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The V-Spot: My Partner is a Porn Addict, Now What?

Hi Yana,

My partner has struggled with a pornography/masturbation addiction since he was a teen. I’m not against self pleasure. In fact, I believe it’s important and wonderful for everyone to experience, even when partnered.

We’ve been together for 4 years, and our sex life is generally great. He was upfront with me about his issues with porn (his words) at an early point, but at the beginning he was contacting people outside of our monogamous relationship looking for sex. I was, as you’d expect, very hurt by this. He assured me that he would never have actually cheated but was just “seeking pleasure.”

Things have largely gotten better: he doesn’t contact people or seek interaction, but still indulges in porn on the regular. I find myself resenting this, despite believing that freedom of self pleasure is important. Our sex life is hugely affected by his masturbation habits and I’m afraid of how he’s sought out other people in the past.

I’m at a point now where I can’t help but wonder if it will ever change. Is it entirely wrong for me to want it to change at all? I’m trying to do right by him emotionally and sexually, but I’m also trying to do right by myself. Am I looking at it all wrong?

All the best,

Left Loveless

Dear Loveless,

Porn addiction (not officially included in the DSM-5, FYI) is a controversial animal in the therapeutic world. And without diving too deep into that debate here, I’ll tell you where my biases lie: I believe that porn — like many other substances and habits — can be used both in healthy and also in unhealthy ways. This unhealthiness, I believe, is largely in the eyes of the beholder and also in the impact it has on their lives.

Meaning, while there are more “traditional” addictions like those to alcohol and drugs, there are also many things we can use in unhealthy ways to cope with something/s that we feel like we currently can not cope with in other, perhaps healthier ways: sleeping, shopping, or even “socially acceptable” avenues like exercise or dieting, can all be used in compulsive or damaging ways without being labeled an official “addiction.”

Where my line is drawn in the sand around labeling this as problematic, Loveless, is here: Is the compulsive behavior causing distress for the person experiencing it and/or in that person’s significant relationships?

As you’ve described, this issue is at least certainly problematic: he himself considers his porn use an “issue” and you have clearly experienced some distress around the impact his porn use has on your relationship — a relationship that at one point he agreed to as being monogamous. He then broke that agreement when he secretly reached out to others…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: How Do I Make Sexual Suggestions?

Dear Yana,

I’m a 30-something guy in a long-term relationship with a bisexual woman. She’s got a high sex drive and wants to have sex almost constantly. My desire doesn’t really match up with hers but I wonder if the issue is really that her sexual techniques don’t really line up with my tastes. Her confidence seems tenuous and I’m worried that my requests will deflate her.

How could I best make suggestions towards what I want her to do and request changes to her existing approach without making her retreat from me or feel bad?

Thanks for any advice,

Cautious Critiquer

 

Dear Cautious,

I know for some readers this might sound shocking, but I was once a church youth group director. Okay, well, it was a Unitarian Universalist church youth group but still. One thing that’s really great about working with teenagers in an intentional, pure, community-building setting such as a UU church youth group is that they teach you how to be a nice, ethics-forward, person in the world.

What does this have to do with your sex life, Cautious? Well, not all sex advice is sexual in nature. Sometimes, learning how to communicate directly and kindly is just the skill set you need to further your sexual satisfaction. And with that, I introduce to you the The Compliment Sandwich, courtesy of my former church youth group days.

The Compliment Sandwich is a technique great for delivering constructive feedback in a way that strikes a nice balance between honoring your partner’s/friend’s/co-worker’s strengths, and being direct and clear about what you’d like to see change. In a Compliment Sandwich, compliments are the bread and your request/suggestion/critique is the meat (or vegan meat substitute, as it were).

For example: … continue reading…

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The V-Spot: Jealous in a New Poly Triangle

Hi Yana,

I’m newly in a poly triangle with two dear friends. We’re all very open about how we view partnership and love in all forms, and I didn’t hold any jealousy for their relationship until recently.

