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Guest Post #496: I No Longer Have Pantsfeelings for the Only Partner I’ve Had

[Content note: purity culture]

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am married. My husband is a very lovely, supportive man, very devoted and considerate, and a great father to our small child. We’ve been together nearly a decade, and married for most of that time. We are a good partnership. He was the first person I ever slept with – the first person who liked me that way that I wasn’t either freaked out or repulsed by. Before him, I was a total wreck every time I liked-liked someone and, thanks to my religious upbringing and eating disorder, severely neurotic about the importance of sex and being naked and all that crap. After him, I’m a lot more relaxed about it, thankfully, and I’m not sorry he was my first (though I am sorry he was my ONLY), because he made it really easy. 

But our sex life is…problematic.

I have very little in the way of pants or OMG!CRUSH feelings for him any more. I’m not sure I ever did, really. I liked him enough to want to try it, and not so much that I was freaked out by it, and I enjoyed his company and being in a relationship, and I came to love him very much. I still do, even if I don’t particularly feel “in love” with him. But I also don’t particularly want to fuck him. Or rather, I can’t really be bothered to do the work of doing it the way we normally do it, because I’m tired and it’s not going to do much for me.

He was my first sexual partner, so I hadn’t ever had a chance to explore what I liked sexually except in the confines of my own head (more on that in a minute) or what it was like to have sex with someone I was burning with lust for. He, on the other hand, explored A LOT, so he came into the relationship knowing pretty well what he liked and what he didn’t, and what he likes is pretty vanilla. Admittedly, I haven’t been totally forthcoming on the things that might work for me, though when I’ve tentatively put out feelers for a bit more kink, he’s not really been keen. So I got shy and backed off, and we always default back to the same thing. I’m still really inhibited about talking about sex. And I hate to admit it, but I’ve faked orgasms for the whole of our relationship. I know, this is a bad, bad thing, but he was trying so hard, and at the beginning, it was all new and I just didn’t want to say “this is not going to happen” every single time. Or, you know, ever. So it’s become kind of self-perpetuating.

Additionally, my fantasy life has been fucked up in the extreme since I was an early teen. It was one of those “masturbation is bad, thinking about sex is bad, ergo the worse the fantasy is, the sexier it is”. I don’t put any moral judgement on the content of fantasies, so I don’t feel GUILTY about it, but I’ve found a lot of it incredibly disturbing when considered when not horny. I don’t actually want to play out any of my actual fantasies with him, because they’re more extreme than I think I would actually enjoy in real life. But I don’t get turned on with the stuff that we do, I don’t get turned on by him (though at least I’m not turned OFF by him), and I don’t know how to get that way.

And…I don’t want to spend the rest of my life never having pants feelings and never, ever really having great sex. But I don’t know what we would actually have to do that would result in mindblowing sex for ME, that could be a happy medium between what he’s comfortable with (and he’s NOT really comfortable with kink) and what actually turns me on, and I don’t know how to communicate that to him after all this time without completely destroying his trust and hurting his feelings. I don’t know how to talk frankly and comfortably about what turns me on without getting embarrassed because I’m freaky or how to deal with his reactions if he DOES think I’m freaky and doesn’t want to try anything else.

Captain Awkward, I really want to have pants feelings for him. I want to want to have awesome sex with him. I want to HAVE awesome sex with him. I want to stay married to him, I just want the sex part to be better. How do I move this forward so that I’m sexually satisfied without destroying our relationship as it stands? 

Help!

Liar Liar Pants Sadly Not On Fire

Hi Pants! This is Corporal Dianna here. The Captain asked me to write a response to this question in her stead, as I write frequently about this area. I’m going to answer this as I would if it came through my email, as I do get these kind of questions from time to time.

This is…a big question. But you’re not alone, so take heart. You are not somehow freakish or weird for discovering that your husband and you have some incompatibility after the wedding, especially if you were raised in a culture that forbid exploration until then, and you’re certainly not alone in questioning it and wanting to be satisfied.

You mention a religious upbringing, and some negative sexual messages during your formative teenage years, but don’t say what your religious beliefs are now, so forgive me if I make an assumption that’s incorrect. What you were raised in sounds like sex-negative evangelical purity culture – no sex before marriage (especially for women), and then promises of mindblowing sex after (which often results in a lot of disappointment). Additionally, purity culture has the trappings of no masturbation or sexual exploration by yourself, which forces many people into sexual repression.

Through my research of interviewing women like yourself, I’ve discovered a trend – one which atheist blogger Libby Anne documents here – in which women who experienced purity culture growing up develop extreme kinks or “disturbing (to them)” nonconsensual fantasies that scare them a little when they consider them outside of the fantasy world. I want to assure you, first and foremost, that this is surprisingly normal for someone raised in purity culture, and there are all sorts of longwinded reasons as to why.

Purity culture isn’t one that lends itself well to women speaking openly about their sexual kinks, fantasies or even basic desires, and you’re probably remembering some ingrained parts of that when you try to speak about it with your husband. That’s okay. That happens. I decided to throw off the shackles of purity culture years ago, and I still have latent embarrassment about a lot of those related things (the other day, I spent twenty minutes waffling over whether to mention menstrual cups in a conversation on Twitter. Menstrual cups!). But, using your words is pretty much the only way to solve this particular dilemma.

You can’t predict or control how someone else will feel about information you give them or discussions you bring up. Since this is not a workable situation for you, it is important that you say what you need to say. It is better, in the long run, to work with your husband to get to a point where you can both be sexually satisfied and figure out ways to increase compatibility, than it is to protect his feelings and fake orgasms for the rest of your life. Honesty, as they say, is the best policy.

So how do you communicate this? First, determine what needs to be communicated. There’s a lot of stuff in this letter that needs to be discussed, and it’s all wrapped up and intertwined. But I’ve teased it out into four main points that might help you boil things down:

  1. Dissatisfaction with the current way your sex life operates, which leads you not having pantsfeelings for him.
  2. A fantasy life that gets you off but scares you a little at the same time, making you embarrassed and afraid to suggest new things – leading back to #1.
  3. A history with your husband which suggests that he may not be comfortable with the things that you think might turn you on, leading you to back off, and returning you back to #1.
  4. A personal history/religious upbringing that further complicates what you see as “normal” in the sexual world, making you scared of your own predilections, which makes you embarrassed to talk about them, which leads us straight back up to #1.

See how all these different levels ultimately result in dissatisfaction, and there are various reasons for it? So there isn’t going to be one simple solution or script that will magically solve all these issues.

If you have the resources, seeing a couples’ sex therapist (one who is not religious in nature) may be useful for the both of you. This places the conversation in a safe, guided environment that will allow you to become more comfortable with the discussion and for your husband to understand your side of things better.

If that’s too much right now, or isn’t financially feasible (therapy is expensive), try to start with a conversation, away from and outside a hot and heavy situation. There’s no easy, set script for a situation like this, but doing it in a way that doesn’t spring it on him mid-coitus is probably a good strategy. In the interest of guidance, here are some do’s and don’t’s:

  • Don’t make it about how he “doesn’t satisfy you.” He needs to not see this as you blaming him for dysfunction, because you’re not doing that.
  • Do: Be clear you love him, want to stay with him, and want to work on this to make an already good marriage better by bringing the sex up to a standard that matches the partnership you feel you have in other areas of life.
  • Don’t feelingsdump. You hinted toward this in your letter that you try little bits here and there without success, so I think you’ll avoid this, but just as a reminder – don’t dump everything out all at once because that might be overwhelming and read like you’re asking him to solve all your sexual issues in a night.
  • Do be honest and approach this as a problem that can be broken down into chunks and worked on, together. Start small. Ask if you can do a little something different – nothing big, nothing too out of the ordinary for him, just different – and ask if he would be willing to try and see if that works. As always, mutual consent is paramount, so if he decides halfway through that it doesn’t work, make sure that’s a decision he feels safe making.
  • Don’t frame it as something where he needs to become comfortable with all your kinks or you’ll leave him. That’s coercive and makes for some very unhappy sexytimes.
  • Do frame it as an exploration, a journey you guys are taking together to make this work for the both of you. Since you, yourself, say that you’re not sure what actually works for you or not (just that you know you want something more than what you’ve been doing), framing it as an exploration of your sexuality as it functions together. This is his sex life too and you are two separate people who are developing this together.

