He likes it rough and I want it gentle: are we hopeless?

I'm 21 and I have recently started going out with by first proper adult boyfriend - though I'd had sex a few times before, it had never been in a relationship that lasted very long or got very serious. I have really enjoyed getting close to my boyfriend and have looked forward to having a developed sexual relationship. However, as we began to have sex more often, it wasn't slow and careful like it was in the beginning and he started have sex with me in a way that I would consider 'fucking' rather than 'making love'. It's 'fast and hard', as they say. I know that makes me sound very passive, as if I don't contribute to how things happen - which I do if I choose to - but he seems to like it like that and I don't want to completely dominate how we have sex by saying that it must always be slow and gentle. He also has said that he finds it difficult to stay hard if he goes slowly. For me, there seems to be a contradiction between how affectionate and caring he is with me usually (which he always is) and the way that he has sex with me. He enjoys and takes time over making me orgasm and is very loving. I asked him whether he saw that contradiction between that and the fucking and he said only that as long as it's in a loving relationship, couples can be rough with each other during sex and that it was normal.
Heather Corinna replies:

(Minny's question continued) Still, I seem to be the odd one out and I find it distressing. I broached the subject with him recently, merely suggesting that I hadn't actively enjoyed the way we'd had sex (not even that I disliked it) and he'd got very worried and hurt and said that I should have told him if I wasn't enjoying it. I don't want to hurt his feelings, neither do I want to stop him having the sex he enjoys, but I don't want to have sex like that again.

It sounds like an impossible situation really, doesn't it - perhaps we are just incompatible?

Also, although I know this is long already, I'm also concerned that the reason I don't like this fast, pumping style of sex is because I'm so repressed that all I want is slow, delicate missionary in the dark. To me it feels degrading to have sex like that, and I find it hard to reconcile with the rest of out relationship.I would be grateful for any thoughts or suggestions you might have.

One thing to start with in a discussion about all of this is to talk about some of the differences between a lot of people with vaginas and a lot of people with penises when it comes to what feels good with intercourse.

For many people with penises, especially those who are circumcised (as the foreskin adds a friction of its own), the penis just doesn't feel or get very stimulated by soft, subtle sensations in the way that the clitoris or other parts of a vulva can. In general, penile sexual sensation tends to feel most intense with a lot of pressure and a lot of friction. Moving very "fast and hard" tends to create that friction. You might have experienced something similar before yourself with working your clitoris sometimes, especially when you're getting close to orgasm. He seems to have spoken to some of that in explaining that slower or gentler sex makes it difficult for him to maintain erection with. So, presuming there to be a certain emotional flavor or tone to what can often be a physical preference can be problematic. Since you're expressing that it seems to be very much in his nature and interactions with you to be gentle and caring, and this seems to be out of character, I'd say that it sounds unlikely that the way he is having intercourse is about him being aggressive or uncaring, but rather, about what he enjoys physically.

That isn't to say it doesn't make sense for you to feel the way you feel when it comes to feeling like there is a contradiction, and his movements or sexual actions aren't in line with your shared emotional feelings and the general timbre of your relationship. If your partner has never been on the receiving end of sex, it is probably tougher for him to understand the particular flavor of what it feels like to take someone into your body, or feel someone pushing inside of you, just like if you've never been on the other side yourself, you're not as likely to understand his perspective. (If both of you are interested in understanding those different perspectives better, actually, experimenting with receptive anal sex via your fingers on his part can be one way to do that. That also stimulates a part of the "male" sexual anatomy which in some men, feels even more sensitive than the penis. I'll be frank and say that I have found over the years that couples who engage in receptive anal play for partners with penises tend to get one another a lot more when it comes to understanding the differences between being receptive and being insertive.) You might want to try and express how that feels to him, and how someone being very rough about that, even if you understand intellectually it's about physical pleasure, not something emotional (though it can be that, too: your partner is right that some loving couples do enjoy role-playing aggression or domination sometimes), that to you, it doesn't feel right emotionally, and feels invasive.

As well, I hear you thinking that you not enjoying this must be about repression, but that may or may not be so. We have to be pretty careful suggesting that any one way of having sex is more or less repressed, since that just isn't sound, and ideas about what is or isn't kinky or out-there also change with time constantly: things which were once highly taboo or risque no longer are, things which never were can become taboo or risque again. What's normal or pedestrian to one person can be the opposite to someone else or in a different time or community.

While some women do physically and/or emotionally enjoy faster, more aggressive intercourse, just as many others do not, be that physically, emotionally or both. In fact, in some ways, strange as it may seem given the status quo when it comes to cultural ideas and presentations of intercourse, in many ways, for many people, vaginal intercourse can often be an area where a whole lot of people feel "incompatible," just because of the differences between the anatomy of the penis and the anatomy of the vagina when it comes to sexual stimulus.

For instance, your most sensitive part of your genitals isn't even in your vagina, for the most part. While there are both internal and external parts of the clitoris, and we can feel some of them with stimulus to the very front of the vagina, for the most part, vaginal intercourse, all by itself, doesn't often get most women to orgasm or feel as intense as other activities do. As well, while people with vaginas can certainly experience enjoyment from rougher or faster sex, our genitals are also -- and for some people, far more so -- much more responsive to more subtle or softer sensations than many penises are. Too, there already exists a big chasm between people with penises and people with vaginas when it comes to intercourse, since most people with penises will reach orgasm that way, while most people with vaginas will not. Very aggressive intercourse can also cause some people with vaginas pain and things like vaginal abrasions or bruised cervixes (which hurt like the dickens). Even the most libertine, sexually experimental person with a vagina alive still may or may not find that the "style" of sex your partner likes fits their bill, feels good to them, or gets their rocks off.