Before I was a part of the relationship I wasn’t at all jealous that “Josie” was spending all her time with “Katie” and would hang out with me when convenient. Because to me they were in a relationship and I was a friend.

Now that they both consider me a partner, I feel like I’m a last thought. They have been setting up dates with other people for just the two of them. Hanging out together all the time without thinking to invite me, and only being truly affectionate towards me when they’re drunk or high.

I don’t know if I should be the one dealing with my jealous feelings and let them be, or if it’s something I should ask them to change. To add bonus complications, Josie is my roommate and we all three live in the same house.

None of us have sex because of some trauma stuff and my issues surrounding anxiety and control of my body, so our definition of a partner is someone who fulfills us in a way that other people don’t. So things are very fluid for us. I just don’t know if I have the right to be upset about this.

— Not Ready for This Jelly

Dear Jelly,

Have you ever heard of the phrase “Don’t shit where you eat”? Yeah, me neither. We do live in the Happy Valley, after all, where we keep our partners close, and our partners’ partners even closer. Is this is a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it sure does push us all to the limits of learning how to set clear boundaries and manage our stickiest emotions.

Made stickier by your close living quarters? Maybe. Impossible? Certainly not.

Managing the line between what are my emotions to self-regulate and what is in my partners’ jurisdiction to change is something that crops up in all relationships. However, this dilemma becomes especially apparent in non-monogamous relationships where management of one’s own jealously is considered part of the process.

Do you have the right to your feelings and emotions, Jelly? Of course. Feelings are feelings and stuffing them down or away typically just makes things worse. It’s what you do with them that counts.

There’s a tangible difference between “You better not do anything to upset me!” and “I’ve been feeling left out of our relationship lately and would like to discuss possible solutions”. If managing your jealous feelings looks like putting controls on your partners, that’s not the healthiest. If managing your jealous feelings looks like two-parts your individual work around the roots of your jealousy and one-part open communication with your partners about all three of your needs and desires, you’re moving towards a recipe for healthier coping!

Some of the issue here sounds like unclear expectations between the three of you. Have you told them that you want to be included in more of their couple dynamic? Has the topic of feelings about and hopes for their dates with others been properly sussed out or is it just something that’s happening willy-nilly?

Have an intentional sit-down where each of you can talk about what you want out of this relationship, where your boundaries are, and what you can say yes or no to in a way that feels like a balance between rewarding and challenging.

Sure, part of non-monogamy is facing the ick of jealousy, but no one should be gritting their teeth alone throughout their entire relationship.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.

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The V-Spot: Is My Romance Dead?

Dear Yana,

I know your column is mainly about sex, but for me, it’s all about the romance. I’ve been struggling for decades to balance my love of flowers, dancing, and candlelight with my love of a husband who struggles with intimacy (for good reasons) and who promises me these things after an increasingly strongly worded hint from me that it is the little things that matter. But he never follows it through.

The passion, friendship … everything else is there and over the years I have opened my spirit to a Zen-like acceptance for what he isn’t able to express. But there is no denying the fact that subtle seduction and the charm of being surprised is what lures me between the sheets. I have a very deep love of a man who is partly dense, partly lazy, but moreover I believe too wounded by his past to ever give of himself in a delicate way.

How do I smooth out the edges of my chafing heart? (I have in the past taken him dancing, on picnics, to unexpected places and so on, but I am beginning to pine to be led into the forest of romance.) Perhaps in the age of Trump chivalry is dead and the roses have shriveled away.

— In Love with a Non-Romantic

Dear In Love,

First, I love that you sent me this letter via mail. I myself feel romanced by your extra efforts in mailing me a real live letter rather than shooting off an email as you hurriedly slash your Monday morning inbox at the office. You’re clearly geared towards going the extra mile rather than taking a shortcut — and I love it.

I don’t know the specifics of your husband’s painful past. However, while it’s important to tread carefully around people’s traumas, I also believe that it’s equally important for all members of a relationship to put in the work it takes to make themselves and the relationship healthy.

