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.

(Continued from Page 1)

Detroit: I am a 21-year-old college student, and I am so stressed out! My parents pushed me into pre-med two and a half years ago. I failed out partially due to poor time management skills, lack of comprehension of the material, and making some poor relationship choices. I was extremely depressed and even suicidal at one point. (My parents thought my suicidal tendencies were funny and stupid not sad and scary.) But now I'm in college again (living at home now) this semester. I am a terrible science student, but my controlling parents still insist that I become a doctor (it doesn't seem possible right now, but I have no choice in this matter since they're the ones paying. I live under their roof, we've had many fights over this issue and I always lost) and continue with my biology major. I struggle just to get Cs (and, yes, I have gone to tutoring, studied long hours, and done everything in my power to do well with little avail). Now my problem is that everybody is insisting that student life is "the best life." They constantly tell me to enjoy this time while it lasts because these are the "best years of [my] life." It really hurts when people say this, because it belittles all of the hardship and pain I've been through, and it makes me wonder: Well if this is the best life gets, then I don't have much to look forward to! What do I say (and what should I think) when people tell me that student life is so great and that my real problems will start when I begin a career (hopefully)?

Emily Yoffe: I think we can all be glad that medical school requirements tend to weed out people with little aptitude for or interest in being a doctor. You're an adult, so you have to start recognizing that if your parents are so enamored of a medical career, they had their own chance in life to have one, and that no one—even if they're paying the education bills—gets to hijack someone else's life. Instead of concentrating on what you don't like at college, start thinking about what you do. Talk to your adviser right away and say the sciences aren't for you and that you need to find a major that will excite you and give you the opportunity to excel. Then start the difficult process of instructing your parents that their pressure for you to be a doctor has resulted in your being so unhappy that you need to see a doctor. Tell them you want to be a content, competent [fill in the blank] not a miserable failure of a pre-med student.

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re: painful sex: I developed the same problem and learned it was a condition called "vulvular vestibulitis," which is apparently quite common and badly understood. My OB suggested several treatment options, but since I was getting ready to attempt conceiving my first child, she told me to wait until after we had our baby to try surgery, since childbirth sometimes causes this condition to improve. Well, in my case this is exactly what happened, and after my first child was born, sex became wonderful again. I just wanted to post that there is hope, and this condition really can improve.

Emily Yoffe: This might or might not be what's wrong with the letter writer, but thank you for letting her know she is not alone and that there likely are treatments for her. She should also look online for resources and support groups for other women facing her problem.

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Tired of Being Questioned: It seems like my boyfriend has a different idea of intimacy than I do. If I'm in another room, he asks, "Where are you?" or "What are you doing?" If I mention I'm going to run an errand, he asks what it is. If I then say it's something I have to pick up for work, he asks what is the thing and why do I have to do that. If he makes a suggestion to me about how I can get something done and I agree it's a good idea, he then asks me over and over why I am not doing it right this minute and keeps giving me many reasons why I should after I have said that I don't feel like doing it right now. If I ask him how his day was, though, he just says, "Fine." I feel like I'm being interrogated and controlled. Whenever I say so, he gets mad and says he thinks it's a tragedy that I'm assuming such horrible things about him. I thought I wanted to marry this man, but I am at wits' end. He refuses to see a counselor, saying that we don't need it and can work out our issues on our own. Where do I go from here?

Emily Yoffe:

Boyfriend: Where are you going?
You (carrying all your worldly possessions): Out.
Boyfriend: Where?
You (shutting door): Of this relationship.

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New York: My in-laws must never have noticed that their 3-year-old granddaughter wears only solid colors/repeated patterns because they bring us clothes with garish designs (rhinestone pony saying "Daddy's Little Girl," anyone?) and send us packages from the Disney store on a regular basis—in 3-plus years, a total of maybe 250 pieces of unworn clothing. It's partially my fault. I've never come out and said stop it, this stuff is horrendous, but I have come to accept that they shop for themselves, not the recipient. I also think that's dad's job, but he gave up trying to get them to stop unnecessary shopping decades ago. Some become pajamas, the rest I regift/donate. If they ever noticed their presents go unworn (unlikely, considering how many doubles we've received), they've never let on.

I'm pregnant with No. 2 and think it might finally be the right time to say please stop. Problem: They are taking us to Disneyland this week. Do I dress the kid in head-to-toe Disney for the trip? It'll just encourage them, but it seems if any place is appropriate to wear this junk ...

Emily Yoffe: Talk about social contagion—that must be the only explanation for toddler hooker-ware or the mass acquiescence at turning our kids into walking billboards. You can tell your in-laws that you so appreciate their generosity, but that you've noticed many kids look like advertisements for huge corporations, so you've decided that you don't want your children to dress in clothes with characters from TV shows, etc., on them. Your in-laws will probably think you're crazy and will continue to send you the same-style clothing. So just keep donating and regifting—plenty of people like it.

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re: Detroit: My parents did the same thing to me—forced me to go to a certain school and major in a particular subject. I also failed out and was depressed and suicidal (which they also did not take seriously).

After beginning talk therapy, I realized that I could try to make things work on my own. I moved out, went back to school, and worked my butt off not only in class but also at work to help support myself. Sure, it was hard, but in the end, I chose what I wanted to do. ... I'm still paying off the student loans, but guess what: I even went back for another degree and now I love my job and have a really great life.

It's possible to make your life your own. The first step is always the hardest, but no matter how difficult that step appears, what you're dealing with right now is even harder.

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