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Damage Control

I admire your lifestyle, but you must apologize for your hot-tub arousal

From Friday's Globe and Mail

THE QUESTION

My wife, Jill, and I have been friends for many years with my buddy Brad and his wife Pam. For many years we've enjoyed get-togethers at their cottage, during which we often go skinny-dipping in the lake or the hot tub. It's always been casual, with no implications - until recently. During a recent winter visit, the four of us were in the hot tub when Pam's sister Sarah came out to join us. She has a certain "look," and as Brad and I watched her approach we both became noticeably aroused.

My wife was not amused. She told me afterward that Pam was partly embarrassed, and partly envious that I had reacted to her sister but never to her.

I just want to put the whole thing behind me. I'm still in the doghouse with my wife, and Pam has let it be known that there will be no more tubbing. How can I put things back the way they were?

THE ANSWER

Before I answer your question, sir, I have one question to ask you:

May I join your social circle?

It'd be sort of like having your own around-the-clock pro-bono advice columnist, bartender and towel boy all rolled into one: dispensing wisdom, mixing drinks and fetching people's bathrobes, wraps and flip-flops.

Things have been a tad tame in my world lately. We all have kids and houses and sit around talking about schools and money and "wall sconces," whatever they are.

Whereas you, sir! Sexy sisters vying for erotic supremacy; nude frolicking in a bucolic setting; unwonted displays of extramarital attraction causing ripples of drama in the hot tub.

It's like a movie on Showcase or something.

Even the sexperts I consulted for this question sounded a little envious of your lifestyle.

"I have to tell you," said Joan Marsman, a Toronto-based sex therapist, laughing, after I described the parameters of your problem to her, "Apart from everything else, it sounds like a lot of fun."

She spends all day, she said, dealing with sexual dysfunction, penile malfunction, men who have to strain and struggle and pop all manner of pills in order to attain a satisfactory erection, so "it's kind of nice to hear about healthy, functioning men."

She did say that the presence of tumescence in this circumstance violates what you might call The Covenant of the Hot Tub, "the unspoken agreement that all this nudity is fun and not sexual," and the husbands definitely owe the wives some kind of apology.

I agree. What kind of apology, though, depends on where you stand on the question of whether men can "help it" or not.

There seems to be some disagreement on this score. Two of the three sex therapists I spoke to felt men could help it, one felt they couldn't.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the two who felt it is controllable were women; the one who felt it wasn't was a man.

"Of course we can't, David, as a man you know that," chided Alex Alterescu, a Toronto-based clinical sexologist. He also mentioned something about the superheated waters of the hot tub being a "vasodilator," thus making it even more difficult for the men to control their 21st digits.

Which sounded highly technical, and I was kind of buying it until I spoke to Judith Golden, another Toronto sex therapist who scolded me from the other side of the fence:

"Think about it, Dave. You know perfectly well it's in your control."

To be honest, I'm not quite sure where I stand on this question. I guess I do feel that at the first sign of impending tumescence all you have to do is picture your grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife between her teeth and the crisis will pass.

But I've never been in the situation you describe, sir. So let's leave the question open.

In any case, I do think you owe your wife an apology. Sometimes we have to apologize for our unintentional errors of taste, as well as the ones we fully intended to commit; and at the very least, you could say your actions, witting or unwitting, caused embarrassment all around.

Follow up by showing her you're attracted to her and she's the one for you. And maybe it's time everyone cooled off for a while, put on some bathing costumes: maybe some unflattering one-pieces for the women, and extra-baggy shorts for the men.

Also, give the sister a wide berth.

Then, maybe when things in the hot tub have become a little less steamy, you can go back to your old, al fresco in flagrante delicto ways, which all three therapists did say sound like a bubbling tubful of good, clean fun.

When you do, send an e-mail to the Globe, and I'll give you my contact information.

I'm a good folder, and I make a mean martini.

David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.

I've made a huge mistake

Have you created any damage that needs controlling? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com, and include your hometown and a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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