Now, you have understandable fear that he’s going to be disappointed/sad/angry/upset that you’ve been faking all this time. And it is okay for him to feel those things, and the initial reaction may need some time for him to get over, depending on what reaction he has. But you also shouldn’t beat yourself up about it – what you did then was what worked for you, and now it’s not working anymore and you want to change things in order to make your relationship better. Apologize, affirm that his feelings are valid, and make it clear that you are being honest so that you can move forward in this as a couple. This sort of discussion is going to happen over several conversations, not just one.

This is, at heart, a communication issue that has a lot of emotional/religious baggage attached to it. Evangelical purity culture makes discussing sex openly and honestly –especially talking about compatibility issues – hard. But remember that you are not alone in having these issues, and this is something that you two can work on, together, to work toward the awesome sex life purity culture probably promised you.

I’ve just scratched the surface, but a helpful book for further reading might be What You Really Really Want, by Jaclyn Friedman. It’s an exploration of how to figure out your own sexual proclivities and explorations aside from what various different cultural influences are saying. As the great prophets say, know thyself.

______

Dianna Anderson is an author and blogger from South Dakota. Her first book – DAMAGED GOODS – is an exploration of feminist theology and sex-negative American evangelical purity culture. It is due out from JerichoBooks in early 2015. She blogs at diannaeanderson.net and tweets @diannaeanderson.

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65 comments
  1. Commander Banana said:

    Do you think it would be a good idea for the LW to seek out a good therapist? It might be helpful to have a supportive, neutral, objective person to have this conversation with to practice it and get comfortable with forming the words before having the conversation with her partner. (With the caveat that she’d need to find a therapist that was a good match and willing to work with her towards this goal.)

    I say this as a person who was also raised in an evangelical, ‘purity culture,’ but abandoned it pretty hardcore as a teen, who has some very specific and kinky needs, and who is, paradoxically, not modest at all and comfortable with their body, but also had a hella hard time articulating what I needed with partners and just hoped they would magically ‘get it.’

    Ironically enough, finding casual partners on the Internet really helped me be able to have a conversation about it with someone I was in a relationship with, because the conversations with those people were just about sex, and I wasn’t worried about what they thought of me or any of the other hangups that had kept me from being able to tell serious partners what I wanted. I was already asking these partners for a very specific thing, so they knew what I wanted upfront.

    • LW said:

      I really wish that I’d had the casual hookups before this, to be honest, but I was a total mess because of my eating disorder and terrified to get naked with anyone. I’m fairly comfortable naked with my husband, but still kind of self conscious. A therapist is probably a good idea, but just isn’t possible at the moment for various reasons.

  2. weasel said:

    Also, having a small child can make everything really hard, for a while at least. It sounds like there are longtime aspects of your relationship you want to address but maybe think about the practical aspects too. Do you get enough time alone with your husband, just hanging out? Do you get enough time with YOURSELF? How are you sleeping? My partner and I pretty much stopped having sex for a few years after our child was born and I was devastated. I can really relate to the feeling that you need to choose between yoIur relationship and a satisfying sex life. It’s awful. Best of luck.

    • Ugh, I am in that place at the moment. I am so sore and exhausted (4 month old today) that sex is the last thing I feel like, but one of the big things on my mind. I want to WANT more. But at the moment I dont and its really unsatisfying, especially when we do try positions that used to work well for me, they dont anymore, and I’m low on energy to try anything new!

      • boutet said:

        Yes, me too. Ours is three months old this week and I think we’ve had sex twice since the second trimester. I’m not sure for him what exactly is going on in his head (he communicates broadly but it’s hard to tease out specifics) but for me it’s exhaustion, lack of energy, and also a lack of time for myself. The kid finally takes a nap, maybe I could take a nap or drink my coffee while it’s still hot or read a book or SOMETHING that is just me as myself. It’s hard to want sex in that kind of mind set. So I relate strongly to the ‘wanting to want’ part of the letter.

  3. staranise said:

    I’m wondering, LW, about your husband’s reactions to the things you’re interested in. You mention that he’s “not keen” and “not really comfortable” so you get shy and drop it. But not liking a kink can range across a wide spectrum of emotions. On one end, there’s the kind of extreme “thinking about that makes me want to lose my lunch.” reaction. I can see why, if that’s his approach to it, you wouldn’t want to pursue that. But if you come back from that, there’s, “that thing makes me a little uncomfortable but I could bear with it,” “it’s not bad but I don’t get any pleasure out of it,” and “I enjoy it when it happens, but it’s usually not worth the time/effort expenditure”.

    Because as you already know, many people are willing to do things that they may not be totally enthusiastic about because the amount of pleasure the other person gets out of it makes it worthwhile. Like, your approach to vanilla sex seems to be somewhere between the last two? But you do it anyway because you want your partner to be happy.

    So if your husband’s reaction is in that range, it sounds like it’d be worthwhile to stick out the shyness. When you’re really tentative and just venturing, “What do you think about [kink]?” it’d be nice if the other person’s response were, “OMG I’ve always wanted to do it, let’s go to Home Depot and pick up some lube on the way home!” and then you didn’t have to worry about them being bored or resentful. But even though the response is more likewarm, it’s worth having the conversation. This can be different from nagging, don’t worry–this is about you giving him all the information. It’s the difference between him going, “My wife has thought about [kink] in some capacity and asked an idle question about it, what do I think?” and, “My wife has a deep and abiding interest in [kink] and thinks that being able to explore it might help her enjoy sex in a whole new way, what do I think?” If the answer’s still a definite no, sure, respect it; but put your cards on the table first.

    • It’s probably a typo, but “likewarm” is my new fav word.

      • staranise said:

        *g* By now I have just bowed my head to fate and accepted that basically every other comment I post on Captain Awkward will have a typo, no matter how hard I try.

    • Emmych said:

      Yesssssss, this one.

      My ex was SUPER into bondage, and while I got off from topping the heck outta her, I didn’t need the handcuffs or gags to do it (my kink is more in my head) and was always kinda lukewarm towards it. However, I knew she really really REALLY liked it, so when she asked, I would usually say yes. If I was tired or really not into it, of course I could say no, but for the most part it was a thing I didn’t have any strong objections to and therefore didn’t mind doing it for her.

    • anewleaf said:

      This points out another troubling aspect of purity culture, that it usually prioritizes male pleasure to the detriment (or complete invisibility) of female pleasure, usually under the theory that women are a self-sacrificing sex that primarily experiences pleasure vicariously. This is a big fat lie. And it requires lies to perpetuate it, encapsulated by the faked orgasm.

      YOU. DESERVE. PLEASURE. Your pleasure is a real thing and a real and present good. Your pleasure is JUST AS IMPORTANT as your partner’s ego. He does not get to preserve his ego (“I give her great orgasms because I’m awesome in the sack”) at the expense of your actual pleasure (“I fake orgasm because otherwise I’ll hurt his feelings). It may be a bitter pill of humility to swallow, but you BOTH have to be willing to explore and learn and accommodate what actually pleases you and the other person.

      • +1, like, what anewleaf said.

  4. Oh, I just want to give you a great big hug! You are brave for writing in about this. I don’t have all the answers but some suggestions that might help you.

    A) Try out different sex toys, by yourself and on yourself. There are many great stores online that offer discreet packaging. Find out what feels good and hopefully which toy gives you the best orgasms. For instance, it’s easier to suggest some G-spot stimulation to your husband if you know that that really gets you going. Once you know a bit about what gets you going physcially, suggest trying it little by little with your partner.

