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The Letter

By Dan Savage · January 25th, 2006 · Savage Love
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My girlfriend of three years is a smoker. In the beginning of our relationship, her smoking didn't bother me. I come from a family of smokers, and I used to smoke. But now her smoking is a huge turn-off. I've also started a new job where I work with cancer patients and see the deadly effects of smoking every day. I've tried everything under the sun to get her to stop. She says she'll try but never makes much of an effort.

I don't like to kiss or be near her when she smokes. It ruined our sex life because she comes to bed smelling like cigarettes. If she doesn't stop, I want to move out. I'll sacrifice the relationship before I succumb to cancer from secondhand smoke. Is it fair to give her an ultimatum?

-- Nonsmoking Section

My regular readers know that I view this column -- my life's work -- as a sacred pact with my readers. People bring me their problems, seeking my assistance and insight, and I take that responsibility very seriously. But that doesn't stop me from occasionally auctioning off the right to give advice in this space to the highest bidder and letting that person -- whomever the hell it might be -- dig through my e-mail inbox and answer a few questions.

Meet Cara McDermott, 28, who works on public-health projects in Seattle, Wash. A Savage Love reader for more than a decade, Cara was the winning bidder in an auction that benefited a worthy charity: the anti-hunger agency Northwest Harvest. Cara is a ginger-haired looker with a fiancé from Amish country in Pennsylvania, and her future father-in-law is a big fan of the word "santorum," which is apparently on everyone's lips in Lancaster, Pa. Cara tells me she's GGG, and her fiancé Scott backs her up on that. Friends often come to Cara for advice -- which is how I got started in this dirty bidness -- and she believes, as I do, that cheating is permissible under certain circumstances and that oral sex comes standard. Here's Cara's advice for you, NS:

"I understand where you're coming from," Cara says. "I'm a former smoker myself who has worked with cancer patients, and it's depressing to see what might be in store for your girlfriend. However, I also know that when I was a smoker naggers like you bugged the shit out of me. If you don't want to be around secondhand smoke, then it's a fair request of your girlfriend that she not smoke in the house. If she smells like cigarettes, then suggest that she shower before bed. Most importantly, drop the nagging. I bet that once you bug your girlfriend less about her smoking, all of a sudden she might find the will to quit."

Cara might have purchased the right to give advice in this column, but I never -- never -- auction off the right to the last word: Sorry, Cara, but smoking outside and/or taking showers doesn't really mask a smoker's all-body stench. If a smoker's stench doesn't bother you, then fuck smokers. But if it does bother you, NS, you're going to have to dump the girlfriend.

My wife and I decided it would be OK for her to fuck other guys. It turns me on to think of her getting pounded while I'm at work. I've always wanted for her to sit her freshly fucked pussy on my face and let the other guy's cum run out into my mouth. Given the health risks to both of us, this fantasy has to be left in the "Don't Do It, Just Think About It" (DDI-JTAI) file. Recently we tossed around the idea of pouring contents of a used condom into her pussy the day after it was filled. The AIDS virus only lives about 5 minutes out of the body, so there's no risk there. My question is what are the other health risks we could be exposed to?

-- Day-Old-Spunk Eater

"Dan may disagree with me," Cara says, "but I have to say that this fantasy should stay in the DDI-JTAI file, DOSE. While you don't have to worry about the AIDS virus, you should think a lot about hepatitis. You don't have a guarantee that there is no blood mixed with the spunk -- rare, but I feel I have to say it -- and you don't have a guarantee that there's no fecal matter mixed in there (either through dirty hands or anal play). According to the CDC Web site, hep A can live outside the body for months, hep B can live outside the body for seven days and transmit infection and hep C can last for anywhere from 16 hours to four days outside the body. You can get shots for hep A and hep B, but there's nada available for hep C. Take the risk and maybe you fry your liver, maybe not."

