She's 21 but not ready for sex: is that normal?

My girlfriend is 21 and I am 20. I am so eager to have sex but she tells me she is not ready. At 21 is this normal?
Heather Corinna replies:

Readiness for sex isn't something that only happens once, or happens once at a certain age. It can be normal at any age, in any situation, for any person not to feel ready for any kind of sex with a partner.

When we're first ready is going to vary a lot from person to person, based on our life experiences, our own needs, sexual ethics and life goals, what we each need to feel ready, our sexual desires (or lack thereof) and what sexual activities we even have interest in at all or with a certain partner, and the unique situation and relationship. For some people, that will all fall into place when they're 15, for others, not until their twenties, and for some, even later than that.

And that doesn't just happen once. Just because I started having sexual partners in my early teens doesn't mean that I'm then always ready or interested in sex with a partner now that I'm looking down the road at the age of 40. Sometimes in our lives the stresses of sex may outweigh the benefits -- maybe we just already have too much on our plate to deal with risks of pregnancy, for instance, or to invest in the kind of communication and attention a sexual partner needs. Sometimes we have phases in our life where sex just isn't that interesting, or a desire we're feeling very strongly. Sometimes the timing just doesn't feel right in a given relationship: we may still be evaluating that relationship and how we feel in it to decide if sex is right for us and that relationship. Sometimes we just don't want sex with a certain person, period, even if we like or care for them in other respects.

You say you're eager, too, and if that has resulted in you bringing it up often when she's made clear she isn't ready, that is exerting a kind of pressure which can be pretty uncomfortable, and which can certainly incline us to be even more wary of sex with that partner. It can feel particularly weird to have a partner be so eager despite knowing we're not: someone still wanting sex with us when they know we don't want the same thing can make it feel like we're not really in the picture, and sex is really just about them, if you know what I mean.

If she's already made clear she's not ready, you can rest assured that if and when she changes her mind, she'll let you know. If you've already told her you're interested, she knows: no need to remind her. If you feel like you don't understand why she wants to hold off, you can certainly ask her about it. Just let her know that you respect her needs, and aren't asking to pressure her, but just feel like you want to understand better why she wants to wait and what she needs for sex to be right.

Even if she was someone abnormal or uncommon in this respect -- even if every single other person her age was interested in and felt ready for sex in their situations -- it wouldn't much matter. This isn't about other people: it's about her and what's normal and right for her.

(I should also mention that if you're talking about vaginal intercourse, just like not everyone has interest in oral sex or anal sex, not everyone has interest in vaginal sex. So, if you're having other kinds of sex, but she just doesn't want to go there, she just may not be that interested in that, which is as common as any other sexual preference. And since people with vaginas more often than not don't reach orgasm from intercourse or feel very satisfied by it -- and also take extra risks their male partners don't have to -- it's understandable that that activity in particular is one that many people with vaginas can be reluctant to engage in.)

Just also know that even if she isn't ready and you want a sexual relationship, it's okay for you to have that desire or need. It may even be that you two aren't a good fit for a romantic relationship in this regard: if you firmly want a sexual relationship and she firmly doesn't, it might be better for you both to consider being friends instead and for you both to seek out other relationships where your partners do have the same needs and level of readiness. There's nothing crappy about moving on when two people aren't compatible in some way, including sexual compatibility.

So, that's something you'll have to give some thought to yourself, and figure out if what you're getting out of the relationship otherwise is enough for you, or if a lack of sex is a dealbreaker for you. But if you're going to choose to stay with her in a romantic relationship, you're going to have to be okay with waiting until she feels ready for sex (of all or any kind) with you, and that includes being willing to wait -- without nagging or pressure -- until she's either there in wanting that, or clear that that isn't something she wants, period.

Here are some links to help round this all out for you:

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