Help me figure out how to handle my boyfriend's attitude toward sex.
October 8, 2011 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out how to handle my boyfriend's attitude toward sex.

I've been dating a overall-fabulous guy for a few months. He's fantastic in bed, but he sometimes says some things that communicate hang-ups and almost seem kind-of-sort-of-semi-slut-shaming to me.

The biggest thing is that he sometimes acts like it's super-strange that I want to please him and want him to tell me what he wants. I tell him what I want, too, and he's awesome at providing what I want, but whenever I ask him what he wants in bed he basically says that he's happy with whatever and that his previous partners haven't asked for as much feedback or asked him what he wants. He framed it this morning as feeling like I was being subservient to him, which I quickly called him out on as ridiculous/a double standard.

It's still been bothering me all day, though. I feel sort of judged.

How do I bridge the gap between the communication that I tend to use during sex and what my boyfriend's previous experience has been? What can I do to make him feel more comfortable with articulating what he wants during sex? Am I taking this all too personally? Again, the sex itself is fabulous and frequent, but him acting vaguely judgmental about me wanting to know what he wants is bothering me a lot.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

It's important that he understand that sex is a two way street - it's not about one person being pleased over the other, but rather that both parties are happy and enjoying it. It's a difficult topic and sometimes people are a little shy about expressing what they want, so try to keep the conversation gentle, loving and quiet. Just be open and honest about it. I would ask him about it in a non-sex situation, gently but upfront and straightforward. Explain that one thing that *you* particularly enjoy is making the other person feel pleased. There's nothing wrong with that and it's entirely healthy.

I wouldn't bring up the slut-shaming, but I would keep it on your own personal radar. It's not a healthy perspective on things at all and of course you feel awful about it. I'd see how this conversation goes first (one difficult conversation at a time) but if you continue to feel shamed, bring it up as a second conversation at a different time.

Good luck.
posted by floweredfish at 1:33 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not seeing the slut-shaming or the "acts like it's super-strange that I want to please him," but he may simply be unsure of the kinds of things you like to hear. If you want specific direction while he's fine with your natural instincts, I can see where that would be interpreted as a subservience thing, where you are trying to make him take the lead where you're doing fine by yourself. "Topping from the bottom," I believe it's called.
posted by rhizome at 1:37 PM on October 8, 2011 [10 favorites]

As mush as I don't really feel like saying this without myself being able to post it as anonymous, here goes:

If you take a guy who's not so good at communicating these things, and just say "tell me what you want" it doesn't really help. He's shy. He's going to think you'll judge him for wanting to do things that you'll think are weird (even if they're not that weird). He's quite because he's afraid of making you uncomfortable.

If you say, "What do you want? You want to come in my mouth? You want to fuck me in the ass? You want to tie me up? We can do those things, that would be fun." Then he's starting to get the idea that those are some things he won't make you uncomfortable by mentioning. Maybe he'll take you up on one of your offers. If you keep doing it over time, he'll get to the point where he realizes you really aren't going to be offended by anything, even if you might say no. Then he'll be OK just telling you.

This worked for my wife and I. I am much more communicative because she helped me to communicate. There are things I Wouldn't have mentioned until she said she'd like to try them, and over time, this road led to a general comfort with one another such that I can say pretty much anything to her now and not worry about it, but it didn't start that way.

This post will look great in google results when future employers look up my name.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:38 PM on October 8, 2011 [52 favorites]

I don't think it's about slut-shaming you, as if you're some wanton woman who knows things only dirty girls know. It's more likely about over-correcting for what he perceives as male-favouring power imbalance in sex in general in our society.