You're right, Cara, I disagree with you. DOSE's extremely small risk of catching hep has to be weighed against the large benefit of fulfilling this monumentally disgusting fantasy -- a fantasy that is the ultimate expression of the cuckold fetish, e.g., literally having your nose rubbed in the evidence of your mate's infidelity. And there's a relatively easy way to minimize your risk of catching anything, DOSE. If your wife cheats with a regular dude, all she needs to do is make continued access to her pussy contingent on a full health screening.

I've been in a relationship with my girlfriend for five years. I'm in love with her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her if possible. Problem No. 1: She's married and has been throughout our entire relationship. She tells me that she loves me and wants to be only with me, but she won't leave him. Her husband and I know each other quite well, but he knows nothing about us. Problem No. 2: She was my first and has been my only with everything sexual. Problem No. 3: She did leave him and we moved in together about a year ago and everything was going really well until she came down with an STD that I did not give her. When she moved in, I was told that all sexual encounters with her husband had stopped. I found out that she'd been giving him head. How am I supposed to deal with this? Now he has moved in with us and we don't even sleep in the same room anymore (for the sake of the kids). What do I do?

-- Love Over Stressed Times

"I have a few pieces of advice for you," Cara says. "No. 1: If she loves you and only wants to be with you, then she'd leave him. No. 2: Very few people have one sexual partner for their whole lives. For most of us, having different sexual partners exposes us to different people and different situations, teaching us a lot along the way. You need to sleep with more folks before settling down. No. 3: Finally, LOST, to be blunt, your girlfriend is a lying, cheating whore who is emotionally abusing you and possibly exposing you to some nasty STIs. DTMFA and good luck meeting the nice gal you deserve."

Hmmm. I have nothing whatsoever to add. Good work, Cara!

A couple of weeks back I advised WILLIE and FS -- two sex-starved married people -- to go ahead and cheat on their respective spouses. It seems that advising married people to cheat really pisses some people off.

I think you missed a crucial part in this weeks' letter from WILLIE: "...and it's over in 15 minutes." Also he mostly complains about what he doesn't get. My first BF was like WILLIE, and his critiques did nothing but make me less adventurous and less likely to suck his dick. WILLIE doesn't say, "I tried to make her feel safe to explore the desires she may be shy about" or "I have tried to pay attention to her needs by using romance and/or extended foreplay" or "I tell her all the time how beautiful her body is" or anything else that might indicate that he cares about her pleasure at all. It's all "no blowjobs," "won't touch my dick," "15 minutes." It sounds to me like this guy's problem is probably more his fault than hers.

-- Been There Didn't Do That Either

WILLIE's letter was edited for space, BETDDTE, as there's only so much room in my column. Rest assured that he was a loving and supportive spouse -- and rejected just the same. Still, it could all be WILLIE's fault. That's why I covered my ass by writing this in my response: "In some instances there may be mitigating circumstances, i.e., there may be a very good reason why a particular husband or wife is no longer interested in sex. For all we know, WILLIE doesn't bathe or only speaks civilly to his wife when he wants sex. For all we know, FS supports the teaching of intelligent design or is Katherine Harris. But it's not always the fault of the cut-off spouse. There are people out there who simply aren't interested in sex and, judging from the mail, a whole lot of them are married people."

The letter from WILLIE hit home. I am outside your targeted demographics but probably represent a much larger segment of the population than WILLIE. This year my wife and I will celebrate our 35th anniversary. When our daughter left for college seven years ago and my wife began menopause, I thought the sex would be great -- no more condoms and total privacy. Wrong!

My wife decided not to take any hormones due to cancer in her family. I totally support her decision, but that essentially ended our sex life. She has tried from time to time, but it's too painful even with creams and vaginal rings. Things just dried up along with her desire. I'm sure there are millions of men with the same predicament. In my case my wife has jokingly (maybe even seriously) given me the OK to find sex elsewhere as long as I come home and don't pick up any diseases. I'm not sure if I can cheat, but I am getting desperate. At least WILLIE and FS have found an outlet.

