#401: I can’t tell whether my girlfriend wants to have sex with me. (Spoiler: She doesn’t!)

As of 12/7 comments on this discussion are closed.


Hello Captain!

I need a script for talking to my girlfriend about what she wants in bed. She’s eighteen and I’m twenty and we’ve been together for four years. Neither of us really experimented with other people before we met each other, so we’ve done most of our sexual experimenting and maturing together. The problem is, we’re still having big communication problems.

The first issue is that, over the past year or so, my girlfriend has started to think that she might be a lesbian. She says she’s attracted to girls and not guys, and has explicitly stated that she’s not physically attracted to me. I think this might be part of the cause of the second issue.

The second issue is, my girlfriend never gives me an answer about whether or not she wants to have sex. She never gives me a solid “no” and she never gives me a solid “yes”. We tried employing a direct consent method where I would ask her directly, “Do you want to have sex right now?” but she would never give me an answer. Instead, she says things like, “Honey…” or “Maybe…” or “Tomorrow, okay?” For a while, she told me she didn’t want me to ask; she just wanted me to do what I wanted. Of course, that backfired, because I could never tell when she was actually into it and when she wasn’t. 

None of her feelings on the matter come up until after we’ve already had sex. I never know if she wanted it or didn’t want it until sometimes hours or days or weeks afterward, when she’ll tell me either that she liked it or that she didn’t actually want to have sex. She gets angry with me during these times and says that I’m using her body, or that I expect sex too often, and then she’ll stop sleeping with me as a way to set me straight. 

Captain, I know that my girlfriend is well within her rights not to have sex with me, and if she wants to have sex with other people instead or not to have sex at all, that’s okay. I love her and we’ll find a way to work it out one way or another. But I can’t do anything to help her feel safe and happy with me if she doesn’t tell me what she wants. If asking her directly doesn’t work, what should I do?

Thank you for taking the time. 


Yes Means Yes

Dear Yes Means Yes:

There is a lot of badness here. At this point, with your history, you should not have any sex with your girlfriend unless she herself initiates it or responds to your request by smiling from ear-to-ear, taking your hand, leading you into the bedroom, and removing your pants while saying things like “This is awesome” and “Yes please!” and “More!”

I can imagine your response to the above suggestion:

But, Captain Awkward, if I didn’t initiate sex then we’d never have sex!

You are correct, this is probably what would happen if you stopped initiating sex. This is because she does not want to have sex with you anymore.

She says explicitly that she is not attracted to you and that she might be gay. These are what are known as dealbreakers. She refuses all the time, indirectly.  “Just do what you want, stop asking me” does not equal “Fuck me now, you magnificent bastard!” It means “Giving in is easier than fighting/explaining why/dealing with the constant badgering.”

You asked for a script about talking to your girlfriend about what she wants in bed. She’s TOLD you what she wants in bed. What she wants = NOT YOU. If you literally can’t tell whether or not someone is into what is happening in bed, the answer is “They are not all that into it.”

Further translations:

Tomorrow* = no.

Maybe later = no.

I am not attracted to you = no.

I am maybe gay = no.

You’re using my body! = no.

You want sex too often, maybe I’ll just stop altogether = no.

Anything but “Yes!” or “Yeah!” or “Okay!” or “Get over here!” or “Take off your pants!” or enthusiastically touching you = no.

You say “Captain, I know that my girlfriend is well within her rights not to have sex with me, and if she wants to have sex with other people instead or not to have sex at all, that’s okay,” and you’re using the lingo of “Yes means Yes” which sounds really nice, except for the part where you keep pressuring her and having sex with her even when she clearly does not want to and then try to argue that she wasn’t PERFECTLY clear so how you are you supposed to know what to do since this is basically her fault for not being a better communicator.

It’s not surprising that she might not have actually fully internalized that she gets to refuse sex with you, since she says no all the time and then finds herself having sex with you anyway. So I have to ask: If she broke up with you because she’s not into you anymore, would you go quietly? Or would you convince her to stay the way you convince her to keep having sex with you?

You want to do the right thing for both of you? Break up with her. Make it clean, final, and irrevocable. “Girlfriend, I care about you but this isn’t working for me and I want to break up.”  Even if she says she wants to stay together and work on the problem, I don’t think love and good intentions fix this thing. It’s hard to break up with your first love and your first sex partner. But she needs to be free to explore her actual desires (and figure out what they are) with a partner who doesn’t badger and coerce her. And you need to see what sex looks like when someone actually wants to be there with you. She can do better than “constant coercion” and you can do better than “grudging submission.”

And since you have a bad track record of wishful thinking and coercion in reading signals about a partner’s willingness to have sex, I suggest you make enthusiastic consent your absolute personal ethic going forward. Without forthright, clear, explicit, demonstrated consent from a partner, you don’t have sex, period.

Recommended Reading:

*In a good relationship where people are having enthusiastic, regular sex, “Tomorrow” means “Tomorrow!” In this relationship, it definitely means “no.”

325 thoughts on “#401: I can’t tell whether my girlfriend wants to have sex with me. (Spoiler: She doesn’t!)

  1. Oh god it felt really bad reading that letter. “If you literally can’t tell whether or not someone is into what is happening in bed, the answer is “They are not all that into it.” This here. It’s so important. And having sex with someone who doesn’t want it is very different to having sex with someone who does want it. Dear LW, I promise you you’ll actually would notice if she wanted to. If you didn’t have any doubt tha she wanted to sleep with you, you would never have had to write this letter in the first place.

    Different story but related: There’s a story in the news here in Sweden right now about a guy being released from rape charges even though the court has stated that there is no doubt that she said no and tried to keep her legs together, but she didn’t fight back when he kept on trying having sex and that not fighting back meant it was legally not rape. Makes me think of this.

    1. Law student person here. Just wanted to correct a common mistake on that case. What happened according to the girl meets the legal requirements for rape. The case was dismissed because of too little evidence. The court didn’t think it was enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

      1. It doesn’t meet the requirements according to Swedish law. There either has to be violence or threats, or the victim must be considered helpless.

  2. Dear LW:

    The good Captain is spot-on as usual.

    This is the part of your letter where I get really concerned:

    We tried employing a direct consent method where I would ask her directly, “Do you want to have sex right now?” but she would never give me an answer. Instead, she says things like, “Honey…” or “Maybe…” or “Tomorrow, okay?”

    From the sounds of things, she doesn’t feel comfortable saying “no, I don’t want to” straight out. Why is that, LW? Is it maybe because you haven’t taken “no” (or “meh”) for an answer in the past? Your reaction to her noncommittal replies is what’s going to tell her whether it’s safe to say no to you.

    But I can’t do anything to help her feel safe and happy with me if she doesn’t tell me what she wants.

    This is 100% wrong. You can do plenty of things to help her feel safe around you. (Happy is a separate matter.) Start by respecting her feelings and not putting pressure on her to have sex with you. If she doesn’t tell you what she wants, assume she doesn’t want anything from you and stop asking for things she has already told you she’s not interested in.

    What do you do when she says “Maybe” or “Tomorrow”? Do you say “No sweat, thanks for letting me know” or “That’s cool, how about we watch a movie tonight?” or “Since you’ve told me that you’re not attracted to me anymore, I’m not going to ask you for sex anymore, and I’m sorry I’ve been putting you on the spot” or something else that shows you really believe and understand that her lack of enthusiasm trumps your desire for sex?

    Or do you say “Well, what does that MEAN?” or “‘Maybe’ means I should keep hoping, right?” or “Tomorrow’s great for me! Let’s calendar it so you won’t forget” or “I get so mad/frustrated/sad/upset/depressed when you don’t give me a straight answer” or “I’m starting to think you don’t love me anymore” or something else that continues to make your desire for sex into her problem?

    If you really want it to be safe for her to say “no”, you have to make it safe. That’s your responsibility as her partner. If you value your desire for sex over her emotional safety, break up with her right now before you cause her further harm, and go sit in the corner and think about what you did so that you can be a more respectful partner for your next girlfriend.

    Your lust is your problem. Not hers.

    1. Here’s another way to think about it, LW:

      A friend introduces you to a hot woman at a party. The two of you get along really well, and make a date to meet up for dinner. Over dinner, you ask her back to your place for some hot lovin’. She replies, “Actually, I’m a lesbian, and I think you’re really nice but I’m not attracted to you.”

      Do you:

      A. Keep inviting her over for sex anyway, because she’s really hot and you really want to have sex with her
      B. File her under “awesome people I can be friends with” and take sex off your mental agenda

      In this hypothetical situation it’s a lot clearer that the correct answer is B–and that’s how you should address the situation you’re in. The only thing muddying it is that you two have history, but what matters is the present, not the past. Your girlfriend identifies as a lesbian and is not attracted to you. Therefore, she is not on the list of people who might have sex with you, and you need to stop thinking of her as though she is.

    2. From the sounds of things, she doesn’t feel comfortable saying “no, I don’t want to” straight out. Why is that, LW? Is it maybe because you haven’t taken “no” (or “meh”) for an answer in the past? Your reaction to her noncommittal replies is what’s going to tell her whether it’s safe to say no to you.

      I think that’s a good question for the LW to ask himself, but I’d also just like to point out that that particular bit of shitty socialisation could have established itself perfectly happily for his GF without any particular reinforcement from him. I think he needs to break up with his girlfriend and it sounds completely miserable for both of them, but it’s completely possible that he is respecting definite “no” but she hasn’t tried that. And – if she’s anything like I was, when I was in exactly the same situation at the age of 18 – she might still be answering definite “yes” to the question “do you still love me?” and definite “no” to the question “do you want to break up?”, just because the weight of knowing you’re going to upset someone horribly by telling them you don’t love them and you don’t want to go out with them is awful and unimaginable. Especially if she does genuinely like and respect and maybe still love LW, but just isn’t at all attracted to him any more.

      He could be genuinely respecting her ambivalence but just honestly very confused by someone who says things like “I think I’m a lesbian”, “Yes of course I love you”, “No I don’t want to break up”, “I love being with you”, “I don’t want to have sex now but maybe sometime” (and be desperately hoping it’s true.) The whole thing was difficult enough at 18 that I didn’t actually need someone who was actively doing something wrong for the whole thing to be a giant mess on both sides.

      1. Oh yes, I absolutely blame societal programming and patriarchal bullshit for a lot of this situation–but there are things LW can do to help his girlfriend (and himself) overcome that. As the representative of the patriarchy in the relationship, he has a lot of power. He needs to use his power for good.

        but it’s completely possible that he is respecting definite “no” but she hasn’t tried that

        Which is where “yes means yes” comes from.

        Also not mentioned in the original letter but probably very relevant: the unfortunate conflation of sexual availability and love. LW, you can love your girlfriend and not expect sex from her, and she can love you and not want to have sex with you! It is possible! And, from the sounds of things, necessary.

        1. there are things LW can do to help his girlfriend (and himself) overcome that.

          I wish for the day when men and women don’t learn this stuff by fucking it up and being in miserable and borderline-to-outright coercive relationships in their teens and twenties!

      2. This. this is how I read the letter, and the LW’s question. While I agree with the overall message of “those things all mean no, and you should probably break up with her because of the interactions and the whole not attracted to you thing”, I think that there is a genuine confusion from the LW, rather than a not respecting her communication. He’s looking for ways to better communicate and understand, rather than asking “how do I get her into bed?”

        It sounds to me like LW has been trying to respect her and what she wants. I think the key, as the Captain said, is to stop asking, and let her initiate if she wants. Because even if LW is totally willing and able to take no without any “I’m disappointed” pressure, it’s clear his girlfriend doesn’t feel comfortable expressing it, and the best (only?) way to tell in those instances is to let her initiate.

        1. That’s how I read it, too. I felt like the LW was really trying to respect his girlfriend’s wishes, but was looking for help understanding what she wanted. He was hearing the “maybe” that she was saying, rather than the “no” she really meant.

      3. Yeah, that is very much the vibe I got from the letter. I think the LW doesn’t know what unambiguous “no” sounds like because he’s probably never heard one. And I agree with the Captain 100%; the things that the girlfriend is saying DO mean “no,” but it’s not entirely LW’s fault that he doesn’t know that. He’s trying to take her at her word, and her words are really ambivalent.

        Look at their ages; 18 and 20, and they’ve been in this for four years? So they were 14 and 16? That’s young. So wherever she learned that “whatever you say doesn’t matter and won’t be honored, so why even bother,” (and I’d put money on family or school, on top of general pervasive media portrayals of women’s roles in romantic relationships) neither of them has probably had a chance in any other relationship to unlearn it.

        I actually give the LW some props for, it sounds like, truly wanting to understand and do the right thing here. But the Captain’s advice remains correct, LW…have enough respect for BOTH of you to break up with her, and learn how to have a healthy relationship.

        1. You guys are being really nice. But this sea of plausible deniability of “But I never heard an unambiguous no, so I guess we’ll just have sex!” is a bad, bad, bad place to be. Very bad. Because the word for sex with a less-than-willing participant is RAPE.

