Hey Dr. NerdLove,
I keep getting to the same problem very quickly with every guy. As I fear it is kind of a circle I’m not sure where to begin.
I do not feel like I need much sex (but probably I’m mistaken, you’ll see later on). Penetration is “bearable” at the best times, but most times hurts like hell. I can enjoy lots of other sex related things a lot sometimes (but rarely and usually in special situations like first time with a guy or after a fight or other situations that add a “thrill” of some kind) but usually I hardly ever feel like I want it.
I usually am under the impression, that any guy I’m going out with wants more sex than me. So when we’re just lying in bed cuddling and kissing, I can feel myself stiffening, asking myself if he “again” wants to have sex (or something similar) and fearing that my body might not react like I want/should. First, probably my not enjoying sex is just because of these thoughts. Who could enjoy anything he/she fears he/she might hate before it begins? (But maybe there is a medical issue, I don’t know.) Second, it makes me incapable of enjoying cuddling and kissing with a guy I also have sex with, as I always fear it would go on and sometimes even do things like give him a blow-job just to get it done without really wanting to.
Plus, it usually ends up in causing emotional problems between me and the guy, me feeling bad because I’m keeping something from him he wants/needs and at the same time being angry at him for asking, him feeling bad because he feels like he’s asking something from me I can’t or don’t want to give and probably also being angry for me being so prude.
The most difficult situation was with one boyfriend who tried again and again, more often and more obnoxious the more I said no (as he felt it was sooo long ago we had sex and I really could accept this one time) but still feeling so horrible about it he’d had given up his sexual desire at all if he could to solve the dilemma. I for my part felt bad for him suffering but ended up hating to be touched by him.
So in general: What if one partner in a relationship doesn’t want sex or way less than the other partner?
Personally: Where can I find the point to break this circle? Whatever I try makes me overthink it more and start to fear my own rejection as soon as I’m getting touched, making me irritable at myself and the guy that “can’t leave me alone”.
Confused, Annoyed and Nervous
Something about your letter jumped out at me CAN and it makes me wonder about a few things. When you talk about the problems you’ve been having with penetration, you say maybe it’s a medical issue and that kind of concerns me. See, one of the many, many issues I have with the way that we tend to teach sex-ed these days is that 99% of the time, it’s a glorified anatomy lesson. Here’s how the female and male reproductive organs work, here’s how babies are formed, here’re what STIs are like, go forth and multiply. One of the things that almost never covered is the fact that sex is supposed to feel good. It’s easier for men because, well, society more or less caters to us and tells us that sex is the best thing ever and we’re more or less encouraged to get as familiar with our junk as possible; by the time we come to sexual relationships, we’ve gotten pretty used to the fact that orgasms feel fuckin’ awesome. Women, on the other hand, are frequently taught that to be concerned about men’s sexuality at the expense of their own. Female sexuality – even in the 21st century – is still considered suspect in many ways, and comes secondary to men’s. Women are taught to be sexy but not sexual, not to advocate for their own pleasure, not to explore their sexuality or their own bodies.
All of which is a long-winded way of getting around to this: if a guy even imagines something’s wrong with his junk, he tends to run to the doctor so quickly he makes Barry Allen look like Yertle the Turtle. I’ve known more women than I care to think about who didn’t realize that something was wrong because, frankly, they didn’t know that sex wasn’t supposed to hurt! If penetration is consistently painful (and if “bearable” is a best-case scenario, it sounds like it is) then that’s a pretty damn good sign that there may be a physical issue and you need to be talking to a medical professional about it (remember: Dr. NerdLove is not a real doctor) . There are a number of conditions that can cause women to have difficulty with penetrative sex – or even external pressure to the vulva and vaginal area – and a doctor will be able to diagnose and treat it.
I suspect, going by your email, that this constant expectation of pain and discomfort could be the root cause of your aversion to sex; after all, it’s hardly surprising that you might be feeling terribly lusty if your experiences with sexual activity range from “something you can grit your teeth and ride out” too “excruciating pain”. I don’t blame you for freezing up when your boyfriends start making noises about wanting to get busy – it may be all well and good for them, but for you it’s goddamn torture!
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your libido is going to come roaring back should any lingering issue be identified and treated. It may well be that you just don’t have much of an interest in sex, completely unrelated to the pain you feel during penetration. Sometimes a low libido can have external causes – you can have a psychological aversion to sex, you may have a hormonal imbalance that kills your sex-drive, SSRIs and hormonal birth control, can throw your libido out of whack, as can stress and sleep disorders. Other times, it’s just how you’re. Just as sexuality and gender comes on a spectrum, so to does sexual desire. Some people have raging libidos, others have no interest in sexual contact at all and others fall somewhere in between. You may want to check out AVEN – the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network; they have a number of resources relating to understanding asexuality and possibly help give you the information to figure out where you may fall in terms of your interest in sex or lack there-of.
One thing to keep in mind is that no two people are necessarily going to have 100% matching sex-drives, nor are they going to always be horny at the same time. Any relationship means finding a balance between two differing desires. But on occasion, you will find people in relationships whose libidos are imbalanced to the point of causing problems.
And that brings us to your questions.
The answer to your first question – what happens when two partners have mismatched libidos – is simple: either they find a way to balance things out or they break up. Sexual compatibility – including more-or-less-matching sex-drives – is a critical part of making a relationship work. When both partners are radically out of sync, you end up with two unbelievably frustrated and angry people. The partner with a higher sex drive feels deprived, neglected or even rejected, while the partner with the lower sex drive feels put-upon and constantly being asked to do something he or she doesn’t want to do. This is a recipe for a misery all around, and likely leading to an ugly break-up.
