Dirty little secret

My boyfriend and I have a great relationship and the sex is wonderful, but he loses his erection before he finishes.

Published September 24, 2002 7:16PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am currently in perhaps the healthiest and most wonderful relationship of my life. I am happy with my boyfriend, and we've been together many months now. We talk about everything, and he's the first person I've felt that I can be completely myself around. I'm completely in love. He's exactly the man I've looked for all my life.

Except for one thing.

Sexually, we're extremely compatible and active. We have the same kinks, and we're not shy about sharing them. The only problem is, he's not big into actual intercourse, because he has trouble finishing. He loses his erection during sex. In the beginning of our relationship, he explained that this was a peculiarity of his, that he often stresses out about finishing and that it makes him not able to. That his brain fills with all sorts of distractions. He said that he never has been able to finish inside a woman and that it shouldn't be any reflection on me. He has said that I've gotten him closer to that than any other woman he's been with -- but I'm not sure if he's just saying this to make me feel better, or if it's actually true. He makes up for it by being very competent in the areas of satisfying his partner.

It's not something I would break up with him over -- we have a great sex life together and are very creative about satisfying each other. But, it does concern me for the future -- and I have to admit, there is a selfish part of me that does want him to be able to orgasm while we're having intercourse. It feels like a "dirty little secret," something that I can't really talk to my friends about, because any time I've brought up something similar, they say it's weird or strange. I try not to attach stigma to it, since this has become more or less normal for me -- but I've generally had to change the whole way I look at sex. I sometimes miss that moment that a guy (of course, with all possible forms of protection in place) reaches that moment, and then pulls you into his arms, breathlessly. We girls always get kind of a thrill out of that moment. I've learned to reframe that thrill into the moment where a deftly applied hand job or blow job does the trick, but it's just not the same.

My best friend, who is the only one I've confided in about this, has said that I should just hang in there, be supportive of him, and if it really bothers me, ask him to talk to his therapist about it. I'm scared of pushing him away or creating more anxiety for him.

I'd like to think that there's something that can be done for him -- if nothing else, if he's "the one," I'd like us to be able to make babies the old-fashioned way. And I know he does, too. He's told me so.

(insert clever name here)

Dear Insert Clever Name Here,

Perhaps the reason he becomes so tense during intercourse is that he is overly concerned about being a competent and efficient love machine. You say that he is extremely conscientious and skilled and so forth; it's possible he's a sexual overachiever, to whom the desired result you describe may represent a kind of failure. He may also have had some unsatisfying or traumatic experiences of rejection early on that he never wishes to repeat, and so he has resolved to be an excellent lover in all these other ways but has sacrificed the opportunity to let go, to surrender, at this crucial moment. He may also have some deep fear of making you pregnant.

Or it could be a thousand other things that you and I can't even imagine, things only doctors and therapists know about. There's probably a Latin name for it.

You and he have been together only a few months, you say. He may not feel safe yet; he may still fear that if he isn't the 60-minute man, that if he doesn't provide the deluxe all-purpose detail and finish job, that you won't stick around. If it is indeed an issue of trust, or fear of abandonment, if you stick together a while longer he may get comfortable enough with you for this to happen.

The sad thing is, when he becomes comfortable, he may get lazy, and then you'll be writing to me saying the sex used to be fantastic and now it's getting boring.

Meanwhile, if it's really weighing on you, I would suggest that you first learn as much as possible about the issue from outside sources -- books, scholarly articles, etc. But if you absolutely feel you must discuss it with him, I would start by asking him to talk about it with his therapist, and ask him what he or she says.

You know, it sounds like everything is just great between you two, and it would be a shame to get all twisted up about this. So go easy on it.

Dear Cary,

I'm a 34-year-old never-married male, living and working in a Midwestern college town. I earn a decent living in IT administration and have settled into a comfortable routine, taking the occasional vacation to break the monotony. My problem: I can't seem to meet any single women my age.

There are literally thousands of gorgeous nubile undergraduates about, but in general I find them to be vacuous, naive, selfish, arrogant, or all of the above. Also, they tend to see me as a dirty old man. (I take exception to the "old" bit.) Women my own age are nearly universally married, engaged, or living-with.

Part of the problem is the transient nature of the town; people come here to go to school, they associate primarily with people they meet in class, and then leave when they've got their degree. At work, I've watched the most attractive women in the building marry their longtime sweethearts; these people seem to have the most perfect blissful relationships, there's not a single crappy one I can even try to bust up. (Ordinarily I wouldn't consider this an option, but hey, I'm getting pretty bored.)

I've tried the bar scene, but they come in two categories: massive sports bars crammed with binge-drinking undergraduates, or smaller, pub-style places where grad students huddle around a table and discuss their classes and professors and don't talk to anyone else except their waitperson. I'm not much of a joiner, but I took a yoga class last year hoping to meet some women. It worked: I met married ones.

Married women adore me; they generally think I'm good-looking, stable, smart and funny; and they frequently try to set me up with their single friends. This always goes disastrously; either I don't like them or they don't like me, right off the bat. Personal ads are just depressing. I think personal chemistry is paramount, so these blind situations have never ever worked for me.

