Advice – My girlfriend gets aroused when stressed.

To sum it up, stress makes my girlfriend horny. This could be work stress, family stress, or studying for finals. Now usually I don’t mind this at all, right? We’ve been together about 2 years.

Well, we’ve hit some bumps in our relationship lately and we’ve been having some pivotal conversations about where the relationship is headed, what we’re realistically going to be, what we want in the short and long term. It’s not like we’re breaking up, but it’s a possibility; and it has made both of us feel pressure and stress as we work through it.

The issue with the stress is that it makes her want to get it on really frequently. I mean, REALLY frequently. Four or five times a day, and usually she wants to have sex right after a tense conversation. But, I’m the exact opposite of her. Stress kills my libido, and after a hard conversation I don’t mind laying down with her but literally the last thing on my mind is having sex.

This difference is creating a new level of issues during the hard time we’ve hit because she feels like I’m pulling away or don’t find her attractive or like I actually want to end things, despite the whole conversation we just had where I said I wanted to be with her. I’ve tried to explain that the stress is shutting me off, and she says she understands, but it’s clear she is still feeling hurt about it.

Any advice on what we, or I, should do?

Anonymous, Reddit.

Dear Anonymous,

Think of your sexual “drive” as composed of two different parts – an accelerator and a brake. Some people have really sensitive sexual accelerators – Sexual Excitation System (SES) – while others have insensitive accelerators that require a lot more to be activated. In short, the accelerator is reflective how fast you get turned on by your turn ons. An example of someone with a really sensitive accelerator is a person who gets aroused very easily with minimal input. Sexual accelerator operates under a completely independent spectrum than a sexual brake – Sexual Inhibition System (SIS). In short, the brake is reflective of how fast you get turned off by your turn offs. So an example with someone with a really insensitive brake is a person who doesn’t get turned off by something that might turn others off.

Our goal here is to “turn off the offs” and “turn on the ons”. We do that by identifying what our ons and offs are, communicating the essential expectations, and then managing the contexts around our ons and offs.

So first let’s parse your situation into to different parts: one for you and another for your girlfriend. This will help us identify what are your and your girlfriend’s turn ons and offs. After we discuss each of your perspectives, then we will talk about what you can both do to have a more fulfilling sex life together by adjusting the context around your ons and offs.

Let’s first talk about your headspace around arousal.

According to the dual control model, arousal is really two processes: activating the accelerator and deactivating the brakes … [I]t’s also a product of how sensitive your brakes and accelerators are to that stimulation.

Dr. Emily Nagoski, Come As You Are.

Based on what you have shared, it sounds like stress – particularly relationship stress – presses on your sexual brakes. That is a very common response to stress. Even if the actual status of your relationship is not in jeopardy, the sense of attachment in your relationship certainly could be. So when your brakes get inevitably hit, your body needs more time to acknowledge that this is still a safe connection that you can be erotically vulnerable with through intimacy. That does not happen on its own. You need time to heal and recuperate before you can turn off the offs – the relationship conflict points.

You said that your girlfriend’s behavior hasn’t been a problem for you in the past. I wonder if that is because the conflict itself didn’t pertain to you or if it was because the NRE overshadowed the brakes that were already being pressed. Has this been an issue in your previous relationships where you felt turned off immediately following a heated discussion with your partners?

This problem gets further exacerbated when your girlfriend keeps initiating sex even though you are not yet aroused. For you, this means that your sexual brake remains pressed, as a new iteration of the ongoing relationship stress. That is a problem. And one that perpetuates the existing set of issues.

So what does this mean for you?

You need a basis and a foundation of trust and safety in order to be aroused. Being rushed or pressured is not going to work for you because it is going to add to the stress that you already feel about your relationship. Even if the stressors are justified, well-intentioned, and on their way to resolution, there needs to be more of a space between the stress-inducing experience (like heavy discussions about the state of your relationship) and the erotic reconnection.

Now let’s talk about your girlfriend’s headspace around arousal.

Physiologically, anger and arousal have a lot in common. Psychologically, too. In your case, I think the anger emboldens you. It relieves you of compliance, and leaves you feeling more entitled. Anger highlights separateness and is a counterpoint to dependence; this is why it can so powerfully stoke desire. It gives you the distance you need. As a habit it can be problematic, but there’s no denying that it’s a powerful stimulant.

Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity.

I have two theories on what your girlfriend’s erotic headspace is like. And they’re not mutually exclusive.

The first possibility is that she has a very insensitive brake that allows for her to overlook the relationship conflicts in her arousal. In this possibility, her state of arousal is unaffected (or less than affected) by the stressors surrounding her personal life. This might be the case with your girlfriend if her normal libido maintains through times of conflicts as well as times of happiness.

The other and more likely possibility is that she has a very sensitive accelerator that allows her to get aroused with ease with her innately spontaneous sexual desire. In this possibility, her arousal is an outward manifestation of her stress mitigation effort. This arousal can come from a couple different places. Maybe she is able to switch gears really fast and easily tap into her fountain of spontaneous desire for sex with you. Maybe her arousability is a reflection of self-value affirming practice. Maybe her sense of stress is the heavy foot on that rests on her accelerator.

And the issue is not with any of those rationale. Her sexuality and desire is just as valid as your sexuality and desire. The issue is in how that conflict is resolved (or not resolved).

We also have additional data points to consider. When you communicate your current disinterest in sex, it sounds like her responses to this rejection is also layered. Whether she fears her own attraction or the stability in her relationship with you, the meta-feelings that she has about the rejection also shines a light on what she feels the most insecure about. Even though the rejection had nothing to do with her, her internal narrative around rejection unfortunately rewrites your stated intentions and desire for her. That is not only painful for her to feel through, but also difficult for you to overwrite her internal rewriting. And this in turn brings your caretaking to the forefront, which is also not conducive to an erotic mindframe for you. For her, her reaction might come from a complicated but powerful concoction of her sexual upbringing, self-criticism, and relationship doubt. Her feelings are just as valid and real as yours.

Now that we’ve touched on each of your perspectives, let’s do a deeper dive on how to bring both of you together.

When we feel distressed, our attachment object is our safe haven. Even – or perhaps especially – if our attachment object is the source of our distress.

Dr. Emily Nagoski, Come As You Are.

So far, we’ve covered that your erotic headspace and your arousal cues might be very different from your girlfriend’s erotic headspace and her arousal cues. That is normal. You two have led completely different lives before you met each other. Also, you each contend with completely different social conditioning around your gender and sexuality. Our goal here isn’t to bring the other completely over to one side. Instead, we should aim to understand where you are each standing, find out what makes each of you feel safe & supported, and settle on a happy medium where neither of you are dealing with a crisis of faith in your relationship.

For you, your goal is to turn off your turn offs. I think it would be beneficial to communicate your headspace and the meta-feelings around your relationship conflict points. This will create space for her to also relate with you about her own headspace and her meta-feelings about the recent stressors. Then reflect on what you need to feel safe to engage in intimacy with your partner. That can look like a soft verbal reaffirmation that she is just. as committed to work through this with you. It can also look like a long, intimate cuddle to start physically reconnecting before sex even comes into play. Or it might look like her giving you five minutes on your own to process your feelings and meta-feelings about the heavy discussion you two just had. Whatever it is, be courageous and reassure her that you are not abandoning her and that you also want to keep working on this relationship with her.

