Get Real! He Doesn’t Feel Desire for Sex, But I Want a Sexual Relationship


Elizabeth asks:

My
boyfriend and I are 22 and 21, respectively, and have been dating for
two years. We recently moved into an apartment and now live together.
We’re committed to not having sex before marriage, but we’ve been doing
other sexual things since we started dating.

When we first got together, he was somewhat interested in oral sex
(me to him, but NOT him to me) and touching and stuff. That lasted for
only a few months, and since about a year and a half ago he has lost
all interest in it. We’ll do stuff maybe once every other month, if I’m
lucky. It keeps getting worse. He’s never been a very sexual person,
and never even kissed anyone before me. He doesn’t even enjoy kissing
because he says it’s wet and messy (even though we only ever kiss
closed-mouth).

The only thing he has ever been interested in is feet tickling,
which I grew used to. But anymore, he doesn’t even seem to get turned
on by that. He claims to be turned off by not only kissing, but also
breasts, porn, and even the mere thought of a vagina.

I tried to show him porn and he literally left the
room. I know he isn’t gay because whatever hatred he has for the female
body is only a fraction of how turned off he is by the male body. He
says that he sees sexual things as a chore and would rather masturbate
because it’s over faster. He says that he only even does that because
he doesn’t want to have wet dreams because again, that’s something
messy.

I’ve lost so much self confidence over this because I feel
sexually frustrated and undesired. I know he thinks I’m not as thin and
I should be, but I really don’t think if I lost weight it would make
any difference at all, seeing as I haven’t gained more than 5 or 6
pounds since we’ve started dating.

I don’t know what to do because he doesn’t like to talk about it,
and just says it’s a very high-school-drama kind of thing to want to
have sexual contact. He makes me feel immature for wanting to have an
adult sexual relationship with him. He even suggests all the time that
I just find someone else on the side to "do things" with so that he
doesn’t have to be bothered by it. I’m appalled by that and would never
even consider it…. and it certainly would only make our relationship
worse!

I long to feel close to him emotionally and physically, and we’re
pretty much more friends than lovers at this point. Other than the fact
that we sleep in the same bed and occasionally cuddle, there’s no
difference between us and two single friends living together. I really
don’t know what to do, and I really need help. Anything you could tell
me would be most helpful.

Heather answers:

I’m going to say this a few times throughout my answer, so I apologize in advance for my purposeful repetitiveness.

This is not likely about you.

In other words, while I can certainly understand why your own esteem
or body image might be impacted by this, his lack of desire and sexual
interest isn’t likely because you’re not worthy or because you are not
attractive enough. In other words, I think he’s made it pretty clear
that even if you were someone else entirely, and looked totally
different, he’d still feel the way he feels, and what his own sexuality
is like is not about you, but about him.

He’s been pretty clear that it’s not that he doesn’t have these
feelings or desires for you, specifically, but that he doesn’t have
these feelings or desires period. The sexual history you’re
posting about here seems to be consistent with that. In other words,
it’s not like things have suddenly started going downhill or like
things used to be very different: you say things have been getting
worse, but I’m not seeing any huge changes. It appears that even in the
brief time he was interested in oral sex, that was an interest that was
probably mostly based in curiosity or in effectively wanting to do
something that was still pretty masturbatory — about sensation just
for him — than about sexual partnership.

He may also have felt a desire to do that in an attempt to feel
normal and to try to conform to your sexual expectations and those of
broader culture: it can be pretty tough for people whose sexualities
don’t conform to social norms, and for people who just don’t feel any
sexual attraction to others at all, they are such a minority that their
challenges are not at all small. In fact, I’d bet that his belittling
your sexual desires and those of others the way he has is coming out of
a lot of personal insecurity and discomfort on his part in not having
those same feelings and desires. I’m certainly not excusing the words
he’s used or the way he has belittled you in that respect — I don’t
think that’s loving or caring — but rather, just posing a possible
place that may have come from in him.

The thing is, not everyone does feel or experience sexual desire
and/or attraction. Certainly, the vast majority of people do. But there
are some people who don’t seem to: it’s commonly estimated as around
1-2% of the population (which when you think about it, is actually
quite a lot of people).

