I want to love sex again!
October 27, 2012 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Help me regain my sexual confidence, after some bad experiences.

I am a (mostly straight) female in my late twenties.
I feel like my early sexual relationships were great, I was open-minded, loved to try new things and was confident in myself. I used to be happy and secure in my sexuality. I've never had a great body, my weight has always fluctuated, more to the overweight side, but I was ok with that, and felt like my partners were as well. In my first three major relationships, sex was great, we tried new things, talked a lot, were very kinky. I felt like I was good at sex, and my partners enjoyed being with me. (And explicitly said this.) I didn't have issues with jealousy. My most important relationship evolved into an open relationship, and we both slept with lots of other people. This never bothered me, because I was secure in his love and attraction for me. It never bothered me when boyfriends talked about watching porn, or appreciated other women. Aside from these more serious relationships, I had many more short term sexual encounters and a couple of ongoing "fuck-buddies" throughout the first half of my twenties.

And then something changed. After my early very positive sexual relationships, I was in a couple of monogamous relationships where I ended up feeling like the guy had "settled" for me. It came out that they weren't attracted to my body type (they liked extremely skinny girls.) One guy kept a file of sexy pictures of his ex, which he would masturbate to. He told me on numerous occasions how hot she was and how her looks were basically his ideal. This really started to bother me, and at one point during a drunken argument he said some very derogatory things about me sexually, and compared me to her. I never knew if he really meant these things, or if he was just trying to say the meanest things he could think of because we were fighting. These things stuck in my head and really shook my confidence. After him, I was in a relationship with a guy who seemed to have a much lower sex drive than me. He didn't really like to talk about sex much, and wouldn't do anything kinky. I always initiated sex, which began to make me feel unwanted.

Then I entered my most recent relationship. The sex started out great, but things quickly went downhill. I found out he was addicted to porn. He would spend most of his time online looking at pictures of other girls (who never looked anything like me). He would openly check out other women in front of me, and flirt with girls online, on Facebook and such. When we were home together, he would disappear into the bathroom for an hour at a time, watching videos on porn sites. He masturbated several times a day. Knowing my boyfriend was masturbating had never bothered me before, but it got to the point that I felt it was really impacting our sex life, he would have a hard time getting/staying hard sometimes, or not be able to come. I hated that he would rather jerk off to porn than have sex with me. He also became verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive to me. He would say terrible, hurtful things to me, tell me I was bad at sex, and say other much crueler things, focused on my shortcomings in bed. There was never any foreplay besides my going down on him, he barely touched me, and then would criticize me for not being wet enough, or wanting to use lube.

I began to often feel like I hated sex. He ended up destroying all my sexual confidence before that terrible relationship finally ended. I feel like he ruined sex for me. I have never felt so insecure, inhibited and unconfident.

With the handful of people I have been with in the last year, I haven't felt like I was able to open up sexually at all, or really enjoy myself. I feel like I'm just going through the motions, and that they aren't enjoying themselves either. I hardly even masturbate anymore. It took me six months to even feel like I wanted to start talking to guys again, and I'm still not sure if I want to be in a relationship, but I do want to have sex, and at least a friends-with-benefits situation would be nice, but I feel like I'm not good enough anymore, and no one would want to have an ongoing sexual relationship with me. I don't know if these last several boyfriends really found me unattractive, and thus didn't enjoy sex with me, or if I was really bad, or if they meant all the things they said, or were just being deliberately mean and hurtful.

So, my question is: How can I regain my sexual confidence? How can I enjoy sex again, open up and share my desires, explore kink again, and feel like guys find me attractive? I want to be like I was before, and I feel like something has been taken away from me.

Also guys, how much impact does your level of physical attraction to someone have on your enjoyment of the sex itself?

Throwaway email: iwasdtf@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

You're fine. You have a healthy attitude, but you have been with a couple of jerks (pun intended). You need to find a guy who would rather be with his woman than with his hand and his porn collection. We exist, though we tend to be a bit older. Good luck.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:36 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

How to regain your confidence? Don't date any more dickhead losers like the last two you described. And realize that your sexuality comes from within, not from what a partner deems you to be. You sound awesome and you really shouldn't let a few bad experiences get you down. Don't settle for a guy who makes you feel bad, ever. Go out and find someone who makes you feel like the hot sexpot it sounds like you are.
posted by greta simone at 8:37 AM on October 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

I don't know if these last several boyfriends really found me unattractive, and thus didn't enjoy sex with me, or if I was really bad, or if they meant all the things they said, or were just being deliberately mean and hurtful.