When I was dating I was too shy to have much luck picking up or even meeting women. I don't think my "game" has improved. Most bars and clubs do not cater to my age. Forget bingo parlors. Most women are looking for unattached men.

I would not be able to lie about my status. For every understanding and willing woman there are probably 10,000 men like myself standing in line.

-- Out to Pasture Too Early

I got chills when I read those two letters from WILLIE and FS. I have been in WILLIE's shoes for years now and actually was starting to look elsewhere. (And, yeah, why don't guys like me find women like FS in the first place?) Then a miracle happened. At the end of last year my wife told me that she thought I should start sleeping with other women. She knows that sex is not big on her list of needs and knows it is for me and that I was doing a great job of meeting the needs that she does have. I was floored. I was amazed. I'd been thinking about proposing such an arrangement that very week, but I never thought she would look on it favorably.

A minor miracle has happened in the short time since. I'm now even more in love with my wife than ever. I haven't even exercised my new freedom, but it's as if a huge weight was lifted off both of us. And something else dawned on me. Whereas I was looking to head off and do my own thing, damn the consequences, now I'm going to work my ass off to make sure that this new arrangement works out well for everyone. Whereas before I was at the point of not caring what happened to our relationship, now I feel like I would fight tooth and nail to preserve it. If you had asked me last year what could have accomplished all that, this would not have been on the list of things I would have come up with.

I know that this isn't going to just work as easily as falling off a log, but with hard work and good communication (gah, that sounds so cliché, doesn't it?) we can work it out.

-- CTP

I was the male low-libido half of a high-libido/low-libido hetero couple, and after a couple years of fighting and mind games I gave her an "ultimatum" to either live with the fact that I have no interest in fucking like bunnies or to just leave me. "But, for the love of god, don't cheat on me," I told her. Of course, she picked option C: She cheated on me for a year before 'fessing up and breaking up with me.

There were no kids, no joint bank accounts, but I would have respected her more if she had just plain dumped me instead of "living a lie." Maybe FS's and WILLIE's spouses are just as tired of being hounded for sex as WILLIE and FS are of being denied sex. Their relationships and friendships with their spouses might be strong enough to survive divorce if FS and WILLIE are just honest and upfront.

-- Name Withheld

Sorry, NW, but you'll get no sympathy from me. If you weren't interested in fucking like bunnies, why didn't you break up with her? And here's something I don't get about you low-libido types: If sex doesn't interest you, if you place so little importance on it, why does the thought of your girlfriend doing this unimportant thing with someone else bother you so much? Why not, like CTP's spouse, give her permission to get her needs met elsewhere?

I'm a straight woman and I want to respond to the letter from WILLIE, the man whose wife doesn't want to have much sex and won't touch his dick, and FS, the woman whose husband didn't want to have sex with her.

I would bet the farm WILLIE's wife didn't want to marry him in the first place. Many women marry men as investments so they have the nice house and car, and the first thing they do is have a kid so the guy is stuck. It's no different than picking out a stock. Notice the first thing guys like him start off with is, "We have a nice home, kids, and I have a good job." The other clue is this has gone on for years. I promise you she wants adventure, but not from him. I had a friend who had the nice house, car, kids, the whole deal. She would tell him she only wanted sex early in the morning because that's the best time. The real reason was she wanted to be half asleep during the act. WILLIE needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

Regarding FS: It doesn't matter how good she looks. Look at Princess Diana, Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman. A straight, red-blooded man is going to want to have sex. Anything else is an excuse. One of two things is going on: He is either into some other female (and he is already having sex with her) or he is gay and closeted and married her to keep his family off his back. A straight man will still want to have sex sometimes. FS can keep prancing around in her thong, but it will not do a bit of good.