I've been through the same problem: I've never been very comfortable requesting specifics, and I've been solicitous to a "just shut up and fuck me" fault. Some men are like this. Being patient with, and reassuring about, his discomfort will get through this over time. Maybe try a sort of role-playing thing where he's entirely responsible for directing his own pleasure, and anything less than super-specific detail isn't enough.
posted by fatbird at 1:40 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tyler, if it's really bothering you, you can email the mods and they can delete the comment and repost it themselves so the comment won't be tied to your name. They often post comments for people who want to answer anon.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:50 PM on October 8, 2011 [9 favorites]

Another vote for him sounding shy and unused to asking for things he wants. I interpret his subservient remark as him feeling unsure it's not somehow still demeaning to you when he asks for things, even when you've invited him to. If anything it sounds more like self "guy-shaming" on his part, in the sense that decent guys shouldn't demand things in bed. Also, the idea of him judging you negatively doesn't really fit with him being comfortable with *you* asking for what you want. Anyway, as a guy in his position once, I thought it was great my partner wanted to please me! It just took me time to get used to it being okay for me to ask.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 1:53 PM on October 8, 2011

I think with sex there's plenty of people who don't want to communicate so much - for whom being turned on requires a kind of unconsciousness about it, letting it be a physical thing; think about how prevalent the trope is of being "swept away" and "overtaken" and not having to say what you want: finding someone who taps right into what you want and gives it to you without the messiness of having to think about it, or request this or that, or specify that other thing. And with many guys in particular, you've got the emotional repression as well - this is one of the few approved ways their emotions can come out - talking too much might make them feel too vulnerable, and takes their focus off enjoying the act. (And really, in this society, who doesn't grow up with some vaguely bad or shameful feelings surrounding sex? Who doesn't have to work through hang-ups? Talking about it all - even simply what he likes - might be an unhappy rather than an exciting association for him.)

To a lot of people, if you start talking too much about it, it's like the air is let out of the tires, and the car stops rolling forward. It's "too much brain", it's too much intellectualizing. It seems strange to me, because I love to talk about sex and emotions and how you feel, and surely discussing what you want is not too intellectual; and yet, I've found this distaste about it is not at all uncommon. If someone's already made this association that to talk about it is to overthink it, and that talking is therefore sort of deflating the drive and the emotion, they're not going to be open to discovering other approaches all that easily.

In fact also what I hear here as well is how defensive he sounds about it - he deflected you, then he made you feel a little bad (maybe so you'd stop asking). And maybe he feels bad as well, like he doesn't "deserve" to have someone think about his desires or seek to please him, like that's sort of asking too much of anyone, or putting him in the position that you might not want to do things he likes. I don't think it's so much about slut-shaming and judging you as it is about his feeling off-kilter that you bring this up and not knowing why he feels this way or how to handle it - and immediately trying to brush it away or squash it.

But communicating about sex is important to you, and you shouldn't feel judged for that. I'd start by not talking to him about sex and what he wants sexually while you're actually having sex. Accept that he seems to need that space and that he's not used to this at all. Talk about it, though, when there's less pressure on him - when he's not in the clinch. I bet it's an easier thing to approach and turn around in his head while he's not actively turned on. And I personally think you should (gently) let him know you feel judged and that you don't want to feel that way and did he really intend it that way? But again, not in the clinch.

You've only been together a few months - if the sex is otherwise awesome, I might well say this is just part of opening up to each other and developing an intimacy with each other, and he may need time to trust you and time to learn that your way of communicating and what you prefer is different from what he's experienced before. Your willingness and desire to talk and communicate, and your trust in him that he will hear you and want to please you, is setting an example that I think is likely he could eventually follow and reciprocate as your relationship grows deeper, as long as you don't force the issue.
posted by flex at 1:56 PM on October 8, 2011 [11 favorites]

he sometimes acts like it's super-strange that I want to please him and want him to tell me what he wants. I tell him what I want, too, and he's awesome at providing what I want... He framed it this morning as feeling like I was being subservient to him

Could he possibly be trying to hint that *he* wants to be subservient in this sexual relationship?
posted by Ashley801 at 1:56 PM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

It may be that what he wants is to have a sex partner who is not subservient. Some people like it when their partner is subservient, others don't. It's possible for someone to have a preference like that without it being a judgment on the preferences of others.

