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This is what sexual incompatibility looks like.

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haiguyz asks:

My partner seems to pick and choose when she wants to fool around with me. Whenever I want to do anything, she doesn't, and if I get her to do anything, she complains the whole way through. When she gives me head, if I suggest things to do, she gives me an evil look, and tells me to shut up, like she's being humiliated. But just a few days ago, she took me into my room and gave me head without me even asking or suggesting in any way! She once told me she doesn't like for me to do anything to her or vice versa, but this just confuses me. I know it sounds like I'm pushing her to do these things, but I have nothing but the utmost respect for her. I just would like to be intimate with her more often. When I tell her this, she brings up that she doesn't really like intimacy. I'm so confused!

Heather Corinna replies:

A lot of what I'm reading in your post suggests to me that you two are just not in a good place for sex together right now.

Someone telling you they don't want to be intimate, that they don't like it when you do sexual activities for them, that they don't like to do them for you is usually telling you quite clearly that they just are not feeling it with you when it comes to sex, and that you two are not a good sexual match. Partners pushing or coercing each other into sex makes clear that one or both partners are not treating one another with respect or care and aren't really connecting with each other deeply. In other words, it seems very clear to me you two probably are just not compatible,to a degree where some stuff that really is not okay has been going on.

It's rare for me to tell anyone that I just don't think them having sex, or having sex with someone else, is the right choice. As an outsider, it's precarious to make that kind of call, especially without a lot of talking and personal history. But in this case, I feel pretty strongly that is the best answer. I think either you two should not be sexual with each other anymore altogether, or that you both need to work a whole lot on your communication skills together much more first, putting sex on the shelf until you do that work and make some real headway.

So you can have a better sense of what I'm observing, let me give you an idea of what healthy dynamics would look like with some of these scenarios:

1. You want to do something sexual, and suggest doing it to your partner. She doesn't want to do that, or doesn't want to be sexual at that time, period. So you drop it. You do not keep asking or pushing or "get" her to do that thing. You drop it and either suggest other things, and either find something you both DO want to do or you accept that when you can't find something you both want to do, sex just isn't going to happen that day.

2. She chooses to have oral sex with you. You make a suggestion about what feels best to you; what you like. She either then tries what you suggest, or if for whatever reason, she doesn't want to try that thing, she nixes your suggestion in a way that's kind and caring. Telling someone to shut up or giving them dirty looks is not kind or caring. If this is about her feeling she likes sex best when you do most of your verbal communicating before any kind of sex or after, she can say that, and you can work with that and talk about the things you like in advance, but a partner should also always be able to speak up during sex to suggest something, voice when something does or does not feel good, or ask to press pause or stop with sex.

3. She discovers she'd like to give you oral sex, and takes you into your room. She either suggests oral sex in advance of taking you or says something like, "I'd like to give you oral sex," when you get in there, looking to you to either consent to that or not. If you do not consent to it, verbally, or with other kinds of cues you both know by now to mean consent, she drops it. If she would like to arrange to do something like that without any words, she has the option of asking you a week, a day, or hours in advance if she can do that sometime, and you two can arrange some other kind of cue so she can know you are or are not consenting at that time. Over time in a relationship you'll often get to a point where both of you have nonverbal cues you know well to mean consent or nonconsent, so you might not always need to discuss it, but you still both need to be assuring consent before you move forward with anything sexual.

4. You want sex more often than she does. So you accept that at a time when any of us are the partner who wants sex more frequently, we need to defer to the partner's pace who wants it less frequently. Otherwise, we're forcing or pressuring someone to have sex when they don't want to -- which means they are NOT fully consenting -- or to have sex out of feelings of obligation, rather than desire. If you discover you're in a sexual partnership with someone who just wants sex way less often than works for you, you either accept their frequency as what the deal is or know that that relationship just isn't going to meet your own needs and seek out partners who match you better in that way.

Everyone should pick and choose -- and have the right to pick and choose -- when they do and don't have sex with a partner.

No person in a sexual partnership should ever feel they should or must have sex whenever the other partner wants to: we have sex with a partner when both of us feel a mutual, shared desire to do so. For partners who really do want to be sexual with one another, and who want similar things -- a similar frequency of sex, a handful of sexual activities they both mutually enjoy, a general sexual dynamic of that works and feels authentic for both -- even though there will be times when one partner wants to be sexual and another doesn't, often those times will overlap and intersect enough to leave everyone satisfied with the relationship. When people in a sexual relationship aren't similar in those ways, it's going to be really tough to have a sexual relationship that works well for everyone involved.

