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Of hurts and hugs

Q: I am a 28-year-old bisexual female who has been seeing a 41-year-old woman for six months. Things are really confusing to me. She says she doesn't want a relationship, yet she doesn't want me to see other people and she's not seeing anyone else. I think she would like to be sleeping around but doesn't want to hurt me. Or maybe she's hurt and needs time to heal. What should I do? Wait or just let it be?

A: Why guess? What about another alternative — getting some clarification about what each of you wants, without psychologizing (e.g. "she wants this because she may have been hurt."). She may very well want a nonexclusive relationship — for her, and an exclusive one for you. Of course that's not fair, but we're all entitled to want what we want. Don't expect relationships to be logical. Once the wants are laid out for both to look at, perhaps you can negotiate an arrangement that will work for now, until another one needs to be forged. I really can't imagine a really good relationship lasting for any length of time without this kind of frequent clarification update.

Q: I have been going to a church that features hugging and kissing as a symbol of peace and love. Now I feel raw and lonely because it's the only time I get affection. Is there a way I can get hugs and kisses that is safe, socially acceptable and free?

A: Become more involved in the activities of your church. I'm sure there are charitable causes or study groups or just periodic building or membership projects you could be doing with these same huggy people. Also, consider becoming a volunteer with needy animals, children or old folks. For friendly body contact without the kisses, take up some form of social dancing. I know it's been said before, but the way to get affection is to give some. Reach out.

Q: A satisfying sex life does not seem possible for me. At 27 I have never had intercourse with a man and have (no surprise) been called frigid. Still, I have always had a hot fantasy life with the unaware objects of my numerous crushes. The few times I have been physically close to a man the excitement and my revved-up feelings from kissing and touching, etc., abruptly shut off just short of intercourse. I have been called attractive, but at this point I can't see why any decent guy would want someone as frigid as me. Is there a way to shut off sexual desire? Medication? Masturbation is not satisfying enough.

A: Talk about putting the cart before the horse! You're tackling this from the wrong end. What you need is a way to safely feel and choose to act on your sexual desires, not turn them off. Get yourself to a good sex therapist and work on resolving your fears.

Q: I recently broke up with my partner of eight years because I never told her about a part of my sex life that she became aware of recently. I masturbate almost daily and I hid that from her. It was not the masturbation she objected to but the deceit in never telling her. She says, and I agree, that this is an addictive practice that started long before I met her. It got in the way of our relationship in that I wasn't honest with her and that we didn't have sex together as much as both she and I wanted. I know I need to figure out why I hid this from her — embarrassment at using porn is one reason — and how this fits into other problems in our relationship. I am now seeing a therapist and trying to talk with the few friends I feel I can be open with. I am writing you to recommend any books about sexual addictions that may give me some guidance. I don't think books are going to "cure" me — only confronting my relationship problems while in relationship is going to do that — but some guidance from literature would be valuable.

A: I am not the best person to ask since I have a lot of trouble with the whole sex addiction industry. You may well have problems with avoiding intimacy, but keeping masturbation habits private is not necessarily a symptom of such. You may also have a problem with compulsive sexual behavior, but that's not an addiction in my book. Nonetheless, if you want to see what's available on the subject, then www.addictionresourceguide.com is probably a good place to begin. Isadora Alman is a licensed marriage counselor and a board-certified sexologist. You can reach her online at her Sexuality Forum (www.askisadora.com) or by writing to her care of this paper. Alas, she cannot answer questions

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