Ask Professor Foxy: How Do My Partner and I Compromise on Safe Sex?

This week-end column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.

Dear Prof. Foxy

I’m a lesbian and have been with my girlfriend for about four months. I was a virgin when we met (one of those mythical 25 y.o. virgins) and she had previously had a very small number of partners. We’re both clean and monogamous. Per her insistence, we always practice safe sex. Gloves. No oral. Her reasoning behind this is that she is saving skin contact for her wife. At one point, in a particularly apologetic mood, she said that she thinks the gloves are about her paranoia. I don’t think her reasons are either/or but a both/and.

I want to respect her. I don’t want her to feel bad about her standards or compromise herself. But I definitely want something different. I waited so long to have sex, not that I’m ashamed or regretful about that, and now I’m in a sexual relationship that is inhibited (maybe unnecessarily). When we have sex, she has no problem coming to orgasm. I have only orgasmed once while with her. Sex is not about the orgasm, being intimate together is fantastic. And I want to be with her without a barrier, latex or otherwise. I want to try oral sex and she knows it. She’s talked about trying other things to find something that I really enjoy (toys, light bondage) and has been willing to get dental dams to go down on me but has maintained that in her experience, safe oral is highly unsatisfying. I trust her, so I’m game for just about anything, but I can’t help but feel that we wouldn’t have to go to crazy with the accouterment if we could just touch each other.

All this being said, I’m a little frustrated. I don’t want to be a nag. But right now, our sex is vanilla. I think it could be so much better. Should I keep pushing the issue (tactfully)? Should I wait until our sex life naturally progresses into something more? Or maybe I should just accept that this is where my girlfriend and I are at and find ways to enjoy it? Perhaps there are other options here that I haven’t considered. Any advice you could give would be wonderful.

-Blue

Dear Blue,

I think that you are right that her reasons are a both/and. Paranoia has two parts: actual and mental. You two can go get tested for STDs together, find out that neither of you have any STDs, and she could still feel uncomfortable. In addition, she wants to wait until she meets her wife to have skin-to-skin contact. You are clearly very frustrated with this situation.

You two need to have an in-depth conversation about this issue. Ask her to come to the conversation after having spent some time thinking through her reasons for not wanting skin-to-skin contact. You should spend time determining how important skin-to-skin contact is for you. Have the conversation and really listen to each other, don’t argue about how you feel or try to change the other person’s mind. After the conversation, take some time to think about what she said and about what your needs are.

At this point, you have a sexual and intimate desire that she is not willing to meet. Your need for skin-to-skin intimacy is real, but it feels like it is a proxy for you two not being as intimate in general as you would like. You need to think about what you need and what intimacy looks like to you.

Is there a compromise place? Can you take steps towards skin-to-skin contact? Do you actually think it will progress into something more? What if change does not seem possible? What do you need?

Think through these things and have a final (or more final) conversation about the issue. If compromise is possible, work on figuring out that compromise. If a general timeline is possible, work on that (for example, after we’ve been dating X months I would stop using gloves). If none of that is possible, work on how you feel about this, do you want to stay in this relationship? If you decide to stay, you two have to agree on or at least not constantly revisit what sex and intimacy look like. Relationships are about compromise, but compromise you can live with. You two need to find that compromise or start thinking about whether or not you can meet each others’ needs.

Best,

Professor Foxy

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11 Comments

  1. Posted August 15, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    To me, it seems like these very strict boundaries, both literally and psychologically, go well beyond just a physical act. To me, they sound quite a lot like a fear of intimacy. She may be saving skin-to-skin contact for a wife, and pardon me for saying this, but that might also be a smokescreen.

    As for why that this is, it seems likely only she understands; it seems like there’s also a secrecy present that complicates matters for you. I once had a partner who was incredibly secretive about these sorts of things, and for a person like me who is very open, I found it difficult to understand her rationale.

  2. Posted August 15, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    This seems relevant to me.
    I had a friend who waited for marriage. Her husband had intimacy issues before they got married, and rather than improve, they got worse. She really really wished that she hadn’t waited till marriage to find out that things weren’t going to get better.

    Personally if you’ve both been tested and you’re both clean, then the gloves and dental dams aren’t safe sex anymore, just paranoia. From the sound of it you’re sex life isn’t quite vanilla. It seems more like fat free sugar free imitation vanilla. If you’re looking for a voice to say “You’re not unreasonable for wanting more.” I’ll back you up on that. Also, with good communication there are tons of relationships that you can make work. You don’t need to be locked into this one.
    Good luck.

    • Posted August 15, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      I’m going to play devil’s advocate here – several of my friends have been in (ostensibly or legitimately) monogamous relationships and ended up getting STDs, a couple of them incurable (herpes and HPV). Sometimes they were being cheated on, and sometimes their partners just weren’t aware that they had the STD in the first place, since they are often asymptomatic in men.
      After hearing of this happening to so many of the women I know, I know I will not feel comfortable without barrier methods for a long, LONG time into any potential future relationship. I can understand how the OP is frustrated, but four months really isn’t a huge amount of time to be in a relationship, and the trust may just not be there yet. Monogamy is unfortunately often lied about, and it can be hard to take people at their word. I honestly can’t blame the OP’s partner for not wanting to compromise her sexual health. I would do the same thing, and anyone who tried to make me feel guilty or bad about it would be out of my bed so fast they wouldn’t know what hit them.
      (I’m not saying that the OP is cheating or lying or being manipulative at all – it sounds like she’s been pretty understanding so far – but wanted to give a perspective from someone on the other side of the story.)

