Dear Prudence

My Husband Is on a Sex Strike and Won’t Tell Me Why

I feel like he’s trying to get back at me instead of talking about something that’s bothering him.

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Dear Prudence,

When first I met my husband, I was really excited to find someone else who liked to have sex at least 10 times a week. I try to keep things interesting, but lately he’s been watching porn and ignoring me. We are both very passive-aggressive, and I feel like he is withholding sex to get back at me instead of talking about something that’s bothering him. It was hard for me, but I brought it up directly, and he was very put off by me addressing the issue directly. Our sex life has become both of us loudly proclaiming we will masturbate and going into different rooms. I know sex is very important for both of us, and we both have a history of cheating, and I am worried. What should I do?

—Passive-Aggressive

If nothing else, I would think your husband would appreciate how much energy you’ve saved him by bringing it up directly! And you can, I suppose, carry on your marital tradition of passive-aggressiveness by adding something to your next announcement like, “I’m going into the next room to masturbate, and I sure hope nobody follows me in there. I would truly hate to get roped into a furious side-by-side competition,” and hope you’re both in the mood to channel your frustration into something hot. But as fun as that sort of channeling can be once in a while, it’s not a long-term substitute for speaking honestly about what’s bothering you. Your husband’s put you in a rather difficult position. He ignores you when you don’t speak about your problems directly, and he’s “put off” when you do. It might be helpful to ask him what he wants from you. Does he want you to guess what might be bothering him? To leave him alone until he wants to talk? To ask him questions? You can’t force him into directness, but you can at least start opting for frankness yourself whenever you find yourself tempted to backslide into passive-aggressive tactics again. You may not be able to beat him, but you don’t have to join him, either.

Help! I Can’t Pretend to Love My Kids Anymore.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Austin Channing Brown on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

I have been best friends with “Alex” since high school. I am a cis lesbian. Five years ago Alex came out as a trans woman, started medically transitioning, and has become a far happier person as a result. It was wonderful watching my best friend become a more optimistic, confident, and bright person, and I also fell in love with her. We started dating, and we moved in together in January. This is the best relationship of my life (and Alex says she feels the same way), but there is an increasingly vexing problem: my family (and my sense of self-doubt). Alex and I did not tell them about our relationship until January, for various reasons. That’s also when my family learned that Alex is trans.

My family have known Alex since we were teenagers and point-blank refuse to accept her as a woman. Alex has kept her original first name, as it’s gender-neutral, so it’s not even as though my parents and sister have had to adjust to learning a new name. They just won’t consider it. They refer to her as my “boyfriend” and have made comments about how glad they are that I’ve “finally grown out of my lesbian phase.” This is starting to eat away at my sense of identity. I was never attracted to Alex before her transition or to men in general. But my sister has argued with me that, since I’ve known Alex “since she was a boy,” I’ve obviously been in denial about my feelings toward her and must have been attracted to a guy all this time. My parents have repeated similar theories, and it’s getting to me. I’ve already started cutting them off on the phone every time they refer to my “boyfriend” or are rude to Alex on Zoom, but their constant speculation about my sexuality is gnawing at me. I took a long time accepting my lesbian identity. Does my relationship with Alex undermine that, or is that just transphobic thinking getting to me? How do I shut my parents down permanently on these horrible comments?

—Harried and Harangued

I think it’s fairly clear that what’s undermining your identity and sense of self are your relatives. Nor do they seem to be fair, disinterested judges. If they’ve all expressed relief that you’re “out of your lesbian phase,” I think you can safely assume that they’re not interested in learning much about lesbian identity, much less in affirming it. And your sister’s theory strikes me as an odd one: If a person starts dating someone they’ve known for a long time, they must necessarily have secretly wanted to date for the entire length of the friendship, but simply couldn’t admit it? I’m not sure where she got the idea or how successful she’d be in convincing others of its applicability.

You say that it took you a long time to accept your lesbian identity, and I’m sure your family’s obvious homophobia played a significant role in that. Just as you can’t trust them to say anything truthful, insightful, or kind about gayness, it’s clear you can’t trust your relatives to say anything truthful, insightful, or kind about trans people. Your relatives do not have secret insights into Alex’s gender or your sexuality, and they don’t know you or your relationship better than you do. They simply want you to feel ashamed, and weird, and wrong, and dependent on their approval. (The fact that they had no knowledge of Alex’s transition for the past five years suggests that they don’t know her very well either.)

I think you’re doing the right thing by limiting your contact with them, as painful as it might feel at first. They do not know you better than you know yourself, and they do not have your best interests at heart. Trust your own happiness before you trust the kind of person who says “I’m so glad I’ve decided you’re not a lesbian anymore.” Be sure to safeguard and cherish Alex’s identity as well as your own—this sort of dehumanizing indifference wears on her just as surely as it wears on you. Look to other queer people for the kind of support your family can’t offer you, particular from trans and cis lesbians. You might find the work of Sandy Stone, Kate Bornstein, and Susan Stryker, just to name three off the top of my head, especially heartening. There is a long and rich history of trans women in lesbian communities, so you’re not alone, and it will do you good to place your relationship with Alex in context.

Dear Prudence,

A year ago I broke up with a woman I’d been seeing. We cared about each other a lot but things just weren’t working. We agreed to take a few months and suggested we might get back in touch at some indefinite future date. The indefinite-ness and inconsistency mostly came from her side, which became too difficult for me. Since then, I’ve moved to a different country, and the pandemic broke out. Lockdown had made life very complicated and stressful, and it didn’t seem like the right time to get back in touch. But it’s been a year now, I still think about her regularly, and I wonder if I should call her. I don’t want to restart our romantic relationship or again discuss why we broke up. I have done my processing on my own and with friends. Mainly I just want to know how she is (she doesn’t even know I moved), and it would feel very strange to just never speak again. Should I reach out? If I do, any suggestions on how to do it? Or should I let it go and move on?

—Holding on the Other Line

Sure! Send her an email, or message her on social media, keep it relatively short, and tell her what you told me: That it’s been a while, that you wanted to say hi, that you’ve moved (and whatever other basic, big-picture updates you think she’d be interested in hearing about), that you’re doing well and hope she’ll stay in occasional touch. None of that is incompatible with generally moving on with your life. If she doesn’t respond or asks not to be contacted again, then it’s time to let it go and move on. But plenty of exes exchange the occasional friendly email without staying stuck in the past or constantly relitigating their breakup, and you have every reason to think she’d welcome a note from you. Go for it!

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

I am a single woman in her early 30s. I’m attractive and have never had issues attracting a partner. But after a series of disappointing relationships, each around a year, I’m just not in a mood to engage emotionally with men right now. The thing is, I have a high sex drive, and I can’t fully satisfy myself on my own—though believe me, I try. The cliché is that this should be an easy problem to fix: Plenty of men want to have sex with a woman with no strings, right? Here are my limitations: In the past, when I’ve had hookup buddies, I like them, but it never really is just sex—we inevitably get to know each other better and then I end up getting entangled with him, whether I want to or not. I also am not really into sex parties or the poly scene; for better or worse, I like the intimacy of one-on-one connections, even if all I want is sex right now.

So I’m not really sure how to proceed. I’ve identified a few bars in my town that are … good for this sort of thing, but that is hit or miss for finding an attractive guy. When I tell my gay friends about this, they talk about how easy it is to find what they want on Grindr and the like, and I’m honestly jealous. Tinder and similar apps for straight people are full of creeps who have no game, and I’m afraid if I’m upfront about what I want, I’ll attract even more of that type. What’s a straight girl who just wants good, unattached sex to do?