my coworker keeps joking that I’m having sex with my husband in the office

A reader writes:

My husband and I work for the same employer in different departments. Our physical workspaces are in different buildings in the same office park. We usually carpool and meet in the parking lot, but we are rarely in the same building at the same time, and if we are it’s for work reasons. Most people know that we are married, but we keep things professional at work because I want to be known for my work, not as a wife.

One of our coworkers used to work in my husband’s department. They have always gotten along and had a joking relationship. She’s now transferred to my department … and she will not stop making jokes about me having sex with my husband at work! If she sees that my office door has been shut, she’ll say, “Oh, I assumed you and were having sex on the desk and didn’t want to bother you!” If she sees us parting ways in the morning she’ll make a gag about how we must have been having sex in the car! It happens nearly every time she sees me, in private or in front of coworkers, it makes no difference. It is mortifying when she makes comments like this, especially when she does it in front of people two or three levels above me! This is not how I want to be thought of at work!

I always respond with something along the lines of, “Of course not, my door was closed because I was on a private call!” but she never seems to get the hint. I know I should say something directly, but she clearly wants to be friends and I don’t want to completely ruin the relationship. She really does think this is a funny joke to bond over; there’s nothing mean spirited about it. I’d have my husband address it since they’re much closer, but they never see each other anymore since the transfer. Any scripts?

What on earth. WHY does she think this is a good way to bond?

If it had just happened once, I’d assume it was an awkward joke that she felt mortified by later. But repeatedly? Even a good joke would be worn out at this point.

And just because he’s your husband doesn’t make her comments any more appropriate than if she were saying this about any other coworker.

I know you’re worried about ruining the relationship … but she’s constantly joking about your sex life at work. She’s the one who should be worried about ruining the relationship — not you for telling her to stop.

Personally, in your shoes the next time she did it I’d visibly stop short, give her a weird look, and say, “That’s a really weird thing to say at work.” The visible reaction is important — you want to reinforce that what she’s doing it jarring and not okay.

If she has any self-awareness, that alone could put a stop to it. But if it doesn’t or if you want alternate scripts, here are a variety of tones and approaches to pick from depending on what you’re comfortable with:

* “I know you don’t mean it, but please stop joking about my sex life at work.”

* “I know don’t mean it, but I’m weirded out every time you say that. Could you stop?”

* “That’s gotten really old. Could you cut that out?”

* “You need to stop saying that.”

* “Having you continue to talk about sex is really uncomfortable. Can you stop?”

* “Why do you keep saying that? It’s really inappropriate.”

If your response to these scripts is “ugh, I don’t want to make things awkward” — THEY’RE ALREADY AWKWARD. She has made things awkward by constantly talking about you having sex with your husband. Let her feel that awkwardness herself, rather than you taking it on yourself each time.

And if it helps, consider that you’re doing her a favor by shutting this down, because someday she’s going to say something inappropriate to someone who’s not you and they might react a lot more harshly than you are.

{ 323 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Meghan*

    OP, return awkwardness to sender! This is SO out of line, if it happened to me the first time I’d like, “wtf, dude? That’s not right.”

    Reply
    1. Classic Rando (she/ her)*

      Seriously, I might have just blurted out “EXCUSE ME!?” the first time she did it.

      And, like, did she do this to your husband too? Or are you the only one getting this treatment?

      Reply
      1. Essess*

        Exactly this! All of the advice I read from Alison was too mild. She is phrasing her responses as ‘requests’ which allow the coworker to refuse. These needs to be addressed as a statement that says ‘stop’. This is pure sexual harassment. She keeps making jokes about sex involving you. There’s ZERO excuse or tolerance for this in the workplace. Next time she does it, you need to shut it down plainly with “that’s not appropriate in the office and you need to stop making these comments.” No hints, no ‘asking’, no softening it. She’s being offensive and she knows it.

        Reply
        1. Amaranth*

          Maybe Alison is reacting to something in LW’s tone but I agree these responses are way too soft. “I know you don’t mean it” — of course, because reasonable people don’t think carpooling means a daily quickie in the parking lot. That’s not the point. If Coworker is repeating this so often and thinks it so incredibly clever and entertaining, its a good bet she says it to other people in the company. Does LW really want that rumor/joke going around? Even if nobody believes it, they are *referencing your sex life at work*! The script you are looking for LW is ‘its really inappropriate to mention my sex life at work. I tried to laugh it off the first couple of times but now it needs to stop.’ If not met with an instant apology and compliance I’d start using terms like ‘unprofessional’ and ‘HR’. Consider how many couples work at the same company and many people don’t realize they are married – to each other. If Coworker is making jokes about them having sex at work, then there could be people in the company who think they are having an affair. Its just not joking material.

          Reply
          1. JJ*

            I would just say “unprofessional,” I would say “sexual harassment.” Speculation or joking about someone’s sexual activity in any way is harassment. Maybe she doesn’t mean it, but that’s what it is and she needs to stop immediately.

            Reply
              1. Lexi Lynn*

                I usually agree with Alison, but this woman is damaging the OP’s professionalism. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people think she walked in on OP and hubby engaged in improper activities and that’s why she’s ” teasing” the OP. This needs to stop today.

                Reply
        2. Yvette*

          Agreed. Something like “* “Why do you keep saying that? It’s really inappropriate.”” would be my first choice, but I would strengthen the language “Stop saying that. It’s really inappropriate and offensive.”

          Reply
      2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        I’d have shut this down the first time with something along the lines of “What an inappropriate and untrue thing to say.” I’m surprised when she did it in front of others (especially higher ups) that they didn’t shut her down. If she keeps doing it I’d once more say something along the lines of “You said that before. Its still inappropriate, unprofessional, and untrue. My sex life is not up for discussion. Can you stop or do I need to take this through the appropriate channels?” And if she does anything other than apologies profusely after that I’d be sure to have a chat with HR about what was said and in front of who.

        Reply
        1. Observer*

          Too long, I think.

          But I agree that it’s time to shut it down definitively, and take it up with HR or your boss (if you share one). Assuming you have competent HR.

          Reply
        2. Holy Carp*

          And after telling her how inappropriate that comment is, I’d also start keeping track of how many times she keeps saying it going forward, so I could comment LOUDLY in public, “Really, Coworker? That’s ELEVEN times this week you’ve said that!”

          Reply
    2. Artemesia*

      This. You have let it go on too long. This sort of thing can damage your reputation at work by putting the focus on your role as ‘wife’ and of course on sexuality — even if noone believes you have ever had sex at work. And SOMEONE is going to believe it. Too late to nip in the bud, but shut this down NOW.

      Reply
  2. Rayray*

    Ick. What is it with some people having gross obsessions with other people’s sex lives? If you try turning the tables on her or asking her to cut it out and she doesn’t stop, just report her to HR. Gross perverted behavior shouldn’t be acceptable anywhere especially at work.

    Reply
    1. Littorally*

      Nah, really don’t turn the tables here. This is the kind of thing that gets to firing severity, and OP doesn’t need to put her own head on the chopping block. ‘Tit for tat’ is not how workplaces operate.

      Reply
      1. kittymommy*

        Yeah, makes me think of the letter recently where the two guys were belittling a coworkers religion so he returned it back. Satisfying and understandable? yes. Still not okay in a work situation.

        Reply
      2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Also against turning tables, *especially* if it warrants a trip to HR. The LW would then be the same and as much at fault as their weirdo coworker.

        Reply
      3. Ice and Indigo*

        The other problem with turning the tables on inappropriate jokes like this is that the joker often takes this to mean, ‘Hey, they’re into this kind of joking too! Consent confirmed! Do it more! ESCALATE!’

        If they’re just clueless, they’ll think that sincerely or, if they’re trying to harass you, they’ll take it as provocation that needs to be retaliated against, plus an excuse they can use against you if you appeal to third parties. I take the letter writer’s word for it that this person is clueless – but if she thinks this kind of joking is okay, doing it to her is going to be taken as genuine encouragement.

        Reply
      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I don’t think I could stop my face from saying exactly this. I’d be HORRIFIED if this was ever suggested at my work.

        My face would say “Ewwww” with a healthy helping of “How dare you?”

        Reply
    1. RagingADHD*

      It’s good to be able to exert some emotional control at work in order to behave professionally and get along with people.

      Then there are the times where having an unfiltered visceral reaction is actually the best response–like when someone is grossly violating basic social norms, or just overstepping your personal boundaries. You don’t have to pretend that it’s okay in order to be nice, and you don’t need some big prepared speech.

      A choice “EWW!” or “WHAT?” can head off a world of trouble, and make your boundaries very clear with no angst and no need for hard feelings afterwards.

      Unfortunately, if you accept it over and over, or feel pressured to laugh along, then it does turn into a situation where you have to go out of your way to say something. But the sooner you get it done, and the simpler you keep it, the better.

      Reply
      1. Notes from a desk*

        Could you use someone who close to you in the department as an ally here? As you say Allison’s suggestions, if she does it again, are there people who are frequently around you who could reinforce that by saying “ew” or “ugh” or something? You don’t want a pile-on, but having one or two people also react with “gross” might help.

        Reply
        1. RagingADHD*

          If they haven’t already had that reaction spontaneously, trying to orchestrate it would be a) weirder and more like a high-school sitcom than the jokes themselves, and b) more work than just saying “please stop.”

          Reply
      2. Amaranth*

        I’m just not a fan of anything that can be misinterpreted as though its the location or person or just sex in general thats ‘icky.’ Its the unprofessional behavior that needs to be called out in a firm, professional way.

        Reply
        1. RagingADHD*

          Being sexualized by anyone that you don’t want to be sexualized by, in any context, is icky.

          There’s nothing to misinterpret about that.

          Reply
        2. Unaccountably*

          Work is not the place to prioritize sex positivity at all costs and in all situations. You can educate people on that topic elsewhere and on your own time. If you do, please include a discussion of consent. As in, “Making jokes about their sex lives with people who did not consent to discussing their sex lives with you is gross, do not do it under any circumstances.”

          Reply
      3. Gimble*

        When a former colleague asked (at a social gathering) if I were having sex with another colleague, I was so startled I dropped my beer on her foyer rug.

        It was quite effective.

        Reply
    2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      That’s exactly what went through my head when I read the letter.

      In this case, I don’t think I would go straight to “Ewww,” because suddenly reacting that way after all this time could be confusing to the perpetrator.

      If she doesn’t stop after you’ve called it out a couple of times, though, a nice big “Ewww” or “Ugh,” coupled with a grossed out facial expression, would definitely be in order.

      Reply
      1. CalypsoSummer*

        If she doesn’t stop after I’ve told her to cut it out once, I wouldn’t go for a nice big Ewww, I’d go to my boss’s office and say, “Can I speak to you for a minute?”