      • Posted August 16, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

        I respect your advocacy on this matter.
        Upon reading it again, it looks like I missed the point that the skin on skin contact is about intimacy and not STDs. I do respect being cautious and I personally do tend to be very cautious. I think that at a point in which you’ve both been tested, and you’re deeply involved with one another, I’d hope you could trust the other person. I think that I really just object to it when it comes to “waiting for marriage” since that seems like asking someone to commit to something without knowing what all they’re getting involved in.

  3. Posted August 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I completely understand the desire to save skin-on-skin contact for someone special. Your partner is entitled to this if that’s what she wants from the person she’s with.

    That being said, I am a little taken aback that she’s so ready to write off oral sex with a dental dam based on a few past unsatisfying experiences. Seriously, if I stopped doing sexual things that weren’t spectacular the first time I tried it, I’d be celibate right now. Like anything, practice makes perfect. If she continues to balk at oral sex with a dental dam, I would be that there is something more going on, like fear or dislike of vulva or whatever germs (or whatever) she perceive live there.

    Maybe a compromise could be mutual masterbation where you touch yourself without any latex.

    Your partner is entitled to the sex life she wants. But so are you. Compromise if that’s possible, and if she’s unwilling to meet your sexual needs, it might be best to find another partner.

  4. Posted August 15, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    One of my friends is struggling about whether or not she should have sex with her boyfriend. She comes from a conservative family so certain things are for your husband and other things are not.

    To me, there are more important things that you do with your partner that are the basis for your relationship—trust, shared interests, philosophy of money, etc. People put so much importance on what body part is touching what body part–I feel that they are basing their Very Important Relationships around the wrong things.

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      It is fine if sex is not one of the more important things for you in a relationship; it is important to some people and it obviously matters, to a degree, to the OP, so I think that telling her there are more important things and implying she may be basing her relationship around “the wrong things” is not very helpful and is somewhat dismissive of her frustrations and feelings.

  5. Posted August 15, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    I can understand the frustration with having such restrictive boundaries as always using gloves and never having oral sex, [try a dental dam already!] and sure, the girlfriend in question does sound a little paranoid, but I just wanted to point out that HPV for example, won’t show up on an STD check, and is easily passed through touching, so she’s not being entirely irrational by insisting on no skin on skin contact, if her sexual health is her first priority.

    On the other hand, I’d be more concerned that my girlfriend was limiting OUR sex life because she wants to preserve something for some potential lover who doesn’t even exist yet but is going to be her wife?! That would not go down well with me [ahem]. But then, she is being straight up about what she wants and why, and it’s up to you to decide whether you accept it or not. If you can work out a compromise, well and good, but really I think you need to accept her decision about her sexual health and respect it.

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      Yeah… find out if she’s considered the possibility that you might wind up being her wife. Might be the phrasing, but it sounds like she’s basically decided you are not someone she intends to ever marry.

      I waited until I felt confident that the guy I was with was someone I could be with the rest of my life, so I don’t blame her for that. But I also usually had a pretty good idea if the relationships were going anywhere or not by four months– at least enough to know if it was fun dating or serious dating. Might be good to try to pin down where you stand.

    • Posted August 16, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      If STIs are her main concern, though, I’m not sure why she keeps emphasizing saving skin-to-skin contact for her wife. Marriage doesn’t magically rid you of STIs, so unless she’s only open to marrying someone who has never had any sexual contact at all with another person or intends to have every single test done beforehand (since there is a HPV test, though from what I understand doctors mostly perform them on women in their thirties), that doesn’t really make sense to me. If it’s for sentimental reasons, that’s different, and I would agree with your point about being bothered by your partner focusing on a theoretical future lover over me.

      • Posted August 17, 2010 at 1:29 am | Permalink

        Bingo! I agree that the STD concern–while valid and important!–is also a symptom of a larger relational issue: i.e., she just isn’t that into you.

        And that’s fine. [Note for clarity: this is addressed to letter writer, not previous commentator]

        She is in essence saving herself for The One (which is her right), and she has had the honesty and integrity to tell you this upfront. You haven’t written that she’s made intimacy conditional on anything you do (“Take out the trash or no num-nums for you!!”), so I’m going to guess that she’s not, er, dicking you around. So, it all seems fairly straightforward and healthy.

        It does sound, however, that you two aren’t that sexually compatible: there are things you want to explore, and she’d rather sit in the car and check her text messages. Also, she, the experienced one, isn’t bringing you to orgasm on a regular basis? Has she shown any concern about this? Have you brought this up with her? In my world (and that’s all it is, my observations and personal experience), ye olde “the important part is the cuddling afterwards” remark means “my lover is a wonderful person, but in the sack? Not so much.”

        Look, it doesn’t sound like you are going to divorce her from the dental dam. It also doesn’t sound like the relationship is going to evolve into a magical stage where she’s suddenly and joyously going down on you (unless she decides you’re “The One,” but in my experience, withholding anything, be it love, sex or commitment, for the benefit of someone who does not exist is plain ol’ avoidance tactics, nicely disguised as romance. But again, that’s just me.)

        I’m not going to go all Dan Savage on you and say, “DTMFA!,” but do be aware that compromises which involve you doing all the compromising are not, you know, actual compromises. The Prof is right: you need to sit down with your lover and make it explicitly clear what you need from her. Explicitly state possible solutions which involve compromise on her part. Listen carefully (no-whatever-the-correct-term-for-the-aural-version-of-love-goggles is) and respectfully, but stand your ground.

        You have needs. Your needs are important. If your lover cannot meet these needs (and she is in no way obligated to do so), then you do need to move on.

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