          When dealing with someone who is ambivalent about having sex with you, DON’T HAVE SEX WITH THEM. That’s not actually that hard to reason through! Only MASSIVE amounts of entitlement and wishful thinking get you to the point where you justify having sex with an unwilling participant.

          The LW knows something is off and asked for advice. Great. Here’s a cookie. But what is off is not so much his girlfriend’s ambivalent communication style, but the fact that he keeps looking for any excuse to continue the sexual relationship that she does not want to have.

          1. “Plausible deniability” is a great way to put it, precisely because it sounds so creepy and reeks of rules-lawyering. I think it was the Yes Means Yes blog that linked to a study about indirect communication where people were told ‘no’ indirectly in all kinds of social situations, and they understood it as ‘no’ almost all the time. Then those same people are told ‘no’ indirectly in a hypothetical sexual situation, and somehow they don’t understand it, because they’re actually choosing to hear ‘yes.’

            Eg, “Wanna go for a drink?” “Eh, I have to be up early tomorrow.” “Some other time, then.”
            “Wanna have sex?” “Eh, I have to be up early tomorrow.” “Cool, I’ll make it quick.”

            Labeling that a ‘misunderstanding’ just rationalizes selfishness and entitlement, and can go to some very, very dark places. See also: Huge Schwyzer’s awful, awful article, “The Accidental Rapist.” If Schwyzer thinks it’s ok, big, BIG red flag.

          2. I agree with most of what people have said, but I also think her ambivalent communication style is part of what is off. He says that she sometimes tells him days later that she liked having sex. I can see it being extra confusing when she seems “meh” and then later says she enjoyed sex. It doesn’t change anything, the general life rule is to not have sex with people that are not into it, if for no other reason than sex is better with enthusiastic participants, but it adds to the confusion. And keeps alive OP’s hope that this is something that could be resolved. Which it can’t be. I hope he finds someone else who totally wants to have sex RIGHT NOW. And I hope his girlfriend finds someone she wants to have sex with RIGHT NOW. But they are not going to be those people for each other.

          3. I think the disagreement here is whether the inference is that LW hears no when girlfriend is ambiguous or whether LW doesn’t hear no and proceeds. I think in either case, your advice is correct. It’s your tone that doesn’t match the former inference (which is the one I made).

          4. I found the study Xenophile mentioned quite interesting. Partly because I’ve been one of the people who takes the vague no at face value across the board. I’ve learned to be suspicious (sometimes, I’ll respond with “Do you really mean [blunt version]?”), and I’ve also learned to be annoyed with people pretending to be like me when it suits them (like the study group). Sometimes, what I really want is a basic social skills book from a trustworthy, feminist source (because if I could just use a regular book and pick out the bad parts, I probably wouldn’t need the book).

      4. You might be right. LW certainly sounds like he wants to respect her wishes. The thing is, he seems to be stuck on the idea that he can both respect her wishes and have sex with her, despite the heaping piles of evidence to the contrary. I can understand being confused but hopeful about “maybe tomorrow”; I can’t understand him taking “I’m not attracted to men, specifically including you” as leaving room for them to have a sexual relationship.
        So, LW: it’s really unfortunate that, for whatever reason, your girlfriend isn’t giving you a clear, explicit answer about what she wants. The thing is, she may not be explictly saying no, but she is hinting pretty loudly and repeatedly that *at best* she feels ambivalent about having sex with you. Just asking her over and over is not going to get her to explain herself more clearly. Your job in this situation is to acknowledge what she *is* saying, and stop acting as if she’s totally going to say yes next time if only you ask in the right way. This isn’t just a communication problem, it’s a “she isn’t attracted to you” problem. Take that seriously.

        1. I can’t understand him taking “I’m not attracted to men, specifically including you” as leaving room for them to have a sexual relationship.

          I guess I’m just hearing it very much in the context of my own awful, awful teenage relationship, where I was saying much the same things as LW’s girlfriend, but would also have answered straight out yes to “do you still love me” and no to “do you want to break up”. If someone’s saying, “I’m not attracted to your gender or you at all but I love you and don’t want to break up and sometimes when we have sex I enjoy it” then I get the confusion.

          But the fundamentals are that, a) this relationship needs to end and b) if the LW ever finds himself in a similar dynamic, he needs to GET THE HELL AWAY.

          I guess what I’m really saying is the culture around teenage sex is fucked up enough that I give teenage men ONE pass on “coercive messed up relationship which went on long after its acceptable sell-by date in which I pressured my girlfriend into having sex”. Which is depressing but not unrealistic in my experience.

          1. I’d agree, except that it’s actually been proven in studies [a great article on Yes Means Yes goes over them] that people hear ambiguous nos as no, but choose to ignore that and claim that they ‘didn’t understand’ and that the other person ‘just wasn’t clear enough.’

            For example, it basically breaks down like this: ‘Hey, want to hang out tonight?’ ‘Sorry, I have to get up early in the morning.’ ‘Alright, cool. Talk to you later.’


            ‘Hey, want to come back to my place?’ ‘Sorry, I have to get up early in the morning.’ ‘Then we’ll just have to be quick about it.’

            Both reactions to the ‘Sorry but..’ by the same person .

            Another thing that’s rubbing me a bit wrong with this thread, and a large part of the reason I agree with the tone the Captain is taking is that well…I have a little trouble believing a 20 year old has never heard an ambiguous ‘no’. Maybe it’s just me, but most people I know have heard variations of ‘I’d love to but…’ ‘Sorry, but…’ or ‘I have to get up early.’ several times by that point in their life. So…Sorry, but that’s a bit of a stretch, particularly since the majority of what his girlfriend has said really isn’t that ambiguous.

        2. I can’t understand him taking “I’m not attracted to men, specifically including you” as leaving room for them to have a sexual relationship.

          First, the LW needs to stop having sex with this woman.

          Second, while it is not true in this case, it is possible to want to have sex with someone in a healthy way even while you are not sexually attracted to them. The key is to do this in a healthy way, which does require communication and seems to require more experience than the LW and his girlfriend have, which is why he should stop trying to have sex with her. I mean, there are plenty of asexuals who have sexual relations in their relationships because it doesn’t make them unhappy and is fun time with their partner (not, obviously, suggesting either that the LW’s gf should be having sex with him or that asexuals who find sex unpleasant should be having it,) and I’m a heteroflexible woman who does not get sexually attracted to women but enjoys having sex with them on the basis of “friends + orgasms = fun.”

          But the bottom line is, if you hear that someone is not sexually attracted to you/your gender, the default assumption should be no sex. It is up to them to initiate any exceptions to that rule, and since the LW’s GF has made it clear that he is not an exception and, in any case, she is not enthusiastically consenting, he should stop trying to have sex with her.

          1. It is ABSOLUTELY all about the communication. At the minute, I’m doing a full time PhD, more than part time work while volunteering and trying to not be a hermit. It’s incredibly stressful and when it gets too stressful, I just have no libido. But luckily my partner and I have communicated about it and he gets it.

            It’s really concerning that he seems to be ignoring her communication in favour of what he wants to hear.

  3. OP, I don’t think you are a terrible person who is pressuring his girlfriend into sex, but I do think you’re pressuring her into a relationship. You can’t square “thinks she might be gay” with “we’ll do whatever it takes to make this work out”. It’s a shame that’s she’s not clear enough about her feelings to just break up with you, but that is really, really hard when you’re both young and have been in a long-term relationship that feels like it defines your adulthood, so I’ve sympathy for both of you. But I bet that if you break up now, you’ll both be way happier in six months’ time.

    Sex might be the thing that you are perceiving as the immediate problem, but the real problem is that the relationship’s over. Say goodbye, cry, get over it and move on.

    1. Whether he is realizing it or not (and intent only goes so far), he certainly IS pressuring her into sex. We can’t say much about terrible person vs. not, but it’s irrelevant.

  4. ” ”Just do what you want, stop asking me” does not equal “Fuck me now, you magnificent bastard!” ”

    This is fucking depressing and kind of funny and very true all at the same time. Mostly fucking depressing. It’s sad that you had to post this column at all. Society really needs to stop teaching people “can’t tell whether they’re into it? Whatever, continue until they say no!” ASAP, plzkthx.

  5. Her not giving you a straight ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is her trying to be nice. If not nice, to avoid a conflict. Don’t take her up on the ‘just do what you want while I lie here, babe’.

    I’m sorry you’re going through a rough time. I imagine your self confidence has been put through the wringer. However, that isn’t your girlfriends fault or responsibility and don’t try to guilt her about it. The best thing you can do is bow out gracefully. Listen to what she’s actually saying, not what you want to hear.

    Lesbians like women. You can be the best guy ever; she still won’t be attracted to you. It’s not about you.

    Break it off and find someone who’s actually attracted to you. In the meantime, read up on sexual coercion.

    1. Lesbians like women. You can be the best guy ever; she still won’t be attracted to you. It’s not about you.

      Well…when she keeps dating him despite saying she’s a lesbian, then yeah, it is about him. In fact, it’s really shitty to tell your partner you’re not attracted to them and not break up with them.

      That doesn’t mean he should pressure her into sex, but her behavior isn’t exactly not personal. If it were, she’d break up with him to explore relationships with women, and leave him free to find a partner who’s actually into him.

      1. I have two problems with this comment. First, people and emotions are complicated. Just as children and spouses often love the people who beat them, so that kids cry when separated from their abusive parent and spouses don’t just pick up and leave (and it’s not only about fear), it seems pretty understandable and non-shitty that a young woman who has been pressured into non-consensual sex by a boyfriend she loves would stop having pantsfeelings for him but still feel emotionally connected and not ready to cut the cord. Especially if she’s been with the guy her entire high school experience.

        Second, not breaking up with him does not trap him. He IS free to go find someone who’s into him.

        1. That’s a really good point. I take back the comment about her behavior being shitty. It initially struck me as emotionally manipulative, but even if that is the case–which you’re right that it very well may not be–none of that excuses his behavior. It’s just a symptom of how all-around toxic the relationship is.

          The “not about you” comment rubbed me the wrong way, and it still doesn’t sit quite right with me for reasons I’m having a hard time articulating, but that doesn’t matter in the big picture.

          And although I didn’t make it clear in my original comment, I absolutely agree with this:

          Second, not breaking up with him does not trap him. He IS free to go find someone who’s into him.

          Ideally, she should have broken up with him, but since she didn’t, he should *definitely* break up with her. Nothing good can come from staying in the relationship.

          1. What I meant was, IF she’s a lesbian THAT isn’t about the LW. He didn’t MAKE HER gay. He’s done a lot of shit, but he personally didn’t change her sexual orientation.

      2. That sort of thing is a LOT easier said than done, especially when you’re young and unsure of yourself/your sexuality/your identity. As I said in another comment, when I was young and unsure of myself and my sexuality, and I tried to come out to people, their responses AFFECTED HOW I FELT about my own admission. Sometimes knowing what you want isn’t so clear cut, and if someone you trust implies to you by action (or by ignoring your words) that “maybe you don’t want that after all,” you sometimes might listen to them and think “okay, maybe this person I trust is right. Maybe I don’t want that. Or maybe I’m not SUPPOSED to want it.”

        If the GF had written in, we could productively help her find a script for breaking up with the BF, or help her find pathways to becoming more certain about her needs/desires. But she didn’t; he did. And so it isn’t productive for us to talk about what she should or should not have done. Because regardless of what she did or did not do, his behavior still indicates that he doesn’t respect her wishes, and that’s a problem.

    2. What I meant was, IF she’s a lesbian THAT isn’t about the LW. He didn’t MAKE HER gay. He’s done a lot of shit, but he personally didn’t change her sexual orientation.

      Ah ok, thanks for the clarification! I completely agree with this.

  6. I’m in 100% agreement with the Captain and Rose Fox here. It’s nice that you know Yes Means Yes… but I think the phrase in this case needs to be ONLY Yes Means Yes.

    (This particular issue is trigger-y for me, so I’m doing my best not to let my Armchair Psychologist or Rageasaurus come out.)

    It looks like your girlfriend is having a hard time expressing what she wants. That could be for any number of reasons.

    At best, she’s going through some confusion and uncertainty about her sexuality, her desires, and how those affect your relationship. Given some of the specifics in your letter on how she’s handling it, it sounds like there is some pretty big pressure coming from somewhere for her to keep you “happy” and “satisfied,” regardless of what she wants. Whether that’s external or internal pressure, I couldn’t say. (In my personal experience it was both.)

    Having sex with her when she doesn’t want it – or isn’t sure she wants it – or even maybe wants it, but hasn’t explicitly said so – reinforces the idea in her head that sex isn’t a choice she gets to make, that it’ll happen no matter what she says. It also reinforces the idea that the only things she’s good for is sex, and that it’s all she has to offer to you or any other guy. She will end up feeling used (she’s already said as much), and she will start to think that feeling like a blow-up doll* is just a normal part of being in a relationship. These are incredibly damaging thoughts, and they will have a ripple effect throughout her life that could potentially cause real devastation down the line.