        Reply
  3. MeTwoToo*

    I would be very concerned from a professional level as well. It takes very little to start a rumor and even less to keep one going. Eventually you’re going to have someone who keeps hearing these ‘jokes’ and thinks where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

    Reply
    1. blood orange*

      +1 on this take. Has anyone who has overheard these comments ever mentioned it to you? I’m just thinking if I overheard a comment like that, I’d probably say something to you if I were your peer and to HER if I were above her or her direct manager. It’s wildly inappropriate, and I’d be concerned that someone could take it seriously.

      Reply
    1. Anat*

      As in, I think it’s HIS sex life that she simply can’t stop talking about. He’s the one she worked with closely, after all.

      Reply
      1. JB*

        Oh, this makes a lot of sense.

        I was wondering if she made the same kind of ‘jokes’ to the husband and, if so, how he’d never mentioned as much to the LWer or given a heads up when Sex-Joke Sally changed departments – but if it’s about her feelings towards him, she probably wasn’t ‘joking’ with him like this.

        Reply
          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            That’s what I’m wondering. It may well be fanfic or my cynical nature, but the facts are: coworker has a work history with husband. She never said this crap to him. She still doesn’t say this crap to him (OP writes that coworker sees them parting in the morning. She could walk over and say hi to her old pal, husband, but instead waits for wife.)
            She only says it to OP.
            Why?

            Reply
          2. JB*

            Gosh, I’ll try to keep my comments more in line with your personal standards going forward. Haha

            It’s a mystery to me why you chose my response to object to, though, since I didn’t insert any more ‘fanfic’ than the original comment.

            Reply
            1. Observer*

              Shrug.

              The crush thing is plausible. But the whole bit about how she did (or didn’t interact) with the OP’s husband and what Husband did (or didn’t) do about it, is a huge jump.

              That kind of thing is seriously unhelpful to LW’s.

              Reply
    2. Anonybonnie*

      Either that, or she simply has a workplace sex fetish and the very idea of working with a romantic partner has her hot and bothered.

      Reply
    3. JustForThis*

      That was my guess as well — but it does not really matter. Whether she has a crush on him or not, she needs to stop talking about her imaginations of OP’s (or OP’s husband’s) sex life.

      Reply
    4. Meep*

      I was leaning that way, but I also work with a coworker who has been absolutely obsessed with my uterus/sex life once she realized I was in a relationship. She could have a crush on him, she could be obsessed with babies, she could just be a creep.

      Either way, she is definitely sexually harassing OP!

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, it doesn’t matter WHY she’s doing it, and we may never know. Even the OP may never know. What matters is that it’s harassment and it needs to stop.

        Reply
        1. Red 5*

          Exactly. My brain is going through a ton of scenarios to figure out how the hell a person jumps to “this is totally an okay thing to say in this situation” but in the end it -does not matter at all- WHY the co-worker is being gross, she is being gross, full stop.

          And it needs to stop. Immediately. The fact that she says these things in front of other people and in front of -higher ups- is so far gone that there’s not a lot of places to go from there besides immediately and constantly shutting it down until it stops your you go to HR because as others have said, EW.

          Reply
      2. Arts Akimbo*

        Ewwwww!!!! I don’t want my coworkers thinking about ANY of my organs, much less the reproductive ones! At work, I like to maintain the illusion that we are all free-floating sentient clouds who sometimes take zoom meetings.

        Reply
    5. EPLawyer*

      Nah, she just can’t conceive of two people who work together and are married not having sex on the premises. She’s seen too much tv.

      Can we not normalize that if a woman makes an inappropriate remark about a man it must mean she has a crush on him? Can it just be — “Wow you are really inappropriate?” If it were a guy making these comments no would automatically say he has a crush on the husband or the woman. We would just be creeped out by the comments.

      Personally, OP, I would skip the initial shocked reactino and just flat out tell her that it is not appopriate to say and she needs to stop immediately. You need to be very direct that it needs to stop. Not just hint around or tell it is not appropriate. You need to tell her what you want — it to stop immediately.

      Reply
      1. Anat*

        Actually, if I it were a guy doing it I would think he is sexually obsessing over her, AND extremely inappropriate.

        It’s also possible that she is obsessed with the letter writer, or just has a fetish as someone mentioned above. The point it is, among the range of possibilities of why she might be doing this, “oh, she’s just trying to bond with me” seems low in on the list. This might help the OP move past feeling guilty about telling her to stop. Which, agreed, she needs to do.

        Reply
    6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Yes, the first thing that occurred to me is in making these comments she’s (consciously or unconsciously!) hoping for OP to say “actually we don’t do it at all any more”….

      Reply
    7. Well...*

      Yea I thought this too. Like she’s trying do hard to be cool with her crush being married that she’s wayyy over correcting.

      Reply
    8. Amaranth*

      Or on LW, but it could also just be a background of inappropriate humor between friends and she is trying really hard to get along with the spouse of someone she liked working with.

      Reply
    9. OP*

      This is definitely not the case! I know it’s hard to get the full picture from a short letter, but trust me when I say that isn’t the situation.

      Reply
    10. Your local password resetter*

      That seems like a leap, and we don’t really know enough to assume something like that.
      It doesn’t really matter either. The advice is still the same.

      Reply
    11. khlovia*

      Yep. She isn’t trying to bond –not with OP anyway; she does mean it; and I would go straight to “knock it off, bish”

      Reply
  4. Dust Bunny*

    I just physically cringed.

    You’re not making things awkward. That ship has sailed, with her at the helm.

    There isn’t some magical elegant script for this, it’s just, “The sex jokes are totally inappropriate [“at work”, if you feel the need to qualify, although personally I wouldn’t want her joking at me about this at all] and need to stop.” I mean . . . what would she think if she asked to leave early and you joked about her running home to have sex with her husband? Eeeew.

    Reply
    1. ecnaseener*

      I mean, she’d probably think it was funny. This is her sense of humor, she likes sex jokes and sees nothing wrong with them in the workplace.

      When someone’s being thoughtlessly inconsiderate, it can be helpful to say “imagine if someone did that to you” but I really think we’re beyond that point. (I know you didn’t suggest LW actually ask “how would you feel,” but I think it’s worth spelling out – this person has demonstrated she either sees nothing wrong with it or simply doesn’t care.)

      Reply
    2. The Rules are Made Up*

      I wouldn’t add “at work” because god forbid they end up at a happy hour or something and she goes ah great no longer at work, time to bring up my coworkers sex life again.

      Reply
  5. Lucious*

    Perhaps I’m an outlier on this, but work is not a place I consider an appropriate venue for sex.

    Not the act, not the talk, not bedroom tips , nada . Obviously exceptions exist, but I don’t work in the adult film industry- and I suspect even there the OPs situation would be awkward.

    What gives? I don’t understand the appeal of making work about sex. I’ve never felt inclined to talk about anyone’s sex life (my own included) at work. Or harass anyone, or proposition my coworkers, or partake of sexy times on the clock. There’s better places and times for that OUTSIDE of the office, in my humble opinion.

    Reply
    1. mdv*

      I generally think being open about it as a topic is better (i.e. not puritanical), and even I don’t want to talk about it at work or with my coworkers!

      Reply
      1. quill*

        From 9 to 5, I rest comfortably in the delusion that the office is absolutely sexless, unless of course the germs in the lab are getting up to something creative.

        Reply
    2. kittymommy*

      The very last thing I want to worry about is if a co-worker had sex on my desk. I don’t care I was there or not. If I need to worry about semen stains on my highlighter the entire building will here me bitching about it.

      Reply
    3. KHB*

      If you’re an outlier, so am I. Whenever we have our mandatory training on harassment law at work, it seems like the Q&A always gets taken over by a handful of dudes who just really want to know how close to the line they can get without going over it. (What if it’s just one joke? What if you’re talking about the sexual appeal of some famous actress, not anyone you know in real life? What if you keep your pin-up poster in a drawer rather than on your wall? Etc. etc.) Like, why can’t we just say that sexual content isn’t appropriate for the workplace, period?

      Reply
      1. Artemesia*

        I once sat in a faculty Senate meeting where a couple of old professors opposed the rule making all sex with students off limits and they had all sort of scenarios where it was okay because ‘we are all adults’. Ick. (the policy passed)

        Reply
      2. Retired Prof*

        Twenty years ago I worked in a department where a faculty member demanded his grad student sleep with him and then destroyed her career when she wouldn’t. Part of the university’s response was to make the whole department sit through additional sexual harassment training. The abuser sat in the back loudly whining about the training, until some other senior faculty told him to shut up. Ultimately he resigned a few hours before the board of trustees voted to fire him.

        Reply
        1. KHB*

          We’ve never had anything nearly that bad at my workplace (that I know of), but I had the pleasure of witnessing the event that I think the “famous actress” question was based on. A couple of dudes were hanging out in the hallway, while people were trying to work, talking loudly and in detail about various middle-aged female celebrities and which ones had in the dudes’ opinion best retained their looks. They didn’t use any lewd language or anything like that, but the conversation went on for the longest time, and they were just so…into it. And then one of the dudes asks the harassment trainer, “So what if I make an offhand comment to my colleague over lunch that I think Sandra Bullock is an attractive woman?” as if that was anything at all like what had happened.

          Reply
    4. Lacey*

      Absolutely. I never want to know a single thing about my coworkers sex lives. I’m aware they have them. That’s great and fine and good – but I never want to discuss it.

      Reply
    5. Meghan*

      Agreed! At work, I want to be viewed as a sexless human-shaped person. Partner? Never heard of him. As far as Work-Meghan is concerned, nothing like that exists.

      Reply
    6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I had a boss like that…only he took it wayyyy too far. You weren’t allowed to say you were bisexual or gay or something because ‘that’s bringing sex into work!’

      Funny thing was, he was the one doing non-work activities with one of our programmers in the staff van at lunchtime. We all knew it!

      Reply
      1. Aquawoman*

        Ugh, I hate the way some hetero people sexualize gay relationships. Nobody ever says, “eww, mentioning you have a [opposite-sex-partner] is shoving your sex life in my face” like they do when people mention same-sex partners.

        Reply
        1. Amaranth*

          No kidding, just because there is another option for heterosexual couples, its a mystery? I always figure that people who make that claim are spending way too much time picturing gay sex.

          Reply
        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          It’s like horrified Victorian women hiding the fact that they were pregnant because it meant they had HAD SEX. Funnily enough, once the baby was born, you could show it off proudly, it no longer counted as proof.

          Reply
          1. Apparently victorious*

            Lmao. I am definitely one of those horrified Victorian women, I tried to hide all three of my pregnancies at work for as long as possible because I was so mortified at the idea of my coworkers knowing I was sexually active. Also tried to hide it from my parents, even though I had been married for a couple of years and they were waiting for it.

            Reply
          2. Lab Boss*

            “I could have found this baby anywhere, picked it right up off the street corner I could have! You can’t prove a thing!”

