F. Birchman / MSNBC.com
By msnbc.com contributor
msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/27/2004 9:43:53 AM ET 2004-05-27T13:43:53

In this month’s Sexploration, columnist Brian Alexander counsels a woman whose husband is lusting after their daughter-in-law, and also answers reader questions on sexual pain, size and something called a popper. Have an intimate question? To e-mail us, click here .

Harmless dream or deal-breaker?
Q:  What do you do when your husband is having sexual dreams about his daughter-in-law? He talks in his sleep so I know all about his fantasy. She doesn't have a clue but I am losing my mind over this. I can't stand to touch him now. He looks at her breasts and butt when he thinks no one is looking, changed his type of clothing, will do any chore she wants done -- anything to be around her. He is in denial, of course. She is only 22; he is 43. My son would be devastated if he ever caught on. How do I deal with this, or is it just time to pack it up?

A: Whoa, there! Last night I had an erotic dream about Patricia Heaton, who plays Debra on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I’ve also had sexy dreams about Mystique, the all-blue femme fatale from "X-Men," as well as the wife of my next door neighbor, and the nun who taught my sixth-grade class, to name just a few of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of erotic dreams I’ve had about women I’m not actually boinking. Men do this. Don’t you?

If sex dreams (or even waking thoughts) about other women were grounds for divorce, there wouldn’t be a lasting marriage on the planet.

As far as I can tell, your husband has made no inappropriate moves and your anger is based mainly on mumbled sleepy talk and snappy dressing. Sheesh.

Did you ever consider that a young, perhaps attractive woman has entered your middle-aged husband’s life and that he just feels energized? Is it possible you feel a little threatened?

Before this thing festers any more, calmly -- without accusing -- tell your husband why you are concerned and ask to discuss it, or at least take a few days away with him to create some erotic dreams of your own. If these efforts fail, seek some professional advice.

The big hurt
Q:  My girlfriend and I have a healthy sexual relationship. However, she is unable to experience orgasms. While we both understand that her inability to orgasm is a semi-normal thing, there are complications. Sex sometimes creates burning sensations and discomfort in her labia area. She does not enjoy any labia stimulation because of this burning. Her natural lubrication is plenty sufficient. We tend to include adequate foreplay, but still her discomfort remains. We've both been tested for sexually transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections. Her gynecologist has suggested cutting off the nerves to alleviate her of this discomfort. She is also on an antidepressant for anxiety that is known to cause sexual complications. So what's with the burning? Is it a good idea to cut off her nerves? How can we help this?

A: I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Medical Women’s Association, where one session covered a syndrome suffered by an estimated 6 million women, a condition called vulvodynia, or “burning vulva syndrome.” Vulvodynia can make the vulva (including the labia) so sensitive to the touch that sex becomes impossible for some. Depressed and anxious women like your girlfriend are more than twice as likely to have it. Yet there have only been six research studies to assess possible treatments and the average patient sees five doctors before receiving an adequate diagnosis.

Vulvodynia may be treated by nerve surgery but there are other, less invasive options. One treatment uses dildos (medicalized to “vaginal dilators”) to condition the opening of the vagina to the presence of a foreign body. I’m not saying your girlfriend has this syndrome -- I’m using it as an example of why she should seek an opinion from a specialist -- but she might want to contact the National Vulvodynia Association (www.nva.org) for more information. 

Her lack of orgasm may or may not be related; a minority of women orgasm during intercourse. According to Laura Berman, a sex therapist at Chicago’s Berman Center, your girlfriend should follow the advice above to address physiological problems. Second, some antidepressants can inhibit orgasm, as you suggest, so maybe they are the culprit. Third, she could have an emotional block. Finally, don’t stress out. “One way to be sure you never have an orgasm is to obsess about it,” Berman says.

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Instead, Berman suggests your girlfriend kick you out of the bedroom. By herself, she can relax and try a vibrator or fingers to explore what touch feels best free of any pressure or time limits. Practice, practice, practice. If she can learn to orgasm this way, she might then teach you what to do or be able to incorporate vibrators once you’re back in the game. 

Whether to pop poppers
Q:  I thought I had heard of every way to enhance sex, but while having a beer with a friend the other day he mentioned he used "poppers." He said they were great. What in the world are poppers?

A: Poppers are an old sex drug that gained fame during the addled disco days. More technically known as amyl nitrate (or related nitrate compounds), they are small vials of a liquid chemical typically huffed near the moment of climax in an effort to enhance orgasm. They work but they’re a bad idea. In addition to requiring an awkward timing ballet (Now? Not yet. Now? Yes! Breathe!) they dramatically and suddenly dilate blood vessels which, under the right circumstances, can kill you.

Sizing things up
Q:
I broke up with my girlfriend for a period of one month. Meanwhile she had sex with another man who had a much larger penis. When we got back together, I noticed she felt a bit "looser" during intercourse. I was wondering if having sex with a larger-sized penis makes a woman loose for good. Is there a way to make her "tighter"? Or does it go back to "normal" on its own?

A: Relax. Unless this other guy had a penis with the girth of a jumbo Louisville Slugger, his mighty Willy is not mighty enough to lay waste to your girlfriend.

She can “tighten up,” however, through Kegel exercises. Think of them as bench presses for the muscles she uses to control peeing. Look 'em up.

Brian Alexander is a California-based writer who covers sex, relationships and health. He is a contributing editor at Glamour and the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" (Basic Books, 2003).

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