For her, she’ll also need to come up with a way to interrupt her negative feedback cycle upon rejection. The knives that she wields are sharp and context-dependent. If she has to leave you alone for sometime while you recuperate, it’s going to feel exactly like the wrong thing to do. That just isn’t how her attachment muscle is set up. But consistently doing so even if for five minutes will allow her to build trust that you will keep coming back, that you are going to keep choosing her. And that five minute break will help you switch your mental gears and get back into your erotic headspace with the person you’ve been working so hard to maintain a relationship with.

For both of you, it might be mutually beneficial to look to what intimacy really means for both of you. Eroticism and intimacy goes far beyond just the act of penetrative intercourse. A skin-to-skin cuddle can be just as erotically charging as PIV in the right context.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Managing infatuation for a secondary partner.

I feel a little weird even asking this but I actually have no idea who to talk to in my life about it. I’ve been in a relationship that’s only grown stronger with my partner for five years. We have kept it open the entire time in the physical / sexual aspect. We have come across all sorts of situations in this time, and are really open about discussing any potential issues that come up. But overall we are really happy and tied to just each other emotionally.

My partner was the one who wanted it open initially and has been comfortable with keeping it that way. But I’ve been way more active with pursuing physical relationships with others.

For the most part, it’s been fine but I have felt really strange because I’ve had an on/off thing with one individual for the last few years and I find myself thinking about him a lot and wanting to see him. Let’s call him Peter. Peter knows about my relationship. Throughout the years, we occasionally stop communicating usually when he’s in a relationship (that’s not open), but we always end up seeing each other again and fall into the same routine. I don’t see anything romantic with this person, and I know there is no future or anything so I don’t know why I can’t control my thoughts of wanting to see him. I’ve met lots of other people and never have these issues. Even if there’s an initial thrill or fantasy of thinking about someone constantly, it always dies out.

Is this something that has happened to others? I’m so confused and I’m getting really sick of it because it’s been a few years of the same sort of thing and then I end up feeling sad when he stops communicating with me but I also feel like I shouldn’t be because I’m in a really solid relationship. The only thing I can think of is that I don’t have a lot of friends in my area anymore, and when I do see this person, we end up actually hanging out and it’s always enjoyable. So maybe he’s fulfilling a friendship aspect that I’m missing.

I think I need to stop contacting him since it is feeling more emotional than I want it to, but I’m also at a loss as to why I’ve even gotten so hyper focused on this one person. I hope this makes sense. If anyone has recommendations, I would really appreciate it.

Helen, Reddit.

Dear Helen,

Let me tell you about this cherry blossom tree that I have in my backyard. The tree came with the house when my nesting partner and I first purchased our home. And while I generally love the aesthetic of cherry blossom trees, I wasn’t a big fan of the placement of this tree – it felt too close to home. So we chopped it down ourselves and thought it’d be gone.

Well, it came back the next year. This time, the branches out of the bark we cut weaved into our deck. This made the tree management even more difficult. But, again, we trimmed all the branches off. I remember looking at my nesting partner in her eyes and saying, “I guess that is that.”

What do you know, the tree came back the following year. This time, we threw our hands up in the air and decided we’ll just keep it trimmed to the best of our abilities. And we will hire someone to move the tree when we can budget for a relocation.

Trees don’t just die and wither because the branches are cut off. Nature inevitably find ways to survive and thrive, even in uncharacteristically challenging environments. In this way, our feelings resemble my very resilient cherry blossom tree. We cannot truly control our feelings; we can only acknowledge those feelings, then manage them by altering the context around those feelings.

Photo by Miti on Unsplash

Let’s do an even deeper dive into your feelings.

You say that you don’t see anything romantic happening between you two, and that this present agreement works for both of you. You also say that you feel sad when Peter drops in and out of your life. And you also mentioned that you don’t have a whole lot of other friends in the area you can authentically engage with. As you’ve already laid out, it appears that you’ve grown to depend on Peter to engage with you as friends and as partners over the years.

And those types of feelings are a natural response to developing attachment, whether they are a platonic friendship, quasi-romantic sexual connection, or a full-spectrum romantic relationship. Your feelings regarding your connection with Peter is further compounded by the uncertainty of your connection. It sounds like Peter is forging monogamous connections with others, so you never know if the next time he disconnects from you will be the last disconnection. That is very difficult to manage.

And your fears here are very valid and real. You want to be able to depend on people you share vulnerabilities with.

Then you have complicated meta feelings related to the your connection anxiety. I get an underlying sense of guilt as you reflect on the casual nature of your connection with Peter. More specifically, you feel like you are not allowed to have these intense feelings of longing for a connection that you know probably won’t be “forever and ever.” And because you have such difficult time navigating your negative meta feelings, you feel a desire to sever this connection. That desire comes from wanting a semblance of control – a sense of security – in that if you can assert control over this connection with Peter, then you might also be asserting control over the feelings you have about this connection with Peter.

So let’s spend some time with the core issue within your situation.

The question you initially asked – “Should I end this connection with my secondary partner?” – might not be the right question to ask. A better question is – “Should I allow myself to feel emotionally connected in my secondary partnerships?” You said that you are content just being emotionally involved with your primary partner. And if you want to reserve exclusive emotional vulnerability around your primary partnership, then it makes sense to sever this tie so that you can remain compliant with your relationship agreement. If so, then setting proper relationship boundaries should be something you should implement for any of your future connections.

Those boundaries can look like limiting the amount of time with your secondary connections (i.e. only seeing them once or twice a month), limiting the amount of vulnerability you share with your secondary connections (i.e. not talking about certain topics beyond basic sexual chemistry), or even setting a time limit on your secondary connections (i.e. “burn notice” clause). All of those can help manage the context around your feelings for not just this secondary connection but your future ones as well. Do note, this won’t manage your feelings themselves. It’ll only help alter the circumstances around those feelings.

But if you’ve never struggled with setting those boundaries around other secondary connections, maybe this is just a Peter thing. And there is something special and unique about this connection that is making you much more vulnerable than you really want to be with your secondary partners. These feelings aren’t wrong or unethical. But if you don’t want to have attachment-based connection with your secondary partners, then it might be for the best to sever this connection so that you can focus on connections where you have positive meta feelings about.

Cherry blossom trees can also be beautiful in the right places.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – How can I deal with hypersexualization of my racial identity?

I had a an experience recently that made me question whether I had experienced a micro aggression…

A good friend (M), who is in the loop about my partner and my polyamorous relationship, was over at my place hanging out with just me (F). My partner (M) was at work due to be home in a few hours. This friend, we’ll call him Fred, has had lots of conversations with my partner and I about our experiences being poly-am and has shared a lot about their own sexual experiences as well. I find it very refreshing to normalize talking about sex with friends who are comfortable having those conversations. Anyway, Fred brings up the spa shooting and asks how that’s affected me (I am Asian) and brings up that it’s always white men who are causing problems. I hadn’t had much time to really contemplate how that shooting impacted my own experience and we took a few minutes to unpack that.

Later as Fred and I are hanging out, he brings up that he thought I was implying that my partner and I were hinting at wanting to include him in our relationship, sexually. I let him know that my partner and I are always very clear/explicit about whether or not we want to be with someone and apologized for making him think that I was coming on to him.