    B) You’re not alone. There are plenty of women who get off thinking about rape, but they don’t want it to happen for real. Just earlier today I learned about gay men getting off to abuse from straight men and jews fantasizing about being threatened and dominated by nazis. It’s unlikely that a gay guy orgasming from a D/S scene about how he’s a stupid f-ot would feel the same way if a straight guy on the street started verbally abusing him. Likewise I don’t see many jews agreeing that yep, that master race idea sure was neat. Just because it’s hot in your head doesn’t mean you want it to really happen. And it’s so common. I know a sex therapist who advice their clients to try out new fantasizes to “keep it fresh”. Maybe that would be something for you down the line?

    Your kinkiness is real and wonderful.I wish you all the best in getting to know your sexuality

    • manybellsdown said:

      Yeah, just because you like it in your head doesn’t mean you want to do it. My husband likes the fantasy of seeing me with another man. He does not actually want me to bone other men in front of him. And neither of those things do anything for me, and that’s okay.

      • Badger Rose said:

        Yes times a million. There are a whole slew of things that I love in fantasy-world that I would not like in actual-world. Some of them can cross the line via roleplay (where it’s clearly not *really* X, it’s just playing), but some of them can’t even go that far and remain entirely in my head. And that’s okay!

      • anewleaf said:

        Idea: my partner and I have gotten a TON of surprising pleasure out of “dirty talk” regarding our fantasies that doesn’t involve actually fulfilling them. We whisper evil schemes, threats, and things we’d like or could do to one another. This sets the imagery going in our minds, which is the really hot part of fantasy anyway, with the added bonus of collaboration and participation of our partners. Cuz yeah, some things are just better off in your head.

    • moh said:

      I definitely second trying out sex toys if you don’t use them already: knowing yourself and what works for you is very important. I’d also suggest finding a worksheet online which lists various sex acts, practices, and kinks, where you can check off “Yes, No, Maybe, Would Try Once”. Filling one out while at the same time your husband fills one out in a different room, and then comparing answers, would give you ideas of where to start. I don’t know how detailed your discussions about kink were, but most kinky sex is a spectrum of acts: for example, “tied up” goes from wrapping a scarf lightly around the wrists to full-on Japanese rope bondage immobilisation, and people willing to experiment might find that while one act on that spectrum didn’t work for them, another did. Also, being with a partner you can trust makes a big difference in kink: something that didn’t work with a one-time partner at a kink club might be incredibly erotic with someone you love and trust.

      • Scarleteen actually has a great comprehensive yes/no/maybe checklist.

    • lunette said:

      Yes to “you’re not alone.” Diana says that having kinks and rape fantasies that spook you is “surprisingly common” for women coming out of purity culture, but it’s also surprisingly common for women, period.

      In studies, a third to two-thirds of women say they have rape fantasies, and the assumption is always that there are more who won’t say so.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18321031

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19085605

      • Aoife said:

        That doesn’t surprise me, y’know. Although not all of us are raised in purity culture, we’re all steeped in a society where the threat and fear of rape is ever-present. We all have to find our own ways of dealing with that.. it’s not that surprising that, for a lot of people, part of what their brains do is eroticise it to an extent, or fantasise about it within the safe confines of their heads.

  5. You don’t have to be raised in a purity culture to have a hard time talking about sex, or to have conflicts about sex in your marriage. LW, you’re even less alone than you thought. Almost nobody knows what they want from sex when they are young; most people have to explore their fantasies and interests and discover what they really like, when, and with who.

    A repressive upbringing makes this harder but it’s still the thing everyone has to do. So you might, when you talk to your husband, ask him about how he explored his own sexual desires before your marriage. What did he try? How did it feel? You might find that he had experience but did not actually do as much self-exploration as you think. (You might not.)

    One thing you can do by yourself is to get a lively solo sex life going, if that works for you at all. It can spark your own interest and sexual energy and help you figure out what physically works. You can spend time with your fantasies and see what they have in common — and try to get a hint of that into your embodied sex.

    For instance, if you always fantasize about being consumed by vampires, you could get your husband a black silk shirt and ask him to nibble on your neck. Kind of ridiculous and funny, but hilarity is a fine way to reconnect during sex!

  6. Mary Berg said:

    As someone who has been married a long time (26 years), that kind of exciting sex that the lr is looking for generally has faded by 10 years. That said, your sex life can be perked up a lot by trying new things/new positions, sex toys, etc. And young children will sap the sex drive right out of you! You may find that your spouse has a clue that all is not fine with you in the realm of sex, and he may not know how to talk about it either. He probably would love for you to be more excited about sex – having a turned-on partner is a real aphrodisiac. The conversations are extremely important, as is having them in a non-sexual time. Good luck!

  7. Matthew Brown said:

    It’s also entirely possible that LW is mistaking her husband’s embarrassment about talking about these things with her for actually not being interested.

    If you’ve never really been able to talk about sex between the two of you, it may feel just as awkward to him, no matter how much more sexual experience he had before you married.

    Also, if you’re feeling really awkward about bringing things up, it’s likely that you’re not describing very well how much of a turnon these things are for you (or even, perhaps, exactly what it is you want) and thus he’s understandably not getting it.

    He may even feel that you’re suggesting these things out of a desire to please him, rather than because they’d please you — dropping hints can make it seem that they’re not really important to you. If his image of you is that you’re sexually innocent and a million miles from kinky, he may not be realizing that this is your inner side tentatively poking its head out.

  8. KD said:

    I’d leave out the part where you say ‘I’ve been faking it all along’. Say that you’re no longer as satisfied with your sex life as you used to be, and leave it at that. If he presses you for details, say the feeling has been building up gradually and it’s hard to say exactly where it started.

    It’s much better to focus on the present and future than the past. Remember that memories of feelings can be deceptive — when you’re very sad it’s easy to think “I was always very sad, and any happiness I seem to have felt was superficial and basically an illusion”. I’m not trying to imply you are misremembering, but you can use the fact that the past is always a little fuzzy to make the conversation easier. It might be very hurtful for your husband to hear you never enjoyed sex with him, and you can fix this problem without ever saying that: ‘It’s not working for me anymore’ is just as good a reason to change as ‘It’s never worked for me’.

    Other than that I think the suggestions in Dianna’s bulleted list are excellent. Take it slow and don’t try to go from boring to amazing too quickly. And remember that in the process of exploring you may find something really hot and sexy where you didn’t expect to — try to keep as open a mind as possible.

    Good luck, and congratulations for being brave enough to confront this!

    • staranise said:

      Not to mention, faking an orgasm isn’t the same as faking enjoying sex. Non-orgasmic sex can feel nice and be fun, and a sexual history sans orgasms can still have lots of love and intimacy and caring. It’s just now, the LW would like it to have some more things as well. So “I haven’t orgasmed yet” isn’t the same thing as “I never loved you.”

      • Mary said:

        Plus, “an orgasm” isn’t a single, unified experience anyway. There are big ones, little ones, ones that go on for ages and ones that are just a brief “ah, yes!” and all sorts in between, and they are different whether you’re by yourself or with someone else and depending on exactly what you/they are doing. LW, hopefully if you and your husband start doing something different you’ll find some new experience, and saying, “Oh my God, I’ve never felt like THAT before!” does not mean that you’re giving away that you haven’t come on previous occasions.

        I always think the idea of An Orgasm being a single thing that everyone knows whether or not they are having one is based on the male experience of sex. My experience a woman who sleeps with women is that it’s a lot more complicated for us!

    • Yes! Thank you KD for putting it so well. Keeping it focused on the now may help prevent him from going through a mental referendum on How I Am Bad At Sex, and hopefully help him focus on trying new stuff with you, LW.

    • misspiggy said:

      This!

