He Doesn't Want Sex Anymore. I Do. Now What?

chubbychickpea
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My partner and I have been dating for over a year now and have just begun to hit some rough patches. We used to have a lot of (what I thought was) really great sex. Then one day he told me that all that sex had been only mediocre for him. I was mortified and also ashamed because it felt like maybe he had never really want to have sex with me, he was just doing it because he knew I wanted to. Recently, he says that he might be asexual, but he isn't sure. He's trans and in the middle of transitioning, so he says his body is changing. He says masturbation "works wonders" for him, and he feels no sexual desire for me whatsoever. I've researched a/sexual relationships - the options are 1) me learning to like masturbation - I do, but it's not enough for me 2) him compromising to have sex, which reeks of non-consent and grosses me out 3) an open relationship, which isn't an option for either of us. I'm sexual. I want to feel sexy and desired and to have sex and everything that goes along with it. But if he isn't, what am I supposed to do? Right now the solution feels like I should just repress my libido so I won't need to have sex any more, but I don't even know if that's possible. I'm at an age where I'm being told left and right to assert myself as a woman, as a sexual person, as a queer person - but it seems like all of that's stopping now. If I'm not a sexual woman any more, I don't even know if I can consider myself a woman. That's right, this is potentially gender identity rocking for me. Please give me any and all advice. I'd appreciate it. - Sad, Confused, Terrified.
Heather Corinna replies:

Before I say anything else, I want to address about those feelings of shame and inadequacy you had -- from the sounds of it, are still having -- when your partner told you his feelings about your sex life.

Someone feeling like their sexual life or interactions with someone else aren't satisfying, or not feeling desire for them, doesn't mean that other person is not performing or servicing the other person properly (and hopefully the ooky-way all of that even sounds will tip you off to how much it just isn't the way to go), that the other person isn't sexual anymore, isn't "enough" per their sexuality or gender, or that something is wrong with them, period. How this person feels with all this is primarily about this person: not you.

And in this situation, particularly, it sounds to me like your partner has some stuff going on that you can't -- and shouldn't try to -- "fix" or change with any kind of sex you may have with them. He sounds to me like he's clear that some of this is about where he's at with his transition, as well as a possibility of him simply not having an interest in sex with others, period. Too, you also are in no way responsible for this person only telling you now how they feel about sex they have been engaging in with you the whole time this far along. Sometimes people fake interest or satisfaction in the sex that they're having. That obviously stinks for everyone, including the person they're doing that with, but even if a con isn't the intent, in some ways, it's like one in that the person being conned isn't the person responsible for being conned: that's on the person, even if their causes or reasons are something we can understand or feel sympathy for, doing the conning.

Too, it's not like it's unusual for one person to have sex and find it great, and the other person to feel lackluster about it. I know the ideal is that when we have great experiences, the other person is, too, but because we're all different people, that just isn't always going to happen. In fact, I'd say people being sexual together even one time and both feeling the exact same way about it is more uncommon than common. It is okay that you had what were great experiences for you that were only okay for the other person. And again, it's not on you, and may not even be about you -- unless you have been doing anything to keep your partner from feeling safe being honest, which I doubt, as that just doesn't sound like the kind of person you are -- that they withheld the truth from you.

I truly, deeply, hope you can start to let those feelings of shame or inadequacy go and eventually just pitch them in the rubbish bin full-stop. They're not going to help you, they're only going to bog you down and make you feel more crummy, scared and confused. They also are not likely to lead you to choices and solutions that do work for you.