"Sex and the City" seems like a dream world to me, where attractive 30-somethings are actually single and looking. But perhaps that's my answer: I need to hit the big city. Chicago is just a few hours away, but I've done the long-distance thing before, and it was only frustration and pain.

Spinning My Wheels

Dear Spinning,

When a man can't find any eligible women in his village, he leaves his village on a quest. He goes to Chicago, the windy city of broad shoulders and blues and graduate students in economics. You should move to Chicago. That's probably where all the women went after they graduated, anyway. They're waiting for you at the train station, all in a row, with their pretty hatboxes and their stockings with those seams that run up behind the knee and their espadrilles and lipstick and lifetime earnings expectations.

Stop being so damn comfortable. No wonder your married women friends like you. You're so settled, you probably remind them of a husband, safe and harmless. But no single woman wants a man who has already settled into a routine. Routines are for after you are captured. You must be a man on a quest. You must have a purpose in life. Make your purpose in life to move to Chicago and find a wife.

That should keep you entertained for years to come. And it will be a good story to tell. When you meet a woman in Chicago and she asks you, as she will, what brings you to Chicago, you can tell her, "I've come to Chicago in search of a wife."

That should make life very entertaining indeed.

Dear Cary,

I'm 25. Two weeks before my 20th birthday I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; it got progressively more annoying, and I've spent most of my out-of-the-house time in a wheelchair for the last three years. This was damn hard to deal with, I'll admit, lots of time in the counseling office at college, but I'm actually doing better than I would have expected even without the extra added bullshit of a major illness. I have a job I like, a fantastic boyfriend, decent apartment, cute cat.

My only problem, and this might sound really petty, is that people in wheelchairs aren't sexy. Now, I've never thought of myself as sexy or even particularly attractive, but there's something kind of nice about thinking that someone somewhere sees you on the street and thinks you're cute. And I know the boyfriend thinks I'm attractive, tells me all the time, far more compliments than I'm comfortable with, so I shouldn't be complaining in the first place. But when I'm in my chair, wheeling my ass around NYC, I can't help but feel completely asexual, and that's not a good thing to feel. I'm young and thin and I've been told reasonably attractive and funny and such, but I feel like I don't exist.

So, I dunno. Any thoughts? If you have any brilliant ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Nothing Cute to Sign Off With

Dear Nothing Cute,

What is this sexiness that you don't feel as you're wheeling your ass around New York? Is it a feeling you used to get because of how men looked at you, that told you they desire you, and thus that you exist? To live in someone else's mind as something he wishes to possess, or as a symbol of something he wishes to possess, is indeed a kind of existence, but it is existence that depends on the watcher, the follower, the gazer. It is also a kind of power over them, though limited and dependent, because of the value they place on what they see and desire, because of what they might give you in order to possess you, to experience your sexiness directly.

But the power and dependency of being seen and desired is not the only kind of power. There is some other power and sense of existence that does not depend on any other people, but it must be found inside.

I would say that it is possible for someone to exist even though people confer no value on her, but it requires one to turn inward long enough to cultivate an enduring love of self. You must cultivate a tender sense of awe about yourself, so that in your own presence you beam the way a satisfied wife beams in the presence of her husband. Then you have displaced that empty dependency on the kindness of strangers with a limitless source of amusement and pleasure that is yours and yours alone.

And then, because you seem so complete, because there is a kind of invisible fire in you, then people cannot help but notice it and find it sexy.

Now, I know that's abstract, so as a practical matter I would also urge you, while you are busy cultivating this inner fire, to join an organization of other people who use wheelchairs. I think that would help you very much. You may not wish to do it. You may wish to accentuate the differences rather than the similarities. But I think you will find it helpful.

Dear Cary,

I met this man four years ago, when I first moved to a new town and was looking for a place to live. We were good friends for a while, then we slept together. Two days later we go out for a drink and he says that he doesn't want to be with me, doesn't want to marry me, doesn't want to have babies with me.

I'd never thought about that, but I said OK and then we went back to being friends. This pattern continued for about a year, with a hiccup when he met somebody else (which didn't amount to anything): We'd get together, then he'd panic and dump me. After that we got closer -- I really loved him -- and eventually I moved into his place, a room in a shared house. This was a disaster, no room for my stuff, no privacy, lots of mess. We fought all the time.

After getting some counseling I pulled myself together and got another job. Then, I went to London for a couple of days and he goes out in my absence, takes Ecstasy and gets off with a work colleague. I found out about this soon afterward and he starts to stay out all night at her place, leaving me in our room, in bed, alone. So, distraught, I moved out to some friends for a while and tried to concentrate on my new job and getting a place to live.

He came over to help me paint my new room and we ended up back in bed. So this goes into a year of him going to and fro between me and the other woman and me ending up distraught, a total mess, having panic attacks, unable to drive my car. She generally takes precedence over me in his affections and time, but each time I try to cut him off, he hounds me with e-mail and phone messages until we're back together. He says that he has little in common with her and prefers my company, but praises her matching underwear, social connections and thinner body. I met a couple of other people during this time, but nothing ever happened, as I was too wrapped up in this man.