I think the problem was that they were assholes.

How can I regain my sexual confidence? How can I enjoy sex again, open up and share my desires, explore kink again, and feel like guys find me attractive?

Stop having sex with assholes.

It's okay to expect that you will be treated with respect and kindness. Everybody deserves that. It's okay to expect that your relationships will be mutually sexually satisfying, and to end them if they're not. Some sexual incompatibilities can be worked out, but a lack of respect isn't one of them.

Sometimes women learn from their culture that sex isn't something they should highly value from a relationship, or that it's "shallow" or "unforgiving" to dump a guy because the sex is no good. Even here, you are still worrying that you weren't good for them, even though they were terrible for you. It's bullshit and you're worth more than that.
posted by lwb at 8:39 AM on October 27, 2012 [13 favorites]

Seems to me that when you're with guys who make you feel secure and loved the sex is good, when you're with abusive dicks the sex is less good. Don't waste your time with anyone who doesn't think you're wonderful and the rest will come (titter titter).

In my (me being a guy) experience it takes two good people (at least) to have good sex and the attractiveness level of those people is much less important than their attitudes and general compatibility, your first paragraph makes it sound like you had a lot of good sex so you must have been one of those people at one point, you can be again.

As for how to regain you confidence, this tends to be my answer for everything but I'd give OKCupid a try for meeting people. People there tend to be kinkier than average and easier to spot for it and it allows you a embarrassment free way to discuss sexual topics beforehand and lets you discuss levels of commitment, or lack thereof, in a more open manner.
posted by purplemonkeydishwasher at 8:46 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if these last several boyfriends really found me unattractive, and thus didn't enjoy sex with me, or if I was really bad, or if they meant all the things they said, or were just being deliberately mean and hurtful.

THE LAST ONE. DUH. What a bunch of prime, grade A-is-for-Asshole pieces of shit; especially the last guy, wow, what an abusive horrible person.

The reason the sex in those relationships was bad is because you weren't being respected, not because the guy wasn't attracted to you enough!

If it makes you feel better? Abusive pieces of shit who treat women like dirt don't magically become Prince Charming if they're dating a super-traditionally-attractive skinny-blonde-model type. They're still awful people. You didn't invite any of this shitty behavior by being yourself; they behaved shittily because they are terrible people who don't deserve your fabulous blowjobs.

Your self esteem and confidence definitely is in disrepair, and you'll need to work on that. One thing I know that has helped me when I feel shitty about my appearance is making an actual, physical, handwritten list of Reasons I Am Awesome that have absolutely nothing to do with my physical exterior-all parts of my personality.

Try making a list of reasons someone would want to have a sexual relationship with you that doesn't use any physical descriptors. Not because men would be having sex with you "despite" you appearance; but because you can't be objective about your attractiveness after so much shitty treatment and need to realize that there's a million reasons to have sex with you that you can believe in even when you're feeling down on your body. Ex:


I am good at communicating what I like and don't like in bed.

I can deep throat like a porn star.

I am not uptight or boringly "vanilla" and love X, X, and X

Just examples. Keep going.

Also, i don't know how you personally feel about porn-I know clicking into that rabbit hole can occasional have some AHHHH consequences-but I'd suggest finding porn that stars women of your body type, because I'm sure it's out there, and there's tons of men masturbating to it. Not everyone gets off on the same body type.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:50 AM on October 27, 2012 [19 favorites]

I want to punch those guys in the face and revoke their access to sexytimes forever. Then I want to give you a big hug and tell you you're awesome.

I'm a fat woman who entered the world of sex feeling pretty sure that no men would ever find me attractive, though they might like me for my personality, and that was fine with me. And that was true with my first boyfriend. Then I dumped him and slept with some women who were super enthusiastic about how sexy I am, and then I stumbled upon some men who were similarly super enthusiastic about my body, and suddenly I realized that my problem wasn't me it was that guy, and also society, which is a real problem here.

