Content note: This column talks about non-consensual sex and traumatic reactions.
I’m a 24-year-old woman and I’ve had no sexual desire since my teens. When I was 18, I went out with a boy from my high school and when we went to his house, he pushed sex at a faster and further pace than I was comfortable with even after I told him I wanted to stop.
I’m now in a committed three-year relationship with my live-in boyfriend and I just don’t have any sexual desire. I’m never “in the mood” for sex and haven’t been since my first boyfriend/first sexual experiences. My boyfriend often gets upset because he thinks I’m not attracted to him or that I just see him as a friend, which really isn’t the case. I find him incredibly attractive and find myself incredibly lucky but I can’t seem to get myself in the “mood.” When I tell my friends, they say it’s my birth control.
I’m constantly blaming myself for my lack of sexual desire while my partner blames himself. He gets so upset because we have only been dating for three years so at this point, in his mind, we should still be having amazing and frequent sex. And honestly I’d like that too, I just can’t get my mind there.
If we don’t have sex at least twice a month, he will continue to bring up how long it has been since we last had sex which drives me insane! I understand his want and I want it, too, ideally but I still don’t understand my lack of want. It honestly has nothing to do with him. I am constantly telling him “I don’t know what’s wrong with me” because I wasn’t always this way. My man can be an emotional person and takes everything so personally.
Sex just gives me anxiety. Is it the birth control? Is there something I can work on to bring myself out of whatever sexless hole I’ve put myself in? How do I explain “what’s wrong with me”?
Damsel in Driveless Distress
This humble sex column is only so long in word count, so allow me to be direct. Not all traumatic sexual violations follow the traditional narrative of a violent attack by a shadowy stranger. In fact, according to rain.org, 7 out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by people that the survivor knew personally. In the cases of teen sexual assault survivors, a whopping 93 percent of sexual assaults are committed by somebody known to the survivor — be it a friend, partner, family member, or acquaintance.
Because of the popular mainstream archetype about sexual assault, it can be hard to view non-consensual sexual experiences for what they are: just as valid and traumatic as any other version of sexual assault. Why I say this, Driveless, is that your earliest sexual experiences with this boyfriend sound like a sexual violation to me and the trauma of that event is lingering in your current sex life (understandably so).
Having our sexual and personal boundaries violated like this leads to long-lasting effects such as difficulty trusting partners, low self-esteem, anxiety, and yes, lack of sexual desire. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you and you did nothing wrong. Your brain and body are working to protect you from unwanted sexual advances. When our brains and bodies have learned that sex is dangerous, we might feel anxious, frozen, or just not into it when sex is on the table.
Your current boyfriend needs to stop applying pressure to you to have more or different sex with him immediately. All this is doing is confirming the story your body and brain have recorded which is that sex is scary and needs to happen even when unwanted. Only you are in charge of your physical boundaries — not him, and not anyone else.
I recognize that therapy can be expensive, even with insurance coverage. However, having a trained professional assist you in crafting a new mind-and-body connection to sex will be the safest and most effective path towards your desire goals. At the very least, $20 can get you a copy of the very helpful book Healing Sex by Staci Haines for a solid start.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.