Dear Prudence

I Involuntarily Orgasm Every Time I Get a Massage

Prudie’s column for April 27.

A woman gets her neck massaged, as she worries about a potential resulting orgasm.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Karelnoppe/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a happily married middle-aged woman with a variety of aches and pains from years of running. I treat my injuries when indicated with visits to a physical therapist and chiropractor. I also find it very helpful to get occasional massages from a qualified massage therapist. My issue is that no matter who the massage therapist is—male, female, old, young—I sometimes find myself suddenly climaxing while on the massage table. This is not a sexual massage, and there has been no contact with my genitals. I could be having my back or shoulders worked on, and I spontaneously orgasm. I don’t want to! I try to suppress it, but it’s like suppressing a sneeze. I am always under a sheet, so I pray that the therapist doesn’t know what is happening. Is it grossly unfair to these people that I might have an orgasm? Part of me feels that it is abusive, but I don’t know how to prevent it other than never again having a massage.

—Unhappy Ending

I’m so sorry. Experiencing a bewildering, unwanted orgasm in the middle of what amounts to physical therapy must be such an unsettling experience, but please don’t blame yourself for “sexualizing” a massage when said orgasms are so clearly the result of an involuntary, reflexive response. You know that you’re not attracted to these service providers, that you’re not trying to introduce a sexual tone or atmosphere to the proceedings, that there’s very little advance warning before you orgasm, and that you’re certainly not attempting to bring them on. It’s not your intention to wrest surprise sexual contact out of these massage therapists, and you’re not doing anything wrong. Please don’t deny yourself the treatment that helps you deal with lingering pain from old injuries just because of an occasional reflex you can’t control. The next time you experience one, take a deep breath and remind yourself: “That was a morally neutral physical response. I’m not responsible for it, and there’s no reason to blame myself for it.” If you notice some guilt comes up for you regardless, do your best to observe it neutrally and wait for it to fade: “I’m feeling guilty right now, which often happens afterward; it’s part of the process.”

Dear Prudence,

My mother married her second husband a few years ago. I really like him, and he’s kind, smart, and very supportive of my mother. The problem is that I have no idea how to interact with him! My father, her first husband, was an alcoholic jerk. Almost everything I can remember him saying to me through my childhood was cruel and/or overtly sexual. My parents divorced when I was 18, and every conversation thereafter with my dad was dedicated to how awful my mom was. Basically, he was a terrible example to base future interactions with other men on. So now I find myself at a loss, because I don’t know how to talk to my wonderful new stepdad. I want a closer relationship with him, not just because he loves my mom but also because I want to know what a good dad could be like. At the same time, I’m terrified of trying to form a bond that he might not want to have, and that rejection would hurt deeply.

—At a Loss

A lot of these feelings might be best explored with a therapist first. I don’t know what kind of relationship you and your stepfather will end up having, and he may very well not expect to play much of a fatherly role in your life, given that he didn’t meet you until after you’d grown up. That’s not to imply he doesn’t care about you or that he wouldn’t be interested in developing a familial relationship with you, but it’s not immediately clear where he’s coming from based on your letter. And figuring out how to approach future relationships with other men is a big question that a therapist should be able to help you with, in addition to getting to know your stepfather. I also think your mother will be a helpful resource. You can tell her that you’re fond of her husband but a little shy of him and ask what she thinks might be a good getting-to-know-you opportunity for the two of you. She might also be able to give you a few stock questions about subjects that interest him so you’re not floundering for something to talk about the next time you two meet.

I don’t think your stepfather is going to reject you. It’s likely that he is the kind, supportive person you’ve seen from a distance. But dealing with the fear of that particular kind of rejection is work for you and a therapist, not just for you and your stepfather.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

Read more advice from How to Do It

“I’m a single man in my early 30s in an industry that’s received strong scrutiny from the #MeToo movement. I avoid dating anyone whom I may have potential influence over professionally in the near future, but recently, I started seeing a woman who works in roughly the same field but with whom I’d never cross paths directly. She’s very vocal about how our industry fails women, especially at work. As we’ve become intimate, she’s surprised me by asking me to be rough and degrade her in bed. I won’t get specific, but she likes some intense things. I figured this was just a fetish, but we talked about it, and she told me the bedroom is one place where she can totally abandon the hard lines she has to make at work and not worry about ‘gender dynamics.’ I’m not sure what to think about this. Isn’t it strange to imply #MeToo is forcing women to stifle their desires? Is this a healthy way to look at sex?