            Reply
    7. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I’ll take “Things that media have somehow normalized” for 200, LeVar.
      “Please stop that.”
      What is, having sex in the workplace?

      Reply
    8. Anononon*

      I’m not sure why you would think you’re the outlier on this? Clearly from Alison’s response and every comment, the coworker is the one completely out of line.

      Reply
  6. Magenta Sky*

    Some people have a limited imagination, so when they find a joke they think is funny, they cling to it like a life raft in the middle of a storm ocean.

    It goes from being “awkward and mildly offensive” to being “lame and boring” pretty quickly.

    Reply
    1. Lacey*

      Yup. And it’s obnoxious even when it’s not about sex, but man is it rough when the “funny” thing they’ve found is about sex.

      Reply
    2. Meep*

      I recently advocated for extra PTO for myself, which resulted in another coworker also getting PTO (she deserves it).

      Our Toxic Coworker/Management decided to make the same joke about not worrying about our additional PTO “unless [we] were going on an around the world cruise” to each of us. Three freaking times. It wasn’t cute the first time as I had to fight HER tooth and nail to add those days when our boss approved it MONTHS ago.

      She thought she was so witty. Meanwhile, we were glad she was stupid enough to put it in text AND email.

      Reply
        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Don’t worry neither do I. Nothing funny about cruises whatsoever, it’s all showing off your new Dior sunglasses at the poolside and getting drunk because the entertainment sucks. In between brief visits to resorts where everyone is groaning at the thought of another crowd of noisy, uncultured cruisers coming to visit for exactly 2 1/2 hrs, during which time they barely get to visit anything let alone spend any money, after all they have pre-paid all-you-can-eat buffets on the cruise ship.

          Reply
          1. Mannequin*

            Ah! You sound like you’ve also read “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”. Excellent essay. Makes cruises sound just as awful as I’ve always imagined.

            Reply
    3. Lab Boss*

      Ditto on this. I had a coworker who was pretty socially awkward and if she ever got a reaction- a laugh, a gasp, anything- she’d just keep repeating the same complaint, or joke, or whatever it was, over and over. Luckily she never got to the point of being truly inappropriate, so we were able to just hold our noses and accept that she was doing the best she could to be sociable.

      Reply
    4. Red 5*

      Yeah, I’ve definitely run into that before, it’s sort of a mode that you know children (especially toddlers) really get into that drives parents up the wall. Some people just don’t outgrow it.

      The fact that it’s this joke baffles the heck out of me, but it’s a thing people do.

      That’s why OP unfortunately needs to be very consistent and strict about her reactions to it. I absolutely do not hold her in any way responsible for not knowing what to say/do the first few times it happened, I have a suspicion I would have been equally taken aback and confused and gone “what, of course not, I was on a call” myself. But it’s time to make sure that you pick the script you like and use it the same way every single time. Depending on her reasons for doing this (and as I said above, they don’t really matter) if you always respond with the same negative experience for her, it’s more likely that she’ll drop it more quickly.

      If she doesn’t, it’s time for HR, because nobody’s got time for this madness.

      Reply
    1. E Pendergast*

      Hah! For some folks, that something is forbidden makes it more attractive. But, yeah, they would lose both family incomes at once. Fun times!

      Reply
    2. Lexie*

      Everyone on Grey’s Anatomy.
      But out here in the real world every couple I have worked with has kept all displays of affection outside of the workplace.

      Reply
      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I waited for ages for an appointment with the anesthesiologist, along with several other women. Finally the receptionist went and banged on a door shouting “that’s enough now”. A minute later, a nurse came out, buttoning up her uniform, and another minute later, out came the anesthesiologist, fastening his belt.
        He got through the appointment in record time, didn’t bother to say any of the stuff he was bound by law to say (warnings about possible side effects etc.) and when it came to my actual surgery, he botched the anaesthetic because it only worked on one side.
        I was not in a TV series, it was for real.

        Reply
      1. AnonEMoose*

        This. A few years ago, I heard that two people got fired from my workplace for having sex in one of the rooms for nursing mothers to pump milk. Both were, if I recall, married to other people. Poor judgement, no boundaries, possibly a fetish (and hey, if that’s your kink, you do you…just leave me out of it).

        Reply
    3. Software Engineer*

      For real. If you’re married you have your own home to have sex in, why would you do it at work? Like you just can’t control yourself being around your spouse who you’re around all day every day?

      I think sec in the office is more likely when it’s an affair and the people involved can’t engage in their recreational activities at home because they’ll get caught

      Reply
      1. Expelliarmus*

        And even if you don’t live with your partner for some reason, sex in the office is not okay! Book a hotel if you absolutely must

        Reply
      2. Valkyrie*

        Presumably cause it seems “sexy” to do something so wildly inappropriate? It’s… icky to say the least. I know of several people who’d be THRILLED to do this cause they’re kind of voyeuristic or whatever and think it would be exciting bang somewhere inappropriate.

        Reply
    4. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I can not think of a place less likely to make me feel in the mood than an office building full of cubicles.

      Reply
    5. Well...*

      Ugh it happened in the offices in my dept in grad school and it was gross. It was TA – student relationships too. So inappropriate all around.

      Reply
    6. Zona the Great*

      A teacher I used to work with–with another teacher in his classroom on his desk where they taught elementary school. She is now a superintendent in a neighboring district.

      Reply
    7. LifeBeforeCorona*

      There’s probably a few Christmas stories that feature sex at work without the respective spouse’s involvement.

      Reply
  7. I Can't Even*

    Yuck. I would leave out any of the “Can you,” or “Will you” talk. It would be, “You need to stop,” or, “You need to cut that out.” Stopping isn’t an option to be asked for. It’s a demand. This is disgusting.

    Reply
    1. Rayray*

      Agree. I’d also make it very clear that I’m not okay with sexual harassment and will be speaking to HR if it happens again.

      Reply
        1. ThatGirl*

          I think HR would want to know if you asked the person clearly to stop, first. Not that you couldn’t report it, but I think one clear “I need you to stop talking about this right now” would be a good idea first.

          Reply
          1. Mannheim Steamroller*

            Yes, of course she needs to tell Harassing Coworker to stop — and only ONE “Stop” is needed.

            I meant only that there is no need to officially (or unofficially) “warn” HC of the intent to escalate. After the instruction to stop is given and ignored, OP is free to escalate without notice.

            Reply
            1. Red 5*

              I agree, if telling a person once (or even twice if you’re being charitable) doesn’t stop the behavior you do not in any way own them a warning that you’re about to escalate your complaint.

              You clearly asked them to stop. They did not stop. They made their choice not to listen to your clearly stated and reasonable request* and they are a grown up who should know there are consequences to their actions. If they don’t know that, or don’t know what those consequences are, that’s their problem.

              *Clearly it’s not a request, but demand didn’t seem like the right word either and I’m not coming up with a better substitute.

              Reply
        2. Venomous Voice*

          YES. There isn’t a normally a requirement that you square off with the offender first. If LW chooses to tell the offender to stop, it seems to me that the best course of action would still be to report it to HR immediately after doing so.

          It can be extremely difficult to say something to the offending party in the moment while keeping your cool and remaining professional. When there is no physical danger, sometimes it’s best to just report to HR rather than cause a scene that will lead to more office gossip.

          Reply
    2. PT*

      I had a job where we intersected with teachers and a phrase I learned was “That is not an appropriate way to speak to me,” delivered in a teacher voice. It is an excellent way to shut down all manners of bad behavior. Adults still viscerally respond to that “in trouble with the teacher” tone, even if they are in their 60s.

      So in this situation, LW could say, “That is not an appropriate thing to say to me,” in a teacher voice, whenever the coworker gives off her not-witty remark. It’ll stop.

      I’d also report it lest a rumor start. Rumors have started over less.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia*

        So this. It will take very little for OP to be the office bimbo who is always going at it in her office. It is so easy for women to be sexualized in the workplace and to not be taken seriously. This kind of constant comment makes this a real possibility. It can sort of create a cloud of ‘not professional’ around her that she is totally not responsible for but hurts her career.

        Reply
      2. Just delurking to say...*

        I’d leave off the last two words and just tell her “That is not an appropriate thing to say.” Wouldn’t want her thinking she’s got carte blanche to say it to other people.

        Reply
      1. Zelda*

        Depending on tone of voice and local culture/dialect, “Can you [verb]?” translates as “OMG I cannot *believe* I have to ask you in words to do the thing that any half-civilized human being just knows to do!!!” OP will have to decide whether that script fits their local situation, but the script itself isn’t automatically too nice.

        Reply
        1. anonymous73*

          “Asking” someone to stop an inappropriate boundary crossing behavior allows them to assume they have a choice. “Telling” them to stop a behavior eliminates the assumption.

          Reply
          1. Zelda*

            My point is that, while grammatically “Can you” is a question, socially it is not. When delivered in that tone of voice, it is an expression of disgust.

            Reply
            1. Dr B Crusher*

              Exactly. Culture, local dialect, and tone are far more important than the fact that it’s grammatically a question.

              Reply
    3. Salymander*

      This is exactly how I deal with things like this. I was sexually harassed by someone, and I looked him straight in the eyes with my most irritated expression and my deepest, most stern voice and said, “You need to stop doing that. Right now. Never do it again.” It was pretty effective. The person in question stopped being disgusting, and was very, very polite and respectful after that. We weren’t at work, it was a craft group so there was no authority figure to go to for help. The creepy person dropped out of the group a few weeks later I think due to embarrassment. I have used this method on a number of inappropriate people, and it got them to back off every time. It isn’t always easy to be that assertive in this situation, and I wouldn’t judge anyone for dealing with it in a less in your face sort of way. That is just what works for me, I think because I am fairly tall and strong and I have quite a deep voice for a woman. And my resting face is a combination of Stern Teacher, Disappointed Mom and Angry Hammer Wielding Scary Person. Very useful in these circumstances. So, if OP has any kind of RBF, they should weaponize that as much as possible.

      If speaking up directly doesn’t work or is too difficult, going to HR or the manager should help. I hope. If they are at all competent, it should because this kind of stuff in the workplace is just awful. If rumors like this start making the rounds, it can be really tedious and harmful.

      People who make these weird comments are so annoying and inappropriate. I think sometimes people think that being friends with a couple makes this sort of gross joking ok, or maybe they are uncomfortable (or fascinated ewwwww!) with the idea that their two friends have a sex life together. So creepy and gross.

      Reply
  8. CBB*

    For someone who doesn’t understand hints, I would not bother trying the “That’s a really weird thing to say at work” response. I’d go straight to a response that includes the word “stop.”

    Reply
    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      “That was inappropriate the first time you said it, and not funny. I had thought you’d realize that no one is laughing.
      But its gone too long so I will be blunt: Stop talking about my sex life.”

