Heather Corinna replies:
I have no reservations when I have casual sex. However when one of these flings turns into a relationship and things get serious I don't want to have sex with them anymore. It has happened with my last three boyfriends and has been the primary reason for my breakups. It feels like a normal relationship...we are best friends, we do almost everything together, I care about him tremendously, but I get scared when he wants to have sex. Why can I only have emotionally detached sex?
You know, partnered sex when everyone is fully present, and people start getting more and more emotionally close means that we're going to be more exposed -- emotionally speaking, as well as when it comes to our more authentic sexuality, and more vulnerable.
It's understandably intimidating, and understandably scary. People talk a lot about the reasons casual sex might be scary or emotionally dangerous, but not so often about the ways sex with more emotional openness or depth can be. Don't let the talk fool you or make you feel like you're a dope to be intimidated or fearful about it.
Obviously, when you're talking about people who you really just don't want to get closer to, and don't want to be emotionally involved with outside of sex, it's sensible not to choose to get more involved in other ways. It's also sensible to not want to have sex with them. But if you're finding that you keep ducking out of getting closer to people, forming more longstanding relationships with people who you DO really like and care for, and are avoiding sex that does engage your emotions -- only able to have sex when you feel you can be vacant -- then it's sage to consider that you've just got a problem with intimacy.
One thing I'd suggest you look at is what the difference is for you when it comes to casual sex and sex that isn't so casual. With the casual sex, do you feel like it really is something where you have no reservations at all? In other words, are you not only gung-ho about having it, are you really fully present when you are? Does it feel like you're being yourself, having your mind and body open, or is it more like you're acting? When people often talk to actors about how they can do what they do without feeling a lot of stage fright, they usually respond by saying that because they're in character, playing someone else, it allows them to bypass their own fears, since it isn't really them onstage. Plenty of people can do that same thing when it comes to casual sex (though it's also possible NOT to do that, mind), especially if they're trying very hard to do something that is by its nature intimate and avoid intimacy or rejection. Some folks have casual sex as a way to hide, when really, any kind of sex, casual or otherwise, is supposed to be about pleasure, personal expression, and showing others a deeper part of ourselves.
I'd also encourage you to really take a look at what exactly it is you're afraid of, so that you can understand yourself better. Are you afraid of getting close enough for someone to really know you and then reject the real you? Maybe afraid of sticking around long enough that it's them who walks away, not you? Afraid of getting tied down in something where you won't be able to be yourself? Afraid of being hurt, or of hurting someone else? I don't know you, so it's hard to know what else to suggest, but things like this are common reasons people tend to have these kinds of fears. Ultimately, though, only you are going to be the expert on what the deal is with you when it comes to this. If you're having a tough time pinpointing what the deal is, you might try looking for patterns in your history and seeing where they lead you.
You'd also likely be well served by really having a think on what you really want in relationships right now. Ongoing casual sex with someone IS a relationship, after all, just like a friendship is a relationship, just like a romance is a relationship, just like a marriage is a relationship. Are you feeling like those casual sex relationships are the ones that work best for you or not? If they are, and you don't feel like you're missing out on anything, then there's not necessarily a problem, so long as you're happy and fulfilled, and your partners want the same things. If they are not really what you want, then think about what it is you do want, and what is standing in the way of you pursuing that.
It sounds to me like you're continuing with some casual relationships to a point that they do get more serious, which also makes me wonder how much you're really communicating throughout. If you know you only want, or are only currently capable of, something very casual, are you making that clear from the get-go? If not, I'd say you need to, both for your own sake as well as out of fairness to your partners. It might also be illuminating to simply talk about these feelings with one of those partners, rather than just ducking out and running away. If you feel like best friends with someone, for real, you should be able to talk about this with them. And I gotta tell you: if you can be close enough to someone to have sex with them, you should also be close enough to TALK about sex -- not just the sexy parts -- with them. If you can't do that, then I'd be inclined to think that the casual sex you're having probably isn't so healthy emotionally for you.
That increased vulnerability that can happen? Let's not kid ourselves: it IS scary. But it also has pros and cons like anything else, and there can be a lot of benefits to offset the scary bits. It can help deepen your own growth and understanding of yourself, for instance, in a way more on-the-surface relationships can't. It can create a different sort of sexual partnership than more casual flings, where any two people tend to be a bit more fulfilled over time simply by getting more practice, developing more trust, and being willing to share deeper things about their sexuality.
Only you can know if you're ready for that, or even interested in that, or not. I don't know if you've been pursuing relationships that are more serious because that's what you've been wanting, or because you've gotten the message that that's what you should want. In case it's the latter, just know that what's right for you at a given time is something only you can determine, and if you are more comfortable and happy with casual sex than you are with sex in the context of a capital-R relationship, that's okay. Not only are people different, people need or want different things at different times in their lives. If it's the former, if you want a closer relationship that includes sex, then how about trying things differently next time by holding off on the sex UNTIL you get closer to someone? Starting with that seems to have created a pattern, so see what happens when you mix it up: you probably won't see the same pattern that way.
But if you do want to have sex be a part of your more serious romances, and are just stymied by your own fears, then the best thing to do is to do all you can to find out what they are and deal with them. Really, a lot of sex carries risks, but those aren't all negative: it can carry positive risks as well as negative ones, and I'd tend to class taking the risk to have sex with someone you're starting to feel love for, who demonstrates a care and commitment for you, as a positive risk. In other words, you have little to lose there save at some point dealing with some heartbreak, but heartbreak is a part of living, gal, and I'm usually far more worried about people who never experience any -- since that usually means they never get the big love stuff, the big personal and sexuality growth stuff, either -- than those who experience some.
I'm going to make one last suggestion that might sound a little bit weird, but what the heck: a lot of people think my job is weird, no matter what I do or say. :)
What I'd suggest is spending some more time masturbating, in a way where you're really getting in deeper touch with your own sexuality and your heart. Our sexuality doesn't just exist when we're with someone else, and while it can be different alone and with others, there usually are common threads, feelings and desires. Spending more time with solo sex where we really dedicate time to it, where we even just get as emotionally open as we can during sex with ourselves -- a person might even have deep enough sex alone that we cry during masturbation or solo orgasm -- can actually be a pretty powerful thing where we can learn a good deal about ourselves. It also can be very personally and sexually healing, and if you're having trouble with emotionally expressive sex and feeling safe with that, you can certainly experiment with that alone in a totally safe space, since it's just you there.