Getting over a dread of sex?
November 29, 2009 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I am late in the dating game, and sex still doesn't interest me. Want to get past this. Suggestions?

I am a early-30s healthy, sociable woman but sex doesn't interest me. It never has. I find the whole concept of mixing bodily fluids with another person completely off-putting. Am a virgin, obviously :) But I have dated and done the cuddle stuff. I dislike kissing but have put up with it.

I do not think all hope is lost. I tend to go for shy/nerd types, and my lack of experience relative to my age has not been an issue with them as many of them tend to be in the same boat. But it does get to the point sometimes where things should progress and the guy senses my reluctance, so this has perhaps cost me a few relationships.

I have many male friends who are 'buddies' so the problem is not an inability to deal with men. It's just that I don't like all the touchy stuff. I spend the whole date worrying he'll try to kiss me and that my breath/his breath will smell. And I have never even broached the subject of actual sex with anyone yet. I think they sense my reluctance on this front and have spared me the conversation.

I have heard several theories as to what the problem might be, ranging from:

- Daddy Issues stemming from parents divorce and lukewarm relationship with father
- Body issues from allergy-prone system which is prone to rashes and makes me sensitive to and about how my skin feels and looks
- Some sort of sex blockage due to post-traumatic stress from my transsexual sibling's sex change when I was a teenager
- Fear of commitment due to a deep-seated divorce phobia resulting from the breakdown of my parent's marriage

I have been to therapy and dealt with many of these issues. The last therapist I saw, who was excellent, suggested that I simply haven't met the right person yet and that if I did, my latent instincts would kick in. I hope this is true but worry it might not be.

Is there anything I can do to explore some of these feelings a little, perhaps break down the sex issue in my head a little so it isn't so daunting? Any suggestions for ways a person my age might broach the subject with a potential partner or to indicate to a potential person of interest tat they might need some patience with me without scaring them off? If you were a guy and you were, outside of this problem, interested in pursuing a relationship with me, what would be the best approach for me to take in having this conversation with you?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I think masturbating is a necessary first step to discover one's own sexuality. Are you?
posted by oxit at 12:12 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Obvious question: are you sure you're not gay?
posted by mpls2 at 12:12 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some people are asexual. Could this be a possibility for you?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:17 PM on November 29, 2009 [8 favorites]

Have you brought this up with your doctor? Possibly there's something going on at a physical level rather than a mental one.
posted by pised at 12:22 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Do you enjoy sensual things that don't involve sex? For example

- massage
- wearing clothes made of touchy feely fabrics. Like a fluffy dressing gown.
- a bubble bath with some lovely smelling bath products
posted by emilyw at 12:25 PM on November 29, 2009

you made it somewhat clear that sex with someone else as well are lesser relations don't necessarily interest you but you did not elaborate on whether pleasuring yourself does. if it does not, then don't force anything. it's okay. really, it's totally fine.

look, sex is about enjoying yourself. it's supposed to be fun, great, fantastic, relaxing and all those good things you really like. with someone you like. the crucial part here is to just relax and enjoy yourself once you know that person. you can't force that. looking to find this person and situation because "not doing this just isn't right" will not work. you will be less happy than you hope to be.

a huge issue seems to be that you overthink long-term consequences. if you do find that person you like and you are curious, by all means go ahead and try it out. I'm almost tempted to suggest you try it out like a really promising restaurant, to see what it's like, but only in that case. don't sweat possible divorces or how you might be perceived. someone who wants to go there with you has already decided they like you. by not letting go of those thoughts for a night you are keeping yourself from relaxing and enjoying yourself.

bottom line: don't force anything.
posted by krautland at 12:36 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

This recent New York Times Magazine piece about women who "want to want" might be of interest to you.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:42 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think your therapist may indeed be on the right track — the same was true for me. I never thought myself interested in sex, went ahead and tried anyway, mainly out of curiosity, with my first boyfriend (at 20), we stayed together for 8 years. I still couldn't figure out what was so great about it. Turned out I'd never really been in love with him (long story short, he treated me like my abusive mother always had; the "love" I felt was unhealthy familiarity).

In the five years since, I have only felt attracted that way to two men. Count 'em, two. And I haven't acted on it! I'm simply unable to even broach the possibility of imagined sex with the vast, vast majority of men. (And not at all with women — like mpls2 pointed out, I did wonder if I weren't lesbian, but I definitely prefer men.) I'm just... not quick to feel an attraction, and when I do, it's not "physical" until I really know the person.

With the two men, the key in both of their cases was time: I found them physically attractive (but that's never been enough to push a button for me), knew them for a while, and gradually discovered that their personalities were amazing; they were both upright, sincere, honest, intelligent, funny, trustworthy men. At some point, especially with the second, the switch was flipped and I surprised myself with a sudden visceral reaction of, "Rawr! Hawt man listens to me, forms his own opinions about people and events, thinks things through meaningfully, makes me laugh, and" (with the second guy) "has just said that he wants to punish me," in a very suggestive voice, so I was honest-to-goodness swooning, "he can punish me whenever and however he wants, mmm-hmm!!" Hehe. I'd never known what a "swoon" actually felt like in reality until that day. It just... comes naturally, spontaneously!

