What’s up down there?

Q: I am 29 years old. Although we have enjoyed a pleasurable sex life for the last six years, my wife has never been able to achieve an orgasm. Recently, after a viewing of The Vagina Monologues, I mentioned to my wife that she should become more familiar with looking at and touching her vagina in an effort to find out what pleases her. My wife responded that she thought the vagina was too ugly to look at and she would be mortified at the idea of masturbation. I am afraid that if she doesn't change her attitude about her vagina and masturbation she will never achieve an orgasm. How can I convince my wife that "getting to know" her vagina is the only way she will find out what pleases her and allow her to tell me how to help her achieve orgasm?

A: Your wife's attitude is extremely unfortunate, but you are unlikely to get her to change it by badgering her, even if it's for her own good. There are orgasmic women who have never masturbated, allowing their partner the privilege (or duty, however you see it) of discovering what sort of stimulation does it for them and being the sole provider of it. Of course, a woman who thinks her genitals are disgusting is unlikely to relax enough to enjoy her man's fingers or face "down there," so you have your work cut out for you. Do what you can in your lovemaking to reassure her how sexy she looks and smells. Browse books and tapes together that exalt women's sexuality and their various parts (Gina Ogden's "Women Who Love Sex" videotape at www.womanspirit.net and Joani Blank's Femalia come to mind). Perhaps if she hears different ideas from women themselves, she might open her mind to new possibilities.

Q: I have genital herpes and have been suppressing it for a couple years. I cannot remember the last time it flared up. I have been dating a wonderful person for a few months now who I can definitely see having some sort of future with. I know that you are aware of the terrible stigma that comes along with herpes and my boyfriend absolutely freaks out at the topic. Public service announcements discouraging teens from having sex suggest that herpes can ruin your life; you know as well as I do that life goes on quite normally. So what are my obligations to telling my partner that I have the virus? I have in no other way been deceitful.

A: If you have already had sex with him you have been deceitful by default. If your boyfriend freaks at the idea of herpes, how much more upset will he be that you were not truthful about something so scary to him? I doubt if you will earn any points by asserting your truthfulness in all other matters. Were it me (and it has been me; I always discuss my occasional bouts of herpes with a prospective partner), I would load up on all the literature from some reliable organization such as the Centers for Disease Control or the American Social Health Association. Then sit him down, tell him the truth and hope that you two can work out something comfortable for both. Those scary public service announcements aimed at teens are anti-sex and, as you see, often do more harm than good.

Q: Where can I find a sexual surrogate to help me? Can you tell me? I want to learn to have sex without being embarrassed that I haven't had sex in my life.

A: There's no need for embarrassment. You're in good company — presumably, for one, the Pope. Every one of us on earth was at one point in your position. You give me no idea of your age or sex but it really isn't essential other than there are more resources available for men than for women. If you're online go to members.aol.com/ipsa1/home.html. I have referred several clients over the years, male and female, straight, bi and gay, and wholeheartedly approve of surrogate sex therapy, but it may not be ideal for you. So phone some local sex therapists and ask whether he or she works with a surrogate and if they would be willing to make an evaluation and referral. Isadora Alman, author of Doing It: Real People Having Really Good Sex, is a board-certified sexologist and a California-licensed marriage-and-family therapist. Contact her at [email protected] Her Sexuality Forum is at

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