Dear Prudence

Help! My Husband and I Bought a Sex Toy. He Bawled the Next Time I Initiated Sex.

Prudie’s column for April 6.

Frustrated woman sitting on a bed while her husband lies on the other side with his back turned to her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I both had very traditional Christian upbringings, and it’s taken me a long time to affirm my sexuality. Well, after many years of a wonderful (albeit vanilla) sex life, I gathered the courage to ask my husband if he would go to a sex shop with me and if he would feel comfortable using a toy together. He gave (what seemed like) a quick and enthusiastic yes, to my delight. I naturally only wanted to proceed if he was completely on board. It went smoothly and enjoyably for all involved.

However, the next night I went to initiate foreplay (without the new toy), and he started full-out sobbing, body shaking. It was so sudden and unexpected that at first I thought he was having a medical event. But he was just bawling at my touch. Of course I stopped right away and helped him calm down. He says he must have just been overwhelmed with stress and denies that it has anything to do with our sex life. But I can’t just get over the timing and am drowning in confusion and rejection. It took me a long time to try to be vulnerable and ask for what I want in bed, and I’m just devastated that this is how it turned out. What should I do?
—Not the Reaction I Was Hoping For …

Oh, I’m so sorry—that sounds like it was so distressing and bewildering for you both. I think you should wait to bring the subject up again until you know you both have a clear schedule for the evening and you’re both (relatively) relaxed. It’s important to make two things clear: First, that you’re not going to demand an explanation before he’s ready to give you one, and second, that his reaction the last time you touched him was very obviously not a response to nonsexual stress. “I completely understand if you don’t feel ready to talk about it with me. If you don’t ever want to talk about it, I won’t force you to. But you’re my husband, and I love you, and if there’s anything I can do to help you feel less alone when you’re so upset that my touch makes you start sobbing and shaking, then I want to be able to do it.”

There are also a couple of questions you can safely ask him, whether or not he decides to open up about what’s troubling him: “Do you want to take sex off the table for a little while? Do you want to be the one who initiates sex next? What kind of touch do you feel OK with right now, and what kind of touch do you want me to avoid?” Make it clear that if he asks for what he needs from you—even if what he needs is a little space, or time, or not to talk about what was troubling him—it’s not a burden or a punishment, and you want to help him in any way that you can. I hope that he’s able to open up to you and that you’re able to figure out what he needs to feel safe, whatever that may be.

Dear Prudence,
In the past few months I have started dating a man who has shared custody of his school-age child, and I like him quite a lot. However, because he shares custody, he would be unable to move to a different city for the next decade. I am in a career that may or may not allow me to stay in one place. It is possible that in two years I will be offered my dream job elsewhere, and I currently would not be willing to turn it down for any person. However, it is also entirely possible that I could be offered my dream job in this area. It is also theoretically possible that in a couple of years I might feel differently about making a career sacrifice for a family.

If there were not a child involved, I would say … I hardly know this man, let’s just go slowly and see if I even like him enough for this to be a problem, and cross that bridge when we come to it. But I feel like the stakes for potentially becoming involved in a child’s life make “wait and see” a less ethical choice. Is it ethical for me to date this man knowing that this will be a potential issue for me? What would be the best way (and point in the relationship) to consider developing a relationship with his child?
—Potential Stepmother Concerns

The good news is that your not-yet-boyfriend has shared custody of his child, which means that this kid already has two parents, so even if you were to meet said kid and eventually move away, it wouldn’t necessarily be a devastating loss of stability in their life, so much as an “oh, right, Dad had a girlfriend for a while who ended up moving away; she was nice”­–style anecdote. So don’t worry too much about your ethical obligations at this point. But I get that, especially if this is your first time dating someone who has a child, you’re worried about how to balance that against your own goals for the future. “Wait and see,” however, is a perfectly fine approach for you to take. That doesn’t mean you have to wait until the day you get a job offer in another state to mention it to this guy, but you can wait until you two start having “what are we to one another?” conversations to bring up your questions. It may be that you two never end up becoming very seriously involved because you’re incompatible in other ways, or because you meet someone else you like more, or for any number of reasons. Mostly, though, I don’t think you have to worry about this child (who by all accounts is being well looked after by their own parents) so much as you need to pay attention to what’s important to you. If you don’t want to get too involved with someone who could never come with you should you get offered your dream job far away, then that’s a perfectly sound reason to stop seeing him now, when you still only “quite like him,” before your heart is really invested.

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