You mention some family issues; were you also raised in an environment where sex was never discussed, or only discussed negatively? I certainly was, and it's only been at my current age (33) that I've finally realized just how deeply it affected me. I can totally relate to you calling sex "off-putting", because that's how I felt about it too, until I met the right people. Then I became very interested in learning about lovemaking...! The Internet is great for that. ( is a good jumping-off point.)

I've made peace with my "puritan"-seeming self and, thanks to the two experiences, know that I am capable of feeling desire, and owe it to myself — and my eventual partner — to wait for a man who inspires that in me. Maybe you could cut back on dating, and be more selective? I know that probably sounds paradoxical, but I've found it works for me. I feel better about myself, even if it does seem weird to much of society, but I never talk about it (except here) so no one knows — they just see that I'm happy in my own skin! — and I'm free if a great guy comes into my life.
posted by fraula at 12:51 PM on November 29, 2009 [11 favorites]

I think people often find they really love sex only after they've had sex they loved, which might means either feeling for the partner or the partner's skill, i.e. your therapist is correct.

Even if your not dating, you can still try to find more male friends.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:05 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I suspect you will find little or no future with a man, if this is what you prefer and want, with no sex, or an expressed dislike of not only sex but also kissing. If you are interested in changing, then seek proifessional help and advice.
posted by Postroad at 1:27 PM on November 29, 2009

Some people are just asexual. A friend of mine married a guy who turned out to be asexual. He had never had any sort of sexual stimulation whatsoever. He had no interest in sex. He loved her, and wanted a family and kids, but since she enjoyed sex, the marriage didn't work out. He wasn't gay. He felt feelings towards women only, but did not enjoy the physical parts of a relationship beyond cuddling.
Perhaps if you find someone matched to you in sexual desire, you can have the cuddle/companionship you want without the physical stuff you don't enjoy.
posted by ishotjr at 1:29 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

*also, being asexual does not necessarily mean anything is wrong with you. If you really want to enjoy sex, then talk to someone about if you might be able to change, but pressuring someone who doesn't care about or enjoy sex to try to like it is almost like trying to get a homosexual person to become heterosexual or vice versa.
posted by ishotjr at 1:30 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, most people think that the whole bodily-fluids thing is a little weird...and then hormones take over and it suddenly seems VERY appealing to swap spit.

Seconding a trip to the doctor to rule out a physiological cause. Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that not wanting sex makes you "sick" or that I think there's obviously something wrong with you for not feeling sexual. But there are a bunch of possible physical reasons for such a low sex drive.
posted by desuetude at 1:56 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

The last therapist I saw, who was excellent, suggested that I simply haven't met the right person yet and that if I did, my latent instincts would kick in. I hope this is true but worry it might not be.

That seems like not very helpful advice to me. I would think that it might be useful to you to a) explore physiological causes of low libido with a doctor, and b) explore your thoughts about sex and sexuality with a therapist.

Maybe you're asexual. Maybe you're gay. Both of those seem a lot more likely to me than that you "haven't met the right man yet" at your age (I know that you quoted your therapist as saying "person" but you refer elsewhere to men and not to women).

And maybe you are interested in sex, and have some hangups that you need to work through, which also seems a lot more likely than "when you meet that Special Somebody it will all go fine."
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:05 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

As others have pointed out above, there are a lot of possibilities as to what is going on. You could be gay, asexual, have psychological blocks or whatever. Only you can know for sure and only you can find out eventually.

I'd like to take a different approach and ask you -- beg you, actually -- to not get married or have any long-term relationships without making it very clear to your partner that you are having some unique sexual issues.

Men generally like sex, and there are few things more heartbreaking for a man than getting married to the girl of his dreams only to discover that the mere thought of sex with him makes the woman recoil in horror. Or that she is really a lesbian and has been trying to "fake it until she makes it" with him. Or that she finds him physically unattractive but kept up the charade to keep him from "feeling bad". Or that she married him out of a general obligation to be married or from social pressure.

I can't stress how utterly devastating that would be for a man. You have a responsibility to inform your future potential mates of your sexual situation. Honesty, honesty, honesty. Please, for the love of god, be honest.
posted by Avenger at 2:08 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I can't stress how utterly devastating that would be for a man.

(obviously my post was written from a man's perspective, but you can rest assured that this would be pretty devastating for you as well).
posted by Avenger at 2:11 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you should explore all the possibilities Sidhedevil mentions, and still date around.

The catch is that you should approach dating the same way that people who have a rare and particular fetish do; they screen for that fetish, often using an online dating site geared toward it. You should do the same, but instead of looking for someone who shares your fetish, you're looking for a man you like who also happens to share your low level of desire. If the pressure to match the average man's level of desire is removed and something still feels wrong, pursue treatment for the alternatives mentioned by others here.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:19 PM on November 29, 2009

It really does sound like you might be asexual-- and if true, that's completely fine! It doesn't mean you can't or won't have cuddly, devoted, romantic relationships -- it just means that the terms of those relationships will be somewhat different. Check out the material on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network's website. It may give you a useful framework for thinking about these things.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:30 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Any suggestions for ways a person my age might broach the subject with a potential partner?

