Boyfriend pressing you for sex? Buy him a scented candle!

// 4 September 2010


I’ve read some crappy advice columns in the past, but this one, from Pamela Stephenson Connolly in The Guardian, may just take the biscuit. Here’s the question:

I enjoy sex with my boyfriend of two years – he has a stunning body that really turns me on. But lately he seems bored and has started pressing me for anal sex, to use sex toys and to have a threesome. None of that appeals to me, but I’m worried that if I don’t try these novelties, he’ll break up with me. How can I keep him happy without doing things I don’t fancy?

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? The man who should love, respect and care for her is pressing her to try sexual activities she’s not up for, and her relationship relies on pleasing him sexually so he won’t break up with her; clearly, she’d be better off without him. Perhaps then she could stop worrying about fulfilling his fantasies and work on building up her self esteem instead.

That’s where you’d be wrong. Because this is what our clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders advises:

Your reason for enjoying sex with him is his appearance, so your main arousal trigger may be visual. To help excite him in a more palatable manner, find out which of the five senses cue him erotically. For example, try erotic talk to see if it is auditory (describing scenarios involving threesomes might do the trick), or erotic massage for touch. For taste, try using food such as chocolate, or bring enticing scents into the bedroom (don’t deny him your own natural one).

In the process of investigating you’ll demonstrate that you too can be experimental. He may be finding your focus on his body objectifying (men experience that as well as women), so he could be trying to deflect that by suggesting erotic play that puts the focus back on you. The “novelties” may seem more appealing once fully discussed. Safety considerations are often the biggest barrier, so negotiation is vital. Anal sex, threesomes and toys all involve trust; he may be unconsciously asking you to do just that.

Yep, dude’s clearly going to stop pestering her for anal if she feeds him a chocolate mousse by the light of a scented candle while whispering sweet nothings. And her self esteem must have rocketed with the implication that her refusal to engage in sex acts she has no interest in may make him feel like she doesn’t trust him. Poor baby. Never forget, ladies, it’s all about the man!

Nice one, Pamela.

Comments From You

maggie // Posted 4 September 2010 at 7:33 pm

really this title should be boyfriend pressing you for anal sex and possibly anal and vaginal – if a man suggests threesome alongside anal it’s usually this scenario.

I too get the impression that the OP is uncomfortable with the situation. She should be counselled to move on and engage in a relationship that boosts her self esteem and that of her partners.

Not a counsel that suggests she try her best to participate in his phallocentric sexual fantasies.

icicle // Posted 4 September 2010 at 7:48 pm

This seems to be a common idea with councellors.

I once told a councellor (that I was seeing because I was quite depressed at the time) that I was regularly having penetrative sex when I didn’t want to and that is was making me really unhappy. Instead of suggesting I discuss it with my boyfreind or asking why I felt I couldn’t say no to penetative sex, she dissmissed it by saying “we all have to have sex sometimes when we don’t want to” and made out that I was just young and silly. Of course this meant I felt even less able to talk to my boyfreind about it.

Colin // Posted 4 September 2010 at 8:13 pm

I do find Pamela’s responses somewhat annoying sometimes. She always seems to suggest that people (and women in particulat) should effectively cede to their partner’s wishes, when in some cases “dump him” would be far sounder advice!

Robin Pritchard // Posted 4 September 2010 at 8:19 pm

I agree with Laura. Pamela’s advice is chronic. Ditch her and the bloke. Young men’s porno and Internet driven aspirations are ungracious, unkind and unloving. No amount of sexopsychobabble can whitewash that.

Quiet Riot Girl // Posted 4 September 2010 at 8:40 pm

‘He may be finding your focus on his body objectifying (men experience that as well as women)’

Ah, and there was me thinking it was only women’s bodies that get objectified in our culture. (well from reading the F-word and all other feminist literature anyway)

Jennifer Drew // Posted 4 September 2010 at 10:53 pm

Pamela Stephenson does it again! Women you must always but always put the man’s sexual pleasure first second and last and if you don’t want to submit to the sexual acts he demands/expects – why you are at fault not him.

