Dear Anna, My girlfriend and I have been dating for about two years now and things are going pretty well. We don’t live together and we can generally only see each other on weekends because of our work schedules, which may be why it’s taken this long for this issue to come up. She has a sleep disorder and takes prescription medication for it (Ambien, if that matters). Sometimes when we spend the night together, though, she won’t go to bed right away after taking her medicine and one or the other of us will initiate sex. (We both have a pretty high sex drive, and this isn’t the only time that we have sex.) I never thought anything of it, but a few weeks ago I made a comment about having sex with her the night before and it turned out that she didn’t remember it since it had happened a little while after she’d taken her medicine. I freaked out about it, but she said it didn’t bother her because she had gotten used to brief periods of memory loss as a side effect of the medication. She says that her blackouts don’t happen very often, and that she can’t really predict when they will or won’t occur.
Now things have gotten a little weird; I won’t initiate sex after she takes her medicine and I’ve been turning her down if she tries to initiate because the thought of her maybe not remembering makes me in ways that I have a hard time articulating. I mean, it’s different if we both have a few drinks before bed or something, you know? And since we can’t say, “Oh, it’s been an hour since you’ve taken your medicine, you’re not going to remember this — let’s wait until tomorrow,” she is getting frustrated and feeling rejected. She doesn’t think I should be bothered by it if she’s not, especially since she says she only rarely has the memory loss.
Am I being weird about this? This is the first issue we haven’t been able to work out since we’ve started dating, and I just flat out don’t know what to do about it. Thanks so much!
Anna says: You should have sex with your girlfriend, Ambien be damned. She says it doesn’t bother her, and the black outs are infrequent. By not being intimate with her, you’re both missing out on something that makes you happy. My advice might be different if this was some casual hook up, or if you were both taking black out-causing drugs. But you’re committed partners. You trust each other. If she’s having sex with only you, then she’s not in danger of hurting herself, assuming your regular sex doesn’t involve anything risky, like acrobatic feats or asphyxiation.
I understand your qualms about having sex when someone might not remember it. Consent is of the utmost importance in sexual matters to ensure everyone’s health and happiness. But, your girlfriend has consented. Repeatedly, it sounds like, if you’re arguing about it so much. Her reassurances should put you at ease. To put it another way, your girlfriend would be having sex with you regardless of whether she remembered every detail or occurrence, so you’re not in any ethical danger or overstepping her boundaries. You’re not taking advantage of her. If anything, refusing to have sex with her is causing more damage to your relationship than the potential memory-loss sex that you’re so afraid of happening again.
If you still feel really inhibited by this, you can always talk to your girlfriend’s doctor about potential risks or complications associated with the drug. Again, it’s okay to feel weird. Having qualms about blacked out sex is perfectly understandable. Human even; you have morals and reservations. But don’t let those otherwise healthy triggers damage the great sexual relationship you’ve built with your girlfriend over these past two years.
Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a professional tweeter/blogger for Mother Jones and a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at email@example.com.