I suggest smiling and eye contact. I'm serious.

or to indicate to a potential person of interest tat they might need some patience with me without scaring them off?

During date number three with a guy you think you could be attracted to, even in some sort of 'hypothetical' sense. Tell him you like him. Tell him that you have to be honest, that you have issues and that he's going to have to be patient with you.

If you were a guy and you were, outside of this problem, interested in pursuing a relationship with me, what would be the best approach for me to take in having this conversation with you?

I'd appreciate it if you took a few dates to tell me this, so that I understand that you like me. I would however, let a guy know one way or the other that you like him pretty early on.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:51 PM on November 29, 2009

Unless you are already "out" about your status as a non-sex-wanting person, then guys are going to read your don't-want-to-be-kissed energy as plain disinterest. They'll assume you're not physically attracted to them (which is true) and move on. This will happen over and over and over again.

Don't agree to go out on a date with anyone whom you can't imagine yourself kissing. If this limits the pool to zero, then you basically have two choices -- work from the angle of an aggressive therapeutic approach and confront the matter with a professional (keep trying them until you get one who can help you), or embrace an asexual lifestyle and seek support and/or romance within the asexual community.

It sounds like you think you have problems to fix that might open up something, so I suggest you start there. I'm all about accepting yourself as you are, but it sounds like you don't know what that is yet.
posted by hermitosis at 3:02 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know you've seen a therapist, but have you considered a sex therapist? You typically hear about couples going to them, but I think they'd be more likely to have some insight into your situation than a plain old vanilla therapist, and might also have some mitigation strategies or useful lines of inquiry to, as you say, break down the issues a bit. Couldn't hurt to ask.

As to your second question, if I, as someone who wants intimacy and sexual relations in my relationships, were interested in a relationship with you and you told me that you were not interested in any of that, and would dislike even kissing me, I would probably give it the old nonjudgmental college try during that conversation, but by the next day at the latest, I'd have to cut bait and move on. It wouldn't make sense to stay and I don't think there's any way you could pitch that to me in a way that I'd be OK with it. Who knows how long it would take or if you'd ever change? I'd probably wish you the very best of luck, say I'm sorry, and say to look me up if your inclinations ever changed. If I was interested enough in you to want a relationship, maybe we could still be friends (or maybe it would be awkward, I'm not sure). If I were asexual on the other hand, you could be a real keeper.
posted by Askr at 5:26 PM on November 29, 2009

Do any of these turn you on, assuming NO kissing and NO bodily fluids are involved:

Bossing someone around/being told what to do
Tying someone up/being tied up
Hitting someone/being hit
Pretending to be a dog, pony, pet/pretending to own a pet
Spanking someone/being spanked
Slapping someone/being slapped
Yelling at someone/being yelled at
Masturbating while someone watches/watching someone masturbate
Being used as furniture or treated like an object/using someone else as furniture
Watching another couple having sex
Strapping on a penis and having someone touch it or suck on it
Having someone worship you and do things for you/worshiping and serving someone else

Check out and maybe browse around their kinks area. Maybe there's some kind of sexual something out there that you enjoy. YOU DON'T HAVE TO KISS TO HAVE SEX. Seriously, if you don't believe me, memail me.

I would also say that you are who you are, and looking into your past to think about why you are who you are can be interesting, but doesn't really change things.
posted by kathrineg at 5:33 PM on November 29, 2009

And have you ever been screened for/considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder? Just a thought.
posted by kathrineg at 5:48 PM on November 29, 2009

One thing that has not come up is hormonal birth control. Many women take it to control periods (make them less frequent or lighter), and this can have a significant impact on your sexual desire. Plenty of women who were previously interested in sex become completely uninterested after starting BC. If you've been on it for your whole potential sexual age, I can imagine that it would contribute significantly to this problem.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:57 PM on November 29, 2009

Have your doctor check your hormone levels. A woman I know got on the lowest dosage hormone patch after a hysterectomy and suddenly she had a sex drive, which she'd never had before.
posted by bentley at 8:49 PM on November 29, 2009

This has been mentioned, I want to second it: it may very well be as simple as conditioning. For some reason or another, you had a negative view of sex acts from the get-go. This created a negative/aversive mentality when engaging in those acts, which is a huge obstacle to enjoyment. The resulting blech experiences reinforced the paradigm.

The best way to shed crappy conditioning is replace it with good conditioning! I had a really poor first time performing oral on a woman. For years I avoided it and didn't want to do it. I was literally disgusted. Then I found myself in an awesome sexual relationship with tons of awesome oral. Now I look forward to it. YMMV.

Don't be so quick to label yourself as different or deviant... because the second you do, that also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are likely very capable of having awesome sex, and believing it will go a long way toward fulfilling it.
posted by dualityofmind at 9:54 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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