DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: To start with thanks for all the work you do, the advice you give is always appreciated!
I would love to get your thoughts on something that’s been bothering me for awhile. I was a virgin through most of my 20’s, until I was in a long term relationship with a great woman. To my surprise, I actually ended up not only enjoying sex a lot, but also found out that I was pretty good at it. Throughout our relationship we had frequent, incredible, mutually satisfying sex. That relationship ended, and since then, every time I’ve been intimate with a woman it hasn’t gone well. I can tell they weren’t enjoying themselves as much, and to be honest, I wasn’t either. I don’t know if it’s that I’m dating the wrong people. I’ve found them all attractive and I felt like I had good chemistry and a good relationship with all them prior to getting into bed. Once we’re there, it wasn’t quite the same. It’s been ok for me, but never something that excited me to the level of that long term girlfriend, and I haven’t had an orgasm with any partner since her. I’m guessing my issues are more psychological than physical. I’m willing to say that it could just require more time to get comfortable and figure out what each other likes, but so far no one I’ve dated has been willing to stick around long enough to keep trying. Some of the women I’ve dated have even told me that because I couldn’t orgasm, it felt like I didn’t find them attractive. I will admit, it could just be nerves. I do have an anxiety disorder which can get in the way sometimes.
The thing in the back of my mind though is that prior to that long term relationship I often wondered if there was a chance I was somewhere on the asexual spectrum. I had a few relationships prior to that girlfriend. None of them lasted more than a few months, and were at best ok. I was definitely attracted to women, and curious about sex as part of a romantic relationship, but it wasn’t something I was actively seeking out. When I was with that long term girlfriend though, I craved sex with her pretty much non stop. Everyone I’ve dated for any length of time since then I thought I wanted to have sex with too, but maybe I was just trying to convince myself that’s what I wanted. I don’t think I’m a-romantic. I go on lots of dates, and generally have a good time. I’d say though that I only end up being attracted to someone maybe once a year, and never to the level of heart pounding excitement I had in that long term relationship. Those experiences have made me wonder again if I actually am on the asexual spectrum, and that woman was just an exception. Since that one relationship though, I now know what I’m missing out on, and I really want to have that kind of intimate relationship with someone again. I would appreciate any insight or tips for what I can do going forward.
Fear of Missing Orgasms
DEAR FEAR OF MISSING ORGASMS: There’re a few possibilities going on here FOMO, and it may be worth chasing the possible causes down, starting with physical causes and working from there. You mention that you have an anxiety disorder; if you’re taking medication to help treat that disorder, then that could actually be at least part of the issue. SSRIs — which are frequently prescribed as anti-anxiety medication — can make it almost impossible to get off, no matter how much you may want to. If you’re taking something like Prozac, Lexapro or Zoloft, you may want to talk to your doctor or psychiatrist about switching to another medication that doesn’t have the same sexual side-effects.
However, you say that you suspect that this is a psychological issue, rather than physical. If you’re able to have orgasms on your own, that would suggest that it’s more mental than chemical. This is why I suspect that, at the end of the day, the issue is the relationships you had with those women rather than something inherent with you.
One of the things that people often don’t realize about great sex — and, incidentally, why women aren’t always down for casual hook-ups — is that it’s as much about comfort and communication as it is about mutual chemistry or knowing how to do the Transylvania Twist or the swirlie-go-round. A lot of the time, that level of comfort and willingness to be open about what you really want in bed doesn’t come until after the relationship has been well established and everybody feels secure enough to be vulnerable with their partner. It’s somewhat ironic, because that period of the relationship tends to come after the honeymoon period, which is the part of the relationship that tends to be the most romanticized. The thing is: the thrill of the New Relationship Energy and the sudden surge of oxytocin that comes with a new partner make it seem like you don’t need to talk things through. The rush of getting high off each other can paper over a lot of issues that may not come up until after that “gotta bang on every flat surface that’ll support our weight” feeling starts to ebb. Once the newness has faded and your brains aren’t kicking out as much oxytocin every time you have sex, you start to realize that you may need more than standard-issue f--kin’.
That’s one reason I think that it’s significant that the most sexually satisfying relationship you had was not just your first sexual relationship, but also your longest-term relationship. Your relationships before her were short term, and not terribly great. You and your girlfriend, on the other hand had that time to get comfortable with each other, to get to know each other’s bodies, wants and desires and didn’t just rely on sheer excitement to do the heavy lifting for you. Meanwhile, the women you’ve been with since — when you knew you were sexual and, in fact, enjoyed sex — didn’t stick around long enough for you to get there. You weren’t as comfortable or relaxed with them as you were with your first serious girlfriend.
And it certainly didn’t help your anxiety disorder that some of your partners told you that you were making them feel unattractive because you didn’t get off. That’s the sort of thing that’s going to draw a big, glaring line under something you’re already self-conscious about and hey, wouldn’t you know it? Suddenly you’re having an even harder time getting off.
Now to be absolutely clear: that doesn’t mean that the women you were dating after your first girlfriend were bad people, or that you were doing something wrong. It’s just that you and they were fundamentally incompatible. You and they had different needs and those needs were in conflict with one another, and that’s fine. There was no good guy or bad guy, there were just two people whose gears didn’t mesh the way they needed to.
You say that your problem seems likely to be psychological rather than physiological; Something you mention does leap out at me: you only find yourself being attracted to someone about once a year, and not to the level that you were with your first sexual partner. That could mean that you’re just not meeting the right people — certainly possible, likely even — or that you may be what’s known as demisexual: that is, your sexual orientation is such that you don’t become sexually attracted to somebody without a significant emotional connection to them. That would go a long way to explaining the issues you’ve had since your first partner; you weren’t in those relationships long enough to really form the connection to get your motor humming. It may well be worth your time to check out the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network’s FAQs at asexuality.org and see if any of that resonates with your experiences.
But while having a label can be helpful, I think what would be just as helpful is to accept that you take time to warm up to folks and it takes you time before you really catch a groove sexually. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have sex or that you aren’t attracted to your partners; it just means it takes you a little while before you start getting off. You may also want to try getting creative about what your definitions of “sex” entails. If you can get off reliably when you’re on your own, then it might be worth seeing if your partners are willing to give you a helping hand — as it were — while you masturbate. And as a general rule, having a wider and more inclusive definition of sex beyond standard-issue penetration means that you both have more options for intimacy and orgasms, especially if it takes you a while to get there with partnered sex.
If you’re cool with not necessarily having orgasms during partnered sex (at first) and have no problem providing them for your partner, then it just becomes an issue of making sure you find people who are right for you and who, critically, understand you and what makes you tick. That might mean that you may have longer stretches between long-term relationships than you’d like… but it also means that the relationships you do have would be the ones you want and enjoy.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org