The Goddess is IN

Amy Alkon’s consummate counsel

By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

Photo: “Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck,” by Amy Alkon, published by St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014

Advice Goddess Amy Alkon has been dispensing her brand of guileless guidance for years, from humble beginnings on New York City street corners to her much-lauded syndicated column that appears in papers across the country. Currently celebrating the release of her second book, “Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck,” Alkon spoke with Dayton City Paper from her home in Los Angeles, Calif., about matters of the loins.

Is sex and reproduction a way for humans to achieve immortality, like selfies?

When someone wants to have sex, they don’t think, “I’m going to propagate my genes.” This is probably why sex is pleasurable. If sex was like eating broccoli, nobody would have it. But instead, it’s fun. And you get touched and all these nice bio-chemicals course around, and so you just want to have sex. That’s our impulse. But I think that we do have a desire to, basically in a big way say, “Kilroy was here;” to make a difference, to last, to have immortality. – Amy Alkon

What would you advise a couple that is dealing with sexual disorder or dysfunction?

Say it’s erectile dysfunction, just because I have to sort of narrow it a little bit. There are about a million things you can do besides penis-in-vagina sex. The notion your relationship is somehow over and less and bad because that one part of your body doesn’t work anymore, and the notion that men feel sexual shame, is so ridiculous. If you had diabetes, you wouldn’t feel ashamed of it.

So, the idea erectile dysfunction is something shameful, that’s the first thing people need to deal with, because to feel ashamed around sex, you’re not going to have good sex while ashamed. Unless that’s what you’re into, and then it’s fun. There are people, they like to be shamed, so you throw a ball across the room and catch it in your teeth and crawl on all fours back. If that’s a sex thing, then that’s different. That’s good for you.

Marty Klein wrote “Sexual Intelligence,” and his book is very good in this area. He said, “Focusing on how your penis or vulva is working is an enormous distraction from pursuing pleasure or intimacy.” You want to not be thinking about that stuff. You adopt a philosophy that, “OK, one part of my body is not working. I’m not dead. The rest of me is working.” There are million creative and fun things you can do, and you find out how to give the person you’re with pleasure in a way they need. It might mean you use a strap-on. I mean, lesbians do this. They still have something-in-vagina intercourse. There are a lot of ways to satisfy a person once you’re not ashamed, because that’s a huge part of it. I hope I answered that well. – AA

Very. And what about fetishes? Can they be a part of a healthy sexual relationship?

Fetish, officially, is when sexual gratification is linked to some kind of object. I kind of hate labels in sex because it pathologizes behavior. If you’re sexually attached to your piano, if this does not cause problems for the neighbors, if this does not make you unhappy, if this doesn’t make you unable to have human connection you want, I don’t really see why that’s a problem. There’s a guy who writes me from the Midwest, he’s a man who wears diapers and he likes to pee in his diapers. The problem is he married a woman without disclosing this, and she recently caught him. It’s not fair to have some kind of sexual weirdness and then not tell your partner.

So, if there’s something like that, you need to disclose that and not just, “We’re getting hitched, you’re with me for life, and guess what? I do this thing.”

I’m sorry, I really know a lot about cross-dressing and everything, but if I came home and my boyfriend was wearing my underwear, we’d be friends and everything, but that’s about it. That’s just me.

When any behavior becomes a problem – just to give the converse of that – when it stops your life, when you can’t get what you want, when you can’t get to work in the morning because you have to do that thing instead, that’s when you need to get some help. But I have ideas about addiction that are very science-based, that do not go along with much of the majority view. I think it’s really important to recognize, because this really says something is a problem or not. Basically, this is based on the ideas of Stanton Peele, who’s an addiction treatment specialist I respect, and also Fred Woolverton. Peele said, in “Seven Tools to Beat Addiction,” “When people turn to experience, any experience, for solace to the exclusion of meaningful involvement in the rest of their lives, they are engaged in an addiction.”