I slept with a work colleague on a couple of occasions, but it was a mistake. I told him about this and he went ballistic and very jealous, even though he's mostly with her. Then she moves back home (she is from Europe). I'm really happy about this and he says that it's over be between them, but she continues to write (I read some of the letters lying around his room, which was a bad mistake), visit and phone. Each time she visits, or he visits her, I'm totally devastated as he drops me like a stone, but then afterward he makes a big effort to win me back.

Then, earlier this year he hangs around for a bit, unsure about the future. I spend ages being supportive of him and trying to encourage him to do what he really wants to do -- he hated his last job anyway and wanted to change careers. He even asks me to buy a house with him -- as a business venture -- but I decline as I know he's still seeing the other woman. So he decides that he wants to travel and goes away to Africa for a month. Then he comes back and we go on holiday together. She finds out about this -- we have some mutual friends -- and according to his story dumps him. So then he moves back home to Scotland and we have three or four months of living apart, spending as much time together as possible visiting or going away together, getting on really well. Then, as is his dream, he decides to go and travel the world by himself, not at any point asking me to go (I don't have the money to give up my job and travel anyway). In the meantime, my mum has offered to help me buy a house, so I've just bought my own place with a great deal of help from my parents.

So we've been e-mailing each other (he's in the Far East) most days and talking and keeping in touch. He says that he misses me all the time and wishes I were there. This is tearing me up, as I love him, but I don't trust him at all. I think it's only a matter of time before he meets somebody else, though he claims to be only thinking of a future with me and that he's changed. He's going to New Zealand and wants to live there, perhaps permanently. I'm trying to sort my house out, working away, trying to pay off my considerable debts from postgraduate study, trying to work out want I want to do next. I haven't been totally honest in my relationship with him either. I've seen (and slept with) a few other people this year -- four to be exact. My ex is an extremely jealous and possessive person and would be devastated if he knew of my infidelities to him. He comes from an extremely messed-up family background (alcohol, divorce, infidelity, child abuse) and I think this explains, though does not excuse, some of his behavior.

He's also the first person I've met who I click with totally: We get each other's jokes, have the same interests, love to do things together, and we have house-shakingly great sex. We also fight and disagree all the time, but that adds to the attraction. But last week, after a great deal of heart searching, I decided that I should stop having any contact with him and e-mailed to tell him so. I'm 31 and I'd like to meet somebody to settle down with and have babies. I'm sick of all the mess and the hurt that I've been through in the last four years. I don't want to go to New Zealand to live, I'm happy here. But (and most of your letters seem to be about the "buts" in life) I miss him terribly already. I feel empty, but I feel free. Should I be practical and rational and tough and stick this out and hope to meet somebody else who's more, erm, functional? Should I e-mail him and demand that he come home? Should I just e-mail him, so we can be friends and see what happens? Should I be honest with him? I'm scared that I'll never meet anybody else that I have the same feelings about, but I'm also scared that he's the wrong person and that if we stay together, I'll be unhappy.

Bereft in England

Dear Bereft,

What kind of unhappiness do you prefer? Do you prefer the kind of unhappiness that makes you scream with rage and break windows, or the kind of unhappiness that makes you wander the moors, bleakly wondering if you are alive or dead? The unhappiness of rage leaves no doubt as to your existence but often brings harm to others. The unhappiness of melancholy, or depression, on the other hand, is a kind of emotional suicide, an abnegation of desire, a turning away.

Choosing your brand of unhappiness is a way of beginning to think about happiness. The happiness that is the opposite of rage is ebullience. The happiness that is the opposite of melancholy is serenity. Which appeals to you? You could swing between both. In fact you probably are doing that already. Perhaps what has occasioned this letter is that the rage has tired you out and now you are ready for depression. I would guess that ebullience would appeal to you, and that therefore it is probably what you most despise, and why you would never marry a soccer player.

Does this make any sense? Are you beginning to see that you are at war with yourself?

Being at war with yourself, you must know your enemy. I think that the enemy in your case is the woman who is tired of the excitement and would like nothing more than to sit calmly and drink a cup of tea with her mum. That is such a boring and uninspired thing to do that somewhere in your battle manual you have instructions to destroy that boring and uninspired person, because she is not desirable to the kind of man who is writing you letters from New Zealand. So you have been systematically destroying that woman, in order to keep him happy.

Of course, the obvious truth is that if you win the war against yourself, you die and are thus disqualified. So you and the boring woman you hate have to find a way to peacefully coexist. She does not like this guy who keeps betraying her. You, of course, betray her as well when you accept his betrayal, but she accepts that from you, because you are her twin against which a war cannot be won without death.

The more I talk about you, the more you begin to sound like Sylvia Plath. But she would know what to do. She would go write some poetry and then kill herself again.

So please, don't kill yourself. Just accept the fact that you have had enough excitement for one lifetime and that it's time for you to settle down with your mum and drink a cup of tea.

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Love And Sex Sex Since You Asked