Some of those folks identify themselves as asexual. From a
literal and biological perspective, asexuality means something without
sex organs, or reproduction without sex or pairing. But when used in
this context, what people identifying as asexual mean is that they do
not experience sexual attraction or do experience attraction, but do
not feel a desire to act upon that attraction: some also do not
experience any desire for sex. Some asexuals don’t feel the desire for
sex with others, or choose to have sex with others, but still a sexual
desire when it comes to masturbation, while others don’t feel or
express any sexual desire at all, even by themselves. We don’t have
enough information on this yet to know all the whys, nor to know if
this is something which appears lifelong for many people or not, but we
do know it exists, to be certain.

You can find a lot of information on asexuality at the Asexual Visibility and Education Network here. I think you may find the Relationships FAQ at AVEN particularly helpful.

That may or may not be what is going on with your partner, though
the fact that he seems to be expressing not just a disinterest, but a
strong aversion to not only sex, but to human bodies overall leads me
to think he may have some other psychological things going on. However,
based just on the information you gave me, and without having an
in-depth conversation with him, I really couldn’t guess at what all is
going on here. Only he can speak to that, and if he wants to look more
into his feelings himself, he could do that with a therapist or
counselor.

Again, this is not likely about you.

However, it sounds to me like he isn’t expressing a conflict with
how he is feeling. If he feels fine about his sexuality exactly as it
is, there’s really no reason for him to seek out therapy or counseling
about it. I think it might be helpful to him to look to an organization
like AVEN for support and community, but it’s not like he’s got
something broken that needs to be fixed. The big conflict here doesn’t
appear to be within him, but about one or both of you trying to have a
sexual life together that isn’t — and I’d say probably can’t be — in
alignment with his sexuality and with your sexuality, which are
intensely different from one another.

He’s spoken very plainly to what his limitations are when he has
suggested that if you want sexual partnership with someone, you’re
going to have to find a different partner for that. He seems to have
made very clear that any expectation you have of a sexual partnership
with him is not realistic. You say that you two are saving sex for
marriage, but based on what he seems to be feeling and saying that it
seems likely this is not a person who — unless something radically
changes with him, on his own, and it may not — will not have an
interest in or desire for sex with or without marriage. If you have the
idea marriage will change his feelings or his sexuality, I’d encourage
you to abandon that idea.

It might help to think of this as being a conflict of sexual
orientation. In other words, in many ways, the conflict you’re having
would be similar to a conflict with a couple where each are only
sexually attracted to people of a different gender than the other is.
While sexuality is fluid, and can sometimes shift or change over time,
we can’t force those things to happen when they aren’t happening
organically, and attempts to force them tend to be both psychologically
unhealthy as well as futile.

I hear you saying that you feel that an outside sexual relationship
is not something you would ever consider, however, I think then what
you need to think about is if you want a sexual relationship or a
romantic relationship which includes sex. If you do — and you clearly
are expressing that you do, very much — clearly you are not likely to
be able to have that with this person.

So, your current options are: to either have the kind of
relationship you have together now, which seems to be largely platonic
and will likely remain that way but which is geared towards marriage
and something you consider a romantic relationship, and open up that
relationship to include a sexual partner or partners for you. If you
are choosing that option, I’d add that I think it’s pretty vital that
you stop doing things like pushing for sex with him or showing him
porn: that’s simply exerting sexual pressure on someone and just isn’t
healthy or sound. OR, you can shift the type of this relationship
entirely, accepting it as a close friendship which is more of what it
seems to actually be, and each seek out a different romantic and sexual
partner or spouse as a central or exclusive love/sexual relationship.
Your sexual desires are not likely to just magically go away and his
lack of desire does not seem likely to just magically appear, so I
don’t see trying to continue to push things as they are into the model
you want them to be as a sound option.

I disagree that you choosing either option would worsen your existing relationship. In fact, I’d suggest the opposite.

