He's a great boyfriend... except when it comes to sex and my boundaries.

My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year and 9 months. From the very beginning, I made it extremely clear that I was not ready for sex and not going to be for a long time, if not until marriage. He said he respected it, and we agreed not to pressure one another until we were completely comfortable with decisions we had both made as a couple. About 8 months into our relationship, we discussed our sexual boundaries and agreed that we were comfortable with dry humping. Kissing and some fondling was all that we had experienced before. Everything with that was fine, and I began to give him hand jobs about 3 months later, but it was very rare. He had no issues with that either, except for the fact that he wanted to return a similar amount of pleasure to me, but I explained I wasn't ready for that, and he claimed it was fine. In the summer we went to the beach, and it was the first time I'd been around him in that little of clothing, so I was already nervous. He didn't say anything reassuring, but he was all over me the entire time. By the end of the day, I felt used and disrespected since he had tried to pull my bottoms down a little while standing behind me, but I was not expecting it. That turned into our first major fight, and I eventually broke up with him because of it. (continued below)
Heather Corinna replies:

(Your question, continued) We continued to talk as "friends", and I discussed the situation with his mom since he had told his parents what was going on. She explained that we needed to stop spending so much time alone and putting ourselves in such tempting situations, so my boyfriend and I talked more and more...and chose to try again, but without as much sexual activity being involved. That worked for a while up until he tried to finger me one day while we were kissing on his floor.

I told him no, and to stop, and he just said "No?" and kept trying. As I'm sure you could assume, that was a definite no-no with me, and we broke up...again. I'm also sure you're thinking I'm an idiot for believing him and trying again, but I love him and didn't want to completely lose my trust and faith in our relationship.

Fast forward from that time, which was August, and go to November. The time in between then was the best we had had together so far, and I had finally gained my trust in him back and I chose to allow him to finger me outside of clothing. That went on for about a month, and all was dandy. Then, once again, while we were close on the couch, he started kissing my stomach and went lower than I wanted, and he knew I wanted. Immediately he apologized and we talked, but it didn't really make me feel better.

After that he decided that we just needed to take a big step back, and try our best not to do anything past hugging and kissing. I could tell he knew and wanted to get a hold of his sexual urges and control issues, so I stuck with him and we did nothing past kissing from early November up until last week. On Thursday while we were at my house and on the couch, we were kissing and got really wrapped up in it. He slowly got into dry humping, and even though I knew I should've stopped him, I didn't. It gets frustrating and I get so emotional over the whole situation since I can no longer feel what I did sexually with him at one time, but I feel that our love and the rest of what we have together is more important anyway, so I try to ignore that fact most of the time. After that lasted maybe 10 seconds on Thursday, he jumped back and said "I shouldn't have done that, and I am sorry. I lost control, again. I don't know why I do this every time, and I'm sorry." Then he would barely look at me and sat on the opposite end of the room. He eventually came back over to me and we just hugged and cried, and said we'd talk more later since he had to go home.

Yesterday we talked for the first time about it, and he basically said he still doesn't understand what to do, especially because he had tried to help by having boundaries, but it doesn't work the way we want, think, and hope for it to. We haven't talked much in between, so I suppose I'll have to wait until later to know more. I'd like to know what you think of the entire situation, specifically his behavior. I want to make it clear that despite the sexual problems, every minute of our entire relationship has been wonderful. He's a great guy, and has a great family. He listens to me, supports me, encourages me, and does everything else a boyfriend should do...other than stick to our agreements about sexual activity. I know he's trying, and he doesn't want to intentionally hurt me, but I can't keep trying to forgive and move on if it won't do any good or things won't change. It may sound crazy to say, but he respects me in every other way, but that has lead me to feel used and disrespected, and definitely uncomfortable many times. I'm not willing to give up what I want (which is to keep my virginity) in order to save our relationship, especially since even if I did decide to have sex with him, I seriously doubt it would do anything other than jeopardize what we have now even more. However, I am still in love with him, love everything else about our relationship, and want so much for it all to somehow work out.