      Reply
      1. generic_username*

        Yeah, the time to act shocked when she makes the joke has passed since at this point it’s no longer shocking. Acknowledge she’s made the joke many times and that it has never been funny, and that you were nice enough to ignore her faux pas up until now, but that it stops now

        Reply
    2. Cold Fish*

      As someone who doesn’t always catch hints, I’m not real fond of the “That’s a really weird thing” comment. Just be clear. I wouldn’t wait until the next joke either. Just pull her aside and say “Coworker, I don’t know if you realize how many times you’ve joked husband and I are having sex in the office. It is very important to me that I maintain a professional image in the office. Can you please stop with those jokes? I’d appreciate it. Thanks.”

      Reply
      1. Clisby*

        That’s soft-pedaling it way too much. “Coworker, you’ve joked husband and I are having sex in the office. That’s offensive. Don’t ever do it again.”

        Reply
      2. Red 5*

        I agree, personally I think that the “that’s a really weird thing to say” type of response is more appropriate to use in other contexts, like if you’re stuck at a holiday dinner with relatives. In this kind of situation it doesn’t feel like it would get the point across, considering the fact that this person actually thinks this is fine to say in front of higher ups, pointing out that it’s weird is probably going to make them think “no, it’s fine, you’re weird.”

        Reply
    3. Clorinda*

      . . . and it need not include the word “please,” which can be replaced by either “immediately” or “forever” in this situation.
      “Stop this forever, Mathilda.”

      Reply
  9. MistOrMister*

    Personally I like “You need to stop saying that” because my god, she has crossed the line and is so far over she can’t even see it anymore. This is beyond ridiculous.

    I have a coworker who I think really doesn’t know how to relate to people sometimes. Any time he sees me with someone we haven’t both had a conversation with, he will bring up a joke I made when we first started working together. 6 years I have been working with this guy, and he will say to the otger person, one time Mister said X… and he laughs every time. I have no idea how it can possibly still amuse him, but it does. The difference here is that the joke I told was something no one could possibly be offended by, even on their worst day. So it’s just an oddity to put up with b/c it seems mean spirited to shut him down. But if this was something like OP’s coworker I would certainly have said something.

    Reply
    1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

      I prefer this language: be very explicit that she needs to stop discussing this. My preference would be: “I might not have been clear before: commentary about my husband and my sex life is completely unprofessional and needs to stop immediately.”

      Reason? This is arguably sexual harassment (from EEOC’s website: “other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature”). If she keeps it up, HR will want to know that you have told her on no uncertain terms to shut it.

      Reply
    1. Velawciraptor*

      Legally, this is already at the level of sexual harassment. And I’d personally call it as much when responding: the constant talk about my sex life has reached the point of sexual harassment and I’m going to need it to stop. Now. I don’t want to have to involve HR, but we’re rapidly reaching the point where I won’t have any other choice.

      Reply
      1. Esmeralda*

        +1000.
        Alison’s scripts are too nice — OK for the third time it happens. Not any more. OP needs to say just what you’ve written here.

        Reply
        1. Presea*

          I think trying Alison’s scripts once or twice is warranted just to try to salvage the working relationship and extend some good faith that maybe this coworker can see reason, but yeah, if the coworker still won’t let up, escalate escalate escalate.

          Reply
          1. quill*

            Yes. Unfortunately if you let a “joke” go on too long the joker will treat every instance of disapproval as the first time – because in their minds it’s the first time it ever bothered you!

            Reply
        2. mrsfields4701*

          I kept waiting for Alison to reference sexual harassment (even if it was a, “If the nice scripts don’t work, tell her you’ll escalate the issue”). I hadn’t even gotten through the whole thing before saying out loud, “Ooh, the harassment. Nope.@

          Reply
          1. Littorally*

            Same, I’m kind of surprised that Alison didn’t address it directly. Alison, can you explain your thoughts on that a bit more?

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Sure. I don’t think the point is particularly helpful to the letter writer, who hasn’t even told the coworker to stop yet and says that she’s confident that she truly thinks it’s a funny joke to bond over. (a) We need to take her at her word about that; it’s incredibly frustrating for LWs to encounter a comment section full of no one doing that and (b) Focusing on it being sexual harassment is likely to be beside the point to her — she’s not looking to file a complaint or escalate it at this point; this is someone she wants to preserve a friendship with and she just wants the jokes to stop. The way to do that is to tell her to stop, and the way to get the LW comfortable with doing that (because she’s clearly NOT comfortable with saying it or she would have already) is to give her scripts that she’ll be able to imagine herself using … which might be “nicer” scripts than the coworker deserves, but what matters is that they be language that the LW will be willing to use; otherwise they do her no good. This isn’t about the principle of what’s happening; it’s about giving the LW advice she’ll actually be comfortable using.

              If I were writing the answer again, I’d mention the fact that it’s sexual harassment because it’s good for her and others reading to know that, but I wouldn’t make it the focus of my response for the reasons above. The LW does not sound like she’s going to approach it as harassment at this point regardless of what anyone here says; she wants different strategies, and she’s allowed to want that and to judge that those are what are appropriate for her situation.

              Reply
              1. Velawciraptor*

                I see and appreciate your perspective. And your scripts are certainly phrased in a way that would be more comfortable for someone uncomfortable with confrontation.

                But there are plenty of men who, in OP’s words, “really do[] think this is a funny joke to bond over”and, from what I’ve seen, neither you nor most of this commentariat would be quite as concerned about preserving the friendship in the face of obvious harassment, even when that’s the LW’s stated preference in such a case. We seem more prepared to address harassment as harassment when it’s a man directing it at a woman. (And most of us know how unwilling many are to call that form of sexual harassment by its proper name already.)

                As a woman who has experienced sexual harassment from another woman, it can be harder to shut down than the harassment that I’ve received from men because 1) we’re socialized to try to preserve friendships (particularly with other women) and 2) we as a society seem a bit less willing to call harassment by its proper name when a woman is addressing it to another woman (whether that’s due to the typical examples used in anti-harassment training, internalized homophobia or what is another rabbit hole for another day). I just wished I’d seen a bit more calling sexual harassment by its name from you, because having any background instincts that that was what was happening validated may have alleviated any internalized pressure LW feels to maintain a friendship with someone who continues to violate her boundaries in a notably unfriendly way.

                Reply
                1. Littorally*

                  Agreed. I experienced sexual harassment from multiple women before I transitioned, and the pressure to wave it off as “girl talk” and continue mentoring relationships (one as mentee, one as mentor) was enormous.

              2. KHB*

                Of course LW is allowed to want whatever LW wants. But as the saying goes, “…and people in hell want ice water.”

                I guess I’m not seeing the difference between this situation and all the myriad other letters from people asking how to get someone to stop with some annoying/aggressive behavior “without hurting their feelings” or “without getting them in trouble,” where what helps them most is to be told that (1) what they want might not be possible, and (2) it’s okay to free yourself from worrying about whether the other person gets their feelings hurt or gets in trouble.

                LW’s coworker may be doing a very good job of acting like she’s just good-naturedly joking and trying to bond, but the fact that she’s carried on with this particular joke for this long makes it seem like on some level, she’s actively trying to make LW feel uncomfortable about her marriage and her sex life, and that simply asking her nicely to stop might not get the job done. If that’s the case, the behavior is serious enough that it’s okay to stop trying to dance around the coworker’s feelings.

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Sure, but at this point the LW hasn’t asked her to stop at all yet, so that’s step one. And based on her description of the relationship, which I am taking her at her word about, it’s very likely that will take care of it. If it doesn’t, then she can escalate it, but there’s a strong chance it’s going to stop once she clearly tells her to. That is the obvious next step. (If I’m wrong, I’ll happily eat crow. LW, please update us!)

      2. TootsNYC*

        I agree with you.
        That would be what I would put in an email, so it’s in writing and sounds serious.
        And the very next time, I’d be in the office with the HR person asking them to lean on her to stop.

        Reply
    2. KHB*

      That was my thought, too. I’m not an expert in the relevant law, but this seems like something more serious than the run-of-the-mill annoying/awkward coworker.

      Telling her directly to stop is a good first step (as it usually is), but if she keeps going after that, you can in good conscience escalate this to the boss, HR, or anyone else who will listen.

      Reply
    3. Nela the 2nd*

      The OP doesn’t sound like that’s how she wants to handle it. She wants to preserve the friendship and she hasn’t even asked her to stop yet so that’s why the advice is to do t hat.

      Reply
        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          It’s okay that you think that, but it may not be where the LW’s head is on the matter. She can respond to this situation the way she deems best. I wouldn’t blame her a bit if she came out strong, but I also wouldn’t blame her if she wanted to start with one of the lower key scripts to try and salvage some of the working relationship. It’s up to her. A lot of the “immediately tell her it’s sexual harassment and illegal and report her to HR right now” advice will feel like too much too fast to a lot of people, and Alison’s softer scripts might feel easier to say.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right, exactly. The LW sounds like she wants the friendship, regardless of whether anyone here thinks she should, and she’s allowed to want that, particularly when there are a ton of ways to tell the coworker to stop that she hasn’t tried yet and which will probably solve it.

            Reply
            1. LouLou*

              This! It’s all well and good for people who will never meet this person to say “who cares if it’s awkward? Return awkward to sender!!!” OP has to work with her and understandably wants to take the path of least resistance to getting her to stop with these comments. The satisfying mic drop moments we like to imagine when we hear about other people’s dilemmas are not always what the person with the dilemma would actually benefit from.

              Reply
          2. Sara without an H*

            Yes, first OP needs to make it clear to the offender that she doesn’t like the behavior and needs it to stop. A soft script that gives her coworker a face-saving way out is a reasonable first step. IF the behavior continues, then OP can escalate as necessary.

            Reply
            1. Fashion Show at Lunch!*

              I totally agree. It definitely seems like the co-worker hasn’t really realized how inappropriate she’s being, and merely bringing it to her attention (“Hey, I realize you’re just trying to make a joke, but other people don’t know that, and when you say these things, it reflects poorly on me, so I need you to stop”) might be enough to shut it down. If it’s not, then it’s time to be more firm.

              Reply
          3. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

            I think it’s extremely foolish and harmful to encourage OP to continue a friendship with a coworker who has been sexually harassing her. That is not something that’s going to work out in her favor in the long run.

            Reply
            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I’m not encouraging OP to do anything. I’m honoring the decision she already made, there’s a difference.

              OP is the one who is in this situation, so she’s the one best suited to tell what her coworker’s intentions are with respect to these comments. She gets to make her own decisions about her own life and relationships, and if her decision is that she wants to preserve the relationship if possible, then we should be giving her advice to help her reach that goal.

              Reply
              1. Tuesday*

                Exactly – she’s not a child. I’m not a child either, and I would handle it like the OP is. She’s allowed to decide what she wants to do.