    I second the Captain here: if you care about this girl, at all, you seriously need to break it off. Dude, you are not doing her any favors right now. She needs time to figure out what’s going on, and your letter makes it pretty clear that you’re not in a place to help her do that.

    *Again, projecting my own very-similar experience here.

    1. And I, in turn, agree 100% with you and it is all too familiar for me.

      They’ve been together for 4 years, and the LW is only 18. Which means they started this when she was 14.

      I don’t want to pick on age, but the LW’s girlfriend is starting to assert herself – I’m gay, I’m not attracted to you, not now, maybe tomorrow – and is receiving the message “Sure, whatever you want, as long as you keep fucking me and doing what I want” in return.

      Not good. It took me a really long time to break up with my first serious boyfriend. I didn’t have the right words, and whatever objections I raised, he would just tell me that it wasn’t really a problem for him and he’d love me anyway. Like he wasn’t really hearing me at all – his wishful thinking was so dominant that none of my actual feelings could get through. So I’d shut down and it would go on for another 6 months. It’s not like anyone teaches you when you’re a teenager how to break up with someone and make it stick or that you’re ALLOWED to say “I DON’T want to ‘work on the relationship’, thank you very much” and that it’s okay if love runs its course and doesn’t work out in the end.

      1. Wouldn’t it be great if they did, though? Teach you how to break up with someone, that is. I kind of feel like that should be incorporated into our basic education somehow.

          1. As a side note, Captain, if you ever compiled/paid someone to compile this blog into a book (comments included), not only would I buy it, I would gift it to every young person I know.

          2. God, that would be amazing. Especially if it wasn’t a straight compilation but like… an archival sort of thing with commentary. Like, direct quoted passages from posts and comments set to be more readable?

        1. I got so much “you don’t have to have sex until you’re ready”. Right, brilliant, got that message, totally internalised it, first time was A Good Idea. Hooray! I wish just one teen magazine article had followed it up with, “And when you’ve started having sex, if you want to stop, that’s OK too.”

          We didn’t exactly have abstinence-only education, but it was very much predicated on waiting-is-good, and that meant that there was literally never any discussion of what happened AFTER you’d stopped waiting.

          1. I needed to hear that, too. And that having sex didn’t mean I was going to hell, so I had to justify the sex with “but we’re in love” and then stick around long after the “love” was out of the equation.

          2. I got so much “you don’t have to have sex until you’re ready”.

            The problem is, there’s still this idea that you should be ready by a certain age, or after a certain amount of time spent dating someone. The expectation is still there, it’s just delayed, y’know?

            And there’s certainly no acknowledgement of the fact that some people, for whatever reason, might just not ever be ready.

          3. That was exactly my problem, Amy. I got that it was okay for girls to want sex and okay to say no to sex because you weren’t ready. There wasn’t as much discussion about what if you don’t actually want sex at all (and only a very token amount on if you want it with people of the same gender, and nothing about gender identity). And this was considered to be really good sex ed, too.

          4. I got “You don’t have to start having sex until you’re ready – but if you’re not ready by now, you’re repressed and that is BAD and EVIL and WRONG so stop doing that and have sex. Cis straight sex. Because queer and/or trans* people don’t exist.”

            It led to bad, bad places. And this was also supposed to be good sex ed too!

      2. Oh, man, I totally feel you on this one. And it makes me more than a little sad inside that this is such a universal experience.

        Like, not until I was reading THIS BLOG at the AGE OF 28 did I finally synthesize all the awful messages and assumptions I’ve internalized about sex and go “Whoa, wait, that needs to change.” I’ve had pretty intricate social-justice fantasies about starting a sex-education foundation that’s independent of the public school system – like a Sexual Finishing School (although, that sounds a little… punny…) where young adults would build skills like Good Relationships, Breaking Up With Someone, Being Broken Up With, Knowing When To Walk Away, Asking For What You Want, Saying and Hearing No With Grace and Tact… man, the list goes on.

        *sigh* Maybe someday. Young Adult Sexual Education Foundation has a nice ring to it, y’know?

      3. “It’s not like anyone teaches you when you’re a teenager how to break up with someone and make it stick or that you’re ALLOWED to say “I DON’T want to ‘work on the relationship’, thank you very much” and that it’s okay if love runs its course and doesn’t work out in the end.”

        BUT! BUT! Why don’t we?

        We should totally do that!

        I’m trying to and it’s amazing how hard it is to shovel against the tide of social norms. My daughter is six and conforms to conventional beauty — tall, long blonde hair, blue eyes, etc. And people LOVE HER! And they want to TOUCH HER! And they want to HUG HER! All of her life, total strangers have walked up to her and laid hands on her without asking her permission. Because she’s a (beautiful) girl.

        And I get a TON of shit I get for telling them to stop, telling her she’s allowed to say no, putting my body between them and her. It’s astounding. And I’m 40 and loud and pushy and have great boundaries. If you grew up without a parent who wasn’t willing to physically impose herself between you and the gropers (seriously, who thinks it’s OK to just randomly stroke a strange child’s hair?) you internalize the message that your body is public property, or at least not your property.

        Which, imho, leads directly to stuff like being unable to break up and make it stick. Or being unable to tell your BF that you don’t want to have sex with him. (AND, by the by, having BFs who don’t understand that “I might be a lesbian and don’t find you attractive” is pretty clear communication.)

        I talk to my daughter all the time about boundaries and her body and how to say “No.” I’ve used a weird friendship in her kindergarten class to explain about toxic relationships. When people say “Awww… give him a hug, Honey, you don’t want to hurt his feelings,” I get… impolite. I feel like this is as much as part of parenting as teaching her tie her shoes or wipe her mouth on her napkin instead of her sleeve.

        Now, I feel like I should start a class for 12 year olds. “How to break up with your boy/girlfriend.”

          1. It is gross, isn’t it? Her braids hang past her butt and people often just walk up and start playing with them or touching them. They take her picture, too. More when she was a baby/toddler, but it’s still a steady stream. Thank you for understanding why I get so freaked out by it and for everyone who said nice things about my parenting. It’s HARD, sometimes. It’s nice to know my daughter will have people who have her back. I hope all girls get that.

        1. Christ, this used to happen to me as a kid too, with long blonde hair. It’s unbelievable the liberties people think they can take with children. My parents, like you, were good about reinforcing my boundaries when I was little (my mom famously had to announce “Lucy doesn’t want anyone to touch her hair!” whenever we went into any store, at my request), but I feel like that sort of thing is easily forgotten, especially for girls, as they mature. I’m in total agreement with you that navigating potentially toxic relationships is and should be part of sex ed, even before sex is seriously discussed, and that it should start in middle school- maybe even in late elementary school. Everyone, but girls especially, needs to know that their boundaries MUST be respected and that they owe prettiness or sexual availability or friendliness to NO ONE.

    2. Giant Word to everything in this comment.

      LW, it really really sounds to me like your GF is trying to say no without actually rejecting you. I’ve noticed that people who have not been socialized in this way (and maybe even people who have) just do not get it, but when you’ve been socialized to make people happy and to not hurt other people’s feelings, it can be incredibly hard to turn someone down. Because being turned down for sex sucks and often hurts, and it isn’t fun to make someone feel unwanted. Your GF is probably looking for a way to not have sex with you without making you feel the way someone feels when they get turned down for sex.

      I agree with everyone who has said you should break it off. However, if you don’t or if it takes a while for you to do that (but really, break it off), you should 100% stop initiating sex with her. You’ve let her know that you want it. If she wants it from you, she can initiate it. If she doesn’t want it from you, it won’t happen. Win-win!

      1. This so much. Girls are socialized to “be nice,” and somehow “be nice” turns into “never say no.”

        And then you avoid saying no until you’re absolutely pushed to your limit, until the thought of saying yes one more time feels akin to throwing yourself down a deep, black well… and when you do say it, your boyfriend throws a fit, or cries, or sulks, or pouts, or threatens to commit suicide*, or just straight-up ignores it….

        And years later, when you’re describing that (ex)boyfriend to the people in your life, you use the term “consensual rape,” and you struggle to understand that if “no” is not a viable answer, then “yes” loses all meaning as well. Pressuring and emotionally manipulating someone into sex is a Totally Jerk Move, and they will not remember you kindly for it.

        Honestly, I think the kindest thing LW could do for his girlfriend is break up with her, and point her toward this site to hopefully help her learn a little about self-affirmation and boundary-setting.

        *Yeah, like I said, story hits SUPER close to home.

        1. Ugh, SO sorry you’ve had to deal with that. What is it with the extreme emotional manipulation? I had an ex – who was very much an ex at the time by over a year and several other sexual partners since – threaten suicide when I turned him down for online cyber pity sex after moving away. Fortunately he never pulled that with the IRL pity sex requests… probably because I gave in quicker.

          I’m thinking that Sexual Finishing School suggested above needs to have a special class on Why Threats of Self Harm are Not a Good Way to Get Sex.

          1. I had a friend who went through a long messy creepy break-up with a seriously manipulative emotionally abusive guy. She was young and didn’t really “get” the intentional abusive part of it yet, so was still giving him lots of benefit of the doubt.

            Anyway, he set up this very elaborate suicide attempt that was fixed perfectly to cause her the maximum amount of panic and self-blame. Like, attempting to contact her in ways she had explicitly told him not to, ensuring she wouldn’t answer. Then making sure she found the note that specifically mentioned “I wish you would’ve picked up when I called”, and making sure she found empty pill bottles. And then he told his friends and family he was going to a cabin for some “me” time, and his ex was being really clingy lately and might call them trying to find out where he was, and they should just stonewall her no matter what she said because she was being seriously crazy. It was so, so gross.

            Anyway, the final piece was, he checked himself into a psych ward, then finally called her and begged her to come see him. She did, because she is a nice person who had been panicked beyond belief, and she arrived expecting to find a totally broken up post-suicidal dude, but instead found a completely unperturbed dude who was like, “Yay! You’re here! That means true love forever, now sex?” And he kept trying to make out with her or get her to go into a supply closet with him to have sex, because obviously since she came to see him in the psych ward they were back together now. That’s when it finally clicked for her that he had honest-to-god set this whole thing up and was a horribly abusive creature.

            Because really, normal human beings know that pity and sadness are anti-sex, they are like lead in the loins. So somebody who thinks they have a shot of getting your pants off with unsexy sad emotions isn’t actually feeling pity and sadness or they wouldn’t be interested in pants. Only creepos who want to bypass your interest, feelings, and consent think pity is the way to get there.

    3. We didn’t date the same guy, did we? That’s EXACTLY how he made me feel!

      As for what everyone else has said about boundaries and saying no after yes and all that. . . I’m totally taking notes, I have two little girls so far and my husband and I want to make sure to raise them to have those boundaries and to feel OK saying yes AND no to sex.

  7. LW, while I think that the captain is probably way more right than me, and more than likely, I’m projecting a whole lot into this letter… I want to offer a slightly different answer.

    Obviously what’s going on right now isn’t working. But maybe a more useful question instead of “do you want to have sex” is “do you want to make out?” I suggest this because it’s something that my partner and I have used very very successfully for about a while now.

    Here’s why it works for us: I am a woman of low-libido and my partner has a much higher sex drive than I do and it caused a lot of problems. I love my partner and I wanted to want sex so bad but I very rarely have sexy feelings. Sex without sexy feelings is bad bad bad bad BAD! It should not be done. When partner asked if I wanted to have sex, the answer was always no. But making-out with someone who I trust completely is still a really fun way of being physically intimate, and sometimes, being that close allows me to feel more sexy and actually want sex. “Do you want to make out” is a question that I can often say yes to and really mean it! It also helped remind partner that foreplay is fun for both of us, not just me!

    There are rules. Either of us can always say no to make-outs. Saying yes to make-outs is NOT yes to sex, and before escalating from make-outs to anything else, we both must agree that the other, more sexually escalated thing, would be more fun than what we are doing now*.

    All this is to say that while the captain is right and this is most definitely not working AT ALL, there are things that you can try IF your girlfriend is up for it.**

    I hope that you and girlfriend find resolution… even if that resolution means accepting that it’s time to move on.

    *Note: This is very different from one partner wanting it and the other being okay with it. We make sure that it is something which will be more fun for both of us.

    **Also Note: This is another thing that she should be TOTALLY EXCITED to try. If she is not TOTALLY EXCITED about this (or any other ideas regarding her sex life) it should be immediately put in the trash.

    1. This is an awesome suggestion! That the LW should save for his next partner that he will meet once he’s broken up with this one. I think the current well is so poisoned by coercion (and also, hellooooooooo, she’s gay!) that trying to fix it will just make it worse.

      1. Also, LW, once you’re broken up and you see the light, face the truth, whatever. Don’t write all your feelings in a mail and send them to your ex. Once again, those are your feelings.

        Use your new insights for good in future relationships. Your ex needs a clean break, not you trying to make amends.