Things that help me feel hot when I'm not super psyched with my body:

* dressing in ways that feel sexy to me, that make ME feel sexy
* hanging out with people who are vocally appreciative about my body (but not in a way that makes me feel skeeved on
* saying no to men who make me feel bad about myself
* dancing

I also have found doing some therapy around my body issues to be really good for my greater happiness. I don't necessarily think you NEED it, but I bet if you have a therapist you like and trust, you could dig around and clean out some of the negative ideas you're carrying around about this. In particular, EMDR therapy has been really helpful for me in working through deep-seated insecurities. They're still there, but way less painful and ruling.

Good luck! I hope you can find your way back to that fun, sexy, playful place.
posted by rosa at 9:05 AM on October 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hold the phone, a kinky woman?

There should be guys lined up around the block begging for the pleasure of licking your boot. You are a hot, in demand commodity. If you know your sexual and relationship needs, as you seem to do, you should explicetly advertise them on a place like FetLife.

Slowly repair the damage done by the series of abusive assholes you have been dating by playing online with guys. It is very pleasurable to have a sub write you about how much they want to worship you (or what ever flavor of kink does it for you). Then start casually playing and see where things go from there.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:12 AM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I felt like I was good at sex, and my partners enjoyed being with me.

I feel like I'm not good enough anymore, and no one would want to have an ongoing sexual relationship with me.

Also guys, how much impact does your level of physical attraction to someone have on your enjoyment of the sex itself?

OK, I know that this is a question about sex. It's fantastic that you enjoy sex and have had fun doing it-- but have you considered that you're putting a lot of undue emphasis on your sexual performance? It sounds as though even in the good relationships you were kind of using it as a source of external validation and self-esteem; now, you're only a year out of what sounds like a series of at least 2 horrible, abusive relationships, your self-image and emotional equilibrium are understandably still a bit messed up, but you're mostly distressed and puzzled about not being able to jump right back into a lively sex life.

I'm not sure that sex can be compartmentalized as a thing in that way, as though it were your signature curveball or your skill at concert piano. Really, male or female, solo or partnered, isn't sex more sort of a way of being or expressing or relating with your body-- like taking long walks, say, or exercising? You'd expect that your experience of walking or exercising would change, depending on where you were emotionally and psychically as a person at the time, wouldn't you? You certainly wouldn't say, God, I suck at long walks now, how can I get my long walk mojo back?. Because who you are walking is pretty much just who you are at other times, after all, so the question of the quality of your walk is equivalent to the question of how you are doing in a wider sense. If you're anxious and stressed out, and having anxious, stressy walks in consequence, the answer certainly isn't just to buy a cushier pair of Converse.

All of which is to say, I guess, that while it completely sucks that your boyfriends used sex and your body to make you feel bad about yourself, I'm not convinced that the solution is for you to immediately just reverse the process and try to use sex to make yourself feel better. Instead of worrying about your sex life, and specifically focusing on trying to fix the sex, could you maybe table the question just for a little while and try other ways to regain some wider appreciation of and trust in your physical body? Rosa's suggestion of experimenting with clothing is good; but there's also weightlifting, martial arts, meditation, sports, dancing, etc., etc. Just basically some sort of activity to remind you that your body is beautiful and powerful and a source of pleasure in many ways, not just in the bedroom or in the context of somebody else's sexual approval. Reestablish that connection, and I wonder whether the sex thing might not just fix itself.
posted by Bardolph at 9:26 AM on October 27, 2012 [24 favorites]

I hate to give the stock answer of therapy, so I won't. I'll just say that when something similar happened to me, speaking to my therapist about it was very helpful.

A) Stop trying to figure out why someone would say cruel things. It really doesn't matter now. My ex "took back" what he said, admitting he was being deliberately cruel. Didn't matter; the damage was done. That seed of insecurity was planted. You'll never get an answer that will make things right, that will excuse the behavior of your exes. You'll just make yourself crazy turning it over and over in your mind. What happened SUCKED, and you didn't deserve it. You just have to accept that and move past it.

B) RESPECT is a key issue. If you don't feel respected, your willingness to communicate with your partner will wither and die. Communication--effective communication--is key for good sex. My ex made no secret of the fact he thought he was smarter than me (and everyone) and had negative opinions of women. I often felt judged or dismissed. It made me hesitant to open up, in bed and otherwise, and he was very patronizing when he tried to communicate about sex, therefore leaving me cold, unreceptive and often unwilling. If you find communication lacking, work to fix it or bail.

