Unsatisfying sex and transitioning to college in our relationship

My boyfriend and I recently started having sex, we were both virgins. Making love to each other is amazing because we are in love but for me, I can't feel anything. I know theres a million reasons that maybe he doesn't know what to do and stuff but I was hoping if there were any suggestions to help. We are also kind of worried because he goes away to college in a month and a half and he is basically on lock down there. We can barely see each other for the first year. On an emotional level we aren't afraid, but sexually, could not having sex be an issue? A discussion came of of "seeing other people" but no relationship wise, more like hooking up just to get the needs met but we wouldn't discuss anything with each other. Someone said it would help us and in the end we would want each other that much more. I know I love my boyfriend and I don't want anyone else but him but because we are still young and haven't experienced anyone else, would it be smart to try things with other people?
Heather Corinna replies:

Your issues of sexual satisfaction and your issues of considering opening up your relationship when it comes to dating others strike me as two different issues.

We're rarely going to meet a new partner who just lucks into knowing exactly what to do for sex to be satisfying for us. In fact, it's much more likely that that sex becomes more satisfying over time with a partner, because we have the time to explore one another's bodies, talk a lot about what feels good and what doesn't, and to develop trust and comfort that allows us to feel more relaxed so that we can both get more aroused and be more fearless with our experimentation together.

For the most part, sex with a partner takes practice, and when I say that, I mean that one partner. We all differ pretty widely in what works for us, in what we like, and also in how our two unique bodies fit and work together with any sexual activity. You say you feel your partner doesn't know what to do, and what that suggests to me is that the two of you probably need to spend more time talking about this together so that it isn't such a mystery. Mind, if when you say sex, you mean intercourse, understand that the majority of women are both not going to reach orgasm or feel particularly satisfied with intercourse alone. So, if either of you has the expectation that you will, I'd adjust that expectation. Talk about that, talk about what activities you can do together before (or instead of) intercourse, during intercourse or after intercourse. Talk about the realities of your sexual anatomy. For instance, many women and their partners will combine clitoral stimulation with fingers or a sex toy during intercourse to make it more satisfying for the female partner, since our clitorises -- inside and out -- have way more sensory nerve endings than our vaginas do.

Don't forget that sex is so much more than vaginal intercourse. So often, young people get the idea (in part because people tell you that) that everything else is just a lead-up to intercourse, but that's just not so. People with highly satisfying sex lives don't tend to do just one thing, or ditch all those other sexual activities once intercourse is in the mix. Rather, adding that is just adding one more activity, not replacing all others. Keep your sex life together varied, made of a bunch of different activities. have times when you have sex together without intercourse at all. Be creative: partnered sex is about expression, not performance, so what the two of you do and how you do it should be unique to the two of you in terms of what things you both like best, what your personalities are like, how you communicate and interact. And do be sure that what you're doing and when you're doing it is all infused with you being very excited and aroused: if you don't start any kind of sex feeling very lusty, you're unlikely to experience a lot of satisfaction.

I'll be blunt and say one more thing: if it hasn't been amazing for you, I hope you don't feel like you have to say it has been. "Amazing" doesn't usually equal "can't feel anything," so when I hear you say it's been amazing because you love him, I have to wonder if you feel guilty for not having felt satisfied, especially since you do love him and are in love. We can get a big emotional rush and love someone and still not be sexually satisfied. We can even have sex that is a total yawner with someone we are really into and love a lot: and that doesn't always mean there isn't love there. If things have been lackluster for you, it's important you're able to be honest about that. if you're saying it's great when it isn't, it's not likely to get better. You can voice feeling dissatisfied in ways that are kind and don't hurt feelings: just saying that while emotionally, things feel incredible, but physically, you're not there yet and feel like you both need to communicate more and experiment more for you to get there is fine. These are discussions that people who love each other have, and that love is part of what makes them okay to have and not a big deal. If you and your partner know you're loved and cared for, you both know that not feeling sexually satisfied doesn't negate that, and should feel safe enough together to address less-than-perfect issues in your sex life or other aspects of your relationship. Often, those kinds of talks strengthen a relationship, to boot.

As far as both of you being sexually satisfied while he is away at college, remember that partnered sex isn't just about filling a need for sexual release or satisfaction. We can do that all by ourselves with our own two hands: that's how we can get those basic needs met. What a partner adds to the mix isn't just some variety with the physical, or the additional rush from sharing our sexuality with someone else, but emotional bonding and sharing. If you two want to be together monogamously, you can do that with some distance and not go out of your minds when it comes to sex just by masturbating and finding other creative ways to continue your sexual relationship during the times when you're apart. In fact, sometimes distance can help because you get the opportunity to communicate about sex more: you can masturbate together on the phone, for instance, sharing what you're doing and how it feels. You can share sexual fantasy through letters or e-mail.

As well, I hope that it's obvious that if you're saying you don't really want to be with others, that dating others to have them effectively be sexual stand-ins for each of you isn't so cool. People have feelings, and using them as ways to up the ante in your sexual relationship, or as a way to get a sexual release just because doesn't tend to take those feelings into account. Too, if you don't actually have any real interest in anyone else, it doesn't make much sense to try and force that. It's fine not to have had a lot of experience with other partners, and it's fine if, for now, you just want to be with your boyfriend. That may change later, especially given that most young adult relationships will not be the only ones you have in life, but if it does change, it'll change pretty naturally: it's not something you have to force or have happen at a certain time. It sounds like you're enjoying a positive love relationship right now. That's not something that happens every day, so ditching it because someone else thinks you should, or you feel like there is a cultural expectation for you to do so seems a waste of the good stuff.

I'm not sure who brought the idea up of seeing other people, though, so if he brought it up, I'd talk more to find out if it's something he wants, rather than something he or you feels obligated to try. Just so you're both aware, though, "don't ask, don't tell," doesn't tend to be a very workable model for open relationships. For starters, if either of you is having additional partners, you're going to need to bump up your safer sex practices together as well as with those partners, and also get tested more often. You both will need to know if extra risks have been in there. As well, keeping that part of your life secret from one another would be likely to harm your relationship, and would likely cause one or both of you to be paranoid about each other. It's also normal for people in open relationships to have to negotiate time more and to deal with some jealousy: to do those things, you have to talk about them. If or when you do agree to see other people, for that to be healthy, physically and emotionally, it's going to need to be something you're able to be open about. If that doesn't feel possible, then I'd suggest making clear that monogamy is the only model that's going to work for you right now.

But if he's not just asking outright to open up the relationship to dating others, it is probably smartest just to see how things go once he's in school and for the two of you to just keep communicating about what you both want and need over time. You or he may find that you do have interest in seeing other people in time, and if that's what happens, for either or both of you, then you can talk about it if and when you get there. Transitioning to college in a relationship is often challenging, and you two are probably going to deal with some of those challenges. I'd say your best bet is just to establish several ways of keeping in touch -- and you have them in college, there isn't a "lockdown" for people in school, I assure you -- in advance, and to commit to being open to talking things out and going with the flow.

The common thread with both of these issues? Looks to me like the two of you actually have some real opportunities here to deepen your relationship by increasing your communication and being more open in it and at the same time, a better shot at a sex life that's more satisfying for you. So, while I know all of this seems daunting, and is certainly challenging, just know that good relationships tend to benefit from challenges, and that they can easily turn into positives so long as both people are committed to working through and with them.

I'm tossing you a handful of links to round this all out, including a link to my book, which has extensive information on both how to work out sexual dissatisfaction together and alternative relationship models. Two copies might make a nice shared going-to-college gift for both of you, and give you both some new tools to communicate about all of this with together.

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