No sex... if that's okay with you?
January 9, 2011 2:54 PM   Subscribe

I feel under enormous amounts of pressure to have sex with my boyfriend, but I'm just not interested in sex right now. I have some issues with anxiety/depression, and I'm going through therapy that is raising certain questions for me about the nature of my past sexual interactions. I'm very confused, and I need time to sort it all out. But in the meantime, what am I supposed to do/say? What do I owe my SO as a loving partner? (possibly nsfw)

I feel under enormous amounts of pressure to have sex with my boyfriend, but I'm just not interested in sex right now. I have some issues with anxiety/depression, and I'm going through therapy that is raising certain questions for me about the nature of my past sexual interactions. I'm very confused, and I need time to sort it all out.

I've been dating my early-20s boyfriend for over a year now. We started sleeping together very early on in the relationship, and we've had dry spells and fiery spells. However, in the past couple of months, I have been bursting into tears at the idea of having sex or saying no to it. I just don't want to have sex with him, but I can't explain direct reasons why, though I am at least trying to figure it out in therapy. I feel terrible because he is such a tender, caring, loyal, kind SO.

The big problem is that I am breaking under this pressure that I feel to have sex with him. I'm sick of feeling he's going to take advantage of every time we kiss, or go out for drinks, or go out to dinner, or go to bed as an opportunity to propose having sex together. It makes me want to avoid being intimate with him in any form, about which I feel sad and resentful.

I understand that he has sexual/intimacy needs too, and I want him to be able to express them. However, I also resent him for certain things (e.g. groping me under the clothes after I said I didn't want to have sex but just sleep, or coming up with a million ways to get me alone in bed with him only THEN to reveal he wants to have sex). A lot of the time, I think we are just having a communication breakdown. Like, maybe he thought me saying "no" just means "no, but you could maybe convince me otherwise". Or that when I say "I'm tired and want to sleep" that translates to "Let's climb in bed and have sex." In movies / other relationships, this may be how things are communicated, but really I'm being straightforward when I am speaking about what I want to do. If anything, I definitely tend toward pretending to be interested in sex. However, to start being more assertive, I'm really trying to stop pretending interest (thus all the tears, etc. as I struggle with this).

I know that it is asking something really abnormal to decline sex time and time again in a relationship. He might feel rejected or frustrated, I guess I realize that maybe he will want to break up with me because of that. But I'd like to find a way to work with our relationship the best that I can. Feeling pressured to sleep with my SO who may really be okay with waiting seems like a stupid reason for me to break up with him. But how am I supposed to think through or behave in this kind of a situation? What do I do / say while I work out my own issues with sex? What do I owe him as a loving partner?
posted by Tulip to Human Relations (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You don't sound like you should be in this relationship.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 2:57 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

You need to directly talk to him about not having sex for a set period of time, say a few weeks. That will take the pressure off because he knows kissing you won't lead to sex. Most men do not want to have sex with an unwilling partner, and if your SO does, he should be summarily dumped. Does he know you're unwilling? Really, really know?

While it's good of you to consider his needs, why are his needs more important than your own? Certainly he can't be expected to go without sex indefinitely in a monogamous relationship, but if you are working through your issues in therapy, one would hope he would be patient. At any rate, he cannot make a decision if you are not honest with him.

In movies / other relationships, this may be how things are communicated, but really I'm being straightforward when I am speaking about what I want to do. If anything, I definitely tend toward pretending to be interested in sex.

You can't be both straightforward and pretending.

Also, you don't owe anyone sex. Ever.
posted by desjardins at 3:05 PM on January 9, 2011 [12 favorites]

Are you guys living together? If not, I think this may be a good time for you to start sleeping by yourself at your own home. Start dating again. Take sex off the table until you're both ready to start having it again.

If it can handle the temporary step backwards, your relationship will be better for it. If it doesn't work out, then it wouldn't have worked out anyway--but at least you'll know and won't have had to compromise your feelings.
posted by phunniemee at 3:07 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would sit him down and tell him EXACTLY what you've just written in this.

You're not saying you don't ever want to have sex again. You're just going through a lot of stuff right now, and having sex would mess with you getting better. You know that about yourself.

So he needs to respect that. It's what HE owes YOU as a loving partner.

