You Need Help: I Thought We Were Both Switches, but My Girlfriend Won’t Touch Me

Q:

Hello, when my girlfriend and I met we both said that we are ‘switch.’ After months together I see that I am a switch and she is a bottom. With her as a bottom I am always on top, always. I really want her to touch me but she’s just not into it and she doesn’t know why. I like her a lot. What do I do?


A:

First and foremost, you have to talk to your girlfriend. I really hope you’ve already taken that step already. It sounds like you may have, because you say your girlfriend doesn’t know why she doesn’t want to touch you, which I hope is something she actually said and not you making a guess. And look, if she doesn’t know why, she doesn’t know why! That’s for her to unpack — if she wants to.

Does your girlfriend know you want her to touch you? Have you been able to talk about these things during a non-sexual context so there isn’t pressure in the moment? Has this been an ongoing conversation? Has your girlfriend said anything other than she “doesn’t know why” she’s not into it? Have you both been clear with each other about what you want? I get it! Talking about sex can be uncomfortable! But it’s way worse to leave things unsaid and potentially create a much bigger problem.

Switch, top, and bottom are not necessarily fixed categories. People’s interests and desires change all the time. It’s possible your girlfriend really believed herself to be a switch when you met her. But sometimes, we don’t have those things fully figured out yet or those things change. In any case though, a big part of why you absolutely need to have an open, empathetic, and honest conversation with your girlfriend is because this seems to be about more than just switch/top/bottom dynamics.

In case it needs to be said: Bottoming does not typically mean never touching another person. It’s overly simplistic to conclude that because your girlfriend doesn’t want to touch you she’s a bottom because, well, that’s not inherently what bottoming is. I mean, sure, these sexual dynamics are different for everyone, and definitions for switch/top/bottom can be flexible and expansive. But it sounds like you are deciding your girlfriend is a bottom when maybe there’s something else going on here. Have you asked her explicitly about any of this? Has she said she’s actually a bottom rather than a switch or is this an inference on your part?

There are a whole slew of possible reasons for why your girlfriend doesn’t seem to be into touching you, so I don’t want to speculate on her behalf. But it very likely has nothing to do with you, which I want to reiterate, because I know it’s easy to internalize a dynamic like this as rejection. But that’s exactly the cycle I’m hoping you can avoid here. If you and your girlfriend aren’t able to talk about what’s going on, she might continue to not want to touch you, and you might become insecure, and she might feel pressured, which might make you feel bad, which might repeat the cycle all over again. It’s not sustainable.

It sounds like your idea of your sexual dynamic with your girlfriend isn’t lining up with the reality of it. This happens all the time. It’s possible she’ll never fit the idea you had. New Relationship Energy sometimes yields a much different sexual dynamic than people’s baseline desires. But also, based on your letter, I can’t tell if the sex at the beginning of the relationship was actually different than it is now or if your expectations were entirely based on you both saying you were switches when you met. Did your girlfriend go from touching you a lot to not touching you at all? Or has she never really touched you during sex? Either way, it’s important you don’t make your girlfriend feel like this is a “problem” to be “fixed,”—it’s not. Sexual incompatibility just happens sometimes! And it can be a lot more complicated than whether someone identifies as a switch, top, or bottom.

Be clear and honest about what you want with your girlfriend. But also know she might not have answers right away. It’ll be up to you to decide if you’re willing to wait while she figures out what she wants. Because it also definitely matters what you want. You deserve to be touched the way you want to be touched. It’s just possible this person can’t provide that for you. This is a new relationship, and sometimes people’s sexual desires just aren’t compatible, but it’s better to figure it out sooner rather than later. Trying to mash incompatible desires together doesn’t really work long-term. It could lead to a lot of resentment or worse. But I can’t tell you what’s going on in your girlfriend’s head. I just think it might help you to approach these conversations in a way that goes beyond the context of switch/top/bottom.


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Kayla

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 322 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. I am here to offer an alternate perspective for the questioner– one which is significantly less generous to the woman who refuses to touch her lover.

    I have dealt with this dynamic _a lot_. I am fifty, and I am out of patience with women who just aren’t interested in touching me. I used to spend a lot more time talking, asking questions, giving the benefit of the doubt, offering a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, an infinite number of chances. I have come to believe that a non-trivial number of women are simply selfish in bed. As Kayla says, this doesn’t automatically go with being a bottom. I am a bottom, and part of being a bottom for me means doing everything in my power to discover what makes my lovers feel physically satisfied, and then doing my damndest to give it to them. This is something different. Maybe it isn’t selfishness. Maybe it’s shyness, or dysphoria, or some sort of strange hangup. It kind of doesn’t matter what it is. She won’t touch you. You’ve talked to her about it. You’ve asked why she won’t touch you. She’s told you she doesn’t know why. From my experience, I don’t think this is something you can fix. When I have stayed with women who will not touch me, I have gotten increasingly insecure and bitter. The last woman who was like this with me told me that it was because I was just so difficult to top. This harmed me and gave me damage that I took into my next relationship.

    I don’t know why there are so many women who refuse to touch their lovers. (Or touch us in very perfunctory ways. It reminds me of the stereotype of the man who breaks dishes until his girlfriend gives up and does them all herself.) My advice is, just accept that she is not sexually compatible with you and leave. If you want to stay– I know it’s hard to leave someone you love– I strongly advice you to put a deadline on it and make it a close deadline. Let her know that if the sex is still one-way in a month, or two months, or three at most– or if she starts touching you but does a really bad job at it– you will leave.