      2. Yeah I agree with this. My partner also has a very low libido compared to mine so we had some problems about this too. Techniques like ‘do you want to make out’ worked out for us too. But that’s because there wasn’t fucked up power dynamics there, I wasn’t pressuring him into anything, and, er, he is actually attracted to me. That’s why we were able to work it out.

        It sounds like LW and his girlfriend shouldn’t be together at all, considering the coercion, the power dynamics and her sexual orientation :s

      3. I’m still not entirely sure how the LW got to the point where he hit “send” on this email. “My girlfriend says she’s attracted to girls and not guys, and has explicitly stated that she’s not physically attracted to me” is kind of a Lean Back in Your Chair, Have a Moment of Clarity statement, as far as I’m concerned.

        1. Good thing he did write in, though, don’t you think? Sometimes – in fact I’d say usually – we need some help reaching our moments of clarity, after all.

  8. I feel like when you say “we’ll find a way to work it out one way or another”, she hasn’t actually had much input into this “we”. A relationship shouldn’t be saying yes once and then coasting along until you say no firmly enough to be believed, and spending the time in between saying “maybe tomorrow”. You have to continue saying yes. Both (or all) people do.

    I’ve been through the process of figuring out who I am (trans, previous identified lesbian, previously identified “do whatever you want I just want to be normal”) and I honestly think the kindest thing you can do for your girlfriend is break up with her. She cannot have the space to understand who she is and what she wants when what someone else wants is constantly hanging over her. Even if you stopped asking her for sex, the awareness of the issue would still be there. Right now she can’t tell you what she wants because she doesn’t know and because she probably doesn’t know how to verbalise what she wants when it runs contrary to what you want. Girls are constantly told growing up that what they want isn’t as important as what men want and it’s hard conditioning to break.

    1. Well said.

      I was in the LW’s girlfriend’s shoes a few years ago and man, that sucked. I wasn’t *100% sure* of anything, and I felt like it would be wrong for me to throw away a perfectly adequate, normal, heterosexual relationship with a good looking, cool, smart, kind dude, just because I kinda maybe felt like I could possibly be gay. Eventually he did stop asking me for sex, which was a relief, but like you said, I was totally aware of the issue and it made me feel like shit all the time. Even though my boyfriend at the time was way less coercive and shitty than the LW appears to be.

      I finally ended the relationship in a really awful way (I cheated on him and then dumped him after he found out – he still didn’t want to break up with me!) and it took me a whole year longer than it should have. I wish I’d had the nerve to break up with him “just” because of a vague feeling. I wish he’d taken to heart just how ill-suited we were and prioritized his own sexual needs and broken up with me.

  9. Echoing the prior replies to say that women in this culture are intensely socially conditioned to always make peace, be nice, not make waves, etc. Your gf’s acquiescence to your sexual overtures in spite of the fact that she’s told you in relatively plain language that she isn’t interested is, I think, evidence of that. Add in the complications of age/inexperience, not knowing how to fully assert herself, possible uncertainty about her sexual orientation, and you have someone you should just not be having sex with. Not now, probably not ever again. She may love the person you are, but this relationship as boyfriend/girlfriend is over. You will both be happier if you both move on to someone who inspires mutual OMGYES!! pantsfeelings.

    1. Replying to my own comment because for some reason, comment notifications didn’t take the first time around. 😛

  10. Another perspective here. As someone whose sexual identity kind of flip-flopped a LOT as a teen, and has finally settled into the space between “queer” and “no bloody clue, don’t ask, but I know I like my current partner!”… I can see that your girlfriend might be a lesbian, or might have no idea how she identifies but is feeling like lesbian could seriously be one of the options. And that is a REALLY confusing state to be in that can seriously mess with your libido and your willingness and ability to want and enjoy sex and romance.

    Which, again, still means you need to break up with her. I know you two have been together for a long time – 4 years! But consider this. She was 14 and you were 16. Remember what you were like when you were 14? Possibly still figuring out who you were, right? Possibly even only just starting to develop a sexual identity. So a significant part of her figuring-out-my-sexual-self has taken place under the influence of your mutual relationship.

    IF she is in a similar situation to what I was in, she can’t work out how she identifies or what she wants while she’s concentrating on what you want. Sexual space is kind of important for that. And there isn’t any sexual space when the conversation is “do you want sex?” “soft no” “okay lets have sex, then!” “I didn’t want that” “We’ll work it out somehow ILU!” She’s asking for that space, but you’re not giving it to her.

    And on top of that, you surely want to be with someone who wants to be with you. Someone who is attracted to you, and enjoys and wants sex with you. You might be able to find a relationship like that. But not with your current girlfriend.

    1. Ugh, disregard all the above. As The Captain has wisely put below, analysing WHY LW’s girlfriend doesn’t want to be with him any more is irrelevant.

      Suffice to say, WHATEVER her reasons, she doesn’t want to be with you any more, LW. She isn’t attracted to you. She doesn’t want sex with you. Every response you described her giving to you when you asked for sex was a soft no. A soft no is still a no. Telling you she is not attracted to you and likes women and believes she may be a lesbian is a HARD NO. So you’ve had both, now.

      Do the right thing. End this relationship – at the very least change it from a sexual relationship to a non-sexual friendship – ASAP.

  11. LW. You need to end this. You need to end this RIGHT NOW.

    While I have sympathy for you–it is frustrating to be with someone who says they are not attracted to you and who doesn’t want sex with you–I am not sympathetic to or okay with your strategy. If she doesn’t say, “yeah, let’s do it!” then she’s saying no. If she’s saying “Honey. . .” or “Maybe. . .” then you should take it as a no. Don’t be pouty about it, just take it as a no. She’s 18, and not all that experienced in the art of no (and honestly, LW–I’m sure your intentions are good, but it sounds like you’re not taking the no’s so well).

    And really? What the fuck is this working through her disclosure that she might be a lesbian? That she doesn’t feel an ounce of attraction for you? I. . .I have to wonder about her side of things, LW. I have to wonder about what is going on here when your girlfriend, whom you’ve been dating since she was 14 and you were 16, told you she thinks she prefers women and she doesn’t want to fuck you, and you think this is something to work through. Those two things right there are big old HELLO ITS TIME TO END THINGS. Not HELLO ITS TIME TO WORK THROUGH THINGS WHERE YOU WILL AGREE TO HAVE SEXYTIMES WITH ME EVEN THOUGH YOU FIND ME UNATTRACTIVE AND YOU PREFER WOMEN ANYWAY.

    I mean. WHAT??

    There is no working through this. Working through issues should not be like digging through concrete with a plastic spoon. Working through issues IS NOT staying on someone’s case until they give you the answer that you like. I have gotten a ration of shit for saying I’d break up with someone who never wanted sexytimes with me (apparently, it means I hates teh marriaj etc.) but this is exactly why I think ending things is a good thing–best to find someone you are more compatible with. I do not think pressuring someone into sex–and get it straight, that’s exactly what you’re doing here–is at all okay.

    Upon hearing “I think I’m a lesbian and I’m not attracted to you in the least,” it’s perfectly okay–and actually advisable–to say, “Well, that makes me sad but I respect that and wish you the best. I think it’s best to end things between us so you can find someone you’re into and I can find someone who I’m into and who’s into me.” You don’t work through that. There is nothing to work through. I don’t know if this is denial or entitlement, but you’ve got to stop this. End things. End them respectfully and kindly and amicably but end them.

    And the next time you’re with someone who isn’t ripping your clothes off and saying YES YES OH GOD YES or who is giving you a maybe or a non-answer to sexytimes, take it as a no. And if the no’s get to be numerous and it’s not something you can live with, it’s okay to leave the relationship. What’s not okay is nagging someone into sex.

    1. “I mean. WHAT??”

      …SO MUCH THIS.

      I find it very hard to contain my anger at LW. So much wrong in their letter.

      1. Yeah, I’m trying NOT to be a bitch, but what some folks said upthread about STOP RAPING YOUR GIRLFRIEND pretty much applies here. I . . . I cannot even.

    2. ‘Working through issues should not be like digging through concrete with a plastic spoon.’ I very much wish someone had embroidered this on a pillow for me about 13 years ago.

    3. I wonder how LW would react if things were reversed – that he told a GF who wanted sex that he thought he might be gay, that he wasn’t attracted to her, and she said “We can work it out?” No, no, no, it just doesn’t work that way.

      Not that it matters. She’s not interested or enthusiastic: end of story.

    4. This this this so much a million times this.

      LW, I am a 31-yr-old woman who did not come out until AGE 28 because I continually found that when I tentatively told people (most importantly my male partners) ” I think I might be gay,” the reaction I always got was either 1. “LALALA I can’t hear you” or 2. “But I love you and you love me. We can work it out.” Some of these partners would even “let” me have sex with women – the caveat being that these relationships not interfere with our own. The thing is, though, I’m very much a lesbian -I wanted to have sex with ONLY women. These guys asserting myself as a primary was a sign that they were deliberately ignoring my desires. This is something you suggest in your letter when you say you don’t mind if she wants to have sex with other people – as long as you can “work it out”. But the thing is, she didn’t say to you, “Hey, I’d like a little sex on the side to try out my sexuality and its limits.” What she told you is she thinks she might be gay, and that she’s not attracted to you. What you’ve done, much like my partners did, is ignore her. If you try to get her to experiment with other people while you’re still together, you’re still making her experimentation ABOUT YOU and your relationship/desires. But what she needs is to define her own desires, which she has explicitly told you DO NOT INCLUDE you.

      It’s awfully common in our culture to basically ignore the real fact that lesbians exist, and that their desires have nothing at all to do with men. Please don’t make this same mistake.

      (Two caveats: First, I understand that even if she weren’t saying she might be gay, this is still a big pot of NO. I merely wanted to point out that the “I might be gay” statement ads an extra layer of problem when ignored, and that the LW is ignoring his partner’s basic needs when he tries to find a way to force “gay” to mean “likes women, but likes me better.” Second, I don’t want to pick on age, but I too was quite young when I started dating – 15 rather than 14 – and it was in part my age that led me to continue to make choices I thought would please others. When people ignored my tentative declaration of sexuality, I assumed that mention they didn’t believe me, and that I therefore must be wrong about myself. Older people do this too, but when we’re young, we often mold ourselves in a way inspired by those who have longevity and significance in our lives. So age does make me see this as an even more urgent situation.)

      Also, I have some personal history rageasaurus here too, so forgive me if my tone is uncompromising.

      1. Ugh. Sorry. Fairly new commenter editing error. “These guys asserting myself as a primary” should read “These guys asserting THEMSELVES as a primary”

      2. Putting all the consent problems aside for this comment, there’s a problem with the way LW reacted to her coming out. A girlfriend is still a friend and this friend was brave enough to come out to you, LW. And you ignore her entirely. You are not an ally. If you have a local LGBT center, you should seriously consider going in for some classes/session/whatever they have.

        When someone you are in a relationship says, “Partner, I think I may be gay and I’m not attracted to you at all,” there’s a silent “and we should break up” that comes after that. The response should not be, “but what about my boner/our beautiful love.” There is no bargaining this away. You need to make that silent “we should break up” part not silent because she hasn’t been able to yet. And take the classes. You’ll learn something.

    5. YES FOR REAL. (CW for umrape 2nd paragraph on)

      LW, I dated my first person at 18, and spent 7 years with him, which was A Bad Idea because that was a few years too long. Finally getting out meant I had a chance to find out more about myself than I could when I was with him. He wasn’t actively trying to crush me, but…there’s only so much mismatch that can overcome “working things out.” “I am not attracted to you” is too much mismatch.

      I will add another story, from about a year ago. I don’t actually remember how long ago, because I tried scrubbing the whole thing from my head. Which didn’t work that well, but anyway. So I had a date with a guy. Somehow it went well, and afterwards I suggested I’d have sex with him, etc etc. Next “date” I realized I found him horrifyingly unattractive, but I was at his place and he quite effectively trapped me there as I didn’t have a car to get home and I was in an unfamiliar city.

      Even at 28 years of age, I found it difficult to say NO I WANT TO GO HOME. Frankly, I’d still have a lot of trouble with that. And for one thing, if I did say it, and I was still raped, it would have been more difficult to pretend it didn’t happen. I said things like “Gee, I’m really tired” and eventually something like “You seem to think we’re going to have sex” and 10 minutes later “No, no, it’s fine I’m just not in the mood for an orgasm I guess.”

      I didn’t say no. I actually SPECIFICALLY DID NOT SAY NO because I was scared and deeply unhappy and just wanted to avoid potentially making it *worse* (ha) and to just get it over with so I could get home. I didn’t struggle, I acquiesced. I reassured him, even! I’ve spent a year blaming myself so, so hard. I pretty much want to throw up or just delete this, still.

      Anyway! LW, the point of my story is that an absence of no IS NOT yes. Stop. Now. Break up with her, and never again let your desire for sex override an unenthusiastic partner.

