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A few years ago my now 11-year-old daughter found the “back massager” stowed under my bed. I told her that it was for massaging sore muscles and this is, indeed, the way this massager is marketed. In fact, I use it during sex with my husband and for masturbation. Recently, this back massager has been disappearing into my daughter’s room, where she says she uses it to massage her muscles. I just discovered she is also experimenting with it on her genitals. I don’t have any problem with her discovering her sexuality, but it seems awkward and inappropriate that she is using the instrument that I use. I also think it is too powerful for her. Last night she told me that she had used it on her genitals and that they were swollen and hurt. I told her that she needed to take it easy and that the massager should only be used on sore muscles. What should I do? I feel like she will continue to ask me for the massager and potentially use it for sexual pleasure. Again, I have no problem with her masturbation or discovery of her sexuality, but it just doesn’t seem right that it is with my massager. When I hide it, she asks for it, and I don’t want to give her any sense that she is doing something wrong. What should I do?
—Sharing Is Not Always a Virtue
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this column, it’s that vibrators have a yearning to wander and they end up in the darndest places. I love the idea of your little girl sighing over her aching sacroiliac in order to borrow Mom’s “back massager” for relief. No surprise she’s got sore muscles—as you’re finding out, she’s got a sore love muscle from all the battery-operated overuse. I agree that your daughter has to explore her sexuality, but not by appropriating the goodies under your bed. (Ah, the memories of the stuff under Mom and Dad’s bed! That’s where I discovered Human Sexual Response by Masters and Johnson and My Life & Loves by Frank Harris. The marijuana was in the underwear drawer.) It’s unsanitary physically and messy psychologically for you two to be sharing this magic wand. You have to make clear to your daughter that while she’s entitled to some privacy, parents’ privacy rights trump kids’. That means she can’t just search your bedroom and take anything she pleases. Explain that she can no longer borrow the massager because it’s your personal item. Since she’s comfortable enough to come to you with her masturbatory misadventures, you should address the subject head on. Tell her what’s she’s doing is perfectly normal, but she’s just too young to use an electronic device (frankly, it will be better for her not to get hooked on such powerful stimulation). Let her know that for countless millennia 11-year-olds have been mastering masturbation with just their hands and she should try that route. Say you’re available to talk with her on this issue anytime, and also give a copy It’s Perfectly Normal or another straightforward book on sexual development, in case she has questions she doesn’t want to bring to you. Then put your massager someplace your daughter can’t get it. Until manufacturers come up with a specialty vibrator safe, one of these should do.
The same day my husband and I learned he has incurable brain cancer, I also learned he has been regularly seeing and texting his ex-lover, probably for the entirety of our 14 years together. “Bob” and “Vickie” worked together years ago. He was unattached; she had a boyfriend but started sleeping with Bob on the side. This continued through her engagement, and possibly right up to her wedding. The sex then ended but the communication continued. Bob and I became a couple soon after. Both Bob and Vickie travel frequently for work, and I always suspected they were getting together occasionally. A few years ago I found a sexy picture of her and I confronted him and told him finding this picture devastated me. He apologized, got rid of the picture, and we moved on. A few weeks ago I took Bob to the emergency room because he appeared to have had a stroke. The diagnosis was much worse: an aggressive brain cancer from which he will not survive. I accessed his cellphone (for the first time, he always kept it locked) and discovered almost daily text messages between Bob and Vickie. They were chatty and brief, but included sexual innuendo. Bob later admitted that although they never sleep together, he and Vickie get together a few times a year when traveling. I am furious and sick over this betrayal, because I was (am?) so in love with him. If he weren’t ill, I would throw him out. Instead I am staying, caring for my husband during what is likely to be the last year of his life. I am in torment every day, and when my husband does finally die, my memory of him will be forever tainted by his betrayal.
—Sad but Staying
Everything is agony for you right now, and I’m not defending either Bob or Vickie, but I hope that in the time you have left together you and Bob can get past what you’ve discovered. This secret friendship was out of bounds and I don’t blame you for being furious and feeling betrayed. Bob knew you’d never approve of his staying in touch with Vickie, so he hid this from you. This was a small, walled-off portion of his life, but what matters is that Bob chose you, and continued to choose you. You’ve had l4 good years together, and now you’ve committed to see him through to the end. Don’t compound the pain of his impending death with incessant thoughts about this other woman. It would be easy to focus all your sadness, grief, and anger on her, but what’s important is that she’s not important. It’s also better you found out now, rather than after his death, so that you weren’t left to sort through this all alone. Bob needs you, and you need him. You also need someone to talk to—about this discovery, and more importantly about his illness and eventual death. A good therapist, preferably one knowledgeable about grief and loss, will be a sounding board for you and help keep this violation from taking up more space in your life than it deserves. I’m sure you will be glad you stayed, and I hope you two find sweetness in the precious days you have left.