Fred persists on insinuating that I was coming on to him because “you know, since you’re not openly poly and you opened up to me” and let’s me know that “He’s down.” At no point had I made any hints or claims that I was attracted and was honestly very confused where Fred could have gotten the idea I was interested in him. I apologize again for making him think that I was interested and awkwardly change the subject.

Looking back at it, I’m feeling confused and honestly a bit torn about being open about being polyam with this person. I thought that he was someone I could trust with this information but I’m wondering if this is just that white guy hypersexualization of poly-am Asian girl BS.

FYI my partner and I are not out to our family, only to our closest friends.

Any thoughts? Appreciate your feedback.

V, Reddit.

Dear V,

I am really sorry to hear that you had this experience with someone you thought you could trust. Your experience is an experience that is unfortunately far too common among far too many people. We are shaped by the summation of our categorical experiences. Many of those experiences are used to tell narratives about ourselves, about the world, and about our connections. And I understand the core source of your confusion. It comes from series of misunderstandings, which is then perpetuated by these reinforced stories about ourselves, about the world, and about our connections.

This is one of the main reasons why I remain so selective and vigilant about the people I am close with. It can be so disorienting to be around people who downplay, disregard, or even perpetuate the harm and the pain from overt racist actions and subtle microaggressions. The right type of people will support and amplify my reality, or help me heal from the ongoing societal trauma.

There are many layers to your situation, which all not only relate to each other but further compound the core issue at hand: misunderstanding. So we’ll spend some time in this post navigating through each of the three layers before we talk in-depth about what you might be able to do to avoid similar situations in the future.

The first layer is polyamory.

More and more people are becoming aware of the existence of polyamory. From this research, it was estimated that there were about 4% who were practicing polyamory in 2016. But from this research, that 4% grew to 10.7% in 2020. So while more people are aware of polyamory, there still exists a significant gap in understanding of how polyamory actually works.

I’ve already written quite a bit on what it is like to be a newbie in polyamory. And in 2019, I wrote a piece about what it is like to date a newbie, as an experienced polyamorous individual. But I have not written quite enough about what it is like to date a newbie, as another newbie looking in. It could be possible that Fred has had absolutely no previous experience with engaging with someone who is polyamorous. And it could be possible that he incorrectly associated your expression of relationship orientation as a way to communicate sexual interest. That might not be something that you do personally, but few do communicate their availability and interest by openly talking about their orientation with people they are interested in.

In truth, just because you are polyamorous doesn’t mean you are available to date. And just because you are looking to date doesn’t mean that you are interested in dating this particular person. That was a faulty double-assumption that only one person is responsible for: Fred.

I’ll also add the additional caveat that most people are bad at having conversations about sex and sexuality. That is in part due to the poor quality sex ed in here in American schools, in part due to negative stigma around sex & sexuality, and in part due to the pervasive sex shame culture. And so, many folks incorrectly associate conversations about intimacy as uniquely intimate conversations. In reality – as you noted – we should be working to normalize a more frank dialogue about sex & sexuality that goes beyond shame and judgment. But that could have been another element that contributed to the overall miscommunication.

The second layer is gender.

While I myself am not a woman, I have had many conversations with past and current partners who are women about what it is like for them to navigate the polyamory space as women. One partner in particular complained about how difficult it is to date because there are so many men who claim to be open-minded about polyamory but lack basic emotional foundations to attempt dating a polyamorous woman. Another communicated how reticent she is to date cis men because the men she matched with were only interested in having sex with her, even though she laid it out clearly on her profile that she doesn’t do casual sex. Take their word for it; it is a wreck out there.

In dating, many men have this toxic idea that they can turn a “no” into a “yes” by consistently disrespecting the boundaries of the person they are romantically or sexually interested in, even after they’ve already said their “no”. Few of them even operate under the false assumption that the worst they can get is a “no”, which they’ve already got in spades. On the flip side, many women are conditioned to keep deflecting, “play hard to get”, and romanticize otherwise toxic behaviors from their pursuers. Both of these rotate in a negative feedback cycle that perpetuates cyclical abuse and misunderstanding.

That could be one of the reasons why Fred continued to disrespect your boundaries by reasserting and advancing his sexual interest in you despite you making it very clear that you were not interested in him. That was another faulty assumption that only one person is responsible for: Fred.

I have also noted that you apologized twice in this exchange with Fred. Many women are socially conditioned to appease and downplay bad intentions because actually establishing healthy boundaries is “unacceptable.” It is not your responsibility to manage his perception around your behavior; you are only responsible for your intention and your subsequent reaction. And in the same way, only Fred is responsible for his intention to violate your boundaries and his subsequent reaction to push against your boundaries.

Imagine going to a restaurant and selecting an entree. If that entree is bad, it isn’t your fault; it is the cook’s. In the same way, only Fred is responsible for misreading your cues and then subsequently pushing on your boundaries.

The third layer is race.

In many ways, your race acts like an accelerant to a chemical reaction already in motion.

Parts that were already activated become even more animated. For example, the generalized experience of navigating the dating space as a woman is already very challenging because they are often presented with much more back-end emotional labor than it appears. Because you are an Asian woman, your sexuality becomes an intense hyperfocus that lies in the intersection between two independent characteristics.

In addition, parts that were already muted become even more suppressed. As we have already noted, there is a prevailing social pressure for women to defer and appease. But Asian women are seen as even more subservient and accommodating in American subcultures, compared to other races. As such, your desire to apologize for the misunderstanding that you were not responsible for could have originated from that intersection of two societal stereotypes.

As you had noted, you didn’t have that much time to truly process what happened in Atlanta. So in this particular discussion, you were taking an active role to process the violence in past tense. But what is even more tricky is that this was all under the context of the pretense, that Fred as a white man acknowledges and broadly generalizes that it is “always white men who are causing problems.” This is actually misleading. While it is true that majority of the hate crimes are committed by White Americans (52.5%), anti-Asian hate crimes appear to be committed by and large by other minorities. In his article Combating Anti-Asian Sentiment, Dr. James H Lee hypothesizes that “race and racism in the United States operate along a Black/White binary,” and therefore non-Black POC experience is perceived in relation to “Blackness and anti-Blackness.”

In reality, Asian American experience with racism in the US cannot be defined by Blackness and anti-Blackness. It is a distinct and unique experience as perceived in the model minorities myth. And all of our Asian experiences cannot be simply boiled down to just the term Asian either. Our Asian experiences can vary enormously between a Korean American’s experience and an Indian American’s experience.

I do think that it is quite strange that Fred opened up a conversation about race and race relations about Asians. It assumes that you wanted to talk about this incident at all. We have to be mindful of the emotional resources we expend on the day-to-day, especially when our resources were already stretched thin as is. And as an Asian woman, this could have absolutely been a triggering experience for you. In spite of all this, considering the incident was specifically targeted toward Asian women, I do think that it is very strange that a white man would think it an appropriate topic of conversation to initiate. This just wasn’t his place.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Now let’s put this all together.

We have already talked a bit about the complex intersection between polyamory and gender, specifically what it is like to exist in a poly space as a woman. We also talked a bit about the accelerant nature of the intersection between gender and race, specifically what it is like to be an Asian woman.