I want to make sure this is clear: consent is not a no or a maybe. Nor is it someone caving into another person nagging, whining, pressuring, goading or pushing for sex. Consent is a big, fat, sure, clear YES. If either one of you are continuing or trying to continue sex with the other with anything but that sure yes, what you're doing is NOT consensual, and is potentially abuse or rape. This is not a minor thing or a whatever: this is very serious business. To give real consent, someone needs to be able to make decisions about sex without any feelings of pressure. No always needs to be just as okay an answer as yes, even if someone has to manage feelings of disappointment.

I also want to make clear that a partner telling another partner to shut up when they are trying to communicate about sex is not healthy. Certainly, sometimes people do that playfully -- some folks use "shut up" in a casual way -- but this isn't sounding like it was playful or like it feels playful to you. Not getting someone's consent with a sexual activity, such as her pulling you into a room and just moving forward if you didn't want that and give her clear verbal or visual cues you did, is also not okay, and may not have been consensual.

It may just be that you two are very different people sexually, or at very different places in your sexuality, so it could be that the WAY you are giving her cues during oral sex, for instance, isn't a way she likes or is receptive to. For instance, even something like the language we use to talk about sex can be something one partner loves, and another partner really dislikes. I don't know what it is you have been expressing to her during oral sex. What you're asking might be something like suggesting she move a bit more slowly or quickly, or suggesting she focus on one area of your genitals rather than another, which most people (who earnestly want to be sexual with you) should receive positively. On the other hand, if you're barking orders at her, or using language for sex she finds offensive or a turnoff, or asking her to do things she's already told you she doesn't like doing and doesn't want to do, that certainly may be part of that problematic dynamic. In other words, she may look humiliated because she feels humiliated. Some of her actions may also be because she feels like she wants to initiate sex more, or call her own shots more in your sex life, too. If that's the case, that could also be why she's behaving the way she is: she may feel there's not enough space for her to be the driver in your sexual relationship. Of course, if you're not always really getting her consent, what happened with her doing something without yours may have been something she assumed was okay because it seems to her to be how you do things with her.

However, in a healthy relationship that's something she should feel free to tell you, and should tell you, and then you two can figure out healthy ways you both feel good about to change those dynamics. In a healthy relationship, we don't just react: we reflect, communicate and respond thoughtfully. But what I suspect is that the issue is bigger than that.

My feeling is that one or both of you aren't quite ready for partnered sex, or not with each other, anyway. To be honest, while I hear you saying you respect her, I'm getting the feeling you two don't really even like each other very much: these scenarios just don't sound to me like those of two people who truly like each other. They look a lot more like two people at odds with one another, and who are in a power struggle.

I want to acknowledge that management skills for our sexuality and sexual lives aren't something we're born with, but skills we learn. No one can expect anyone to just have these skills or be an ace with them right off the bat, nor to learn them in environments or relationships which don't nurture them. Sometimes we may have excellent models for these skills, but more times than not in our cultures, people have not had good or healthy modeling around sex. If one or both of your families or communities just never talked to either of you about how to manage your sexuality or sexual relationships, or about sex at all, and all of your information on that has come from your peers -- who often also don't magically have these skills, and also who often aren't honest with each other about their sex lives -- or the media, chances are good the modeling you have had hasn't been healthy, sound or realistic.

One or both of you also may have had models that enabled certain unhealthy behaviors around or ideas about sex a lot of people presume to be healthy, normal or just "how it is," when, in fact, some of that stuff isn't healthy, isn't likely to lead to a mutually satisfying sex life with someone, and certainly isn't how it has to be. For example, your girlfriend may have gotten modeling that says that talking during sex isn't sexy or okay, even though people in healthy, satisfying relationships talk about sex and during sex all the time. She may have gotten modeling that says consent from men isn't something women need to obtain. You may have gotten some modeling which suggests that it's okay or normal to have to goad women into sex, or that men should expect women to be available for sex whenever men want them to be: those, too, are not healthy models which lead to a satisfying, equitable sex life with a partner.

Breaking silences around sexuality and starting to have real, honest and open conversations about sex with friends, partners, parents and good mentors, and unlearning poor modeling takes effort, time and life experience: more of all three than many young people have had the chance to have yet. There's a long learning curve with all of this, and sometimes any two people just aren't at a point in that learning curve where partnered sex, or certain kinds of partnered sex are wise or likely to be positive. My feeling is that one or both of you have more learning to do, and more skills and tools for managing your sexual life and sexual communication before sex with each other or other partners is going to be the good stuff.

