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How can I stop being afraid to touch him because I don't know what the heck I'm doing?

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jediskye asks:

Hi, I am 19 years old, and I've been with my boyfriend for about two months now. He's my first proper relationship and I was also a virgin before I had sex with him. My problem is that I am too shy to initiate sex, and I am almost at the point of tearing my hair out because I am getting so frustrated about it. I am comfortable around him, and I love having sex with him, but I just can't bring myself to touch him, every time I'm about to touch him there I stop and wonder whether he'll enjoy it.

He is way more experienced than me, and I have never stroked a guy's penis before or given them a blowjob. I just don't want him to feel nothing when I'm touching him. Is there any way I can overcome this? And could you give me some tips on how I could turn him on without feeling like an idiot?

Heather Corinna replies:

Here's the kicker: there's nothing we can do or know which will guarantee that a partner will enjoy something we do.

Nothing.

One facet of readiness for partnered sex has to do with being able to accept that and be okay with it. Another part is knowing that no matter what we do, there are probably going to be times when we feel or look like an idiot. If we're choosing a sex partner who likes us, cares for us and accepts us, it's okay to feel or look like a dope sometimes (they will too, after all), and opening ourselves up to be vulnerable in that way and others is part of what makes sex intimate and how it can bring people closer together. In fact, as your sexual life goes on, you'll likely discover that the in-jokes between couples which come about due to sex mishaps or misfires are things you both cherish as unique to the two of you.

That acceptance shouldn't be that hard to develop, especially since you've really got no choice but to accept that. Even people who have had 300 sex partners before cannot guarantee enjoyment on their partner's part, or that they won't try something which they thought would be really great, but their partner experiences as a yawner.

Think about it like this: how often might you or your friends say something you or they think is really funny, only to discover no one else thinks it's funny? The joke falls flat, sure, and you have that awkward moment of silence, but then it's all fine. Everyone moves on, and heck, maybe even you or that person trying to be funny becomes funny in and of itself. Life goes on, and it's just not a big deal. Not every joke can be a winner. The same holds true with sex.

Most of the time, when someone is touching us in a sensitive place, we aren't going to feel nothing. We're going to feel something. Sure, some things are going to feel better than others, but the way we find that out is through two primary ways: through experimenting and through communicating. For example, you put your hand on your boyfriend's penis, and you stroke it in a way which feels good to your hand and intuitive to you (you'd be surprised, honestly, that this stuff often does have a certain intuition to it: you just have to trust your gut instincts). Maybe when you do that, right away he moans or says that feels good. That's easy, then: you just keep on doing what you're doing. At some point, he might say faster or slower or more this-or-that. Or, you might ask, as you go on, if that's still feeling good and see what he says.

Maybe the first time you put your hand there and move it he doesn't make a noise or say anything. You can try what you're doing a little more, and if he doesn't say anything but seems unresponsive, then it's your turn to step up and ask if that feels good, or ask him to show you what he knows or thinks will feel better. These same kinds of experiments and interchanges should be going on when he's having any kind of sex with you, as well, or else he's not going to be able to find out what's super-amazing for you, either. When you're doing something to him isn't the only time you need to communicate.

We don't see these kinds of interchanges often in porn or on television, and you may not even hear people talk about them. But I assure you that in real-life, people talk with and about sex together. Sex between people is rarely a silent or wordless enterprise. It's not this deal where somehow everyone just knows what to do and everyone mutely -- or only with moans -- goes about what they want to do and magically, it's great for everyone. People having the best sex tend to be people who are willing to experiment and who nurture open and honest communication in their sexual relationships, both during sex as well as outside of the bedroom.

I know all of this can be tougher if you're shy, period, but I'd encourage you to take a risk when it comes to both communicating and initiating. When you're shy with most people, you're going to want the people you're closest to in your life to be folks you grow some trust and comfort with when it comes to being able to be more outgoing and forthright. I hear you expressing that you're feeling very frustrated with yourself, so it sounds to me like taking a risk in a relationship where you have a pretty good idea nothing terrible is going to happen when you do would make you feel a lot better. You might also want to express to your partner that you're having trouble with this. Ask him to try and leave you room and opportunity to initiate. Ask him if he can be sure to be extra-communicative when you do try some of these things. You could also talk in advance with him about what he's enjoyed in the past with the activities you want to try: you say he's more experienced, so take advantage of that -- he's got some of the information you want already. You might also ask him to talk with you about how he felt when he wasn't experienced yet as a comfort to you. chances are, he was pretty darn nervous himself, and can understand at least some of where you're at. I think all of these things will leave you feeling a lot less frustrated and intimidated.

Good sex takes practice. It's really common the first few -- or way more than a few -- times we have any sort of sex with a new partner, even if we have had other partners before, for the sex to pale in comparison in some ways to the sex we'll have with them months or years down the road. Partnered sex has a learning curve for every couple, and on top of that, it's normal for our preferences to shift over the months or years, even from day-to-day, where something that really got us off two days ago doesn't have the same effect today. So, in many ways, we've always got to be up to learning new things, adapting what worked before but it's that interesting later, and in taking chances and being open to surprises, both the greats and the nothing-to-write-home-abouts. Your partner may have had sexual experiences before you, but that still doesn't make him a sex expert with you: he's got to be learning from ground zero the same way you are, since what people like sexually can differ so much from person to person, even if we've got the same basic parts. It could help to bear in mind that the playing field is more level between you than you think.

As to how to turn him on? I don't know him. I probably haven't slept with him. So, I couldn't begin to tell you what he finds sexy or what he's going to enjoy. He's the expert on that, and you've got him right there to get it from the horse's mouth. So, again, talk with him about all of this. How is he learning about what turns you on, after all? And take some sound risks: hell, my current partner seems to think I'm the most sexy when I'm expressly BEING a big, silly dope, not when I somehow manage to escape it. If you have trust with this person, and you care about each other, try not to worry about looking like an idiot, and instead take stock of how awesome it is to be with someone where you COULD and it would be completely okay. You being you, however that is at a given time, is likely what your partner likes best about you and finds the most appealing. We don't get that chance with just anyone, after all, and that's one of the boons of intimate partnerships.

It might also help to bone up, as it were, on some sex and anatomy basics, which I'll link you to at the end of this page with some extra information to help you out. Sure, you haven't touched his genitals before, but you can learn a lot about them -- understanding that sensitivity and preferences will still vary among men -- just by reading up.

written 26 May 2008 . updated 26 May 2008

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