    • Neko Namida said:

      Though I fully agree that LW not orgasming and faking it should not be a focus, should not be said in a way to hurt LW’s husband, and maybe even shouldn’t be brought up right away when talking about LW’s sex life, I also don’t know if it would be a good idea to leave it out entirely. Part of healing and moving on from this involves honesty and getting everything out on the table. Though it isn’t LW’s husbands fault that LW has not orgasmed, it’s also a problem that needs to be acknowledged and worked on by both LW and LW’s husband. Once you get through the self-blame that may happen from LW’s husband upon hearing it (preferably by letting him know it’s not his fault, that LW loves him and wants to make it work), he can become the biggest aid in fixing it with LW but he has to know that this is a problem before he can think about how to solve it. Sex life isn’t working by itself will come as a surprise to him and since he doesn’t know the real reason as to why it’s not working, he has to go about it blindly. It’s hard to think about fixing something when you thought you were doing it the right way all along. He may even disbelieve LW when she says it’s a big problem because from his perspective, everything is working.

      On another note, it doesn’t sound like LW’s sex life is going to result in mind-blowing sex overnight either and so if LW didn’t tell her husband, she’d risk having to continue lying to make sure he doesn’t catch on or put up with the confusion that will result from, “But this always use to make you orgasm,” which will add to husband’s dilemma in trying to work on a problem that he doesn’t fully see or understand. LW has expressed wanting to go about this as a joint effort to improve the marriage and involving LW’s husband in on it will allow for them to grow and explore together being completely honest and open with each other – a must have when it comes to sexual relationships. Dishonesty runs the risk of LW’s husband having to go through the arduous task of figuring out what’s wrong with their sex life that will inevitably bring up many questions and in the end, may result in LW’s husband feeling even more lied to which will be a set back in working on a solution. I don’t entirely see how LW can be honest with her husband moving forward about sex if she isn’t fully honest about the past as it will play a key role in solving her problems. I also don’t see why she should forego having her husband as a stable, informed ally to bettering their sex life just to spare him his feelings. It will hurt to tell the truth but if LW’s husband cares about LW and her pleasure, he will get over it and be stronger for it. LW spoke highly of his support so he sounds strong enough to withstand the blow.

      • theLaplaceDemon said:

        “Part of healing and moving on from this involves honesty and getting everything out on the table.”

        I’m actually not sure I agree with this. I think LW telling her husband she’s been faking orgasms is fine if that’s the route she wants to go, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a requirement for healing or moving forward.

        I think that if LW tells her husband about this, it will be very challenging to make any part of their sex life other than LW’s orgasms The Goal. And while LW may want to use that direct approach, in my experience making orgasms The Goal is the most sure-fire way to have bad, orgasm-less sex. I think it is more in LW’s benefit to leave the orgasm issue aside (or downplay just how often she faked it), and work on having sex that she enjoys. If she is having the sex she wants, the orgasms are more likely to just start coming on their own, and if they don’t start coming on their own, she will have a good foundation to build off of to try and find ways to coax them out. It’s not about sparing her husbands feelings, so much as it is about strategically taking the steps most likely to achieve her goals. LW may decide she can do this while telling her husband, but I don’t think telling her husband is a must.

        • “And while LW may want to use that direct approach, in my experience making orgasms The Goal is the most sure-fire way to have bad, orgasm-less sex.”

          This might offer a rhetorical strategy to move on to other things. The LW might be able to say something like, “I would rather not come for a while if it means improving other things about our sex life, so I’d like to try new things even if they don’t make me orgasm.”

  9. Very good suggestions in the post. My thinking as I was reading them is that the best way to characterize this going forward with the husband is as a collaborative effort to improve their sex life for their mutual benefit. This keeps things away from the “you don’t satisfy me and I need you to change so you do satisfy me or else” realm.

  10. Badger Rose said:

    “Do frame it as an exploration, a journey you guys are taking together to make this work for the both of you.”

    I love this. It both validates the LW’s desire for more without painting LW’s partner as “not X enough” (where X can be sexy, kinky, adventurous, whatever). Instead, it’s something you can discover together, which is exciting and hopeful and un-blame-y.

  11. kanel said:

    Wile I realize this may not be helpful at all for you, I would like to share a similar experience. I had a partner, let’s call him Robin. He was great, we made an awesome dynamic duo, were the best of friends and were planning on having a family, though we never got that far.

    I don’t have a background with religious upbringing or purity culture, but being a rape survivor (my first sexual experiences) put me in a similar position. I was never really that sexually attracted to Robin, but I was attracted to the safety and trust I could feel and together with him I could start having a somewhat functional and positive sex life. This worked for me for four years. We tried some toys and kinks and that was fun and all and I learned a lot about what I liked, but sadly in our case that involved positions where I didn’t have to see him and could focus on fantasies to get off (it feels awful to write this, but it’s true).

    Then I met this guy I had super intense pantsfeelings for. Those feelings made it all too obvious that there were no longer any pantsfeelings in my primary relationship and there never had been much. For a while there I tried to “fix it”. I remember calling a sexual counseling service, and the person I talked to just said it’s always sad when that happens, when there’s no more desire left – when a relationship is ending. She didn’t give any advice. I was a bit upset about that, but in the end I did leave Robin to explore the new pantsfeelings. I really, really wanted to feel desire for him, because everything else was so perfect, but it just wasn’t there. Then I wished I could just continue living with him and having sex elsewhere, but that just wasn’t an option for him, understandably. I needed to leave for both of us. He’s married now, so hopefully doing better.

    I can’t say I regret leaving, because it was very healing for my sexuality to be able to have even more functional sex with someone I had genuine lust for. I learned that with lust in the picture sex was way less complicated and much more enjoyable. However I do miss the relationship with Robin sometimes. It’s still the best partnership I ever had and when I left I also lost that friendship, one of the saddest things I’ve ever been through.

    I’m not saying you should leave your husband. You should definitely try to communicate with him and try to make it work, but it could be that you don’t get that sexual desire for him that you want. It’s well worth a shot though. You never know! Chances are it will at least be better than now.

    Take whatever feels relevant from my story, if anything, and good luck!

    • Emma said:

      I wanted to add to this that some people need to focus on fantasies to get off regardless of the partner and how attracted to them they are. For some people it’s a sign that things are wrong, for others it’s just normal, and both are OK!

      • Emma said:

        Not that kanel suggested otherwise, I just thought it should be mentioned.

      • kanel said:

        Valid point. Thanks for adding!

        I also still use fantasies sometimes with a partner, but for me the main difference was between
        1. avoiding to look at my partner and going off to fantasy land, not really being present, and
        2. getting turned on by seeing my super hot partner during sexytimes and being able to really connect.

        The second one was more fun, less complicated and more intimate. Also there was no guilt.

    • Elena said:

      I have a similar story, and it came to mind for me, too, while reading this. I had a wonderful partnership with someone who I was very much in love with and planned on having children with. While not a rape survivor, I did have two non-consensual sexual experiences when I was young that affected my sexual wiring. I think there was some lust at the beginning of our partnership, but it was not very intense and faded over time. I found myself resorting to fantasy to be able to be sexual together and I had tremendous guilt and it wasn’t very satisfying. Although there were other aspects of the relationship that, in retrospect, weren’t good for me (just different desires for togetherness and alone time), this is what ended up driving me away from the relationship. If I had been able to take seriously my sexual needs, I think I would have been able to exit more gracefully. As it was, it was a painful ending that took a long time for me to get over, and I also lost a very dear friendship.

      Afterwards, when I began a casual sexual relationship with a good friend, I realized that, just having more natural chemistry, that, as you found, things got much simpler for my sexually. I didn’t have to work at it, it was easy and not tortured, and even my fantasies, which got less intense and frequent, didn’t scare me. In fact, I was able to act on parts of them with this person and it relieved a lot of guilt and just made me feel healthy and sexy. In the end, I wasn’t in love and, although there was still chemistry I moved on.

