I recently left a very long term relationship after it fizzled due to some family deaths and a non-existent sex life for years. I have endometriosis so sex wasn’t easy for parts of that, but once I had surgery to fix it, my partner still refused to have sex with me, only accepting sex herself. She has since told me that it was my mental health also and my breakdowns that made me “not sexy.”
Entered a new relationship. All going well, crazy chemistry; though found her batting my hand away or pulling me back up above the blankets for cuddles. I did end up in pain from my endo after sex (turns out it was a Mirena side effect that hasn’t existed since it’s been removed). She has since told me that she faked all early orgasms, that I’m not allowed to use oral until I can “master the basics” of finishing a girl with my fingers, and that I’m too awkward in bed so we stopped having sex entirely.
I feel so dejected. This is the third relationship where a partner has simply stopped having sex with me and stopped communicating about it. I’ve tried to have conversations and tried to open the dialogue but she believes talking about sex is awkward, if I need it spelled out to me or to be taught then I shouldn’t be having it, and to suck it up.
Part of me thinks this is unreasonable, but part of me also thinks that I should just stay with it and compromise. The relationship is good in every other way, and since this is the third time I’ve ended up in this situation, I’m clearly the problem and just don’t think I’ll find anyone else.
If you take just one thing away from what I’m about to say to you, let it be this: You are not the problem. It may sound a little corny, but I even encourage you to maybe say those words out loud to yourself right now, okay? I am not the problem.
I am so sorry for the things your partners past and present have put you through. It breaks my heart that you’ve written this letter in a way that mostly absolves them from the harm they’ve inflicted, but I also completely understand that tendency. Sometimes protecting others is a way of protecting ourselves. But I can tell you with absolute clarity and certainty that the “problems” you’ve experienced when it comes to sex are not the result of your chronic pain. It’s because you’ve been with people who did not respect you or your boundaries and who exhibited very controlling behavior.
Now, from what I can understand, you’re still with your current partner who told you retroactively that she faked all early orgasms with you and that you’re “too awkward in bed.” I really, really encourage you to look at this relationship and decide if it is good for you. From an outside perspective, I can tell you that it’s a very concerning dynamic.The fact that she explicitly told you that you cannot do oral sex until you “master the basics” of “finishing a girl with [your] fingers” is not right for a whole slew of reasons. It implies a (heteronormative, transphobic, and ableist) hierarchy of sexual acts that is not real. It also sounds like she’s intentionally diminishing your self-esteem, bulldozing your desires, and stripping you of sexual agency.
Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you deserve the way she’s treating you. You do not. Just because you’ve ended up in a relationship like this three times now does not inherently mean you are the problem. You! Are! Not! The! Problem! Sometimes when we see patterns in our relationship histories, we start to write specific narratives, often blaming ourselves for the things that repeatedly go wrong. But life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the narrative we tell ourselves is wrong. That can be really hard to work against, but I hope I can help by giving you permission to see things differently. If you have access/are interested in therapy, I also think it could help a lot here.
Please listen to the part of you that thinks your partner is being unreasonable. You say that you’ve tried to have conversations with her but that she shoots these down by saying it’s awkward to talk about sex. Of course it’s awkward to talk about sex, but the solution is NOT to just not talk about it! It is absolutely unfair—and wildly incorrect—for her to say that if you need to be taught things about sex that you shouldn’t be having it. Does she think people are born knowing exactly how to perfectly pleasure every single sexual partner they have? Sex with everyone is different, and it is never wrong to ask a partner what they need or want, to express what YOU need or want, to learn about a person sexually as a relationship unfolds. Everyone deserves to have the sex they want to have. And sex without communication can create so many problems—some that have a lasting impact on mental health.
On that note, your ex telling you that your mental health and your breakdowns made you “not sexy” is also incredibly harmful behavior that likely (and understandably) has impacted the way you see yourself and sex in this new relationship. Stuff like that sticks. But your mental health and your endo pain do NOT disqualify you from being sexy or from being able to have sex. Check out A. Andrews’ A Quick and Easy Guide to Sex & Disability for communication tips about navigating sex and chronic pain.
Your subject line for your letter includes the phrase “bad in bed.” Being bad at sex is a fear a lot of people have, but it often has less to do with actual sexual skills and more to do with internalized feelings that are rooted in things we’ve been told by others. If you ask me, the only people who are “bad in bed” are the ones who refuse to communicate, say messed up things about other people’s bodies, and use sex to control or manipulate others. By that definition, it’s your ex and current partner who are “bad in bed.” Say it with me now: You are not the problem.
I know that you say your current relationship is “good in every other way,” and this is another tendency a lot of people have: putting sex in its own box when it comes to relationships. If everything is good but the sex and you’re someone who wants to have sex, then shouldn’t that be a dealbreaker? Furthermore, I think that even though I’ve heard plenty of people describe their relationships as being good in every department other than the sex, in reality, I think that there probably ARE more problems going on. The sex stuff might just be the most blatant. Sex requires a negotiation of boundaries that’s more explicit than it is in other contexts, so it can be easier to see it when those boundaries are broken. But if people communicate poorly during sex, they probably communicate poorly in other contexts, too. If people are controlling when it comes to sex, they probably are controlling in other contexts, too. Also, our sex lives inform so many things: self-esteem, our relationships with our bodies, the ways we set boundaries and access intimacy. I find it difficult to believe that your partner’s behavior when it comes to sex doesn’t have a more widespread impact on you and the relationship. In fact, I think the fact that you’re blaming yourself at the end of this letter is indicative of how much control and power your partner has over the way you see the relationship and sex with her. Your partners past and present have turned sex into a weird power game, and it’s an understatement to say that that’s not fair to you.
I hope you can shift toward a mentality where you do not see yourself as a burden or as the root of the problem, because you are neither of those things, and you deserve to be with someone who respects your body and desires. You are not the problem.