You Need Help: My Girlfriend Doesn’t Want To Have Sex

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Q:

My girlfriend and I got together about a month ago, after years of friendship and many months of secretive hooking up (very hot). The sex felt really awesome and explorative and most importantly: safe and intimate. I have only had one actual relationship before, and for her this is her first relationship. We went to university together for the last 4 years, and the “secretive hookups” started right after we graduated this year in April. We decided to be official about a month ago, and had sex a bunch right after that, but after about a week she told me that the idea of sex suddenly felt really unappealing and that she abruptly didn’t want to have sex. She assured me that no boundaries were ever crossed before, just that for the moment she didn’t want to have sex. Maybe for a few days, could be like a week, she couldn’t say.

I honestly am really glad she felt like she could talk to me about this so openly, and we seemed to land in a good spot with me saying that her not wanting to have sex for a bit didn’t change anything or make me feel any less attracted to her. I honestly did feel that way, and I never want her to feel like she isn’t enough if we aren’t having sex.

However, it’s now been about 2.5 weeks, and we haven’t really even been making out or doing other sex-adjacent things, even though we have been spending lots of time together. The hiatus from sex has really revealed to me that I think I find a lot of affirmation about being desired through even just kissing/making out — so not even doing much of that has left me feeling like maybe she doesn’t ever want to have sex, and in some way maybe that’s my fault.

Anyway, would love any input about how to talk to her about this and whether or not I even should? I just want to have sex with my girlfriend, but the last thing I want is for her to have sex with me if she doesn’t fully want to.

A:

This is absolutely something you can — and should — talk to her about.

I agree that it is good that your girlfriend felt comfortable enough to express this shift in her needs/wants to you, but it also doesn’t really sound like she gave much by way of an explanation. There are a lot of reasons people’s sex drives change; I do think you both owe it to each other to talk about it, even if this leads to uncomfortable or uncertain waters. I think it is totally reasonable and appropriate to do a check-in where you ask where she thinks this shift might be coming from. Has anything else shifted for her about the way she sees your relationship? What changed for her?

It’s possible she herself doesn’t know where this shift is coming from, and that’s okay, but when you initiate this conversation, she has the opportunity to say that. The question of why is really important here, even if there isn’t a concrete answer yet. Asking her why she has changed her mind about sex isn’t pressuring her to do something she doesn’t want to do. It doesn’t signal that something is wrong with her. It’s just an opportunity for conversation, and it’s one she should be willing to have if you are in a relationship. She is entitled to her own needs and desires — or lack thereof — but she doesn’t get to overwrite or dictate your experience in this relationship either.

You write that this has all made you feel like she doesn’t ever want to have sex and that it could be in some way your fault, and while I understand that impulse, it doesn’t sound like you’ve done anything to cause this, especially if she has assured you that her boundaries have been respected throughout this.

I don’t want to answer for her as to why this shift has occurred, because again, it could be so many things! But I do wonder if there’s something about the transition from secret hookups to “above board” hookups that has caused some tension or uncertainty for her. Sex within a defined relationship can feel really different than sex in a more clandestine arrangement. You could ask her if she has specific feelings about that and if there’s a way to cultivate a sense of secrecy and exploration that defined your sex together before within your new arrangement. Again, she might not have answers right away, but I think getting that conversation started would be a good step, especially if you’re feeling insecure or undesired. Both of your needs and desires are important here. It’s also possible that this exists entirely outside of your relationship; she could be discovering new aspects of her sexuality, especially if this is her first relationship.

To me, both of these things are true: 1. People’s sex drives can change for any number of reasons, at any time and 2. If sex is important to you, that’s valid, too! It’s all about balance, compromise, open communication, and making sure both of your needs are met. I know your mismatched desires are causing an uncomfortable incompatibility, but I don’t think it helps to pave over your own needs/wants on her behalf. Again, this does not mean you’re pressuring her. Saying sex is a priority for you is not inherently manipulative, especially if you approach the conversation from a place of wanting to really understand where she’s at. You can ask about the sex-adjacent things like making out, too. Is she comfortable with bringing that back into the relationship? What does and does not feel off limits to her right now?