With all of that said, I'd also like to hear your thoughts on another, somewhat new issue I've been experiencing. I've discovered that nearly three months ago, I am no longer able to masturbate and enjoy it, or think a lot about anything sexual that would arouse me. Instead of it being a pleasurable feeling that satisfies me when I'm alone and unable to get what I want from my boyfriend, it has become a moment of sadness and anger. If I do follow through with masturbating, I cry and feel devastated by the end of it. When I'm with him in person, I want to touch him, but at the same time...I'd rather just push him off of me so I don't have to worry about feeling that way, or getting too aroused. I know a huge part of it is emotional - not being able to feel what I did at one time with him, and not even being able to with myself. I long for the feeling of comfort, trust, and the strong bond that used to be associated with everything we did. Though, I know that in order to try to help him and us, we can't do what we used to sexually. I haven't told him about this yet. I've wanted to, but it hasn't seemed to be the right time, if one even exists. I don't know if he'd be able to understand what I'm going through, and I don't know exactly how to share this with him. I'm not shy about talking about masturbation with him as I have before, but this is different. I just thought it would go away, or that maybe I was being too emotional. It just seems to keep getting worse though, and I don't fully understand any of it. I want to be able to change it, us to stay together, etc...but I'm just confused on what to do from here. If you have any advice, please respond as soon as possible. I appreciate your time and consideration. Thank you. =)

Phew. Okay.

This is a lot to take in, but I'll tell you right off the bat that the biggest impression I was left with was that it sounds to me like the two of you would likely be better just being friends. There's nothing secondary about a good friendship: good friendships are just as valuable -- and sometimes more so -- than good romantic/sexual relationships. And you seem to keep making clear that your friendship is what's so great with the two of you: it's your romantic/sexual relationship that is not any good, and also really isn't wanted.

It may be that eventually, if you both do have romantic and sexual feelings for one another, and he works out some of these issues, that you can have a romantic and/or sexual relationship, but I think it's abundantly clear that that isn't something he can handle at all right now, and when it comes to the sexual relationship, it isn't even something you really want. As well, at this point, you may want any of that even less -- including even with your own masturbation, as you've brought up -- than before because so much of his sexual behavior has been so predatory. When sex is or feels like an attack more times than not, any person is likely to feel less and less desire. I won't pussyfoot around, either: some of what you're describing is or is really flirting with sexual assault on your boyfriend's part. So, this is really serious business, and that's why you're feeling sexually shellshocked and having those times where you feel so low.

Let me point out to you a few really dysfunctional dynamics I'm seeing in the romance/sexual aspect of your relationship so that you can see where I'm coming from in drawing that conclusion, okay?

