Vibrators and the man

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Cary’s classic column WEDNESDAY, JAN 22, 2003 12:05 PM PST

My husband “goes at it” with porn and sex toys right in front of me!


Dear Cary,

Lately, my husband of 10 years has developed a fascination (obsession?) with video porn and vibrating sex toys. He says he’s sick of hiding it, so after the kids go to sleep, he pops in a tape and commences to “go at it” whether I’m in the room or not. His purported reason is that since I have no interest in him and he doesn’t want to cheat on me, he will resort to his own devices, so to speak. I find this behavior shocking, disrespectful, morally bankrupt and frankly repulsive.

There is nothing wrong with me, biologically, that I so consistently fail to meet his needs. But in truth, I would rather read a book. And this spectacle makes me want to run screaming from the house, which I would do were it not for my kids.

I should say that when we are intimate, it is mutually satisfying, and while I’m set for at least a week, it sets in motion a campaign-like effort of his to get me to do it all the time (like every night). Sure, there is a bit of a mismatch in our frequency preference (which is normal, isn’t it?), but I find myself literally avoiding him so as to duck the pressure. He doesn’t hug me, he grinds me. He doesn’t kiss me, he gropes me. Get the picture? He wants me to wear uncomfortable, skimpy things when I am cold, tired or just plain bloated. I am no lingerie model — more like an overweight, middle-aged soccer mom, albeit with high cheekbones and good hair (just so you know I’m not depressed and self-loathing).

I am no prude and enjoy the above-mentioned entertainments, in small doses (as a “spice,” not the main ingredient) on especially romantic occasions (which are so rare as to be nonexistent). I fear that this pastime of his is becoming a lifestyle, and it’s one I deplore and cannot abide, never mind share. Emotionally and sexually, it’s driving me further and further away from him, which is supposedly what started it all in the first place!

As an aside, could worry about one’s wife’s health (say, if she had a life-threatening but treatable illness) cause or exacerbate such extreme and objectionable impulses/behavior, with no apparent regard for said wife’s response?

Tired and Dejected

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Dear Tired and Dejected,

Yikes! That’s disgusting! He can’t do that! Make him stop!

That’s my gut reaction. In a moment, after I shake it off, I’m going to try to make some coherent and useful suggestions in a cool, empathic and measured manner, as is my job and my native bent. But first I just have to say, one more time, yuck. Please, so we all can stop cringing and groaning, as a first step, tell him to stop doing that.

Thank you. That’s better.

Now, here’s the thing. Theoretically, just for the record, this could be perfectly OK. There’s nothing wrong with two people doing what you describe if they both want to do it. But if only one of you wants to do it, and the other finds the behavior shocking, disrespectful, morally bankrupt and frankly repulsive, then it’s like the polar opposite of mutually pleasing behavior between consenting adults. It’s more like some weird creepy kind of psychic rape. He’s not even touching you but he’s transgressing a sacred boundary, making it clear in symbolic terms that you are defenseless. It’s like his libido has come unmoored from domesticity and, drunk on commercialized sexual imagery, is running wild. It’s a little bizarre and kind of frightening.

So I don’t care how you do it, but first just make him stop. This may involve some argument, but it really has to be nonnegotiable. His argument — that he doesn’t want to cheat on you and he doesn’t want to hide — may sound almost reasonable on its surface, but it’s not a reasonable argument. It’s shallow and childish. He should be given to understand that after he agrees to stop, there are lots of options to discuss. But, as in diplomacy, the open hostilities must cease before talks can begin.

Once he’s put away the toys and turned off the video, you two have to really come to terms. You’ve obviously grown far apart sexually. And he, I would guess, is very angry at you. Yes, he is angry. Perhaps he feels sexually rejected. Perhaps he feels unwanted. I don’t think, even for a very stupid man, that this could be an innocent act; it is a naked provocation. He must want to hurt you.

This is going to take some work, and probably somebody smarter than all of us in these matters will need to step in and translate for you, so that you can make yourselves understood to each other. He is not only trying to hurt you but also trying to get your attention; he wants to say something to you. That he’s chosen this way indicates an alarming lack of discretion and a shocking disregard for your feelings, but nonetheless I don’t think he’s just an angry idiot innocently consumed with pornography. There is something he wants to say. It could be that he wants out of the marriage. It could be that he is incredibly hurt. It could be that he feels monstrously guilty. It could be that he just needs some privacy and needs to exercise some discretion.

If he has worries about your health, he needs to verbalize them. And if they bear some connection to his behavior, that must be made explicit somehow. He’s the only one who can tell you what he feels about your state of health. Whatever the underlying feelings are, you need to get them out in the open. But getting them out in the open is not therapeutic in itself. That’s just the beginning. You need to understand their implications. Maybe he needs to go jerk off twice a day. Maybe he needs to go to strip clubs or watch naked lesbian mud wrestling. Maybe you two need to split up.

I would think that if you love him and you two can accept that while well-matched in some ways you are comically mismatched in others, and just get over it, you could live together and not have to freak out the kids. If you could grant him a private sexual life with agreed-upon boundaries and just not have it shoved in your face, perhaps you two could stop hurting each other and call a truce.

Or perhaps the marriage is over and it would be best for you and for the kids if you split up. If underneath all this is just a bottomless pit of anger and recrimination, you could spend the rest of your life trying to get to the bottom of it for little benefit to either of you. That’s what you have to decide. You have to take your discussion all the way. It might take a while, a year perhaps, to work through it all. But you can’t keep going like this. There’s too much being acted out here and not enough being said.

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