Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V, Compromising Positions
Dear Dr V,
I’m 30 years old and in a relationship with a younger guy; he’s 23. We’ve been together about four months, so far so good, with one exception. Several times now, while we’re in bed, he’s wanted to do some things I’m not comfortable with. I don’t want to get into gory details, but let’s just say it’s nothing you’d find in like “The Joy of Sex” or any other “reputable” sex book. I find what he wants me to do to be pretty degrading, and it seems to me the turn-on for him comes from the degrading aspect. Other than this one thing, the relationship’s going fine, but it’s like there’s this dark side of him I only see in the bedroom. He’s pretty open about the fact that he likes porn, could this have something to do with it? I’m concerned this could become a bigger issue for us, as in leading to intimacy issues and who knows what else. What do you think? Am I just being a prude?
A thousand times, NO! You are not being a prude. It sounds to me like your boyfriend has some major growing up to do in the bedroom, and likely elsewhere. Or he may hold a deep-seated resentment towards women that manifests as sexual aggression. Either way, your role in the relationship should not be that of a passive sex object. If he wants that, there are plenty of inanimate sexual aids to meet his needs.
What troubles me about your letter is that it almost sounds like your partner may have compartmentalized this “darker side” of himself, as you call it, into his sexual identity. You mentioned you are concerned about developing intimacy issues; I think you may already have intimacy issues in your relationship. If and how they are addressed may well determine the future of your relationship with this man. And from where I sit, the main issue seems to be a difficulty discerning fantasy from reality.
Now, I realize that sounds like a hackneyed psychobabble cliché, but I think it very well may be applicable in this case. Consider your boyfriend’s age: 23. Let’s assume he hit puberty right around ten years ago. The Internet was already in nearly everyone’s home, and with it, the deluge of graphic pornography that continues unabated today.
If, like many kids in that age demographic still do today, your boyfriend had unfettered access to the Internet, he very well may have been exposed to certain explicit images and concepts he just was not ready to handle yet. These in turn, may have informed his understanding of what “sexy” is, what to expect from a sexual partner, etc. If his parents were either unaware of the situation or for whatever reason unable to talk to him about it, then it would be a perfect storm to create the situation we have now: an otherwise decent person with a completely warped understanding of human sexuality.
As a general rule of thumb, I’ve found that it’s not the things we do talk about with our loved ones that affects and often hurts us the most, but rather that which we don’t talk about. And since, on a cultural level, we are made to feel ashamed of our sexuality (even while it’s exploited to sell us things), we are often embarrassed or even frightened to talk about these issues. Many parents find it difficult to broach the topic of sex with their kids. But this leaves a dangerous vacuum, which can be filled all to easily with misinformation from peers, or worse, the seedy underbelly of the online world.
However, I don’t wish to be construed as “anti-porn” or “anti-erotica.” Without a doubt there is some assuredly hateful stuff out there, but for better or for worse, pornography (or for those who are uncomfortable with that word, “erotica”) has been with us human beings pretty much as long as we’ve been able to make images. There are numerous artifacts from the ancient world all the way up to the present day, which depict graphic or explicit sexual themes. I think, as adults, we should all be able to discern what is and isn’t OK for us individually, and so long as nobody’s ever being forced to do something they don’t want to or harmed, we should really just tend our own gardens in regards to what anyone else needs to ring their bell, so to speak.
This being said, your situation does not meet the above criteria. You are being repeatedly asked to engage in a behavior you’re not comfortable with. I think it’d be best to discuss it with your boyfriend in a direct, but non-confrontational manner. Perhaps some middle ground could be established if you two could puzzle out what it is he’s looking to feel at those intimate moments with you. You might be able to mutually devise an alternative scenario that will leave both of you satisfied without you feeling as if you’ve somehow compromised your dignity. Of course, seeing as this is still a relatively new relationship, and considering the age difference (the distance between 23 and 30 can be much more than seven years, if you take my meaning), should you find yourself at an impasse on this issue, it might be in your best interest to move on from this relationship before things become more complicated as time passes and feelings deepen.
Ultimately, what we all do behind closed doors as consenting adults really has no business moving beyond those doors, unless someone’s being negatively affected by it. It is at these times, more than ever, that it’s important to make yourself heard, both to your partner, and if need be, a third party who can help you resolve the issue. To simply sit and struggle with these issues on your own can leave you feeling needlessly isolated and disempowered. Talk to your boyfriend and those you feel comfortable speaking about these concerns with. And keep talking and working it out until you find a resolution you can be at peace with. You owe yourself nothing less.
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