Do you have problems with your love life? Hate your job? Your social life lacking that certain zing? All questions can be answered through literature—or maybe at least by the people who create it. With that in mind, we here at The Lambda Literary Review have started our very own advice column called “Reader Meet Author.” Think of the column as sort of a “Dear Abby” for the LGBTQ literary set. You can send “Reader Meet Author” questions for publication to ReaderMeetAuthor@lambdaliterary.org.

Every month readers can submit questions to a chosen LGBTQ author about love, work, and life and the author will answer them to the best of their ability.

This month’s column is overseen by writer Diana Cage.

Diana Cage is an author, performer, essayist, and editor. She is the author of six books and editor of two anthologies of fiction and essays. Diana’s most recent book Lesbian Sex Bible won a 2015 Lambda Literary Award. Her other nonfiction books include Mind Blowing Sex: A Woman’s Guide, Girl Meets Girl: A Dating Survival GuideThreewaysBottoms Up: Writing About Sex, and the chapbook The Husbands. Diana’s nonfiction writing blends essay, memoir, and nonfiction prose to look intimately at sex, sexuality, bodies, relationships, and queerness. She is also a member of the feminist avant-garde literary collective Belladonna* which promotes and publishes critical essays, political poetry, and prose. Diana was formerly editor of the historic lesbian magazine On Our Backs, and host of The Diana Cage Show on SiriusXM. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches writing at Pratt Institute.

Dear Author,

I am afraid my boyfriend has a porn addiction. We have been dating for a year now and while the sex between us has never been super frequent, it has recently and distressingly dropped off to about once every couple of weeks.

When I bring up our infrequent coupling, he says that he loves me but that he has never been very sexual in any of his past relationships either, and that having sex every couple of weeks is fine for him. I would not be so bothered by the whole situation if I did not notice all the porn he has been downloading on his computer (I know it’s wrong, but I occasionally check his hard drive when he is not around). I am worried that he’d rather watch porn than have sex with me. When I ask him if he jerks off when I am not around he says no (but if he is not jerking off then why he is downloading all that porn).  

I worry that he would rather watch porn than actually have sex with me. I want to broach the subject with him (but I can’t reveal that I have been going through his computer without seeming like a real creep).  

Do you have any ideas how I can candidly discuss this without embarrassing both of us?

Signed,

I Need Love

Dear Love,

Your feelings toward your partner are very generous and it shows in your letter. You don’t shame him for wanting to have sex less often than you and that’s a good sign. Another good sign is that you want to talk about your sex life rather than attack him for exploring his sexuality in a way that doesn’t center you. This is great. You’re going to work this out.

We’re going to talk about sex and communication in relationships in a minute, but I want to preface my advice by saying there is nothing inherently wrong with watching porn and masturbating when your partner isn’t around and even when they are around. Everything we believe about sex, all the rules and expectations, are made up. There is no right or wrong way to act on our sexuality. Watching porn and getting ourselves off allows us to explore desires we might not want to, be able to, or know how to explore in real life.

That said, it’s also perfectly okay for you to expect your partner to desire you and make you feel desirable. The problem here isn’t that he’s watching a lot of porn; the real problem is that he’s not putting any effort into making the person he’s in a relationship with feel happy.

By the way, I’m of the mind that you need to come clean about digging around in his computer. Keeping secrets never really turns out well. You could admit it, admit it was wrong, explain why you did it and then solemnly swear to never do it again. But if you just can’t face it, it’s okay, I understand. In that case, admit it to yourself. Admit it was wrong and swear you will never do it again. And then really never do it again.

There are lots of reasons some people choose porn over partner sex: anxiety and fear about STIs, cultural shame, traumatic experiences with sex, or fear of having our desires exposed. It’s a really long list. He might just feel embarrassed about the things that really get him off and he’d rather just get himself off than deal with the vulnerability it would take to talk about what he likes to do in bed. If that’s the case, we can fix that.

Something to keep in mind is that there are multiple forms of sexual desire. Some people experience “spontaneous desire,” meaning they just randomly feel turned on and want sex. Some people experience “responsive desire” meaning they only want sex when there’s some sort of stimulus, like porn or a partner’s touch. If your partner is the responsive desire type, it might help if you make the first move more often. Responsive desire types often don’t realize they want sex until someone gets the party started and then suddenly they are like, “What a great idea! Let’s get down!”

Try talking to him about your own desires first. Be the vulnerable one. Don’t start the conversation by saying “You never do this…” or even “I wish you would…” Instead, talk to him about your own turn-ons and the things that you think about when you jerk off. Or try recalling something you really enjoyed the last time you had sex. Have this conversation when you are already in bed. He might open up about his own wants if the conversation feels comfortable. It may take a few conversations before he really opens up, and that’s okay.

You could also try watching porn and masturbating together. This can be a really hot way to have sex. Don’t be tricked into thinking that it’s only sex if you’re fucking. That’s a boring paradigm and we don’t need it. Anything you do together with the intention of getting each other off is sex.

