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He can't make up his mind about having sex: doesn't he love me?

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ForeverAndAlways asks:

I'm in love with my boyfriend. He's my best friend in the whole world, and I'm his. He's in love with me and it's the first time either of us has ever been in love. It's the most wonderful, yet scariest feeling ever. He's the sweetest guy, and he would never disrespect me and I want to make him happy. We've been talking about having sex, but he keeps changing his mind. First it's let's wait until we're married, then it's Let's not, but not yet. Then it's I'm scared, then it's I respect you too much. He confuses me. It makes me feel like he doesn't love me enough, or want me the way I want him and it's hard for me to deal with. I'm not sure what I should say or do to let him know how I feel...and I'm not sure why he keeps changing his mind. I don't know what he wants and he doesn't tell me voluntarily. I have to guess, which is obviously difficult. We never fight, but lately this has been causing an argument almost every night, and I don't like it. Can you help me?

Heather Corinna replies:

I think the easiest way for the two of you to get out of the cycle about arguing about this is to take it off the table for right now.

Here's what I hear:
• I hear that he is feeling conflicted about whether or not he is ready, in many ways. However, it sounds like most of what he is saying is that he does NOT feel ready.
• I hear that you feel ready, and also that you feel like his having sex with you would be a proof of his love for you and his attraction to you.
• I would posit that the way you're framing sex in terms of it being that kind of proof is likely to only make him feel more scared and freaked out.

Clearly, right now, he knows that you are interested in having sex with him, and clearly, right now, you know he isn't there yet.

So, it seems to me that what you both need to do now is know what you know about one another in this regard, and let this lie for a while without talking it to death. After all, there's really not anything left TO talk about since you both do seem to have a very good idea about where the other is at.

Since he knows you have interest in this, he can come to you to talk more about it when he is feeling more ready. Given how loaded this has clearly become for the two of you, I'd suggest putting a timetable on an amount of time where y'all will NOT talk about this. I think it could give both of you a needed break, and time to really make your own independent evaluations of your needs and wants and get back to a healthier, happier relationship, if, for instance, you agreed not to talk about having sex again for at least another month. It might be helpful during that month (or more, if either of you likes), to agree to each write down your thoughts on all of this somewhere if you have them in the interim, and then share them together when that time period has passed and you both do feel more able to discuss this more calmly and with less urgency.

While sex with someone -- or, more accurately, the way we have sex with someone -- can certainly demonstrate love and/or attraction, it's not the only way to get those demonstrations, and sometimes it's not even the best way. Too, sometimes sex doesn't demonstrate either of those things, and some people will often experience a good deal of surprise or disappointment when they have the kinds of experiences where they discover that. As well, respecting each others boundaries and limits is very much a clear demonstration of love and care.

So, if you're feeling like you need to have his love for you and his attraction towards you better demonstrated, I'd suggest making that clear, and exploring ways the two of you can do that where no one feels they have to do something they are not ready for. That could include anything from creative demonstrations, such as in letters or art, more nonsexual physical affection (like hand-holding, forehead-kissing, hugging and snuggling), more verbal affirmation for him when it comes to liking the way you look, the works. Another thing you might talk about as a possibility is you two writing each other about, or talking about, the sexual feelings you both have for each other, the things you would like to do in the future, with both of you knowing that neither of you are obligated to DO those things before you are both ready and feeling good about them. See if you can't just be more creative in your thinking about having your needs met. I think if you can sort of think outside the box that way, you'll not only find you can get them met, but that not trying to put all these needs in one way of meeting them makes you both a lot happier in both right now and down the road.

So that you're aware, making up our minds about whether or not we want to have sex with someone, or become sexually active, usually involves a lot more factors than just if we love someone or not and are attracted to someone or not. By all means, those two things often are factors in our feelings and decision-making about partnered sex, but they are nothing close to all there is to it. Some other factors in making up our minds will often be how ready we do or do not feel for managing risks of pregnancy and using contraception, our own personal ethics (which can, for many people, include religious beliefs) about what context makes sex right for us, concerns about sex changing our relationships, body image or performance worries, how we feel about being that vulnerable with someone else and they with us, how we feel sex at a given time does or does not fit into our life goals or our plans for the future, fear of judgment from family, friends or community, and a whole lot of other things.