      1. Oh, Maggie. I… I know that feel. It is not a happy feel.

        I know it’s hard not to… but please, please don’t blame yourself. That way lies pain and suffering. It’s not your fault. It’s the fault of the jerkwad who decided that his boner was a Special Beautiful Snowflake That Should Not Be Wasted, and decided temporary deafness to achieve momentary feel-good-ness was better than getting to know you and having any sort of meaningful connection with the awesome person you are.

        The hardest time not to victim-blame is when you’re blaming yourself.

        Jedi hugs to you, and I would be happy to give an email address if you want/need a total stranger with similar experience to talk to about this.

        1. Thank you. It’s sooooooo difficult not to blame myself for about a million different reasons (what else could a slutty slut expect? etc)…or even use the dreaded R-word…but I’m trying. Slowly.

          I’m sorry you have had a similar experience. Not that it’s an uncommon one. 😦

      2. Oh my god so many people (especially cis guys) just do not understand the tactic of deliberately not saying no for exactly that reason. The “I have every reason to think you will ignore me saying no just like you have ignored all my other boundaries and I don’t want to be ‘officially raped’ so I’m going to hope you take my massive hints even though I know you won’t and just get it over with and still feel fucking shitty because I shouldn’t have had to say the word no to be clear that I don’t want you to do this.” Raaaaaaaaage. We put ourselves through so much pain for this bullshit.

        1. Yes. I have realized I have the added bonus of being self-identified High Libido…of course the woman who wants it all the time wants it this time, too, right? In a screwed up way it’s extra difficult to say no when you’re the one who is (almost) Always Wants Sex. Now that I think about it, I guess I’m like society’s conception of Dude…

          Ahhh this stuff is shitty for everyone. :/

        2. Crying just a little because yes. This happened to me so, so many times. Both in the context of not wanting to be raped again and in the context of not wanting some very homophobic people thinking I wasn’t straight. Lots of unwanted not-saying-no.

    6. Working through issues IS NOT staying on someone’s case until they give you the answer that you like.

      This, so much.

  12. This relationship is full of bees. Maybe not Evil Bees, but Not Happy Bees.

    Honestly, one of the best things you can do for *both* of you is to let this one go. Be friends if you can (I mean, for the sanity of both of you, I hope that there is *something* in your relationship besides sex), but be willing to let that go for now too.

    18 and 20 are usually on the opposite sides of the ‘end of high school’ divide – this maybe a natural time to let your lives take you in different directions.

    Don’t keep dragging her through this relationship that she’s giving so many signs of being uninterested in continuing. If you want to be more selfish about it, consider that you could be finding a relationship with someone who *is* interested in having sex with you. Act now to move towards the enthusiastic consent you’re writing to seek!

    1. This relationship is full of bees who love and want and are confused and scared and have good intentions but still have goddamn stingers. This relationship is like a cloud of bees flying around an allergic person’s head all saying in little tinny voices “But we love you!” and they totally mean it but who cares you are stinging me and I am allergic and this is going to kill me and you.

      LW, I want to give you a lot of benefit of the doubt for having the presence of mind to know something is wrong and know it well enough to actually ask for help, but really, honestly, I say this with love: you are a small hop, skip, and a jump away from raping your girlfriend. I mean that with such seriousness, I wish you could see my face right now. This is not an exaggerated word I’m using. I *mean* this.

      I know, I know — that is not at all the vision of yourself in your head. You are not that guy. But in this world, there are people who only have sex with partners who say “YES!” and there are people who have sex with partners who say anything else, and the rapists hang out in the second category exclusively. That’s where you are right now, dude, in the second category. Your reasons, your love, your fears, whatever aphorisms are running through your head (“It’s just a rough patch! We’ll both just be GGG!”), none of those matter: you are hanging out in the logic garden of rapists. Whatever is keeping you there is the same poison that rapists drink. Drop the cup and run.

      I’ll also say this. I’ve been in an abusive relationship, and in that relationship, I was raped. In that relationship, I also frequently submitted to sex I didn’t fully want but didn’t really feel like pushing my no, for all kinds of reasons. And I think more often, I gag about more often, I regret more often, and I flashback more often on all that other coerced sex than I do on the rape. Neither of you have any idea how much you’re damaging yourselves and each other by having sex with people who don’t want you. This is a terrible thing and you need to end it.

      1. This says it way better than I did in the OP:

        “I know, I know — that is not at all the vision of yourself in your head. You are not that guy. But in this world, there are people who only have sex with partners who say “YES!” and there are people who have sex with partners who say anything else, and the rapists hang out in the second category exclusively. That’s where you are right now, dude, in the second category. Your reasons, your love, your fears, whatever aphorisms are running through your head (“It’s just a rough patch! We’ll both just be GGG!”), none of those matter: you are hanging out in the logic garden of rapists. Whatever is keeping you there is the same poison that rapists drink. Drop the cup and run.”

        1. And beautifully written. “Drop the cup and run.” I’d suggest the standard pillow embroidery for this one if it weren’t so serious.

      2. Yes. LW, you are clearly not a guy who wants to be a rapist. I can see that, and so can all of the people commenting, and the Captain. But you are raping your girlfriend. You need to stop. You need to take yourself away from this relationship as much for your own good as for hers. Get away from this place, and do not go back there.

        Seriously. Don’t date again until you’ve done a hell of a lot of reading and thinking about enthusiastic consent and rape culture and all those things. Because you know you don’t want to be raping people you love, but you have slipped into that place. It doesn’t make you a terrible person, it makes you a person who is doing terrible things RIGHT NOW. Run, don’t walk, from this place.

  13. The other thing that occurs to me is that the LW may be the GFs best friend. If they’ve been in a relationship since she was 14, he may be so important to her emotionally that she’s afraid that if she said a definitive “no, I never want to have sex with you again,” that she would lose her best friend, and that thought scares her. So she goes along with his sexual wants, but definitely not enthusiastically. Which is sooooo not healthy, for either of you.

    Think about that, LW. If you told her you two could still be best friends WITHOUT the “benefits,” without ever making any kind of play for sex again, would she be thrilled? If in your heart you know the answer is yes, then by not either making that offer or just walking away, you are saying it is ok for her to buy your friendship with sex (even knowing the sex has become distasteful to her) and for you to buy her sex with friendship (though what the hell kind of friendship is it if she has to buy it with sex she doesn’t want???)

    I’m not saying you’re solely responsible for this rotten dynamic. You created it together, partly because you’ve been trying to be in a serious relationship since you were both awfully young to do a good job with articulating needs and boundaries. Blame isn’t the issue; how you got here isn’t nearly as important as that you get the hell out of it. Which I think starts with you accepting that any sexual component of your relationship is done. Dead. Whether you want to preserve the rest is really up to you two. If you want to walk away entirely, though, it doesn’t mean you’re a schmuck. Preserving the friendship part of a once-sexual relationship can sometimes work, but not always. And it would probably be just as good for her in the long run not to be so emotionally dependent on you — though she won’t think so for a while.

    1. Another way to think about it is that she’s trying to break up with his dick, but keep the rest of him, while he’s thinking of himself and his dick as a package deal (pun intended)… So when she is loving toward him, he hears it as “she is into me!” as if that means she wants him into her… Heavily influenced by the fact that that’s what he wants to hear. But as the Captain says, she clearly doesn’t want that anymore, and the fact that she used to is irrelevant to the here and now.

    2. “If you want to walk away entirely, though, it doesn’t mean you’re a schmuck.” –> YES. This is very important.

      I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, but I would not be surprised if LW was worried that if he says “If you don’t want to have sex with me, then I don’t want to be in a relationship with you” then he will be perceived as an Evil Evil User Menz Who Only Wants One Thing. (Thanks, toxic patriarchal culture, for giving us *that* particular trope!)

      LW, you’ve doubtless got a lot of complicated feelings here; but for the sake of your girlfriend’s maturing/self-discovery process, and for the sake of your own emotional needs, you do need to end this relationship, I think. Your desires (e.g. to have sex in a relationship) and her desires (to be with a woman, not a man) are all fine things in and of themselves; they’re just not compatible with each other in this one relationship.

      It’s not wrong to want to have sex with your significant other; this is an issue of *basic* compatibility.

      1. I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, but I would not be surprised if LW was worried that if he says “If you don’t want to have sex with me, then I don’t want to be in a relationship with you” then he will be perceived as an Evil Evil User Menz Who Only Wants One Thing. (Thanks, toxic patriarchal culture, for giving us *that* particular trope!)

        I think this is a really good point.

    3. Honestly it would probably be best if they broke up and didn’t see each other for a month, two months, and then re-evaluated if they still want to be friends. Give the bees a chance to calm down and go back to making honey and what-have-you. You don’t want to jump straight from toxic sexual relationship to friendship because when you’re that young with only the one serious relationship under your belt how can you trust that you’re getting rid of the toxicness as well as the sex? I doubt I could do it and I’m nearly ten years older with a ton of regrettable sexual/romantic experience.

      1. Seconded. Not to mention that, I’m not sure that this is much of an awesome friendship, either. Generally, boundary troubles aren’t isolated to just one arena of life; someone who has trouble recognizing a sexual “no” might also have trouble recognizing a more generally applied social “no”. Once boundaries like these have been violated, that’s an awfully hard thing to push past, friendship or no.

      2. Seconded. I think a good long break and some deep thinking from both of them would be healthy. It’s tough to lose your best friend, yes, but you don’t want to be in a toxic, boundary-pushing friendship either.

      3. I have tried pretty much this exact friend scenario after this type of relationship, and it ended with more unwanted sex post-breakup, a huge mess, 3 am feelingstexts and the friendship going down in a tragic drama flames when a new so stepped up and expressed their preference that the two of us not hang out alone.

        If you guys have a friendship that is worth preserving even though you have grown into a place where a romantic relationship is not a viable option, it is an excellent idea to take some time off and then explicitly lay out boundaries for the friendship when you get back into contact. If the boundaries conversation is not a wonderous thing of awesome with lots of agreement and respect, run from the friendship too.

    4. Totally. And I just want to say (since I haven’t seen this yet, apologies if I missed it or it is just further downthread) that, if you GF thinks the price of retaining your emotional connection (there must be some positives) is sex, her reponse to you saying “we should break up” may not be “OH THANK GOD YES.” It may in fact be “no please, is it because I don’t have sex with you enough? I will do better!” That is not a healthy answer, and it will not mean the sex you would have would be any more consensual and enthusiastic. As alphakitty said, it would be her trying to buy what she does want (if she still wants emotional connection with you, or maybe you kick ass at her favorite boardgame, or cook awesome penne ala arabiatta) with what she doesn’t want (clearly, sex). If she does (and I have no idea if she will, because I don’t know her), break up with her anyway. Your relationship is unhealthy for both of you, and it’s the right thing to do.

  14. This letter reminds me of making a purchase online and getting automatically signed up for the retailer’s marketing emails. Their constant onslaught of spammy and annoying emails that clutter up my inbox and that I don’t want and didn’t request. And then when I try to unsubscribe from the emails, instead of a simple one-click and you’re unsubscribed and they never mail you again unless you expressly ask them to, it’s some damn login page where it asks for a password and all kinds of personal information. So then I’m scrambling around trying to figure out if I actually have a password for that page and meanwhile another damn email from them just arrived in my inbox and… Yeah. Only send email to those who expressly request it. Only sex up those who expressly request it.

    tl;dr: Sex should be like marketing emails: OPT-IN, NOT OPT-OUT!

  15. When I started having repressed memories of sexual abuse come up, I had a lot of trouble having sex with my husband or even thinking about it, or saying “no” or “yes” clearly to anything, and began wondering about my own sexual orientation. It literally took years to sort it all out. I came out the other side, but it was confusing, frightening, generally bad, and I’m not with that husband any more. He was not sensitive to my aversion to him sexually, but neither of us knew what we were doing at the time. It took a lot of therapy to get past that horrible, nightmarish part of our lives.

    I don’t know whether this is relevant to your situation, LW, but you two got together and presumably began a mutually enjoyable relationship at some point in the past. Did anything happen to change that, or has she been resistant and confused for the whole time? Because from your letter, she seems to be behaving exactly how I was when my chronic PTSD kicked in full force.

    I’m guessing that something changed. Whether it was something dramatic and life-changing like a rape or something more subtle that made her look at you or herself differently, I suggest you think back to when the problems began and see if you can’t come up with something. It probably won’t solve the problem you’re having, but it’s a good jumping-off place, especially if you two agree to counseling together. You don’t have to be married to have couples counseling.

    I hope things work out for both of you somehow.

    1. I do not think this experience is particularly relevant to this letter writer’s situation. You don’t have to be married to go to couple’s counseling, but at 18 and 20, why work so hard to preserve a relationship that has run its course? Does there have to be trauma for someone to decide to stop sleeping with another person? That’s one of a million possible reasons. If there is sexual trauma, it’s quite possible that the LW is the source of that trauma by having sex with her even when she is at best, ambivalent, and at worst, downright against the idea. The reasons that the girlfriend has given are very good ones: She’s not attracted to the LW, and also possibly gay. Why go searching?