I know some people have this idea that at a certain age, everyone is ready for partnersex, but I just don't agree. I say that because I noticed you're 19, so you might feel like what I'm saying is about teens younger than you. The thing is, how old we are only has so much to do with all of this. It also doesn't have much to do with if we and someone else are a good fit together. While some people at 19 -- or 29, or 59 -- have unpacked negative modeling or yucky sexual dynamics, many others have not. We all have our own learning curve, and the dynamics of our relationships all differ depending on who is in them and what that unique alchemy is like. I'm saying what I am not based on your age, but on my perceptions of where you both may be at from information you gave me in your question.

So, what are your options?

Do you two have a good relationship otherwise? When we're not dealing with sex, do you earnestly care for one another and both really enjoy the time you spend together? Do you have lots of areas of common interest, and also find that what both of you want and need in a romantic relationship are in alignment? If and when you have any kind of disagreement or conflict in other areas, do you communicate openly and well together and find that you can resolve disputes in ways both of you feel good about and satisfied with? Do you talk deeply about other things, and connect deeply in other areas of your relationship?

If you answered yes to all or most of those questions, you might be able to resolve these issues in time if you're both committed to changing the current dynamics and working through this together.

To do that, you'd want to start by bringing all the things I'm telling you here -- and the thoughts of your own they inspired -- to the table with her and do some real talking about it, probably having more than just one talk. You'll want to discuss issues like consent and how both of you should be obtaining and respecting it, as well as better and more compassionate communication, making clear both are seriously important and necessary. It would be a good idea for each of you to talk about your expectations around sex, what you feel you each want and need, like and dislike. You should take responsibility for any of your own behavior which may not have been healthy, such as if you have been pushing her to do things sometimes when she has already said no. She, ideally, will responsibility for hers, too, such as owning up to the fact that telling you to shut up during sex isn't okay. Then you both can create some solid agreements around all of this. Those agreements would include things like being clear that neither of you is ever obligated to be sexual with the other when you don't want to, that one no is all either of you will ever need, that both will always seek out and ask for consent, that you will both talk more about all of this from here on out, and try to do so in a way that helps develop communication rather than shutting it down.

While couples are working out major sexual problems, I feel it's best to take sex off the table while doing that. It's just too hard to try and talk through all of this stuff and create new patterns while you're still participating in the old ones, and it generally is going to take time to get to a new place. Until you do get to that place, I just don't see the sex you two will have being a healthy thing. Since pressure and obligation seem to have been issues, I also think that you'd both benefit by taking any expectations of sex off the table for a while so both of you can really develop a feeling of freedom from those dynamics.

If you guys don't have such a great relationship outside of sex, though, you may not be able to do all of those things, or even get your foot in the door to start working on them together. If that's the case, or you feel you can't even have these talks, or have tried with no success, I think it's a good idea for the two of you to put an end to your sexual relationship, full-stop.

Finding people with whom we are truly compatible in intimate relationships in often is not easy, and can tend to take a good deal of trial and error. It's not like we're going to be a good match on all levels with everyone who we like and who likes us back, or to whom we're sexually attracted and is also attracted to us. From talking with young people over the years, I get the impression that some think that if any two people find one another physically attractive, both want to be "in a relationship" (I put that in quotes because it's not like that means the same thing to everyone), and both are available, that's about all that is required for everything to be hunky-dory.

But that's the stuff that only just opens the door to a relationship being a possibility, not what makes for the right ones, for healthy ones, for those which meet everyone's wants and needs. For that, you have to have a lot of your wants and needs in alignment, to be in a similar emotional and intellectual place in your lives and development, to create and nurture solid and deep communication. That's why we tend to talk about dating as a process, and separate dating from committed or long-term relationships we pursue and build -- if we want to -- when all of that is going on.

While that process can be frustrating and lonely at times, it is what it is. We can't make a house that will withstand time and the elements without good raw materials and quality construction, and the same goes for relationships.

I'd suggest reading through all of this again, including your own words here, because I think even if I hadn't answered, the information you need is something you already had. You knew from the get-go, after all, that what's been going on hasn't been working, big-time. Then give yourself some time to figure out what the best route is going to be for you: you might want to think about this on your own for a little while, maybe even asking your girlfriend for a few days or weeks apart so you can do that. I'd also suggest you trust your intuition when it comes to if this earnestly feels like a quality, healthy relationship to you.

I'll leave you with a few extra links I hope will be useful for you in thinking about this, making your decisions about this relationship, and in communicating together about this no matter what you decide, as well as for navigating your sexual relationships in the future. Good luck sorting everything out, and I hope whatever decisions you both make get you to a better place.

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