Monday 27 March 2017

Dear Mary: Is what I do masturbation? And was it normal to start it so young?

Illustration: Tom Halliday.
Illustration: Tom Halliday.

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Question: I have never had the courage or opportunity to write about this before.  Having read your column I thought maybe it would be a good idea to write to you. I am a married woman in my late 40s. Unfortunately, we do not have any children, which has brought a lot of heartache to me and my partner. But we have moved on from that and somehow found the courage to manage our life without children. We are happily married with the usual ups and downs. Both of us have good responsible jobs. My question to you is about times when I become extremely upset, which can be caused by anything from a stressful work situation to a home situation where I feel I don't seem to be making progress in communicating my feelings.

I become extremely frustrated and when it gets too much, I sometimes end up having to lie down. This is what I did when I was a child, feeling very frustrated as I lived in a dysfunctional alcoholic family. It started when I was 10 or 11 and when I lay down I would cross my legs and clench my body. The only way I can describe the feeling is that I was holding back from going to the toilet. I would then find release in this and it would cause my anxiety to dissipate - there was a definite feeling of release.

As an adult it seemed to stop and I found that I only ever did this when I was extremely anxious and always with a frustrated feeling. It has only happened about five times in the last few years, I think. This week however I found I was in an overwhelming emotional state and, again, the only way to ease it was to lie down. Again I was feeling extremely frustrated. I have wondered if this is masturbation - as the release it gives is bordering on a sexual feeling - and, if so, was it normal to do this at such a young age? My relationship with my husband is OK and the event this week was not to do with him. I suppose I should speak with someone about it, but I would not know where to start. I feel it is related to emotions that I have suppressed from years of anxiety and especially around the feeling of frustration that was one of my main emotions growing up in my family. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Mary replies: Our bodies are wonderful and if we listen to them they teach us a lot. During a very unhappy childhood your body figured out a way for you to relax and feel somewhat safe. You now replicate this as an adult, although your life seems to be much better than it was. So when you are feeling frustrated with some particular aspect of your life, it is only natural that you seek relief in the way that you know best.

I have come across cases where women were able to orgasm without using any form of touching - something similar to what you describe - and they described it as masturbation.

But it doesn't really matter what you call it. It is simply something that you do in order to get rid of the feelings of frustration when things get too fraught. I do not see the need to speak to anybody about this - there is nothing wrong with it and you achieve your objective. Mast­urbation often starts pre-teen, so you were not unusual.

However, you seem to be carrying a lot of hurt from your childhood and you may find it beneficial to talk to somebody professionally about this. The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy is a good resource to find a psychotherapist in your area. The website is www.iacp.ie, or call (01) 230 3536.

We feel awkward about our daughter's girlfriend's visit

Question: My wife and I have been blessed with three children whom we love: two boys who are married with children and our daughter who emigrated five years ago but who has kept us in touch with her life. We knew she has had a relationship for the last two years but were not sure how serious it was. Now she is coming home in June with her partner. We were delighted and intrigued... until we were told her partner is a girl.

I have to admit it was an enormous shock. We had no idea that she was gay (I loathe the word lesbian) and my wife and I are having difficulty coming to terms with a lot of things. We are 'à la carte Catholics' so the religious thing doesn't upset us. We have other gay friends so that is not a problem either. But the thought of the two of them sharing a bed in our home is really awkward. My wife wonders if it would be easier all round if they stayed in a hotel. But she is our daughter and I want her to consider this her home. The suggestion of separate rooms was also made, but that is also awkward. If they are going to live their life together then we want to love our daughter's girlfriend the same way we would accept a boyfriend.

I would really love some down-to-earth advice.

Mary replies: Of course you got a shock, but she is still the same daughter you knew and loved before you learned of her sexuality. It is obviously a serious relationship if she is bringing her girlfriend home to Ireland to meet her family and I'm sure both of them will appreciate that you will want to love her just as you love your daughter.

You wrote to me via email, so you probably also have Skype. It would be a good idea for you to have some conversations with both women via Skype before they come home. In that way you will have had some chats with her before actually meeting her. She will probably also be nervous about meeting both of you.

What is unsaid in your letter is that you find the idea of your daughter having sex with another woman difficult. I would imagine sex will be far from their minds while they are under your roof. The same goes for opposite-sex couples. Most people would be uncomfortable with the fact that their parents may hear their lovemaking.

If you can get your head around your daughter sharing a bed with her best friend, which we hope she is, then it may be easier for you. Most people find change hard and there is a lot of change going on for you right now. I feel once the first night has passed things will be a little easier too for you as you begin to get used to the new situation.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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