With psychologists such as Stephenson it is no wonder so many women believe they are the ones with the ‘problem’ not the man. But then phallocentricism is de rigeur and ‘real sex’ is only ‘real sex’ when the focus is on pleasing men and “allowing men” to do whatever they wish to women. Women’s right of ownership of their bodies is a non issue in Stephenson’s world.

What is even worse is Stephenson’s phallocentric admonitions are read by innumerable female readers and a good few male readers too.

Hannah // Posted 5 September 2010 at 9:28 am

Pamela’s replies are sometimes a bit wacky, but I guess part of her role is to entertain and spark debate on CiF…though perhaps that is too cynical an interpretation of her column. I don’t think her advice to experiment a bit more is necessarily bad – after all, sex is about two people being happy, and by doing slightly different things he might stop pestering her to do things she doesn’t want to do – more that Stephenson doesn’t really engage with the psychology of the couple, the fact he’s threatening (or seeming to threaten) to split up with her if she refuses to consent to these things, which of course isn’t consent. But then, in her defence, how much can you put into 200 words?

Actually, it seems, quite a lot. Many commenters picked up on the same problems as you and gave some smart advice of the kind we F Worders would probably approve of. Often the comments on private lives and Stephenson’s column are better than the words of the professionals the Guardian employs… I noticed many of the highest recommended were ones advising her to dump him for prioritising his (let’s face it, probably porn-created) sexual fantasies above respect for his girlfriend. Phew!

Hannah // Posted 5 September 2010 at 9:31 am

I think I should have added – I suppose people reading the paper would only hear Stephenson’s supposedly authoritative voice, but online, the democratisation of advice columns by opening them up to comments splinters the authority of the professional advice-giver, and that’s quite an interesting development in the history of agony aunts. As you might see from my earlier post, I think it’s a really positive thing.

starsandscars // Posted 5 September 2010 at 2:31 pm

I wish teenage me knew about enthusiastic consent, it would have saved so much anguish.. saying “Yes” just to get someone to leave you alone does not fall under that banner.

That goes for anything sexual, but I’ve found some men have a particularly hard time with a woman not wanting to do anal. This came up a lot in my second long term relationship.. “Can’t we just try it?” Despite the fact I had previously tried, multiple times, taking all precautions and not enjoyed it* and was totally candid about this with him. Why would being pressured into it make it any more enjoyable for me, I would ask this guy if I could, but I doubt that was the point..

*That is my personal opinion, of course, I know there are plenty of people who enjoy it very much. If they’re doing it safely and consensually, then fucking awesome! We need more of that in this society! But consent is so, so important. I think PSC needs to be reminded of that.

Oh, also- bit off topic, but did anyone see the comment in the original article saying “You don’t even need condoms!” ? FFS…

Quiet Riot Girl // Posted 5 September 2010 at 4:03 pm

I totally agree, Hannah. To give too much authority to the original writer of the article is to miss the point of online journalism and blogging, with comments.

For me, the ‘bottom half’ of the internet, is often where all the good action happens!

At least there are spaces where people can discuss sexual issues that don’t just lead to daily mail style ‘slut-shaming’ comments online.

White Plimsoles // Posted 5 September 2010 at 4:12 pm

I am really not sure which bit of Pamela’s response I find most offensive! He is subconsciously asking you to trust him by demanding you let him inflict pain on and humiliate you! Is she being serious? Safety considerations? Negotiations? This is a woman’s life and happiness we are talking about, not a frigging business deal! Of course honey, you can legitimise shagging another woman by keeping me in the bed, but first just let me do this quick risk assessment and I’ll be right with you. My answer would have been – dump him and enjoy your life without his infantile and oppressive demands on your body and mind. And don’t worry – there are plenty of men out there who have ‘stunning bodies’, if that’s what floats your boat, but also have a brain which allows them to treat women as equals, in and out of the bedroom!

