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After You, My Dear Alphonse

Alphonsegaston “Oh, I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

It took me way too many years to learn that this is not always a nice thing to say. That, in fact, it’s usually not a nice thing to say. It took me way too many years to learn that, although “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” may seem like a good way to be polite and accommodating and easy-going, much of the time it’s actually a gigantic buzz-kill. It’s a great way to wind up not doing anything fun at all. Especially if everyone involved is playing the same game, in endless rounds of, “After you, my dear Alphonse.”

And that’s just as true with sex as it is with general social intercourse.

I was inspired to write this, as I often am, by a recent Savage Love sex advice column. In this column (second letter from the top), the querant was asking what she and her boyfriend could do about a sex life that she described as “meh.” And she said:

We often ask each other, “What else can I do for you?” I’ve shared a couple ideas, which we’ve explored to my minimal comfort, but he always says “Nothing” when asked if there’s anything he wants to do or try. We have discovered that neither of us particularly cares if we, ourselves, reach orgasm, but we both care very deeply that the other is satisfied. In this light: While I don’t care much if the sex is mediocre for me, I do want it to be better for him.


I actually do have sympathy. I have so totally done this, way more times than I care to admit. I’ve held back on asking for what I want in bed, not just out of fear of being seen as freaky and sick (or as boring and trite), but out of fear of being seen as selfish. Even when my partner was asking me, “Is there anything in particular you’d like to do?” — in other words, even when they were making clear, in explicit, unambiguous, actual words, that they wanted to know my sexual desires so they could potentially have the pleasure of satisfying them — I’ve still dodged, equivocated, said some version of, “Oh, I don’t know — what do you want to do?”

So I have sympathy. But at the same time, this letter makes me want to smash my forehead repeatedly into the nearest flat surface. And then smack the querant on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. (Along with her boyfriend.)

Because this dynamic is a perfect recipe for mediocre sex.


Thus begins my latest piece on the Blowfish Blog, After You, My Dear Alphonse. To find out why forgoing your own desire in favor of your partner’s is a recipe for mediocre sex — and why it’s actually a less generous approach to sex than it appears — read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!


  1. Belfast Boy says

    It’s a strange feeling when you read the thoughts that wash around in your head so clearly expressed by others. I have been here so many times and often I get stuck thinking “I could do this, or I could do that, but what if she prefers this over that, or that breaks the mood?”. This procrastination is more likely to be a buzzkill than just doing anything.
    Thanks for making me think about this.

  2. says

    Oh goodness… thanks for this. It’s so true, and it’s one of my biggest struggles in figuring out this whole world of sexual activity (to which I’m fairly new.) So, uh… anyone have any ideas on how to become a more selfish lover?

  3. me says

    Thank you for this article. I wish I had read it sooner (partially because my most recent relationship just ended).
    I passed it along to a couple friends who also do this in life in general.

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