Meaning, is your partner holding you at arm’s length in the name of past experiences and then simply shrugging and calling it a day? Or are his past hurts something that he is working on processing and existing alongside of in the relationship?

I’ll give you a personal example: I’ve always been open about the fact that I struggle with anxiety. High anxiety days typically (and understandably) aren’t my most “I feel sexy!” days. However, I also know that sticking to regular yoga, not overloading my work schedule, and attending weekly therapy all help me manage my anxiety.

This doesn’t mean anxiety will magically disappear from my life, but it does mean that I put in the work to manage it so that it doesn’t negatively impact me and/or intimacy in my relationship ALL the time…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: My BF Won’t Go Down on Me

Hi Yana,

My boyfriend refuses to go down on me. As a bisexual woman who has been in long term relationships with women, it’s something I miss. I bring it up and he gets defensive about it. I’m always down to give the blow jobs and don’t believe in not doing so just because he doesn’t go down on me.

He’s tight lipped about why he isn’t interested in it. He makes it seem like we would have to be together for a long time before he does, but it has been over six months — and we live together. Any suggestions?

— Left Bi & Dry

Dear Bi & Dry,

Tight lipped, eh? Sounds like he’s not the only one!

Without much background information, I’m left with a few questions that’ll determine my advice:

1.) What has he done to make it seem like he wants you two to have more relationship history before going down on you? Did he say this outright? Or are his answers vague; he mentions “trust” and “knowing each other better,” but does not offer any idea of what that might look like?

2.) How have you brought it up with him? Is it in a way that warrants his defensive reaction? Or are you approaching this from a perspective that truly wants to understand his aversion to going down?

3.) And then finally: Has he NEVER gone down on you ever in your entire relationship? Or is this a new, sudden, or gradual change?

In my experience, both personal and professional, someone’s resistance to performing oral sex (beyond they simply don’t care for it) is usually about:

1.) Gendered, social sex education that expects women to perform oral sex on men. (Need an example? Let’s play a game and count the number of magazine cover stories this month that feature an article about BJs and compare them to the cover stories run about cunnilingus. Meanwhile, men don’t get the social message that “Being a Good Lover = Providing Oral Sex” pounded into their heads, so some may feel less urgency/“off the hook” about it.

2.) Bad sexual experience with performing oral sex…continue reading…

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Your Campfire Sex Life: Rekindling Desire

Hi Yana,

I love reading all of your stuff. I was wondering if you had any advice on getting back into a sexual relationship. My partner and I have been together for over four years and our sex has fizzled out a bit. I think now we feel really nervous about it and don’t know how to get back into it even though we both really want to! If you have anything to read or any advice to give that would be amazing.

— Rekindle Our Romance

 

Dear Rekindle,

It’s perfectly normal for long-term partners to feel their sex life fizzle a bit. While mainstream sex culture seems to embrace the notion that sexual flames between partners may falter, we don’t have as much acceptance of how rekindling those flames means that you might have to do some fanning. As in, that sexual fire certainly isn’t going to stoke itself!

Lust, sex drives, and turn-ons carry the narrative that they must be spontaneous in order to be acted on or “real.” Waiting for two people to both fall into The Mood at the same time, in the same place, at the right time, and the right place, is a great recipe for waiting around for your sex life to happen … for … quite … a … while.

Creating blazing, amazing bonfires in long-term sexual relationships takes kindling, fuel, tending, and intention. Don’t wait for lightning to strike. Make it happen. On purpose.

Here are some tips:

First: Learn how to build a bonfire. Each of you do some homework — whether that’s watching porn (see my earlier column “Gimme That Grass Fed Porn” for my suggestions), doing one of Emily Nagoski’s great turn-on and turn-off worksheets (thedirtynormal.com/worksheets), or reading an excellent how-to book about sex in general (Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon, for example). Reacquaint yourselves with what turns you on and share that info with each other once you know.

Gather your kindling. What’s going to fuel your fire? New sex toys (Oh My Sensuality in Northampton, Adam and Eve in Greenfield, babeland.com online)? A fancy lube? Just a nice afternoon of self-grooming and a new pair of jockeys? Get ’em!