Then there is the intersection between race and polyamory to consider as well. According to Sheff et al (2011), an overwhelming majority of people who identify as polyamorous are white and middle class. And because there are so few active polyamorous POCs, the misunderstandings are further perpetuated within the confined walls of polyamory. As a polyamorous Asian man, I can personally attest to hypersexualization and fetishization – from folks of all different genders and racial backgrounds – of my racial identity at a greater margin than when I was a monogamous Asian man. So I hear you. This is a real challenge, and one that we have to be aware of.

And I don’t think it is enough that you are just made aware of these different intersections and how your experience might be affected because of how you present in this world. As an educator who is a person of color, I do make a conscientious attempt to share knowledge and understanding in every opportunity I can, whenever I have the emotional resources to do so. It can be difficult to make space to speak out when you are already so spread so thin. But remember the work you are doing today isn’t for any immediate yield, and it might not even be for you specifically. It might be for the person of color in the next generation or someone who is so downtrodden that they just can’t afford to speak out against systematic racism against folks of color.

Now that we’ve finally unpacked all that has happened, let’s spend some time taking about what you could do to avoid future Freds.

Instead of assessing what is and isn’t a mistake, it might be more beneficial to use this experience to grow and adjust your expectations or finetune your communications for the friends you might want to make in the future.

Because many folks are ill-equipped to dissociate intimacy from a conversation about intimacy, it might be beneficial for you to revisit the desire to normalize open conversation about sex and sexuality. For me personally, I never talk about my sex life with anyone unless it is strictly anonymous, in a clinical setting, or it is accompanied by an explicit consent from my partner(s). In the form of an inward-facing boundary, my boundary reads, “I will not have conversations about my intimate sex life outside of those three exceptions.”

The boundary that you’ve established with Fred is a passive one. “If I were interested, you would know about it” is a nice but indirect reframing of “I have not communicated my interest with you, and thus I am not interested in you.” Passive boundaries are just as valid as active ones, but work in different ways. A passive boundary is like the cup holding hot tea. Without the cup, tea would spill. But there are other ways to hold the tea that isn’t with a cup. In the same way, passive boundaries are a valid way to establish boundaries. But the inverse of the passive boundary is not always true (as in, you could still have feelings for someone without communicating so), and not everyone wants to drink tea from a cup (as in, not everyone knows how to do passive boundaries). Comparatively, an active boundary is like the steel rails on a train track. Trains would not go anywhere without those rails. It can be more difficult to establish an active boundary as opposed to a passive one, but they both aim to do what boundaries do: creating the necessary protections.

Speaking of boundaries, now would be a great time to figure out a way to preemptively de-escalate your next boundary-violating conversation. It can be as simple as “I don’t want to talk about that right now”, as direct as “You just said something really weird”, or as straightforward as “I don’t appreciate what is going on right now, and here is why.” What is more important is to recognize the breaches in your boundaries and to halt or to redirect the conversation when your boundaries are breached.

As we all navigate through polyamory, racial tension, and gender dynamics, I think it is important to accept that uncomfortable conversations are inevitable. That does not mean that you have to engage in every uncomfortable conversation. Your initial boundary of “my partner and I are always very clear/explicit about whether or not we want to be with someone” is very good. And I think it might better serve people who can actually respect your boundaries.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – How much should I share with my husband?

My husband and have begun opening up our relationship. We will likely have a variety of partners. Ones we both share, and ones we both have for ourselves.

I am more open than my husband who leans more monogamous. He doesn’t have the desire to have much outside our marriage and us sharing together but is open to me having other partners.

I have been chatting with some people online and I understand that it is important to discuss these sorts of communications with any partner I might have before sharing with my spouse. I am open about any information I might share.

So, for those of you in similar positions, how much do you share with your spouse/SO? Do they want to know more than you share? Do you keep things more private?

I ask because I get the feeling that he would want to know more details but as someone with chronic anxiety, I think he would spend too much time overthinking things and it would eat at him. I keep him informed that I am talking to people and often share some of the messages with him, but I don’t know if I should tell him any more than we had sex or we didn’t.

Amante Apacionado, Reddit.
Photo by Katrin Hauf on Unsplash

Dear Amante,

Like many others, I immersed myself in the art of baking over the pandemic as a coping mechanism. Majority of my first-time bakes were flops. But after many burnt gob cakes, I came to a realization that much of baking happens to be different variations of the same set of ingredients: sugar, flour, and water. You can add new ingredients, like butter or lemon zest, to make new end result. Or you can even add different proportions of the same ingredients to get a different result.

In the same way, the answers you seek vary wildly from person to person, from connection to connection. Part of this reason is – like baking – we are all made of different types of ingredients, with our histories and lived experiences. But a big part of this is also because the comfort level you might have with your partner might be completely different from a comfort level he might have with you. And the best way you might be able to gauge where your and his headspace might be around disclosure is by communicating how you feel and see how he reacts, and for him to communicate how he feels and see how you feel. It is only at that point you can learn to adapt and adjust how much you share with your husband.

It’s also really important to keep in mind that disclosure cuts both ways. As you noted, it is important to also gather information from the new people you have been getting to know. Everyone has a different comfort level, especially as it pertains to more intimate or personal details. Not everyone wants to have their personal information be disclosed to the polycule they’ve not yet gotten to know yet. So as you gather what your husband’s comfort level is, you might also want to sift through and find out what other’s comfort levels are as well.

A common point of struggle for non-mono newbies like yourself is the shame from the internalized monogamy programming.

I get the sense that you have a pretty generalized idea about how you should conduct your newly open marriage. As you said, your husband leans more towards monogamy while you lean more towards non-monogamy. And built into that gap is an understanding that his responsibility is to maintain a status quo, while you have to do extra work to make sure everything is okay for him. Truth is, non-monogamy takes work from everyone. If what you say is true – that your husband is really okay with you having other relationships – then learn to trust him at his word.

It is also very easy to get caught up in the trappings of morality projection. By this, I mean what you said about how your husband might internalize what he does or doesn’t know about your other relationships. It is very unlikely that your husband knows exactly what he needs to hear about your other relationships, especially if this is his first open relationship experience. At best, he might have a theoretical idea about how much he wants to hear. But in reality, it might be very different in practice. It will take a collective effort to figure out what you feel comfortable opening up about, what he feels comfortable hearing, and what your new connections feel comfortable sharing.

In her first podcast episode of Unlocking Us, Brene Brown talks about FFTs (Effing First Times). She says, “The more we’re willing to embrace the suck and try new things, the more new things we’re willing to try.” And I think this is something you can carry forward in your shared experience with your open relationship. Many parts of what you are effing first time is going to suck. And instead of swimming against the current of suck and figuring out how you avoid the suck, learn to dance with and sit in the ocean of suck for a while. Your sea legs will become stronger the more you swim, and it’ll progressively get easier. I promise.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Making a relationship feel meaningful without a relationship escalator.

For context, I’m establishing a new V dynamic, with me as the hinge; the points being comprised of my nesting partner and a new partner I’ve been seeing for about 3 months, and really enjoy.

I’m somewhat new to polyamory, and I’ve never started a new relationship, from scratch, in this context. In my previous monogamous life, I would have pushed for exclusivity early on to provide a security blanket of sorts to explore our feelings and get on the old relationship escalator. Obviously, that’s not the course of action I want or am able to take.

