Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Sept. 30 2009 11:37 AM

Seeking Sexual Healing

Prudie counsels a woman for whom sex is painful—and other advice seekers.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. Next week's chat will take place Monday at 1 p.m. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.) 

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone!

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Anchorage, Alaska: What should I do about neighbors that copy nearly everything I do? Here are a couple of examples: My husband is (and theirs are) in the military, deployed overseas. I decorated my home for his homecoming. They went out and found the exact same decorations. I got a couch of a particular color (which is not part of today's current color trends) and coordinating curtains. One got the same-shade couch; the other got the same exact curtains. (Mind you, they do not match anything in her living room.) I bought a recliner for my husband to enjoy during his furlough. They all bought recliners for their husbands. I took in a foster child; they all now are investigating taking in a foster child. It is getting to the place that I do not want to let them visit my home. How do I get this to stop? (My first thought is to decorate with some hideous decor, invite them all to see it, let them copy it, and then never let them in the house to visit again after redecorating. However, this isn't very plausible, since our husbands work together and our kids play together.)

Emily Yoffe: There's a lot of research these days on the power of social contagion:  that if all your friends get fat, you are more likely to get fat, too; and that out-of-wedlock childbirths spread through society like a virus. Either your friends sound particularly susceptible to this, or you are an unusually compelling person, or both. As far as their exterior and interior decoration is concerned, just ignore it. If you're their personal Architectural Digest, it just means you have good taste, and so what if they also have a recliner? If they are going to help a child in need because of your good example, then you should be pleased. And since you all are doing your best to cope with husbands who are overseas in the military and raising children on your own for the time being, concentrate on their good qualities (or the many things of yours they don't copy) because surely it would be better to support one another during this difficult time than risk a falling out over their admiration of your style.

India: I am a 27-year-old woman, married for three years. We have a loving and affectionate relationship, except that I hate having sex. It's painful and does not give me any pleasure at all. I try to cooperate once in a while so that my husband is not deprived, but I grit my teeth while doing so. My husband has been patient so far and does not put any pressure on me, but I fear that this is going to take a toll on our marriage in the future. We may also want to start trying for a child soon, and I am wondering how that will work. Is this normal? If not, what can I do to make things better?

Emily Yoffe: Your husband needs to get an award from the Patient Men of America Society. As you and he have probably figured out, it is not normal for sex to be so painful that you have to grit your teeth while enduring it. Make an appointment today with your gynecologist and describe what is going on. Do not be embarrassed! There are many treatable medical conditions that can cause painful intercourse. Just think of how different your life and your marriage will be when sex becomes pleasurable.

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Toronto, Canada: Do you have any advice for when you're sick but need to get stuff done at work? I have a pretty bad case of the sniffles and would love to stay home. But I also have a fair amount of work to do.

When do I draw the line between dragging my sorry butt to work and staying home so as to not infect my co-workers (but letting work pile up)?

Emily Yoffe: Feeling swinish? If you are, these days with everyone paranoid about H1N1, they are all hoping co-workers who appear to be shedding virus would stay home and merely infect their loved ones. If you can have someone get to your computer and forward you what you need to work on, do so. You could also make a brief appearance and pick up what you'll need. Your colleagues will be grateful that they can say to each other, "Who was that surgically masked worker?"

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Washington, D.C.: I am a very young, terminally ill person. I am in my late 20s and will not live to 30. I will die largely painlessly and will have all of my physical and mental abilities intact until the very end. My spouse and family are spending as much time as possible with me. I think that's as much as anyone can ask for a death. I have accepted this and simply want to live the rest of life with as much joy as I can. I'm happier now than I can remember being at any other time in my life, and my relationships with people who are close to me have improved as a result of my new attitude. The problem is other people. My more casual acquaintances, friends of friends, fellow workers, and neighbors often ask me how I am doing. If they ask once, I say that I am feeling well and enjoying my normal activities. However, if they press further and ask about the future of my treatment or my prognosis, I tell them the truth—that I am dying. People often look vastly uncomfortable when I tell them this and will refuse to meet my eyes. Or, alternatively, they will refuse to accept this as truth and argue that anything can change, and medical advances, blah, blah, blah. Further encounters are awkward and short. Am I rude to tell people this? I feel that since I am the dying one, I should be able to live my (short) life honestly and openly.

Emily Yoffe: I am so sorry for your prognosis, and admire the grace with which you are facing this. If you are talking to people who don't know about your condition, you needn't even mention it to them. But if you are being pressed by those who know about your diagnosis, you need a way to make the conversation as comfortable for you and them as possible. Since they aren't in your inner circle, it may be easier if you tell them the truth but not say it in such a raw way. To the follow-ups, you could try, "I'm getting the best care available, but unfortunately there's no cure. So what's happening with you and your family?" To the people who suggest that a breakthrough is just around the corner, you can say, "It's true you never know what can happen. I do know my medical team is keeping abreast of everything available. So tell me if there any good movies out there."

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