Ask the Experts about Relationships

Answers and advice for your questions about relationships from ASHA staff and sexuality experts.

I am a guy in his mid-30s, decent looking, steady job and all that. For the life of me I can’t find a woman to date. I hear about women not being able to find men, small chance of getting married if still single at 35 blah blah blah. I’m not a hunk and have faults, but am at least average in looks and personality, I’d say. Why am I alone?

Ah, if only there were a simple answer to that question! Alas, you’ve asked a very difficult question, one that almost certainly can’t be answered without a good deal more conversation. Family history, social skills, communication styles, luck, geography, attraction patterns, and a wide range of other factors can affect whether or not a person is able to meet a compatible partner(s).

If you and I could sit down together to explore your question, I’d first want to know what kind of dating relationship you would most like to have: sexual or non-sexual? monogamous or non-monogamous? long-term or short-term?  I’d then want to ask you about ways in which you’ve tried in the past to build the kind of relationship you are seeking and then explore ways to you might make changes in order to meet your goal. For some people, the answer is as simple as putting themselves in social situations in which they are more likely to meet people to whom they are attracted. Others need help practicing expressing attraction or asking others out for dates. Still others might be successful at getting dates but need help learning how to transition from dating to “relationship.”

Since I can’t be there to ask explore these questions with you in depth, I’d suggest you find someone else who can ask good questions, provide honest feedback, help you set goals & make a plan for reaching them, and/or offer advice. You might find such help in a trusted friend, a licensed therapist, a pastor, a relationship, sex or life coach, or—in some states—a professional surrogate.

—Amy Stapleford, M.Ed.

I am a male and have been married for more than 20 years. Recently, my relationship with my wife has deteriorated to where there is no physical contact (and no sex!) whatsoever! I am currently celibate, as I’m earnestly trying to work on this marriage. I’m becoming depressed, though, and do feel the need to have a sexual partner, but my conscience won’t allow me to be disloyal! I’m worried that all of this will have an effect on my health.

The World Association for Sexual Health defines sexual health as the “…state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.” This definition applies through the lifespan and encompasses the changes in individuals as well as changes in relationships with their partners. By definition, when these changes are associated with distress, they are unhealthy.

As briefly described, the changes in your marriage as well as in your sexual relationship are causing great distress, at least for you. And, many people find seeking professional help for these types of problems to be overwhelmingly embarrassing. However, this type of help can be effective for both relationship problems and accompanying sexual problems.

Physicians, psychologists, licensed social workers and marriage/family counselors all might be helpful. One resource for locating sexual health professionals in your area is available on the website of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.

—J. Dennis Fortenberry, MD, MS

I am a gay man and I feel trapped in an abusive relationship. I don’t feel like I can talk to my friends at all, and I am afraid to report my partner. What can I do?

People of any gender or any sexual orientation can be abusers or victims of abuse; however, most support for victims of abuse is aimed toward women in abusive heterosexual relationships. Finding help if you are in a physically, sexually or emotionally abusive same-sex relationship can be especially difficult because getting help often involves “coming out” twice—about both your same-sex relationship and the abuse itself. Fortunately a number of individuals and organizations provide support to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in crisis.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

If you are not in immediate danger, seek out an LGBTQ-friendly advocate or organization who can help you make a plan to get and stay safe. Therapists, counselors, social workers, attorneys, church pastors, hotline volunteers, and physicians are examples of people who can make effective advocates.

The Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project provides information and services to help you find safety and support. Call their hotline at 800-832-1901, or visit their website. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs: National Advocacy for LGBT Communities is another resource.

Other LGBTQ-Friendly Resources:

—Amy Stapleford, M.Ed.

I am in a relationship with a wonderful person and due to an illness she has, there is (and may never again be) any sex between us. I don’t want to leave her, and she absolutely would not stand for me to have an affair. This doesn’t seem fair to me, but I don’t know what to do. In a situation like this, can one ethically “cheat” on a partner?