So, I’m struggling a little bit to know how to ethically go about things- what questions should I ask, or conversations should be had, to make sure my new partner is well supported, and to set up our new relationship for success? It’s important to note this person I’m seeing does not identity as polyamorous, but hasn’t had any concerns or issues thus far, and seems (on his own accord, without prompting or encouragement from me) very open minded and interested in pursuing things.

Also, without monogamy or the “relationship escalator”, what are some ways you can recognize the relationship/connection is growing? Or in the same vein, are there steps I can take to undo this innate thinking that every good connection absolutely needs to grow? Obviously I’m fighting through some monogamous programming. Thank you in advance!

Helen, Reddit.

Dear Helen,

Before we can talk about how we can deconstruct the relationship escalator, we must first talk about what relationship escalator is and why it exists.

In short, relationship escalator is defined as a set of societal expectations or norms built around intimate relationships – that intimate relationships must follow specific steps in order to be meaningful. Amy Gahran / Aggie Sez does a great job of outlining the specific steps for the relationship escalator in her book Off the Relationship Escalator and her blog. Sometimes, the relationship escalator manifests in the invalidity of a relationship until it passes a certain milestone or threshold. A good example of this type is in explicit exclusivity. As you had noted, exclusivity can provide security since it stabilizes the external aspect of your romantic relationship. Sometimes, the relationship escalator can also manifest in specific thresholds and internalized hierarchies as well. Think of this like an imagined “glass ceiling”, an invisible boundary that which your non-nesting relationship with your new partner cannot cross. Built into that acknowledgement is also an implicit admission that you buy into the substance of the relationship escalator.

There are very good reasons why relationship escalator exists. As we just talked about, the security is nice. But when we are taught from a young age to associate exclusivity to security, the escalator then becomes an internalized manifestation of our societal norms. The escalator also acknowledges explicit steps, which can be used as an inherited structure to measure the health of your relationship compared to the duration of your relationship. Many folks have a pretty good idea of how long you should date before you marry someone, and that is just one example of this structure. And the structure is comfortable, because it doesn’t ask you to ask the really important questions on what makes your relationships meaningful. The structure tells you the each step make it meaningful.

That is all to say, I don’t think the relationship escalator was created in bad faith. It clearly has virtues and values.

The structure itself falls apart when unaccounted factors are added into the equation.

In one specific way, marriage rates have been going down from the Boomers (91%), to Gen Xers (82%) , to Millennials (70%). So it is apparent that society as a whole is getting better at deviating from assigning marriage as the final step of that relationship escalator. But as you’ve discovered, this structure holds even less weight when we bring non-monogamy into the equation.

Since you have been with your partner for three months, you should each have a pretty good idea on how your relationship might look in the next month or so. So this might also be a good time to gauge what the next six months to a year might look like by having an explicit conversation about it with your new partner. Having a proactive conversation about the future of your relationship will accomplish two goals.

First is that you can better align each of your respective values on what you two collectively find meaningful in romantic relationships. Each person has different set of values and looks for different things to validate their relationships. For some, it is through social acceptance by introducing partners to new friends. For others, it could be more about making impactful life decisions such as getting an apartment together or adopting a pet together. But more importantly, having an explicit discussion about the future of your relationship will also allow you two to build toward that future in a more conscious and accountable way. Spoken words have power. And even just speaking out loud what your intentions are and where you feel like this relationship is going can be a powerful way to bring that vision into existence, just by the virtue of saying so.

I also want to touch on something very specific. Poly communities online are not always a great representation of how your poly relationships should look and function like. I often repeat in my column that different people love in different ways. And you don’t necessarily need to step completely away from the concept of relationship escalator to acknowledge that it might have some practical application for your relationship. For example, many polyfolks do cohabitate with their multiple partners. Just because that happens to be an explicit step in the relationship escalator doesn’t mean that when polyfolks also cohabitate with their multiple partners is a bad thing.

I also want to touch on “successful polyamorous relationships.”

Like the relationship escalator structure, successes in a polyamorous relationships can look wildly different from person to person, and from relationship to relationship. One person might classify a handful of comet-type relationships as a success. Others might only consider their relationships a success when they’ve been together for at least ten years. And a third person might only consider it a success when they can have series of fulfilling short-term threesome relationships with their spouse.

When we dig deeper into what defines success and attributes significance in our relationship, we might find that success is not always defined in very explicit or measurable metrics. Instead, it is more often felt than assessed. Part of this is because our logical sides do not always communicate well with our emotional sides. There is only so many different ways we can fragment and compartmentalize our romantic relationships in small segments as a measure of success, which isn’t always going to be validated through your feelings. So as you connect with your monogamous-minded new partner about the benchmarks that might be measured as success markers for your relationship, keep in mind that growth and success looks and feels different for everyone.

We often don’t always know we are in the good parts of our relationship until we are no longer in the good parts of our relationship. So keep that in mind as you progress through this relationship and find creative ways to celebrate the goodness of your relationships in their own unique ways.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My wife has high libido with other partners, but not me.

My wife [31F] and I [38M] have been together for 9 years, married for 2. We are best friends, communicate openly and honestly, make each other laugh, and are always physically affectionate. Our poly style is to date separately, and it’s worked brilliantly for us since we opened our relationship in 2017. We are both bisexual. My wife prefers to date women and has had tons of success. I am a man who prefers to date women and I’ve also experienced a lot of great things and success. Everything to everyone else looks, well, almost perfect!

Only one problem. I can’t for the life of me get her to have sex with me anymore! She always says she’s tired, or not feeling well. But when she visits her other partners (she dates two women separately) she’s a love-making machine! I would chalk it up to NRE versus ORE, but she’s been with these women for a while! I’ve even asked her honestly if she prefers women or if there is anything I can do to make her feel more comfortable being intimate with me – but she just apologizes and says “it’ll get better. we’re just going through a dry spell.” Well, this “dry spell” has lasted over a year now! We’ve made love maybe 8-10 times in the past 16 months. I do everything in my power to give my wife a comfortable life. I do most of the cooking, house cleaning, and rub her feet almost every night. I tell her how beautiful she is every day. Still nothing! I’d say maybe it’s all due to the crap couple of years we’ve had in the United States, but again, she’s getting down and dirty with her girlfriends regularly! I am starting to feel a little resentful because I am dating one other woman and I don’t get to see her as often. Maybe once every 6 weeks. And I have to “get in all of my sex” in the little one night only overnights we have. Help!

Fred, Reddit.

Dear Fred,

Learning to manage the surge of New Relationship Energy is one of the most critical skills to develop for any person exploring and engaging with ethical non-monogamy. Many of us learn to manage our NRE by channeling that initial burst of lust and desire back into our old relationships. That can look like harnessing the newfound sexual energy back into old relationships. Others prefer to manage their NRE by establishing proper boundaries around how much engagement they have with their new objects of sexual desire, as to not exhaust all relational energy in new relationships.

But one of the most common misconception is that there is a static timer on how long NRE lasts. The complicated truth of NRE is that it varies a lot from person to person. For some people, NRE is measured in months. Whereas for many others, NRE can last several years. Another complicating aspect of NRE is that its length and influence can vary from connection to connection as well. In many cases, the experience with NRE depends heavily on the context of that relationship. So for example, a comet-type relationship that might meet only once or twice a year might have a more drawn out expression of NRE, simply due to reduced exposure to the object of affection. Age can also play a significant role in how someone experiences NRE. So I think it is very important to keep these different factors in mind as it relates to your wife’s relationships with her other partners.