Clearly, the two of you have a ginormous chasm of incompatibility
when it comes to sex and what both of you want and experience when it
comes to sex, and in my opinion, if either of you keeps trying to make
the other conform to each of your very divergent sexual feelings (or
lack thereof) and needs, I think THAT is where you are going to see
your relationship really disintegrate. I think that either of you
trying to get the other to conform is going to leave both of you
feeling lousier about yourselves. As well, any two people pushing each
other to have sex that either partner doesn’t really want isn’t healthy
for either and is not going to lead to a healthy relationship or a
healthy, satisfying sex life. Part of why your esteem may be taking
such hard hits is that those rare times you two do anything sexual when
he really would prefer not to, and you know that, can’t leave you
feeling very good. Knowing and feeling that someone is doing something
only or mostly out of obligation — or to try and conform — that is
supposed to be based in and an active expression of a mutally shared
pleasure and desire is no doubt going to leave both people feeling
pretty rank if they have any real awareness of the underlying reality
at hand. If he’s completely turned off and grossed out by bodies and
body parts, including yours, I have a hard time imagining that when
these sexual interchanges between you do happen they are at all
positive.

You know, there are many different scenarios in which a given
romantic, sexual or other kind of relationship just is or becomes
incompatible as that kind of relationship. Lovers turn into
friends over time all the time, friends into lovers. People who are
married divorce or separate, people in long-term committed partnerships
part ways. People in open relationships sometimes close them and become
exclusive, people in closed relationships sometimes open them. As well,
sometimes we might feel a certain thing for someone which they just
don’t feel back and can’t make themselves feel back, even if they want
to. (This is the part where I, once more, reiterate that this is not about you.)
And someone we love and care for, and who loves and cares for us, often
can’t fit into every possible model or type of relationship: we tend to
need to feel out, over time, what kind of relationship is a best fit
for both of us, and also sometimes adjust our model or what type of
relationship we’re having over time. Change of any kind is often
uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but when it needs to happen, it
needs to happen. Fighting a change that is needed — and that is in
some sense happening whether you cooperate with it or not — or trying
to just stand on the top of hill quickly becoming mud due to a constant
downpour and expecting to wind up anywhere but the bottom all the same
just isn’t sound.

Here’s what I think: if the two of you have a strong friendship and
a commitment to each other that is loving and caring, I don’t see any
reason why you can’t continue having that. I’d say one arena where I
see possible issues is if both of you find you cannot accept the
other’s sexuality just as it is. In other words, if he can’t quit
belittling your desire for sex, and you can’t accept that he is the way
he is and respect that, even if you two are no longer even trying to be
sexual together, that’s not going to be healthy for either of you to be
around. But if you can both do that, can accept that this is
just going to be a different kind of relationship then one or both of
you initially envisioned it as being, and you do both love the
friendship you have and your living situation, I think you can probably
sustain that relationship and enjoy the things it does offer
you both just fine. I think, in other words, you need to accept — just
try and accept, even though I know it’s tough when that’s not what you
wanted it to be — that this is a platonic relationship and agree for
it to be that. How much of your life you do or don’t invest in that
friendship is up to both of you.

I think that you need to look elsewhere for the kind of romantic and
sexual partnership you desire. You very much deserve a partner who does
feel the attraction to you you feel for them and the desire for you you
feel for them, really naturally, without anyone having to push or pull
for it or try and be someone they aren’t. You deserve a partner who
doesn’t merely tolerate your body, but who loves it, appreciates it and
strongly wants to explore it for your mutual enjoyment. You — like him
— deserve to have what your desires are acknowledged, honored and
respected and deserve to have your needs met with someone who shares
the same or very similar needs. Once more with feeling, right now much
of this isn’t about you, but we all deserve to have our relationships
and everything in them be exactly about us, and mostly in harmony with
who both/all of us are and what both/all of us want.

Additionally, I think that if he wants a romantic, love or sexual
(in his way) relationship of his own, he is going to be a lot happier
with a partner who is in alignment with the kind of sexuality that he
has and feels, and who doesn’t want things which he simply either does
not feel any compulsion to give or which he even has a strong aversion
to. he’s going to do a lot better with someone much more like him in
this respect, just like you’re bound to do better with someone much
more like you.

At the end of the day, both of you only looking to each other for the shared needs you do have, having a kind of relationship where you are
compatible, and taking all of this pressure off per trying to make a
sexual relationship happen between two people with radically different
needs, wants and sexualities is something I can almost guarantee is
going to result not just in both of you feeling a lot better about
yourselves, but in your relationship — your friendship — being one
that is healthier and happier for you both.