-- That's How It Really Is

A few years ago, I was in a position similar to WILLIE's wife. My boyfriend isn't a particularly outgoing person, and after being together several years he gradually stopped touching me except when he wanted sex. No hugs, no snuggling on the couch. My sex drive plummeted to nothing. I'd still have sex with him, so at least he'd quit asking for a few days. It was always the same -- he'd suck my nipples for about a minute, then go down on me for about five, and then he'd put his dick in and go at it for another five minutes. I'd lie there, wishing our ceiling had a television. For a while I suggested different positions, different activities, bring home books and toys, but the next time it always reverted back to the routine. After a while I gave up. He wanted some place to stick it, and I was handy.

What really struck me about WILLIE's letter is his wife saying she feels like an object, because that's exactly how I felt -- like a blow-up doll, only warmer. What finally changed things was one day when he had the nerve to complain that sex wasn't fun anymore. I didn't talk to him for a week, and when I did we started fighting all the time and finally went to a counselor. She suggesting more cuddling and touching that wasn't a preliminary to sex, and within a week my sex drive was back. I had thought it was dead. Now that I'm into it, he's having more fun too, and the variety came back. He's now more than happy to give me the cuddling and touching that I need, and I'm now more than happy to have lots of sex with him.

WILLIE, try touching your wife when you're not trying to get her into bed. Try bringing up counseling without attaching it to how rotten she is sexually. It's amazing how much better the results are likely to be when it's not presented so critically.

-- Snuggling Works Wonders

I find it interesting that so much mail poured in with advice for WILLIE, all of it predicated on the assumption that he was doing something terribly, terribly wrong. I got so much mail from people who wanted to tell WILLIE that the fault was his, that he obviously needed to be more loving.

Oddly enough, no one wrote in to say blame FS for her problem. Her husband won't put out and -- guess what? -- and most people who wrote in seemed to think that was her husband's fault, not hers. FS's husband must be gay or already cheating on her. Hmm. I find it odd that no long letters arrived laying out what FS was doing wrong.

Is it always the man's fault, I wonder? If something is going wrong in a couple's sex life, the man must be to blame?

Bravo on recommending that FS and WILLIE leave their spouses! As a man just exiting a nigh-sexless marriage, who spent years trying to spice things up, I have to offer my own observation: There is very likely further emotional abuse in those relationships. My wife and I had a very unhealthy marriage, and I suspect her lack of libido (which wasn't why I left) was just a symptom of her underlying feelings for me (which were why I left).

Frankly, it was probably far easier for FS and WILLIE to write to you, Dan, complaining about the lack of sex than it would be for them to come to grips with the other abuses their spouses heap upon them. Controlling their actions, demanding unreasonable amounts of attention, criticizing their "failures" ("Why the hell can't you learn to fold a towel right?") and badmouthing their friends and family are all possible methods the abuser is using to replace the intimacy normally fostered by a healthy sex life.

They need to get out now. Call friends, call family, ask for help. Chances are they'll be so glad to hear from them they'll bend over backward to bail FS and WILLIE out!

-- Missed Out Too Long

I would like to respond to WILLIE and all men who find themselves in the same position as he. As a married woman who is in a similar position as WILLIE's wife (minus the kid), I'm infuriated at the way many men seem to think. WILLIE, let me enlighten you: She might love you, but she doesn't want you anymore. Women need/want sex just as much as men do, but you men get lazy and that is when we women get bored. Just because you're married, doesn't give you men the right to get off and get out. You say when you can get her in the mood it is dull -- ever think it is because you can't hang? You say it lasts for only 15 minutes -- she would probably prefer less time with your sweaty, stinking body on her since she doesn't want you to begin with. And let's not forget the poor woman is a mother. It doesn't matter if she is a housewife or a working partner -- do you have any fucking clue as to how tired she probably is at the end of the day? She doesn't need is to spend her last ounce of energy on a selfish, less-than-achieving husband.