It sounds to me like you're taking his preferences to be a statement about you, and thus feeling judged when he rebuffs your requests for instruction. Could it be, instead, that he really is just telling you what type of power-relationships he enjoys during sexytimes? On preview, seriously consider Ashley801's suggestion.
posted by meese at 2:01 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have had similar conversations. I have told partners that I worried about them feeling subservient to me. In my case, I'm shy and get very nervous about asking people to do things for me in general (there have been times when the question of "what would I like" brings on enough anxiety to kill the mood completely). It takes me a little while to get over this with each partner I have, and it takes practice. It doesn't sound to me like slut-shaming at all, more like shyness, at least from my experience.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 2:10 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Help me figure out how to handle my boyfriend's attitude toward sex.

does not equal this:

I've been dating a overall-fabulous guy for a few months

or this:

Again, the sex itself is fabulous and frequent, but him acting vaguely judgmental about me wanting to know what he wants is bothering me a lot.

Honestly, what's the problem here? He's a fabulous guy, there's great sex and lots of it. WHAT MORE DOES HE NEED? Why are you framing this as he has problem about opening up to you about what he wants? Most people want fabulous sex and lots of it. He's getting that.

Seriously, it sounds like you need something to do, so that in some way you feel as though you're repaying him for listening to you. I could be wrong, but based on what you've written it doesn't sound like much of a problem, other than you feeling as though you need to do something specific to please him. But what if he's already pleased?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:20 PM on October 8, 2011 [13 favorites]

He has some superb freaky request he is afraid to tell you.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:25 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like he's shy and inexperienced and doesn't know what he wants or doesn't know how to communicate it. Or else, as Brandon Blatcher put it, he's already pleased.

You haven't described any slut shaming or judgmental behavior.

It sounds like you're doing one or two things here. One, overthinking. Two, trying to make him be more assertive than, at minimum, he is so far comfortable being.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:29 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, not reading any slut shaming here. Also, honestly, some people have few to no preferences in bed. There are things they don't want to do, and everything else is great. In common with many members of my gender, I have a functional definition of gratifying sex that is very precise, so it took me a long time to really understand and accept this lack of preference when such a partner arrived at my personal fun house. It's a radically different dynamic in a lot of ways, but also hugely relaxing.

Also, I buy way fewer shoes now.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:43 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

also not reading any slut shaming here. Maybe he truly is happy with what he's getting. Maybe he thinks it's a turn on that you take the reigns and surprise him with whatever fun things that you usually do.
Maybe the fact that you keep asking, even though he's already provided an answer, kind of annoyed him. Maybe he thought that you thought that he wanted something freaky but wasn't telling you when that's not the case.

Chill, you're in a great relationship. And great relationships involve believing what the other person tells you.
posted by Neekee at 4:25 PM on October 8, 2011

This might be a long shot, but it's possible that he wants to top you (in a D/s kind of way) but hasn't come to a point internally where he's able to reconcile his kinks with his desire to be a kind, unsexist, enlightened lover.

He wants to be in control (so he asks for and finds things that he can do to you – making one's partner lose control of his or her body by "inflicting" pleasure upon it is one way of topping someone) but at the same time he feels conflicted about his desires and so can't bring himself to ask for what he really wants from you, which is sexual subservience and submission.

This is all totally hypothetical, and maybe it doesn't apply. I do know that it's a phase I went through though (I still struggle with it, sometimes) and I know other kinky, dominant guys who have had or do have difficulty making peace with their desire for sexual dominance. Thought I'd put it out there as one possibility to explore.

Even if the specific dyanmic I have described is untrue, I would not at all be surprised if the reason why he is having difficulty voicing his desires is that he's hiding some kink. He may be nervous talking about it because he feels that you will not accept him or want to have sex with him anymore if he discloses it to you.

If so, you should on some level feel validated – the fact that he cares about whether you know means that he wants to hang onto you. However, you've been dating this guy for a little while now, and fucking him for a little while now, and it's time that he lays out his kink cards (and that you do the same, if you have any that you're concealing) and comes clean about whatever secret desires he might be guarding.