And if he still balks, then I have something to say to him, so pull him over and show him what I'm about to say:

Hi, Tulip's boyfriend.

listen. I know. It's hard. But you know something, I was you once. I was with a guy who was having this same kind of I-don't-feel-like-sex stuff going on. We had a long talk like the one Tulip just had with you, where he told me all the same stuff she just did -- how he was working on what was going on with him, and how he needed my support.

And you know what I did? I sucked it up because that's what you're supposed to do. If you pressure this girl to give in and have sex with you, that's getting into a REALLLLY gray area where some people may call it "rape". And the people who wouldn't call it rape would call it "a really dickish thing to do."

She's a human woman. She's healing from some heavy shit. And when you're healing from heavy shit, you may not want to have sex. And the harder you push her to get over it, the worse you're going to make it.

And let me tell you something else -- I got such a reward from hanging in there. When my then-boyfriend was finally ready to have sex again, it was amazing because he was so grateful I didn't push him earlier.

So suck it up and keep it in your pants. If you really have to get off, that's why the good Lord designed you so your arms are long enough for your hands to reach your junk. You'll live from not having sex, and you'll have a much more grateful girlfriend when she does get past this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:07 PM on January 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

Have you tried talking to him about this. The more then obvious way to stop communication problems is to talk about them. Strangers on the internet are great, but they are not a substitute for open and honest dialogue.

No you do not owe sex to anyone ever.
posted by Felex at 3:12 PM on January 9, 2011

My (now ex for other reasons) boyfriend did some similar things. We'd be out with other people, at their place, eating pizza and watching videos or some such. And while it would be, yes, time for us to go because these people wanted to sleep, he would say, sometimes more than once, that he was tired. When other people around me are tired, it makes me remember "Oh, yeah. I'm tired too but I just realized it. Wow. Time to go to sleep." However, as soon as we got back to the bedroom, he'd expect that we'd be having sex, which feels like a totally different mindset than wanting to go to sleep. It requires _energy_, feedback, input, and you have to be involved in it. At one point I feigned ignorance and said I was going to sleep, have a good night love, and I rolled over and closed my eyes. I could sense him fuming.

I call bullshit, by the way, to that whole jack-in-the-box "let's have sex now!" method.

Have you told him of your disquiet with this? Have you shared with him how this annoys you? Try doing so. It might open you both up to better communication.
posted by DisreputableDog at 3:13 PM on January 9, 2011

Possibly relevant: The way you describe his efforts to reconnect intimately is telling, and brought the aforementioned article to mind.

If you ask him to give you the space/time free of any feeling of sexual obligation, it's quite possible you'll in time come to think of the act more positively. When finally you feel like taking the initiative to do anything on a sexual level, that cycle of dreading being asked about sex could be broken.

Of course the problem lies in that space/time definition; what would be reasonable durationwise etc. is best discussed together... it is quite possible that the fairest thing to yourself and him would be to break off the relationship until things stabilize in your own life (through therapy et al)
posted by MangyCarface at 3:13 PM on January 9, 2011

So I was your boyfriend. I mean, not actually, but i was in my early 20s, and involved in a girl who'd been very enthusiastic and eager about sex, and then all of a sudden she would always, always turn it down. I got frustrated, and felt rejected and unwanted, and I started pressuring her and being inappropriately aggressive in ways that, today, I'm ashamed of and I hope I'd never repeat. After months of this, she sat me down and explained what was going on, and the issues she was having, and the reasons she was uninterested in sexual activity. And from then, I was able to be a lot less of an asshole, because I knew that I wasn't being rejected anew each time I expressed a desire for sex - it was just one facet of a much larger issue she had about sex.

That relationship didn't work out, but the point is, you need to talk to him about this. You're saying "no" over and over, but what he's hearing is - at best - "no, not this time." And so he's going to ask again and again and again, and you're going to turn him down over and over, and because he's young and human and humans and especially young ones are capable of doing bad, inappropriate things, he's reacting by being an asshole, and not taking no for an answer. You need to explain to him that he shouldn't expect sex for some period of time, and tell him - as best you can - what that timeline might mean, and what you're working through.

You don't owe him sex. You do not owe him, or anyone, sex. But if you're in a relationship with someone, especially one that's been sexually active, you at least owe him the information that there won't be sex and he should stop asking for it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:22 PM on January 9, 2011 [23 favorites]

I think your boyfriend might prefer to have sex with you when you actually want it rather than have sex with you when you're feeling like you have to.