  • You're having sex when it seems that you really don't want to. (I'm not talking about when he is doing things to you you don't want: I'm talking about some of the things you have been saying okay to: when he's just doing things to you without your permission, that isn't sex, that's sexual assault.) In other words, the sex you're okaying doesn't seem to be about you wanting or experiencing sexual pleasure or intimacy, but rather, about what you feel you can manage to do that you think will satisfy him and keep him from pushing you further. That's not good, and it's a really cruddy reason to be having any kind of sex with someone else. Partnered sex is about just what it sounds like: about both partners having sex together for their shared pleasure and intimacy, and out of shared sexual desire. It shouldn't be about bargaining, and even if your partner isn't asking for it as a bargain, if you're doing whatever you are solely or primarily to get them to lay off, or to try and quell their desires, that's about bargaining.
  • No one has uncontrollable sexual urges they just can't keep from exercising on someone else, male or female, unless they literally have an impulse control problem (in which case, that person needs the help of a therapist). Those desires may feel strong, but you or your boyfriend talking about them or thinking about them as uncontrollable or difficult to control isn't sound. When we understand that partnered sex is about two people, and we respect other people, it is not difficult to control ourselves when someone else isn't interested, because that disinterest in and of itself should be a turn-off. If it's not for a given person, then that's something that person, by themselves or with the help of a counselor, needs to work out. When one partner is pursuing something and the other says no, turning it into a game like your partner did is an abuse: he knew you meant no. If he thought playing a game might have made you give in, that still is an abuse.
  • I'll be frank: it's possible all his crying about his inability to control himself may be emotionally manipulative. At the very least, since in most of these situations, it's you who is essentially being attacked, him then coming to you to help him process HIS guilt about what he did just isn't appropriate. Ideally, he should have processed that with someone else, and maybe come back to you later about it. But there you are, feeling violated, and then having to take care of HIM? So not okay. The person who has had something done to them they do not want is the person who needs emotional care afterwards (and not from the person who did that to them: you need that person to go away). Him making that about him, in your presence, right afterwards, whether he means to do it or not, causes you to feel sorry for him, which is pretty crazy when what you should be is angry at him. But if he gets all weepy afterwards, he makes YOU look like the bad guy for being validly angry: see how that works?

I also hear a lot of self-blaming in here. Wearing a bathing suit at the beach, being alone with someone you have been close to for nearly two years, having some kinds of sex you DO want (while being clear about your limits): none of these kinds of things justify his behavior, nor are they causes of how he is behaving. he knows your limits, it sounds like you articulate them more clearly and constantly than a lot of people your age do, and his knowledge and understanding of those limits should be all he, or anyone else, needs, to stick by them. You also, by saying okay to some kinds of sex you have wanted, which he has also wanted, are not encouraging him to push further. It's HIS responsibility, if he just can't handle sexual situations at all, to own his own stuff and set a limit for HIMself that he can't have a sexual relationship at all if he can't deal with your boundaries. he's supposed to be your partner, not your kid or your psychiatric patient.

If your boyfriend earnestly has impulse control problems -- either in general, or just with sex -- then you're not going to be able to fix that for him. I'm guessing you're not an expert in behavior modification or compulsive behavior. You might be able to help him -- if you really wanted to, and only AFTER he really helped himself -- but you'd both need a therapist to work with him, alone, and then let you both know what those things are you can do. I can assure you it's not likely to be about not being alone together, either: you weren't alone at the beach, after all, and you should be able to be safely alone with someone that close to you without them ever seeing every bit of alone-time as a sexual opportunity. If it IS that bad that he can't be trusted to be alone with you, anywhere, though, then he absolutely needs professional help.

It's also really unfortunate that it sounds like the only thing his parents talked about was you both needing to just avoid being alone where you might be sexually intimate. Imagine how much more productive and valuable it might have been if his parents really talked to him about his behavior, about how even if you were the last two people stranded on an island, your boundaries need to be respected. I don't know if what his mother said to you was indicative of his families' general attitudes about sex, but if he was reared with the idea that sex is some uncontrollable, animalistic urge that everyone (or his female partners) need to police in order for it to be healthy, that would obviously influence how he's been behaving, and how he thinks about sex. Sexual temptations -- though being at the beach in a swimsuit like everyone else really is a non-issue -- don't "tempt" people into doing something to a partner that partner has made clear they do not want.

Lastly, I want to reiterate what I said about sex-as-bargaining. You say here that you're not willing to have sex to save your relationship, and that's a very good thing. Not just because that would be sex that isn't even about you from a sexual standpoint, and also not about any kind of real intimacy, but because sex can't save relationships in the first place. You walked into this relationship making clear that you were not ready for sex and wanted to hold off on it: any partner who can walk into a relationship with those limits set out so clearly is responsible for having the maturity to make a choice about if that's also what they want. If it's not, they're responsible for not pursuing that relationship. Everyone gets to have limits (I'm sure your boyfriend has some too: would he really be okay with you just coming up behind him and sticking your fingers in his anus?), and everyone's partners should respect them: that's an expectation you should have of all partners, and anyone who can't meet that expectation? You walk away from that person. Really.

