What People Keep Asking Me About Sex and Relationships is the title of my newly published collection of essays*. It’s also a frequent question in itself : what do people ask you about when they write to you? What are young people/women/married folks etc. curious about? Usually they refer to all the mail I received when I wrote my syndicated advice column “Ask Isadora”. However I still receive letters and emails asking for sex and/or relationship advice from readers of Psychology Today, from visitors here at the Sexuality Forum, from counseling clients, and from lecture audience members.
Often it’s some version of “Am I normal”? It could be about the physical body (“One of these is larger than the other” or “Should hair be growing there?”). Often it’s about feelings (“I have all these things in my life; shouldn’t I be happier?”) Most often it’s about sexual desires or practices such as something feels good that the questioner thinks should not or he or she has fantasies that are disturbing.
The standard therapist response to these concerns is “What’s normal for YOU?” In other words, there is no world standard of normalcy, there is only a range. Some people have size 7 shoes, others have size 13. That goes for breasts and testicles and everything else on the body that comes in twos. One is usually larger than the other. If a person has occasional fantasies of pirates, for example, that’s normal for that person while it wouldn’t be for someone with frequent baseball player fantasies.
When it comes to sexual desires, fantasies, and acts, the range of what’s normal is very wide indeed. That is, people experiment – mentally in their dreams, often actually in their beds. In the same way that a 5 years old may tell fibs but is not forever more a liar, anyone who has a homosexual dream or encounter is not ever after a homosexual. The opposite is true as well. One heterosexual encounter does not make a gay person straight. What is very normal is to be curious.
Another frequent subject of curiosity is what “they” prefer. The “they” might be women if the asker is a man, men if it’s a woman, or bisexuals if the asker is straight or gay, even kinky folks if the one asking doesn’t define that way. As I said above, the range of what’s normal for any specific group is very large. I have written about the danger of broad generalizations here https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-sociability/201309/women-always-men-never.
The “best” way or the “right” way to do anything is something else I am often asked about – whether it’s meeting possible sweeties, dating, having a relationship or specific sex acts. There is this myth that everyone else knows some secret insight or rule to make it all go smoothly and no one told you. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-sociability/201105/the-myth-the-one-right-way-part-1-dating-and-courtship Please consider this a reminder that people don’t some in standard styles and that all interactions have dozens of ways they might play out.
And that brings us to another frequent question I’m asked to which I can only give a disappointing answer: how to get someone to do something you want them to do and they don’t. I wrote about that here recently https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-sociability/201611/how-get-someone-you.
When I first started as a sex and relationship educator the Internet was not around. Today if a person has a question about matters they are reluctant to ask their friends they can Google it, find an answer, or several, and maybe even watch a how-to video or a discussion group on the topic. Just because much of what people want to know about sex and relationships is easily available to them, that does not mean that any question is a silly one or too obvious. While personal experience is still the best teacher, never be reluctant to ask questions. It’s a very good way to begin your education in any field.
* available on Amazon.com in paper and as an e-book