So... "stop having sex with assholes" is what it boils down to. Stop having sex with guys who suck at communicating. Stop having sex with guys who objectify women. Stop having sex with guys who don't respect you. Stop having sex. I'm serious. Taking a few months off from sex/dating did a world of good. Your libido and desire will return, I can almost promise it. But follow your instinct to back off for awhile, and be gentle with yourself.
posted by peacrow at 9:26 AM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

You might also want to look into some group therapy for women who were in abusive relationships. They can be extremely helpful, and are usually open to people who are currently in a bad situation, are just exiting, or who are years into the aftermath.
posted by sockermom at 9:37 AM on October 27, 2012

There is nothing wrong with your looks. You're attracting bunches of partners, for relationships and for more casual stuff. You're fine.

You've been badly hurt by a sadistic, abusive, asshole. Not the "just because he loves you doesn't mean he's not abusive" kind, but the kind who enjoys abusing you. The stuff you're describing sounds like outright, intentional humiliation.

It's really legit to give yourself some time to heal. There is absolutely nothing about your appearance or your sexual skills that brought on this abuse -- you were abused because a nasty person decided to be nasty to you. Respect the pain you're in -- you're not in pain because there's something wrong with you, you're in pain because you were in a hurtful relationship.

Sadists and "still hung up on his ex in a nasty way" guys are just out there in the world. Once they start in on your self-esteem, it can be hard to win it back, because you start thinking that the only reason a normal human being would behave like this is if the things they were saying were true, or might be true.

I'm sure there are other ways to deal with this than to find a man worth getting naked with, and then getting naked with him, but that solution worked well for me.
posted by endless_forms at 9:43 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

So, obviously, therapy is an important answer -- not the solution in and of itself, probably, but likely to help. Just make sure you find a sex-positive therapist, because there are ultra-crappy ones out there who try and make people feel bad about kinky sex, open relationships, and things like that.


Uh, yeah, this. I mean, on the one hand your question is a list of how dating some serious assholes made you feel bad about yourself, which is a totally normal outcome to being around assholes. But at the same time, it's also a list that made me think "holy crap, whomever she dates is going to feel like he just won the lottery" -- you describe yourself in ways that make you sound like a fantastic partner, open, giving, flexible, etc.

So at the risk of being simplistic, at some level it really is about never, ever, ever dating an asshole again, and instead dating people who are going to just about crap their pants with happiness when they figure out how open and responsive and fun you are going to be. That's easier said than done, I know; sometimes it is good to slow things down a bit and watch how people behave in other settings (like, how do they treat waitstaff at restaurants?) before going to bed with them, and sometimes maybe it's the reverse.

Also guys, how much impact does your level of physical attraction to someone have on your enjoyment of the sex itself?

The answer to this is going to be as varied as there are people, but for me mental attraction is first and foremost, and physical attraction follows. Someone who is an asshole just stops looking cute to me. But I'd be careful about making big generalizations about this, other than noting that despite how uniform body types are in magazines and on TV, attraction in real life is tremendously fluid and idiosyncratic.
posted by Forktine at 10:12 AM on October 27, 2012

Dating assholes will mess with your head about sex and relationships, and in the future, if a guy tells you he's not attracted to your body type, DTMFA. Don't settle for a guy who isn't attracted to you, and don't settle for a guy who is contemptuous of you.

I think you'll start feeling better about sex once you learn to draw the line with assholes, and if you learn to better recognize the warning signs assholes give off before it gets to a point where the person you've been sleeping with tells you that he doesn't find you attractive or starts emotionally abusing you. There HAD to have been signs leading up to the really over-the-top stuff, and some of them may even have been there in your first few meetings with these people. You can read more in this thread and this thread.

Some of it may also come down to assertiveness. Hopefully, you're comfortable calling a guy out on talking about how his ex was his physical ideal. The way you describe it, you weren't initially bothered by it and, while it's awesome to not sweat the small stuff, this is one of the things in what you wrote that struck me as a red flag.

Moments like these are great chances for you to "test" a guy to determine if he gives a shit about you or if he's "testing" you to see if he can get away with disrespecting you. Remember, if "it's not a big deal" for him to make a remark that makes you uncomfortable, it's "not a big deal" for you to call him out on it and let him know how it makes you feel. If his response shows that he doesn't care about how you feel (e.g. by asking, "What's the big deal?" and continuing to not understand after you spell it out for him), it's not a good sign.
posted by alphanerd at 10:13 AM on October 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Forget those d-bags, you've had better yourself and you know you'll get past this shit-spell.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2012

Sex is not just physical. The boyfriend who jerked it to porn sounds like someone unable to connect emotionally. It sounds to me like you have reached a point where there is too much emphasis on the physical piece of it and not enough on the relating and feeling parts.

