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He's new to sex, I'm not, and I think his values are killing our sex life.

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Anonymous asks:

I am 21 years old, and have a two year old daughter so am obviously no stranger to sex. My new boyfriend, however, is a 22 year old complete virgin. We have tried to have sex on multiple occasions but once we really get ready to go for the gusto he goes limp. All the rest of the time he is extremely erect. He and I both can't understand why he continually can't stay hard even though we have tried every position and possibility in the book. I think it has something to do with the fact that he and I are both Christians, but I think his conviction about having sex before marriage is so heavy it wont allow him to stay hard. Please help!!! It's getting to the point where he wants to try almost every night and I am so tired of trying.

Heather Corinna replies:

A person who has a strong ethical or religious conflict with having any kind of sex, or sex in certain scenarios -- such as being unmarried, if they feel sex is really only right in the context of marriage -- is very likely to have that inhibit their sexual response.

As well, it's very normal for people new to sexual partnership to be nervous or anxious and for that to inhibit or interrupt sexual response as well, and on top of that, when we start to get frustrated about a lack of orgasm or a particular result, and wind up waging a sort of war against our bodies in that way, it's a big time sex buzzkill, too.

Our sexual response cycle -- from desire to arousal to orgasm to resolution afterwards -- is largely driven by our brains, by our psychology and our emotions. We feel the effects in our bodies, including our genitals -- and bodily sensation bumps up our arousal and helps get us to orgasm -- but overall, sex has a lot more to do with our brains and our central nervous systems than it does with our penises or vulvas. If we're really stressed out about something, our bodies can't just ignore what's going on in our heads. If we strongly feel something we're doing is wrong, our bodies are often going to respond in agreement: we just can't disconnect our bodies from our minds. Whether this is about an ethical conflict, about his being new to sexual partnership, about him getting himself in a headspace where his frustration has taken over his libido or all of the above, you have at least one reason, and probably more, that has got you both in this conundrum.

No matter what the deal is, though, any two people need to be sure they're only having sex when it's what both of them earnestly want, and that they're doing so to share mutual pleasure, not to try and make something work, to prove something to themselves or their partners, or to try and get over an issue they're having in their own heads or sexuality. Just because he wants to try every night does not mean that you should feel you have to: partnered sex is about two people, not one, and one of the things we should be learning when we have partnered sex is that any two people will often not want to have sex at the same time. So, what we do is just wait for those times when the stars DO collide and we both DO want to have sex. That also needs to account for the fact that any two people will not always want to have the same kind of sex at the same times. While he seems very focused on intercourse, you may likely not want to have intercourse every time you have sex together, and he needs to understand that as well.

It's a good idea for him to get that for more than one reason, too. Obviously, the most critical reason is because he needs to understand that sex with you isn't masturbation -- it's about sharing something with you you also want to share, and it's about your desire as much as his. But secondarily, if he's gotten into a groove where he's seeing this as some sort of battle for him to win over his body, where he just keeps trying and trying, getting more frustrated each time, that's all only going to make it LESS likely he'll maintain and erection and reach orgasm. In other words, not only are you starting to become a non-issue as the other party here, but the way he's going about this is also compounding his problem.

If he has expressed -- or you get the strong impression -- that he has a strong conviction about not having sex until marriage, then the two of you really need to talk about that.

If he still feels that strongly about it, it doesn't make much sense that he's choosing to have sex in a context that just isn't okay with him, and I will always advise anyone not to do that -- it's important to only choose to have sex in situations which not only feel good physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. It may be a good idea for both of you to step back from sex for a while so he can give that some more thought, talk out his feelings more, and reach a conclusion about what he really needs. He's got to find a way to connect his sexual desires and actions with his head and his heart, and find the place where they can all live harmoniously, and that may take some time. I'd also be sure that if he is really feeling like sex before marriage isn't okay for him that you do what you can to be supportive of him with that. If that's the case, it may mean that you have to decide if you want to stay in this as a romance or shift to a friendship. It's okay if you don't want to stay in a romance without sex, but if that's so -- and he needs marriage first and it's not something you want -- you still need to support how he's feeling (in other words, just exempt yourself from the relationship with sensitivity) and be sure you're not enabling him to try and do something he's just not okay with.

But even if he comes to the conclusion that that really isn't the issue, he's got to get clued into the fact that he needs to change how he's going about this. You're his partner, not a sexual surrogate or sex therapist, and it sounds like he's been treating you more as the latter than the former. The idea that it's your duty to be available for sex whenever he wants it, for whatever reason he's got for himself can also be a religious by-product, since those ideas about female partners are still pretty pervasive in a lot of Christian and Catholic teachings. How about if -- again, so long as he does decide having sex is right for him in this situation -- for a few weeks you try only having sex when you initiate it and he is also interested? That way, he can start to get more of a feel for what your level of desire is, how to make his work with yours, and you initiating may well also help take some of the pressure off of him, which could help him relax about this and bust up that cycle of frustration. How about you talk about how religion may also be an issue in this dynamic, and discuss why that's problematic and how it is making you feel like sex is a tiring chore rather than a wonderful, shared experience?

I'd also suggest being sure the sex you're having is more than intercourse, and not just to help him out, but to assure the two of you are developing a sex life that's varied and enjoyable: very few people, especially women, are going to feel satisfied with nothing but intercourse. You might even both just try mutually masturbating for a while: not only do a lot of couples find that sexy and enjoyable, it allows you both to be able to see one thing that works for each of you, and it might also help him feel more comfortable getting off in front of you.

Lastly, you need to be assertive here about your desire being just as much an issue of his own.

When you aren't in the mood for sex, it's really simple: you decline sex, you don't just grin and bear it. Sex isn't supposed to be a chore or one partner just tolerates, and that's a bad precedent to set in a sexual relationship. If you're in the mood for one kind of sex but not another, you express what you want, and see if your partner is interested in that, too. If you're getting tired of having sex at a given time, you need to say something and walk away from sex then, and your partner also needs to be attentive to you to see -- and ask -- if you're enjoying yourself or not. And if and when something isn't working for a while, you just let your partner know that since that thing isn't working and it's got both of you frustrated, you think it'd be a good idea to ditch that thing for a while and do other things. In this case, that may be intercourse, or it may even be sex altogether. Again, you both need to chat about this -- more talking, less bonking -- and find that out.

Since you're his first sex partner, he may even need you to tell him that sex together is more than intercourse and is more than something he does to you: if he's been very sheltered sexually, he may not know that. Since you're the experienced partner here, he may also be waiting for you to let him know what is and isn't good and okay, and to set a pace here. Mind, not knowing what sex has been like for you before, you may even need to learn some of these things yourself. Having sex with a partner or two before doesn't mean we know everything there is to know, nor that the sexual dynamics we had in previous relationships were ideal or healthy. You might be assuming some of these dynamics are just how sex is, but it's not. Sexual relationships are what we make them, through communication, varied experimentation and creating something which each partnership that's a unique expression of that partnership.

Here are a few links I think could benefit the both of you:

written 23 Apr 2008 . updated 16 Oct 2009

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