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Heather Corinna replies:
My girlfriend and I have been dating for one and a half years and are in a long distance relationship (I visit her once a month). When we first starting dating (it wasn't long distance then) she was crazy in bed and really open about sex. But recently she has been wanting to talk less and less about sex. She doesn't say anything if I even mention something that is sexually related. I asked her why, and she said that she doesn't feel like thinking about that kind of stuff and that she feels dirty for thinking about it. She doesn't seem to have ANY sort of sexual attraction to me when just a few months ago she couldn't keep her hands off of me. I understand that she is going to college and is very stressed out, but can stress completely shut off someone's sex drive? How can I talk to her without offending her or making her think that sex is all that I am interested in.
It's really normal, as a relationship goes on over time, for sex to take a bit more of a backseat. It's also common for things to be very high-key sexually when people first start dating. Novelty -- something or someone being new -- tends to put a high into many people's sex drives, and when that novelty wears off, things mellow out some.
Too, many young women who date men can feel like they have to talk about sex or put out more than they might even want to when first dating a new guy, in order to keep him. Sometimes women are just assuming that, but plenty of times, men will behave in a way which validates that idea. maybe too, as she's grown a bit, she doesn't feel like she likes the kinds of sex you had previously, or some of the sexual dynamics involved. Now, I can't know if that's what was going on here, but it's a possibility, and something we often hear young women talking about here.
But you're saying she has been expressing that she isn't feeling so great emotionally about the sex that was had or talking about it. What that tells me is that she's possibly feeling some regret. It may be that everything moved faster than she wanted to -- even if you weren't pushing for it, SHE may have moved faster a while back than in hindsight, she feels okay with -- and it may be that she's reevaluating wanting to be sexually active with you or anyone else. Certainly, college can be really demanding and stressful -- and stress absolutely can have a huge impact on anyone's libido -- and that might be part of it, but that stress won't tend to result in feelings of regret about sex in and of itself.
One other possibility is that her feelings are simply changing. College is a big, new experience, and a lot of relationships that start before someone goes to college don't survive afterward. There are a whole lot of reasons why -- because you get a whole new identity in college, because there is so much going on, because it can be so demanding, because you feel like you don't have enough in common with the person not in college -- but it remains a reality, whatever the reasons.
All of what I'm saying here, though, is me making educated guesses. The person who obviously really knows best about what's going on is her.
So, how can you talk to her about this best?
Well, I'd start by dropping all the talk about sex for right now. She's made clear she's not interested, which is all you need to know about if you should keep going on about it. When someone keeps being silent when you're brining up sex, the right thing to do is to stop bringing it up. That silence is obvious disinterest and discomfort.
What I'd suggest is that you make clear that you'd like to have a real talk with her, that you're hearing her and have no expectations of sex right now (and make clear that that is absolutely fine: you obviously don't want to pursue sex when she isn't interested, right?), and perhaps dedicate your next visit just to talking. That in and of itself should make her feel a lot better. When you have that talk -- be it in person during a visit, or over the phone or through email -- what I'd open with is asking if she's feeling okay about your relationship, as a whole right now. make clear that it's obvious some things are wrong, and that you want to know what they are so that you can find out what you can do, and what she wants to do. I'd say to her that she's spoken about not feeling good about talking about sex, and ask what you can do. Would she prefer to have a relationship without sex? Was there something bad with the sex for her that she wants to talk about? Has she had a change of heart about the whole relationship? Make clear that even if she feels like what she has to say isn't something she thinks you will like or want to hear that you're okay with that, and just want to know what's going on and what she needs to feel better about all of this.
That does mean you do have to be okay with this, and also accept it if she just doesn't want a sexual relationship right now, or anymore with you, period. Obviously, if she doesn't, you get to choose if this relationship is still what you want -- and whatever you decide there is fine, just like it's fine for her to decide if SHE doesn't want a sexual relationship. I'd just encourage you to be sensitive and kind about it: people's feelings change sometimes, it's normal, and it's part of having relationships with people. The nature of any given relationship will usually change to some degree -- and sometimes big ones -- over time.
I know that's hard: one and a half years is a long time to be in a relationship, especially in your teens. Teen relationships also tend to feel especially eternal, even though realistically, they usually last shorter than relationships later in life. So, it's obviously a tough talk to have and a hard thing to deal with. Too, most people do have some esteem, obviously, tied up in if the person they love and are sexually drawn to reciprocates those feelings. For all of these reasons, I'd encourage you to be sure you have a friend or some other support you can call on to vent or just find comfort. When you're having relationship changes or conflicts, everyone needs someone besides their partner to talk to.
Okay? Good luck with that talk, and even if a sexual or romantic relationship isn't the right one for both of you right now, or from here on in, I hope that you can make whatever shifts you need to amicably and with you both feeling as good about your choices and what you've had together as possible.