You are certainly faced with a difficult situation, with very little in the way of cultural guidance to help you choose among less-than-ideal options. Whether or not you can ethically develop another sexual relationship, though, is entirely dependent on your personal ethics. As you explore your options, here are some questions you might want to consider:

What do you need? It sounds like there are things you need which you aren’t currently getting. An occasional escape from your difficult situation at home, someone to talk to, regular orgasms, touch, laughter, friendship, feelings of love and desire, a way to express anger, sadness or resentment—these are just a few of your possible needs, all of which are important in maintaining your own physical and mental health.

What are the different ways you could meet your needs? Taking one need at a time, brainstorm possible actions which could meet each need. In what ways could you meet a need on your own? With your partner? With someone else? You may decide that an outside sexual relationship is the best option to meet your needs, or you may decide that you have other alternatives that will work just as well.

What are the qualities in yourself you most value? What are your personal values, as opposed to values imposed from the outside? It might be tempting to give up the responsibility of your choice to your partner, society at large, or physical needs you believe you can’t control. By choosing not to have an affair because your partner would not stand for it-feeling that your situation is unfair—you might be placing the responsibility for your choice on your partner’s shoulders. You might similarly relinquish responsibility if you feel “driven” to have an affair by needs beyond your control. If, instead, you make your decision actively and freely, based on your own personal values, you alone are responsible for it.

Which of your needs and values have you discussed frankly with your partner? Does your partner have ideas about how to meet your needs in ways that feel comfortable to her? Do you know how she feels about the loss of the sexual aspect of the relationship and what her needs and values are? Have you discussed the emotional, physical and sexual impacts of this illness together with a therapist, friend or confidante? Would having such a conversation bring you and your partner closer or might that conversation damage the relationship?

How can you best meet your needs while honoring the values most important to you? In which of the possible futures do you feel the most comfortable and satisfied with yourself? With your partner? Your relationship together? Your potential new sexual partner(s)? Will having sex with someone energize you and help you better love and care for your life partner? Will having sex with someone else drain you or harm your ability to love and care for your partner? Will you be able to treat a new sexual partner with the respect and affection that person deserves (whether you were to develop a sexual relationship for one occasion or for an extended period of time)?

Because you face a great deal of stress from your partner’s illness and your challenging choices, I encourage you to find a therapist, friend, support group, and/or confidante who will help you as you think through your difficult options, no matter what decision you eventually reach. The American Association for Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists and the Society for Sex Therapy and Research each have a database of sex therapists and counselors with expertise in sexual issues.

—Amy Stapleford, M.Ed.

What if I have an STI and my boyfriend has an STI? I went to the clinic and got treated. I asked my boyfriend to go get treated too because I got it from him. How would I know for sure if he went or not before I have sex with him again? The clinic won’t tell you because they can’t. But its not right for people to lie about getting treatment.

Unfortunately, you will never know 100% that your partner got treated unless you went with him to the clinic. With STIs that can be cured, keep in mind that if you are treated but your partner is not, you can be reinfected if the two of you have sex again. Some clinics offer follow-up testing after treatment to make sure the infection has cleared. You may ask your partner to do that or go in for the follow-up testing together.

The other important thing to mention is communication and trust. Healthy relationships involve trust in your partner and appropriate communication. The best thing for you to do is to sit down with your partner and talk about how important it is to you for them to get treated. Many people will not get tested or treated for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because they don’t have any symptoms, they don’t have insurance or money to pay for an appointment, or because they are worried about the stigma attached to getting tested. Reasons like this may be holding your partner back from getting tested/treated. However, it’s important to know that more than half of all people will get an STI in their lifetime and most STIs are curable or very treatable. Having an STI is nothing to be ashamed of and seeking treatment is the best thing you can do for yourself and your partner. Let them know that testing is fast and easy and most of the treatment regimens for STIs are easy to follow and very effective. If they haven’t sought treatment, ask them if they’d feel more comfortable if you came with them to the clinic.

If you still have suspicions that they haven’t gotten treatment, you can always use internal or external condoms during oral, vaginal, and/or anal sex to protect yourself. Click here to learn more about condoms. If you find that trusting your partner is a huge challenge in your relationship, it may be a good idea to talk about that with your partner or with a counselor.

—ASHA Sexual Health Resource Center Staff

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