That said, I agree that the options you've presented here are some options you have. I also agree that with the exception of opening up the relationship -- which you make clear one or both of you won't consider, so it's a non-option if that's how one or both of you feels -- those options are stinkers. By all means, him agreeing to have sex he doesn't want, with someone he's made clear he feels no sexual desire for, is, as you seem to agree, totally not an option at all. Doing that is, I agree, questionably consensual, but it also is nearly guaranteed to make you both feel shittier, not better. You don't want to have sex with someone who doesn't want to have sex with you (and you and I seem to feel the same way about that, per that taking even the idea of sex with them off the table if they feel that way is a given). Someone can also like masturbation all they want, but that's not going to change their desire for sex with a partner, nor does having sex on your own really speak to the fact that you are in a sexual relationship with someone else, one that doesn't allow you any others, but one that can't really be a sexual relationship anymore since one person in it has made clear they feel no desire to have that kind of relationship with you anymore, and even when they did, have now made clear it wasn't a good fit for them.

There is, however, another option you didn't include: splitting up.

Now, there are some things I don't know here from what you've written, things that probably influence how you feel about this like:

  • What the overall relationship between you is and has been like: all I know from what you wrote is that it once was a relationship in which you had great sexual experiences. Is it otherwise amazing? Or is it otherwise just okay, or not that good at all? Or is there no otherwise? Was this really only a sexual relationship, so with that piece now kaput, are there just no other parts of the relationship left?
  • You are deeply attached to this person and attached to this person as, specifically, a sexual partner.
  • Is it both of you who are not open to opening up the relationship? Or just one of you, and if so, is that person him or you? What are your reasons for feeling like that is such a total no-go, particularly considering he's made clear he no longer feels the desire to even be sexual with you, and you want a sexual relationship that he doesn't?
  • What is this person like, particularly in terms of why only just now did he pipe up about his feelings around sex with you and desire for you? He's in transition, and it sounds like he's in the midst of an orientation shift, too: those things obviously make any of this much more complex. Same goes for other things I don't know, like how able he feels to assert himself sexually, including saying no to sex he doesn't want or just isn't feeling. Of course, I also don't know if he's just been a jerk: one possibility is that he's said what he has, and only just now, because he's just not a particularly nice or kind person. The fact that someone has a bunch of big stuff going on, whether someone is in transition, suffering a big loss, or has cancer, after all, doesn't tell us anything about their character. Being a jerk is an equal opportunity enterprise.
  • How long ago did this all happen, and how did he say what he did -- was he clearly making real effort to tell you all this as kindly and considerately as he could, and give you some real care after, or was he very blithe about it? What talks you two have had since around all of this, and how those have gone and felt for both of you.

You are very clear that you want a sexual relationship at this time in your life, one that involves engaging in physical expressions of sex with a partner who feels sexual desire for you. That is something your partner has now made clear he does NOT want or feel. You both certainly can choose to wait this out some -- without engaging in sex together -- and see if that changes, but if you already have, and it doesn't seem like it will anytime soon, or you haven't, but you just don't want to wait it out anymore, then what I see here as the only remaining option, and potentially the only truly good one, is ending this as a sexual relationship.

That could look a whole bunch of different ways, for the record. I know what a lot of people think of with that kind of suggestion is that it means no relationship at all. If that's what people want, it certainly can go that way. But if it's not, it doesn't have to.

For instance, you can stay in or cultivate a close friendship: some of us find that the people who turn out to be our very best friends, who even wind up feeling like family, were people who once were our lovers. You can even stay in a romantic relationship if that's something you're already in and both still want, if you both acknowledge and agree it isn't a sexual one, and that means you get to pursue the sexual relationships you want.

But a sexual relationship between the two of you clearly isn't the right one, and just doesn't seem likely to be again, especially since it sounds like one of you (him) is saying like it never really was to begin with.

I think your wants are just too incredibly divergent for a sexual relationship that suits both your wants and needs to be doable: it's a very, very long way between "I only want to masturbate and feel no sexual desires for you (or maybe anyone)" to " I want to feel sexy and desired and to have sex and everything that goes along with it."

These positions and wants are basically polar opposites. Trying to reach a compromise when the middle is a place so far away from anything close to what either of you want and need just doesn't seem sound to me. I'm not seeing how you can have a sexual relationship together now where either of your wants and needs will be met, or that either of you will feel good in and satisfied by. And when that's the case, for any two people, the only sound way to address that, in my book, is to acknowledge that and decide not to try and have a kind of relationship that just can't work.