My brother hit it big in the financial sector. He’s worth somewhere north of $50 million. I’m a homemaker, married to an IT manager with a solid income. I’ve held on to the liberal, atheist values I developed in the 1970s and a casual lifestyle. My brother and his wife meanwhile have become rabid conservatives who golf with celebrities. For the last 20 years, we’ve lived on opposite ends of the country, but my brother travels constantly for business. His family also travels constantly for pleasure—sometimes to within easy distance of my home, as I see on Facebook. My 21-year-old nephew, whom I don’t know well, recently spent a month within 10 miles of me and didn’t contact me. I am hurt by this and feel the loss of my extended family keenly. I last saw my brother five years ago on a visit to his home, which was nice until his constant political comments led to a liberal vs. conservative screaming match. We’ve only had stilted phone and email contact since then. Do you have any ideas on how to fix this?
—Upper-Middle-Class Sister/Rich Brother
It’s unfortunate that since you follow their comings and goings on Facebook, you didn’t take the opportunity of your nephew’s nearness to be the one to reach out to him and invite him to dinner. You may miss your brother, but whether you acknowledge it or not you also resent him and think he’s a jackass. You have contempt for his opinions and the way he lives (most people with an eight-figure net worth are the traveling type). It’s likely that all this came to head in that blow-up, and maybe your brother and his wife decided life’s too short, and there are too many rounds of golf to play with Clint Eastwood, to invest more time in a relationship with you. I think you should make another effort with your brother. Send him an email, or even a letter, saying how much you miss him and his family. Say you are very sorry for your part in causing the fight during your last visit and have long regretted your harsh words and how it led to estrangement. Say you’d like to heal this breach, and your home is open for a visit from his family any time they are near. Tell him you and yours would be happy to fly somewhere to get together with them. If you are rebuffed, then accept your brother is a cold, cold man, which probably was one of the keys to his success.
My wife and I are in the midst of a difficult but rewarding relocation to Switzerland from Indiana. My parents have been planning on visiting us for the first time in early December. However, they’ve now said that they are thinking about pushing the trip back until March of next year because they are afraid to travel near Christmas out of fear that ISIS will plan terrorist attacks around the holiday. I’m crushed by this. I’ve never been in a place where I have felt safer than in Switzerland and think that the likelihood of an attack by ISIS is infinitesimal. Should I try to convince my parents to visit? I don’t want to invalidate their feelings, but I think they’d be making a mistake to allow fear to deny them the opportunity visit that we’ve all been looking forward to so much.
Here’s to your parents’ confidence that this depraved, barbarous group will be in hand by March. You’re right that your parents’ chances of being caught up a holiday-time terrorist attack are incalculably small. Even on Sept. 11, 2001, the likelihood of an air traveler being on one of the four hijacked planes was minuscule. As the saying goes, driving to the airport is the most dangerous part of flying. Your parents are correct that Indiana is a good place to seek refuge from international troubles, but it’s just silly for them to skip a much-anticipated trip to the land of chocolate, cuckoo-clocks, and secret bank accounts of the world’s evildoers (OK, emphasize the chocolate and clocks). Do hear them out, then encourage them to come. But if they still decide to put off the December trip for one in the spring, let’s hope your parents really are a barometer of a receding threat.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“For the Private and Confidential Use of the Recipient: I responded to a Craigslist personal using my work email. Will I lose my job—and my wife?”
“No to Joy: Since starting on antidepressants, my wife has been cheerful and optimistic. I hate it.”
“Call of the Wild: My boyfriend answered the phone while we were having sex. Deal-breaker?”
“Emergency Exit: My fiancée suffered a debilitating stroke. How long before I can leave her?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Deathblow: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a dying woman whose husband is having an affair.”
“Grandma’s ‘Best Friend’: In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on whether a conservative family should be told their matriarch was actually gay.”
“On Thin Ice: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman frustrated and frightened by her boyfriend’s dramatic weight loss.”
“Kitty Kisser: In a live chat, Prudie advises a man nauseated by the way his girlfriend shows affection to her cat.”
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