Build your fire pit…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: He’s Afraid to Cuddle / Different Sex Drives

Hi Yana,

My partner and I have different sex drives. I could have sex four to six times a week, while he feels more comfortable with about two. In the beginning, we had a lot of sex and I was ecstatic thinking that our sex drives were more matched. Now, not so much.

I feel like I’m constantly rejected and he feels pressured to have sex. He’s said he’s afraid to cuddle and kiss me because then he feels he’ll be expected to take it further. To make it even more difficult, I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and feel like I have been hardwired to feel loved through sexual intimacy.

So, when he says no to sex, I feel like my whole world drops from under me. I’ve worked on the sex-equals-love piece in therapy to no avail. I feel at a loss.

Any advice for two people who love each other fiercely, but need help figuring this out?

—Pedal to the Metal

Dear Pedal,

Childhood sexual abuse impacts many people and leaves survivors with a steep check to pay emotionally, physically, and mentally. And though you’re doing great work with your therapist, that hardwiring will still fire.

No couple is perfectly matched in their desire for sex at all times, especially after the hormone-fueled honeymoon phase. If you were to label your sexual desire on a scale of 1-10 (10 being gimme, gimme more!), maybe you would be a 9 at baseline, and your partner, a 4. Factor in relational conflict, hormones, outside stress, and health fluctuations, and the chances that you both will be running at a compromised 7 are rather slim. And that’s normal!

Normalizing this and reminding yourself that his sex drive is a Him issue and not a You issue is important here. A Him issue may be related to a You issue, but is certainly not Your Fault.

He’s feeling wary that once he gets on the intimacy rollercoaster there’s no slowing down or stopping the ride until after sex. His hesitance I’m sure in turn adds to your feelings of rejection. This cycle traps you both in a black-and-white viewpoint of your sex life leaving him on one side and you on the other.

So, where can you collaborate?…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: Do I Talk Too Much in Bed?

Hi Yana,

I recently started going out with this girl, but it already feels like we are magnets to one another (both inside and outside of the bedroom). But the last time we had sex an issue came up that broke up that magnet-like feeling for me.

I’m someone who really wants to communicate about sex so I know how to make partners feel good in all the ways they want. So I was really confused when, during sex, my communication caused her discomfort. I was trying to ask her what she was into or if she wanted me to do this or that to make sure that she was comfortable, but she told me she was uncomfortable with all the talking.

I feel myself in a strange double bind here. On the one hand, I want her to feel comfortable during sex and she has told me that quieting-up will do that. On the other hand, we just started seeing one another and I really don’t know what kinds of sex she likes and dislikes, how she likes to be touched, etc. The prospect of having sex without communication seems unethical to me.

Do you have any suggestions? Looking to get that magnet-like feeling back, but I’m not sure how to do that in a situation where communication is a turn-off.

— Don’t Talk Dirty to Me

Dear Don’t Talk,

Striking a balance between constant communication and losing ourselves in the pleasures of our bodies can be a tightrope, especially if our partner’s preferred ratio of Talk:Action is different than ours. I tour colleges teaching workshops about just this. It can be complicated.

What’s not optional is getting someone’s verbal permission to touch their bodies before you do it, especially sexually. However, what happens next is where many get stuck. Some might think, “Hey, I gave you my consent to have sex with me, why are you still asking me so many questions?” Others, like you, may want to have a more continuous checking-in process.

Established partners, on the other hand, may have a greater understanding between them of what activities don’t require a check-in (example: It’s always okay to pull my hair!) or definitely always do (example: Whoa! No backdoor exploring without talking about it first!).

Active, continuous consent isn’t a one-way arrow, but is more like the recycling sign, with several processes looping back into each other. Meaning, keeping sex consensual between the two of you also includes your views of what makes for consensual, enjoyable, pleasurable sex — not just hers. You do not feel comfortable performing silent, check-in-less sex on this person’s body (Yeah! Makes sense to me!). So, you shouldn’t.