For me, a good antidote to a similar issue was a string of mostly online relationships where feeling and relating far outweighed the physical part. Clearly separating the emotional part taught me things I had been blind to previously. Virtual affairs may not be the answer for you but it might help to stop having casual sex for a time, focus on finding someone nice whom you trust and like, and spend time getting to know him better than you usually do before you climb into bed. Put more emphasis on the positive relating part, less on the sex.

And whether they mean it or not, don't sleep with a man who will say intentionally hurtful things to you (honesty can be uncomfortable but it typically only really hurts if the intent is to hurt you). One way to tell if a guy is likely to be an asshole: If he starts talking trash about an ex girlfriend, you can pretty safely move on. If he refers to an ex as The Bitch, I know it won't be long before he is saying the same shit about me, whether behind my back or to my face. I mentally blacklist such men.
posted by Michele in California at 10:53 AM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Why do you stay in relationships after they turn ugly?

Some of the things you describe putting up with are familiar to me, but really, my life changed immeasurably when I realized the crap you and have been through are instant dealbreakers relationship-wise and I can DTMF at will!

Look. You can't change the past. But promise yourself that from now on, you'll see the red flags and cut bait whenever a man's behavior towards you starts to stink. That will fix things. Starting immediately.

Go ahead and get lots of therapy and do a bunch of navel-gazing if you want, exploring why you might have stayed with these jerk for so long. If you want.

Personally, I think we stay with these a-holes because no one has told us we can have higher standards and there are PLENTY of partners out there who are not abusive.

Well. I'm telling you there are plenty of good looking wonderful men out there, and either way, trying to make it work with an abusive f-head is NEVER going to get you the safe loving relationship you deserve.

When dating from now on, and if someone starts to remind you of these abusive a-holes that hurt you, DTMFA.

That's it.

I predict empowering yourself to only choose loving, sweet men to date will do your sense of sexuality worlds of good.

You are in control of who you allow into your life and your bed. Remember this from now on, OK?

Good luck. You'll do fine going forward, you sound awesome!
posted by jbenben at 11:18 AM on October 27, 2012 [13 favorites]

In addition to choosing sweet guys, you can also just tell a guy "This behavior is dealbreak behavior. Please don't do it again." I once told a really sweet guy who began telling me I would be perfect if only I had a flat stomach that he could go back to focusing on the things he liked about me and saying nice things or I could find someone else to spend time with. He never brought it up again.
posted by Michele in California at 11:23 AM on October 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

There seems to be a lot going on here and hard to separate everything out. That said, your last two relationships seem to be forming some kind of mental block for you. The guys seemed to be fine having sex with you and then they weren't and the shift I think probably says a lot more about them than it does you. In a word, they were both abusive personalities who didn't seem to know how to break things off without being assholes. Unfortunately they appear to have left you scarred. Basically you have to figure out a way to get beyond them. Get back on the saddle so to speak and move on.

So how to do that? Easier said than done, but one suggestion. Spend a little time pleasuring yourself. If you are blah about masturbating, then you are likely going to be blah with a partner. Get yourself back on track by getting your self off while having some positive thoughts. That may help you get back in the right frame of mind which will carry over when you are with a new partner.

You asked how important physical attraction is to the enjoyment of sex. It is not unimportant, but here is the thing: different guys are attracted to different types of women, and for some of us (like me), the main thing is what is between the ears. Not every guy out there is looking for a skinny woman with big breasts: I know that is the ideal in magazines, but in real life, men like real looking women. Haven't you noticed how couples often look alike, and that goes to physical builds.

Good luck.
posted by Denverguy at 12:20 PM on October 27, 2012

How can I regain my sexual confidence? How can I enjoy sex again, open up and share my desires, explore kink again, and feel like guys find me attractive?

Time, practice, and better partners. You've been abused, repeatedly, so it is no wonder you're feeling this way. Just as those men were supposedly "settling" for you, you were settling for people who would treat you that way, and it is going to be difficult to get out of that mindset...but the actual process is easy, just start being pickier about the partners you have, and dump 'em fast if they treat you the way those last three treated you -- every day you spend with another person like that is another day you're not healing.