To get an idea of what things anyone, of any gender, can tend to consider when making choices about sex, you might want to have a look at our Sex Readiness Checklist. In fact, it sounds to me like it might be a good idea for you to take a look for yourself.

Sometimes people also have the idea that it is only women who have concerns about readiness, or who don't feel ready for sex: that if sex is offered to men, the only reason they would decline is if they were not attracted to the person offering, and/or didn't love the person offering. The idea that men always will say yes to sex is very pervasive -- and often something we learn and don't question without even realizing it -- so it's not too surprising that we tend to hear people who do or may have that idea often. Obviously, that's a very unfair double-standard, and one that doesn't give men a whole lot of respect as thinking, feeling human beings just like the rest of us. Only you can think about and determine if you might have some of that in your head, but if you do, I'd just make a point of tossing those ideas out with yesterday's trash, as they are neither accurate nor very loving, and certainly don't lay a foundation for a very healthy sexuality or sex life for anyone.

I hope that you're aware that if you're feeling the urge for sexual activity -- whether or not your partner is -- that masturbation tends to fit that bill very well for most people. You can tend to your own sexual needs with your own two hands, and we also know that people who do masturbate do also tend to have better sex lives with partners, for a whole bunch of reasons. It's easier to communicate what you like and don't when you have your own bank of knowledge about your own body to draw on. It's easier to suss out when what you want is sexual partnership and when what you want is to just get your own rocks off. It's easier, when you masturbate to tend to some of your own needs, to resist pushing for sex with a partner who may not share your wants and needs, or want to have sex when you do. I'd say it's also easier to have your own sense of your sexuality without looking to others to validate that you are, in fact, a sexual person, an attractive person.

Lastly, I also hope you know that if you feel like a relationship for you at this time in your life absolutely, positively has to include sex, that it is okay to change the model of a relationship we like, but aren't compatible in that area (or any other) with, so that you can pursue a sexual relationship.

Mind, from the way you are talking about your feelings for each other, which are clearly romantic, it sounds to me like you really value this as a romantic relationship, and would probably prefer to stay in this one and just wait on sex a little more, but that's something else that only you are going to be able to figure out. When you think about that, just know that it really is okay to decide to stay in or out of any given kind of relationship because of a desire for sex: for most people, sexuality is not a tiny or inconsequential part of themselves or their relationships, so if you have times in your life when a relationship not being sexual is a dealbreaker for you, that doesn't make you shallow or any kind of jerk. It must means that your wants and needs at a given time aren't a good fit with someone else who is different from you in that regard.

I think it's also worth mentioning that more times than not, first relationships do not wind up being lifelong -- or even very long-term -- and that figuring these kinds of things out does tend to take some years (and often more than that), and a good deal of life experience. So often, the first time we fall in love, our romantic feelings are so intense, and we and our partners are also not as mature as we will be later, so working out conflicts like these in relationships can be a serious challenge, as can looking at a love relationship in a way that's got some solid objectivity. You and your boyfriend may or may not find that, over time, you two really ARE the best fit as a romantic or sexual relationship, even though you have a lot of love for each other and are in love with each other: relationships being a good fit,like sexual readiness, just are about a lot more than love for one another, or the feeling of being in love. I know that tends to be something that, when you hear it, especially when you're young, might make you feel panicked, scared or really freaked out (it might even make you feel like you can't breathe for a minute!), but it is what it is, and I think it's wise to realize that we often do best in love when we have our most vested interest in simply having someone as a person in our lives, and loving each other for who we are and where we're at than our biggest investment being in what role we play in each other's lives, or what kind of relationship we're in.

All that said, why don't you try what I've suggested here, give things some time and some real space to breathe and settle, and see how you're feeling about this -- both of you -- in a month or two. If you really give each other the kind of breathing room from this topic I suggested, I think you're both bound to revisit the topic later with a lot more clarity and patience for each other, and be able to have better conversations about it, and a much better idea of what you each need, both in terms of sex and in terms of how you treat sex and the topic of sex in your relationship together and in your own heads.

I wish you the very best with all of this, and hope the two of you can find some peace and a good middle ground where you both can feel loved and cared for.

Here are a few more links which might help:

written 10 Jan 2009 . updated 22 Jan 2014

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