Does this mean you can just run your mouth, continuing to make her uncomfortable in the name of your personal consent crusade?...continue reading…

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Poly Role Models / My interview with Kevin Patterson

Poly Role Models

My interview with Kevin Patterson

Educator & speaker Kevin Patterson recently interview me for his blog Poly Role Models.

Everyone should check him out, I always learn new things from his work. You can listen to him on Dawn Serra‘s podcast Sex Gets Real and sometimes even catch him speaking near us in NYC!

And consider supporting his patreon!

Thank you for including me in your work, Kevin!

1. How long have you been polyamorous or been practicing polyamory?

I have been in and out of non-monogamous relationship structures for 10 years. I typically move between monogamous structures and non-monogamous structures depending on what else is going on in my life and how much emotional time and energy I have to devote to the process of non-monogamy.

I actually don’t identify as polyamorous, but more like non-monogamous as I often see polyamorous as an identity and non-monogamy as a relationship structure.

2. What does your relationship dynamic look like?

Currently, I am married to my husband and we have a girlfriend that we see primarily together (sexually). Our girlfriend has sex with and dates other people outside of my husband and I. I have occasional sexual partners outside of my husband and girlfriend. And my husband and I both have sex together with people who are not our girlfriend.

My husband and I consider ourselves primary partners and our girlfriend as our primary secondary partner and other partners as “green-lighted” on a case-by-case basis between the two of us though our girlfriend sees whoever she wants to as long as she just lets us know and keeps the communication open.

3. What aspect of polyamory do you excel at?

I think I excel at viewing my partners as their own people entitled to their own relationships, feelings, and sexual pleasure. This is typically what I fall back on if/when I’m feeling jealous or insecure. And it’s then really helpful to remind myself that I also benefit from being my own personal with my own entitlement to my desire, sexuality, and relational experiences.

4. What aspect of polyamory do you struggle with?

I used to be very low-jealousy and very trusting. But when I got divorced, there was a lot of lying and heartbreak around our non-monogamous arrangement (amongst other things that weren’t related to our non-monogamy) that resulted in my feeling a little more hesitant to take things at face value regardless of how much I trust my partners. This has thrown a wrench in the way I process jealous feelings and can be really challenging.

5. How do you address and/or overcome those struggles?…continue reading…

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How Does a Shy Girl Ask for the Sex She Wants?

Hi Yana,

I’m a bisexual woman in a LTR with another woman. My issue is that I’m super bashful when it comes to asking for what I want during sex. I’ve been partnered for a while now and even though I’m really comfortable with her and trust her, it’s hard for me to drum up the confidence to speak up.

She’s great at asking me what I want from her but in the moment I freeze up and don’t even know how to start answering her questions! I get nervous, I get anxious, and I can barely say much at all. Any way you can help me spit it — anything! — out during sex?!

— Bashful Babe

Dear Bashful,

The modern sexual revolution has been fueled by anti-slutshaming, the freedom of popular hookup culture, and being outspoken about taboos (getting-more-formerly-by-the-day) such as birth control, genuine sexual pleasure, the gender spectrum, and designer relationships. So much open space to move around in! So many rules to bend and break and disregard so that you can make your own! So many things on the sexual menu to pick from! How is a bashful babe to choose?

No but really, how is a bashful babe to choose?

Though part of the battle is finding the bravery, freedom, and permission to ask for what we want, the other part is figuring out: wait, what the hell do I even want to ask for?

Maintaining your own independent sex life, even when you are in relationships, is a crucial aspect of having a great and satisfying sex life. Just because you are partnered, doesn’t mean that the solo sexplorations needs to or should end. Reading books about sex, talking about sex, finding porn you actually like, masturbating, trying new sex toys out, or even just fantasizing on your morning commute are all great ways to discover and build on your own independent sexuality.

Being unsure about what you like, if you like something, or even if you want to try to see if you like something is an intensely personal process that doesn’t necessarily need to be done in front of an audience — even if that audience is your wonderful, trusting, long-term mate…continue reading…