                It’s giving the coworker way too much power to say that the OP MUST do something that makes her deeply uncomfortable in response to these comments. She should handle it in the way that feels best (or least worst) for her.

                Reply
            2. SM*

              OP seems to be of the opinion that the coworker doesn’t realise that she’s upset by the comments and that a polite but assertive statement will suffice to make her stop. All she’s looking for at this stage is some good scripts. As she’s the one who has actually met the colleague, lets take her at her word. I know plenty of socially awkward people who will immediately stop a weird behaviour if you ask them to. The OP is the one who is best placed to work out whether the colleague is doing this out of obliviousness or malice, and she’s entitled to choose to be polite in the first instance with someone who has no malicious intent. She can choose to escalate later if the colleague doubles down, but she didn’t ask for advice on how to do that.

              Reply
          4. Lacey*

            Yup. It’s easy for us – the uninvolved – to think that there would be no reason to hold on to this friendship. But the OP has her reasons and it doesn’t solve her problem to pretend like they’re unimportant to her.

            Plus, not every offense has to be escalated to 11. Sometimes, possibly most times, you can get everything you want (the sex jokes stop, the relationship is preserved) with polite but firm words – where going scorched earth will only get you half.

            Reply
        2. Marillenbaum*

          Not in LW’s mind, and they are allowed to make a decision that feels good to them, even if you think they should salt the earth to prove a point.

          Reply
      1. anonymous73*

        If the OP wants it to stop, it may not be the way she WANTSs to handle it, but it’s the way she NEEDS to handle it. This woman has crossed a line, and hints and niceties aren’t going to get her to stop.

        Reply
        1. Tuesday*

          The advice isn’t to hint though, it’s to be direct.
          I don’t think it can be stated so definitively that she needs to do something else.

          Reply
        2. SM*

          How could you possibly know that with such certainty? The OP hasn’t even tried a polite conversation with her yet. She might feel absolutely mortified if she realised OP felt awkward about the jokes and would stop immediately. People can be oblivious without being malicious.

          Reply
    4. Mike*

      A man constantly making jokes about a female coworker’s sex life would absolutely be considered harassment.

      I wonder how the letter writer’s husband felt about these jokes… And I wonder how letter writer feels about her husband having been engaged in this type of joke.

      Reply
      1. Classic Rando (she/ her)*

        That assumes he was also subject to them. OP says they had a jokey relationship, but didn’t specify what kinds of jokes. It’s possible the sex “jokes” were reserved for OP. I’d love for clarification on that so we know what kind of grossed out to be at this woman

        Reply
        1. Lacey*

          Yeah, I kinda assume this woman thinks it’s ok to joke at the wife because they’re both women and it’s girl talk (except, obvs. it’s not). Not that I’ve never run into equal opportunity sexual harassment, but not super often and never at the office.

          Reply
      2. OP*

        I started at the company after she switched departments, so my husband never had to deal with this. For the record, I have told him about this and he also didn’t think it was okay! They just work in different areas now so there’s no overlap. If he were to come and find her at work just to tell her to knock it off that would be bringing way more attention to it.

        Reply
    5. JSPA*

      That’s a good point, not because OP wants to address it as sexual harassment (OP clearly states that the underlying intent isn’t to harass, but to bond) but because other people who are subjected to this tangentially, through hearing the remarks, are facing a “sexualized workplace” as well. In the (admittedly unlikely) event that OP is seen as encouraging this–if OP’s brush-offs are too laughing and concilliatory?–OP could even be taken as a participant in that harassment.

      OP is on very strong ground shutting this down thoroughly (and ideally, with some sort of documentation). I’d start with one of the “inappropriate” statements to the coworker, then follow up with a brief email to a superior. “Person X, who has a longstanding, joking, friendly relationship with my spouse, has been joking awkwardly with me, in ways that could have made other coworkers uncomfortable. I know it comes from a good place. She has a good heart. I addressed the problem with her today. She was contrite, and has confirmed that the awkward jokes will stop. I do not expect to have to bother you–or anyone else–further, but I did want to document the fact of the conversation.”

      This covers OP’s butt (by documenting that OP was not on board with the jokes). It expresses OP’s concern for coworkers. It’s not a complaint from OP. It explicitly says, “no more is needed” [presuming the problem stops]. And in the unlikely event that the coworker is intentionally being a frienemy (or some other more complex role) rather than simply being an awkward would be friend…it’s documentation.

      Reply
      1. Littorally*

        That’s a very good point, too — OP is not the only person who could be really uncomfortable with this, and being viewed as participating/encouraging that talk would be a serious problem for her.

        Reply
    6. I'm A Little Teapot*

      It’s long past that point. Frankly, the first time I’d be shocked and may not say anything. The second or third time (depending on my level of being surprised) I’d tell her to stop. After that, I’m going to HR.

      Reply
  10. Jennifer*

    She sounds 12 years old. When I was that age and I saw a grown up couple go off together that’s what I assumed they were doing.

    Reply
    1. Rhonda*

      I kinda wonder if it’s the kind of thing she would do/is doing and therefore assumes that others would behave in the same way.

      Reply
    2. RagingADHD*

      It is rather like the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more,” sketch from Monty Python.

      Which, if anyone somehow missed out, ends with “what’s it like?”

      Reply
    3. UK girl*

      That’s the way I see this, an immature person trying to get a reaction. My favourite of Alison’s suggested responses is the one about the joke being “old” for that reason. If this is a misguided attempt at bonding, letting them know that their joke is not hitting the spot is the way to go.

      Reply
  11. Sparkles McFadden*

    The current relationship with your coworker is terrible, so there is nothing to ruin. I think you need to pull her into your office for a quick chat and tell her outright is that her “joke” has worn thin and she needs to cut it out. Then call her out on each instance, saying “We’ve talked about this…”

    I’m kind of surprised no one else has told her to shut up about it. That sort of thing makes everyone uncomfortable.

    Reply
    1. Rich or Poor...*

      “Constantly joking about sex at work is inappropriate. I need you to stop. Can you do that?”

      Look her right in the eyes when yous ay this and let her squirm. Don’t back down on “can you do that?”.

      I’d document the situation, tell HR you asked her to stop, copy your and her manager, and escalate if it happens again.

      Reply
  12. LifeBeforeCorona*

    I would also use, “Jane, these constant inappropriate comments about my personal life are reflecting badly on your ability to adhere to professional standards.”

    Reply
    1. Salymander*

      This is actually a kind way to deal with it. If this coworker thinks this behavior is ok, it will eventually be really harmful to her career and her relationships with people. So speaking up firmly to shut this down is a kindness.

      Reply
  13. HugeTractsofLand*

    She’s saying it *in front of other people??* What the hell is wrong with this person? I hate to say it, but you really need to shut this down for professional as well as personal reasons. It sounds like you’ve done an awesome job keeping your marriage from affecting things at work, but her comments will undermine that if they haven’t already. If you really want to put this in perspective for her, you can ask her how she would feel if you made a masturbation joke every time she went to the bathroom.

    SO creepy.

    Reply
  14. Choggy*

    OP, you aren’t responsible for her feelings, only your own about the situation. You are embarrassed, and rightly so!
    Honestly, I don’t think she’s trying to ingratiate herself with you at all, but is pushing your buttons, especially if your response to her comments has not been to laugh and she continues to do it.

    The next response you give her has to be Stop, which is a full sentence, just like No. And keep saying it, especially in front of other coworkers, because this is NOT okay.

    Reply
    1. cottagechick*

      I also agree that she is trying to push OP’s buttons. And it goes back to other commenters that have pointed out a possible crush on OP’s husband. Like she is jealous of their relationship.

      Reply
  15. Naomi*

    I think it might be useful to spell out for her that these jokes could be damaging your reputation. Something like “Jane, Bob and I are careful to keep things professional at work and treat each other like any other coworker. I know you mean it as a joke, but I don’t want anyone to get the impression that we would really do something so unprofessional.”

    Reply
    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I like this script a lot. If LW is right and this coworker is trying to bond and be friendly, this is a really good approach. “I know you think of us as friends and you’d never want to start rumors or harm our professional reputations” feels like a really good hook.

      Reply
    2. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      This is a good script, but I think OP should be prepared for Jane to get defensive and say, “It’s just a joke!” OP should be ready to hold the line with something like, “I understand, but it’s not funny, and it needs to stop now.”

      And by god, if she does it again after that, you gotta loop in HR.

      Reply
  16. The New Wanderer*

    OP, if it helps with your thinking about this, I don’t think this coworker is trying to be friendly with you. This is a seriously awful thing to joke about at work, especially repeatedly, and to me it seems like it’s not actually a joke to build rapport but something a jerk or bully would say. It’s gross and it’s meant to be demeaning. She’s actively trying to embarrass you and put you on the defensive every time she does it. That’s not something a would-be friend would do.

    You have given her plenty of benefit of the doubt by trying to breeze by her comments and remain professional and she’s not getting the result she wants so she’s going to keep trying. Time to brutally shut it down.

    Reply
    1. Rich or Poor...*

      Co-signing all of this.

      OP, there’s no friendly relationship to preserve. She’s acting like an ass and her behavior is harassment.

      Reply
    2. JSPA*

      It would mostly make me wonder if coworker and husband had been having that same joke, and whether husband also has skewed work norms in that regard.

      As far as being intrinsically awful…There are times, places and workplaces in my life where it would have passed for normal–in some of the more conservative areas, or coming from people from those areas, specifically because “it’s not immoral if it’s about someone you’re married to”–which is obviously not the appropriate yardstick at all!

      Reply
      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I was wondering this too about the husband and CW. Maybe she made that joke with him many times and either it didn’t bother him or he didn’t know how to react and just ignored it. I wonder if OP knows.

        Reply
  17. Sunflower*

    Instead of ending with “Could you stop?” or “Could you cut it out?” Just end it with Stop. You can say “Please stop” if you want to soften it. But make it a statement, not a question or a favor.

    Reply
      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Exactly. I swear I work with Jane’s fraternal twin. (Apparently I’m not allowed to go to lunch with anyone not my husband or I’m having an affair. WTAF? Why is life so interesting to this tool? Why must he create drama at my expense?)

        Reply
        1. Retired (but not really)*

          I encountered this kind of “oh,la,la”from a friend any time I did anything with any male coworker in any situation from lunch at a drivein to church visitation. It was really annoying!
          And I still don’t know why she thought it was cute, which apparently was her take on it, much like this person’s coworker.

          Reply
  18. Christmas850*

    Your coworker seems to think about your marital sex life even more than YOU do. (?!?!)

    Everything about this is unacceptable. Shut it down or find someone who can. You don’t have to put up with being made uncomfortable like this.

    Reply
    1. El l*

      Yeah – it’s such a specific and repeated joke that it makes me wonder if coworker has some kind of fetish thing going on, and she’s expressing it via LW and the husband.