      LW, I advise you strongly AGAINST trying to dig into this deeper. While individual counseling might be great for both of you, couple’s counseling (and even the pressure to try to go) will likely just prolong the misery. Just let go. LET GO.

    2. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I know this is a triggering subject. Still, I think this is a case of a girl growing up, going through puberty, figuring herself out. A lot happens between 14-18.

      I’d be wary about couple’s therapy. (a) It gives the impression that the GF’s lack of attraction to the LW is something she should work to be better at. (b) It gives the LW hope of ‘fixing’ her. (c) The wrong therapist can wreak havoc on the GF. For instance, I once had a bad one who told me it was good and natural to have sex with people to please them.

      1. Yes. I am thinking about a post on fugitivus where HarrietJ described how a couple’s councelor told her to stay in an abusive relationship. No no no. This relationship does not have to be fixed, it has to end.

        1. What I learned in school was that in therapy, your first priority is always your client. In single therapy, your client was the single person who came to see you and even if they brought in a partner, your client remained the same any anyone else was collateral.

          However, with couple’s counseling, the relationship between them is the client. That’s part of why a couples’ counselor might ignore all signs to the contrary (this therapy is full of BEES!) and try to preserve the client.

          1. Well, if they recognize abuse and don’t help the abused person to get out (or offer help), they are full of shit. And if they don’t recognize abuse when it’s jumping at them, they are a shit councelor. (I am writing this with the article I mentioned in mind.)

          2. I have no idea what the norm is, but when my uncle and his girlfriend were in couple’s therapy, the therapist told them “if he doesn’t fix [problem] by [date], I will recommend she break up with you” and that is exactly what happened.

          3. I am going to school for counseling right now, and I have definitely learned the “your client is the relationship” edict, but have learned nothing yet about 1) when to call it quits and 2) how to recognize abuse. I’ve looked through my future course syllabi and available course offerings and it looks like I’ll only get this if I specifically take a course on it (as an elective).

            So yeah, this is how folks get trained — if they end up learning something else, it’ll be when they’re already in the field.

          4. A couples counselor tries to serve both partners equally rather than taking sides, unless one partner is outright abusive. That does NOT mean the counselor tries to save the relationship at all costs. It means the counselor tries to save the relationship when that’s what both partners want. If one person wants out, the counselor tries to help the other person cope with that.

    3. It occurs to me that the GF’s traumatic event doesn’t have to have been outside the relationship. In fact, it was probably the first time she said “let’s just hang out” and still before she knew it he’d pestered and pressured and her pants were off and he was on top of her and inside her pumping away without regard for her as a person. Even though she probably wasn’t using the word rape in her head, she still felt alienated from him and in that instant sex with him had lost all sense of love and mutuality and began to feel like “putting out” and being used because she’d realized he cared more about getting his rocks off than about her feelings and keeping it good between them. And surprise surprise, him naked stopped being a turn-on and became repulsive. (Which is not to say she couldn’t also be lesbian…just that men having no appeal could also be a reaction to being raped by her BF).

      So, yeah. Raping your GF can be a real relationship-killer. Duh.

    1. On the planet where she calls herself his girlfriend and they haven’t broken up, presumably. I understand thinking the relationship is a bad one and should not continue based on the letter, but I don’t think the LW is LYING about the fact that they’ve been dating. This comment is over the line.

      1. THIS comment is over the line? I am amused. Feel free to redefine words as you see fit, but a duck is still a duck. And this person does not have a girlfriend.

        1. The “over the line” part wasn’t your observation that this relationship does not meet the traditional concept we have of what relationships look like (which is good, because this relationship is seriously messed up), but rather that you seem to be trying to redefine someone else’s life, which is always over any line that might exist.

          If I say “I am Fred’s girlfriend” and Fred says “OtherBecky is my girlfriend”, then I’m Fred’s girlfriend, even if our only form of physical contact is brushing elbows together once a week and our primary form of communication involves mailing each other dead bumblebees. I cease to be Fred’s girlfriend only when one of the two of us says so.

    2. Relationships do go through dry spells; some don’t even involve sex to begin with. To use an example from fiction, Jamie and Erin in Girls With Slingshots are absolutely a couple, even though they don’t have sex.

      1. Sex is no deal-breaker. A lack of sincerity, closeness, or honest communication is. Both parties need to move on to rediscover what an actual partnership feels like, because this ain’t it.

        1. Sex is not a deal-breaker for some people. For others, it is. No one gets to define anyone else’s dealbreakers. If the LW is unwilling to be in a romantic relationship that doesn’t involve sex, that’s his prerogative. It’s NOT okay for him to pressure or coerce his partner into having sex with him, but it’s totally okay for him to end the relationship because sex is a dealbreaker for him.

          1. Thank you! yes! For people who like sex and want a romantic relationship to involve sexytimes, not having any sex can totally be a dealbreaker. Neither preference is right or wrong, but the two are not well matched.

        2. Sex is my dealbreaker. I expect sex out of my relationships. At this point in my life, if you do not want that, we’re not going to be in a relationship. That’s okay.

      2. I… What? Relationships go through dry spells?

        If what the LW is describing is a dry spell… I’d suggest moving to another continent, because this is a drought of biblical proportions and we’re only inches away from raining toads and plagues of boils.

        Unless, of course, you mean “relationships” as in “any relationship between two people, including romantic, platonic, family, business, acquaintance, facebook, myspace, and chatroulette relationships”… in which has, yes, there are many many dry relationships out there, and I’d prefer to keep it that way. I truly don’t want to consider the logistics of ending every “dry spell” in every relationship I have.

        Relationships Go Through Dry Spells is very often code for The Sex Will Come Back Eventually, Give It Time And Persistence… and that can be a very dangerous line of thought for some folks. [See: original post.]

        1. You’re definitely right; I posted my comment (which was probably too brief) because I assumed Deb’s objection in saying “She ain’t your girlfriend” was because of the lack of sex, and I wanted to emphasize the fact that the presence or lack of sex is not what defines the presence or lack of a relationship. But my assumption was apparently wrong, based on Deb’s clarification, so…yeah.

  16. LW, I think this relationship is doing you both a disservice. I would whole-heartedly recommend getting out right now. Immediately. As soon as possible. And there are a lot of really good reasons why, for both of you.

    I mean, doesn’t it make you feel icky to be having sex with someone who is ambivalent to the whole sex-with-you thing? And trust me, I know you haven’t had much experience with other partners, but once you have tasted the mind-blowing possibilities of having sex with someone who is OMG excited!!! about having sex with you, you won’t want to go back to ambivalence again.

    And this situation isn’t good for either one of you. I mean, I really get the desire to hold onto someone with whom you share so many feelings and so much history. But that’s another vote in favor of breaking up right now, while there are still good feelings in the relationship. The writing is on the wall, and you don’t get a medal for trying to hold on to it through sheer force of will. All that does is eat up the remaining good feelings. If you break up now, and break up kindly, then it’s possible that in six months when the dust has settled, that a new sort of friendship could be salvageable. But the only way to be her friend at all ever is to take sex completely off the table at all and forever.

    There’s nothing here to work through and there’s no script that will make someone feel happy and safe with you sexually when the only thing they want from you sexually is for you to leave them alone. That’s basically what she’s saying. I know that’s not what you want to hear, which makes it difficult to hear if it’s not put bluntly, but that’s what she’s saying. Let her go. You’ll both be happier for it.

  17. I wonder about the lesbian thing. Certainly I think she could be a lesbian, as she’s considered. But I also wonder if perhaps, she is stuck in a kind of mindset where this relationship is so important to her that she can’t even see how a satisfying welcoming relationship could work. So she might be like “well I don’t want to have sex with my boyfriend who is obviously so wonderful, we have been together for years, so I must be lesbian!”

    I don’t know. Neither do you, LW. I mention it only so that, AFTER YOU BREAK UP (PLEASE BREAK UP), you do not see her out with another guy and be all “But you said you were a lesbian what happened were you a lying liar?!?”

    What’s coming is going to suck. But it’s better if it sucks sooner rather than later, and it’s way better if you get through the suck before you get engaged or anything like that. (DON’T PROPOSE. IT WILL NOT HELP ANYTHING. DIVORCE SUCKS MORE THAN BREAKING UP.)

    But whatever you do, in the meantime, do not have sex with this girl.

    1. Fortunately, at 18 or at any age, she doesn’t have to be 100% sure she’s a lesbian in order to not want to have sex with the letter writer.

    2. This comment highlights for me the utter irrelevance of why. While it’s totally natural for the LW to be trying to understand why his GF no longer wants to have sex with him, ultimately it Does Not Matter. Knowing the reasons won’t make him ok with the loss, nor will they give him the power to change how she feels; you can’t argue someone into pantsfeelings, even if they are someone who used to have pantsfeelings for you. Let the why go. (Especially since the GF may not even know why. People fall out of lust for a variety of mixed-together reasons or or no reason at all).

    3. At the same time, while I totally understand this sentiment (and while I 100% agree that it doesn’t matter a flippin’ flip why this girl wants out), this is definitely NOT something that the LW should say to her himself. As a young, confused girl (who eventually came WAY out of the closet), I doubted my own ideas about my identity (MEGA LESBIAN) because people always sort of implied to me that I might be wrong, that maybe I just didn’t know what a GOOD relationship with a man was like. So I kept dating dudes, trying to find a GOOD relationship with a man, and assuming that when The One came along, I’d suddenly not be so gay anymore. So again, while I totally get the sentiment, it’s a dangerous thing to actually say out loud to someone who’s questioning – because it implies that their feelings would be “fixed” with the “right relationship.”

    4. I do think Carbonated’s point was worth mentioning, because this happened to me. My first boyfriend’s sexual behaviors were very triggering for me, and I assumed that I was just too damaged to be in a relationship, and I told him so in the breakup (in retrospect, I didn’t need to give a reason at all–but at the time, I felt like I wasn’t ALLOWED to break up without a reason). But when I later developed fuzzy feelings and pantsfeelings for another guy who OMG didn’t trigger me at all (yay! turns out I’m not broken, I just needed someone who respects my boundaries!), my ex exploded with “You SAID you weren’t ready for a relationship (with me) because RAPE, but you ARE in a relationship, therefore RAPE must be a lie!” and proceeded to tell the whole world I was a lying liar who lies about rape.

      LW, don’t do this. Maybe your girlfriend is a lesbian (you should take her at her word for this, just like you should take her at her word when she says she is not in the mood for sex), maybe she will someday decide she isn’t, that’s for her to work out–but a part of her sexuality she HAS worked out is she doesn’t want sex with you. That’s the part that matters. And she is trying desperately to convey it. She told you directly she’s not attracted to men (you), what this indirectly means is she is rejecting you sexually, forevers, and possibly/probably also wants to break up but is unable to say that part out loud to you, for whatever reason.

      I cannot convey to you how HARD, how OVERWHELMING and AWFUL it is to try to convey you don’t want sex, or that want to break up with someone, but you can’t say it directly for whatever internal/external reasons. Many men won’t understand these reasons, but the socialization girls go under to avoid conflict/upsetting others has it’s oily, thick roots so twisted through our psyche it is like a physical gag keeping our voices in. We are choking ourselves trying to get the words out. She told you directly she doesn’t want sex with you, she just tried to do it in a way that wouldn’t hurt your feelings, using “later” or “I don’t want to but do what you want”…these are all “no’s”, they’re just *nice* no’s…and when you took it as a (confusing) yes, she allowed it, and let her feelings be hurt instead.

      And believe me, submitting to sex you don’t want is deeply scarring, and hurts very much.

    5. It doesn’t matter whether she’s a lesbian or not. What matters is that she’s not attracted to her boyfriend and doesn’t want to have sex with him.

      Also, can we please please PLEASE stop questioning people when they say things like “I think I am insert-non-straight-identity-here”? People don’t question 14 year olds who figure they’re straight. If someone feels like she’s a lesbian, the correct response is to take her word for it. If a year later she says she feels like she is a biromantic asexual, the correct response is to then take her word for it. Labels are not life sentences.

      1. Ditto’d.

        “Labels are not life sentences.”

        Took me a long time (like, my entire life through about last week or so probably?) to realize that.

  18. This was so triggering to read. I was in a relationship where I was the partner with the low libido though I didn’t understand it at the time. I didn’t have the issue of being unsure of my sexuality and I was very attracted to my partner but sex with my partner felt like an -obligation- because if I said “no” or “not right now” or “later” I would get the silent treatment. I would get the guilt trips and pouting. I would get the “I get so mad/frustrated/depressed/upset/sad when you don’t give me a straight answer” talks. I got the “if I don’t initiate it will never happen” and “I can’t tell when you want it” talks. They always told me I could say no but the reality was that there were consequences to asserting myself.

