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He doesn't want to have sex anymore: how can I change his mind?

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cupcake1226 asks:

My boyfriend and I have been going out for more a than a year now and we have grown extremely close. We use to have sex regularly and then he just kind of halted it. I want to have sex but he does not want to because of the potential of pregnancy. I suggest using condoms but he still refuses. Is there any way I can convince him to have sex again or will it seem like I am desperate? Please help!

Heather Corinna replies:

I'm not concerned about you looking desperate by doing anything to try and convince your partner to have sex it seems he's made clear he's not comfortable having. What I am concerned about with any situation like this is, instead, your partner possibly not having his limits and boundaries respected. That's the big deal here in my book.

Are there things you could do to convince him to have sex with you? Probably. But it doesn't matter what those things might be. I'm certainly not going to suggest them.

That's because I feel very strongly you should not try and change his mind about this in the first place. Trying to change someone's mind about sex we want, but they don't want or feel comfortable with, is coercion. In other words, when anyone is doing that, that's not a healthy framework nor one where, if sex does then occur as a result of that other person trying to change a partner's no or not now to a yes, the sex would not be fully and freely consensual. You probably don't need me to tell you that that's a big, bad deal, even if and when that's the last thing you intended to do.

What I think you should do, and what any of us always need to do in healthy sexual relationships or interactions, is respect the limit he has set, just like I'd hope he would do for you were the shoe on the other foot.

He's said he's not comfortable having whatever kinds of sex he's not comfortable having right now because he's concerned about unwanted pregnancy, and it seems he doesn't feel using condoms alone, like you suggested, would make him feel comfortable enough to engage in sex as a whole, or whatever kinds of sex he's taken off the table. So, for right now, that's just how it is, and is something you need to accept.

Now, if he really wants to be having those kinds of sex, and the only issue he has voiced so far that is making sex not-okay for him is the risk of pregnancy and a lack of prevention that is effective enough to make him feel comfortable, AND he has not shut the door on this, but made clear he'd love to have sex were it not for this thing, then you two can certainly talk some more about this. Him voicing that might have sounded something like, "I really, really want to be sexual with you, and I wish I felt okay about it, believe me. But I just don't, because I am just not okay with the pregnancy risk. If there wasn't one, I wouldn't be having this issue."

If that's the case, you can open a supportive, pressure-free conversation by first making clear that you respect the limit he has set, and have every intention of continuing to respect it. But, you can add, if he'd really like to be having sex, and he'd like to talk or research some more together to see if you can find a way to engage in sex that does feel right for him and does take care of his conflicts with it now, you'd like to talk about that, too, and see if you can't find a solution together that works for both of you.

Maybe condoms don't take care of his discomfort with the pregnancy risk, for example, but maybe condoms and a second reliable form of contraception would. If he does want to look into something like that, perhaps if you two can find a method or combination of methods you both do feel comfortable with, then he'll change his own mind because he got what he needed to change the situation so that it's one he is comfortable with. Again, this is assuming he really wants to be engaging in sex right now: if he does, then doing what you can to help him find what he needs for you to both pursue something you want and both feel comfortable with is totally healthy, and isn't disrespectful of the lines he has drawn.

If that sounds like the right thing to him, and he feels good about that, you two could start by looking at pieces here like this or this, or at Planned Parenthood's excellent birth control information both want, while working with their boundaries, rather than pushing against them or ignoring them.

Let's say he doesn't want to look into other methods right now or did, but still finds nothing gets him comfortable enough, or still isn't comfortable with other kinds of sex, or just doesn't want to talk about this anymore for now, period. What then? Again, you're going to start by accepting that. Then you have a couple options to consider.

I want to first be clear: whether someone is a girl, a guy or a prairie vole, it is totally okay to want to be sexual with someone and to pursue being sexual with someone you want to be sexual with when it feels right for you. But, of course, when there is anyone else involved, the same also always has to be true for them. And anytime anyone is giving us a red light, for any reason, while we may feel bummed out, and it's okay to feel bummed out, we always need to stop at that light and only ever move forward if it turns green, rather than trying to run it. But you wanting to be sexual and being bummed he doesn't, or does, but just isn't cool with that right now? That's okay. You get to feel disappointed. You also get to still want to be sexual with someone even if they don't want to be sexual with you, now or ever, or do, but it's just not right for them. You wanting to be sexual when someone else who doesn't also doesn't make you desperate. It just makes you someone who wants a thing someone else doesn't want or doesn't feel comfortable with right now, that's all.

So, what are those options if he doesn't want to talk any more about this or explore things that might make him more comfortable with you?

Perhaps obviously, if you want an exclusive sexual relationship that is also a romantic relationship and he just doesn't want that right now, or can't provide that, you don't have to stay with this person as that partner or in that kind of relationship. You, like anyone else, always have the option to move away from this relationship or switch it to a platonic friendship if a non-sexual relationship just is not what you want or need and you want to seek out a sexual relationship with someone else for whom sex does feel like the right thing right now. And if that is where you're at right now, and that's what you want to do, that's okay.

It might help to know that more often than not, our first or early relationships tend to be stepping stones in our personal and social development and rarely become very long-term or lifelong sexual or romantic relationships. At any age or time of life, people leave or change relationships when the wants and needs of the people in them aren't being met, or because the people involved want or are ready for very different things. Sometimes those issues are about whether people want to get married or not, have kids or not, live in the same part of the world or not, have the same values or politics or not, communicate well or don't, and sometimes they're about sex. There are really no absolutes about right or wrong reasons to shift or move on from a given relationship, and that's true of any kind of relationship, too, not just romantic or sexual relationships. You've probably experienced that with a friendship at least once in your life already by now. So, if you, he, or both of you feel that around this issue or others, you just might not be the best fit for this kind of relationship anymore, ending it or changing it to a different kind of relationship are valid options.

