Dear Prudence

Hands-Off Relationship

My husband had sex with me while I was in a drunken state. Should I divorce him?

Emily Yoffe.

Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband is kind, supportive, funny, generous, smart, and loving. However, I feel like I must divorce him. Six years ago, when we were in our early 20s and had just fallen in love, after a night of partying and drinking, he woke me up in the middle of the night and started to have sex with me. I was dozing and still drunk and, yes, I took my panties off myself. But when I realized that it was not OK for him to make advances on me in my state, I pushed him away and ran out. He later felt so bad he wanted to turn himself in for rape. I was very confused and thought at times that I was overreacting and at others that I was raped. We painfully worked through this, but the incident made my husband very reluctant about having sex. This led to an agreement that he shouldn’t be afraid of coming close to me in similar situations as long as he asked my consent. This made us feel better and I felt secure again. However, we just found ourselves in a very similar situation. After coming back from a friend’s wine tasting we went to bed and he started to kiss me. I liked it and went along, only to wake up in the morning and remember only half of it. Now I am in the same painful spot I was before and I can’t fathom how he could have ignored our agreement. Should I just drop it or am I right about feeling abused?


Dear Confused,
I understand the need for colleges to have unambiguous codes of sexual conduct for their young, horny, possibly plastered students. These often require getting explicit permission for every escalating advance. However, if two adults are in love and have frequently made love then each can assume implicit consent to throw such legalistic caution—as well as panties—to the wind. Certainly spouses are entitled to say, “Not tonight” or “Not there,” and have such a request respected. But even a married couple who have had sex hundreds of times can enjoy that alcohol might ignite a delightful, spontaneous encounter. Your approach, however, seems to be to treat your sex life as if it is subject to regulatory review by the Department of Health and Human Services. Your prim, punctilious, punitive style has me admiring your put-upon husband’s ability to even get it up, given the possibility he’ll be accused of rape—or turn himself in for it!—if one of you fails a breathalyzer test. Living in terror that expressing one’s perfectly normal sexual desire could end one’s marriage, and freedom, is itself a form of abuse. Stop acting like a parody of a gender-studies course catalog and start acting like a loving wife. If you can’t, then give the poor sap a divorce.


Dear Prudence: Sexy Version of “Rear Window”

Dear Prudence,
My wife is the manager at an outdoor public swimming pool. She oversees 25 lifeguards who are between 18 and 22 years old. As you can imagine, these kids are very physically fit and wear bathing suits all day. Recently there has been a male patron at the pool who the female lifeguards believe is taking pictures of them, especially when they are climbing up or down from the lifeguard chair ladders. My wife is angry and wants to confront the man, make him show her his camera, and kick him out of the pool depending on what she finds on it. We’ve both seen legal opinions stating there is no expectation of privacy when you’re in public, but this seems like harassment of people trying to do their job. What should my wife do?


Dear Snapped,
I spoke to attorney Carolyn E. Wright, who specializes in photography law, and she agreed that this patron sounds like a creep, but the issue is not his camera but his demeanor. She says that in general it is not a crime to photograph people in public, even if the photographer finds the pictures arousing. There are certain exceptions: The federal Video Voyerism Prevention Act makes it illegal to record people’s private parts without their permission in situations where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, even while in public—thus outlawing “upskirt and downblouse” photography. But if someone’s work outfit is a bikini, then she has to accept she might be photographed in it. What’s wrong here is not that this patron has a photography hobby, but that he’s harassing females at the pool. This would be the case even if he had no camera (or if someone threw it in the drink) and instead simply planted himself by the lifeguard chair, leering at the view. Surely there must be something in the pool rules (“No splashing. No running. No staring at the crotches of the lifeguards.”) that your wife could use to get him tossed out. She does not have to confiscate his camera. She should simply watch this guy, and the next time he snaps she should pull him aside for a talk. She can explain his behavior is all wet, and if he doesn’t stop, his pool privileges will be revoked.


Dear Prudence,
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was caught early and I only required one relatively minor surgical procedure and a course of radiation. I am a private person, and if I did not have to change my schedule for several weeks to accommodate the radiation, I don’t think I would have told anyone at work. Since then, I have been added to a “survivor’s list.” My organization holds several events each year to raise funds and awareness for cancer issues, and I am always invited to these. They want me to wear a special shirt, stand in a special place, and be recognized as a survivor. I am appreciative of the group’s efforts and do make financial contributions, but I do not want to participate in any ceremonies, so I usually say I’m not available. But the pressure is increasing. I heard from a friend who is active in the group that the coordinator of the events says I hurt the cause by not being there. I don’t want a confrontation, but what should I do?


Dear Healed,
Some people turn their experience of illness into a cause and dedicate much of their lives to better treatment and a cure. Other people emerge from illness grateful that they can resume their previous lives and eager to shed the identity of patient. No one has to justify their response to facing a serious illness. It is obnoxious and unacceptable that your workplace, in the name of altruism no less, is intruding into your most private experiences. You shouldn’t have to do anything more than respectfully decline to attend the events. But if you feel this is affecting your work life, then you should first address this with the coordinator. How lovely that this person feels raising money for cancer allows him or her to hound those who’ve survived it! Say that you appreciate the efforts, but you are a private person and don’t wish to discuss your illness, especially in a public setting. If that doesn’t stop the pressure, explain the situation to your boss or human resources. Say that life is too short to have to deal with such unpleasantness.


Dear Prudence,
My wedding is around the corner, and mostly I’ve been a pretty cool bride. However, my bridesmaids are wearing revealing strapless dresses and one of my bridesmaids has a terminal case of hairy legs and pits. I have a suspicion that I’m not supposed to ask my bridesmaid to shave, but I’d like to. My fiancé is pretty insistent upon it. One of my friends was in a wedding a few years ago where one of the bridesmaids apparently had lots of armpit hair on display, and that is her most indelible memory of someone else’s very expensive, very carefully planned day. Do I share with my bridesmaid my friend’s experience and my own preference for a hairless ceremony? I do get to plan the aesthetics of the day, but does this include underarms? What should I do?

—I Either Do or I Don’t

Dear Either,
There are times when someone’s armpits become everyone’s business. But your free-spirited bridesmaid is not stinking up the joint with her B.O.; you just feel she is giving visual offense with her undergrowth. If you know someone well enough to ask her to be in your wedding party, presumably you also were aware that she’s a natural kind of person. I have a hard time imagining you telling this bridesmaid the parable of the expensive wedding that has been reduced to a follicular memory of an unshaven pit. One of the most delightful things about weddings is not the impeccable aesthetics of the bride, but the moments of eccentricity from those gathered together. So I think you should hold your peace. Upon hearing that your fiancé “insists” on a hairless bridesmaid, I hope you say to him, “Please, be my guest and tell Melissa you’d be happy to lend her your Gillette Fusion ProGlide.” At the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony, it’s traditional for the groom to step on a glass and break it. Many reasons for this are given; one is that it’s helpful to keep in mind that nothing is ever perfect. If the worst thing that happens on your special day is a fuzzy armpit, you’re off to a good start.


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