How much impact does your level of physical attraction to someone have on your enjoyment of the sex itself?

You shouldn't be thinking of those guys as preferring some other type of woman to you; these guys were preferring pornography to you, which is a completely different thing.

A corollary: imagine you're in a relationship with someone who spends their time reading magazines showcasing homes of the rich and famous, watching television shows about the rich and famous, and browsing the Neiman Marcus catalog when thinking about Christmas gifts they'd like to receive. If that person spent lots of time telling you that your apartment sucks, your car and clothes suck, and your job sucks because you can't afford all the nice things they see the rich and famous having, that wouldn't be an appropriate judgment; that would be a person living in a fantasy world, mentally masturbating about things they can never have, and being disdainful of their own life (and consequently yours) as a result. Very unhealthy, and toxic to be near. Porn addiction is similar.

So does a person's level of physical attraction impact the quality of sex? Sure, but you don't have to have the partner who is most attractive to you of all possible partners, or even of that limited subset of partners theoretically available to you for the sex to be amazing. You just have to have a mutual physical attraction.

If you have a partner who is engaging in and actively comparing you to pornography, then you have an unrealistic partner who is living in a fantasy world, and needs to get over it before they destroy every relationship they manage to start. A person who is physically attracted to you, and behaving in a healthy way, should simply act on their attraction to you and enjoy it...and if they're not physically attracted to you, and behaving in a healthy way,then they should break up with you rather than perpetuate the relationship via porn and abuse. Everybody deserves better, including them; they're doing themselves damage, too.
posted by davejay at 12:37 PM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree it sounds like these guys you were with were some serious douchebags who did not appreciate you or treat you with respect, as a girlfriend, sex partner or even as a person. I don't think you should give what they said to you a second thought. If they had any valid issues with your sex life, sounds like you were always up for working on it. But I seriously doubt they had any issues at all, and they were just losers lashing out at you with what they thought would hurt the most because they do not know how to handle a real relationship with a real woman.

Aren't you glad you are out of those toxic relationships? We should not have to put up with that crap.

Let me ask you something--when those guys treated you like crap, you didn't keep putting up with that stuff, did you? You broke it off with them, right? You didn't wait until they broke up with you.

I hope that's true, because you sound awesome to me, like someone I'd want as a friend. Seriously. But if you did stick around, I am not blaming you, because you were probably just trying to keep being awesome and make those guys happy like you feel an awesome girlfriend should.

I think you are the one "settling" in your relationships! I think these last couple guys took advantage of your good nature and they blamed you for their own shortcomings. Sexy pics of his ex, comparing you to her? Jeez, what a prince that guy was. Honestly, I wonder if she really was his ex or some girl with sexy online pictures he started creeping on. No foreplay but you going down on him? Be still my heart! Just what I always wanted in a man! Sheesh. He obviously knows nothing about what real women need sexually. So many abusers are actually cowards who can't get it up unless they are putting someone else down. You are well rid of that guy.

Obviously, you deserve better than that. You deserve to be appreciated for the awesome person you are, which includes sexy sex times but also lots of other stuff you have going for you, like that great, open attitude you have (and which you can get back! It just takes a little time). You shouldn't have to work so hard and get so little in return.

I get how that last guy really messed with your confidence. You might want to talk to a professional about him, because talking can really help sort that kind of stuff out. It took me years to sort through some of my own crap after a guy messed with my head.

So I'd suggest taking a break from relationships for a while, too. I know you miss sex, but from someone who has been there, I think you need to give yourself some time still.

I'd also suggest that when you meet someone you like, you take a little longer before starting up the sexual side of the relationship. You've been pretty selfless and giving in your relationships, and it's okay to let yourself be a little more selfish and think of your own needs. In fact, that's healthy. Get to know the next guy well enough to see if he has the qualities that make him worthy of you.

Good luck! You'll get back in the saddle soon. Or, you know, the handcuffs or whatever. ;)
posted by misha at 1:49 PM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Many good answers above. Let me address your final question (what impact does level of physical attraction have . . .) by saying the physical attraction is anything but physical.

If asked, I (straight male) would SAY that I strongly prefer women with a lean figure, slender body, etc. But the reality is there have been so many women substantially overweight who have rocked me back on my heels with an "oh my god! I would move heaven and earth it I could only get her into bed." feeling. Intense physical attraction for no reason I can put my finger on.