All of this is to say, it is very difficult to get to the root of your current sexual disconnect with your wife because there are multiple contributing factors to your disconnect.

And I think we need to elaborate on the degree of sexual disconnect and deconstruct the various “why’s”.

You say that you’ve picked up on the household chores as a way to lessen the emotional labor burden upon your wife, so that she may be enticed to be more intimate with you. While it is a wonderful thing you are doing, it might work better in a marriage where the imbalance in household chores manifests as a sexual brake in a relationship. In addition, if you dig deeper into your intentions you might find that you are doing those things with an implicit, unspoken intention for sex – that which your wife might be sensing through your actions as if your enthusiasm for household chores is contingent upon her enthusiasm for sex with you. In short, you might be trying to hard to address the problem by yourself when it should really take a collective effort.

I also want to touch on the dangers of keeping score. It is very easy to get in your own head if you keep tabs on the type of sex your partner is having with her other partners. This becomes a more fundamental problem if you end up comparing the dysfunctions within your sex life with your wife to the (assumed) vitality in her sex life with her two other partners. In reality, it might be more beneficial to ground yourself on the dysfunctions of your own sex life.

I also think that your wife bears some responsibility in the current sexual disconnect you are both experiencing with each other. While it is true that many couples do occasionally go through “dry spells”, it could be possible that your wife is less enthusiastic about sexually reconnecting with you because she has two other partners with whom she already has good sexual chemistry with. Dismissing the current sexual disconnect in your marriage as a temporary lapse unfortunately perpetuates the disconnect because that unintentional dismissal also dismisses your lived experience of erotic disconnection. In specific, I am really curious as to how your wife foresees her sexual relationship with you “getting better.”

So what does this all mean for bridging your erotic disconnect?

Esther Perel was once asked if it is difficult to be a partner to a relationship therapist as world-renowned as she is. She responded by saying that she has evolved over the thirty five years that she has been with Jack. She further elaborated that relationships constantly develop and change, and it takes an intentional effort on individuals to mind the inevitable disconnects, plan the reconnect, and celebrate the connection when you do reconnect.

It is clear that even though your wife acknowledges that there is a sexual disconnect, she doesn’t feel motivated to reconnect in the same way you want to. This leaves you with two viable options.

The first option is to address and reemphasize the importance of the reconnect. This might be the easiest to bring up if you can sit down with your wife in a monthly check-in like a RADAR where you can proactively establish action plans for the acknowledged problems. But it is important that you elaborate on the degree of disconnect you’ve experienced and ground yourself in the present pain. This will help your wife understand the gravity of the situation and be more conscientious about reconnecting with you in a more intentional, mindful way. This will also help each of you hold each other accountable in reconnecting with each other. This will allow you and your wife to get on the same page about not only what “getting better” really means, but also what each of you need to do to get better at being intimate with each other. Stated intentions are powerful!

The second option is to acknowledge that this disconnect will have to stand until your wife can independently acknowledge her own pain from this erotic disconnect without any further push. It takes two to tango. And if she really isn’t into bridging this gap, you need to work out a contingency plan to stay sane in your two relationships. You mentioned that you feel like your other partner that you meet once every month or so has to meet all of your sexual demands. And that is a lot of undue pressure filtering through one connection. If your needs are not being met by your current set of partners, it might be time for you to start looking outward to add new partners who can fill in that gap without adding any pressure on your existing partnerships.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – I want to try anal, but cannot relax. [NSFW]

I’ll start this off by saying, my fiance is an ass lover. He is OBSESSED with my ass. It’s not large by any means but during sex he always compliments it, loves doggy because he loves to see my ass, likes when I wear leggings so he can rip them open and fuck me behind, told me that he loves when I sit on his face , etc.

He has been wanting to do serious anal for a long time, he has mentioned it before a lot and I am not opposed to it, I would love to be able to enjoy anal and be able to please him that way, however I cannot relax enough during it for it to feel good.

I like when he puts his fingers in my ass while doing PIV and it always feels good when he does it with a finger, but all the times we have attempted with his dick it just doesn’t feel good, it is painful as hell and I can’t relax. I don’t know why or how to make this better. We use TONS of lube when we try so lube is not the problem. I would love to be able to do anal with him and fulfill one of his fantasies but I just can’t do it.

I am looking for good tips to try and ease the process. We have talked about getting a butt plug and having him use his fingers and work a plug in and do PIV to see if it helps ease my butt, though I’m not sure if that will actually help? I think his size and being an anal “virgin” intimidates me.

I would also like to mention that I also can’t get over the feeling that it makes me feel like I need to poop, even after using the restroom beforehand and cleaning out I always have the “I need to poo sensation” when he puts his dick in.

Please leave me any advice, tips, or tricks.

Terry, Reddit.

Dear Terry,

A very common mistake among anal newbies is that you can go straight from little to no stimulation to penetration. This is a particularly dangerous myth because your sphincter is just not ready for that type of action without the proper warmup. When it comes to proper anal intercourse warmup, there are three major components.

The first component is lubrication. Some folks don’t know that an anus don’t self-lubricate the same way a vagina does. It sounds like this part you’ve already got down. But I think it’s also very important to consider multiple different types of lubes. Sex With Emily goes into great depths about the differences between silicone-, water-, and oil-based lubes that I think you should take a look at. In short, silicone-based lubes like Uberlube are more suitable for longer plays while water-based lubes like Lube Life are easier to clean up. If you find that you keep having to reapply lube, you might benefit from switching to a silicone-based lubes.

The second component is training. Not many folks know this, but sphincter is a muscle! And like any other muscle, you are going to need to work it out and stretch it out to make sure that you can have penetrative intercourse. You’ve already mentioned anal plugs, and I think that would be a great idea. But I would also suggest anal training sets like this set from Babeland or this set from Adam & Eve to start training your interior and exterior sphincter for penetrative play. These flared-base anal trainer sets are especially great because they vary in size. Depending on your fiance’s penis size, you should absolutely practice. It is also very important to keep in mind that silicone is not at all like flesh of the penis. So what I’ve found helpful is to warm up the trainer plugs in warm water or – even better – a partner’s mouth before lubing it up for penetrative play.

I’ll also mention here that you should never use an anal toy that doesn’t have a flared base. You wouldn’t want to have an awkward trip to the emergency room because you lost your plug in your butt, right?

The final and the most important component is play!

The more pressure you put on your anus to perform, the more difficult it is going to be to actually be in the mindset to have anal sex. If you find that anal sex is always in the context of PIV, it might be beneficial to temporarily dock PIV so that you can enjoy anal play that doesn’t immediately involve genital penetration. You mentioned that you’ve enjoyed digital stimulation from your partner. So incorporating more of that into your sex life without his penis being in the equation at all should help you get more comfortable with anal play in general.

Just take it a bit slower.

I also want to touch on being an anal virgin. Our culture already has such a weird and warped standards around virginity as is. And often times, it is incorrectly associated with purity and sanctity. We don’t need to take those toxic beliefs forward in our relationships today. A lot of folks misunderstand that virginity is not a physical aspect you lose when you have penetrative intercourse with your reproductive organs. Instead, it might be more beneficial for you to reflect on your virginity as a spectrum, rather than a binary. You’ve already had your fiance’s finger in your ass. And in that specific way, you are no longer an anal virgin in the same way that having anal sex as a “God’s Loophole” doesn’t make you a virgin either.