I don't see anything in what you're saying as being hurtful and I think he would understand if you said what you said in your question. You love him, but for some reason you can't explain, you don't feel like having sex, and it's not him.
posted by anniecat at 3:31 PM on January 9, 2011

see your memail box
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 3:35 PM on January 9, 2011

And for the complete opposite opinion. Sometimes, having sex when you think you're not in the mood gets you in the mood. It might not be earthmoving, multiple orgasmic sex, but it's still kinda nice and fun and cozy. Living in your head can make you forget about the rest of your parts, and those parts, when paid attention to, can reward you.

Are you doing anything physical? Dancing, exercising, walking, biking? Cuz if not, your body could probably use some attention, and sex is one way to pay attention to it. Doesn't have to be full-on round the world via AstroGlide.

And if you want to stay in this relationship, I think it's worth talking to your BF, but I also think it's worth seeing what physical intimacy you are comfortable with. I've been in a very long term relationship (27 years) and there are dry spells and torrid spells and all sorts of in-between, but when the physical comfort and passion go, it's hard to reel them back in, but it's worth the effort, I think.

If you're completely freaked out by the idea of having sex with him or anyone else, then, that's different, of course.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:52 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Being penetrated when you really do not want to be is awful, often painful, and will only lead you to resent your partner. At best.

The question of differing sex drives and periods of noninterest comes up a lot in Savage Love. One of his suggestions is that, if you are committed to making the relationship work, you can get your boyfriend off in other ways. If your guy needs to clean the pipes and you don't want him having sex with other people, then you need to do something for him, but that something shouldn't be penetrative sex if you don't want it. Could you give him a handjob while watching a movie on the couch, maybe? That would be your part of the solution. And his part would be to stop pestering you for intercourse, while not withholding physical affection. You shouldn't have to be afraid to be hugged.

If the whole topic of sexual-type contact, even handjobs, is repulsive right now, that's a harder thing. Then you'd need to tell him you don't know when it might come back on the menu.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:12 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, I'm going to repeat what some people have already said: you do not owe anyone sex. Not even your tender, caring, loving boyfriend who you've had sex with in the past. Not being able to have sex with him DOES NOT make you a bad girlfriend--and right now, for you, it sounds like a problem of "can't" more than one of "won't", if you're bursting into tears at the thought of it.

That said, there MIGHT be lower-pressure things you can do, something that might be less mentally and emotionally heavy than intercourse. Does the idea of giving him a blowjob provoke the same anxiety? What about lying in bed with him while he masturbates? Making out/petting with the explicit understanding that it will not lead to sex? Something along these lines might, might, be possible for you. They might not. It depends on what you're working through.

Be prepared for the possibility that these may not be options--that for now, at least, any sexual contact is off-limits for you. Be prepared for the possibility that it'll take some trial-and-error to figure out what, if anything, you're comfortable with. And prepare your boyfriend for the same--tell him that you have some stuff you're working through, and that you can't have sex, at the moment. If you're willing to experiment with other sexual contact, tell him, but emphasize that it's an experiment, and stop if you start experiencing the same bad feelings about it.
posted by kagredon at 4:35 PM on January 9, 2011

I'm worried you are not being totally honest somehow, and I think you need to get yourself straight before you talk to BF.

"I'm going through therapy that is raising certain questions for me about the nature of my past sexual interactions."

It seems to me that you might also be calling into question the nature of your sexual interactions with your current BF, because a lot of therapy is seeing the patterns we engage in. As per your question, I don't see necessarily what would make the current relationship different from past relationships.

Be aware that when you delve into talking about this with current BF, you may directly or indirectly be telling him: In therapy, I'm working through that often I pick partners who aren't good for me in some way. BTW, you may be one of them.

If you are not meaning that, then please make sure you don't say anything that sounds even remotely like that to him. If you might be meaning that, I don't think it is fair for you to ask current BF to wait as you work through your issues in therapy.

In short... Figure out which conversation you will be having with your BF before approaching the subject with him.
posted by jbenben at 4:36 PM on January 9, 2011

speaking as someone who was in a relationship with someone who was extremely uncomfortable with physical intimacy but did not say anything because they were very bad at communicating, finding out later that the person you were with was feeling bad the whole time is a lot worse than if I had known right away
posted by drethelin at 5:19 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

This happened to me in my early 20s. I am sorry to say that you should probably just break up. I took the "take care of his needs" approach, not as any sort of strategy but just because he wanted it and I didn't mind. I think this ultimately was not good because it allowed us to completely sweep the issue under the rug because hey, he was still getting off and everyone was happy, right?