    Based on my experience, the heartbreak of leaving someone you love who will not (sexually) touch you you is significantly less long-term damaging then the damage of staying.

    It is deeply, deeply corrosive to be treated in this way. For queers who have already been taught that we do not deserve sexual pleasure– particularly for those of us who have been taught shame about our bodies– it can deepen the damage caused by growing up in a homophobic culture and create issues and hangups that will take years to unlearn.

    Think about it this way: if you were with a man who expected you to get him off, but did not reciprocate, would you stay? Would you listen to advice from people who told you to stay? Would the same people urging you to talk to him about it be giving you the same advice? Or would they say that some men are selfish in bed, that you have a right to reciprocation, and if you aren’t getting it you should leave. Personally, I believe that if we would call a man selfish for refusing to reciprocate sexually, we should call a woman selfish for the same thing.

    For the sake of your future girlfriends, I strongly, strongly advise you to leave. It will make it easier for you to love, and be loved, in the future.

    • Seconding this, as a queer bottom who has often found herself topping simply because my ex partners did not want to know how to touch me too, or treated touching me as an afterthought, something secondary to getting their own pleasure. I’m still dealing with the fallout of that- it made me feel insecure and unworthy in a lot of ways, not just in the bedroom.

      Give her a chance, if you want the relationship to work. But make sure that when you set boundaries, you stick to them, and get ready to walk away if they’re not met. You will find someone who’s willing to touch and be touched, someone who will give you the affection and physical loving that you crave. That person may or may not be your current partner.

  2. I’m genuinely puzzled by the top/bottom/switch thing. I was only born in the 80’s but when I was younger I never read or heard those terms in relations to lesbian sex.
    I feel like it has appeared in the last 10 years? Started with those categories for fictional characters because it was funny, and now it’s a concept that younger women adhere to?
    It honestly it makes me a little bit mad. When it comes to women’s relationships I always felt those categories never applied, and now we’re putting ourselves in that dynamic that I feel does more harm than good.

    I’m not here accusing anyone or wanting to create a heated debate, but can someone help me understand? Do I perceive things correctly?

    • I also feel this way and I was born in the mid 90s. I really feel like there’s something I’m missing because it just seems to me that the whole “top/bottom” labeling is putting a binary dynamic on a relationship that (thankfully) doesn’t have gender roles involved because it’s not a cis-male cis-female relationship.

    • I have to agree. I was born in 1962, have been an out lesbian since the early 80`s. Only recently have I heard these terms, top, bottom, switch used in reference to lesbians. In my experience those at one time were terms only used by gay men.
      I know because my best friend of 30 years is a gay man. Women were just having sex. Period. It was all about mutual pleasure and nothing else.
      Not sure when these terms even staring being used for lesbians and why.

    • I’m of the same generation of the others in this thread, and it’s always been in my vernacular, but only in the context of kink; until recently, it hadn’t been a part of the vocabulary of more of my “vanilla” queer relationships, just the (also queer) ones with power exchanges.

      It feels like very suddenly, the terms are being used differently-ish to describe more vanilla sex and I’m cool with language changing, it’s just twice as much communication to make sure you’re actually…. saying the same things.

    • Lesbians in the kink/leather community did use top/bottom/switch.

      But also, similar concepts existed in non-kink lesbian groups. For example, I was reading Compañeras which is a lesbian Latina anthology from the 80s, and in one of the chapters/essays/writings, a woman talks about how she is usually femme in bed but that she wants to be the butch once and make her lover come/touch her body/etc.

      Something similar is expressed in one of the Micky Knight books too. Literally the same idea of a bottom wanting to top once in a while.

      We can also think about how ‘stone butch’ and top overlap too. It’s just changing terminology.

    • Yeah, not just you- it’s definitely seeped in a lot more with the rise of internet culture and the overlap with fandom spaces that are very much based around a more heteronormative idea of gay sex. The conversation about which characters are top/bottom/switch can get wildly heated, and often reproduces typical hetero dynamics (e.g. small/long haired/openly emotional character is a bottom, big/strong/womanising character is a top). That’s started to become less restrictive now, but I think it’s done a lot of harm to the way young queer people see their own dynamics.

  3. i am here to offer the perspective of someone who has been this girlfriend, in a switch4switch relationship where the other person often made a lot of shitty comments about my body and made me feel really gross to the point where i stopped wanting to have sex at all and being more passive was the closest i could come to feigning interest in any kind of sexual interaction!!!! it was not great!!!! please do not do this to your girlfriend!!!! have a great day

  4. At times, I’ve withdrawn from touching my girlfriend at times during sex. When we first started dating, my gf would move my hand away when I tried to touch her, so I let her take the lead. She brought it up later and I told her why I had taken a step back. She hadn’t even realized that she had been moving my hand away! We talked about it and we became a little better at telling the other person what we wanted.

    Another reason that I have withdrawn from my partner at times was a clear violation of my consent. I won’t have sex with someone who tries to do something to me that I explicitly told them that I am not into. Until we can talk about that and rebuild trust, I will not be initiating sex.

    Obv these aren’t the same things that the question-asker is going through, but communication is pretty important. I don’t have sex with people who aren’t able to communicate their experiences to me.

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