And Fred Woolverton, in “Unhooked,” says what all addictions have in common is a longing to avoid “legitimate suffering.” Basically, difficult emotions are a part of our lives, so people are escaping into an activity. The truth is you can take heroin without it being a horrible thing in your life. There are people who just take it sometimes, and people came back from the Vietnam War who had taken heroin over there to escape the horrors and then just came back here and just stopped doing it. They didn’t have to go through programs or anything. People quit cigarette smoking without programs.

This notion addiction is a disease I think is extremely damaging. That says you have no control over your behavior, which isn’t true and it’s demeaning; you’re powerless. No, you’re not. But you have to get to a point where you decide something is more important, your values are more important than the addiction, you want to be a mother to your daughter instead of snorting meth. – AA

What other behaviors would you consider unhealthy for a sexual person?

Unhealthy is doing stuff that you find really terrible, that hurts you and you’re not somebody who enjoys pain as part of sexual experience. That’s a hard question, because it’s sort of open-ended. We need to be in control of our behavior. We need to be grown-up about how we behave. – AA

My husband recently returned to school, and he’s suddenly surrounded by a, shall we say, aggressively friendly assemblage of lithe 20-somethings. I trust my husband, but I realize there’s a certain amount of evolution at play here, and I don’t want to get caught with my pants down. Or his pants down. How do I maturely and demurely handle the attention my husband receives from attractive younger women?

OK, two things. Well, two or three things. I’m going to quote Robert H. Frank, who is an economist with a sort of evolutionary approach: “Love is a commitment device,” (“Passions Within Reason”). And what that means is love actually does transcend the fact that somebody else is 22, and the guy’s genes want him to go after a 22-year-old. There’s more to it than that. We’re more than our genes.

And, so, the other thing is, on your end, the very important thing – here’s what bothers me about feminists – and I wrote a piece, I think it’s called “The Truth About Beauty” for Psychology Today, and this piece said, basically, men prioritize the physical in women. So, what’s very important is you don’t get lazy about dressing up. Don’t get lazy about taking care of yourself. You figure out what he likes, and do that – sexually, clothing-wise – that you don’t just let yourself go. People are sort of appalled, like “Oh my god! I’m going to wear sweatpants at home!” Well, maybe you decide to do that, but maybe it’s a bad idea. At least wear those yoga pants that show your butt. So, you need to recognize that, what men want. I’m not saying you need to wear an evening dress around the house dusting.

And also, surprise. That’s so important to keeping a relationship alive. Variety and surprise. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research is really wonderful on this, in that you need to keep that in your marriage. And you can do this. It’s hard when you know somebody to have things surprising, but what you can do is every other week, you have date night, and you can keep that stuff up. You have date night and one person plans it and surprises the other one so they don’t know what’s happening. You can do stuff like go to a hot dog stand. Watch a sunset with a bottle of wine. You’ll get arrested, of course, if you’re drinking outside, but that could be a fun time in that you’re in jail meeting new people. But just keep thinking; sometimes it could be extravagant, sometimes not. The point is, one person doesn’t know what it is, so that’s enough of a surprise to keep the variety and surprise in your relationship. That’s really important.

And to continue listening is another big thing, that you really listen, you really understand the other person. You’re not on your device like everybody is. You should pay attention to each other. Maybe that takes taking a walk, something to pry people away from their devices. Leave your device home. If you don’t have kids and your house isn’t likely to burn down, I mean, do you need your phones on your walk? Can you just look at the bugs and the plants? Do you have to tweet about it? – AA

Thank you, Amy. Sage questions to consider.

To learn more about Amy Alkon, order her new book or listen to Advice Goddess Radio, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at To read more from Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin, visit her website at

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About Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

View all posts by Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin is a writer and amateur cartographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She has been a member of PUSH (Professionals United for Sexual Health) since 2012 and is currently serving as Chair. She can be reached at or through her website at

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