Get Real! I’m So Unhappy With Our Sex Life, But My Boyfriend Does Not Understand


jem18 asks:

Me and my boyfriend have been dating for almost a year now. We have been sexually active through our relationship and I have been wanting to try something new. It was hard for me to tell him, but I suggested that he at least perform oral sex on me because I don’t always enjoy intercourse (and don’t usually have an orgasm that way). He told me that oral sex is not something he is interested in doing but I perform it on him whenever we mess around. It makes me angry sometimes because I feel as though he receives variety in our sex life and I get the SAME one thing over and over again. I don’t want to make him do anything he’s not comfortable with because I want sex to be enjoyable for the both of us. We plan on being together for a long time and I don’t know how to get him to understand. Some of the conversations even get a little heated. It makes me feel “creepy” that I get upset because of this. I feel as though all I can do is accept it but I don’t want to feel dissatisfied with sex and resent him. I can’t make him do it but if we are going to be in the long term relationship he says he wants so badly then am I just supposed to settle for what he wants to do with me sexually?

Heather Corinna replies:

It certainly sounds like this isn’t a good sexual relationship for you, and perhaps hasn’t been throughout. I’m not surprised you’re feeling dissatisfied, and not surprised you find yourself experiencing anger and resentment around your sex life in this relationship. It sounds not only like your sexual needs aren’t being met, but like the communication around sex has been difficult and has really broken down, and may not have been that good to begin with. I think it’s fantastic you are making sure you’re not pressuring your partner to do anything he doesn’t want to do, because that’s so important for everyone and any kind of sex borne out of pressure or feelings of obligation is never a good recipe for a healthy, consensual and happy sexual dynamic.

What I think needs to happen next — if you don’t want to just walk away from this relationship at this point — is better communication about this, getting to a deeper place in that communication; to each take a good, honest look at what you both want and need, what you both are and are not interested in sexually, and then to make some choices based on all of that information that will make it most likely for both of you to find and have what it is you want. I’d strongly suggest that while you’re in this process, you take a break from any kind of sex together, since it obviously just isn’t working for you right now and is leaving you feeling so crappy.

We have a tool I think could really serve you both well in all of that, or at least, in getting a much better foundation to assess and talk about your sexual relationship than you’ve got going now. It’s here: Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist.

You can use the link at the bottom to print a copy out for yourself and your boyfriend.

I’d suggest you first fill it out yourself, being as honest as you can, even if you feel a little uncomfortable doing so. It’s not creepy to figure out and take stock of what you want, and it’s not creepy to want or not want anything on that list. It’s also not creepy for you to have sexual interests, wants and needs. Sometimes women, specifically, get or were reared with cultural messaging that it’s men who are sexual, men who have sexual wants and needs, and that women are either only vehicles to serve those needs, or that women’s sexual needs should always come second or aren’t even okay in the first place. Those messages, if you have gotten them, don’t come from a place of truth about women’s sexuality, but are instead primarily based in either the social control of women (including by some women, not just men), or in a lack of understanding or education about women’s sexuality. So, if in filling this out you find you feel like you shouldn’t be, I’d encourage you to do it anyway and push past that feeling, because not only is it probably not all that authentic to you, it’s a big barrier to discovering, pursuing and getting what you really want.

Once you fill it out just take a good, long look at it. Take some time with it to really soak up the big picture of what you want and what you don’t, and to get a feel for what you’d want and need in a sexual partner that was a good fit for your unique sexuality that you see on those pieces of paper. You talk in your question about accepting how your boyfriend is, but you also need to be sure you’re accepting how you are. Look at the results on those pages and try to fully accept that person and their sexuality, too.

Then ask your boyfriend to fill one out about himself. Tell him that why you want him to do this, and why you’re also doing it for yourself, is to try and better understand and work through the conflict you two are having around sex. Let him know that something like this, a pretty standard tool sex therapists and educators use with people, can give each of you good idea of what you both want on your own and ways to talk about it that are more productive and less heated. Let him know that while you want to take a next step and share those lists together, for this to be useful, it’s important he answers truthfully, not in ways he thinks you may want him to answer. Let him know that this is important to you and to your relationship.

Once you’ve both done your lists and taken your own stock of them, share them with each other. You may want to set some ground rules first, making clear you think you both need to be accepting of each other and will try your best to be, and that when you get to the point where you talk about them together, you want to do that in a way where both of you knows the other is accepting, and that no one’s sexuality or wants and needs are wrong and right here. Rather, that they just may be different in some places and the same in others, and that both are okay, even if the differences are an issue in your relationship right now, or aren’t what one or both of you would ideally want. Suffice it to say, I’d also make an agreement that this information is something you’ll both keep private, not bring to friends, since much of it is obviously very personal.