    After a while I stopped saying no and went the passive route where I gave in to advances even if i wasn’t feeling it, which left me feeling very guilty for feeling bothered because I didn’t say no. I still feel like it was my fault in a lot of ways because I wasn’t more clear about what I wanted. Mousey’s suggestion would have helped me a lot back then because that is what I needed. I needed to work up to getting into it, and I will be taking that advice into future relationships.

    This letter was what I needed to hear though as I have been having a lot of issues with the baggage of that relationship and thoughts of sex come with negative thoughts of pressure and guilt.

    1. Trickster, what you are describing sounds so similar to my previous relationship. I was the one who didn’t want sex w/ my partner. I had so much trouble saying no or yes and felt confused and guilty almost all the time. Partner was kind about it, but the push-pull dynamic and guilt and rejection were so damaging to us both. I thought I was completely sexually broken & damaged. Partner felt rejected and terrible. Partner eventually broke it off, deciding after way too long that having great sex was a deal-breaker for them. That decision freed us both. I wish I would have had the honesty & self-awareness to have set that person free long ago so we could both move on and find people with whom we’re each sexually compatible. When I started a new relationship I found out – hey, I’m *not* broken! It just didn’t work with Previous Partner. It has been so healing to actually want and enjoy sex with the person I’m dating now. I hope you can also find healing and unburden yourself of the guilt and baggage of your previous relationship. You didn’t deserve the silent treatment and blowback you got when you asserted yourself and you DO deserve relationships where you can say yes or no and get what you want and have fun and enjoy. Hugs.

  19. LW – Stop raping someone you say you care about.

    Anyone who wants to jump on the ‘don’t say rape, it’s not rape-rape/nice/he’s willing to listen’ bandwagon – remember those studies we bring up all the time, about how people recognize the ‘soft no’ as no? LW recognizes the no.

    1. To head that bandwagon off at the pass, I’m in total agreement with you. The LW recognizes the “soft” no and then uses entitlement and seizes on ambivalence and any holes in her “no” so that he can keep having sex, and then writes in for advice on how to fix their communication problems because she’s not being clear.

      She’s not being totally 100% clear. But she’s being clear enough that future sex is OFF THE TABLE FOREVER.

    2. THIS. Absolutely this. LW, stop raping your girlfriend. End the relationship. You say she won’t give you a clear answer, but I think deep down you understand what her maybes and tomorrows mean — you just don’t like the message, so you’re choosing to ignore it and continuing to pressure her into sex. That is rape. Stop doing it.

    3. +1 Please stop raping her. You are hurting her. You’ve already hurt her. She’s going to have to live with this for the rest of her life. Please stop and please work on your issues so that you never rape anyone again. If you can’t, STOP HAVING SEX. That would be sad but not as sad as RAPING MORE WOMEN.

      I was in a relationship very like this (except I was older and bi), and I loved my boyfriend and he loved me, and he still did this. It damaged me so much. I know it’s hard reconciling “nice, loving boy who reads feminist anti-rape books and feminist advice columns” and “rapist” but you have to.

    1. It’s time for another round of America’s favorite game show, “DON’T FUCK THAT LADY”! Introducing our special guest: the entire Awkward Army!

      In unison: Don’t! Fuck! That! LADYYYYY!

      But seriously, LW. Don’t. Just… don’t.

      1. Excellent. And the line “Don’t Fuck That Lady” is arranged as a barbershop bell chord.

  20. Please, please, please break up. You both deserve so much better.

    I know that right now it’s hard to imagine life without your girlfriend. But once you move on, you will be so thankful that this relationship is behind you. I remember the first time I dated someone new after a long period of waiting for someone who wasn’t attracted to me — it had been so long since anyone had made me feel sexy, and like they wanted to be with me, that I almost cried. I had forgotten what that was even like, and I couldn’t believe I had wasted so much time torturing myself over someone who made me feel so terrible. You deserve to be with someone who can’t get enough of you — not just emotionally, but physically. Her lack of attraction should be an absolute deal-breaker for you.

    1. Her lack of attraction should be an absolute deal-breaker for you.

      Agreed, and this underscores why “yes means yes” is good for everybody. I really hope–for the LW’s sake, as well as the sake of everyone he has sex with in the future–that he comes to understand the phrase as more than a cute slogan. Because if you don’t have sex with people who aren’t into it, then (a) they don’t have to have sex they’re not into, and (b) you’re free to date people who are into you.

      1. Okay, just for generality’s sake – this is in NO WAY applicable to the LW, and is probably a bad idea in general for people who are new to relationships: You can be in a relationship with someone who isn’t attracted to you, and it can work out. (Hello, asexual/sexual relationships!)

        People – grown-up people, who are experienced in relationships and comfortable saying “no” outright and breaking the fuck up with someone who doesn’t respect that “no” – can be in a relationship with someone whom they aren’t attracted to. They can have sex without feeling lust, because making their partner happy makes them happy, or for other reasons. ALSO, people who have sexual desire can be in a relationship without having sex, because they want their partner’s sexless full package more than sex with other people.

        Again, NOT A GOOD IDEA for the LW, who has demonstrated a wonderful ability to tromp over his gf’s boundaries. But not a universal dealbreaker, no.

        1. Dee, thank you! I’m in a relationship where I am the higher libido one and my partner has a History and needs to be able to have her “maybe” mean “let’s try and see what happens,” because that’s what works for her and we have invested in a lot in communication about sex when we are not actually having sex, and we have a history that lets her trust that *I* feel squicked out if the sex doesn’t become enthusiastic along the way, so she knows that when I check in and the answer is actually “no” I *welcome* the chance to move out of the space of unenthusiasm. Anyway. These are kind of advanced areas of sexual communication, both for me and for my partner. We couldn’t, and shouldn’t have been trying it at 18 and 20. At those ages, you should be trying to gain those skills while doing the least damage possible to yourself and others, so if you don’t have a “yes,” either to offer your partner or coming from from your partner to you, a “maybe” should be treated as a “no.”

  21. I also want to point out, LW, that your girlfriend isn’t the unclear one here. I mean she straight-up told you she’s a lesbian and not attracted to you anymore. The fact that she didn’t add “and now we’re broken up” to the end of that doesn’t exactly make her unclear, as that would usually be construed as implied, in much the way “I don’t like broccoli” implies “so don’t offer me any” without having to add that to the end.

    But, here’s the thing: she’s saying “no” to sex in as many ways as she possibly can, including just actually saying “no.” She’s also trying to say “never” to sex in as many ways as she possibly can, including actually saying “never.”

    You are trying to communicate to her, in as many ways as you can, that you need sex, fairly regularly, with an enthusiastic partner, if you are going to call somebody your girlfriend. But you have not actually just straight-out said that (I’m guessing because you know that’s how the break-up conversation starts? Because it totally is and you should start that conversation right NOW). She is not the unclear one, dude. *You* are.

    1. I also want to point out, LW, that your girlfriend isn’t the unclear one here. I mean she straight-up told you she’s a lesbian and not attracted to you anymore. The fact that she didn’t add “and now we’re broken up” to the end of that doesn’t exactly make her unclear, as that would usually be construed as implied, in much the way “I don’t like broccoli” implies “so don’t offer me any” without having to add that to the end.

      THIS. Yes.

    2. Breaking up is really, really hard to contemplate if you’ve been with someone since you were sixteen, so I get it, I really do. But avoiding breaking up when you need to creates even more hurts.

  22. LW, I think the moment “I think I’m a lesbian” came up, you two should have immediately ended things. Someone who’s questioning their sexuality is in no state to be with anyone until they’re in a more solid place about themselves (certainly not someone of the opposite gender if they think they might be gay). So please, please, end things with your girlfriend, because that will go one of two ways:

    1) You and she will realize you really can’t be apart and she will come back to you. I would not hold out hope for this one. Honestly, I’m somewhat surprised she’s still with you if she knows she’s not attracted to you (honestly, I’m surprised you’re with HER if you know she’s not attracted to you o_O).

    2) She will end up being gay (and honestly, from what you say she’s saying about her attractions/sex drive, it certainly sounds like this is a strong possibility), in which case you two would not have worked out long term anyway.

    Ending things now will be better for both of you.

    1. I am going to politely disagree with this: I think that people who are questioning their sexualities can be “with” other people as long as there is a lot of honesty about what the people involved want and expect.

      At this point in my life I’m 85% sure I am not attracted to dudes, but I still make out with this one dude because he is cool and I have told him, “I am never, ever going to have sex with you, but I sure like chatting and making out with you,” and he has replied, “That sounds awesome.”

      IMO it seems that the problem here is not that LW’s girlfriend is questioning, but that the two of them want radically different things out of the relationship.

      1. What trotula said. I’ve been with my partner J for over 11 years and my partner X for over 8 years, during which time my sense of my gender and orientation has shifted frequently and sometimes dramatically. At no point was either relationship in danger of ending, nor did any of us feel that I would be unsuitable partner material until I got my stuff figured out. I’m pretty sure figuring my stuff out is going to be a lifelong process, in fact, and I’m deeply glad to have two wonderful, patient, adaptable people keeping me company while I do it.

        That’s not the situation the LW is in. As alphakitty said, why she’s not into him is irrelevant. What matters is that she’s just not into him.

        1. short: +1 the preceding 2 comments.

          I think “Don’t do sex OR RELATIONSHIP if anyone involved (including you) is not positively and unequivocally consenting to exactly what you are trying to do together” covers most situations And, it has the benefit of making no assumptions about which identities can be a) be understood and externally validated enough to b) support relationships.

          1. It has the benefit of making no assumptions about which identities can be a) be understood and externally validated enough to b) support relationships.

            That is exactly what I had wanted to say but couldn’t figure out how. Thank you!

  23. A lot of good stuff has already been said, but I felt that I needed to add this — I don’t think that any blame accrues to your girlfriend, LW, for not giving a “hard no.” The “no, thank you,” has been just about as strong as it can be short of slapping you in the face with a dead fish and calling you an ugly Humperdinck. I mean, your girlfriend has not only said she doesn’t want to have sex with you, she has indicated disinterest in all men. That is pretty strong.

    In terms of the “maybe tomorrow” business, sometimes it’s not safe for women to say, “Remember that bit where I said I thought I might be a lesbian?” or “Never? How is never for you?” Why? Because that shit opens up women to a lot of violence. I am sure the LW would protest at this point that he’s never hit his girlfriend ever, but it sounds to me as though there must be a LOT of emotional violence going on, or else GF would not be considering lying there and thinking of England.

    This is recommended reading about the type of emotional violence I’m thinking of:

    LW, please take the Captain’s advice. This relationship is not good for either of you.

    1. Yeah, I was reading the letter and thinking, “This woman has said no, very clearly, in about 20 different ways possibly including semaphore. Where exactly is the confusion?”

      LW, like most of the women I know, I have had an experience of “sex I didn’t really want but eventually I did say yes so it’s not rape, right?” Guess what: none of us remember those experiences fondly. Rage, sorrow, disgust, and betrayal are the more common emotions.

      Break up. This is not fixable. Your girlfriend is not a vending machine who will dispense sex under specific conditions, and you are giving her a slew of ugly, uncomfortable memories.

      1. LW, like most of the women I know, I have had an experience of “sex I didn’t really want but eventually I did say yes so it’s not rape, right?” Guess what: none of us remember those experiences fondly. Rage, sorrow, disgust, and betrayal are the more common emotions.

        Oh, this hits home for me so hard, ouch. Too true.

        LW, please, please, for both of your sakes, end this relationship now. Whatever your conscious intentions are, you are hurting your GF over and over again. tinyorc said it perfectly below: “Yes means Yes” does not mean doing whatever it takes to get something you can spin as ‘yes.’ It means no sex in the absence of enthusiastic YES! And if you genuinely do want to know how to be more loving to her, the very first thing you need to do is *respect her and her desires.* Which pretty unambiguously do NOT include sex with you. It doesn’t matter that you want it with her, her desire to not have it with you trumps that, because you are not owed it.

        Breaking up with her and getting out of this toxic mess will also be best for you. Because then, not only will you have the chance to find a partner who is enthusiastically into you, you will also not be doing emotional violence to yourself by continuing in a pattern where you do emotional violence to others. You don’t want to be the boundary-ignoring rapist, do you? So DON’T BE HIM.

      2. YES. Sometimes that “I really didn’t want this” sex was with a partner that I truly felt and still truly believe loved me and cared about me and was a decent person who didn’t mean for this to happen this way and the whole situation was confusing and weird and we both made terrible stupid mistakes that shouldn’t have happened but did and I wish we didn’t live in a rape culture where “mistakes” aren’t “oops I was stupid and hurt your feelings” but “oops I was stupid and raped you.”

        Sometimes the “I really didn’t want this” sex was with a partner that I truly felt and still truly believe intended to rape me and would have no matter what I had said or done.