Obvious answer: sexiness comes from within. Lots of us believe we're more visually oriented and focused on a particular body habitus. Real life suggests otherwise.

Many and varied qualities go into that mix. And it sounds like you have a LOT of them. Take a break for a little while. Regroup. Don't be so anxious for a lover that you get into bed with a mean, selfish lowlife who doesn't understand what a gift he is receiving. There are plenty of those, but there are also some gems who will appreciate your white-hot sexuality.
posted by wjm at 2:56 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might want to talk to a therapist about your abuse. I had a great experience recently at a Planned Parenthood; they ask about abuse on the intake form and then ask you about counseling. I think they could provide a great, woman-friendly referral to a counselor.

Good luck, I know (somewhat) what you're feeling and it's tough, but it does get better. I promise.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:59 PM on October 27, 2012

They're just dicks. Take some time to be kind to yourself for now.
posted by heyjude at 3:00 PM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

You dated a couple of jerks and now you're overthinking things. They might not be able to control what they're thinking about or fantasizing about, but when they took it upon themselves to do things like tell you how their ex had a perfect body (unlike, presumably, you) and how they still masturbated her photos they crossed the line into unforgivable assholedom. If you really need that, fellas, keep it to yourself. Ick.

You, you sound golden. Take Ms. Banana's advice above and go get 'em. You might burn some more time on duds, sure, but eventually, you'll find a guy who deserves you.
posted by rokusan at 9:47 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would consider putting sex on hold in your next relationship(s) and use the extra time to pay close attention to who your new man actually is. Little things can tell you a lot about his character, like how does he treat service staff when you two go out? If you put on a bit of extra weight or show up slightly late how does he handle it? What does he say about others when they are not around? I wouldn't sleep with him until you are sure he is not an a-hole: instead when you're sure you've found a guy who's considerate, patient, assertive, sensitive etc. There might be internet resources on how to spot an abusive man that might help as well.
That way if you can really trust your man he can help you start loving sex again because you will start to feel less insecure.
posted by EatMyHat at 11:05 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Abusive pieces of shit who treat women like dirt don't magically become Prince Charming if they're dating a super-traditionally-attractive skinny-blonde-model type."

This. In all seriousness, these guys were lucky that you turned up, but abusive pieces of shit don't like luck, or anything good in general. I present to you Exhibit A:

I once had a guy anxiously plead with me not to tell anyone about the time he showed up drunk at my hotel room and tried to get into bed with me, because his and his GF's friends had reached the stage of sending them Disney wedding paraphernalia. They literally looked like the couple in the "Tangled" poster, no exaggeration. All he wanted from life was to look like Prince Charming, was that too much to ask? I humoured him for the out-of-character thing he'd done during an unfortunate, never-to-be-repeated moment of emotional crisis. I regret now that I didn't just say, in front of everyone, "SURE THING, HANDSOME, I WON'T TELL RAPUNZEL THAT YOU SHOWED UP DRUNK AND TRIED TO GET INTO BED WITH ME. YOUR SECRET IS SAFE WITH ME AND THE SEVERAL DOZEN IMPORTANT PROFESSIONAL CONTACTS WITHIN EARSHOT."

Some time later, he started publishing pictures of his GF that were like those "stars going to the grocery store looking like crap lol!" photos you see in tabloids, only a million times more mean-spirited. To the extent those pictures represented anything at all to do with reality, she did seem to have changed her appearance for the worse. From things he'd said in the past, I think she might have made those changes at his request, under the impression that that was what he liked. Meanwhile, he changed his avatar to an old picture of himself looking unrepresentatively handsome, gazing into the camera with come-hither bedroom eyes. He started openly pursuing other women over social media, while still living with Rapunzel. The unspoken message was "come and get it, babes, compete with my ugly GF to win the handsome prince that is me!"

Moral of the story: it's, like, probably not you?

p.s. I tell this as a funny story, but of course, it is not. There are some sick fucking weirdos out there, but it's not your fault they exist. I strongly suggest you follow jbenben's advice. Go to therapy if you want, but don't get therapy just because someone else is is a dysfunctional loser because, sadly, your getting therapy won't solve other people's dysfunctional loserdom.
posted by tel3path at 4:48 AM on October 28, 2012

These men treated you appallingly. Be thankful they're out of your life. You're fine at sex and look beautiful. Don't accept partners who denigrate you.
posted by ead at 2:47 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

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