Looking at your lists side-by-side, where are there areas in alignment? Where are there areas of difference? Where are there areas of flexibility? With places you both have yesses, are those areas you’re feeling are working and pleasurable for both of you in your sexual relationship? With places you both have maybes, or where one of you has a yes and the other a maybe, are those things you have already tried together? If not, might you want to start trying? In laces where one of you has a no, and the other of you has a yes or a maybe, does that seem like something the person without the no can accept without feeling like they aren’t getting things they really want or need? While our desires and what we are willing to try might change over time, I’d suggest you both figure that a no to something is something you’ll need to live without in this relationship in the forseeable future if you’re going to stay in it.

Given what you said about the oral sex in your question, let’s also talk a little bit about sound, fair ways to think about reciprocity. No kind of sex, in a healthy sexual relationship, should be about quid pro quo. In other words, just because you give him oral sex doesn’t mean he owes you or should give you oral sex. Hopefully, you’re engaging in oral sex with him because you enjoy it yourself, because you receive some kinds of physical and emotional pleasure from that activity, not just because he does alone, or because you hope that if you do it for him, he’ll do it for you. In the case that’s something you have been doing only because he likes it, or only or mostly because you want him to do something for you, I’d take a pass on that and any other kind of sex you’ve been having for those reasons pronto. I’d be sure that in doing your list, you answer honestly about an activity like that and discuss it honestly. It might also be a good idea to talk together about each of your motivations in sex, especially about mutual pleasure. Are you both invested as deeply in your partner experiencing pleasure as you are in your own? When one or both of you ONLY really wants pleasure for yourself, are those times you’re choosing masturbation, which is about self-pleasure, rather than sex together, which is supposed to be about mutual pleasure?

Looking at both of your lists as a whole, and after those other discussions, how are you each feeling about this relationship as a sexual relationship? Does it seem like it’s one that’s likely to meet BOTH your needs or not? Do the two people represented on those pages look like a sexual match or a mismatch? For you, does looking at his list give you feelings of hope and possibility or feelings of dread or disappointment? How about the talks you had around the list: did they seem more fruitful and leave you feeling better than the talks in the past, or are you feeling just as crummy as before? All of these feelings and thoughts should give you good information to work with, and, ideally, a better place to make your best choices from moving forward.

Maybe doing something like this is just the ticket to finding out things could be a lot better pretty easily. Maybe you’ll find some new things you both do or might want to do you didn’t even think of, or one or both of you felt shy about voicing for fear the other wouldn’t be interested or would react badly. Maybe you’ll find some things that elicit conversations about sex you haven’t yet had, or some issues that may be part of why you’re not connecting well you didn’t even think about, like differences in body boundaries, language or what you each might want in relationship models. Maybe you and he will discover some areas in which he might just not have some information or education: like, he may not know or understand that the majority of women don’t frequently reach orgasm or feel satisfied by intercourse or other vaginal-only stimulation alone, in large part because that kind of activity, all by itself, often doesn’t stimulate areas of the sexual anatomy that are very rich in sensory nerve endings. In other words, it’s possible that going through an exercise like this, using it to reframe, rebalance and better inform your conversations about sex may show you ways to problem-solve with this you would not have come to otherwise. It could very well be that you CAN have a satisfying sexual relationship together, but that one or both of you just needed information you didn’t have, different ways of communicating about this, or something to make it all a lot less loaded and volatile.

What if, when you look at these lists, there are, instead, very few places where you have intersections and alignment? If it seems clear that you want and like very different things, or that your boyfriend just isn’t open to trying any of the things you want and may or do enjoy, especially the things you like or want most? In that case, it just may be that the two of you aren’t sexually compatible: in other words, that you’re just not a good fit for a sexual relationship, and trying to continue one together is going to be fruitless, leaving one or both of you unhappy and dissatisfied. Maybe you aren’t a good fit because he just needs to grow in some ways, become more comfortable experimenting with various kinds of sex, or recognize what feels good to a partner is probably not going to be only intercourse, things which he may come to in time. But if he isn’t in the space in his life where he wants to do any of that or doesn’t yet feel comfortable with any of that, you can’t force that change or make it happen. You also can’t count on it happening anytime soon or at all, because you can’t predict the future.

What if all of what I have just said is moot because you don’t feel you can ask him to even do something like this or he won’t, or he starts, but won’t finish, or he finishes but won’t share? Or, what if you do this, but the communication around it remains broken down and tense? If any of those things are the case, then I’ve got to tell you that in that case, this relationship — as a sexual one, but potentially also in other areas — may be on the outs, or be one that’s just very unlikely to turn out to be satisfying and happy for either of you. In other words, it’s one I’d suggest you either reconfigure, perhaps shifting it to be a friendship or non-sexual romance, or just move on from, so that you both can try to find relationships that are a better fit. I’d certainly not suggest that this is a relationship you considered investing more into as a long-term romantic relationship if you want a sexual relationship to be part of your LTR.

