We had a great sex life but now I can't make him come anymore

Hayley S.
asks:
Hello! Scarleteen is my go-to site when I have any questions about sex, and it’s helped me a lot, so thank you very much! Lately I've been going through a situation that is messing me up, and I'd like to ask for advice. I've been dating my boyfriend for 6 months. From the first night I met him, we had an amazing sexual chemistry and we wound up in bed together after every date. We didn't have intercourse for the first three months because I wasn't ready, but we tried a lot of other sexual activities and always had a great time. The first months we had intercourse he would come super fast, which made me feel confident. About a month ago, he seemed to start having a hard time keeping his erections. I thought nothing of it, but then he stopped having orgasms, and nothing I do helps. He has never come from blowjobs, but I could always make him finish with handjobs or when he was inside me. Since then, I have let him try new things he wanted to try: he orgasms again and says it was wonderful, but that just happens the first time; after that, we're back to no orgasms. I don't know what else I can do. It seems like all the sexual chemistry is gone and the whole situation has me really messed up. I feel like I'm not enough, like he doesn't longer find me attractive or like he's bored of me. Also, I feel used for his experimentation... like an object. Outside of sex, he's a wonderful, caring boyfriend, and I believe he does have feelings for me the same way I do for him. I don't want the relationship to end, because he makes me incredibly happy, but I'm afraid if this keeps going on things will end. What can I do? Is there any way to gain our chemistry back? Should we just stop having sex altogether?
Jacob replies:

Hayley,

I'm so sorry you're experiencing the crappy feelings of ‘not being enough’, or even of someone potentially being ‘bored’ of you. It can be extremely painful to have those thoughts and I think it would be best for you to do what you can to start entertaining them as little as possible.

It's not anyone's responsibility -- including yours! -- to "be enough" for a partner sexually. No one person can or should even try to fulfill anyone else's complete sexual wants; to be a one-person answer to someone else's sexuality or sexual desires. Sexuality and sexual relationships just don't work like that. What makes a healthy relationship is not so much what we are, or if we can be someone's sexual everything, but is more about what we do with what we can, like: speaking honestly about our feelings, listening respectfully to each others needs, making decisions together, and having realistic adaptable expectations, including the limitations that will always exist just by virtue of any of us being only one person.

Early on in many relationships, the sex and the rapport can absolutely sometimes click into place in ways that feel effortless. A lot of this is bolstered by the excitement of being with a new person, known as limerence or NRE (new relationship energy). In the early phases of a relationship our neurochemisty even changes temporarily. This can also mean that our insecurities and worries can affect us less during that time. Eventually though, as you've found, those insecurities can come back and bite us in the butt when we aren't expecting them, particularly when all those high-key feelings at the start of something mellow out. Then we have to flex our relationship muscles: we can't just skate by on the easier energy the newness of a relationship can give us.

It sounds like this is a stage you two have reached. So now it's up to you to process, work through and negotiate things that perhaps didn’t feel like priorities or weren't necessary before.

Sexual relationships don't feel or stay the same over time. Things which were once exciting can feel routine as time passes: we often have to keep trying new things if we want it to stay fun for everyone, and part of the benefit of developing deeper trust over time is that it can make that experimentation feel safer. We aren't usually experimenting to "get somewhere." If we were, the 'somewhere' would always be shifting and we'd never get there.  Ideally, any sexual experimenting we do is mostly done for its own sake, and to enjoy it and the journey we're on sexually together.

I want to make sure I talk about this idea that any of us "make" someone orgasm.  That's because we don't and we can't.  Orgasm is an involuntary response of the central nervous system. No one, not even the person having one, can "make" it happen. But if you want to think about anyone as being responsible for an orgasm, then you need to know it's the person  having one (or not) and their body. When you've been part of the sex that person is having that gets them there, you didn't make anything on our own: you just helped.

It can also be handy to think about what orgasms tell us, or more precisely, what they can’t tell us. Looking to sex or a partner’s orgasm for reassurance can lead to some really sticky situations (and not in a fun sticky way!) because, in part, it means you're using it instead of verbal communication, without which problems will just get worse. Someone reaching orgasm doesn't prove anything, really, except that that person has a functioning nervous system. If we're looking for evidence that the sex we're having with someone is satisfying for them, then what we really want to focus on is their pleasure throughout -- not just what leads to orgasm -- and on what they tell us when we talk with them about it, something we need to be doing in ongoing sexual relationships.

