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Love and Sex Advice

Conventional Wisdom: Ask a Film Professor


I am in a heterosexual marriage and have a reasonably satisfying sexual relationship with my husband. Every now and again, though, we butt heads on the same issue. He is horny and I'm on my period; he wants me to "help" him out. I'm exhausted and would rather roll over and go to sleep. I resent his question, but more than that, I resent that when I do refuse "helping" him out — he gets upset.

We end up arguing for at least 15 minutes, I don't get to sleep, and he doesn't get off. Neither of us wins. If I say "yes" just so I can get back to sleep, I secretly resent him. He says that if I asked for a back rub, he'd give me one. (If I could rub my own back, I wouldn't ask for one.)

He doesn't feel comfortable getting himself off, because he believes it is bad for a marriage. I, on the other hand, do not have a problem with it and feel it is unfair to pressure me. You see now where we're stuck. I feel he is being selfish; he feels I am the one only thinking of myself and my precious sleep. Help!

— Please or No Please?

To read a film professor's answer, read more

Hi Please or No Please,

I definitely see your dilemma. On the one hand (no pun intended), when you are not in the mood you are not in the mood (and that includes “helping out”). That needs to be respected by your partner and not subjected to extensive discussion if you generally have a healthy sexual relationship. On the other hand, it sounds like for him it is really hard (OK, now the pun is intended) to just relax when he is turned on and either forego sex that night or give himself a hand.

No wonder men are not super comfortable masturbating, especially when their partners are aware of it, if you take into account the myriad humiliating masturbation scenes from films that these guys have to watch (think There’s Something About Mary, American Pie, or even Fast Times at Ridgemont High).

It seems to me that a lot of the problems in relationships are as much, if not more, about the way people communicate about that problem as they are about the original problem. As the famous media theorist Marshall Mcluhan once said, “The medium is the message,” which is a fancy way of saying in this context that the conversation about this trouble spot is as much the problem as the issue of what to do when you’re not in the mood.

I would suggest that the best starting point would be to try talking about the problem somewhat differently, and not in the moment when it comes up in the bedroom (my god, I can’t stop with the double entendres!). Maybe you could ask him why he thinks masturbation is bad for marriage. Or ask him to suggest some different ways you could incorporate masturbation into your sex life in a way that doesn’t feel so irritating to you.

Above all, try to have a bit of fun experimenting with the situation. When conversations about sex make sex seem unsexy, use communication about the issue as a way to increase, not decrease, your intimacy. 

Hope this helps! Signed,

A Film Professor

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