When is a “semi-casual” relationship not so casual anymore? Around the time you stop being able to have an orgasm in front of the other person.

Dear Sasha,
I’ve been seeing my current lover for close to one year. It’s an undefined, semi-casual relationship. Over the past few months, I’ve started having trouble reaching orgasm when I’m with him. Our sex life is amazing: great chemistry, we’re comfortable communicating likes/dislikes, etc. The lack of orgasm is not related to our sex life getting stagnant; our sex life is wonderful. Despite that, I would still like to get to the bottom of this. I still easily climax when I masturbate when I’m alone, but even when we incorporate masturbation into our sex life, I just don’t come when we’re together. I get very close every time, and at the very last second it drops off rather than “exploding,” as it used to or as it does when I’m alone. This was not a problem for us until recently.

If I’m enjoying sex, I enter a hypnotic, dream-like state; I lose touch with what what’s going on around me a little. I have noticed that right when I’m about to come, I “wake up” and lose my orgasm. I don’t know why this started happening. Another change I’ve noticed is feeling slightly self-conscious about coming in front of my partner. I don’t know if the idea of coming being on my mind more than normal (since I’m having trouble doing it) is making me self-conscious, or if it’s the cause of the problem. It’s the old chicken-or-egg situation. One last thing I’ve considered: I’ve recently come to realize I’m emotional about this person. I feel attached and care a lot about him, more so than I usually do in these kinds of undefined, casual relationships. I’m wondering if this emotional shift is somehow affecting me. I’m just grasping at straws trying to figure this thing out.

Any insight you have on how to deal with this and get my orgasms back would be greatly appreciated. If you have any books to recommend, that would be amazing, and I’ll dedicate the next orgasm I share with my lover to you (I wonder if he’ll be offended if I scream your name).


Dear Sara,
What you are asking me is to get into your head and figure out what particular neural pathway you went wandering down that separated from your orgasm. Sara, I am nowhere near smart enough to understand the complex geography of the human brain, other than knowing that this book excites me and this TED talk always makes me feel like I might have invented the Northern Lights. So I’m just smart enough to understand things that really smart people understand as long as they are presented in formats (popular science writing, the TED empire) that make me feel like I’m part of the solution. What solution? The white-people solution of getting together and praising ourselves for our flawed humanity and the lessons we’ve learned from it, of course.

If you will, please allow me to offer some prosaic guesses based on some of the language you use. By calling something “undefined,” you are defining it — very particularly, in fact. By calling something “semi-casual,” you are letting me know that there is a strong element of calculation to it.

I would like to draw your attention to the definition of semi-casual apparel at Wikipedia, and to these phrases particularly: “Semi-casual is a dress code in the American context. It is less presentational than informal, but not as loose, and potentially sexually suggestive, as full casual dress.”

And: “Dark socks are still considered de rigueur for men. Women are given more leniency to wear light-coloured stockings, especially in warm weather.”

I’ll let you mull the first one over on your own, but as for the second, what I’m getting at is that there are rules, unyielding ones, to the concept of semi-casual. In this particular context, de rigueur, the international idiom for “don’t even think of fucking up,” supports the idea that because this social construct is predicated on the elusive concept of informality, no mistakes can be made. Think about hipster fashion, where sartorial apathy is often so clearly premeditated. But it can’t look like it is. EVER.

Semi-casual is, in fact, the least spontaneous of all the dress styles. In my experience, it is also the least spontaneous of all the relationship models. Because lord knows, you certainly wouldn’t want to inconvenience someone with your needs. You certainly don’t want to scare them into thinking you’re someone who might want something more than their semi-present company whenever it’s convenient, whatever, who cares, I don’t. You certainly wouldn’t want to get yourself all whipped up about what a lame-o you are because evolved people don’t burden people with their sweaty, drippy needs.

Most people can handle the rules of engagement of semi-casual in the beginning (this is exciting, isn’t it? Look at you, you’re a grown-ass woman who can handle a semi-casual lover!), but because semi-casual is based on cauterizing expectations, and expectations are the unruly children of the ego, at some point or another, we all shit the chaise.

Let us take the following phrase you yourself wrote and apply it to the whole concept of the undefined, semi-casual relationship: “I get very close every time, and at the very last second it drops off rather than ‘exploding,’ as it used to, or as it does when I’m alone.”

An ambiguous environment can be very stressful for intimate functions that require a certain amount of trust and support.

Sure, you have great sex. But anyone can be amazing in bed if they don’t have to commit to being vulnerable or expressing needs and wants that may compromise the semi-casual vibe. Anybody can be a great fuck when they are trying to “get” something that seems unattainable. We are all genius lovers in the face of inaccessibility. You are not grasping for straws, Sara. You know exactly what’s going on. You want more from this person, and that’s making you feel all little inside. ■

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