Okay? Again, I know this is hard, and I know it has to seriously
suck to even consider the fact that someone you are in love with, are
very strongly attracted to and feel desire for, and so serious about
you’ve talked marriage probably isn’t going to be a good fit. That
always hurts. But I think a lot of the pain right now has more to do
with trying to make someone or something be something they or it are
not, and that once you two are able to accept who you are, accept both
your needs and limitations and create a relationship that IS a sound
fit — seeking out different relationships to meet the needs you’ve got
which can’t be met here — that pain is going to be replaced by
something a whole lot better.

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  • http://fugitivus.wordpress.com invalid-0

    I think your answer to this young lady was overall a good one. You emphasized the things that she can and cannot change, and that none of this was due to something about her, and I think that was the most important thing to communicate.

    I wanted to bring up the possibility that what she’s experiencing isn’t a partner with low sex drive, but an abusive relationship. My ex-husband did many of the same things — refused to be intimate, claimed little to no sexual desire, requested I seek sex elsewhere, insinuated that I was getting fat and less attractive, and ridiculed my desire for sex as immature and needy.

    Likewise, in all other aspects of our life, he behaved similarly, refusing to hold my hand, claiming he had no desire to talk, requested I seek my need for conversation and friendship elsewhere, insinuated I was obnoxious and annoying, and ridiculed my desire to be supported and complimented as weak and clingy.

    This is abusive behavior, and it doesn’t matter what the source is. Like you said, Heather, that’s his problem, not hers. But regardless of the reasons behind it, regardless of what he may be going through about his own sexuality, he is choosing to respond in an abusive way. While I’m very glad that you told her throughout that this is not her fault and not her problem, I would like to add this, directly addressed to her:

    Elizabeth, this is not normal or acceptable behavior in a relationship. Whether that relationship is intimate, whether it’s a friendship, whether you two were co-workers, it doesn’t matter. He is purposefully and intentionally hurting you, with full knowledge that he is doing so, with full knowledge that you are in pain, that his words cause you to feel like you are not a worthwhile person. He may be asexual. He may be closeted, and views all his sexual urges as wrong and dirty. He may simply be sadistic — often the only times my ex would relent to having sex with me was if he knew it would be painful, either because that’s what he preferred, or he suspected (rightly) that it would get me to stop requesting sex. Likewise, if every time I requested sex, he insulted my desires and insulted my body, he knew that would cause me so much pain I would stop asking.

    Whatever your boyfriend’s problem is, it doesn’t matter. You, too, are experiencing sexual problems, sexual frustration and confusion, but you’re not addressing them by making another person feel fat and unloved, and insulting their ordinary desires as immature. You are trying your best to understand his needs in a thoughtful and accommodating way. He is insulting your needs and trying to shame you for them, trying to cause you so much pain that you stop bringing them up. That’s a far more fundamental problem than the sex — that indicates, most likely, how he is going to continue treating your needs vs. his for as long as the two of you are intimate.

    That is not normal, that is not right, no matter what the reason, no matter what the context. It’s not your fault, like Heather said, but I’d like to add that you don’t deserve this. It’s not your fault, and you don’t deserve this.

  • heather-corinna

    Harriet: I really appreciate that addition.

     

    Given the sexual history of this guy as the OP is expressing it, I still am more inclined to think this isn’t about a dynamic which would only exist in their relationship, nor with him and others (given his feelings about masturbation), but adding that some aspects of this can be abusive or ways to abuse is important.

  • invalid-0

    Trying to show someone porn who has already expressed a disliking for it is abusive. Also, it’s obvious the guy has been outwardly expressing what he dislikes and yet the girl is choosing to ignore it and still wants to try to get what she wants anyway. This also could be seen as abusive as she is still trying to invade boundaries he has put up. Really, tossing the word “abuse” around is a dirty game to be playing. Yes, some abusive men withhold sex and tell their wives/girlfriends that they are getting too fat. But knowing what I know about asexuality being an asexual myself, it sounds more like asexuality is likely the reason here, and Heather’s reply is absolutely amazing on how the relationship, abusive or not, will not work out because of the glaringly huge difference in sexual needs.

