Upcoming Subjects

I’m slowly but surely plugging away on migrating the old Salon blog into archive Pages in WordPress. In the meantime here are some links if you can’t wait for me to bring these discussions over.

More possible reasons your wife may not want to have sex with you:

Motherhood   New Link

Aging and Depression  New Link

Bad Company   New Link

Childhood Abuse and Sexual Fears   New Link

A couple more contributor stories:

Paul’s Dilemma New Link

Ten Ways to Be A Lover: A Man Looks at Romance Novels   New Link

More direct commentary/advice on

The Question of Counseling New Link

Medicalizing Desire New Link

When to Split New Link

Being the Hero of Your Own Life New Link


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The Crimson Petal and the White

Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White is a novel worthy of the term “Dickensian,” but without Dickens’s moral strait-jacket or his stifling sentimentality. The main character is Sugar, a steely 19-year-old prostitute who has become so renowned for her graceful compliance with any requested perversion that she is featured in a “gentleman’s guide” to London bordellos. Sugar has been the star attraction in the house of the morally hideous Mrs. Castaway since she was sold to her first “nice gentleman” at the age of 13.

The Crimson Petal and the White

The only way Sugar can vent the rage that boils behind her expensive acts of submission is by writing a novel about a prostitute practicing inventive tortures upon her erstwhile customers. It’s a book that will rival the shocking works of the Marquis de Sade — if she ever finishes it.

Sugar becomes the sexual obsession of William Rackham, a supremely selfish plutocrat who can’t imagine that he is being manipulated by a a mere woman. He thinks that Sugar anticipates his every need and is always willing to do anything he wants because she loves him with the perfect and sacrificial love his culture has taught him to expect from “truly feminine” women.

Sugar and Rackham are surrounded by a familiar cavalcade of Victorian characters that are nevertheless anything but “stock”: Rackham’s mad wife Agnes, a delicate, convent-raised dreamer whose romantic ignorance was shattered on her wedding night; a pious but somewhat sensible widow who attempts to “rescue” London’s prostitutes by placing them into nightmarish physical drudgery as scullery maids or factory workers; a tormented cleric who is horrified by his own unstoppable sexual fantasies — especially those which feature the woman he genuinely loves; venal servants, conniving socialites, cynical dilettantes, drunken slumlords…the whole breathing world of the 1870s — but portrayed with a depth of feeling and emotional realism Dickens and Trollope could never dare.

Victorians didn’t want to hear the truth that Faber so robustly reveals: that their own attitudes toward women and sex warped the human beings of their day, male and female, into even more grotesque shapes than they ordinarily take. But there is no preaching here, only an exquisite, heartbreaking sympathy, even for the confused and monstrous character of William Rackham.

If small bubbles of human hope and love rise only sluggishly to the dark surface of this novel, eventually there is some desperate — if perhaps misguided — heroism, a rocky sort of justice, and, in the end, even a glimmer of the half-forgotten glory of Eros.

HIGHLY recommended.


Maybe it’s because she’s cheating?

A few years after we overcame our sexual problems, my husband told me that from the moment we first started having trouble with each other, he was sure the reason I wasn’t interested in having sex with him was because I was having sex with someone else.

Read here about my reaction to this revelation and other thoughts and discussions having to do with Infidelity.


Are Online-Only Relationships “Cheating”?

In preparation for the upcoming migration of the “Infidelity” topic from the old Salon blog over here, I have republished  Fiona’s Story: A Tale of Online Love, which actually made its debut about 10 years ago on a now-defunct discussion board.

The story touches many of the issues we have been talking about already, like boredom and disgust with fat, but to my mind, re-reading it today, the most interesting questions to ask about it have to do with how people might view Fiona’s never-consummated, now-ended relationship on the continuum of “cheating.”

Personally I don’t think there’s any question that she “crossed a line,” in the infamous words of SC Governor Mark Sanford. The downright pornographic transcript of Fiona’s IM sex with her computer lover is proof enough of that. But Fiona, as shown by her answers to reader questions about her story, is essentially unrepentant and even claims that it might have helped her marriage. Is she fooling herself? Check it out.


