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He doesn't feel any desire for sex, but I want a sexual relationship

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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.

Heather Corinna replies:

(Elizabeth's question continued) 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.

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 he -- 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 berter 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.

written 07 Aug 2008 . updated 29 Jan 2014

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