    And honestly, being an asexual in a society where it feels terribly unsafe to be open to even a close partner about one’s lack of sexual feeling is extremely difficult. Being nonsexual and having the person who is supposed to love you constantly acting like you not wanting sex is wrong, not understanding or accepting you, constantly trying to get you to do something that you don’t desire/want/maybe even are adverse to, some partners even demand their asexual partners to go to therapy or else the relationship ends – this all feels like abuse to someone who is nonsexual. In fact, it all fits under the definitions of abuse I constantly see. For a sexual to deny the fact that their partner does not want/like sex and still attempt to make them do it is using a similar mindset of an abuser – deny the reality of the other person and focus only on your own needs much like the narcissist.

  • heather-corinna

    …and now I’m wishing I had this whole conversation posted at Scarleteen with the original answer!

     

    Really, I think both these comments illuminate something important, which is that whether or not the dynamic on either side is abusive now or yet (and anonymous: I’m with you per your comment on the porn), if these two people try to keep making the other conform to what radically different things the other wants like this, it’s likely going to get abusive pretty darn fast.

     

    Good stuff, this.

  • http://www.xanga.com/andrea_thenerd invalid-0

    I offer this experience not for this specific situation but for others who may experience similar circumstances. I was in a relationship with a young man once, and we both believed we should remain abstinant before marriage. At first we were very cuddly, and though he refused to kiss me, I respected that boundary as we were very affectionate toward each other.

    As time passed, however, he became more and more withdrawn, and more and more conservative in his Christianity at the same time. Eventually, he told me he was not comfortable being in my bedroom even, because that could lead to sex (even though we still had not yet kissed after 1.5 years). In the final months of our relationship, I was miserable, and constantly questioning what could be wrong with me to disgust him so.

    I now know something I wish I had then – it was not my fault, not one bit. He was being misguided by his personal interpretation of Christian beliefs and filled with conflict. I have recently found out through Facebook that he is past that, and is also openly bisexual now. He had to work his sexuality out for himself, and I was a casualty of that personal process.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Is not abuse.  Telling someone they are fat/unattractive/immature/etc. is.  She is not obliged to be in a non-sexual relationship because she happened to stumble into one that was, to be frank, based on a level of deception.  Asexual people are entitled to be asexual.  But they are not entitled to have a relationship with someone else and force that other person to abandon their sexuality.  It’s like being gay.  You’re entitled to be gay.  What you are not entitled to is a straight spouse who you never have sex with but demand fills out social roles of heterosexuality.

  • invalid-0

    …of economic power? Who makes more/all of the money? Does he do anything around the residence? Does he have a job? Was he glad to leave his parent(s) and why? Is the woman his meal ticket or is he hers? Is she “allowed” to have contact with friends/family and is he? Did any of these questions have different answers at the beginning of this “relationship?” A young man lives with a woman but has no sex with her: do they do anything together that a reasonable person feels would “compensate” for the lack of sex?

    A lot what said in the post, but a lot more is needed. The woman is lucky not have been made pregnant by someone who appears to want no relationship with ANYONE. If he is worth the trouble, definitely seek counseling, though each may have need separate sessions with the same counselor, at least in the beginning.

    The only clue as to what he sexually wants is the need to get past the need: how long DOES it take for him to complete masturbation and does he truly feel better afterward? For someone his age, without regular sex, five minutes should seem like an eternity – and remember, as he gets older, it will take even longer for him to finish what he regards as a chore, which could make him even more resentful to everyone around him. Could the woman survive a marriage knowing that up front? Should she even marry him?

    I know I’ve put a lot on the plate, but careful thought is needed if one is to resolve this situation which is clearly uncomfortable for her and may even be for him. Having been through my early twenties half a lifetime ago, I can only reveal not only not knowing what I wanted most of the time, but remaining consistent once I supposedly “knew.” But that’s another story.

  • heather-corinna

    I have no idea what finances — if they even share them at all — have to do with any of this as far as the sexual issues go. And do bear in mind that many older adults have the idea that financial arrangements in relationships they have or have had are identical to what young couples today have, and that’s not always on-target.

     

    But what I do know is that we have to be very careful — and those of us who work in sexology and sex ed know this — when we talk about what is normal, what is normal at a given age, what is normal for a given sex or gender. The truth of the matter is that real study of sex is still earnestly in its infancy, so even what we think we know about human sexual behavior is something any of us who work in these fields with an eye towards accuracy and inclusion will always be prepared to be flexible with.