But sometimes in our relationships -- and the longer they last, the more sometimes tends to shift to often -- there is going to be some ebb and flow around parts of it, or the people within it, that shift or change, or that are or aren't happening at a given time. People don't tend to stay the same through all of life, nor do our lives, so the same is true of our relationships. They will not tend to stay the same over time. Now and then we might find that one part of our relationship is taking more of a lead, or becoming more central than another, or that some part of our relationship or something we do together within it needs to get shelved for a while or be put on hold for any number of reasons. That can happen with a lot of things besides sex or the sexual part of a relationship, but it also absolutely can happen with sex, too.

If you have found and still find a lot of value in the relationship as a whole, and in all the other parts of this relationship besides the sexual piece -- like your friendship, like the romantic parts of this is a romantic relationship, like the other paces you two connect with, or ways you are different, but feel like they balance you out -- and it's also a relationship you both want to keep sexually exclusive, then you can also to think about waiting this out or sticking with this and investing the patience, energy and time in working out whatever you both want and need to around it.

And in this case, that might just be about pregnancy risks, but this might also be about more than only that. I don't know how all of this has been going with you two so far, or what the biggest history of your sexual relationship has been like, but, for instance, if you have been pushing when he has set this limit or others, that certainly could be a sound reason he might want to take sex off the table. I'm not saying you have, but if so, that could totally be part of this. It could also be a world of other things. Sometimes people who feel ready for sex or a certain kind of sex only find out after they engage in it that they weren't ready, or need things they didn't know they did before sex was actual, not an abstract. And while needing or wanting to put a stop or a pause on sex can be hard for a lot of people to talk to a partner about, this can be particularly hard for guys. Culturally and interpersonally, guys can be under more pressures to engage in sex than women are: in a lot of ways, the pressure a lot of guys experience to be having sex -- from friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, the media, and even family members -- is similar to the kinds of pressures a lot of young women experience NOT to have sex, or only to do so in certain social contexts.

That isn't to say this must be about more than the pregnancy issue. That could be all it's about. But if it's not, you're going to want to know what else it is about, and you're both going to want to be able to talk about and work through whatever those things are if you're going to stay in a relationship. And one of the best ways to create the kind of safe, emotional space for him where he can feel able to voice other, perhaps trickier, issues than the pregnancy issue is to have him know, without a doubt, that his limits are always things you will always accept and respect.

I'd also say that if you find the pause he's pressed on this is making you feel really insecure or freaked out, it's good to try and figure out why: good for your relationship, but also good for yourself. It might just be that you're bumming because you feel a desire for sex with this person, enjoy engaging in sex with this person, and it blows it's not happening right now. But it might be more than that. For instance, if sex with a partner is part of the way you experience and explore intimacy together, it can sometimes wind up being one of the only ways: it can get out of balance. If sex stops or is taking a breather and people feel like they're not getting any intimacy, that can be a way of identifying you might need some other ways to be and feel that close in your relationship. Even when sex is happening, relationships that are about more than sex don't fare well when sex is the only route to intimacy. Another common issue is that a lot of people have a ton of self-esteem or validation of their appeal or attractiveness tied to sex. If and when sex stops, people can find they feel very insecure, worry they aren't wanted, worry they aren't attractive. Something like that is another thing when, if that is what's going on, you'll want to remedy that whether sex is happening or not, because that can also really mess up your relationship with someone else as well as your relationship with your own sexuality. You can take time to explore and expand other ways to amp your self-esteem and the other ways to feel self-confident, which is good for you regardless. Again, having a balance is important for a healthy sexuality, healthy relationships and just a healthy, happy you.

Those are just two possibilities of many. Take the time to think about them and others and check in with yourself, and maybe your partner, too. It may be that this conflict winds up showing one of both of you things you might not have noticed before and would really benefit from being aware of and sorting out.

Now and then, taking a break from sex in relationships can provide great opportunities for us to not just grow other parts of it, but to improve the sexual part of it, too. Having the chance and the time to really talk more about sex, our sexual limits and boundaries, the sexual dynamics in a relationship, the places in our own sexualities we find, through our relationship, are different than we expected, or may need some creative work or thinking through? These are all awesome opportunities, and things we can sometimes inadvertently shortcut when we're having sex. If you're choosing to stick in this relationship as it is, but actively engaging in sex or some kinds of sex is off the table for now, I suggest identifying the positives you can glean from the situation and really running with them.

Again, with any of this, just be very sure you are not pushing, but always opening with and making all the room in the world for his limits. If he doesn't want to talk about this at all, or comes to a stop at any point, all you can respectfully do is wait until he does feel better about the kinds of sex you want to have or about talking more about it. The ball with this, as it were, will need to largely stay in his court: when and if he's ready, he will throw the ball back. And if it turns out he just doesn't ever come back around to wanting to engage in sex, then you'll need to accept this just isn't going to be a sexual relationship like it was before again, and you two can make whatever changes or adjustments you want or need to account for that.

There's nothing desperate about someone honoring someone else's limits and boundaries around something they themselves want, while still owning your own wants in a way that leaves room for both of you to be the different people you are, in the different places you are. That's the opposite of desperate, and even more importantly, that's a way to really demonstrate to the people we care about that we earnestly do care, to increase trust and intimacy and to help everyone feel more comfortable with sex -- whether we're having it or not.

I'm leaving you with some links I think might help, especially if you two do talk more and you need some helps with those conversations. I also included a link to a piece on masturbation, which is always something else we can put more energy into exploring, and something else that tends to benefit our sexuality, at any time, including times when sex with a partner isn't available to us or the right thing.

written 31 Oct 2011 . updated 22 Jan 2014

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