Men seem to think that because you get married you have the right to fuck your wife whenever you please. Guess what? She isn't a piece of meat. Your wife, WILLIE, probably complains that you treat her like an "object" because you do. Most likely you only touch your wife (even just a hug) when you're horny. As a result, every time you enter the room she feels your hot, stinking, horny breath on her, and she wants to gag. The only reason why she probably fucks you in the end is to shut your whining, baby "I need to get my rocks off" mouth. You have two choices: (1) Shut the fuck up and deal with your "good lady" by sticking your most likely smaller-than-average dick in your pants and not embarrassing her (or for that matter endangering her) by fucking some cock-sucking whore on the side, or (2) get the fuck out. Set yourself free and your wife as well.

As far as the kid goes, if you separate she'll probably get custody, so you should think about that before you give it up. If you want to try to work it out, then find a different approach. No woman wants to fuck a whining baby. So be a man about it all. Find a different time in the day, listen to her if she is talking to you, take it all in and change. And lastly, if your dick is better than average, then learn how to use it, your tongue and your mind to make her happier -- because in the end, if she is happy, you will be too.

-- Boo Fucking Hoo

I'm one of those people who got married, had children and stopped wanting to have sex. My husband cheated on me, and I found out about it. We went to counseling together. We didn't want to break up our family. We decided we wanted to stay together and make things work. After about a year of counseling I met a man who I enjoyed being with more than my husband. This guy was interested in me! He listened to me and laughed at my stupid jokes. He said and did things that made me feel good. We eventually started to have sex. Wonderful sex! Lots of great sex! I think it's the best sex I've ever had. Here I thought I wasn't sexual. I thought there might be something wrong with me. Even questioned my sexual orientation.

Well, my husband and I are separated. We live near each other. The kids see both of us basically every day. Life this way isn't always easy. Sometimes I still feel jealous if I know my husband is seeing someone. But for the most part I think it's working for all of us.

-- Got My Groove Back

My husband brought home the recent letters from WILLIE and FS regarding no-sex marriages. I instantly recognized myself in the sex-withholder category. In defense of myself (and fellow sistas), I need to speak out: There are lots of reasons why sex is more infrequent (OK, a lot more infrequent) in some marriages, especially those with young kids. First and foremost, parents -- and really it's mostly moms -- of small children are exhausted, particularly if you stay home with said brood. By the time my head hits the pillow at night, all I want to do is sleep. Conversely, in the morning all I want to do is stay in bed (sleeping) as long as possible.

If there is more sex wanted or needed by one partner, perhaps that partner can take stock of their contributions to the household and see if there are things they could do to alleviate the load on the other parent. No, I'm not talking bringing home flowers, but fold some laundry? Vacuum? You'd be surprised how far little things like that can get you. In addition, until you have given up your budding career to stay home and raise your little darlings, you can't grasp how emotionally draining it is. I've been on both sides of this equation, and trust me: Going to work is a lot easier. At least you can pee by yourself, whenever you want, without being interrupted. After a while, the constant demand takes its toll, and you just want to be left alone whenever you have the chance.

I still like sex, or least I hope I do. I don't want to live out my life without sex, but I also see this as a phase that I hope will pass.

-- Not a Frigid Cow

Hey, thanks! My girl is not usually interested in sex. After reading your column about WILLIE and FS, your "emotional violence" comment really sank in. The result? She fucked the shit out of me. Thanks, keep running those letters every now and again, and we just might get this lesbian-bed-death thing licked yet!

-- Lately Licked Lesbo

When I read your response to WILLIE and FS in a recent article about sexless marriages, I was thoroughly disgusted. I too am in a sexless marriage and for the most part only have the faintest idea why. I have a very sexy, supportive husband who loves me and I love him, and yet I don't enjoy or want to have sex with him, and the only thing I can possibly come up with is that when I pushed out two kids and gained 40 lbs. the libido switch was turned off along with me feeling sexy.