Not every relationship that’s otherwise a good fit is a good fit sexually. Not everyone we love or otherwise like, even when we feel strongly attracted to them, is going to be the right person for us to pursue, have or continue a sexual relationship with. Just like we may have sexual partners or friends that wouldn’t make good boyfriends or girlfriends for us, we can have romantic partners that aren’t a good fit for us for sexual relationships. Being in love or loving someone doesn’t mean we’re sexually compatible or can become so. As well, relationships can tend to change or shift over time just like the people in them, so a relationship that was a good fit once may later be a poor one because we, a partner or the relationship has simply changed. To boot, if you’re a younger person or someone with otherwise limited sexual experience, you’re probably just starting to learn what you like and don’t, and what it is you want and need with your unique sexuality, much of which you may not have even known walking into this relationship, and some of which it sounds clearly like you’ve been learning in it. As you get older and glean more experience, you’ll tend to both know more of what you want and need walking in, and get better at identifying earlier when those needs aren’t likely to be met with someone. You also may get better at nixing a relationship sooner that isn’t meeting your needs. All of those things can just be a lot harder to do when you’re younger.

For many of us, finding people with whom we click emotionally, with whom we want and need the same kinds of things in an ongoing relationship and who are also a great fit sexually usually takes some time, some doing and a good deal of trial and error. Meeting people like that right off the bat, and when we just start having relationships, is pretty darn unusual. I know, like some of the messaging I brought up earlier, that you may have gotten messages that you can learn to like what someone else does sexually over time, or learn to change your own needs so that they suit what a partner’s are. But for most people, of any gender, that just does not tend to be true, and that usually also comes with a double-standard that asks one person to go without their needs being met so the other can get what they want at that person’s expense, a double-standard which really screws everyone over (and not in the way anyone wants to get screwed). Even when it seems like the person getting what they want in that situation is benefitting, when we remember that a quality sexual partnership that most people find satisfying involves mutual pleasure, it’s obvious everyone is getting a raw deal when someone in that partnership is unsatisfied.

If it turns out that, for the most part, y’all just want radically different things, and he’s just not going to fit your bill sexually, you do need to accept that. But accepting that doesn’t mean you have to accept being sexually dissatisfied. I do not think that settling for something that isn’t what you want is a sound solution, nor that accepting the differences between you means you have to. Rather, you have to accept that in THIS relationship you’re not going to get what you want and need, and to have a sexual life and relationships you’re satisfied with, you’re going to have to seek them out with those with whom you are more compatible and who you also feel more comfortable communicating with, and where the communication is a lot easier than I get the sense it has been in this relationship. I know that isn’t always easy, and I understand how disappointing or even daunting that can feel. But I’d posit that it’s ultimately a whole lot less disappointing or scary then cementing yourself to something you know or strongly suspect is not going to make you happy.

Sometimes people have the idea that dissolving a romantic relationship because of sexual incompatibility is shallow or selfish. I’d strongly challenge that, just like I’d challenge the idea that choosing not to have or continue a certain relationship in ANY area of major incompatibility is shallow, like if two people had very different or opposing spiritual beliefs, wanted to live very different or opposing lifestyles, or had two very different or opposing ways of communicating. If and when sex is part of a major relationship, it’s usually a major part, so that whole area of a relationship not being workable is no small deal. Having sexual compatibility is just as important as other kinds of compatibility, and not having it in a big way — like a partner not wanting to try or do most or any of what you need or enjoy, or a partner not being at all invested in your pleasure and satisfaction — almost always means a relationship is eventually going to tank or that one or both people in it, if it doesn’t, will perpetually be unhappy and at odds, which I think we can all agree isn’t what anyone wants in a long-term relationship. Seeking out relationships that make you feel pretty darn happy and satisfied in every area of them is about serving yourself for sure, but it’s not selfish. That not only best serves you, it best serves whoever you get involved with. No one can have a truly happy relationship if only one person in it is happy.

I wish you the very best, and I hope this helps you better figure out what you want and need and allows you to feel more emboldened in pursuing all of that. I’m leave you with a few more links that I think may help you in that process.

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  • kevin-rahe

    The headline alone spells out the symptoms and the cause.  I don’t need the intervening article to come up with the right prescription for this one:  Abstain from sex for six months, then decide whether you want to get married or go your separate ways.

  • reproductivefreedomfighter

    What about communicating about it instead of ignoring it?  Abstaining for 6 months would only make them forget the problem because they would be…well, horny.  So they’d get married high on hormones and then be back at square 1.   If your partner is reluctant in this area, maybe you need to talk about why and why it matters to you. 