And what was even the point of suggesting chocolate or a scented candle – this fella is obviously well past that stage. He wants to shag her up the arse Pamela – a Yankee candle is hardly going to be a viable alternative to him! You gotta laugh (or cry).

Laura // Posted 5 September 2010 at 4:22 pm

@ Hannah / Quiet Riot Girl – I did mean to point out the good stuff in the comments below, but was in a rush and forgot. Nice to see some sensible voices below the line at the Guardian for once!

C // Posted 5 September 2010 at 10:35 pm

I’m a feminist and a big fan of The F-Word. For what it’s worth, I’d like to offer a difference of opinion on this matter.

I want to make it clear that I don’t think anyone should ever be FORCED to have ANY type of sex if they don’t want to. That said, I feel like people are vilifying this woman’s boyfriend and we don’t know enough about this couple to judge him so quickly.

For example, is the woman objecting to these requests by her boyfriend because she’s already tried these novelties and hates them? Or does she just assume she wouldn’t like them and refuses to try? Maybe he’s pressing her because she’s being completely dismissive of his desires. Or maybe he’s an insensitive, male-chauvinist pig. We can’t know because (thankfully) we’re not in the room with them when these conversations happen.

Lord knows there’s nothing junior-league about a threesome or even anal, so I understand her hesitancy, but there is a vast variety of sex toys and it is incredibly easy to find a starter toy that’s fun for all and won’t scare the bejeezus out of you. It almost seems like she’s unwilling to try anything outside of her comfort zone, and I DO think people have the obligation to be fairly open-minded when it comes to pleasing their sexual partners; not because one is a woman and one is a man, but because THEY’RE PARTNERS. He should be equally willing to explore HER fantasies, and if they start and end at “vanilla” sex, then he should happily give her that. And if neither of them are willing to be considerate of each other’s sexuality (either him by being too pushy and dominant or her being too close-minded) then they SHOULD break up. But not necessarily because he’s being an evil man.

Just my two cents!

coldharbour // Posted 6 September 2010 at 11:58 am

I’m always really cynical about these kind of debates, I think the article itself (and the usual comments from the sex-negative posters) promotes the idea that men always want far more/different types of sex than a woman does. If I was to believe everything Jennifer Drew said I would probably think all woman in heterosexual relationships found sex with their parter completely erroneous and without pleasure (just like the patriarchy wants and demands). I’m not saying there are no valid issues with regard to this article in the right context it just would be nice to see a lot more (there seems to be almost none) sex-positive articles on the F-Word.

Laura // Posted 6 September 2010 at 1:33 pm

@ coldharbour, I wasn’t intending to be “sex-negative”, I just thought it seemed like rather poor advice given that the woman asking the question felt her boyfriend was “pressing” her. That’s not the kind of sex I feel particularly positive about.

sianushka // Posted 6 September 2010 at 1:55 pm

i really disagree with the terms sex positive and sex negative, they are too often a tool with which to beat women and men/feminists who disagree with the sex industry.

as far as i am concerned, feminism encourages women to having fulfilling and pleasurable sex lives, with no shame. this to me means educating and encouraging women to engage in sex (or not, as they choose) as autonomous, independent individuals who can and want to express their desires (and, if that desire is to not have sex with anyone, or have sex with someone of the same gender then they can). it’s about educating and empowering women to actively consent to the sex they want to have.

i’ve never met a feminist who is ‘sex negative’. to me, being sex negative is the treatment of sexuality as a commodity, expecting women to perform sexuality with no regard for her pleasure, or the treatment of sex as a one size fits all policy that men take and women give. It’s the advice that PS has given, that women should ignore their own feelings and desires.

sam // Posted 6 September 2010 at 3:22 pm

I am not sure about the comments given here. We do not know the woman’s boyfriend so we should not assume he is a chauvinistic pig that should be dumped by her. I think communication is key and if this is the only thing standing in the way of their happiness then that is no reason to give up on their relationship. I doubt anyone would feel the same way if it was her wanting a little excitement in their sex lives and wanting to explore her sexual fantasies. i Think they should meet in the middle and find a way to please each other. Maybe trying the sex toys is not the worst idea and maybe exploring some of her fantasies.