(FYI, you really shouldn't blame an early 20s guy for trying to initiate sex with his girlfriend in bed, unless you have been very very clear that you don't want it.)
posted by mrs. sock at 5:49 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I will add that if you communicate, "I don't want sex now, please don't push that" you are pushing a gigantic off switch and it should also come with a clear, "but trust me, I will tell you when I do and I will communicate how I feel". This will avoid him have to poll, "now? Now? How about now?" which relieves pressure from you, but it also puts the onus of communication in your hands. Hopefully he will be understanding and won't balk or resent the control shift.
posted by plinth at 5:52 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you only uncomfortable with intercourse? There are ways to be intimate and show your BF that you love him and find him desirable without sex.
posted by pourtant at 5:59 PM on January 9, 2011

You don't owe him sex.

He doesn't owe you staying in a relationship that doesn't meet his needs.

It's pretty clear you need to get a whole lot of stuff fixed in your life before you're going to be able to maintain a decent, mature relationship. Maybe you shouldn't be in one.

You owe him an explanation, full, honest and clear, so he can make up his mind what he's willing to buy in to. Cut him loose, or allow him to move on without guilt, if you can't do that or can't find common ground.
posted by kjs3 at 6:03 PM on January 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

When my husband and I went through a period where it felt (to him) like I was saying "no" to sex all the time, he got really hurt by this, because he experienced it as a personal rejection. I, on the other hand, was really frustrated, because he was constantly making moves at times when there is no way in hell I would be interested - i.e. when I was in the middle of concentrating intensely on work that I had a upcoming deadline for, or in the middle of the night when I was tired, or when I had an upset stomach, or when I was halfway through cooking dinner and the pasta was boiling over goddammit!

We compromised - NOT as you might think by me agreeing to sex sometimes when I wasn't in the mood. That is what people often mean when they tell you to compromise. But no, he agreed to look more carefully at the situation and try and figure out whether I was likely to be interested before even asking or starting to touch me; and I agreed to tell him every single time I was even the slightest bit horny.

This meant I told him even at times when I usually wouldn't have bothered mentioning it because sex wasn't possible right then - I'd call him up at work and mention it, I'd wake him up in the middle of the night and tell him, I'd grab him as he was going out the door in the morning and tell him. He was pleasantly surprised because it turned out I wanted him more often than he thought I did. I was pleasantly surprised, because making an effort to consciously notice my sex drive meant I became aware that it wasn't as low as I had thought it was. We both ended up having slightly more sex than before (though not by much, since much of the time when we are interested, it isn't really convenient). And he experienced what it is like to be asked for sex when you aren't in the mood (middle of the night, hungover, whatever). Which made him more careful about asking me.

Obviously this is not the solution for you in the short term, since it seems to me you need and want to be not having any sex right now for a while. But in the longer term if you start wanting sex again, but not when or as often as your boyfriend does, this might be something to try.
posted by lollusc at 6:52 PM on January 9, 2011 [30 favorites]

Thank you, everybody, for responding to my question. I just wanted to give an update for anyone who is curious.

I talked to my boyfriend. He proposed sex (again), and I didn't want it (again). Thanks to the encouragement from a lot of you, and thanks to having a chance to write out my thoughts beforehand, I was able to explain what was going on. He was very patient and explained that he just missed feeling wanted and feeling intimate with me; it wasn't really the sex that he was after (though that is something he does enjoy). He was also feeling a little hurt/frustrated because to him it seemed I saw him as someone who only wanted to be with me for sex, that it was like nothing else he did mattered at all. We agreed to take sex off the table for a short while. In the end, I feel lucky to be in a relationship where we can even have such a conversation, even though it was hard. I think that we both felt closer afterward, and I am definitely more attracted to him. I don't know how things will go in the long run, but this--combined with therapy--was a really good way to address the problem in the immediate moment.
posted by Tulip at 6:24 AM on January 11, 2011

Good for you! (And -- I came down hard on your boyfriend, so tell him that I said "good for him" as well. ;-> )

Those kinds of talks are tough, but the weird thing is that if both parties are careful to talk about what they need in terms of intimacy instead of just sex, then they can make you feel so much closer to each other. I remember that when the boyfriend I was having this issue with and I talked about this, we did the same thing -- and afterward we were both feeling the same kind of "wow, we were so grown-up and mature about this. We're AWESOME!" that you guys are feeling.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on January 11, 2011

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