Be sure of this one thing: your needs matter just as much as his. He should know that your needs aren’t getting met, but making him feel bad or guilty isn’t going to get you anywhere. Go slow. Talk a lot about sex. Engage in more non-sexual affection and touching and find a middle ground where you are both getting what you want. Relationship sex is so great. It’s one of the most wonderful and satisfying ways to bond with a partner. Just start talking about it somehow, somewhere. Don’t expect the problem to get fixed in one day. Sometimes it takes a while for conversations to sink in. Eventually though, talking openly will work. It really will.

Dear Author,

I have a good friend who has ignored all other aspects of her life for the pursuit of love. Since I have known her she’s been singularly obsessed with her romantic life. She does not have a career to speak of–she works part time doing catering gigs here and there, she sleeps on the couch in the spare room in her younger and more established sister’s apartment, and she often asks me to borrow money to pay her phone bill.  

Everything else in her life seems to fall by the wayside; it is all about her romantic entanglements. Since I have known her, her life has been a litany of relationships. She seemingly can’t be alone. Romantic love has always been the main focal point of her life: not finding a full time job, not finding a place of her own to live, and not saving money. For her it is always about finding and maintaining these relationships, that never seem to last. I understand that finding a lover can be hard and loneliness can be devastating, but do you have any guidance on how I could help her cultivate other aspects of her life?

Signed,

A Friend in Need

Dear Friend,

It’s really difficult to watch a friend trash their life. And I can imagine that it would be especially difficult to watch a female friend trash her life over the pursuit of love. We’re all supposed to have rejected that particular need by now.

As Destiny’s Child says:

All the women, who are independent
Throw your hands up at me
All the honeys, who are making money
Throw your hands up at me…

In order to be liberated we’re supposed to take care of ourselves, love ourselves, buy our own diamonds and buy our own rings, and need nothing from anyone.

But how easy is that really? This whole thing where women are supposed to be our own lovers contradicts the other, more dominant messaging we pick up from the culture around us–that our sexual desirability is the most valuable thing we have.

We teach little girls from the time they are born that it’s important to be pretty, and that being pretty means being loved, and that being loved means we must be pretty.

Over the holidays I heard my partner tell his three-year-old niece not to play whatever game her older brother was playing because she might mess up her pretty hair. This is coming from my trans masculine partner who has a PhD in gender studies. What I am trying to say is, this shit runs deep.

There’s another piece to this puzzle as well. Our mothers model behavior for us and if a mother who strongly identified with being a wife and mother raised her, then this poses an extra hurdle for your friend in terms of thinking independently outside of a relationship. It’s even harder for women with older mothers who probably have not had the liberty or inclination to think much about their own identity outside of their role in the family.

I’m not saying that her behavior isn’t a problem. I am just trying to help you and everyone else understand why women engage in this sort of behavior and why the Independent Woman thing isn’t always as easy to get behind as Destiny’s Child would make you think.

This is a scary world for women. A million of us just marched on Washington in protest of a president who not only thinks grabbing women by their pussies is great, but is also serving up executive orders that only make women less safe and less able to pursue that Independent Woman thing. For some of us being tied to a partner, no matter how briefly, makes us feel tethered in some way and taken care of. And that feels a lot easier than being alone, free-floating in a world hostile to our existence.

Your question is a good one and it seemingly comes out of a real desire to help her. She is lucky to have you as a friend! Your instincts are right that she needs to cultivate other aspects of her life outside of her romantic entanglements. So how to do that?

Try not to worry about her money situation at first. The apartment thing, the not having a steady job thing, the needing money to pay her phone bill thing. Those issues are just symptoms of something larger and they will resolve when she changes her behavior around relationships.

In the meantime you might try inviting her to do things with you more often. Model positive behavior for her. Talk to her about your own life and how you feel happy that you can take care of yourself. Go deep with her about love and relationships. Try to help her understand how you got past all that baggage and learned to take care of yourself.

Invite her on friend dates. You two could get involved with something together. A friend of mine always volunteers for big film festivals and other citywide events when she is trying to get over a break-up or take a break from dating. It works too, because then she gets to be surrounded by new people and quickly makes new friends, which keeps her mind off her romantic life.

It seems pretty clear to me that you are coming at this from a place of love and concern, so my final advice to you might be hard to follow: you can also just let go and let her do what she needs to do.

The only part of her behavior that affects you directly is that she sometimes asks to borrow money. The easy way to fix that is to just say no. Tell her you love her and are happy to have her as a friend, but you don’t want to loan her money. That’s it. That’s all you have to say. You can tell her why if you’d like to, but it’s not necessary. Loan your friend money when she needs it to survive and grow, but until she gets there, let her pay her own damn phone bill.

 


Tags: , , , , ,
  • Lambda Literary Awards!

Leave a Reply

Please fill the required box or you can’t comment at all. Please use kind words. Your e-mail address will not be published.

Gravatar is supported.

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


//