I was masturbating in my office to kinky Internet porn when another mom walked in

I live in a small, conservative town. I'm petrified about what she may have seen!

Published July 22, 2008 10:10AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm 40-ish, happily married, with several teenage kids. I run a business in a conservative small town. And I'm so ashamed I want to die.

All of our kids went to summer camp last week. This was the first time in years that this has happened, and the feeling was extremely heady for me and my husband.

The business I run out of our home is handled 97 percent through phone, fax and e-mail. Very rarely do we have customers stop by; in fact, often weeks go by before we deal with a customer in person. So on this particular day, with the kids safely hustled off to camp, and my husband off to his real job, I chose to watch some Internet porn in the office.

This isn't something I do every day, or even every week. My husband knows (in fact, he pays for the subscription to the site I like).

My submissive nature is not a recently discovered thing for me, but it's something that I only recently shared with my husband, even though I know I've always been this way and even though we'd been married nearly 20 years before I said anything. He was, fortunately, intrigued, and luckily we've bonded even more deeply than we had before after I shared this information with him. I have no complaints at all there.

But now for the bad part.

As for many kinky people my age living a vanilla life, the Internet has been like a shot of heroin. I finally found out that there are actually people like me. That said, I don't feel like I'm addicted to the porn, but let's just say I pay rather rapt attention (with both hands) when I do choose to watch four or five times a month. During a lull one afternoon at the office, I got rather occupied, shall we say, when a good friend of mine knocked on the office door and then opened it without waiting for my response.

Since my back was to the door, and my desk is a long way into the room, I have no idea what she saw (or didn't see). Our dog was right by the door and started to growl while I sang out "just a minute" (frantically trying to zip back up).

My friend closed the door and I put the dog out before inviting her in (I was beet red of course) and used the dog as an excuse. She seemed nervous; I was nervous. I had, and have, no idea what she saw, didn't see, whatever. She may have seen nothing. She may have seen everything.

This woman has a child in the same grade as mine, and I've known her for many years. For crying out loud, we were den mothers together of all things! I thought maybe I should have tried a joke, like, "Well, there are disadvantages to having a home office!" or something like that.

Instead, we made strained small talk for 15 minutes, and when the phone rang she made a very hasty exit. I e-mailed her later that day with a detail about something our kids were doing and got a polite, normal e-mail back, but that still doesn't solve my problem.

My problem is now that I am so deeply ashamed over this that it's affecting my sex life. I was not raised to be ashamed of masturbation and I have no religious hang-ups that I know of, and frankly, I'm not that worried about what my friend might say. Something this, um, personal doesn't really lend itself to juicy rumor.

The real problem is me. Even though I've tried to reason with myself and I know I wasn't hurting anyone, I still feel like a terrible person now, as if I'd really done something to hurt someone. Although I like and admire my friend, and have invested a lot of time getting to know her, she isn't such a part of my life that if she couldn't meet my eye from now on and I lost her over this I'd feel utterly bereft.

And you could argue that she should've knocked and waited, rather than barging in.

But the shame and guilt are so deep that I'm having trouble enjoying myself in bed with my husband. I did tell him, by the way, and he doesn't think it's that big of a deal. But he sees how upset I am over this and wonders what I'm going to do.

Since you're so good at chunking down complicated emotional stuff into digestible tasks, I was hoping you might be able to help me with this. I don't know what would make me feel better -- to bring it up, jokingly, with my friend (who I'm afraid won't be able to look me in the eye now) or to just trust time to take care of this. I realize that if someone's going to live 80-plus years, there are going to be embarrassments -- but this one has been incapacitating.

I really can't overemphasize how much this has taken over my thoughts since it happened -- even though I've really tried not to think about it. I feel like the shame is poisoning me and I don't know how to deal with it.


Dear Whacked,

In a controlled environment you were indulging your desire to lose control. Then a boundary of your controlled environment was breached, leaving your desire for submission exposed. You now feel a powerful mix of shame and fear, and you have recurring thoughts about this, and you find it hard to enjoy sex with your husband.

The best way to get over this, in the near term, is to talk it through with a smart and neutral person in a controlled environment for a specified number of minutes. Smart and neutral people can be hired for this purpose. They are often called therapists. Sometimes they are called rabbis, or sponsors, or mentors, or priests, and sometimes they work for free, though if they work for free, you may not have the same leverage and control. The important thing is that the person be neutral and smart, and that you have some kind of agreement about how the session is to go, so that you can take the time to reestablish your feeling of safety within boundaries. As you talk, you will probably come to see that the tangible, outward dangers are slight, while your personal drives and needs have surprising power.

Funny I stressed the controlled environment of a therapist's office, because control over the environment is the issue here. Control over environment can translate into bodily boundaries; it can be a metaphor for our personal space. So we can relax and explore our more dangerous and vulnerable sides when the environment is controlled. Since this is an issue of control, I do not think it wise to mention it to your friend; while you may feel uneasy not knowing what she saw or did not see, mentioning it to her would open up a whole new area over which you would have no control. So unless she mentions it to you, I would suggest that you confine your discussions of it to your husband and whomever else you have chosen to confide in.

Submission is about power. Power flows from dominant to submissive and from submissive to dominant. The submissive is not powerless; she has a choice; she controls her choice to give up her power. This requires a fairly delicate balance; such a breach as you experienced can be accidental, as in the workings of fate and the gods' light comedy of eros, or it can be deliberate, as in crime and the conscious exercise of evil. Either way, it can disrupt the exquisite psychic balance of control and submission. And it can stimulate memories of other such events -- sometimes traumatic ones that we had not thought of in quite some time.

So it may take you a while to regain the ability to lose control. On the other hand, you may find that by frankly discussing your desire for submission you break through to a new realization. That would be exciting! But it's hard to tell what will happen. I do think if you start working through it with someone you will come to know yourself better, and after some adjustment you may find even deeper ways to work with the power dynamic between you and your husband, deeper and more secure ways to explore your need for submission in a chamber that is safe and secure.

Just be sure to lock the door and close the curtains. And maybe hang a "Closed" sign at the entrance to your business.

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