Dear Clay,

I have a problem I’m hesitant to talk about but I prefer to seek out a solution rather than let it fester. I have just started dating an incredible woman. She is a bit older than me and much more experienced than I in terms of relationships – and in bed. She’s also, ah, pretty domineering.

Here’s the problem: it’s happened a few times now that she’s gotten worked up in bed and things have quickly escalated to what I think is a little less than consensual. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve never been with a more beautiful and sensuous woman. But, at the same time, in her enthusiasm I have been left with painful bruises (which I wasn’t so keen on showing up to work with), and she’s done some things that I haven’t known in the moment how to feel about, but later don’t think I was entirely into. In her defence, I haven’t said anything. Sometimes she asks me after the fact if it was all right. Generally, it was more than just all right and probably good for me to experience new things so I say yes, of course.

She’s a highly intelligent and caring person, so why am I starting to feel a bit resentful towards something that she probably has the best of intentions about? Is this me being too frigid and sexually inexperienced? Do I simply need to loosen up? Or is there something to this feeling I get — like that I’m not being considered? Possibly worst of all, I’ve tried bringing this up with a few fellow guy friends and they’ve immediately laughed it off, joking that they “wished” they had my problem. I’m not so sure.

Do I just go along with it and wait for it to get better? Or do I bring it up? What do I say? I don’t want her to feel badly about me retroactively complaining about what was otherwise amazing sex. I feel like I must be out of my mind, or maybe not sexual enough for her. A little help would be appreciated.



Dear M,

I teared up a little in frustration reading your letter. You mentioning bruises that you weren’t happy about, were you living as a female and dating a man, would probably illicit blind rage in your friends and family along with urges to take one action or another, such as leaving the insensitive bastard. But your tone speaks so loudly of the messages you’ve received all your life: enjoy it, take it “like a man,” and jeez, a WOMAN was able to hurt you?

So let’s pretend we can invent a parallel universe where a few things have shifted. One is that we’ve stopped this nonsense of dichotomizing men and woman’s bodies and sexualities. (Man: strong. Woman: weak. Man: insatiable and indiscriminate. Yeah, whatever. That’s so last universe.) Now your guy buddies would seem half mad for having laughed off your issue. Instead, they would have been in touch with their sexual boundaries which are unique to them, and it’s pretty hard to hear that a friend has had theirs overstepped — even by a gorgeous woman. In this universe, just about everyone asks for consent, checks in frequently with their partners, and is generally better communicators because we don’t have as many gendered assumptions to lean on. And we acknowledge that women, too, can be (gasp) more than capable of causing physical pain and harm to men’s bodies. In this universe, there is no question about it: your partner has been terribly inconsiderate.

I can sympathize with your worry that you’ll upset her by retroactively bringing things up — like, why didn’t you SAY something? But it’s her fault that you have to say something after the fact. We earthlings (mostly) experience time as linear. That being said, consent is a thing that has to be established before the darn act. Only checking in after makes about as much sense as a hospital that will admit you with no questions asked, do whatever it pleases, and then have the audacity to ask, “All better?” (“Yep. The morphine drip from whatever limb you removed is doing wonders for my migraine. Thanks bunches!”)

I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt here as you’ve described your partner as smart and caring. She probably has no clue of how things have been on your end (which is her fault) but if she is the caring person you describe her to be, she will want to change her ways to make you feel better looked out for in bed. She needs your feedback in order to be confronted with this opportunity to become a better lover and better person. Not only that, but she will get to know you and your uniqueness better. Do I think you’re simply not sexual enough for her? It’s possible that you don’t have the same sex drive that she does, but you won’t know if that is actually an issue until you two synch up your wants and needs so that you’re getting the care you deserve.

Whether this is in a letter to her or over tea, you can start with expressing your appreciation of her experience, enthusiasm and passion and mentioning the things you have really enjoyed in bed. Admit to your discomfort in saying anything previously — that’s honest, makes this about your feelings rather than what she’s done wrong, and it gives her some feedback that she might not have been as easy to communicate with as she imagines she is. Keep the focus on what it is that you need in bed, which in this case sounds like a whole lot more gentleness and asking first. You can make a “sandwich” of your critique if you wish, by ending off again on a positive note — that you look forward to future awesome sexual adventures with her. That’s half the battle.

The other half is her being able to hear what you are saying and what she concludes. I sincerely hope that she decides to touch up on her consent skills as a result of your talk and that you two seal the deal with some incredible, consensual fun. If she’s not receptive to the idea that, yeah, you, too have boundaries which in no way make you frigid but make you human, then know that there are lots of women out there who don’t need to erase their partner’s boundaries in order to make things sexy for themselves. Best of luck.

In solidarity towards a consent-driven universe,