As for the “needing to poop” sensation, that is also natural! It’s your body’s way to expel that which don’t naturally belong in your rectum, which in your case is your fiance. For your fiance, that generally translates to a gripping sensation that should provide an intense pleasure for him through his penis. For you, that “needing to poop” sensation is one directional – out of your ass. But practicing with the trainers and his fingers should definitely help with managing that reflex in the context of anal sex. Your brain just needs a little help rewiring the sensation from anal stimulation as something other than poop-oriented, that’s all.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – How can we address couple’s privilege in a quad?

I am in a square-shaped polycule where my nesting partner is dating my boyfriend’s wife. It had very complicated beginnings due my nesting partner breaking my trust early on but we eventually settled into this dynamic.

For a while now, it feels like our lives revolve around the other couple. At first I thought it was more of an adjustment period but I’ve been with my boyfriend 8 months and nesting partner with meta now 4 months.

There’s kids and jobs in both households and we live about an hour from each other. I completely understand having to work around schedules but lately feel like it’s always their call and I have little to no say, almost like a “third”. My nesting partner also doesn’t get treated well in regards to time, but he doesn’t like to speak out and just accepts as things are which is frustrating because I feel like I am on my own here.

How do I discuss in a non-confrontational way that they are using their couple’s privilege in a harmful way that feels unhealthy for all of us and that my pain is not just an over-reaction but I’m actually being hurt by the way things are and honestly they are hurting each other when they bump heads on how to divvy up time, attention, and resources especially without involvement of us as their partners in the conversation.

Mary, Reddit.

Dear Mary,

Couple’s privilege is usually defined as the strength of the originating dyad improperly overpowering any new existing partnerships from occupying the appropriate relational space. A common example of couple’s privilege is relationship priority, or explicit hierarchy. There is actually a pretty good example of an implicit couple’s privilege inherent in your post as well. When you say that you don’t feel that your nesting partner gets treated well, you are able to say so with conviction because you have added clairvoyance into his thought process that the other couple isn’t immediately privy to. So I’m not sure if there is a problem with a couple’s privilege in your situation, even if there exists a natural privilege in your own relationship with your nesting partner.

In fact, I think that when you say that you feel like “a third”, you are actually trying to say that you feel like you lack a sense of agency in the decision making process within your polycule. And that lack of agency is really the core issue at hand.

In a recent column, I wrote that “[y]ou never just date people on a blank slate; you also date their circumstances.” And Mary, I think that philosophy is something we all need to be considerate of in our relationships. As you noted, there are existing life commitments that need to be accounted for, such as careers and children. Not only that, you two live an hour away from the couple you are dating together. However, even if those aspects were not in the picture, we have existing agreements and expectations to uphold and honor with our existing partners. And those can conflict with emerging new agreements and expectations, creating inevitable friction between the echoes of two dyads.

This isn’t to say that your pain is invalid.

It can feel incredibly disempowering to feel out of your element in your romantic relationships. In specific, if you feel that you have to constantly check in with and clear schedules through them, of course it is going to feel unhealthy and painful.

It is further perpetuated in the echoing conflicts in your own relationship with your nesting partner. Even if he can also recognize that this aspect of the relationship is challenging, he doesn’t feel as bad about the imbalance and relative lack of agency in his two relationships. And from your perspective, that unfortunately exacerbates the underlying frustration you feel. This in turn makes you feel alone and isolated in a love of four.

When you say that your partner does not get treated well in terms of time, it is possible that he himself doesn’t necessarily feel that way in his relationship with your metamour. It is very difficult to truly assess someone else’s lived experiences without being in their bodies. And externally projecting your internalized pain upon your partner’s relationship is a possibility you need to be aware of.

So when you ask how you can engage in a non-confrontational but meaningful dialogue, you aren’t just asking how you can talk to the other couple; you are also asking how you might engage in a non-confrontational but meaningful dialogue with your nesting partner as well.

And I think that might be the best place to start this discussion: with your nesting partner.

Sympathetically connecting with your nesting partner on the subjective reality of your feelings accomplishes two specific goals.

The first goal is that it helps ground you into your feelings. While your pain is valid, many of the feelings we feel are often irrational. And like dusting a house with open windows, we sometimes just need open channels to get our bad feelings pass through us.

The second goal is that getting on the same page with your nesting partner will help you rebuild that troubled trust from prior violations. It can be very difficult to mindfully rebuild upon a shaky foundation. And intentionally re-establishing a more fundamental foundation will help you feel more aligned for not just this quad relationship, but for all other relationships you might forge together in the future.

This discussion might look a bit like a deeper fleshing out of the pain that you each feel in this quad relationship dynamic where you take turns candidly speaking your respective experiences, then relate to each other about each other’s pains.

And that brings us back to the core conflict at hand: lack of agency.

Once you’ve had an opportunity to ground your experiences in each other’s lived realities, the next goal is to communicate so with the couple you two are dating together. In the same way you sat down with your nesting partner to have a frank and honest discussions about each of your pains, sit down with your partner and metamour and have a frank and honest discussions about the challenges you four each faced throughout this relationship.

It might be very beneficial for you to phrase your experiences in “I” statements (such as “When the dates are scheduled around your availability, I feel that I lack agency in our relationship.”) to help each of your partners understand how you feel about your relationship. This will give each of your partners an opportunity to step in and acknowledge to your pains. And only once you’ve all acknowledged that this is a pain point that needs to be address can you proactively move forward to an action plan that might help you feel more empowered in your relationship.

In reality, that action plan might look a bit more like your partner and metamour being more intentional in planning around meet ups that is both mindful to your schedule as well as theirs. Nevertheless, it’ll have to be a group effort to make sure that you all can deconstruct this specific privilege in your quad together.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – I used to be a cam girl. Should I tell my boyfriend?

About four years ago, I [22F] was a web cam girl for a few months. It still haunts me to this day and I am very fearful of my now partner [28M] finding this out because I know that he will torture me over this. It is such a slim chance of him finding out but there are pictures and videos of me online that have been reposted on some websites and that makes me feel so sick to even think about. I love him so much and I am a great girlfriend to him but this makes me feel undeserving and shameful in a way. Should I tell him this or does it even matter much? I would rather die than have him know. I want to get them removed online but I just don’t know how. I feel like if I tell him this it will just define me and I don’t ever want him to see me differently.

Melody, Reddit.

Dear Melody,

There are so many different types of pain and misunderstanding packed in such a short post.

There is such a powerful, pervasive, negative cultural stigma around sex work. And it looks like you have internalized some of the shame (“… this makes me feel undeserving and shameful”), disgust (“… that makes me feel so sick to even think about”), and guilt (“I am very fearful of my now partner finding this out”). Each of those are interwoven into not just the way you conceptualize and experience your romantic relationship with your partner but also with yourself.

I want to spend some time with each of those feelings and what they could mean. Each of those feelings intersect with each of the relationships you have with your past self, your current self, and your boyfriend. Then we will talk about whether or not you should tell your boyfriend and how you should if you do decide to share this part of your past with your partner.

Photo by Hoang Viet on Unsplash

Let’s first focus on your relationship with yourself.