I think that if you take some real time for yourself for a bit -- what I'd suggest is a couple weeks or more where you two really don't even talk, and after that, you can be sure you feel okay about a friendship -- and switch this back to a friendship, either for a while, or permanently, you're going to feel a lot better. That time should also allow you so basically get your own sexuality back: it sounds like it feels pretty hijacked at this point, which isn't at all surprising, nor does it mean something is wrong with you. Of course, if even as friends, he can't control himself when it comes to YOUR body, then I have to say, he's just not safe or healthy for you to be around, and you just need to get away and stay away from this guy, no matter how much you love him and wish he were different in this regard.

I also think he could really benefit from having some time apart (and if he has an earnest sexual impulse control problem, a professional would make clear that it's just not healthy for him or anyone else to be in any kind of sexual relationship yet). You've broken up a lot, but you keep coming back, which has got to make it a bit more difficult to understand that this is a really big deal, and absolutely unacceptable. I get why you've done that: it's very tough when you love someone and everything else is good to know how to deal with one aspect that is really NOT at all good. With sexual issues like this, especially since this is your first partner, you may also be having a tougher time due to a lack of perspective. This really isn't healthy sexual behavior or something that's just to be expected in these kinds of relationships. Your boyfriend may not know that, either. But he needs to commit to changing his behavior by himself and for himself, as well as for the well-being of everyone else around him. If he's really committing to that, HE is going to be the one saying you need some time apart -- you shouldn't even have to be the only one initiating that. And if he really is troubled in this respect, and really is as upset as he's voiced he is to you, if he has a real problem, he's going to suffer all by himself if he doesn't go get some real help, which will likely include him being told that he needs to work on this AWAY from any sexual relationships. He also needs other supports in this stuff, so he can use this time to talk to his friends and his support system, too. You're not the right support system for someone who needs support in how they're victimizing you: that's just really messed up.

I know this isn't a nice answer, but this isn't a nice situation, to say the least. And I just don't think at this point in time that, however great this guy is in other respects, he's someone safe for you to be around right now. So, what I'd suggest is that you perhaps share this response with him (you could print it out), and then make clear you are taking a couple weeks (or more) to yourself. No phone calls, no emails, no nothing. Take care of yourself: hang out with your friends, and you might even want to look into some support and counseling about all of this -- and the residual effects of those attacks -- for yourself. Give yourself some time to heal, deal and also reclaim your own sexuality for yourself. Make clear to your boyfriend that you need that time and only after that time will YOU bring a platonic friendship to the table if, after taking that time, you think that's something you want. I'd also make clear that you expect him to do a lot of thinking, and that if he strongly feels he does have an impulse control problem, that he seeks out real help. If he decides he does NOT really have that problem, then make clear that no matter what kind of relationship you may end up having again, you expect this stuff to NEVER be a problem again. No matter what conclusions he comes to about himself, he needs to start taking real responsibility for himself. If he's as great a guy as you say, he'll support you in all of this and will also want to do whatever he needs to in order to learn a healthier approach to sex, and assure there is just no way he ever does some of this stuff to you or anyone else again.

I'm going to leave you with a few additional links, including our piece on how men can prevent rape. I think there are some aspects of that article both you and your boyfriend could benefit from and which might be some of the lightbulbs both of you need. Hopefully this answer and that additional material will be of help to you. My hope is more about YOU doing what you need to to be sure you're okay. That isn't to say I hope this relationship doesn't work out, but rather, that the relationship working out should be a very secondary concern -- for me AND for you -- to your personal safety and your emotional and sexual well-being.

Heather Corinna • Scarleteen Founder, Editor & Advice-Slingin' Sister • Author, S.E.X.

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