The hardest part of this is having to accept that the conversation could lead to really tough choices and considerations. It’s possible you might have to redefine/restructure your relationship in some way that works for both of you. It’s also possible she really does just need some time. But you’re never going to know without asking open, honest questions or without talking about your own feelings about sex and intimacy in a relationship. Addressing all these things as early in a relationship as possible is really important and will make it easier to have tough conversations down the road. You are allowed to value your desire to have sex while respecting her lack of desire for sex right now — even if it means that your mis-matched needs might not be compatible longterm.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. 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 863 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. I suspect that it is the case that the spontaneity, freedom, and perhaps surreptitiousness of hooking up outside of a relationship was more exciting and inspiring for her than the authorized expectations of sex inside a relationship. But there is a way for you to test this. Has she been in a relationship before? If she has, ask her how her sex life felt and what it looked like in that relationship(s). This will give you a sense about what could be going on for her now. If what she enjoys are the qualities of the illicit hookup, there may be ways for her to experience those inside your relationship too if you both make a conscious effort to include them. That could be things like spontaneous overtures, sex in unconventional places, playing in a dungeon, role playing, no monogamy, etc. you might figure out together how to inject the energy of your hookups into your relationship. That is no guarantee that you will be compatible as girlfriends, and there is nothing wrong with breaking up because you value sex in a relationship. But it is worth paying attention to this sudden change in your sex life just one month into a new relationship. Keep talking with each other, but also, act on the information you learn.

  2. Making out and cuddling doesn’t have to automatically transition to sex. I encourage you to think about why you’re viewing those things as only preludes to “the main act.”
    But if she’s gone completely touch averse all of the sudden, you gotta talk about that. She’s had time to think.
    I’m ace and so is my girlfriend. We touch each other quite a bit (far more than I did with some of my past partners tbh lol.) Works for us, but wouldn’t for other people. I’m not saying that’s what’s up with your girlfriend, but if this is her first relationship she might not have realized until now. I don’t recommend suggesting she might be ace to her, but please keep that in mind as you talk to her?

  3. As someone that has fairly recently got out from a sexless relationship, and also someone who has been on both ends of this… talk to her and try to clarify what is going on for both of you. It’s horrible to be on the side of not wanting sex (for whatever reason) and feel that the other person is demanding it…but being the one wanting sex and feeling like you are being denied is equally horrible.
    You are both very young, and there is a lot of experiences you need to go through in order to grow up, maybe this is also one of them. However, if you are already feeling this way, I would advice to discuss this as much as possible, honestly and with each others best interest at heart. There might be a lot of things going on, maybe the possibility that this is “real” has changed something for her. Also, Is she in the closet? Does she need to face her family about it? Has she started some new medication? (Lots of medicines can have effects on libido)…All of those are things to take into consideration and discuss. But if things remain unchanged or unclear or hen they can change, it would be better for both of your mental and physical health to consider take time apart or break up. I’m not saying this lightly, if you feel like you need physical interaction to feel loved, and you not having any of it (not only the ‘sex’ per se) then you really need to reconsider how to move forward. For someone that needs touch, cuddles, and other physical forms of love it can be truly negative to live without it for a extended period of time.
    I wish you and your girlfriend the best, hope everything works out fine.

  4. “it’s now been about 2.5 weeks”

    Am I the only one that feels this is not a long enough amount of time to worry about anything at all? It’s been less than a month! Now compare this to other people requesting help with this sort of problem, who do not know what to do after a year or or even years of lacking intimacy.

    Sure, by all means, talk about this; that’s what couples should do! But as an asexual person, watching people comment that LWs partner has issues and they should brak up is … beyond terrifying. Whelp, as someone who’d much rather not have sex at all, much less not have it for two weeks and a half, I’d best resign myself to not dating at all.

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