It may also be that you do just need more time to get comfortable with certain kinds of sexual expression. After all, it sounds like this is your first long-term sexual relationship. For instance, most likely, after a while, one sexual position or one kind of sex in the dark will probably start to get a little old for you, and over time, you will probably start to feel more comfortable experimenting more, with different positions, different sexual activities, different flavors of sex based on your moods. For now, you just may need to stick to what you have going on until your comfort level increases, and be sure that if you need anything to feel a little more comfortable trying new things, you voice those needs. Once it does, working this kind of thing out may be easier just because you two have a bigger sexual activity or style pool to draw from. As well, if you haven't yet really been highly aroused and excited, and spending just as much time with sexual activities besides intercourse, that could also be some of why anything beyond very soft intercourse doesn't physically feel so great for you. Again, that doesn't mean that once you do, you'll necessarily enjoy, like or want rough intercourse: you still might not, and that doesn't make you repressed. We all have our own set of sexual preferences, likes and dislikes.

I don't hear that the two of you are incompatible. In fact, what I hear in this post is that you've both done really well with communication, and both seem to really care for each other. Even with the last exchange, you both seem to have listened to one another, really heard one another, and care about each other's feelings. It seems to me that it's a bit hasty to presume you're incompatible at this point, especially since your relationship sounds otherwise fantastic and rewarding.

If it happens that both of you are rarities and ONLY enjoy intercourse (not any other sexual activities), and you ONLY like it this way and he ONLY likes it that way, then yes, you may have a problem, but chances are that finding a partner who only likes to have one kind of sex, ever, and in one specific way, are pretty darn slim. Most people like a variety of activities and changing up the way they do them at least now and then.

If that isn't the case, what can you do to bridge this gap?

The first thing I'd suggest is continuing that conversation you've already started now that you have this additional information under your belt. Express an understanding when it comes to the two of you just having different preferences. And hear him when he tells you, like he recently did, that his feelings are more hurt by you not being honest than they are by you being forthcoming: pretending or withholding this stuff from a partner doesn't create a very good foundation for a healthy sex life, and while some people are so insecure and have so much ego wrapped up in sex to allow for that, you clearly are not with a person like that. Don't take that for granted: it's fantastic that you have a partner so open to honest communication. Talk together about all the things you like or want to try when it comes to sex. Talk about what has felt best for you both, physically and emotionally. The more you understand one another in this way, the more you know about both of your desires, the easier working this one point of contention out will be.

Now that you know it's likely that the kind of intercourse he prefers probably isn't about him mistreating you or about degrading you, and that it's likely that his preference isn't about a contradiction in your relationship or how he feels about you, that kind of sex might feel or look different to you now, so if it's something you want to try some more with that new perspective, by all means, you can do that. But it's also okay if, even having read and understood this, you still feel like that's not something you feel good about, emotionally and/or physically, or want to do. If that's the case, then what you two need to do is to just find a way to meet in the middle.

One important thing to understand about sex with a partner is that all of it should be made-to-order. In other words, what our sex lives are with any given partner should be a highly individual expression of who we both are, and who we are together, if we're being honest with each other, have a vested interest in shared, mutual pleasure, and aren't trying to conform to someone else's ideas -- or only the ideas of one partner -- about what our sex lives should be like. Not all heterosexual or opposite-sex couples even have intercourse, and not just because they are trying to avoid pregnancy. Some choose not to, or do so seldomly, because they have found that doing other activities together works better for both of them or better helps them meet in the middle. For instance, with manual sex (fingering or handjobs) it's pretty easy for you to be as rough as he wants you to be, then when it's his turn to use his hands and fingers on you, for him to be as slow and gentle as you like. You might mutually masturbate to both enjoy that and to better observe what different kinds of pressure and stimulation you both enjoy. With intercourse, if you both still want to engage in that, you might be able to start with that, with him being gentle, then shift over to manual sex for him more aggressively so he can get off. With some practice over time, you might even find that there is a middle ground between the kind of intercourse he likes and what you like, where it's neither super-slow and gentle nor super-fast and rough: men and women often have to find that middle ground together where intercourse is concerned.

You stating that you want times it's not rough, or that you just can't do that, also isn't you dominating your sex life. With sexual partnership, someone not liking something, or finding something does not feel good (or even hurts) always trumps someone liking something or finding it does feel good: we all need to privilege the partner saying no, and none of us will die or suffer horribly because we can't have sex in just one way we like it. It's pretty unusual for a person to ONLY like any one thing: we will usually tend to develop a roster of things we enjoy, so just curtailing one, or having that one less frequently just isn't that big of a deal.

I tried to answer your question in-kind, giving you as much information as you gave me, and I hope that it's both a comfort and a help for you. My spider-sense says that this is probably something you two are going to be able to work out. In case you need some additional information to do that, here are a handful of other relevant articles and links:

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