally?” So, I’m going to answer both.

First: Nothing is more varied than a person’s sexual timeline. The “typical” sexual timeline is dictated by a lot of assumptions — the biggest one being that you have or want to have penis-in-vagina penetrative sex. Others include how and where you were brought up, the kind of sex education you had access to, your moral or religious upbringing, and the health and ability of your physical body. All of these factors and more contribute to the freedom we feel to sexually explore ourselves and others.

This isn’t to say that the most free of us masturbate the earliest, but it is to say that not all sexual timelines suit all people. Part of keeping it consensual is also a self-practice: masturbating when it just doesn’t feel good mentally, physically, or both is not an enthusiastically-yes experience.

Part of your question seems to wonder how to get to an enthusiastic-yes solo-sex experience. The first step is to give yourself permission to head that way: this could mean undoing some negative messages from your sexual upbringing — reading some sex-positive books like The Multi-Orgasmic Man or The New Male Sexuality is a good start — or finding masturbatory materials that feel positive to you like ethical porn (see past columns on “Feminist Porn” and “Grass-Fed Porn”) or pleasure-positive erotica. Cleis Press publishes a great collection.

If it’s greater physical comfort you seek, try a nice, thick jacking-off lube like Boy Butter — not compatible for penetrative sex or latex — or Gun Oil, which is silicone-based. Or you could try a fun masturbation sleeve such as Tenga Eggs, which are cheap and disposable, or a Fleshlight, the notorious self-lovin’ toy for a heftier price tag.

Second: People love telling other people how to have their orgasms. And, very specifically, with whom to have them. And even more specifically, still, to have them in good company…continue reading…

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Open Sex, Closed Conversations

Hi Yana,

I’ve been in an on-again/off-again, oftentimes long-distance, relationship with my for-now ex-boyfriend for six years. Right now we have a “when we’re together, we’re together” arrangement and we’ve defined our relationship as open in the past.

Well, things are shifting again and we’re thinking about moving toward being more seriously together, but still long-distance and open. If we decide to get back together, I’d like one of my boundaries for our open arrangement to be that he not sleep with anyone that I know personally. But now I’m not sure if I want to know if he has slept with anyone I know during any of our in-between times.

On the one hand, I feel like I might make myself crazy if I don’t ask and am left wondering. On the other, I once accidentally found out that he did sleep with a friend of mine during a time when we were broken up that also made me feel really bad. What would you do?

— Friends with Benefits

You’ve combined some of the most challenging relationship dynamics: long-distance, open, long-term AND on-again/off-again!? Damn. Something tells me you might be a glutton for punishment, but that’s 50 shades of a different column for another week.

There’s a common Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell “policy” generally popular with folks new to non-monogamy. DADT tells partners “Do what and who you will, but I don’t want to know anything about it.” Though I get the appeal of DADT for non-monogamy newbies, it does little to shield folks from tough feelings. Instead, it sets people up to deny jealousy rather than learn from it, it closes partners off from each other rather than holding open space for others, and these arrangements typically end with everyone in worse shape than if they Did Ask and Did Tell.

Me? I would want to know. When Dorothy pulled back the curtain on the all-powerful wizard in the Wizard of Oz, she found he was just a nice, lil’ shrimp of a man. Meaning, our minds can play some terrible tricks when we’re feeling emotionally raw, downright jealous, and awfully creative; a fleeting thought that he may have slept with a mutual friend can magically become a convincing story about him randomly meeting Jennifer Lawrence at a cool underground party in NYC and having the best sex of his life with her in some glamorous penthouse because JLaw is basically someone you know right because you just loved her in Silver Linings Playbook and now your ex is going to be famous and you will be nothing. Nothing!

In reality, the people your dude has slept with are all real people — with qualities both wonderful and flawed, sex moves both explosive and meh, and their own set of insecurities and relationship baggage. But, if you never peek behind the curtain, you’ll never know this for sure…continue reading…

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Bad Vibes: Am I too sensitive for toys?

Dear Yana,

I want a new vibrator. The problem is that my body is SO sensitive that even the first setting on all of them are way too intense for me. I could do it manually, but I’m lazy. Advice?
— Vibrators Can Buzz Off

Dear Buzz Off,
First thing’s first: your body and how it experiences pleasure is never a problem! The various accoutrements available to us via the adult industry are there to enhance our pleasure and amusement, not rate us on a scale of normal-to-freakshow or perfect-to-broken. We all just need to learn how to find the right products for us.

For a long while one of my dirtiest secrets was that though I wrote about and sold vibrators for a living, I actually didn’t much like them myself. For the longest time I thought to myself “I’m just too sensitive,” as my clitoris would recoil from the slightest brush of a cutesy lil’ pink plastic vibe like a dental filling biting down on a ball of tinfoil.

Then I was benevolently gifted the rechargeable, wireless Hitachi Magic Wand. (#blessed.) This sleek beast of a toy is anything, but dainty — if the Hitachi is a grizzly bear, for example, that lil’ pink thing is a beanie baby. The Hitachi is an old-school sex toy made famous by its settings that range from Jackhammer to Jackhammer-Plus. The Magic Wand is not for the faint-of-clit. And yet, my “oh-so-sensitive body” loves it.