You said your boyfriend has been caring outside of sex but haven't mentioned what he's doing that feels uncaring to you in sex? If him showing care is something you understand as delivering reassurances with orgasms then boy-oh-boy that is a lot of pressure for him. Too much pressure, in fact, not to mention something that's just not fair to ask someone to deliver.  Again, remember that orgasm is involuntary: it's just not something totally within our control. Perhaps ask yourself: if this were reversed and your boyfriend was saying his confidence in your relationship depended on you having an orgasm, how would that pressure feel for you? Wouldn't that make it difficult for you to enjoy sex, and focus on things like pleasure and intimacy: on the good stuff?

can see how the focus on his body and his orgasm could leave you feeling left out, and uncared for, if it's going on in some particular ways. If, for instance,  this is something he is pushing, rather than something you're both wanting to do, then maybe he is uncaring. In that case, I’d question whether he is a good person to be in a relationship with at all. But if the experimentation you two are doing, and this focus on his body, is something you are also -- or even mostly -- asking for, then I'm not seeing how it's about a lack of care for you or how it's objectifying you. This is something that I'd suggest you think about on your own, then talk about with him and try to get to the bottom of.  It might be that you just don't like some of the sexual activities you've been experimenting with, and you may need to talk some more to find ways to try new things that you both actually like, and that also can put some more focus on whatever parts of your body you feel are being neglected in this.

Here's something more to think about: plenty of happy fulfilling sexual experiences go by without an orgasm or an obvious erection anywhere to be seen. Truly. Likewise, someone can have an orgasm or get an erection in a situation that they aren’t into, or with people they don’t particularly like. Sexual fulfillment, and discomfort for that matter, are not things best measured with blood-flow to genitals or orgasms. In fact, when this has been studied, what's generally been found is that for most people, things like sexual communication, sexual frequency, and variety are just as important to sexual satisfaction for people as orgasm is, in some cases more so. Ultimately, neither your boyfriend’s body nor his orgasms can tell you that much how he feels about you or how your relationship is doing. Talking about it and exploring other ways to develop and feel more sexual confidence than someone else's orgasm, are far more likely routes to mutual satisfaction and better sexual self-esteem.

Many of us struggle to feel accepted in general and in sex. I'll say that progress generally starts with honestly looking at yourself and slowly moves through learning self-acceptance, and changing our thinking habits and behaviors over time. This is something which, with a bit of practice, we can give ourselves. We don't have to rely on other people, or what their bodies do or don't do, for it. You can address that unconfidence through a self-help approach or with a mental health professional. I'm definitely a fan of getting a therapist when you are able to.

We can easily feel so powerless when sex feels weird and we don’t know how to fix it, but there are actions you can take, like some I've mentioned here. I do want to note that, to me, “We ended up in bed,” or “I’m scared it will end,” are both sentences which leave out any decision making and imply that you feel these are events which were or will be out of your control. So my last question is: why think of yourself as so passive?

You and your partner did actively decide to have intercourse and carry on having it, and if your relationship ends it won’t just happen; one or both of you will have decided it and done it. If your boyfriend’s body does or doesn’t do a thing, it doesn't and won’t annul your relationship without you, I promise. You can get to stay in it if you are still happy in it! If we convince ourselves that things are inevitable we can completely erase our own ability to make decisions, and feel even more powerless. We might also be erasing the voices of the people we could make those decisions with.

You also don’t have to stay in this relationship, and you don’t need to keep having sex. As an initial step, stopping any uncomfortable, upsetting, or, of course, unwanted, sex is always a good idea. Continuing something problematic makes it mighty difficult to address or even identify the problems.

There aren’t really sex-solutions to communication problems, but there are often communication solutions to sex-problems. I think things will really improve for you, no matter how you go with this, if you focus on self-esteem and communication for a while.

If you can take sex off the table until you find a way to enjoy it for what it is, without asking it to give you things it can't and feel like you can get on the same page with your boyfriend about how you feel about each other, then I think this could be something you can absolutely work through. Likewise, it could be that with the new relationship energy gone, there really is a lack of enduring sexual spark between you guys, or there are other issues -- including that when you try and communicate more, it just doesn't work well between you, or that communication may illuminate impassible barriers or differences  -- and you may conclude that ending it is the best decision.

Whatever happens, I want you to know that any problems here are not because you weren’t enough. You are enough: enough for you, enough for anyone else, in the ways and to the degree that any of us can be "enough" as just one person.

Some or all of these issues may just reflect a change that many relationships undergo after those intense, rosy early stages. You are clearly switched on enough to question your sex life and begin learning what sex can be good for (like pleasure, fun and curiosity) and when to turn to verbal communication and boundary-setting to meet your needs. You are also perfectly capable of working on the insecurities that might be holding you back and can probably begin better, and more truly, enjoying the rest of your sex life for yourself, regardless of how a partner or their body feels or responds.