      Now I’m with someone who I have that intense chemistry with, but also a deeper emotional draw and connection. It’s really amazing to me how natural and powerful it is, and I am so, so grateful that my life led me here (my body really, as my self-awareness followed). I know that over the years–we’ve been together two–the bodies-like-live-wires feeling fades some (so I’ve heard), but I think there is a difference between having the memory of that and never having had it at all. Also, for me, I found that that, in one case at least, a soul-connection accompanied the body-connection.

      This isn’t to say that you can’t develop a really satisfying sex life with someone who you don’t lust after. I think in the first partnership I mentioned, it would have been possible (to at least make it better than it was) were we able to face the truth of dissatisfaction and work through it together. I think maybe we feared doing that because it would reveal other dissatisfactions and incompatibilities that would be harder to overcome.

      • Elena said:

        I want to add that my desires and fantasies changed as I stopped fearing them and started incorporating some of them into my sex life. It seems that shame solidified and entrenched them. When that lifted, I found my desires were much more fluid and sometimes revealing. For example, in my current partnership, I realized that it was not so much dominance/control/ownership that I found erotic and craved, but rather the feeling of belonging. While that looks different in my erotic life than outside it, it helped me understand myself and made my desires easier for me to accept.

        • staranise said:

          Oh, yes, this. Sometimes once you polish all the rust off them you find it was something else at the centre that can take many forms. For example, I’ve talked with a few people for whom rape fantasies weren’t actually about a lack of consent, they were about the experience of being overwhelmingly desired, when in ordinary life they were very afraid that other people barely tolerated them or were only around them out of pity. The rape fantasy was just taking away the usual mental explanations for why people might do that (“Zie is only dating me because knowing I like hir makes hir feel obliged to be nice to me”) and still having another person really want to be around and be intimate with them.

      • 30ish said:

        Thanks for this, I made a very similar experience, and agree especially on the part about the body showing the way, and self-awareness following later.

  12. Elise said:

    Hi LW,

    You have some good suggestions above for using words and therapists and suchlike so I am going to second all of those but I want to talk about your lack-of-orgasms problem specifically for a while.

    I am not sure what your masturbation habits are or have been (and if you are able to orgasm on your own) but I know in my own experience orgasms are much easier to achieve with practice. Once you have the hang of it it will be much easier to teach your husband what to do or how to help you orgasm. I know my husband appreciates specific instructions especially when he orgasms first and would quite like to nap now please.

    As well as working out, mentally, what turns you on you also need to work out what physically gets you off: internal or external manipulation? a combination? what sort of speed, pressure? do you need rubbing in circles or up and down in and out? Do you want it right on your clit or do you need it a bit more indirectly via your inner or outer labia? Maybe you’ve worked all this out already! and it’s not like things will always be the same and sometimes things that worked last week are now not getting anywhere and WOW that feels way better today. Map out that highway and then pave it strong and thick – and well signposted. Then once you know the way you can can have a wonderful time exploring all the scenic routes. But you’ve got to know the way first – otherwise you’ll just get lost and frustrated and bored.

    • FlyBy said:

      Yes to all of this. Solo practice is awesomely helpful.

      As a side note, anorgasmia can be a side effect of some medication, particularly SSRI class antidepressants. If you’re currently taking medication, it might be worth a quick check with your doctor. There are various options for dealing with it if that turns out to be the case.

  13. JT Devine said:

    Dear Liar Liar ~ I am glad that you discovered Captain Awkward and found someone to answer you with both compassion and intelligence. For years, I too have struggled to “throw off the shackles of purity culture” as Dianna has already done. I was raised in a puritanical home (albeit Catholic) where all sex and even discussions of sex was bad, bad, bad. I am ashamed of the intensity of my own desires, even for my husband! I recently started sharing the story of my gradual and ongoing attempts at transition and hope they might, in some small way, either help or at least inspire you. I wish you all the luck and pleasure in the world in finding your way.
    Yours truly, Jackie Devine @ http://wifelies.com/

    PS – Dianna, I can’t wait to read DAMAGED GOODS!!!

  14. Delurking in the UK said:

    I so relate to your story! I didn’t have religious issues, but I very much had the guilt and the sex is sinful thoughts. I’ve no idea where these come from to be honest. Possibly from my mum dying when I was 13, so I had no-one to ask about this stuff when I was starting to want to ask questions.

    What’s worked for me is having discussions with my dh about what did and didn’t work for both of us. Over time this has become much easier and less embarrassing. And the result has been so worth it! We’ve now been married for 10 years and our sex life just gets better and better (and kinkier and kinkier for that matter).

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned – I find that depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle, different things work for me. So much so that my dh always knows roughly where I am in my cycle from how sensitive different parts of me are. Likewise he knows what I’ll enjoy the most from what time of the month it is.

  15. misspiggy said:

    Re kink – I think it’s possible to get your partner to support you in bringing kink into sex, even if he’s not keen. You can ask him to do little physical things that trigger all sorts of stuff in your head and make sex enormously fun. After initial discussions revealed that my partner was rather horrified by the darkness of my fantasies, I just ask him to do little things (like, for example, touch my neck). In my head that’s full on strangling (ahem) and is awesome. He loves how turned on I get, which makes sex better, and he doesn’t need to worry himself with what I’m thinking about.

    Similarly, after lots of interesting discussion I know what some of his kinks are (even though he would never openly express them as kinks). I don’t share them, but I give him enough ‘triggers’ in bed that he can use. (Erm, so for example he likes schoolgirls. I feel really uncomfortable pretending to be a schoolgirl, but occasionally I’ll say ‘oh sir!’, which sets off a whole load of fun stuff in his head).

    I had to give myself permission to bring kinky ideas into sex with him – I used to feel that everything had to be fully shared and open between us, as well as feeling that my ideas were bad and wrong. But there’s nothing wrong with using shocking ideas to fuel a fun time in bed, and it can be better for us if separate things are going on in our heads. Dan Savage was very helpful in encouraging me to think that way, and I’d recommend trawling through his archives.

    • ordinarygoddess said:

      This is very, very good advice. It really can be that simple.

      re: schoolgirls: my guy (with whom I also work) has the same kink, and I’m very uncomfortable with age play in general. But I will occasionally wear a fairly fitted white button-down shirt – not a “uniform,” no plaid skirts or anything too overt, but just a white oxford. It’s super-discreet – a perfectly ordinary and professional piece of American working women’s wardrobe – but he has all day to get stirred up, and of course he can’t express that in any way. White shirt during the day=great sex that night. Feel free to experiment with that!

  16. Solestria said:

    I don’t know if you’ve already considered this or have any interest in it, but you might think about exploring the BDSM community a bit. A lot of kinky people find that it helps normalize their desires, and a lot of them have been through situations where they had to open up about their kinks to their more vanilla partners and so might have some useful thoughts for you.

    I think you have some great advice, and I wish you all the best in this!

    • pandoradeloeste said:

      As a caveat, though, my experience on Fetlife communities geared towards kinky people with vanilla partners tends to be that a) people are not very good at shutting up and listening and not offering “helpful” advice until asked (which is hella annoying if all you want to do is vent, or you’ve heard all that advice before), and b) a lot of people default to “welp, nothing for it but to divorce your current partner and go find a kinkier one”, which. . .OK dude, that was your experience, fine, but there’s no need to project it all over the interwebz. YMMV, of course, but I find Fetlife not a very good space to ask anyone for advice.

      • Fuuma said:

        I agree that the kink community might be a good place for the LW to consider exploring, but I would also agree that asking for advice online isn’t going to be the most helpful.

        Networking with other kinky people is great for sharing stories, talking about experiences, and when you’re new, that can be really helpful when you’re going from “OMG fantasies that bother me when I stop and think about them” to “wait, how can I even incorporate this into my life without just diving in headfirst into the shallow end? How do I make this not 0 to 60 in 5 seconds?”