This is a difficult thing to ask of someone and you shouldn't force it (after all, you might be badgering him about a kink that doesn't even exist, which would be pretty irritating) but I think it would be best to let him know at this stage that you think it's important to your satisfaction with the relationship that you have a solid handle on where he's at sexually, and that you be able to trust that he's not holding anything back in the bedroom.

Let him know that you're coming at this from a nonjudgemental place, but that you've been open with him about your desires and you feel it's important that he be open with you about his, whatever they are. If there's anything that's potentially problematic about his desires (or yours!) then that's something that you're going to have to work out as a couple since after all you're both affected by the sex that you're having together.

Maybe I'm off base with all of this, but I have a feeling I'm not. And in any case it seems like you two are at the stage where you need to have a frank conversation about the importance of open communication in sexual relationships, and there's no better way to do that than to open the dialogue.
posted by Scientist at 5:52 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I definitely think there are kinks involved. My first thought though is that maybe he wants to be the one pleasing you!

In any case, you need to explain that it gets you off to do stuff that makes him hot, that doing stuff he likes is an important answer to his questions about what you like. I have to explain this all the time to people, sometimes dozens of times, before they open up.

It is most likely a confidence thing for sure. Any way of increasing his confidence in his security with you as a partner could benefit this issue, even if such a method of increasing confidence has nothing to do with sex. So time could also help.

You communicate about sex so you have a great foundation. And to you, wanting to please your partner, even a great deal, is an intensely valid thing. It's a valuable part of you, something you offer and something that is of great benefit to you and to him. Never feel ashamed of it.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:23 PM on October 8, 2011

he may have told a past girl friend what he wants, but got a bad reaction. i can't emphasize how bad that could be. everyone has their limits, even cool girl friends who want to please their boy friends.

how long has this gone on? from your question, it sounds like this just happened. give him some time. i like the idea of suggesting things.

or, maybe he really is satisfied. but, if i had to go one way or another, i'd say he has some fantasies he doesn't feel comfortable enough to share yet.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:00 PM on October 8, 2011

No, I know that feeling. I don't like when people try to serve me (when it isn't their job.) That's one thing. But the main thing is: If I want something, I'll ask. Contrapositive of that, If I don't ask for something, I (probably) don't want it, or maybe haven't thought about it.

What about you, what do YOU want to do for me? (or me to do for you, but you say you're fine there.) 'Cause I'm up for whatever. I'll try anything once, and maybe I'll like it. Maybe I'll even think it up, if you say you want to try something different for a change. But I'm not sitting here wishing for something and keeping quiet about it, trust me.

I think it's just the way you're framing the question. What does he want? Well, he's pretty happy already. Having to think of it as "wanting" something kind of has the connotation of being dissatisfied. Maybe, "what are you interested in trying someday?" or something like that.

For some people exact wording of the question can matter, even unconsciously.
posted by ctmf at 9:44 PM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Of course, if what you actually want for him to tell you what to do (sometimes), in a dom kind of way, you're probably going to have to say it just like that. Today, I want you to order me around in the bedroom. And don't be shy about what you tell me to do.

That would probably work, because it's more about what YOU want HIM to do for YOU. Afterwards, you could ask what he liked best and what he didn't like. So even if you don't want the dom thing all the time, at least you know more after trying it, eh?
posted by ctmf at 10:21 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I dunno about the "hiding a kink" thing. Maybe he's just a bit shy. Or maybe his 'kink' is simply making YOU happy. Either way, don't pressure him.
posted by Diag at 6:37 AM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah some people are kinda shy and unsure about sex, and don't put that much thought into what happens specifically.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:31 PM on October 9, 2011

Personally I can't talk during the act. No seriously. Verbal output requiring any kind of sentence construction or vocabulary is simply beyond me. It was fun, you were great, don't ask me to talk.
posted by mce at 11:28 PM on October 9, 2011

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