Though I generally like to think that I’m special, I’m certainly not in this case. It’s not that my body has changed or that my clitoris has somehow become a tougher bad-ass. It’s more that I finally understand the difference between a “buzzy” vibrator and a “rumbly” vibrator. And twat a difference it is.

This brings us to second things second: Not all vibrators are created equally. And this is especially true in the motor department. A “buzzy” vibrator versus a “rumbly” vibrator isn’t about the strength of the vibration, but the quality of it.

Most vibrators are buzzy. Cheap motors operated by batteries tend to characterize these guys, with a vibration frequency that feels like a fly buzzing in your ear or when you lightly push your lips together and hum. Clitorally, this can translate to numbness, over-intensity, one-note sensation and yes — the feeling that you might just hate vibrators. Put with the perfect bluntness sex toy blogger Hey Epiphora (heyepiphora.com) is known for: “Buzzy vibrators are a menace to society.”…continue reading…

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Like a Virgin

Dear Yana,

I’m a 19-year-old girl who has never had sex. I want to sleep with my boyfriend, 23. He’s had sex before, but doesn’t know I’m a virgin. I don’t really want him to know I’m a virgin, but I know I’ll probably have to tell him. The only reason I haven’t told him is because everyone kind of assumes I’m not a virgin since everyone says I’m pretty. We’ve done other things, but never gone all the way. I’m excited about having sex for the first time, but I’m worried about it being painful. Do you have any advice for how to make it more pleasurable? Are there any lubes or positions that would work best?

— Looking to Lose It

Before you unlock the chastity belt, let’s untie some of these knots you’ve got your virginity all twisted in!

Virginity holds a lot of differing, complex cultural values that, historically, have little to do with enjoying sex. The “value” associated with women’s virginity has been created mostly by people and systems not run by women — men, religion, family, and pop media — to control the bodies of (typically) young women. To some people, Virginity with a capital “V” is a real Big and Very Specific Deal.

But here’s another way to consider your virginity: It’s just some made up bullshit. This isn’t to say that First Times can’t be special and celebrated! But the common conception of what it is to lose your Virginity-Proper needs to be expanded.

Now, for many people, “losing your virginity” is defined as the first experience of vaginal penetration with a penis. If I only slept with women for my entire life, would that make me a forever-virgin? I don’t think so.

I scoff, but this restrictive P-in-V concept of virginity is real and its loopholes are made from people twisting themselves to fit into its tiny, identity-erasing boxes. For example, teens who take virginity pledges as part of conservative abstinence-only education programs are more likely to have anal sex in order to avoid having “real” sex before marriage, according to Sloan Caldwell, 2015, Let’s Talk About Sex: The Failure of Abstinence-Only Policies in America’s Public Schools). Anal is a sexual experience that requires way more skill and comprehensive sex education than an abstinence-only program will ever provide.

This misguided conceptualization of virginity can also look like someone’s physical “prettiness” being equated with their “virginity,” a word that holds synonyms like “chastity,” “honor,” “purity,” and “innocence.”

Well, LtoL, you can still be honorable and pretty and not be a P-in-V virgin…continue reading…

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How Do I Leave My Husband?

Hi Yana,

I’ve been with my husband for a decade. We married young and, in a lot of ways, he’s a great guy and right for me. But I still want to leave.

I did leave once a few years ago and he put me on a major guilt trip until I came home. Things have been better, but I’m still not happy. I feel completely obligated to him because he has no friends and I’m his whole world. I know me leaving would devastate him, but I also know I can’t stay and put his happiness above my own. For some reason I feel completely blocked to actually toughen up and tell him it’s over. There’s some barrier in my way, and I think it’s obligation.

— Dismayed to Stay

The hardest part of leaving a marriage is deciding to do it. And this you’ve already done. So, now what?

As a graduate student studying and practicing couples therapy, I would be remiss as to not recommend marriage counseling. Despite some popular opinions, couples counselors aren’t there to convince you to stay in your unhappy marriage or shame you for leaving it.

In reality, couples therapists are there to help couples make informed decisions about how to work on their relationships, give couples the tools and practice to do that work, help each partner make an informed decision about whether to stay or go, and even help navigate the transition of ending the relationship.

You don’t even have to have the same goal (Stay? Go? Separate? Divorce?) as your partner to benefit from work with an informed third party. In fact, couples counseling might help untangle this guilt/obligation cycle to the benefit of both you and your husband.

But I’m not your therapist, today, Dismayed, I’m just your local sex columnist. So, what say I? Consider what has your staying done to help your husband. It sounds like he still has no friends, no independent joys, and here you are still feeling unhappy.

This isn’t to say that your husband is a mean loser — you yourself describe him as a “great guy.” But you need to ask yourself: what has this obligation done for him, what has it done for you.

The tricky thing about anxiety, guilt, and obligation is that they hold illusions of grandeur. Obligation, for example, tells you “You’re definitely the only thing holding your spouse together. And if you don’t, you will be the sole person to blame for his eventual collapse.”

You have the power to break this misconception by telling Obligation to get over itself…continue reading…

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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…