      (Not that it really matters in how she proceeds – she needs to directly shut this down now like Alison says)

      Reply
      1. H.Regalis*

        Same. It’s not possible to tell without hearing her actually say this multiple times, but I was also reading this thinking, “Gosh, she sure is bringing that up A LOT. Is it a joke or some weird sex thing?” I really hope it’s not :/

        Reply
  19. H.Regalis*

    “You joke about this every single time you see me. Please stop; it’s skeeving me out.”

    If you want something more jokey: “Coworker’s Name, you think about my sex life more than I do, and it’s starting to get weird. Please knock it off.”

    I’m probably the person who would joke about this in certain contexts, but not if it made the other person uncomfortable, not for months on end, and DEFINITELY not in front of bosses.

    LW, I know speaking up is going to feel like ripping off a band aid, but I swear it will be better than months/years of cringe on your part.

    Reply
  20. Excel Jedi*

    OP, I know you said that this woman is just joking and trying to bond….but I cannot imagine a situation where one woman joking about another woman having sex in her office in front of your boss(es) is intended as a bonding joke. I would keep your eyes open here – there may be more going on than you think.

    Also, seconding the fact that it’s already gotten to the level of harassment – not only for you, but for those witnessing it. If she doesn’t stop with the jokes after you asking exactly once, I would head to HR or your boss. If I witnessed this between coworkers more than once, I’d probably raise it to my own boss, because it’s so inappropriate.

    Reply
    1. CBB*

      This is a good point that reinforces why it’s important to respond directly.

      She’s not just joking. She’s communicating false and damning information about you to your superiors.

      Maybe that’s not her intention and she really is just trying to be funny, but that’s irrelevant since the effect is the same.

      Reply
    2. Littorally*

      I can absolutely imagine a situation where it is intended as a bonding joke, because I have worked with women who have had really, truly appalling boundaries and ideas of what is appropriate for work.

      That said, I think you’re on to something to look at this with more wariness than the OP is currently showing. While it could be that Jane is one of those people with appalling boundaries and no sense of appropriate grownup behavior, it’s also very possible that her intentions aren’t so benign.

      Reply
    3. Lacey*

      Oh, I’ve known multiple of these types. Thank goodness I was single when I worked with them.

      They do honestly think they’re bonding. They have no idea how they come off.
      And it’s not that they’re not often clumsily manipulative people – they usually are – but the jokes aren’t part of it. They think we’re all in on the fun.

      I have two relatives who are like this, not about sex – I would already have died of embarrassment – but other kinds of jokes that only make people uncomfortable. But they think everyone loves them. They think they’re being charming. And to tell them it isn’t just sends them into a talespin. You’d think that was their whole personality.

      Reply
      1. Red 5*

        Thanks for saying this, that’s what I was thinking reading some of these responses. I’ve known people in the past that really would think that this was a funny joke between friends.

        I wouldn’t agree with them, and I would in fact not be trying to be friends with them but merely figuring out how to have a tolerable work experience with them if forced to. But that doesn’t make them malicious and intentional about what they’re doing. And sadly, often telling them “you know people hate that” doesn’t usually work out either because the reaction is often “no, they love it, you’re the one who is wrong.” If you say “I don’t like it when you do that” then the best you can get is often compliance of the “ugh, she has no sense of humor” variety but when you have to work with/be related to somebody and can’t change that, sometimes it’s all you can ask for.

        I don’t know the OP, or her co-worker, so it’s all speculation anyway. But the only thing OP can do is state very clearly that it is unwelcome and needs to stop, and then if it doesn’t she needs to escalate because her job and career are at stake. But we shouldn’t assume malicious intent when it could just be somebody who is really stupid.

        Reply
  21. Need More Sunshine*

    Allison’s scripts are always the best, but I would also throw in, if she asks “were you having sex in your office?” or any other variation, throw on a concerned look and take it very seriously. “Of course not; why would you assume that?” Return the awkward to sender every chance you get. Sure, she may think you’re stuffy, but WTH kind of joke is this?? Make her explain it. Every time.

    Reply
    1. OftenOblivious*

      Sadly, the OP is already saying that I always respond with something along the lines of, “Of course not, my door was closed because I was on a private call!” but she never seems to get the hint.

      Reply
  22. Christmas850*

    Respectfully, I would remove “I know you don’t mean it but…” from the suggested responses. Don’t give credit where it isn’t due. She *does* mean to make direct sexual jokes/comments. The words don’t just trip and stumble out of her mouth.

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      The OP is certainly ENTITLED to not give credit. But if it makes it easier for her to start off with it, then it’s what she should do.

      Reply
      1. Red 5*

        Yeah, the “I know you don’t mean it” stuck in my head too and I didn’t like it, but OP knows the co-worker and her relationship with her better than I do. It might make the first conversation easier to have, but man, it would be impossible for me to actually say out loud if I was in this situation.

        Reply
  23. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Next occurrence: “Stop saying that.”

    Subsequent occurrence: Escalate to Boss and HR. (Don’t threaten, just do it.)

    Reply
  24. Trek*

    Did she ever say anything like this to your husband? I would call her on that. ‘Jane it’s very telling that you accuse me of having sex at work but never did this one time to my husband. I find your statements disgusting, rude, and sexist. I’m not sure if you are trying to damage my reputation or just call me unprofessional. Either way do not talk to me that way again.’ Icy cool slightly angry and in front of others is the best way to handle this immediately.

    Give your boss a head’s up as she will probably cross the line in other ways as well.

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      Don’t even go there. This is NOT a discussion to be having. And it does NOT MATTER if she made those jokes to the OP’s husband. It might in terms of their relationship, but not in terms of whether it’s OK for CW to make these jokes to OP!

      Reply
    2. RagingADHD*

      Whether she made comments like this to the husband is irrelevant. Even if she had done, and even if the husband thought it was hilarious, this is still inappropriate. The problem is not about double standards. It’s about *talking about LW’s sex life at all.*

      Reply
  25. anonymous73*

    Why are you so concerned about maintaining a relationship with someone who is sexually harassing you and making you uncomfortable with her remarks? Would you feel the same if she were a man? Tell her to stop. Don’t worry about being nice, be direct. Boundary crossers don’t understand hints. She’s crossing a line and needs to be put in her place, and if she gets upset or it ruins your relationship, that’s ALL on HER.

    Reply
        1. New Jack Karyn*

          No one’s saying to let it continue. But if you can give her a little cover to save face, give her a chance to get over her embarrassment, then they can be working colleagues in the future. “No is a complete sentence,” is effective for strangers, or people you won’t see again. Less so for someone you’re going to see in the office every day.

          Reply
          1. Rich or Poor...*

            Sorry, but Weirdo is the one who needs to take responsibility for creating the problem. OP doesn’t owe her face-saving attempts of any kind.

            Reply
            1. Observer*

              It’s not what the OP owes anyone. It’s about what would make life easier for the OP. Right now she feels like she needs to preserve the relationship, at least to some extent. You and I may think that the relationship is not worth preserving, but that’s not our calculation to make.

              Reply
              1. anonymous73*

                And that’s why I asked the question in my original comment. I think the OP needs to think REALLY hard about the benefit of maintaining a friendship/relationship/whatever ship you want to call it with this person who has zero boundaries. Yes they have to work together, but what is the benefit of being more than just colleagues? I personally wouldn’t want to have any type of relationship with a person who thought it was funny to sexually harass me at work. And her being a woman doesn’t make it okay. If this were a man doing it, everyone would look at it differently.

                Reply
                1. BethRA*

                  “Just a colleague” IS a relationship – they don’t have to be friends, but they do work together and will have to interact.

                  No one is saying OP shouldn’t address this (very bad) behavior, no one is saying anyone else but Weirdo is responsible for Weirdo’s bad behavior.

                2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

                  ALSO the company has a right to know that they are employing such a walking lawsuit! Passivity is awful awful advice, and not in the OP’s favor.

        2. JB*

          Nobody is telling you to put up with anything. You’re the one who’s demanding that LW should react the same way that you would.

          Reply
  26. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Oh dear, from the headline I thought “oh, it’s someone making weird and awkward comments about how when you work from home you might have ‘sex in the office'”.

    And it’s so much worse!

    Yes. SHUT IT DOWN. Firmly, with as much well controlled volume as you feel like using. And if you feel like doubling down the awkward by asking her why she thinks that you would be doing that, go for it. Yuck.

    Reply
  27. New Jack Karyn*

    I wouldn’t wait until the next time she does it. Sometime when the two of you aren’t in earshot of anyone, just bring it up. “You’ve been making a lot of jokes about Bob and I having sex at the office. That’s not cool, and I need you to stop.” Now she’s on notice to not do it again, and if she does, then you can reference this conversation.
    Be prepared for the “I was just joking!” and “I never knew it bothered you!” comments. You’ll have to deal with those, but on your terms and not hers.

    Reply
  28. generic_username*

    Lol, these “jokes” would be weird and inappropriate even if you weren’t at work…. I would 100% make a point not to see someone socially if they constantly made jokes about how my husband and I can’t quit having sex in semi-public places

    Reply
  29. infopubs*

    She is creating a hostile workplace. Not just for you, but for everyone who overhears these statements. You can bet there is at least one other person within earshot who REALLY doesn’t want to hear this but doesn’t feel they have standing to say anything at all. From that person’s perspective, it looks like two friends joking around. Nip this in the bud before there is a complaint toward you because you appear to be letting the joking happen as if it doesn’t bother you.

    Reply
  30. animaniactoo*

    The kindest version that I can give to this is to pull her aside at some point SOON (possibly right after she’s just made another joke), and say some form of this):

    “Hey, I understand that you mean this as a joke. But you do it really often, and in front of a lot of other people who don’t know me and [husband] as well as you do, and I am pretty concerned that it could damage my reputation within the company because it would be so wildly inappropriate to do that. Can you please not make jokes about this anymore? I would really appreciate it.”

    And if she doesn’t take that well… well… that’s not on you because you will have validated that you understand her intent as a joke, that she has a context for making the joke, even while asking her not to make it anymore. That you’ve expressed it as your concern. If she dismisses it and says “Oh, nobody would ever think that”, what you’re shooting for is a tight smile and to say firmly “Nonetheless, I am asking you to stop. Thanks.” and leave it right there.

    If she does it again after that, in the moment: “This joke has gotten really old. Please stop.” with a slight exasperation in your tone. And again… let it be awkward, because you already asked nicely – and as Alison said – you’re not the one making it awkward. SHE has made it awkward by continuing to make this joke over and over again. You can’t be more concerned with her feelings than yours. They at least have to have EQUAL weight in this situation… at a minimum. Give yourself the gift of giving that much weight to your own feelings and concerns about this.

    Reply
  31. Precious Wentletrap*

    “We’re not doing this, it’s creepy and weird, and the next time you try, we’re heading to HR. Now knock it off.”