  • prochoiceferret

    Abstain from sex for six months, then decide whether you want to get married or go your separate ways.

     

    Yes, God forbid they try to address the problem directly rather than setting a deadline for a marriage-or-breakup ultimatum.

     

    With “advice” like that, it’s small wonder we have a 50% divorce rate.

  • heather-corinna

    @reproductivefreedomfighter and ProChoiceFerret: You party poopers!

     

    For a minute there, I was so excited about my job becoming so much easier! If all myself or other educators and counselors had to do was blurt out simplistic, pat non-advice like Kevin suggested instead of having to take the time to help people learn to communicate and work out what they really wanted and needed alone and together, I’d be done with my work each day in ten minutes, which would have been awesome for me.

     

    Ah, well. :)

  • kevin-rahe

    With “advice” like that, it’s small wonder we have a 50% divorce rate.

     

    So are you suggesting that the high divorce rate is due to people taking advice such as mine and putting it into practice?

  • katwa

    This makes no sense! You think by getting married her boyfriend would suddenly be interested in her pleasure when he’s not now?? What if he doesn’t magically change? Divorce?

     

    This is like the worse advice ever.

  • heather-corinna

    I’m not one personally to talk much about marriage or divorce (especially since for the population I primarily serve in my own work, few are married or even talking about that yet).  However, she’s not taking much of a leap to suggest advice like yours  — which was effectively, don’t have sex and don’t talk about this together, either — may play a part, especially when you look at stats like those reported here.

  • reproductivefreedomfighter

    yes!  Advice such as yours, to ignore important issues, like sex in a relationship, definitely contributes to the high divorce rates. 

  • kevin-rahe

    Advice such as yours, to ignore important issues, like sex in a relationship, definitely contributes to the high divorce rates.

     

    From my experience, sex is one of those funny things where one’s level of satisfaction with it tends to be inversely proportional to the importance it plays in one’s relationship.

  • rebellious-grrl

    Great article Heather.

    I love the “Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist.” Wow that is a seriously comprehensive list. Thanks!

  • kevin-rahe

    However, she’s not taking much of a leap to suggest advice like yours  — which was effectively, don’t have sex and don’t talk about this together, either — may play a part, especially when you look at stats like those reported here.

     

    There’s nothing in that article to suggest that those who are the subject of it put into practice anything like my advice.  In fact, if anything it suggests they did the opposite.

  • beenthere72

    If sex is not important in your relationship, then you’re doing it wrong. 

  • prochoiceferret

    So are you suggesting that the high divorce rate is due to people taking advice such as mine and putting it into practice?

     

    “Don’t talk about your problems. Just get married! Because the reason you’re having problems in the first place is that you’re not married.”

     

    Yeah, pretty much.

  • kevin-rahe

    I can see you didn’t actually read my advice – or perhaps you just failed to comprehend it.

  • beenthere72

    What does abstaining – avoiding the problem –  solve?  

  • kevin-rahe

    What does abstaining – avoiding the problem –  solve?

     

    Abstaining doesn’t avoid the problem.  It gives you the perspective that will hopefully let you see the real problem.

  • katwa

    Well I think he’s suggesting that orgasms for the woman are not important. Only wedding rings are important to women!

     

    Not satisfied cuz your guy only wants intercourse which involves no orgasms for you? Well obviously the problem is that you AREN’T MARRIED. duh! Cuz if your married, you wouldn’t care about those silly woman-orgasms, you’d submit properly to your husband and care only of his needs!

  • heather-corinna

    Suffice it to say, I did already advise that while they work this out, they take a break from sex together.  I DO think that doing that while working through something like this apart AND together often is helpful for couples.

     

    But as I understand it, Kevin, you’re only suggesting they abstain, for a period of time that…. well, you pulled out of thin air, and that they NOT communicate about throughout or perhaps at all (ever?), save communicating if they want to get married or not?

     

    (A decision, mind, I have no clue how the OP would make well when she’d still be left without answers about one big part of their relationship, answers she can’t supply herself, since they’re also about the other person who she apparently, following your plan, will have spent six months of not only physical sexual abstinence from, but six months of abstinence from any kind of sexual communication.)

  • crowepps

    Oh, golly, if we’re going to do off the cuff ‘simple answer’ prescriptions, I’d advise her that to always assume, the way he acts right now is the best he can do, and it isn’t going to get any better after you’re married but instead his behavior will deteriorate.

  • ahunt

    In other words, it’s one I’d suggest you either reconfigure, perhaps shifting it to be a friendship or non-sexual romance, or just move on from, so that you both can try to find relationships that are a better fit.

     

    Yah. Selfish and lazy in the sack is a deal breaker for me.