Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and a half. He is so caring and thoughtful. He is affectionate and always finding ways to show me he loves me. He splits household responsibilities with me 50/50 and is in many ways my ideal partner, with one exception.
My boyfriend has ED.
I’m ok with. In fact, when we first started dating and he told me, I was willing to work on finding other ways to be together and feel intimacy and it seemed like he was too. I could tell he needed to take it slow and I was ok with that, but at some point progress completely halted. Now I’m at the point where I feel he refuses to do anything about it. For example he says he doesn’t like the way, “vaginas smell or taste” (he’s never even attempted to go down on me, this is based on his past experiences). He also had never touched me down there for more than a few seconds at a time. The most we do together is making out and mastrubating and even this has gotten fewer and farther between.
I’ve asked him if he’s attracted to me and he insists that he is (he also gets erections no problem when we start fooling around), but it’s so hard to not feel like I’m doing something wrong. He says this is all stemming from a botched circumcision that led to decreased sensitivity but there is definitely another element at play here. I say this because once we managed to have sex and he came but it has never been attempted nor has it happened again. In fact, just a few days ago, he said the most hurtful thing he has said to me throughout all of this. He described the moment (which I felt was special because we were able to connect) as, “I barely felt anything and then I came.”
I’m honestly at the point where I’m thinking about breaking up with him. I love him but it feels like a constant blow to my sexual confidence and it hurts so much to not be able to physically connect with him.
I know that I will be heartbroken if things don’t work out between us, but I also know I can’t force him to do anything he’s not ready to do. Please help!
Sexless In Seattle
I hate to say it, SIS, but I think you’re already at the break-up point of your relationship.
Now, I have a lot of questions about your boyfriend and his junk, starting with: does he have ED, or is he somewhere on the asexuality spectrum? Does he masturbate on his own, and if so, how? Has he had this problem with other partners before you? Has he tried any treatments for his ED? When, exactly, did he get circumcised, as a child or an adult? If it was as an adult, was there a difference in his sex drive and interest in sex before he had the foreskin removed?
I ask because… well, honestly, I kind of suspect the problem isn’t that he has erectile dysfunction. If you two are able to sit next to each other and masturbate to completion and he’s able to get hard enough for long enough to actually manage penetration, that would seem to indicate that he’s able to achieve erections and get himself off. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t have ED — ED can have psychological causes as well as physical ones — but it does call some of his reasons into question.
Frankly, there’s a lot here that suggests this is a deeper issue than simple erectile dysfunction. As I’ve said before: sex is more than insert-tab-a-into-slot-b. Penises are great, but they’re not the only way to have sex. Dicks can be divas; they’ll often refuse to work if circumstances aren’t absolutely perfect. But hands, mouths, tongues and toys never go soft. In fact, oral sex and manual stimulation are actually more likely to bring you to orgasm than just penetration. You and he could still have great sex by using various penetration toys or vibrators… on you and on him. Even if he can’t necessarily get hard, there’re toys for men with erection difficulties that can still get him off.
But if I’m being honest, I think the likelier issue is that he doesn’t like sex. Maybe he’s sex-repulsed. Or it could be possible he has some sort of sexual trauma he hasn’t worked through. Maybe he’s asexual but keeps trying to force himself into sexual relationships because he thinks he’s supposed to. Maybe he’s got issues with his own sexuality and isn’t actually attracted to women. But from what you’ve told me, I don’t think he’s being straight with you. I don’t know if he’s lying or just not telling you the whole truth, or if he’s not even aware of it himself… but this sounds a lot like his trying to rationalize why he doesn’t want to fuck you.
The fact that he’s apparently repulsed by vaginas and can’t bring himself to touch you, never mind perform oral sex is one of them. The fact that he has no problem telling you how bad penetrative sex was. The fact that he doesn’t seem to care about the fact that you’re not having any sort of sexual intimacy at all… it really sounds like either he’s not interested in sex, or he’s not interested in sex with you. He certainly doesn’t seem to be bothered by this.
However, the more important thing is that he doesn’t seem to be bothered by how much this bothers you. And that, more than anything else, is the sign that this relationship is already reaching it’s end point. When someone can’t be bothered to care or address fundamental issues in the relationship that’re hurting their partner, that’s usually an indication that the relationship’s already over. What you have now is a zombie relationship, dead but shambling around anyway. The only thing left to do is put two in its dome and call it.
And look, I get it: you love him. You have a strong and affectionate connection. But you’re a sexual being and he, apparently, isn’t. Maybe not with you, maybe not with women, maybe not with anyone. And while your relationship may have all of these good points, the sexual incompatibility — and the lack of consideration he’s showing you about sex — is going to blow things up sooner or later. If you want to have some sort of post-breakup relationship with him, it’s better to end it now, before your affection for him can curdle into resentment. He may be a great guy otherwise but he’s not the guy for you. If you and your partner aren’t sexually compatible — and that includes couples who don’t want sex — then that dissatisfaction is going to be a rock in your shoe from now until the day you finally end things. And it’ll only get worse from here.
So if you care for him and want him in your life later on… it’s better to take the immediate pain of heartbreak now than watching the long, slow decay of your relationship. The heartbreak now may seem scarier and more intense, but I can promise you: it hurts far less than dragging things out, and the pain will be over much faster. And just as importantly: it will free you and your beau up to find partners who are right for you.
