Later into our relationship my boyfriend and I (both 17) had a lot of disagreements over sex. He rarely was "in the mood" while I was often ready to go. When I talked to my friends, they just said he was gay for not wanting to do anything with me. Could there be some other reason why he doesn't want to do sexual things with me?
Short answer: Absolutely, yes. There could be—and likely are—plenty of other reasons why your boyfriend does not want to do sexual things with you.
Longer answer: Our decision about whether to have sex, or whether to engage in any type of sexual behavior is rarely the result of a single factor. It’s pretty complicated and there can be a lot of pieces to the puzzle when it comes to whether or not we’re feeling in the mood for sex. Libido—our desire for any given kind of sexual activity—is connected to a lot of different aspects of our lives and cannot be separated out cleanly from what is going on in the rest of our lives. Libido is built from a number of interactional factors, including physical, physiological, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and chemical.
I think that so often we have this conception of guys, particularly teen guys, where we believe that they are absolutely horny, absolutely wanting sex (from anyone, really) pretty much all the time. In that construction, men are constantly thinking about sex, constantly in pursuit, and so it would certainly come as a shock if you came across a guy who was not immediately ready or wanting to jump into the sack. But I think that’s a dangerous conception of men for a few reasons. First of all, it’s just not true. Sure, there may be moments in a guy’s life when it feels like sex is all he can think about, but it’s not really a lasting thing and it does not get at the whole of one’s experience of being a guy. With regard to that stereotype being particularly strong for the ways we think about teens, it’s also dangerous because it sets up this notion that teen men cannot control themselves because of raging hormones. That’s sort of insulting to teen men, I think; the reality is that no matter what your hormones are doing, we still have choices about how we relate with others, and what we choose to do with our bodies.
While hormones certainly play a part in our desire and arousal for sex, there’s more to it than just. As you’ve experienced first hand, there’s diversity in sex drive and libido even within genders. Some women have stronger libidos than others, and some guys have more or less of a desire for sex than others. It’s a really individual thing, and thus needs to be treated as an individual issue. Just as there’s nothing wrong with his desire not to have sex, there’s also nothing wrong with your desire to have sex. Each of us has a different make-up and also different feelings about what being sexual means and how much sex is enough or desirable for us in our lives. It comes down to each of us knowing and being aware of ourselves, and also able to communicate our needs and desires to a partner, should we be involved with one. Part of that communication is also listening to and respecting our partner’s desires. The reality is that we’re not always going to get exactly what we want, when we want it. Given that, respectful communication and an ability to compromise becomes key in maintaining a fulfilling and healthy relationship.
So one of the bottom lines here is that I’d like to throw it out there that it’s perfectly OK that your boyfriend didn’t want to have sex with you, even if you wanted to have sex. I’m glad, in fact, that he held his ground and did not do anything that he did not earnestly desire or feel like doing. Even when we really want something, I hope that you can see that it’s better if everyone involved wants sex to be happening and is not simply doing it out of pressure or guilt or some feeling of obligation to their partner. Shame, guilt, and obligation are pretty solid buzzkills. So often we point out that it’s not OK for guys to pressure girls into having sex, and the same thing holds when you change around genders. I believe that in order for the enthusiastic YES to sex to have meaning, we need to be able to hear and respect the NO to sex, as well.
It seems likely that there could be a significant emotional piece in play here. The first time your boyfriend told you he wasn’t in the mood for sex, what was your reaction? What did the rest of that conversation look like? Is it possible that you might have been pressuring him or somehow shaming him for telling you that he just wasn’t feeling like having sex? People can react really strongly and negatively to pressuring and to shame. If he got that from your reaction to him, it would make sense to me that his libido might be even further diminished for possible future sexual encounters. Our minds have funny ways of working when we think we might get a negative reaction from a partner when we try to talk with them about sex and sexuality. When we have enough (and sometimes it doesn’t take many) negative experiences, we can shut down to the possibility of even talking about what is going on. It takes a certain amount of vulnerability and trust in a partner to be able to communicate about sex, and so if we’re shot down or not really respected in that conversation, it can feel like a pretty big wound.
Also a possibility here is that his lack of libido has little to nothing to do with you. As much as it can feel like a personal offense if someone does not want to be with us sexually, it’s not always about us. There could be a million things on his mind that impact his desire to be sexual with you: school or work stress, worries about protection or possible pregnancy if he is sexual with you, other things going on in his life or family, his personal values and feelings about relationships and what he wants at this point in his life. And certainly there can be medical factors that lead to low desire. If your boyfriend feels like something is off for him (which could be different than you thinking something is off) he could certainly talk with his doctor to make sure that his health is OK and that there’s not something medically going on. However, desire and libido often have just as much to do with emotional aspects as physiological or chemical aspects.
I am not sure from your question whether you are still with your boyfriend or not. If you are together and disparate libidos are still an issue for you, there might be a few questions that you can consider both individually and together:
Some honest reflection upon your own answers and then some open conversation with your boyfriend might help uncover some more about what is going in your relationship, and if it is something in which both of you are invested. As you practice open communication and good listening skills you may find that there’s a lot you haven’t discussed! There is a lot more to relationships than sex, and sometimes when there are issues sexually they can be intertwined with other relationship stuff, like how communication happens generally, or whether each person in the relationship feels safe, respected, and wanted.
To address the part of your question where you mentioned your friends saying your boyfriend must be gay if he does not want to be sexual with you: that’s not the first place I’d go in my head. Certainly sexual orientation could be a piece of why one person does not want to be sexual with another, but even if that were the case in this scenario it seems like the underlying piece would still be communication. If your boyfriend happened to not be attracted to women, that would be something you and he would definitely want to discuss as you figure out what your relationship (whether platonic, romantic, sexual, or something else) would look like.
Even if you’ve made the choice to move on from this relationship, it’s possible that you will come across this scenario again: you want sex and a partner doesn’t. Hopefully you’ll be able to cultivate the communication skills needed to navigate through that, and also confidence in yourself that you can have those conversations and also find a partner who will be a good match for you, sexually and otherwise. As you consider the relationship options, your own sex drive, and how to best communicate with potential partners about this, here are some additional articles that you might find helpful: