Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Secretly, I've Been Suffering About Being Sexless
Togame has a problem: her husband has apparently lost all interest in having sex. She can respect that maybe he has a lower sex drive than she does, or that maybe she's done something that makes him not want her anymore, but what can she actually do about it? Is there any way at all to save her marriage but still get the sex she wants?
The autobiographical graphic novel seems to have taken off, and English-language releases of them are a nice trend that Yen Press is getting in on with its release of Togame's Secretly, I've Been Suffering About Being Sexless. Unlike earlier entries into the genre like Nagata Kabi's My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness or Chii's The Bride is a Boy, Togame's slim volume details her marital problems as a woman with a higher sex drive than her husband. It's refreshingly open about the issues, especially when so much of female sexuality remains stymied by the Madonna/whore dichotomy (and the days of Lysol's thinly veiled feminine hygiene campaign aren't so far behind us), and focuses as much on the couple's marriage as it does sexuality.
When the book opens, Toga-chan (the name the author's husband uses for her in the manga) is trying to come to terms with the fact that her husband hasn't wanted to have sex for a number of months. Every time she broaches the topic, he says he's tired or he has to work; if pushed he shifts the blame onto her, saying she's gained weight. Toga-chan is quick to internalize the negative comments about her appearance and to blame herself for her husband's disinterest (bringing us right back to those old Lysol ads), recalling that she was often made fun of for her weight in high school. What she doesn't realize is that he only resorts to those comments when she continually pushes him, perhaps indicating that these aren't so much his real feelings as the one thing he knows will make her stop asking questions.
Whatever the case, the fact of the matter is that to an extent Toga-chan does blame herself for her husband's lack of sexual interest. She loses weight, tries sexy cosplay, changes her hair – if it can be done, she's willing to try it, even though there are no appreciable results in terms of her husband's reaction. What's interesting (and important) is that Toga-chan doesn't really blame herself for wanting sex. She recognizes that she has a high sex drive and that she's very fond of having sex, but she doesn't see that as the actual problem. The book is open about her masturbating, screaming (in private) that she wants sex, and seeing phallic things everywhere as her sexless marriage becomes more of a burden on her. She's unashamed of her sexuality, and that's really important to the story itself: sex, she implies, is nothing to be uncomfortable about wanting. She also doesn't make comments about “how weird that he doesn't want to have sex, isn't he supposed to be a man,” which is equally important. It makes the volume read much more honestly and devoid of toxic stereotypes about gendered sexuality, because when you get right down to it, this is a story about two people and their relationship more than the fact that they happen to be opposite genders.
That, overall, is the real heart of the book. Both Toga-chan and her husband are trying to cope with the problem entirely by themselves for most of the volume, never really asking how the other feels about what's going on. In part this is because they're both totally comfortable with their cohabitation and marriage otherwise; her husband especially comes across as perfectly happy. It's also clear that they both love each other very much, which for Toga-chan makes this especially painful. What she takes a long time to realize is that it's painful for her husband as well – and the reason she doesn't understand this is because she never actually asks him what's going on.
The lack of sex, as it turns out, is not the full story, and that's where this volume truly succeeds. It's less about Toga-chan trying to cope with her sexless marriage and more about her learning that you can't have a relationship with only one involved person; it takes a couple to resolve a couple's problems. Maybe that seems too simple, but it's as big an issue as anything else in relationship, and that's the message here. Sex doesn't happen independently of other things, and in some cases sexual attraction is only a piece of the overall puzzle. Togame's work isn't interested in exploring specific designations or labels, but it is invested in understanding the specific issues at play in this one particular marriage. In her afterword and epilogue, Togame toys with the idea that she really wrote this so that no one suffering from a similar situation would have to feel alone, as if they were the only person with a dysfunctional sexual relationship. It doesn't feel like the author totally buys that – or perhaps she's just embarrassed by the idea of being a counselor of sorts – but the core message that you need to talk problems out surfaces as the major takeaway from the manga. It's not a bad one, and the almost confessional style of the work helps to make it resonate, even as the frank discussion of Toga-chan's sexual desires and treatment of sex as just a thing, neither good nor bad, keeps it from feeling deliberately lurid.
This book isn't going to work for everyone, as a certain degree of relatability or interest in portrayals of sexuality is required for it to truly be interesting. But its open honesty and cute (yet not offputtingly so) artwork and positive message makes it appealing, and it's definitely a good choice for readers looking for something aimed squarely at adults. Togame may not feel totally comfortable as a messenger or counselor, but that didn't stop her from producing a book that has positive elements of both and is interesting overall.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Open discussion of sexuality in a relationship, good overall message, cute art
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