If it were to be done, ’tis best done quickly. Rip the bandage off, SiS. The sooner you do, the sooner you can heal and move forward.
I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for four years now. For a lot of that time, she has struggled with mental health, including an eating disorder, anxiety and depression. At times it was truly awful and was fundamentally an abusive relationship. She would scream, and hit (herself and me) and make me make unreasonable sacrifices. We broke up for about 6 months but got back together after she seemed to have improved a lot.
In the past year, things have been pretty good, but there are still moments that scare me. I.e. she doesn’t have eating issues and has anxiety attacks only very occasionally, but still has suicidal thoughts.
I love her but am afraid that (1) she will one day go back to how it was, and (2) that she will not be a good mother, (just like her mother wasn’t). I also have this nagging feeling that I’m constantly waiting for things to either improve to perfect or go completely wrong so I have a clear answer one way or the other.
We also don’t have much of a sex life, though I find her beautiful and she says she feels the same about me.
Am I flogging a dead horse or does the fact we love each other mean we should stick it out?
A penny for your thoughts.
Is Love Enough?
Alright ILE, before I get to anything else, let’s clear one thing up: her depression and mental health issues don’t mean that she won’t be a good mother. Especially if she’s been putting in work with therapy and treatment — which it sounds like she has. I hope she continues to improve and finds solutions that help, but the fact that she’s actively addressing her mental health is a strong indicator that she wants to avoid being like her mother before her.
But that’s ultimately a secondary issue compared to everything else.
To start with, I’m gonna leap over everything and address the elephant in the room: your girlfriend has a mental health issue. Depression is a motherfucker, and it can do all sorts of fucked up things to the person living with it… but it can also affect the people in their lives. And one of the hardest things to do is figure out whether you can stick things out in a relationship with somebody who’s dealing with those issues. On the one hand, it can feel incredibly callous to dump somebody because they have depression or ADHD or other health issues; even the most charitable among us are likely to side-eye someone for doing so. But on the other hand, if you can’t handle it, you can’t handle it. You don’t get into heaven any faster because you made yourself suffer; doubly so if you’re doing so because you don’t want to be The Asshole Who Dumped His Partner Because Of Their Condition.
And there’re also any number of reasonable fears that can come with it; what if leaving makes things worse? What if your breaking up with someone causes them to go into a spiral and they hurt themselves… or worse? Doesn’t that mean you have a moral obligation to stick around at least until they level out and are in a better place?
Well… speaking as someone who’s been the depressed partner: no. Sticking around to Not Be The Asshole isn’t a blessing. It actually makes things worse than being honest and saying “look, I’m not equipped to handle this.” That’s gonna hurt and it’s almost impossible to not take it on as a personal failing. At the same time however, feeling like your partner is sticking around out of a sense of obligation is actually worse. As I’ve said many times: the clean break heals the fastest, and the short sharp pain is preferable to the long and drawn-out one.
And I suspect that some of these worries are at the core of your question.
But just as importantly is what they’ve done. You went through some shit with your girlfriend, shit that has very clearly hurt you and left scars. And while it’s true that she’s made monumental strides in taking care of herself and making things better, that doesn’t undo the past. She may be better now, but you’ve been hurt a lot. You’re still in a state where you’re still tensed up and ready to flinch at the first indication that things are going back to the way they were. That’s no way to live. It’s almost impossible to have a relationship when you keep your guard up, waiting for the worst to happen again. You can’t be relax and be completely vulnerable with someone when you’re expecting to get punished for doing so.
And to be clear: this doesn’t take anything away from the work that your girlfriend has put into her recovery. It doesn’t mean that she hasn’t done enough to make things better, nor does it mean she hasn’t worked hard enough to address her issues. It just means that some wounds are deep enough that you may not be able to heal them while they’re still in your life. And while that sucks and feels really shitty to say, the truth is that as much as you may love somebody, you have to be willing to love yourself more and do what’s right for you, first. There’s a reason why we tell folks to put their oxygen masks on before helping other people with theirs. If you are always on your guard around her, then all you’re doing is condemning this relationship to a slow, lingering end.
And, frankly, that can be bad for her recovery too. If she feels you flinch every time she speaks above a certain volume or moves in a way that triggers a panic response, then that’s gonna fuck with her head and her depression and anxiety too.
It’s admirable that you both love each other, but as the song goes: sometimes love ain’t enough. Sometimes love doesn’t mean holding on beyond all reason; sometimes love means loving someone enough to let them go. Your being together isn’t making things better; it’s making things worse for the both of you. It’s kinder in the long run to end things now than it is to stick around out of a sense of stubbornness or obligation.
Oh, one more thing: saying goodbye now doesn’t mean that you have to say goodbye forever. If — and this is, admittedly, a mighty big if — she continues to improve and you get treatment for your own wounds and scars, then it’s possible that the two of you could circle back around to each other. To be clear: this wouldn’t be a matter of months; this would be years down the line. These aren’t issues that can be fixed in six months; these are issues that take care and time. Time that you and she haven’t had yet.
So let your love be the reason you don’t stay together. Love each other enough to want the best for one another… and the best, in this case, means you have to go your separate ways, on your own journeys of healing. Maybe that journey will bring you both back together. Maybe it won’t. But for now, your time together has come to its end. Love each other enough to let go.