Hello Dan, big fan, long time reader, please keep up the good work calling out Republican hypocrites. That, sadly, is not the reason for my email. I am one of what I believe to be many victims of what I've called, 50 Shades of Grey Syndrome. I think most of us are suffering in silence but maybe with your help some light can be shed on our plight.

Some quick history, I've been married for 16 years, both my wife and I are in our early 40s, we have 3 kids. We went through more than a decade of vanilla sex with me being the aggressor and my wife being, at best a reluctant participant and at worse a manipulative partner who parsed out sex very rarely to get things she wanted and generally keep me in line.

We have talked about the toll that child bearing and rearing took on her and our marriage but, suffice to say, it wasn't a good situation. I should mention, she was the opposite of GGG. If I dared share a fantasy she would call me a pervert or worse and so I learned to keep my thoughts to my self.

Ok, fast forward a decade, she gets into her early 40s, the kids are more self sufficient now and our sex life gets a little better. Then she discovers 50 Shades and everything is turned upside down. What's black is now white, what's up is now down. She has become completely obsessed with sex, completely obsessed. It's all that she thinks about, all that she wants to talk about. Our sex life goes crazy, tons of toys, light bondage play, fantasies shared (although mostly from her). All is good right? Well, not entirely because soon, as she delves into more and more books of that genre, her level of obsession becomes such that my performance is constantly scrutinized (I am not now, nor will I ever be a troubled billionaire).

The rest of the question—and the answer—after the jump...

I don't measure up to the fantasies that she reads about constantly. Our relationship was always based on her being in charge by virtue of the fact that when she was upset she made my life miserable so I learned to keep my head down and defer. Now she wants to know why I'm not more of a dominant and keeps telling me that's what she wants. I have enjoyed spanking her, tying her up, all the new things that we've been doing lately and would like to think that our marriage is headed in the right direction. However, her appetite for sex in insatiable, it's all she wants and if I disappoint her she flies off the handle and gets crazy emotional (early 40s hormones?). I don't want to sound ungrateful and it is kind of a nice problem to have but it's very strange to be the hunted instead of the hunter and it's also becoming clear that at some point my perceived short comings are going to become too much for her to deal with and she will probably look else where. I'm not sure if I even have a question but I look to you for advice on all things relationship/sex related. Please let me know what you think. I'm hoping that you don't call me a whiner.

50 Shades of Confusion

I don’t know if Dan would call you a whiner or not (maybe), but he’s on vacation and I’m here and I’m not going to call you one… exactly.

I am going to say, be patient, though.

Unless your wife was a way early adopter of 50 Shades, this can’t possibly have been going on all that long. She may have downloaded a copy in March or bought a paperback in April. So you’ve been feeling like “the hunted” for, what, 3 or 4 or 5 MONTHS? After you hunted her, and maybe made her feel like the hunted one who was keeping sex from you, for some number of the 16 YEARS? That might be where the “whiner” part comes in.

But I get it.

Your dynamics have switched! It’s confusing. I totally get that. It’s probably confusing for her, too, to have gone from avoiding sex to insisting on it. It’s difficult to get someone to be more dominant if you’re brow beating them into having sex with you (sort of the wrong dynamic, right? Be dominant to make someone else dominant? Hm… she may want to switch up some of the fiction she’s reading).

If you know of a good sex therapist in your area (you can find listings at sstarnet.org), that can be a great option. Every couple has a “system” of unwritten rules that govern how things work and it’s when things change—like when the kids get older or move away or one person starts/stops working or someone gets sick or reads a horribly written but runaway best seller erotic fiction book—that things can get messy. Sex is thrown. The relationship may feel a little thrown. And it’s all around you, and you’re thinking, “WTF? What do I do now?”

Except that’s the thing. It’s not what YOU do. It’s not what SHE does. It’s what YOU DO TOGETHER.

It’s how you look at your life, with older kids and being a bit older yourselves, a couple who has been together for 16 years, and how you ask yourselves, “What does sex mean to us now? What do we want now that we didn’t want before? How do we both get our needs met? How do we feel about sex toys now? About spanking? About tying one another up? How can we ask each other for sex without making the other person want to run and hide in the attic crawl space? How can we make each other feel sexy, and not inadequate because the other person isn’t _____?” (That blank could just as easily be “a troubled billionaire” as it is whatever she may have felt inadequate about for all those years—did she think she wasn’t young enough? Sexy enough? That she didn’t compare to women in porn, or a kid’s best friend’s milfy mom? Or that she just didn’t compare to whatever it was you wanted, which might have been a wife who was more into sex with her husband?”)

So you both have baggage. Everyone does.

You’ve been temporarily thrown by the introduction of erotic fiction, which she is going to have to face as fiction as you deal, together, with the reality of your marriage and your sex life.

A sex therapist might help. Reading about sex TOGETHER might also help – whether erotic fiction, sex guides (my latest is Sex Made Easy), or Savage Love archives—in the sense that reading about sex together gives you a chance to talk about things, what seems hot, what neither of you is into, what you can consider trying for the other one’s sake.

And, like I said before, patience might help too (again, 50 Shades is recent—it may spike her behavior, but she may regress toward the mean, as we nerdy scientists say, sooner than you think). A good, honest talk when you’re not likely to be interrupted might help—just remember to be kind and supportive, while still letting her know how it feels to be in your shoes, or chaps, or whatever she has you in at the moment. And pointing out to her how it probably feels good to her when you indulge in her fantasies and how it feels (frustrating? Sad? Disappointing?) when you don’t, and how you’d like the same consideration going forward with her being GGG from here on out (without trudging up the past in a way that creates distance between you two).