June 25, 2018
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No sex until I shave it all — is he kidding?

Emily Yoffe
By Emily Yoffe, Slate

Dear Prudence,

 My husband and I have been married for 18 years and have a good relationship overall. We are good friends and rarely fight. But over the past year or so, we haven’t been intimate very often. I tried talking with him about it recently, and he admitted that he isn’t as turned on by me anymore because I don’t shave.

I’m not like a beast, I trim some, but apparently he wants it all gone. I don’t really want to, I like the way I look. I don’t understand why so many men want it all gone. He is insisting. I really want to be intimate again. Any advice?

— Hair Down There

Dear Hair,

 Using my incredible psychic powers, I am able to see your husband and it turns out that when he tells you he’s going to the home office to look up ways to refinance your mortgage, he’s actually mesmerized by porn.

It’s true that there’s a new grooming standard which dictates that no one of either sex displays a single strand of body hair. Maybe economists need to investigate whether part of our high unemployment rate is due to the fact a large percentage of our population is spending most of their time depilating. When I started writing this column I had a very laissez-faire attitude toward porn, but it’s irrefutable that excess consumption can interfere with normal sexual expectations.

It’s one thing if your husband made a reasonable request that you trim more enthusiastically. He could have come to you long ago and suggested you both play around with this together—because if he’s still sporting body hair, what’s his excuse? It’s another thing if he’s withdrawn from you sexually, has refused to address this, then announces he can’t get turned on by you if you don’t look like the people on YouPorn.

Before you pick up the razor, you two need to talk about how hurtful his behavior has been over the past year, and that you hope he understands that putting his demands in such a demeaning way is not likely to turn you on.

— Prudence

Dear Prudie,

When my brother and I were kids, we were close. But around the time I was 14 and he was 10, he started verbally bullying me when our parents weren’t around. Even when they were there he would whisper threats and insults to me, but they didn’t notice.

Sometimes I would answer angrily back, and my parents reprimanded me and send me to my room. I was thin-skinned and insecure and became terrified to be alone with him because he would insult my looks, say I had no friends, tell me I was an idiot because I wasn’t good at math and then say he could get away with anything because he was younger. He would fart directly in my face when I was sitting on the floor. He acted more and more viciously until by the time I graduated high school, he was calling me his “chew toy” and used the pronoun “it” when talking about me. If I started crying, he would laugh and say he had “succeeded.” When he was 14 and I was about to leave for college, he hit me in the face and pushed me down the stairs.

On multiple occasions during those years of abuse, I would try to talk to my mother about it, but she either wouldn’t believe me or tell me that I should show more maturity because I was older. When I came home for Christmas, I cut off all communication with him, and we haven’t spoken a word to each other since. Now my brother is 18 and I am 22, and he is about to leave for college. He is attractive and intelligent and my parents are very proud of him. I, on the other hand, still see only the bad in myself. As a result of his bullying, I have low self-confidence and no great ambitions for the future. My mother recently has been encouraging my brother and me to talk and to become friends again. I want nothing to do with him for the rest of my life and have told her so, but she keeps trying to shove us together. What should I do?

— Hopeless

Dear Hopeless,

Your chilling tale about your brother is made even more made even more cold-blooded by your description of your parents — particularly your mother — willfully ignoring the pathology of their son and virtually conspiring with him to make your life a misery. Of course I don’t know what was going on with your brother. It’s possible he was just an unusually vicious child and has outgrown it. It’s also possible, for example, that he was being abused in some way and then displaced his trauma on you. But if there was no precipitating event, and if today he has no remorse and would recommence hostilities if you resumed speaking, then it’s possible your brother may be a sociopath.

Sure, lots of siblings have ferocious rivalries. Stuff such as face-farting can be simply a disgusting prank. But what’s worrisome about your brother is how his behavior escalated, and that it was calculated, callous and covert. Sociopaths are adept at escaping scrutiny. There is increasing recognition that this disorder starts young and has a strong genetic component. Perhaps there’s a clue in the behavior of your own dismissive, heartless parents. I understand those who would rebuke me for suggesting a diagnosis of a mental illness, given my lack of medical credentials and having only a one-paragraph description of your brother. But I would feel remiss if I didn’t raise this possibility for you to ponder.

You are in a strange psychological bind. You haven’t spoken to your brother in a long time, so in the absence of there being an acknowledgement and apology from him, the onus is on you to create this rapprochement. I support your decision not to make this move. Your brother tormented you for years and he is a young man now. If he wants a relationship, he should be the one to act. If he does, proceed cautiously. Read “The Sociopath Next Door” by psychologist Martha Stout and see if it resonates with what you observe of your brother now.

If so, you may need to continue to do what Stout recommends and which you instinctively knew: refuse contact. That may make for odd family gatherings, but if he hasn’t changed you must avoid being manipulated by him again. You made it out of a neglectful household and have stood up to your favored brother. Please recognize and celebrate the strength of character this has taken. Your brother’s assessment of you was wrong, so don’t give him the power to pass judgment on your abilities or future. Help yourself heal by finding a therapist. You will enormously benefit by having someone hear your story and help guide you on your own healthy path.

— Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.


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