That's a really important (and complicated) question, thank you.
If I were single right now, would I be desiring sex in any manner? No. I've been trying to cultivate "think about sex and how fun it could be" desire in the context of my relationship, but it's just not something that's ever come naturally to me. I try to fantasize and my mind draws a blank, or pictures one or both of us rolling over and going to sleep. I feel like I'm a little better at it now than a few months ago because I have better ideas of things I *don't* want, which is helpful, but I still don't have a ton of motivation forward from active wanting. Would I be so anxious about not having masturbation at all figured out if I were single? Also no. No one outright told me to do it, but it's suggested everywhere from every sex resource ever to my partner and friends as the way to get to discover one's own pleasure and desire, so despite it literally never having turned up anything for me it's something I've tried really hard with (and honestly not listened to my own body saying it's bored/uncomfortable/anxious). But single, I never even thought about it and wasn't really concerned with the fact it hasn't worked for me. It just wasn't something I thought about, but now I've been steeped in it from all directions and it's hard *not* to feel frustrated with myself, you know?
I've been thinking a lot about some of the things you touched on lately because there are swathes of time I just don't love to think about. Like, common fantasy/desire advice is to think about sexual experiences you've had in the past, but I honestly really don't want to or like to think about most of them (which all unfolded in the last 3 weeks or so of this spring semester). To put it bluntly, the routine was "silently do homework independently until midnight, blowjob, sleep, wake up, blowjob, immediately part ways" and I really was not informed enough or in tune enough to recognize it as a problem worth addressing that I wasn't into it and was approaching every night with a "get it over with as fast as possible" mindset. Strictly speaking, that's not an act I particularly enjoy, and the environment of feeling sneaky, rushed, braindead and absolutely exhausted, and the weird abandonment feeling of doing it and immediately going to sleep or parting ways, all the walking home alone in the cold some early weekday morning before class, all creates a vibe I'm just not fond of going back to.
Things are better now, with a ton of communication and learning this summer (and getting to see each other for that week in June, that is legitimately translating into good change). I've learned more about what sorts of feelings are a problem and the way they bubble up as awful resentment if I try to put them aside over and over. I've realized and communicated some good "as a rule" sorts of boundaries. For example, we used to have sex first thing in the morning every time, which I don't love because I feel way too sleepy/groggy/gross/hungry/thirsty/etc and I'm learning I need a few hours of actively being awake and doing things together (like cooking or talking or laughing, not like individual homework in silence) to feel more up to sex, more favorable and less tense. Another is realizing that I really need time cuddling and reconnecting afterwards to feel valued and not abandoned, and another is "hey, I gag violently literally every time I swallow, so let's try some other things for that maybe".
The June trip was really good because we got to put all those and more new boundaries and knowledge in practice, there was more cuddling and quality time and less sex generally, and the sex we did have felt much more balanced with me getting equal attention and time. I'm not sure why that was a thing that was so unbalanced for the first few weeks; he's my best friend and genuinely cares about my comfort and pleasure, but I guess I just wasn't asking for anything more because I was still learning that feeling that way was a problem and I'm allowed to ask for more attention and well, the few times we've tried I haven't particularly physically enjoyed it, which is frustrating and emotionally exhausting for everyone, so what's the point?
It's really hard for me to remember that 1. even if I'm not having any remotely orgasmic sort of response, it is important to put in energy and attention that makes me feel equally centered and like I'm worth the time, and 2. exploring what might make me feel good is a worthy goal even if I make it enormously difficult and frustrating for everyone. Especially that second one. It's so easy for me to put it away as "well, nothing's really felt good physically so what's the point, I won't bother and so I'll be easier to deal with and less demanding!" the way women are sort of socialized to shrink themselves, you know? But after a lot of thinking this summer I'm more aware of what "this feels bad and I don't want it" feels like, and also what "I want to know I'm worth the attention, time, and care, physical pleasure be damned" feels like. Does that make sense? In a more equally centered space, with certain boundaries ruling out things I know I dislike, sex feels like a fine option for spending my time, an opportunity for intimacy and quality time together. There's no particular craving or draw to it any more than say, playing board games (which is to say, I never *want* to play board games, but sometimes someone suggests it and it's a good enough way to spend time), and I don't particularly desire it for anticipated pleasure, but I can appreciate the opportunity it presents for expressing mutual attention and care, and I want to have more experiences of emotional intimacy and care generally, and sex seems like as fine an avenue as any.
So that week in June felt quite a bit closer to a sexual relationship that is ideal for me: more equal in time and attention and care, certain new boundaries in place, a better environment with less of a time rush, and a LOT more time for cuddling and just spending time together, laughing or showering or trying new vegetables or watching a bad movie. I'd like to get my brain to a place where that's what I consistently imagine and feel when I think about sex: a nice, safe-feeling, more relaxed place that provides the opportunity to express equal attention and care. The trouble is I still have a hard time thinking of sex at large that way; my default in terms of feelings is the feeling frustrated, sad, kind of abandoned and without a part of my humanity (and trying to force solo sex over the last few months that I genuinely don't want for any reason and which feels boring or very unpleasant definitely doesn't help). I know that just time and experience will probably take care of it; I'm weighing dozens of instances I don't love thinking about against a few days together, and more time in that better space will help me feel better.
But for now, it's hard to be patient with myself sometimes, and the way my brain and body still kind of cringe away from the idea of sex as a whole as a place to feel frustrated about the way I am, uncomfortable or bored, and potentially pretty grossed out and alone. I know I didn't come into this sexual relationship with a particularly good attitude around sex- it was just kind of "this isn't a thing I want or enjoy but I'll get through it for you"- and certain early uninformed experiences probably didn't help. I think I'll feel a lot better with time, and (I hope) slowly come around to feeling positively about the concept of sex generally, instead of it by default making me feel frustrated, clammed-up, anxious, broken, and unworthy of the attention and care I want.
I don't know whether that answered your question, Val, but it makes me feel really seen and valued to have you come back here to ask me about this, and I'm looking forward to any new insight I may get here. Thank you again. <3