The Attraction of the “Bad Boy”

One of my readers asked:

Thus, the eternal question: why do women go for jerks? Or another phrasing: why do women go for men who treat them like shit? For every woman who wants to be on a pedestal – note the intentional use of cliche – another wants to be under the heel. Good looking, bad looking, fat or thin, rich or poor – doesn’t matter, you can find a million women who want a man to tell them what to do.

That’s a VERY interesting question. To see how I answered, visit the Page: Do Women Prefer Bad Boys?


Boredom: A Biological Imperative?

Here’s an excerpt from my discussion of the all-too-common phenomenon of boredom:

The initial Power of Eros tends to be short-lived. You both have sexual energy and affection to burn in the beginning, so it’s easier to remain on your best behavior for a while. Things are very exciting while your infatuation is at its height, but familiarity and certainty soon take the sharp edge off the experience of relationship. This has nothing to do with character or intention or any kind of moral failing. It is simply a physiological fact of life: any repeated stimulus eventually evokes a reduced response. So there is no way in this world to sustain the energy and romance of a new relationship at its most thrilling pitch.

Everybody knows this, of course. Or perhaps I should say that everybody “knows” it. Because it is easy to pay lip service to this truth while not really  believing it, down at the center of our most emotional and irrational selves. We can (and very often do) intellectually acknowledge life’s limitations while still craving the impossible.

There may be actual biological reasons for our all-too-common loss of interest in long-term partners. As I discuss on the Page, nature wants us to spread our genes widely and recombine them with a variety of partners…and yes, this applies to women as well as men. So although women’s sexual desire can more easily be subsumed into things like infant care (which is part of the way she ensures her genes survive into the next generation), they can also be revived by a new man. (And yes, I will be talking about Infidelity soon.)

For more on this, and an introduction to what might be done about it, see the Page: Boredom.


In Which Henrion Asks For a Hug

“Henrion” wrote in email:

My wife has been sick the last two weeks with the flu, then a cold, so I have tried to give her some room. We had a nice day yesterday…painted the living room, went on a walk, had my mom over for dinner. Then, I was on my way up to bed and walked up to her (she was sitting in a chair, watching television) and said, “Can I have a hug?” She looked at me with what I would almost call disgust. You see, when I ask for something like this, she says I use a “whimper-y” voice, and it really turns her off. Of course, I think I’m asking in a normal, modulated voice. But why should this make a difference anyway? I am asking for something I want, and is it so hard to provide a hug?

I said this (among many other things):

One reason Mrs. Henrion might hear these requests as “whiny” or “childish” is because this is common manipulative strategy in children. They will ask for hugs in order to get attention when they feel their parents’ interest has strayed, or to reassure themselves of their parents’ continued love after an angry incident. For most kids it’s enough that their parent dredges up an outward expression on command, no matter how reluctant or perfunctory it might be. Just getting the parent’s compliance with their request is reassurance enough, because they know that they still matter enough to the parent to at least be able to make them go through the motions of love.

But putting up these kinds of performance hoops for our partners, adult to adult, is usually viewed (although not always consciously) as a childish demand for attention. That may be why Henrion’s wife always hears his requests as whiny or whimpery, no matter what actual tone of voice he’s using. What she hears is, “Stop what you’re doing and show me that you love me. Right. Now.”

Although Mrs. Henrion is couching her objections in terms of the tone of his voice, it’s probably because she cannot face or express the fact that it’s not the way that he asks, it’s the fact that he asks at all. Like a parent who is faced with a kid who constantly uses his vulnerability as emotional blackmail, she “hears” it in a way Henrion claims he doesn’t intend, but I don’t believe she is misunderstanding the basic dynamic.

Commenter “Harry” (who admitted in open forum to being “Henrion”) contended that although I might have a bit of a point  here and there, the way I expressed it to him was “indelicate.”

I shared this story with you in hopes that you could provide some constructive criticism, not castrate me and treat me like a child.

Find out how I responded to this charge in Are You Acting Like A Child?