When there’s a mild mismatch, then it may be possible for the two to compromise – the partner with the higher libido accepts that they’re not going to have sex as often as they’d like, while the lower-libido’d partner gets the other partner off on occasion when they’re not necessarily feeling it. One important point: this doesn’t mean supplying blow-jobs on command because someone isn’t able or interested in penetrative sex. Similarly, it also doesn’t mean giving a half-hearted a muff-diving session punctuated by wearying sighs of “Ok if I have to…” that only serves to make the receiver feel like shit. Neither does it mean having sex when the last thing you (general you, not you, CAN) want is to be touched.
We all do things for our partners, even when we’d rather not because it’s part of what makes relationships work. Sometimes it’s cleaning the bathroom, sometimes it’s going to a movie you don’t necessarily like. These are all forms of relationship maintenance, and sometimes sexual activity can be a form of relationship maintenance as well; you’re being generous and giving to your partner because it makes them happy. This doesn’t mean sexual servitude however, or being forced into doing something you don’t want or that leaves you crying in the shower afterwards; it’s about times when you (again, general you) may not be in the mood, but you’re willing to do to indulge your partner.
If there’s a drastic mismatch – she wants it every day and twice on Sundays, he tends to only want it once a month, for example – then it’s usually better just to end things. It’s simply too difficult to bridge that gap in a way that’s fair or pleasing to both partners; one person or the other is going to end up suffering for it. Occasionally, when other aspects of the relationship are especially strong or the couple doesn’t want to break up, they may agree to open up the relationship. This way, the partner with the higher sex drive is able to get his or her needs met but still maintain the emotional core of the relationship.
It’s worth noting that both parties have a right to expect that a romantic relationship will have a sexual component1 and to not be shamed for wanting to have sex with their partner. While platonic romantic relationships can and do exist, they’re the exception rather than the rule; if one partner is asexual or has an incredibly low sex-drive, it’s better to disclose this up front so that everyone is able to make an informed choice as to whether they want to enter into this relationship. I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve heard from who’ve had partners who’ve single-handedly decided that they were both done having sex once the relationship was more established.
(Hopefully it goes without saying that both partners also have the right to say “no” to sex at any time and to not be forced or coerced into sex they don’t want…)
Of course, none of this works if your partner’s an insensitive dickhead who doesn’t take “no” for an answer – as you’ve experienced, CAN- and just keeps pushing and pushing at you regardless of your feelings on the matter. As you said: it’s hard to want to so much as even cuddle with someone if you’re worried that they’ll take this as an invitation to start nagging at you to do something you don’t like or that hurts you.
And that brings us to your second question: how do you break this cycle you’re in? Well, as I suggested earlier, you should start by going to the doctor to try to find the cause of the pain you’re having during penetration.
In the meantime, take penetrative sex off the table and stick to other forms of sex you do enjoy; perhaps not feeling pressured into doing something that causes you pain will help you feel like playing around more often. Part of what can help is to expand your definition of what “sex” means to more than just penis-in-vagina action. Oral sex, mutual masturbation, sexy performances for your partner while they masturbate, tit-fucking, hand-jobs… all of these are ways of having sex besides simple penetration and should be part of a couple’s sexual repertoire.
You also should communicate clearly with your future boyfriends. Let them know about your limits and why you have them. Not only can this help avoid confusion and hurt feelings and allow for improved cuddling and make-out sessions, but it will also weed out the assholes. A guy worth dating will understand and respect your boundaries; someone who just keeps pressuring you should be dumped immediately.
Good luck, CAN.
Doc, please help.
My husband wants me to have sex with other people, I have problems with this because I don’t want to be shared and I don’t wan’t to share my husband with anyone. He keeps saying just try it once and if you don’t like it we won’t ever do it again. I don’t feel like if I just try it once he will want to stop. What do I do?
Not Into It
Speaking of pressuring people into doing things they don’t want to do…
I’m a big believer in what NerdLove Celebrity Patronus Dan Savage calls “being GGG – good, giving and game”; that means good in bed, selflessly giving of pleasure and game for trying new things within reason. We all have little kinks, interests and desires that we’d like to fulfill with our partners. I’m of the belief that it’s good to indulge some of our partners’ kinks and fetishes on occasion even if we’re don’t necessarily share them, simply because it’s a way of making them happy.
That being said: there’s a difference between being willing to try, say, light bondage or licking your partners toes and being pressured into fucking other people for his or her pleasure.
Remember the “within reason” clause of GGG? There’re some things where “just try it once” is a reasonable request.
This ain’t one of them.
Partner-swapping and cuckold scenarios are varsity level sex and shouldn’t be entered into without serious consideration, an incredible amount of trust in your partner and your relationship and the full and enthusiastic consent on everybody’s part. Not only are you missing that enthusiastic consent part but when you say “I don’t feel like if I try it just once, he will want to stop,” that tells me that you’re missing the trust as well.
That is not a good foundation on which to explore high-end, potentially emotionally explosive kink. To be perfectly frank, I’m not entirely sure that this is the foundation for a decent relationship period.
Tell your husband “no”, NII. You can explain your reasons if you want, but frankly, the fact that you don’t want to is the only reason you need. If that’s not sufficient for your husband… well tough shit, you don’t want to, you don’t have to and you aren’t gonna. If that’s not good enough for him, if your husband isn’t willing to take “no” for an answer and just leave it at that…
Well, I’m gonna be honest, NII: you should probably be talking to a divorce lawyer at that point.
- Note very carefully that I said “right to expect“; there’s a difference between expecting something to be true and a guarantee [↩]