        It’s great for exploring yourself, thinking about what you like, seeing what other people who share your interests like. But kinky people are just normal people and if you shotgun ask them what they think about something (by, say, posting on a kink forum or on fetlife), you’ll get similar responses as if you’d just randomly flagged down people on the street. An annoying lesson I learned very quickly, since sexism is still so popular with random people you flag down on the street/internet.

        Anyway, as a now kink community leader, I kinda live for helping people who are brand new, and getting them info and helping them feel like they’re not a freak or broken or mentally messed up for liking kinky things. And I feel like this LW could really use a dose of “hey, you’re okay!” and “man, this is what I tried and it pushed all my buttons.” and making a few kinky friends would totally help with that. And Kink communities are a great place to meet people who might could be your new kinky friend, and there are local meet-up groups in most areas which might be something the LW could benefit from attending.

  17. cricket said:

    Minor background differences aside, LW, we may be the same person. Jedi hugs!

  18. Neko Namida said:

    LW, I’m glad you’re ready to bite the bullet and work on solving a very important, sensitive, and uncomfortable problem regarding your sex life. I have been in your shoes. I have had partners that I was not repulsed by but was not attracted to, that I had an amazing relationship with outside of not having pants-feelings, that I had a meh sex life with knowing full well what it was like to have an amazing sex life. I took it for what it was, broke up with them, and I rest assured knowing it was the best decision for both of us. I can see that is not an option that you want to explore and I understand why given your situation.

    I highly agree with seeking out a sex therapist and having your husband on board with it. They often deal with cases like yours and can help you learn how to talk about sex in a way that isn’t so uncomfortable and make your needs heard. They can help you explore your sexuality more and offer advice and tips in doing so. They can help your husband see what you’re going through and can give him advice on how he can help. They can give you advice on how to chance the dynamics of your bedroom activities in a way that’s fulfilling for both of you. If you can manage to find and afford one, it will make moving on to a better sex life easier and give you better results than going in blindly.

    If this option is available to you, make sure to look closely at what options for sex therapists you have especially if this is your first time. Therapy and receiving therapy is sensitive for the people involved and a bad experience can do more harm than good so it’s good to test the waters before diving. Some particularly bad experiences to learn warning signs from include a piece in the Vagina Monologues (a play many of you have hopefully seen!) about a woman who went to counseling for her marriage and sex life where the therapist told her to let her husband shave her against her will. If you feel that a therapist is not on Team You and would rather give you coping mechanisms to deal with an unsatisfying sex life than they would give you the tools, knowledge, and support to make it better, find someone else.

    P.S. Dear Captain, I know we talk about therapy a lot but could we have a discussion purely about therapists? What works, what doesn’t, red flags, green flags, and general experiences with good and bad therapists? It seems a lot of people go to a therapist, have a bad experience that makes them worse, and give up on therapy so maybe having a discussion about it will help people new to therapy (and maybe those who had a bad experience but want to give it another try) see what to look for or what to avoid when traversing those waters.

  19. 30ish said:

    To my mind, there’s a pretty big difference between losing one’s pantsfeelings over time and never having had them in the first place (although sometimes it can be surprisingly difficult to recall how things were at the beginning of a relationship when years have gone by since!). My experience has been that there has to be a spontaneous feeling of attraction for satisfying sex to happen. That AND at least some compatibility in sexual styles, preferences etc., even though of course it’s possible to make some compromises. I’m biased though, a longterm relationship of mine ended at least in part due to sexual incompatibility. You might rather want to hear from people who’ve made it work. I guess I’m commenting anyway just to say that it’s OK if it doesn’t. IMO you don’t owe it to anyone – not even to your husband – to give up on the chance of having a satisfying sex life.

    • ordinarygoddess said:

      I’ve been struggling since this post went up with whether to comment along these very lines.

      LW, I hear you on the “I want to make this work”, I really do, and I sincerely hope that the suggestions upthread and the ones to come work for you. IF they don’t, and ONLY if they don’t, here’s some advice of last resort –

      Contemplate the possibility that there may never be truly satisfying sex with your husband. Sit with that for a while. Let it hurt. Accept the hurt. Reflect on the fact that that you love him, and you want to be with him, for lots of Reasons. Like love. And quality co-parenting, which is no small thing. And mutual respect. And then explore possibilities that allow you to both be happy.

      There’s poly. (NOT “relationship broken, add more people!” Work on the two of you first, get to a really good healthy place that is not contingent on the chimera of “good sex sometime in the future if I do all the right things.” Then negotiate under what conditions this might work for you.) Speaking as someone who’s been pretty damaged by childhood sexual repression and adult abuse and bad relationships, your partner can be your best, most honest and most protective friend in seeking out healthy, adult, satisfying outside relationships.

      There’s celibacy. (NOT “celibacy out of desperation” or “celibacy by default,” but genuine freely chosen celibacy.) That doesn’t sound like what you want in the long term, but it’s out there, and it can be a useful tool, especially in the short term, with clearly defined boundaries – “a year off from worrying about sex while I deal with other things in my life.” (See: upthread comments about new parenting.) Or “three months off from sex with husband while I explore a healthy solo sex life and contemplate what I want and need.”

      There’s amicable divorce followed by new relationships and great sex with other people, and focusing on building a deep rewarding lifelong friendship and co-parent relationship with this guy.

      There are lots of options. People build great lives together in the absence of sexual compatibility all the time. People who got straight-married and then came out do it. People with disabilities that interfere with the ability to have sex do it. People do it for all kinds of reasons. It’s hard, and it takes enormous amounts of kindness and composure and self-awareness, but it absolutely can be done.

      I just don’t want you to feel desperate, or accept compromises you don’t want to accept because you feel you have no choices. You do. As it’s been said in this space before, you deserve someone who wants to tear your clothes off. And so does your husband.

      • Anonforthis said:

        Thanks for this comment. I’ve been wrestling with whether to comment, also on the “what if you can’t fix it” lines, and this conveys all the stuff that I wanted to see conveyed but didn’t know how to say.

        Some stuff I do know how to say: II’m another person who married to my first and only sexual partner. And I honestly don’t know how much chemistry we have. I mean – I don’t think we’ve ever had the “bodies like live wires” stage? Unless it’s even more of an exaggeration than I think it is? Sometimes I have trouble with sorting out metaphor, and metaphors for something that I (probably?) haven’t experienced are extra-tricky.

        Anyway, I really identified with the LW’s description of liking spouse enough to want to try it but not so much that it squicked her out. That sounds A LOT like my path to current partner.

        However, my situation is very different from the LW’s, in that the sex life seems to be working out OK. We’ve been partners for, oh, about four years? Friends for much longer. Had some initial problems with Teh Sexing – and went ahead and got married right in the middle of them, because we were both absolutely certain that even if we never got the sex figured out, we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with this person. Even if this choice meant we never wound up having sex again. Pulled waaaaay back on sex for a while, eased back into it, things are going so much better now. I wish I could give you, LW, a guidebook for how we got from Point A (deeply in love but not great sex) to Point B (still deeply in love and pretty good [if not earthshaking] sex). But I don’t even quite know myself, and what I do know isn’t transitive. And has a lot to do with stuff like “neither of us has very high sex drive anyway, so could honestly chill about it pretty damn easy.”

        We are not always stellar at The Talking About Sex; but when we were having more problems, we were able to at least talk about how there were these problems. (Oddly, I’m the one who was raised in purity culture, while spouse’s parents are much more sex-positive and open, and spouse is the one who has more Talking hang-ups.) Communication is good, yo.