Kristin // Posted 6 September 2010 at 3:26 pm

Anal sex would be WAY outside my comfort zone. I don’t want it and I would see a boyfriend pressuring me for it as a reason to break up with him. If anyone thinks I’m sex-negative, narrow-minded, unadventurous/whatever, I don’t care.

Pamela can shove her scented candle.

rathernotsay // Posted 6 September 2010 at 3:59 pm

i have been pressured into anal, and it was a horrible and humiliating. i did it for the same reason – not wanting 2 upset the asshole i was with. the ‘u haven;t tried it so how would u know?’ arguement was used on me. it is manipualtive crap.

if u feel uneasy about somethin then NEVER feel like u have to do it. never.

calling some1 ‘sex-negative’ is also manipulative. it is not ‘negative’ not 2 give in2 pressure. ‘sex-negative’ is utter bullshit – don’t b fooled!

no1 who loves u will pressure u in2 stuff u aren’t comfy with. i hope this woman leaves this guy and finds some1 better.

coldharbour // Posted 6 September 2010 at 5:13 pm


I wasn’t intending to be “sex-negative”, I just thought it seemed like rather poor advice given that the woman asking the question felt her boyfriend was “pressing” her. That’s not the kind of sex I feel particularly positive about.

My point was more about the disproportionate amount of coverage given to negative sexual experiences that women face rather than the specific critique of the advice. The whole point of third wave/sex-positive feminism is the promotion of the idea that woman love sex just as much as men do, the constant reiteration of negative accounts of womens sexual experiences merely perpetuates the idea that sex is something men inherently want and enjoy far more than women, an idea I find to be the antithesis of feminist ideology. Like I said, I don’t disagree with your specific point in relation to the advice given, I just find articles like Stephenson’s (and certain reactions to it) are seriously guilt of stereotyping women finding sex erroneous and tiresome, a very Victorian patriarchal view of sex indeed.

Sheila // Posted 6 September 2010 at 10:04 pm

It also occurs to me that “acting out” is more frequently a male thing than a female thing. Men act out their fantasies – whether socially acceptable, acceptable to their partners, criminal even, or not. It seems to be accepted that a fantasy can be translated into reality. But some fantasies are purely that and best left that way. Some boundaries should be respected even in intimate relationships. If I don’t want to discuss my fantasies, let alone act them out, then that should be respected. My ex beat me up because he was jealous of a fantasy he forced out of me. He expected 100% even fantasy faithfulness (he agreed in therapy that this high standard was certainly not reciprocated). It isn’t necessarily equality for the advice to be that the woman can discuss her fantasies too. That’s still giving the man the agenda and the boundaries. And saying a man has a great body is not objectifying. I don’t mind if my partner says I have great breasts or a wonderful body. I’d mind if he called me “The body”, or the breasts on legs etc. Appreciating someone’s body isn’t objectifying. Not seeing beyond the body is.

Courtney // Posted 21 October 2010 at 12:16 am

Recently I have been more active in feminist issues, especially after reading “Reclaiming the F word.” Seeing this post was so helpful to me because I have recently experienced a situation like this. My boy friend really is a good man and he would never make me do any thing I did not want to do, but lately he has been suggesting things such as this. I was almost swayed to make him happy, but then I realized that it would only serve to make me unhappy and it could ruin our relationship. I put my foot down and squashed any hope for him getting any of that. He respects my decision and I am thankful for that. It is ok to have fantasies or desires, but it is never ok to pressure any one into any sexual activity. Thank you for posting this issue. It made me feel stronger for reading this and I know that I will never let any form of pressure effect me this way again. In this case, my happiness is way more important and if he cannot take that then he does not deserve to be in my life.

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