I'd also add that you talked here about where you are at per your time of life and sexual relationships. If you feel like -- rather than just hearing from others -- this is a time you really want to explore your sexuality with someone else, and with physical and shared expressions of that sexuality, then it just is not going to work for you to be in an exclusive sexual relationship where both people don't want to do that together.

Again, I don't know anything else about this relationship besides what you've written here. Does this feel like a relationship that's watershed in your life in more than one way -- in ways other than about your sexual history together? That's something else likely to play a huge part in what you feel best doing with this, and where you take things from here. After all, if the only way you have ever really felt connected is sexually, and now that's gone, this just may plain be over, and you may not want to stick around OR try and shift the relationship to being something else, like a platonic close friendship, a non-sexual romance, or a friend-as-family relationship.

If you two do feel deeply connected in other ways, the good news is that staying connected in those ways probably won't be very hard to do, and the same goes for you two just acknowledging that a sexual relationship obviously isn't the right on anymore. In fact, it sounds like your partner may already be there with that one. In fact, taking this area of big discord and conflict out of the equation will probably massively strengthen and nurture the parts of your relationship -- if there are any -- all by itself. Trying to fit together in ways we just don't is stressful, exhausting and tends to degrade a relationship rather than nourish it.

Early sexual and romantic relationships, for the record, don't tend to be very long-term. That's primarily because the people involved are so new to all of this, just figuring out who they are and what they want, and also are at a time of life when so much personal growth and change is happening, that something that fits one year, month, or even week can be a poor fit the next. So, it's most common, in people's teens and twenties, for relationships to be something people outgrow quickly, and changes like this -- not quite this specifically, mind -- are more common than not, I'd say.

I know that doesn't make big, unwanted changes or the ends of them feel any better. It hurts, and it is sad and scary when something that felt so right once doesn't fit anymore, and all the more so when we think something still feels just right for us, but the not to the other person. And of course, it stinks beyond stinking that you are only just finding out about this now, even if your partner had good reasons or tough struggles that understandably kept them from being honest earlier.

I want to add that your gender identity (and your sexuality) is about you, not something at all determined by how one person -- or even everyone else besides you -- does or doesn't find you sexually appealing, or does or doesn't enjoy sex with you. Not only is gender or a person's sexuality about much more than sexual activity or sex appeal to others, it's just not something someone else's feelings decide, only yours. But if, as it seems you're saying, being in a sexual partnership that isn't actually sexual anymore, and where someone has said the things he has feels like something that makes you feel super-insecure about your gender, or anything else (which is certainly understandable), I think that's another clue that this is just not a sound sexual relationship for you to stay in.

I never like giving an answer I know is likely one that will not make someone happy, and I particularly wish I had something different to say to you, because goodness knows, you are feeling lousy enough as it is. But ultimately, I think however much this stinks to hear, it's really important to consider, because I think staying in this as it is -- as a sexual relationship -- is only going to keep you feeling lousy, and probably will feel worse for both of you the longer you stay in it. I think that despite dealing with the loss that the end of any relationship (or the end of one big piece of it) is, you will probably feel a lot better very fast if you move on here and put your energy into seeking out what you really want, and what leaves you feeling good about yourself.

You know what you want. This isn't it or anything even remotely close to it. Sounds like the same is true for him. And when that's how something is, and there's no real middle-ground that feels good and right for everyone, all there really is to do is let go and move on.

I'm going to leave you some links that may help with your decision-making process around this, and also, if you want to talk this out with this guy more, may give you some new direction. And of course, I wish you the very best and hope you feel a lot better soon. Do be sure that whatever route you take, you are taking very good care of yourself, and also doing what you can to gather some support from other people in your life. Feeling like you are isn't something you want to stay in, period, but it also can make making tough choices a lot tougher.