        So I guess I wanted to say – I absolutely agree that you and your spouse deserve awesome sex lives. But you are not Ruining Feminism and Supporting Messed-up Purity Culture or something if, at the end of the day, you decide that not-amazing sex is an acceptable price of admission to all the other stuff you love about being partnered with Spouse. It sounds to me like it isn’t – something mattered enough for you to write in here – but just in case, I wanted at say that whatever decision you make will be right. (And can always be changed). It is OK to prioritize other stuff in your life instead of the sex if you want, just like it is absolutely OK to prioritize the sex. But only if you want! No relationship is worth being martyred.

        Really wishing you luck with this. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  20. ThatHAt said:

    I kind of worry about this. I mean, I’m not married, not dating either, I’m bad at it. But I was definitely raised religious (Catholic), and I still am (religious), so part of what makes me bad at dating is never knowing how or when to bring up “Look, sex just isn’t going to happen for awhile. No, you’re thinking a month or two. A. WHILE.” Which at this point is about half about religion and half about the fact that I am a paranoid person and it takes me a very long time to trust someone enough to be vulnerable around them.

    So sex isn’t really a thing I’ve had.

    And if I’d dated and married a few years ago, I feel like I’d be in a similar situation, with someone who was very vanilla, and now I know…I’m not. I mean, I’m still pretty vanilla-ish, but I know that when it comes to sex… I want to be in charge. I want to be the one doing things *to* him, as it were, if that even sounds right. Not quite on BDSM levels, but definitely In Charge.

    And that just makes dating even more complicated. Because finding a fit for columns A and B is unicorn-hunting, especially when combined with not even sort of knowing when to bring up either point. The only real litmus test I have for the latter is A) Does he do all the touching first and B) Does he fight me over paying the check (because really, chivalry should be about making the person you’re dating feel comfortable, not about satisfying yourself that you did your duty as a Man).

    But…yeah. Sex conversations are just uncomfortable. Best of luck to you, LW.

  21. emily_of_athens said:

    I left a long comment that seems to have been caught in the spam filter…

    • staranise said:

      Be at peace, and know you will see your comment again one day, on the far side of the spam trap in the comment thread that is yet to come.

    • JenniferP said:

      I just checked the filter and the trash and I don’t see it there. I am afraid that I accidentally deleted it. A thankfully rare occurrence, but that doesn’t help you right now. Many apologies.

  22. Gael said:

    Wow, I can SO relate to this, as another kinky person raised in purity culture who can get sick to the stomach with fear any time I’m placed in a position where I need to USE MY WORDS about my own sexuality. And it’s not just fear — my sexual desires themselves completely disappear when I’m under pressure, to the point where I find myself second-guessing whether I’m actually turned on by what I think I am. But I have this problem with friends who are themselves kink-positive, in fact personally experienced with several kinds of BDSM, and who are committed to keeping their relationship with me casual, so I can only imagine how much harder it must be in the LW’s situation.

    I also know that it can be really REALLY difficult to figure out how one’s fantasies relate to what would actually be enjoyable in real life. One approach is obviously to place little value in your fantasies and just go experiment with anything and everything until you find what works, though I think that’s probably easier for those of us who are single or in an open relationship, and can seek out partners who are already enthusiastic practitioners of whatever kink we want to try. A different approach that I’ve also found helpful is to read bloggers who write about BDSM online, not just to find out about different kinks in the abstract, but to see people talk about specific scenes they’ve done and realize “That sounds really hot!” I mean, yeah, there are a lot of things I still need to learn through experience, but at least there are a couple of things I know beyond the shadow of a doubt I am attracted to… very different from the days before I discovered sex blogs, when I was unsure whether I was even capable of consistently lusting after men.

    Also, as others have said, it’s really not uncommon to need to fantasize during sex with one’s partner just as much as when alone with one’s vibrator. I would guess that, while more satisfying sex for someone in the LW’s situation might involve the husband’s acting out some kinky fantasies, it could also look like him holding her while she masturbates and talks about something she finds hot. I mean, I can’t predict if the LW’s husband would be down for that either, but I know that there are lots of couples who enjoy seeing each other get turned on even when not at all interested in the same turn-ons.

    Anyway, best of luck to the LW, and props to the commenters who have written with suggestions, some of which I may myself need to use in the future.

  23. LW said:

    Thank you, Dianna, for the excellent advice, and everyone else who has left comments. They have all been really good food for thought. I’d read Libby Anne’s posts previously as I follow her blog regularly, and they are definitely very applicable to my situaion.

    I’ve been sitting with this for a few days and thinking about it, and have realised a disturbing fact: this isn’t just a problem of pants feelings towards my partner. It’s a problem of pants feelings towards ANYONE. I’ve had a half dozen or so intense crushes in my life, usually stupidly long-lasting, but the feelings never reached as far as my pants. I suppose they might have, had any of those crushes ever come to anything, but I was so terrified of the certain humiliation of my crush finding out how much I liked them, I never found out. I’ve never actually had a sexual fantasy involving a real person – not even the famous people I’ve fancied over the years. It’s always just an imaginary faceless thing. More, they don’t even involve ME, as myself. I seem to be incapable of having sexual fantasies involving myself as I actually am. It’s always a character. And this has been going on my whole life. In my teenage years, to avoid the guilt of thinking about fucking real people, I had a workaround for celebrity crushes, in the form of an alter ego who was a drop dead gorgeous actress who engaged, not in actual sex, but faked movie sex SCENES with the actor or whoever I fancied at the time. That, I reasoned, wasn’t really sex, so thinking about pretending to do it for the sake of art was okay. Thanks, Jesus, for the line about lust being adultery “in your heart”. I didn’t get off on those – the super dirty stuff was an anonymous (but hotter and thinner) me substitute – but I couldn’t even imagine making out with a crush without the framework of the entire scenario being artificial. I couldn’t imagine anyone I liked like that wanting to do that with me. And I couldn’t have even fathomed featuring an actual person in the fantasies that actually got me off. I don’t know how much of this is fucked up religion and thinking sex/lust outside marriage was bad (I wasn’t in American purity culture, but it was pretty close in a lot of ways) and therefore I couldn’t drag even the idea of other people (or myself for that matter) into my thought crimes, and how much is fucked up body image and being certain no one would ever want to have actual sex of any variety with the real me.

    This is…actually kind of good, in one way, because it means that the problem with the pants feelings isn’t just about him. But it’s bad in another, because it seems like there’s a much further distance to go between “pants feelings towards no one” and “pants feelings towards partner” than between “pants feelings towards some people” and “pants feelings towards partner”.

    And it’s a bad thing because I still don’t really feature in there – despite a massive amount of work on my eating problems, which had quite good results, I still don’t think of myself as fundamentally desirable. Even when I’m faced with desire for me, I can’t get my head around it. Even when I’m faced with obvious love for me, I still don’t get it. I’m still so full of shame, even after all this time and work and the total rejection of the religion that I was brought up with.

    Well, that was cheerful. But thanks again, everyone, I really appreciate it.

    • Anonforthis said:

      Ouch, that sounds like you’re having a really tough time. :( I hope some of the rest of the commentariat gets in here, with more helpful stuff.

      You’re really, really, really not alone.

      Sooo… I posted above about some of my experiences, but am going to elaborate on them a bit now, since they seem more relevant to your interests than I had guessed. TMI warning!

      I basically also never had pantsfeelings (well, I have now had a few for Spouse, randomly, out of the blue, sometime after we got married, which was cool but weird, and not lifechanging in any way). Oh, I convinced myself that I was having “crushes” occasionally, but even then I think it was because I felt like I ought to be having crushes. I was supposed to be swimming in teenage hormones, WHERE WERE THE PANTSFEELINGS, damnit! Surely if I just concentrated hard enough on someone I might theoretically find attractive, there would be pantsfeelings. But it seems that is not how I’m wired, and I eventually made my peace with it. Sometimes the society around us has a lot of focus on how Sex! Is! Awesome! and Should! Be! Awesome! and! Fulfilling! And yes, it is and it should be for many people. But some of us are not really programmed to run that script, and that does not mean that we are not totally awesome and cannot have totally awesome, fulfilling lives. Or that there is anything broken or wrong with those of us who do not run that script.

