Dear Prudence

Naked Fear

My fiancée has never seen me in the buff. What will she think?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a 25-year-old man facing the biggest crisis in my life as I am going to get married. My brief background makes clear my distress. When I was around 10, my female cousin (around the same age) and I used to sleep together. On one such occasion, her hand accidentally touched my thigh and felt something bulging. She asked me what it was. In my childish enthusiasm I opened my shorts and she saw my erect penis. She got excited and started rocking it saying she has been able to see my “shame-shame.” Later, in the same excitement she told all this to her mother as though it were some achievement on her part! For this, both of us got a good spanking with a warning that it is indeed shameful for boys and girls to see the “shame-shame” of one another. As I grew older, I saw the same notion being reinforced in various situations. But the situation I am going to get into demands that the shameful be considered desirable! I have no idea how a grown-up young lady reacts on seeing a penis. Pray tell me whether she would feel shameful, angry, shocked, or worse still mock at my shame-shame. How do I even face the blasphemous prospect of her having to touch it with her hand? I do not see any escape from the situation I find myself in. I would feel extremely relieved if I am able to have a response.

—Please Save Me

Dear Save,
For most of your life you have been told that a certain intriguing body part is so shameful it’s even called a “shame-shame.” But no matter how much you were punished for your earlier explorations, society now expects that the prospect of your being naked with your beloved is supposed to make you so happy that you feel like a room without a roof, not as if the ceiling is caving in. I understand your worry about what’s going to happen on your wedding night when, for the second time, a female encounters your penis. Let’s hope your betrothed has done some homework and knows that not only is she supposed to touch you there, she’s supposed to act impressed. But it sounds as if you’re both so constrained by cultural inhibitions, you two haven’t done any premarital probing, nor talked about what’s coming up. You’re adults and I hope you and your fiancée can at the very least start a conversation about your excitement and nervousness. Maybe you will find she has a more relaxed and eager attitude than you about what will happen when you drop your drawers. Doing some homework about what to expect would help you prepare and calm you down. Here are some books that cover the basics: Sex Made Easy by Debbie Herbenik, and She Comes First by Ian Kerner. You would probably benefit from some video demonstrations, but please don’t turn to porn, as it is hardly instructional. Consider ordering the Better Sex Video Series, which is aimed at beginners. Ideally, this is an adult education course the two of you would want to learn from together. Keep in mind that despite how common it is for the young to be reprimanded for their sexual exploration, we remain overwhelmingly successful as a species because ardor generally wins out. 


Dear Prudie,
I’m a member of a book club of women in our mid-30s that’s been going for five years. We’ve got a good group, but there’s one member no one likes. She’s insensitive, ignorant, and rude. She contributes very little to the discussion of the book and prefers to conduct side conversations. She’s made some ignorant and mean comments regarding pregnancy that have deeply wounded some of the members who have had miscarriages or infertility issues. She used to attend AA meetings, but has been drinking heavily lately before she drives home—she even took a drink with her for the road one night. When we’ve said something about this, she dismisses us. We’re at a loss. Can we kick her out of book club? If so, how?

—Literary Blues

Dear Literary,
This extremely bad news for public safety may turn out to be good news for your book club. One member’s driving home drunk from your gatherings is more than enough ammunition to tell her that not only is she a disruption who insults her fellow members, she’s also a danger to herself and others. She needs to know the rest of you cannot leave yourselves open to the liability of providing her with alcohol before she gets on the road. This discussion should be had in person with two of you authorized to represent the group, so that she understands this is not one member’s animus. Be firm but kind and say while you no longer want her at future gatherings, you’re concerned about her escalating behavior and that you urge her to get some help. Yes, it will be unpleasant, but this is the kind of thing that happens to people who are out of control. It probably won’t be welcome, but as a parting gift you could give her a book that should be illuminating: Drinking: A Love Story, the memoir by the late Caroline Knapp about how she faced her alcoholism.


Dear Prudence,
My husband has a close female friend—they met in college, became friends, dated briefly one summer, and then went back to being friends. She eventually married and we enjoyed hanging out as couples. My husband has lunch with her once a month or so, and they text weekly. Recently she and her husband decided to separate. During this turmoil, she has been calling and texting my husband much more often, which is understandable. Now she has asked something that makes me want to put my foot down. We all live on the West Coast, but she hails from the other side of the country. She wants to fly out there with my husband, pick up her old car, then drive all the way back with my husband. He will do just about anything for her. He helped build her a new office, picks her up from the airport, etc., so he wants to do this. He asked me for my permission, but was taken aback when I expressed concern. He feels that I should let him have a “friend” vacation since I get together for a trip with my college roommates—who are female!—once a year. I want to say no because I am really unhappy about this but I don’t want to be “the bad guy” and I don’t want my husband to think I don’t trust him. I would really appreciate some advice.

—Just Say No

Dear Just,
I guess someone has to trust your husband, because I sure don’t. I’m all for mixed-gender friendships, but prior to the possibility of this road trip, your husband was too involved in the life of his erstwhile paramour. Now he’s making you feel like a jailer because you object to his going on a cross-country journey with a single woman who sounds to me like she doesn’t plan on being single for long. It’s one thing not to be jealous, it’s another to be a chump. Either your husband and this woman are already playing you for a fool, or they are fooling themselves about the likelihood of their fooling around before they reach Ohio. (I lean toward the former.) You’re right to say permission denied, but you also need to assert that this friendship is undermining your marriage, and that you and your husband need to do some work on putting each other first.


Dear Prudence,
I am about to graduate from college. It’s common at my school for people to send out graduation announcements. Mine would be sent out to my own family and friends as well as friends and co-workers of my parents who have known me throughout the years. My father is concerned these announcements sound like I am “looking for money.” He doesn’t like the idea of putting pressure on his friends and colleagues, especially subordinates, to take the out checkbook. He wants to put “no gifts please” on the bottom of each card. When I told this to my friends they scoffed in disbelief! They say I deserve to send them out and that receiving gifts is fine because graduating is a big accomplishment. I’m taking out loans for an expensive graduate program next year and I need money.

—Polite but Poor

Dear Polite,
The announcement is supposed to be just that: a message to people who would care that all your hard work has paid off. It is not a notice to the recipient to help pay off your future educational expenses. In Emily Post’s Etiquette the Post family says such announcements to one’s family and friends are fine but should not be sent with the expectation of a gift. Miss Manners points out that the list of recipients can be problematic: The people who really care already know; the people who don’t know likely won’t care. Social media has also helped make such printed announcements ever more anachronistic. I agree with your father that you shouldn’t send these cards to his co-workers. Many will see this as a plea for a check, and putting “no gifts” on such an announcement just makes the uncomfortable unseemly. Surely, the best way for your parents to get the word out to their friends and colleagues is to tell everyone they’re excited about seeing you get your diploma, then after the happy event show off a couple of photos of you in your mortarboard. The graduation announcement may be fading away, but sure, go ahead and send some to a handful of older relatives and friends you’re not in frequent touch with who would appreciate hearing your news. Be sure to add a handwritten note letting them know about your exciting graduate school plans. 


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