Through all of these internalized social stigma about sex work, it is very clear that there is a major disconnect around reconciliation between your past as a sex worker and your present reality as your partner’s girlfriend. And deeply imbedded in that disconnect is a self-inflicting wound that unfortunately acts as the mouthpiece for many of the negative feelings you are experiencing right now. And each time those negative feelings come up, they are immediately measured against the dysfunctions within your past self (shame), dysfunctions within your current self (disgust), and dysfunctions within your romantic relationship (guilt).

Shame is a fundamental reflection of external societal pressure making an impression on your past. In reality, sex work is work. People engage with sex work for multitude of different reasons. So camming might have been a means to support yourself financially. It could have been born out of self-empowerment exercise through which you explored previously unrealized parts of your sexuality. Ultimately, your rationale surrounding why you chose to pursue camming is unimportant. What is more important is recognize that it happened, reflect on what it meant to you as a person, and move forward with new experiences.

Disgust is a more nuanced feeling that has deeper roots around how you perceive your experience with sex work. Based on what you have shared, it is unclear if your sense of disgust is just a different manifestation of the same shame or if there are deeper roots in your general attitude about sex work. It might be more beneficial for you to do some digging by yourself or with a sex-positive therapist to heal and recover from your experience.

Out of the three, guilt is the easiest to explain. Some of your guilt originates from obscuration of your past from your partner. As in, you feel that you should have come clean about your sex work experience with your partner before you got into a romantic relationship. It could also be possible that your guilt stems from internalization of negative stigma around sex work. As in, you have difficult time moving beyond your sex work history. And because you have such struggle moving past it, your inability to move past it manifests in guilt.

Now let’s talk about your relationship with your boyfriend.

I was quite alarmed to read that you feel that your boyfriend would “torture” you if he found out about your history with sex work. I wondered if that could be a sign of a very dysfunctional relationship with your partner where your partner never reacts well to aspects about yourself and your past, even in your most vulnerable moments. I also wondered if that was another manifestation of the internalized social stigma around sex work on his behalf as well. Either way, your pre-emptive reaction to this hypothetical conversation with your boyfriend tells me two things.

First is that your relationship does not feel like a safe place to share this very vulnerable aspect about yourself. If his immediate reaction is to assume negative judgment about your previous work history, it says a lot more about how little foundational trust there is to support any of the vulnerability you want to share with any prospective partner, much less this one. We will talk more about this in the next section when we discuss if and how you should approach this discussion.

My second thought is that being a great girlfriend has nothing to do with your previous sexual or work history. Your experience with sex work was only for a few months several years back. And while that might be a pertinent information that your partner might want to be privy to, absence of that sharing does not predicate that you are a bad partner at all; it just makes you a hesitant one. And perhaps, for a good reason.

A good partner should enthusiastically embrace as many aspect of your personhood within reason. And if you feel that your boyfriend will shame you for your past, then that is unbecoming of him as a partner.

Photo by Lisa Hobbs on Unsplash

I think it would be worthwhile to consider why you might want to disclose your sex work history to your partner.

Since we have just established why you don’t feel that it is safe to talk about your camming experience, we will need a better way to determine what you need in order to feel safe to share.

Perhaps a good start to that discussion is by first gauging how his real-life reaction might be like by bringing up a similar experience someone else might have had. This accomplishes two goals. First is that it takes the burden off of you since you’d be talking about someone else’s experience. But more importantly, this helps you gather more data on how he might react if this did apply to you. This would provide valuable data for your current relationship predicament.

Another valuable exercise that you can implement today is to shadowbox and project what that safe space might even look like. Imagine in your head what context you need in order for you to feel safe talking about your sex work history. What level of trust do you feel that you need to preemptively establish with your partner? Does this take place in a one-on-one setting or with other loved one in attendance? Better fleshing out what that type of dialogue might look like should help you do the necessarily emotional labor associated with the actual dialogue itself.

You should only have to share that which you feel comfortable sharing. And if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your history (and you aren’t even sure how to get to that level of comfort), you should know that your boyfriend is absolutely not at all entitled to know every aspect of your sexual or professional experience.

I also want to touch on possibility of videos and pictures that might be posted on internet without your permission.

I strongly urge you to contact organizations like March Against Revenge Porn, Without My Consent, and Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) to help take down those videos from websites who published your contents without your explicit consent. Doing so will greatly alleviate the anxiety you feel about not just your boyfriend but all the people who are non-consensually engaging with unethical sexual material online.

You are not alone.

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – I just tested positive for chlamydia. Did my boyfriend cheat?

On December 16th, I got an STD test where I tested negative for chlamydia and gonorrhea. At that point, I had been in a monogamous relationship with my boyfriend since end of October. In September, he had his last STD test in which he tested negative for everything and he claims that he wasn’t with another girl between then and when we met. Anyways, I just now had another test after some symptoms and I tested positive for chlamydia. So my question is, is a result of infidelity? Is it possible that I got it before I met him and it didn’t show up in my results in December for some reason? Or that he has had it all this time and simply lied to me about getting tested, and I just now contracted it from him?

To add more background, we don’t use protection and have never used protection. I’m on birth control and trusted that he had gotten tested, and although we were both aware of the risks of pregnancy we choose to be stupid because we both enjoy it so much more without a condom.

Essentially, before I accuse him of lying or cheating I would like to know what all the possible solutions are. Thank you in advance.

Felicia, Reddit.
Photo by an_vision on Unsplash

Dear Felicia,

Let us first establish the timeline.

  • September: Your boyfriend gets tested negative for everything.
  • Between September & October: You two meet. He claims to not have slept with anyone in this timeframe.
  • End of October: You enter into an exclusive relationship with your boyfriend.
  • Mid December: You test negative for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
  • February: You test positive for chlamydia.

While CDC isn’t clear on the incubation period for chlamydia, this 2011 study indicates that the chlamydia can incubate between seven to twenty one days. If that is the case, then it is evident that you contracted chlamydia following your mid December test. If your boyfriend had contracted chlamydia prior to October, then you should have already started seeing signs of the infection about a month before the test. It just seems highly unlikely that he lied about his September STI screening and happened to have had asymptomatic chlamydia the entire five months you’ve been together.

With that said, it isn’t completely out of possibility that you somehow tested negative for chlamydia while carrying it back in December. But the likelihood of that seems highly improbable.

So in short, it does seem likely that he has cheated.

But this is really all just confetti.

Even if we establish that you contracted chlamydia through his sexual infidelity, we have a bigger issue with lack of proper safety precautions. While it is true that BC pills protect against unwanted pregnancy, it does nothing for unwanted STI transmission as you have discovered here. Furthermore, condoms do not protect against other skin-to-skin STIs like herpes or syphilis.

It is very important to keep in mind that there are multitudes of risk to be aware of. And while your chlamydia might do away with a single dose of azithromycin, the emotional harm that comes with contracting an STI has more profound implications. For one, it is apparent that your soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend also had very different risk thresholds as it pertains to COVID transmission. After all, we are all currently in the middle of a serious global pandemic. Even outside of the pandemic circumstances, most folks have put dating on hold until the overall risk levels becomes more manageable. And each risk you take is a successive undertaking that you need to be conscientious of for not just yourself but for all people you come in contact with.

Please be mindful of the risks you are taking for not just this relationship but for all other relationships you might have in the future.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!