    Reply
  32. Meep*

    As a grown woman in a relationship (not with another coworker mind you) who just had to point out to another grown woman that making inappropriate comments about my reproductive system is extremely inappropriate, expect push back and even outright denial.

    Even if she does not have the good sense to feel ashamed for her actions (mine double-downed and told me a 99.6-degree fever being equated to ovulation was “just medical fact”), she will probably try to play it off as you being too sensitive. It isn’t against you. It is just the self-perseverance of someone who thinks it is appropriate to sexually harass her coworkers.

    Don’t take offense. She was offensive enough to say it in the first place and then continue to say it. But definitely let her know it stops today.

    Reply
  33. Essentially Cheesy*

    Considering how freely coworker jokes about this ….. it leaves me wondering if she freely joked about this with LW’s husband ? This just seems like coworker has a sense of comfort with LW to even bring this up? Like, what was coworker and husband’s friendship level? (I’m in no way suggesting they had something more going on, but maybe they were too friendly.)

    Reply
  34. OP*

    Thanks for answering my question, Alison!

    Additional context that I didn’t initially put in the letter:

    -When she worked with my husband I wasn’t working at this company yet, so that’s why he never got these jokes on his end.
    – The first time she said something like this I thought I had to have misheard her, so she definitely got the shocked and confused response and has from the get go! I’ve never laughed it off or acted like it’s funny. I’m not sure if that’s part of the fun for her, to get that kind of reaction?
    -She doesn’t have a crush on my husband. I know it’s easy to speculate when you have limited information, but trust me on this one.
    -I would really like to avoid HR if that’s an option. If it gets to that level then I’ll do what I have to, but because of the type of workplace we’re in a complaint would mean some pretty serious repercussions for her way beyond a talking-to. I don’t want her to lose her job over something she thinks is all in good fun.
    -She really does think she’s being friendly! She doesn’t have the best sense of professional norms and has a pretty blue sense of humor, I think she has no idea how this is coming across.

    Also, thanks Naomi, that is incredibly helpful framing! I think that’s something that could work.

    Reply
    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      As someone who’s sense of humour tends heavily toward the ‘extremely coarse’ you’ll definitely be doing her a massive favour in fact to come down hard on this.

      Back in my young Keymaster days I had a side gig as a standup comic. My humour was exceptionally blue. Daft me thought if my coworkers could laugh at my jokes that would make them like me more so I brought in some of my routines.

      Think uranium-filled-balloons for how *that* went down. My lab supervisor basically just glared at me and said ‘you’re a professional adult now, act like one. Never use that kind of language here’.

      Very chastened, I behaved. Mostly. Now I confine my swearing and blue language to the privacy of the LAN room and whichever recalcitrant server I’m berating today.

      Reply
    2. Observer*

      OK, then start with Allison’s scripts. But if that doesn’t work the first time, ratchet it up immediately to be 100% clear with zero softening. Especially if she does this in front of others, as it sound like this could really hurt your reputation.

      If it really is JUST lack of sense of professional norms you will be doing her a massive favor, as this kind of this could – rightfully – seriously hamper her professional life.

      On the other hand, if even that doesn’t work, then you know you have a bigger problem on your hands. At that point, going to HR is going to be necessary, both for yourself and the people around you. Because whatever her motivations are, at that point it doesn’t matter. She’s saying things that are damaging to you and making life very uncomfortable for others. And at that point she’d be doing this KNOWING that it’s making you uncomfortable and is seen as inappropriate.

      Also, you don’t say what kind of workplace you are in, but if it’s something like a school or a public facing position where she’s saying things in front of clients, then that’s especially bad. The serious repercussions would be 100% warranted. I get that you don’t want to create an over-reaction to something that feels like it should be harmless, but the reality is that in many contexts this is NOT harmless, and that’s especially true in contexts like being around students who can’t really get away from it.

      Reply
    3. Just Another Zebra*

      Thanks for commenting, OP!

      Taking all of what you said into account, then I think you would be doing your coworker a HUGE kindness to have one direct, frank conversation with her. Tell her that this joke isn’t ok, it isn’t funny, and is wildly inappropriate. Then tell her it has to stop. Firm and direct. And I know you want to avoid HR if possible. Hopefully, one conversation with her will make her realize that her “joke” just isn’t, and you can both move on. But if it doesn’t work, I hope you don’t close that door to reporting her. This is sexual harassment, and people should be fired for it.

      Reply
    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      I’m with you on avoiding HR, especially in a case like this where all you want is a way to get this person to cut it out. I’m a big fan of just saying “Yeah…you need to cut it out.” Some people are just incredibly awkward and dense and you have to be far more blunt than you’d like to be.

      Reply
    5. Velawciraptor*

      OP, the fact that you think your co-worker may be continuing to do this because she finds it “fun” to get a shocked reaction for you says that there may be more malice behind her actions than you may be thinking. You deserve to be treated respectfully and professionally in the workplace, regardless of how “fun” someone thinks it is to do otherwise.

      Reply
    6. JB*

      I’d like to gently point out that her enjoying your shocked and confused reaction is at odds with the idea that she thinks she’s being friendly – at least for a normative idea of ‘friendly’.

      Certainly she doesn’t understand professional norms, but it sounds like you’ve made it pretty clear that you don’t enjoy the ‘jokes’. If she’s persisting regardless, her idea of ‘friendly’ may be something you’ll have to keep looking out for.

      Reply
    7. Elizabeth West*

      Thank you for clarifying, OP. If you want to avoid HR, then you definitely need to tell her clearly and unequivocally to stop doing this. That may end it right there, in which case, you don’t need to worry about it anymore. In the event you need to escalate then you can say, “I did tell her very plainly to stop doing it.”

      I would still document it, and make a note of when you told her to stop (not asked her, told her). Just in case. It’s better to CYA and have it if you need it than to need it and not have it.

      Please let us know how it goes.

      Reply
      1. Stina*

        DO emphasize to your co-worker that the joke is *really* NSFW and could lead to trouble with HR if it continues, if it hasn’t done so already, since others hear the jokes and may be offended like you are.

        Reply
  35. AthenaC*

    I’m a little worried about the norms in your husband’s department if THIS is how she thinks it’s okay to talk at work after having worked in your husband’s department for a bit. Have you spoken with your husband about this at all?

    Reply
  36. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    At the next occurrence: “that is a really unprofessional thing to say”.

    Say with stern face (like the one my mum uses when I swear in front of her) and walk away/turn away after.

    If it repeats after that: “No. no more of this. Ever” (using the tone I use to tell my cat to stop eating plastic you little furry tyrant)

    Reply
  37. Satellite*

    I want to know why this loon is getting away with making blatantly sexual comments about two of her coworkers in front of management two or three levels above you. THEY should be the ones immediately shutting this down and having a conversation with this woman about legal liability and sexual harassment. The fact that they did nothing is enough to take it straight to HR. OP, please confide in your husband so he can directly address it with her so you don’t have to. It’s in his best interest as well since she’s also potentially ruining his professional reputation in the company right along with yours.

    Reply
  38. Observer*

    OP, your relationship has already been shredded. None of the scripts that Allison suggests can make anything worse. Because, to be honest at this point her not saying anything has to be better.

    This is ESPECIALLY important in front of other people.

    STOP “explaining” anything when you respond to her. Saying something like “No, that’s not why my door was closed” or even “Of course not” makes it sound like such a thing is actually a possibility. You need to use language that makes it clear that this is just a totally bizarre take, and not even remotely possible. “What a WEIRD thing to say” is perfect – and true.

    Reply
    1. quill*

      I favor a stern NO as if you’re talking to the dog chewing on a shoe. Not as strategic advice, mind you, but the most professional way I can think of to be firm about it in the moment if you’re caught off guard by it being said.

      Reply
  39. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Gee, I made a mildly sexual innuendo (joke to a consenting audience) at work and consider this far, far far over the line. In my experience those who are worried about ruining the relationship are more conscientious and kind, especially compared to those who have actually ruined it.

    Reply
  40. Mollie*

    OP, I would have similar feelings in this situation, so I totally get where you’re coming from. She’s creating such an uncomfortable situation. I would find it easier to just find a moment alone with her and say the following: I wanted to let you know that it makes me uncomfortable when you talk about my sex kids at work. I know you wouldn’t want to do that, and I’m glad we have a strong enough relationship that I can trust you to stop now that you know. Thanks for hearing me on this. Let’s never speak of it again (smile, subject change). And then I hate to say it, but document.

    I know this seems overly gentle compared to what others have suggested, but I would feel too uncomfortable to say anything else at first.

    If it happens after that, I’d look at her seriously and say nope and not a conversation we’re having ever again, remember? Smile and move on. (It would be reasonable to skip this, but I would use it if trying to preserve the relationship)

    I’d probably give that 2 tries, and then I’d go with a professionally stern: Susan, you’ve got to stop. It’s past the point now. Thanks. (No subject change. Walk away and let it be awkward)

    After that, HR.

    Reply
    1. Julia*

      Yeah, this exactly. This is my point – I often find the scripts Alison suggests to be things I just wouldn’t say in real life because they’re too abrupt. I mean come on, do you really think someone who hasn’t even mustered the courage to say *anything* is going to be willing to say something so abrupt? This script is MUCH better (I also suggested a similar one below). Hope LW reads this. The scripts are the weakest part of AAM, IMO. Everything else is stellar.

      Reply
    2. Observer*

      Skip the smile. I get why you would do that, but for people like this, the smile is “permission” to ignore what you just said. Like you don’t REALLY mean it. And, while I totally understand the impulse to soften, the reality is that you CANNOT do that with someone like that.

      Reply
  41. Jam Today*

    “I really need this to stop.” Your next move is management/HR. End this immediately.

    Why do you want to be “friends” with this woman? There is something really not-right with her. She is not your friend, she is someone who enjoys publicly humiliating you. Does she have a crush on your husband? Does she have a crush on you? How old is she? This is the sort of behavior I would expect from a teenager whose frontal lobe is still developing and their impulse-control is less-than-optimal.

    Reply
    1. Julia*

      If you’re advocating sighing in exasperation and rolling your eyes to a person asking for a kind way to deal with a sensitive interpersonal workplace situation, you should maybe rethink your calibration of what’s acceptable, because you’ve gone off the rails somewhere.

      Reply
  42. BethRA*

    I would go to her and tell her to stop before the next time she makes one of these “jokes” because a) you’re less likelty to freeze in the moment, b) you MIGHT head off the next episode before it happens and c) not that she deserves it, but it minimizes her embarrassment at being corrected (and I’m only saying that because OP wants to avoid drama and this might feel less confrontational to them).

    But yikes on all the bikes.