     

    Enough people have reported not to feel sexual desire or motivation to enact sexual desire that we can’t pretend those people do not exist, nor, not having enough information, can we purport that those people have something wrong with them.

     

    It also isn’t sound to say that someone who is not interested in sex has no interest in relationships with anyone: all we can say about this guy is that, based on what his current partner tells us, he is not interested in a sexual relationship, and has not yet been interested in a sexual relationship with anyone else, based on what he has communicated.

  • invalid-0

    So all of Kinsey’s work (begun before I was born) was garbage? Nothing real about it, right? Good thing, because that would mean the “real study of sex” has one long infancy! Maybe, emphasis on “maybe,” we can agree that Freud had so many issues in his own life that contaminated his psychology theories, but I wouldn’t be so quick to deny the contributions made by previous sex surveys and sexologists – for myself, knowing “Joy of Sex” was first published before I even knew what “sex” meant, never mind how it might be done. Would one say the “Kama Sutra” was the result of some manner of early scientific observation or was it the result of some mind-blowing Hashish?

    No doubt about it, today the questions can be a lot more exact than what was asked in the primitive surveys and analyses of results are superior. We should know where we’ve been before we take the next step or we might as well deny evolution, too. With that in mind,…

    …I know something about young men as I used to be one. We don’t always say what’s on our mind, lest it betray weakness. This would be especially true in the realm of sex, so if something is bugging him about what HE experiences, this guy is more likely to do nothing rather than admit it’s not working for him. Since they originally chose to limit their activity, we can deduce she likes what’s already happened and would like more of it. He appears not to like it and is not telling us (nor her) why, but has used what seems more like an excuse. That’s if it’s a physical problem he’s got (or thinks he has, should his sexual education come from a Bible or an ab-only course). This would then be a benign problem which could be remedied. But if the sexual shutdown on his part is actually a symptom of something else, a power-play most likely based on economics, the person he’s with really needs to see that forest from her trees.

    That is why I posted what I did: not to impress anyone but put more dimension to what possibilities exist for her sake, and the sake of those who may experience similar situations. This woman must ultimately decide if it’s worth the extra investment of time and money to improve her lot where she is or maybe get out of Dodge, pronto. If they split, she should thank him, if only to boost his self-esteem, for being honorable enough not to have impregnated her nor give her an STI because he is a rare find to truly save intercourse until marriage.

    Put it another way, I wouldn’t worry about fixing the starter motor if I’m seeing thick black smoke leaving the tailpipe of my little red Corvette. That doesn’t mean it’s an automatic junker, either: a ‘vette is a ‘vette.

  • heather-corinna

    I’m not discounting people like Kinsey or Masters and Johnson (though no, I would not call the Kama Sutra or The Joy of Sex scientific sex study): not at all.  Rather, I am saying that less than around 100 years of study, the vast majority of which has been limited to studying men and heterosexuals (as well as cisgendered people and heteronormative people), for something as incredibly diverse and with as long a history as human sexuality, is study still in its infancy.

     

    I’m also not going to go along for the anecdotal ride with anyone making generaliztions about the whole of a gender to which we happen to be but one member of.  There are men who speak to very different experiences than you are, and draw totally different generalizations based on primarily personal experience and identity.  If you listen to those who ID as asexual speak about their feelings and experiences — and I do surmise it’s likely this was what is going on here — you’ll also perhaps hear some perspectives that stand outside what you, me or anyone else not in that space might ordinarily presume, and I think leaping to framing that kind of sexuality or experience of sexuality as an excuse is a mighty big leap to take with the information at hand from the OP.

  • invalid-0

    …were I satisfied the more probable possibilities had been exhausted, some of which could probably be seen on any given day “The Jerry Springer Show” airs. These people are in a relationship, but I see very little relating other than they share the same address and agreed to forego intercourse until marriage. But what do I know? She may have already exhausted the probabilities and your take is dead-on. I have suspected someone I’ve known from college of being asexual but feel no need to ask, let alone pry. Of course, she has never hinted at even wanting from anyone. Besides, I’d be hard-pressed to believe a man complains about the “mess” sex makes if he doesn’t do any of the cleaning, another detail not addressed.