      I also do not have sexual fantasies that involve myself. I used to worry about this. (I’m glad I didn’t have many celebrity crushes, ’cause I never thought of such a clever workaround as the movie sex. Mine were mainly characters from books or characters I created. And sometimes they would be doing really horrible things to each other, and I would get completely squicked if I stopped to think about it.) In my case, it isn’t even tied to body issues – I’ve always really liked my body, and thought it would theoretically be cool if this awesome body could participate in awesome sex, BUT I didn’t actually seem to want that in any real way. So then I figured maybe I was asexual. But then I would look at my masturbation habits and my fantasies and go WTF, something sexual is happening here.

      I have basically still not had sex as me. My spouse and I roleplay in bed. And for us, that has worked out to be kind of awesome. (Yeah, I know I posted upthread about how we don’t have earthshaking sex, but neither us seems to need or want OHMIGOD RIP OFF THE CLOTHES sex. It feels good and we have fun.) For us, more roleplay = better sex. Also, in our case, we needed more roleplay scripts than we started with – my fantasies need to change out to stay appealing, while Spouse wants things reasonably predictable. We eventually figured out that if we varied the roleplay storylines more than the actual sex, then that’s satisfying for both of us.

      It is probably only my ignorance that I feel weird typing all this. I am sure there are tons of other people out there doing similar stuff, and I just don’t know them.

      These days, I think I COULD want to have sex as us w/ my spouse, but it always gets awkward when we try, and so while we might try it again someday down the road, we’ve been sticking to what works for us. Because really, I think the main reason I want to try it again sometime is because SOCIETAL EXPECTATION THAT IS HOW SEX WORKS! And Sex as my True Self will be mindblowing, or something? Except so far it has very much not been. So… not very compelling, as reasons go. Apparently my True Self gets off by pretending to be other people. (Just to be clear, I absolutely feel like I can be myself with Spouse in all other contexts).

      There are a kazilllion ways of having sex, and (if safe, sane, and consensual) every single one of them is right. So while I get that these are definitely real problems that you are struggling with, I also wonder if it might help to sit with them a little bit as Things That Are instead of “problems”? Obviously my experience is not yours, and things may be and continue to be totally different for you. And maybe there’s some way you can figure out how to change your sexual wiring, if that’s what you want. But in my case, the biggest helpful thing was accepting that I was not wired for a lot of the societal scripts surrounding me and figuring out what to do with the stuff I WAS wired for, if that makes sense.

      Again, wishing you all the luck.

  24. notalone-anon said:

    [I hope this comment doesn't cross any lines here; I just... gah. Words fail.]

    “Through my research of interviewing women like yourself, I’ve discovered a trend – one which atheist blogger Libby Anne documents here – in which women who experienced purity culture growing up develop extreme kinks or “disturbing (to them)” nonconsensual fantasies that scare them a little when they consider them outside of the fantasy world. I want to assure you, first and foremost, that this is surprisingly normal for someone raised in purity culture, and there are all sorts of longwinded reasons as to why.”

    Oh my god.

    O h m y g o d.

    I thought it was just me, I really did. I mean, I knew that a lot of women have nonconsensual fantasies, but I didn’t know it was explicitly linked to purity culture and that there were other women in the world who had my exact experience. I discovered masturbation when I was a very little girl and, due to the circumstances of the make-believe game during which I discovered it, immediately learned to associate it with things that I would later understand as “kinky.” But growing up? I didn’t know that word. I didn’t even know what masturbation was; I just had a deep, unshakeable understanding that what I was doing was “wrong” (though there were no scare-quotes there for five-year-old me) and I must never let anyone catch me at it or I’d be more than in trouble. I thought something was deeply, horribly wrong with me, especially as I got older and understood exactly what I was doing, because I had no idea what kink was or that there was anyone else in the world who associated those kinds of things with sex; I used the word “monster” in my head more than a few times. I never wanted anyone to know how horribly messed up I was.

    It’s been a long journey to realize that I’m not alone; realizing there’s nothing wrong with me has been even harder. I’m not done yet. I signed out of wordpress because I can’t bear to speak of these things and attach my name to it in public. I’ve only told one person other than my therapist; lucky for me, she responded positively, but I’m still scared. And the thing is, I just don’t want this to be who I am. I hate that BDSM porn is the only kind that turns me on; I hate that watching the rare kind of porn where real couples have real, beautiful, respectful, passionate sex is pleasant, but in a completely unsexual way. I have nothing against people who are into kinky stuff, but I really, REALLY don’t want it for myself. I don’t know if knowing this is something that was, in some sense, done to me, makes it better or worse (would I have been “normal” if I hadn’t been raised this way? Will I ever get the chance to be “normal” again?), but knowing the extent to which I’m not alone… Do they have support groups for this? Because I would go. I would *so* go.

    Seriously, though, is there any way to reverse this effect? Because I read the Libby Ann link. The thought of being unable to orgasm with someone I love unless I pretend it’s nonconsensual really, truly upsets me, but I can already tell there’s a strong chance sex will be that way for me because that’s how masturbation is for me. Heh, not that I orgasm (yet), thank you again purity culture, but I don’t even get aroused unless I pretend I don’t want to.

    I just… wow. Again, wow. It’s like… everything I have ever done wrt my sexuality has suddenly been explained: wearing ugly clothes so no one would see me “that way,” having terrifying fantasies, repressing my sexuality to the point where I genuinely thought I was asexual… Other people describe doing the exact same things and it’s just like, ‘wow, it all makes sense now.’ Suddenly, I have a lot to talk about at my next therapy session… but in a good way? I think? Thank you, Awkward Army, for continuing to help me reframe and make sense of my experiences in so many different ways.

    • You are really, really not alone.

      There is some good news for you. It’s not a promise, but it’s a possibility. As you work through some of your shame around the idea of sexuality, and as you work through the the thoughts about whether it is okay for you and sex to coexist in the same room at the same time, you may find your fantasies easing off a bit in their intensity. You might not, but you might. I mean, I figure a lot of it is how much you’re — to put it in a terribly flawed way — inherently kinked, and how much is because of all the pressure your upbringing, fear, and shame are distorting your sexuality right now.

      You can also find ways for pleasure to be foisted upon you without it actually being nonconsensual. A lot lot lot of people have difficulty accepting pleasure, and a whole lot of them get off by being restrained, given orders, or otherwise controlled. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but it is completely okay if you have a step in your growth where you only really get off when sexy things are done to you. It’s also okay if that’s the end stage in your sexuality.

      Because of the frequency of this kind of reaction, you can almost go to a kinky event and have that be a support group, but ultimately that is people who have accepted a different endpoint than you are currently comfortable with. But I wouldn’t want you to go to a less sexually open kind of group because the last thing you need is any more shame, if you catch my drift.

      This stuff is super hard and brings up all kinds of difficult shit. But there’s hope. It’ll take compassion and work and love and time, but there is hope that you will have satisfying sex in a way that doesn’t break your heart or your ethics or your self-identity.

      And if it doesn’t work today, that’s all right. There’s always another day.

  25. gp said:

    Like many other oblivious young men in the evangelical church, I never considered that there was anything potentially wrong about purity culture until I was about 20. I had consistently – not as obsessively as in many churches, but consistently – been told about the perils of sex before marriage or even being significantly attracted to someone (called “lust”) before marriage. As a teenager I started hearing bits and pieces about how the Christian women in my life could help us out by how they dress. That sounded pretty good to me; who doesn’t want help in not sinning? I never really thought of it as blaming women, just encouraging them to help us out. And since all of these conversations happened divided by gender , and I didn’t have a lot of female friends anyway, I didn’t ever hear feedback from women and just assumed that they were generally happy to help us out.

    Moderator Note:In case this is a valid comment, I am editing out the possibly spammy URL. Time will tell.

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