Ask a Sex Researcher

This week, our resident sex advice columnist, Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, discusses insecurities about aging and sexual viability, as well as how to cope with a sexual encounter you’re not sure was very healthy. Also, these hot new pics of Zhana were taken for Slutever by Anny Lutwak :)

Dr. Zhana is a sex researcher, a PhD in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University, and an adjunct professor of human sexuality at NYU. She also founded the amazing Casual Sex Project, a website where people from all over the world come to share stories about their one night stands, fuck buddies, and the like–the good, the bad and the ugly. She also has a column for Psychology Today called Strictly Casual, about the science of hooking up. Without further ado, I’ll let Dr. Zhana solve all your problems.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

1) Last weekend I went to my work colleague’s apartment for a small party. I ended up passing on the couch. Later that night, my colleague came to the sofa and pleasantly woke me up — he stuck his penis in me and I was positively happy. I don’t consider it rape because it was actually enjoyable, but I stopped it quickly because he didn’t have a condom, which I know is irresponsible. The next day, the more I thought about what happened, the more complicated things became. He is married, I never thought of him in that way, I was passed out and he didn’t use a condom. I feel angry, but not because of the act itself, which was rather seductive. When i think of the things I want to tell him, I can only think of sex-negative things to say. I don’t know how to make sense of what happened. Am I a raped woman in denial?

Dr. Zhana: This is a tough one. Some people would say that this was sexual assault no matter what because he engaged in a sexual act with a person who was unable of providing consent– and in many jurisdictions (including the new legal climate of Only Yes Means Yes), it would likely qualify as sexual assault. But I’m generally weary of applying that label to every sexual experience that was somewhat ambiguous or left us feeling ambivalent for some reason. Applying the “raped woman” label can be very healing for some people, but can actually be harmful to others. If what happened was pleasant and you were “positively happy” at the time it was happening (and you were of relatively sound mind to make that judgment in that moment), then reconceptualizing the event as rape or abuse might do more harm than good to you. Don’t make a victim of yourself if you don’t actually feel that way.

That being said, his behavior was not exactly acceptable. If there was no prior sexual relationship between you, or any indication on your part that you would like to be sexually involved with him, putting his penis inside you while you’re passed out is not an appropriate way to initiate sex for the first time. Maybe he thought you gave him some sign that you’d be receptive to such an advance, but his behavior had very high potential for a disaster: You may have woken up in absolute horror, felt incredibly violated and angry, and/or called the cops on him right away. He got insanely lucky that you actually liked it. If you have an ongoing and friendly relationship with him, I would tell him that. I’d acknowledge that you happened to find that behavior seductive and pleasant, but that someone else might have a very different reaction, and I’d warn him, for his own sake, not to do that again in the future with anyone else.

I would also openly discuss the other issues you are—and have every right to be—angry about: not using a condom and being married. Some women may not have a problem with either of those, but both are issues that need to be discussed before you pursue a sexual relationship with someone. Not to mention that, unless he’s in an open relationship AND they have an agreement to not use condoms with other partners (which would be highly unusual), he was placing his wife at risk of both physical and emotional harm. Which is problematic in and of itself.

Again, this is a complex issue, and I don’t have all the information about you, your colleague, and your relationship to make the call. You might want to talk to a sexual assault counselor or group to get better clarity.

2) My 25th birthday is approaching, and I’m leaving my ‘youth’ behind. I have a boyfriend who’s 10 years older than me, and the fact that he has dated a younger, much more beautiful girl than me in the past makes me really worried. I’m aware of how many older male celebrities (verging on 40, 45) date girls who are sometimes even younger than me—barely 20! (Bradley Cooper, Joaquin Phoenix, DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, David Lynch, etc.). I know the celebrity world is different, but I feel that men (or generally people?) are attracted to youth. Maybe that’s old news, but I feel disgusted by it, maybe because I’m insecure about my own looks (I’m not a supermodel). I’m aging, and I’m scared I’ll be easily displaced. I’ve previously worked as a stripper, and once a colleague of mine, who was around 35, was criticized by a male client who asked her what the fuck she was doing there, saying she was “too old for this.” I was disgusted by him, and told him off, but he was busy being seduced by another young girl. I’m disgusted by how when women become 30 or 35 we are labelled old hags, unless of course we try our best to stay in shape and look youthful. Woman seem to be in their ‘sexual prime’ from 16-25 while men are said to be in their prime from 30 to 40 to 50. Although my boyfriend tells me he wants to settle down with me and start a family, I can’t help wondering whether or not, as I grow old, he will succumb to some young, more desirable flesh. How do you feel about this?

Dr. Zhana: You’re 25 and you feel like you’re aging? Wow, woman, slow down, your life is just starting! First of all, we’re all technically “aging”, but you are not old by any measure. In today’s world, 25 is still considered an extended adolescence, or what psychologists have started calling “emerging adulthood,” and neuroscience shows that your brain is just about to fully mature. In other words, you’re barely an adult.

I feel really bad that you feel the way you do. (I’m 33 and I feel as young as I did in my teens.) But I get it, we live in a culture that bombards us daily with images of youth and physical perfection, and it’s hard to feel good about yourself and your body regardless of age. That’s how the industry makes money – by making us feel shitty about ourselves. I know it’s hard to escape it, but you have to try to resist it, otherwise you’ll go mad.

And certain professions do have an age cap – that includes many professional sports, modeling, or stripping—that’s just the reality of the industry. But there are so many jobs out there where age is not an issue!

It is also true that there is a male bias toward youth in women, ON AVERAGE, and there are certainly some men past their 40s or 50s who’d go for a woman in her early 20s. But that doesn’t mean that all men prefer younger women: many men prefer their partners to be close in age to them or actually prefer older women. Even many of those who prefer younger women, don’t actually prefer very young women: Most 40-year-old men would not want to have a 20-year-old wife. (They may want to have sex with her, but they wouldn’t want to build a life together with her. They’d consider her too immature or otherwise incompatible for them.)

So my advice would be to trust your boyfriend when he tells you he wants to settle down with you and start a family. And if things don’t work out between you two (for whatever reason), there will be many other men out there who will find you attractive, interesting, and want to have a family with you. It’s a big world out there, and there’s something for everyone.

In the meantime, I strongly suggest you see a therapist to work on your insecurities about your body and yourself in general. What you are experiencing is a state of mind that can be changed relatively easily with a few months of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It’s worth putting in the effort, for your own sake as well as that of your partner and future children. Think about it this way: Average life expectancy for women in the US is 81; you don’t want to spend the next 55 years in misery and self-doubt.

See the previous installment of Ask a Sex Researcher HERE :) And please send your sex and dating questions to!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *