Dear Patrick: I have a new lover, and it is really wonderful to be reminded of all the great sexy things that make all the crap you take for being a lesbian worthwhile. She is the tall, elegant butch of my dreams. But she is unhappy with the “other woman” in my life, which is actually a little pink vibrator I call “Sheila.” Sheila has gotten me through some tough times (i.e., when being a lesbian was much more theoretical than experiential). But my new flame says Sheila has to go. She says that she worries so much about competing with a machine that it is making her self-conscious in bed and decreasing her libido. Yikes! Bed death within the first six weeks?
I kind of resent this request. On the other hand, I don’t really need a vibrator right now. If we broke up, I would feel stupid telling my friends that I let a hot woman go because I wanted to keep my vibrator. What is your advice/opinion/Zen koan upon this matter?
The card-carrying romantic part of me wants to tell you to toss Sheila in the nearest bin and embark upon the best honeymoon ever. After a long period of little or no sex with a partner, masturbation has probably lost much of its thrill for you. I can also empathize with your partner. Telling yourself, “I have to provide more stimulation than something that runs on electricity” doesn’t exactly build arousal.
The part of me that has also been through (ahem) breakups, however, is less willing to renounce solo sex toys in favor of the joys that come from other people’s bodies. My experience is that people may need to masturbate even if they have great sex partners. What if you have really bad menstrual cramps, and she is stuck at work for hours? What if she has to go out of town for two weeks to take care of a family emergency? What if you just need to enjoy a private moment of fantasy and self-soothing?
I no longer think of sex in terms of competition. There are many forms of desire and just as many ways to gratify them. I like to have the option to include masturbation in partnered sex. When I’m getting to know a new lover, it is a handy clue to their body’s sensitivities. If my partner has a little trouble getting started or finishing up, it’s great to be able to fall back on self-touch. If there is no rule that says, “I can only touch you and you can only touch me,” we can have twice as many hands on deck.
Power dynamics are also a concern. Will a partner who wants to take away your sex toys try to control other aspects of your life? Does she expect her personal moral code or sexual preferences to govern your behavior?
Nobody wants to think about this when they have just met somebody who is both attractive and available. You sound so happy that I feel kinda guilty for bringing it up. But if things were 100% great in this relationship, I don’t think you would have written to me. If you want to take the easy way out, you can give Sheila to a friend for safekeeping and see how the next few months play out. Over time, you will be able to sort out what’s up with your butch goddess. But if you’d like to take a shortcut test of compatibility (and be more honest), tell her, “Honey, you aren’t competing with a vibrator. I love our sex life. But I also want to be able to masturbate sometimes, no matter how great we are in bed together. I am keeping the toy even though I hate the thought of upsetting you.” Her reaction will speak volumes about the long-term potential (or lack of it) in this erotic firestorm.