Sending signals

Feb 7, 2001 at 12:00 am
• Can I use your column to make a suggestion to a problem I'm sure many couples experience? My husband has complained for years about not being sure what I want when we are intimate. I, on the other hand, hate spelling it out in detail. I have a strong libido, but there are times I just want to cuddle. Once he came to accept that there are times when one wants intimacy without sex, I started a system which has put an end to any confusion, anger or frustration. When I just want to cuddle I go to bed naked. He keeps me plenty warm so I no longer need to wear the flannel nightgown that kept him on his side of the bed and we enjoy the skin-to-skin contact. When I do want sex I wear something seductive to bed. We haven't had a bad lovemaking experience since.

So many people in long-lived couples have trouble sending and receiving "I am interested in sex" signals and are not even aware that they do that it's one of the first questions I ask of couples who come to see me for sex counseling: How do you let your partner know you're interested? So, take a test. How does (or did, if you don't have one now) your long-term partner let you know sex was on the menu? How do you convey your interest? If partner is around, ask those questions. Compare answers. Have a good discussion. Work out some unequivocal indications of sexual interest. Flapping raised skirts or unzipped flies accompanied by a loud woo-hoo! may be clear, but just not always appropriate.

• Isadora, I was disappointed with your advice to the 23-year-old man who seemed to be seeking encouragement to come out of the closet. His statement that "all his friends are homophobic" certainly should have elicited your reply, "Some friends! Don't live your life for them!" I'd also like to tell you that, although I have no scientific credentials on the topic of sexuality, I know enough to say that by the age of 23, one certainly knows what one is sexually. That issue is almost always resolved by then. The issue is not confusion, but coming out. From my point of view, that issue is neither a sexual one nor a religious or philosophical one. It is a political one. Since approximately 90 percent of people are straight, and they have the security that comes from belonging to a majority, you are certainly not going get letters from 23-year-old gay people worrying that they might be heterosexual, fretting about how to tell people. Please, Isadora, encourage gay people to come out, without apologies to their so-called friends.

Know what? You're wrong. While many people, maybe even most, are sure of their sexual orientation by age 23, some people are still struggling for clarity long after that age. Believe it or not, I do get letters from gay identified men and women who think they may have been too hasty in assuming that label. Yes, coming out is often a political statement and one should certainly try to surround oneself with those who support you and how you identify, but hang on to your judgements about how people are sexually. You still have much to learn, as do we all, even those of us with scientific credentials.

• I have to admit being surprised and even a little bit offended by your response to the home care provider who hand releases to ejaculation some of her male clients who suffer from physical immobility. The relationship seems to be consensual; both parties seem to reciprocate the pleasure. Given what those in the health care field have learned about the healing power of human touch, these isolated men may be literally dying to be touched. If she is indeed breaking the law perhaps some legal guidance might be in order, rather than some petty moralizing.

Legal guidance you get from lawyers. Moral guidance, petty or otherwise, is what you get when you write an advice columnist. I received a great deal of mail on this subject, most waving the "but if it's consensual" flag. I wish everyone had someone to fondle and be fondled by, that sex for money was not illegal, that our society was not so touch phobic and litigious. Things being what they are, however, it is not OK for someone in a position of power (doctor, teacher, therapist) to be sexual with his or her patients/students/customers, no matter who gives consent. It is flat-out unethical and the woman in question could (and possibly should) lose her job and open herself to legal charges. I'll stand by my answer. If you are a health care worker who wants to give sexual "relief" to your clientele, just be aware you are skating on extremely thin ice, if any at all. Isadora Alman is a licensed marriage counselor and a board-certified sexologist. You can reach her online at her Sexuality Forum ( or by writing to her care of this paper. Alas, she cannot answer questions