    Reply
  43. Julia*

    I really disagree with Alison on how ordinary people talk to each other in social situations. If it’s a joke she’s been making for a while and you’ve never objected before and want to preserve the relationship, I’d just say, “Can I ask you a favor? Can you not make jokes like that about my husband at work? Sorry to be sensitive about this, it’s just I like to keep up appearances at work and I don’t want it to be taken the wrong way by anyone who overhears. Thanks so much for understanding.”

    Someone who hears that is much less likely to feel snubbed and want to avoid you than someone who hears “Why do you keep saying that? It’s really inappropriate.” The latter is TRUE, but sometimes truth matters less than being nice, and you can still get the same message across while being nice.

    Reply
    1. Observer*

      This is not a social situation. And the OP HAS pushed back, by saying that this is not what is happening. Tell this kind of person that you want them to stop because you “like to keep up appearances” is not going to get them to stop. And if she does it in front of other people, it’s going to look VERY bad for her – As though she actually thinks that the actual suggestion is not so strange and inappropriate but it just “doesn’t look good”. That is NOT what she needs to be going after.

      Reply
    2. RagingADHD*

      The objection was lodged the first time the joke was made. OP clarified upthread that she expressed shock and confusion from the first instance. It’s past time for direct and forceful language.

      You can tell someone to stop doing things anytime you want, and it’s never a “favor” for them to stop being offensive.

      Reply
  44. Pikachu*

    I’d open my response with a big exasperated sigh and maybe an eyeroll. “Look, coworker, you seem to enjoy talking about me having sex at work, but it’s really inappropriate and I don’t appreciate you putting me through this conversation every time my door is closed. It’s nonsense and this has to be be the last time it happens, ok? Now, about Project ABC…”

    Don’t give her room to respond. Don’t even bring up your husband, because quite frankly it doesn’t matter who she thinks is in there with you. This is about YOU and all the ways she keeps ruining your damn day by being a total weirdo.

    Reply
    1. Julia*

      If you’re advocating sighing in exasperation and rolling your eyes to a person asking for a kind way to deal with a sensitive interpersonal workplace situation, you should maybe rethink your calibration of what’s acceptable, because you’ve gone off the rails somewhere.

      Reply
      1. pancakes*

        Not just “a person,” but someone who both the letter writer and her husband have historically been on friendly, joking terms with. I’m not going to try to argue that I think it’s an ideal response and nothing else will do, but rolling one’s eyes and sighing at someone you historically have that sort of relationship with isn’t off the rails. This is a peer, coworker, and friend who is way out of line, not a client or something. It wouldn’t be inappropriate for the letter writer to roll her eyes at this woman’s terrible sex jokes.

        Reply
        1. Julia*

          If LW had that kind of relationship with this friend she’d already have said “ugh, dude, please cut that out”. The fact that she wrote in to an advice columnist rather than do that is an indication that this friendship is not the sigh-and-eye-roll type.

          Reply
  45. I edit everything*

    I had an acquaintance once who, when I’d shared my father’s cancer diagnosis, told me, “Well, you know what they say: Life’s a bitch and then you die.” I was so stunned and flabbergasted that I just blurted out “I can’t believe you just said that to me.” It was probably the most effective thing I could have said.

    Reply
  46. Falling Diphthong*

    This reminds me of a Captain Awkward response, in which the Captain pointed out how Other Party had violated norms and boundaries, and yet Letter Writer was the one who felt put upon to try to smooth things over and not make Other Party feel bad for the boundary violating.

    THINGS ARE ALREADY AWKWARD, to quote Alison. You pushing back is not going to make them even more awkward–if anything, for the bystanders (your coworkers, the senior management in front of whom she says this) your pushing back will land as a “… Whew, okay, LW gets that what Susie said was wildly inappropriate. Susie is the weird one here.”

    Reply
  47. stk*

    This is so gross! Poor LW. I hope you’re reading, LW, and are able to say something – this really is a situation where going “oh my god, I know you think it’s funny but the sex comments have to STOP” is entirely reasonable. (And if the comments don’t end after that, at least you know for definite that she’s a problem.)

    Reply
  48. Matt*

    I’m probably alone in this line of thinking but If someone said “Oh, I assumed you and were having sex on the desk and didn’t want to bother you!” as a reason why m office door was shut, I’d just quib back “oh thank you! Yes that was much more private. Last time we did it in your office and I’m pretty sure (insert nearest coworker’s name to said office) could hear us and they now think it was you.” Then just give her a deadpan stare.

    Reply
    1. River Otter*

      That will just get both of you a reputation for being inappropriate and unprofessional. Remember the recent letter from the OP whose ex cheated on her with an intern? Go back and read her management’s advice to her—it was along the lines of “keep your own nose clean.” It’s good advice.

      Reply
      1. Matt*

        Oh I have that reputation already, and if I didn’t, the staff meeting a few weeks ago where we were asked to share our current reading and I told all my co-workers I’m reading “Nine Nasty Words” by John McWhorter probably cemented it. Granted, as inappropriate as I am, Would I ever bring up a co-worker’s sex life? Hell no, but will I give them Dorothy Zbornak level sass when they ask me stupid questions? Absolutely.

        Reply
        1. pancakes*

          I don’t at all agree that reading that sort of book or mentioning that you’re reading it goes hand-in-hand with being antagonistic and unprofessional with coworkers. I also don’t agree that responding to sexual harassment with additional sexual harassment is just being sassy. I grew up watching the Golden Girls too, and still like it, but it’s not a how-to guide.

          Reply
  49. Sara without an H*

    I know I should say something directly, but she clearly wants to be friends and I don’t want to completely ruin the relationship. She really does think this is a funny joke to bond over; there’s nothing mean spirited about it.

    Hi, OP — Sorry, but you need to shut this down. The fact that your coworker isn’t being malicious doesn’t change the fact that she’s being grossly inappropriate and unprofessional. Her intentions don’t matter, her words and actions do.

    Since she’s shown that she doesn’t take hints, you’re going to have to be direct, even if it makes you uncomfortable. “What you’ve just said isn’t appropriate, and it’s making me uncomfortable. Please don’t say that again.”

    Document any further incidents, including names of witnesses. I think you can probably shut this down quickly be being very clear and explicit, but if not, then treat it the way you would any other case of harassment and take it to your manager and/or HR.

    Reply
    1. CatPerson*

      ” she clearly wants to be friends”

      That’s her problem, not your problem. You don’t want to be friends with someone who would act like this.

      Reply
  50. Delta Delta*

    “This wasn’t funny the first several times you said it, and it isn’t funny now. Knock it off.” If she does it again, go to HR.

    Reply
  51. Mirea*

    Some people are like dogs. You have to scold poor behavior immediately in the moment and good behavior should also be rewarded in the moment. So when CW makes a sex crack, LW should immediately say “stop saying stuff like that” and walk away, change the subject or busy herself with something else. Concise, clear and immediate and not unkind in any way. When she is not making inappropriate jokes, then LW can be warm and engage with her.

    I bet she stops pretty quickly. I’ve found that too many words gives people the idea that they can argue, defend or otherwise debate. A calm imperative gives them no traction to do so.

    Reply
  52. Darsynia*

    One thing that is key here is to not feel like because you have let the comments slide you have a responsibility to continue to do so. You can just signpost that, if it makes you feel more comfortable.

    “Honestly, the more comments about this that I hear, the more uncomfortable they make me. I’d like to ask that you…”

    “I had been hoping these comments would stop the more we worked together, but…”

    “I’ve been getting up my courage to tell you that the remarks you’ve made about my husband and I make me very uncomfortable, and I’m asking you now to…”

    It’s human nature to let some things pass out of politeness. It’s not deceptive or entrapping to have reached your breaking point!

    Reply
  53. AKchic*

    OP, you’ve been more than patient about this. Real quick: ask your husband if this co-irker has ever made these comments to *him*. If so, did he say anything to get them to stop? If she hasn’t said anything to him, even with their friendly, joking relationship, why is it appropriate to make those comments to YOU and not to him? Does she feel safer because it’s woman-to-woman rather than “improper” because it’s woman-to-man? What she’s doing is sexually harassing you. What she’s doing is gross.
    Others have given you kind scripts. I am not kind. I’m a Petty Betty. I would deadpan when she next brings this up and be very blunt. “You sure do focus on my private life a lot. That’s inappropriate and unprofessional. Stop.” Or even “I’ve been patient, but you bring up my sex life and it makes me uncomfortable. Do not bring it up again.”
    I wouldn’t call her “nice” or “friendly” when she is the one calling attention to your personal life and focusing on sexual aspects rather than professional reasons for doing anything in a work setting. She’s the one making things weird for absolutely no reason.
    DO bring it up with a supervisor or HR that this is happening, that you aren’t formally complaining, but you are going to ask her to stop, just in case she gets defensive and tries to do something after the fact (hopefully she’s so mortified she stops and that’s that).

    Reply
  54. CatPerson*

    I really hope the LW sends an update.

    Those comments are so over the top offensive that it boggles the mind. Ruin the relationship if you must! People shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of harassment.

    Reply
  55. MicroManagered*

    I said “WTF” out loud to myself at least twice reading this, so that’s my advice. Next time she says it, resist the urge to explain what you were actually doing. Instead give her your stinkiest stink-eye and say “What the FUCK?” and leave it at that.

    If that feels rude, let me borrow a sentence from today’s Captain Awkward: If she has to face predictable social consequences for her bad behavior, does that technically make you The Rude One?”

    Reply
  56. Maxie's Mommy*

    If your company has different departments, it has an HR department. The next time she comments, say “come with me” with a smile on your face, and go to HR. She won’t take “no” from you, so maybe she will from HR.

    Reply
  57. cwhf*

    OP, This is already an awfully awkward situation completely due to your bizarre coworker. I would not want to be friends with someone so unprofessional and disrespectful. Whether she thinks it’s funny or not, it is mindbogglingly inappropriate on a scale that’s hard to grasp. Shut it down. The awkwardness is all on her part. Good luck.

    Reply
  58. Stina*

    At this point I’d just say “Jane, you keep making this joke. Besides being NSFW, it’s gotten old. Please stop.” And if she doesn’t, escalate it to HR as she’s probably making other people uncomfortable with it, making similar bad jokes to others, and not respecting your boundaries.

    Reply
  59. Ally*

    She has a thing for your husband and that plus jealousy of you has led to major boundary issues and compulsive awkward “jokes.”
    If I were OP I’d be pretty firm with her.

    Reply
  60. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    This coworker sounds like she’s angling to get at you for something. It’s not just your reputation she’s attempting to damage, if your husband is part of her “I’m just joking scenario” what’s to stop a manager from bringing him into an office and saying, “hey is this true.”

    Tell her this needs to stop now, and that if HR needs to get involved, you’ll get them.

    Reply
  61. Boof*

    I am unreasonably curious if she made these kind of “jokes” with your husband too.
    But yes, please just tell her clearly to stop, it’s uncomfortable. And if she doesn’t, to HR!

    Reply

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