I'm doing something about it: I now go to the gym. But for you to even suggest that I'm emotionally abusing my husband is bullshit, as I don't threaten him with sex! I don't say, "If you bathe the kids, I'll have sex," "If you do the dishes, I'll have sex." You know what was emotional abuse? Him handing me your article is emotional abuse on his part! You dare to suggest he move on or cheat with someone without any remorse? Unless you have any real advice to the men and women with low sex drives and what might be causing it, then keep your destructive, cheating, home-wrecking opinions to yourself. Unless you've pushed out two kids and have gained 40 "sexy" pounds, you ain't got no opinion for me!

Pissed at Dan

Here's an opinion that might help, PAD: Perhaps your testosterone levels are low. Go to the doctor, get 'em checked. (Yes, women produce testosterone, and low levels can lead to low libido -- and it's probably her man's fault, no doubt, or mine.) In the meantime, your husband is clearly unhappy about the state of his sex life -- hence his handing you my column -- and you can get pissed at me about it, if you like, but that's not going to solve anything.

As we both do every week, my husband read last week's column out loud to me, but he has yet to apologize to me, his un-milked cow. Nor has he informed me that he will turn a blind eye if I do him "the courtesy of being milked discretely elsewhere." Like WILLIE and FS, I'm the spouse of a "great" person who would prefer not to have sex with me. I so wish that 10 years ago I had received the advice you gave in that same column to BONED: "Get out while the getting out is good."

As your line of work has no doubt forced you time and again to face the inscrutable mystery of people staying in abusive relationships, I won't bore you by trying to justify my choice not to free myself. My body is now trying to end my emotional suffering by the only means available to it -- illness. This is literally killing me. I believe it is the puzzle of the "emotional violence," as you put it, that has trapped me. If I could understand my husband, I think I could restructure my relationship to him in a way that would end this pain.

When I bring up the subject of his continual rejection of me sexually, my husband insists he is attracted to me. He claims that his sexual orientation is straight and that his libido is "normal." He tells me he masturbates "all the time." Of course, I have wondered if my husband is simply lying to me. Perhaps he is only truly aroused by something that I'm not and can never be: a man, a child, a wildebeest or, perhaps most painful of all, a different kind of woman. When my husband does make love to me though, he is generous if not adventurous. His erection is strong and very long lasting. He achieves orgasm and seems to enjoy himself immensely. And then, it seems, he never needs to do that again! And if it weren't for my threats and ultimatums, he probably never would. I love him and want to renounce sex for him, but I can't.

Beyond sex, my husband and I are good to each other. Though he's not affectionate, he demonstrates that he loves and supports me by cooking lovely meals, listening to me and other actions big and small. I really need to know why he loves me but doesn't want me sexually. And why he can love me and not want me to be happy. I've done everything I can think of to encourage a healthy sex life with this man. We are both good looking, in great shape, have good jobs and wonderful friendships. He has had a vasectomy, so pregnancy is not a concern. We sought counseling. Once, I decided to try not touching him for a whole day. It did not have the desired effect, so I experimented by not touching him the next day either.

After two months of not touching my husband nor being touched by him, I asked him if he was aware that we had not touched, even a hand to a shoulder in passing, in over eight weeks. He hadn't noticed.

On behalf of all un-milked cows (and in the interest of abating our drain on the Canadian medical system), could you please ask people who have bought cows with no intention of milking them to write you with their reasons? Actually, now that I read what I've just written, I have to say that if you print this letter and my husband reads it, he would never write you with his reasons for not wanting to make love to me. He might not feel the slightest twinge of recognition. The only reason for printing my letter might be so that other good looking, loving and successful un-milked cows can know they aren't alone but will remain lonely as long as they wait in vain to discover why their partners do not want to have sex with them. Thank you.

-- Sad Cow

Holy shit, SC, your letter absolutely broke my fucking heart. I hope your husband recognizes himself and makes some sort of amends -- like, say, giving you his blessing to go elsewhere and apologizing for the emotional violence.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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