        Guess what? No matter who the partner was, the memories of that kind of sex still make me want to vomit and scrape off my skin. It wasn’t better with the nice guys and it wasn’t worse with the bad ones — the sex was damaging and terrible no matter what. It doesn’t matter, LW, if you love your GF so much and want nothing else but for her to be happy. It might matter as far as whether or not you two will ever be friends again or think fondly of each other in the future, but it doesn’t matter as far as this sex is concerned: in years to come, she is going to want to vomit when she thinks of it, and if you have any decency, so will you.

        1. I once had an unwanted sexual encounter where I am very sure the guy in question was a genuinely nice person who immediately stopped as soon as he realised I was not OK with what was happening and was appalled he hadn’t noticed earlier, where I now blame generalised societal bullshit rather than either of us.

          I *also* haven’t seen him since just after that experience, because I had to end our friendship: the sheer amount of seething hatred and fury that welled up every time I saw him made spending time around him pretty difficult! It’s hard to be friends with someone when seeing them makes you want to claw their eyes out! I still feel sick when I think about that encounter and the aftermath, and that was almost a decade ago.

          There are some situations in which good intentions and that you didn’t mean for your actions to have that effect matter. Anything in the same fucking timezone as rape is NOT AMONG THEM. And you, OP, are not just in the same neighbourhood but knocking on the front door.

  24. LW, it’s good that at age 20 you have attempted become familiar with the Yes Means Yes consent model, but I think you’re taking it too literally and you somehow managed to completely gloss the main point of the whole idea. I noticed this when you said you started to employ a “direct consent model” with your GF. Yes Means Yes is not necessarily a direct consent model (thought it often can be) where all parties involved verbally say the words “Yes, I consent to having sex with you now” before any touching happens. Yes Means Yes is an ENTHUSIASTIC consent model. This means that even if no words are exchanged, you should be able to tell from the other person’s overtly enthusiastic responses to your overtures that they very much would like to have sex now please. (This is particularly pertinent in a long-term relationship, where you and your partner are not necessarily going to formally consent every single time you get it on, but you presumably know each other well enough to read each other’s moods and have your own physical and verbal shorthand for indicating what you do and don’t want.) If those overtly enthusiastic indicators are absent, then it is not time to have sex. Enthusiasm is key to entire concept.

    The idea of a direct consent model can very quickly morph into “as long as I can coax the word “Yes” out of my partner’s mouth through any means necessary, we are good to go for sex!” which can quickly slide into dangerous manipulative territory. Yes Means Yes doesn’t mean “Keep asking until you hear Yes.” Yes Means Yes means thinking about sex (to paraphrase Cliff Pervocracy) as a co-operative sport where both people are entering into a mutually enjoyable activity with equal amounts of excitement and zeal.

    Yes Means Yes doesn’t mean “Yes” Means Yes. It means YES!!!!!!! means Yes.

  25. As someone who was the girlfriend in a similar relationship for twice as long: All the good intentions in the world do not matter while the relationship is rotting from the inside out. My BF and I were BFFs once. Nowadays, I have constant PTSD-esque nightmares about him and only just stop feeling like shit about being used as a glorified body pillow for eight years! I’m interested in finding a new relationship but the thought of being tricked into the body pillow role again makes my stomach heave and my fists clench, so god knows when that’ll happen.
    Don’t do this to your friend.

    Now, I suspect my ex is much further along the Almost Certainly A Coercive Rapist Shitstain spectrum than you (he ignored and mocked my requests to stop making sexualised comments… two years after the relationship ended… literally the next day I discovered Captain Awkward and thank goodness for that).

    If you take the Captain’s advice and do this enthusiastic consent thing properly next time, there may be hope for you yet.

    Please please please please gracefully but definitely cut off your relationship as BF and GF. If she doesn’t want to remain your friend, please respect this. If you don’t want to be friends with her either, by no means feel obligated to be friends for a while/forever! (Read: Not the same as being a jerk to her) You are both in a terrible situation and you may well need the extra space to recover from it.

    Woo first comment jitters (or maybe it’s because I’m SO INCENSED ABOUT THIS ISSUE the disjointed text is me attempting to convey the way I’m WAVING MY ARMS AND YELLING AT THE MONITOR)

  26. I am a pansexual and genderqueer person whose first relationship (from ages 14 to 18, no less) was with a straight, cisgender guy. He was very sweet and I did love and feel attracted to him for a long time, but by the time I was 18, we were no longer the same people and we definitely weren’t right for each other. Even though he *technically* fell within the bounds of my sexual orientation and since I wasn’t seeking surgery I was more or less in the zone of bodies/gender expression forms that attracted him, it was not working out. I needed to go explore my gender and general queerness on his own terms, and he needed to go learn more about what he wanted from relationships, too, and have space to date folks who, yaknow, actually identified as women.

    My point is, LW, that your relationship history with your girlfriend doesn’t mean you should keep trying to hold onto her. I know it’s easy to fear breakups as being the Worst Thing in the World (term courtesy of Cliff Pervocracy), but you aren’t even in an ambiguous situation here about whether or not breaking up is appropriate. You aren’t even dating someone like I was at 18, a nebulously gendered, non-monosexual person who sometimes wants sex and sometimes doesn’t, in which case breaking up would still be advised but maybe a degree less obvious. You are dating a self-proclaimed lesbian who has directly stated that she’s NOT attracted to you. I’m not sure you’ve mentioned anything in your letter that suggests this relationship is comfortable or supportive for her in any way. Break up with her. It’s what you both need.

  27. I have to admit to a certain amount of morbid curiosity, and I have a few questions for the LW:
    — How do you react when your girlfriend rejects your sexual advances?
    — Who is responsible for your sexual feelings and for your sexual fulfillment?
    — How do you take care of yourself when you are aroused and she is not?

    If any of your answers are anything other than “I leave her alone, I am responsible, and I take care of myself”, then something is terribly wrong and it isn’t with her.

    Your girlfriend (and whatever you are attracted to–in this case women) are not responsible for taking care of your sexual needs and sexuality. That is on you. She has told you she doesn’t feel safe around you, she feels objectified, and she more than likely “gives it up” just to get you to leave her alone.

    There is nothing you can do to salvage this. The damage has been done. It is time to break up, take a serious look at your own sexuality and privilege, internalize those lessons, and move on. Make it a clean break. No contact at all with her until she initializes it. And to be honest, she may never contact you again.

    Because, if you don’t listen to a no, no matter how “indirect” it may be to you, you have opened the door to some very dark places for both you and whoever you are with.

    Good on you for reaching out and asking, LW. There is hope for you, yet.

  28. LW, think of all your future relationships being based on the communication pattern learned in this one – you’ll always either be second-guessing anything consent-related or completely ignoring it and forcefully pushing for the ‘yes.’ She’ll always view sex as a bad, even traumatizing, thing but also a tool she can use to make the other behave by withholding. (There are other forms of emotional manipulation both of you are in danger of learning, too. but they’re not as relevant.)

    Wouldn’t it be much easier to stop this relationship when you still see this pattern as a problem and are much less likely to repeat in a future relationship, than to have to break it and relearn everything once it becomes ingrained in you as how relationships work? I don’t think this is the template you want to write your romantic future with.

  29. Oh boy LW, have people given you a lot of advice. I feel some of it does straight-up accuse you of being a possible abuser/rapist without firm ground. Yeah, it sucks you might have pressured her into sex she didn’t want, but no, the blame does not rest entirely on the two of you. Rather, it rests mostly upon a screwed up society which demands women to be coy and indirect with their desires (whether it be a desire for or a desire without) and demands men to be forward and insistent with their desires.

    Now for the part in which I say what you both did wrong. She was in the wrong for not being totally honest with you. Some people will say I’m victim blaming here but I feel from what you tell us, she’s still holding onto the relationship for her own reasons too. Understandable; when you’re 18, the relationship you’re in can feel like the best and only one you will ever be able to get into. You were in the wrong for reasons already stated by the other commentors, so I won’t repeat them all except for the “yes” which means “YES” has to be wholeheartedly, enthusiastically expressed.

    You’re 20. Two decades is a lot (and I’ll admit I’m not much older either) but it’s still not very much and you have your whole life ahead of you. You can find another woman who will be enthusiastic in her “Yes!” with you.

    If you’re determined to stick it out, be aware it’s damnedly hard and near impossible. Me and my boyfriend had issues involving sex similar to your situation too. We were each other’s first partners. He wanted it, I was unsure (for my own personal phobias and reasons). We thought about breaking up or putting the relationship on hold until I could figure things out for myself but we ultimately decided to keep on communicating with each other. Communication was such a massive deal. He respected all of my boundaries, listened to me when I needed it the most. And I did the same for him. We’ve now worked things out together into a healthy happy relationship with physical intimacy which we both happily consent to. Did it take a lot of work? Hell yes. Did it take a lot of agony and tears? Oh yeah, from both of us for each other and ourselves. But no one ever took advantage of the other or put the other in an uncomfortable position (beyond the usual discomfort anyone may feel when admitting personal problems to themselves and anyone else).

    I personally feel you and your girlfriend should end this relationship. If she’s saying she’s gay to not sleep with you? That is a huge red flag.

      1. Yeah, I kind of feel like the most we can offer this dude is believing him if he says, “Holy shit, I didn’t realize!” Because, hey, none of us are unaware of rape culture, and the ways it fucks up your ability to see straight or think straight, to the point where mistakes happen, even godawful mistakes that have no right ever happening, and a lot of them happen when you’re young and/or inexperienced in relationships. But, like, I can offer dude the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t realize or get it because sure, I’ve been the girl who was like “is this abuse? this isn’t abuse, no way this is abuse” the same as he’s the guy who’s life “is this wrong? this is cool, right? there’s no way this is rape.” Now that he’s asked for advice and gotten about 80 responses that say “this is rape or damn near close to it,” if he keeps going, I can’t give him anything other than, “You’re a straight-up rapist and you fucking know it.”

        LW, I bet this comment thread has been a super scary thing to behold — I bet you, a guy who has heard of “yes means yes”, never ever expected to get called a rapist when you told this story. What a fucking blow. I’ll tell you that when I said upthread that I was telling you this out of love, I for sure meant it — this is your chance to stop a trauma train in its tracks, and I want you to do that, NOW, because you will save you and her so much pain if you can. I (personally) don’t feel anything’s served by dancing around the word for what you’re either doing or dangerously close to doing — you are juggling acid and you need to fucking know, because this stuff could scar you and her for years to come. We’re not trying to destroy you here — we’re trying to pull you out of the fire. Good people can make terrible mistakes, and good people can make amends. Good people don’t get told 80 times that what they just described is or is very close to rape and keep going with it.

        1. ALL OF THIS.

          LW, you were self-aware enough to write in because you realized something was wrong. I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you did not realize HOW TERRIBLY WRONG. I sincerely hope that your next relationship is fulfilling and wonderful and pants-feelings for all parties involved, but the longer you stay in this one, the more likely you are to cause your girlfriend lasting trauma.

        2. This! I imagine he probably genuinely didn’t realize everyone would come here and be like “yo dude, you’re raping her, stop it and break up.” That must be some hard shit to hear when you feel like you’re trying so hard to be respectful. But it’s the truth and he needs to realize it and, as you said, if he reads all this and still decides to continue having sex with her? Then he’s completely 100% aware of his rapeyness.

        3. “Good people can make terrible mistakes, and good people can make amends.” YES. This.

          I’m definitely in the don’t-assume-LW-is-malicious camp — he had the self-knowledge to write to the Captain, after all. I’m betting that right now, he’s feeling kind of sick and awful, but maybe also relieved because now he *knows* what he needs to do, and can stop … doing the bad things? Lying to himself? Whatever it was, he’s on the right path now. And I hope he has the intestinal fortitude to move forward on it — lots of people don’t get this sort of realization until much later in life.

          1. I’ve been in a similar-ish position (on the pushing for sex side), and yeah it BLOWS to realize what you’ve been doing. But it’s also really good to realize what you did — because then you can STOP doing it.

    1. Ooooh, this comment is killing me.
      “Yeah, it sucks you might have pressured her into sex she didn’t want, but no, the blame does not rest entirely on the two of you. Rather, it rests mostly upon a screwed up society which demands women to be coy and indirect with their desires (whether it be a desire for or a desire without) and demands men to be forward and insistent with their desires.”

      Yeah, gender constructs suck. But INDIVIDUALS ARE STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS. Society did not force the LW to have sex with his girlfriend. Sorry, no: that is a choice. And it is an ACTIVE choice.

      I don’t know if I would call what the LW is doing “rape.” I’m not his girlfriend; I can’t speak for her. I do know that it’s gross, it’s coercive, and if it’s not rape, it’s certainly waaaaaaay too near the line.

      Also, how is the girlfriend not being honest? She’s telling the LW she doesn’t want to have sex. She’s telling him she doesn’t want to have sex “now.” Sometimes she’s saying it indirectly, but I think the whole “I AM NOT ATTRACTED TO YOU” thing is pretty obvious. If the girlfriend was saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” when she meant “no,” that would be one thing. But that’s not what’s happening.
      The girlfriend is not at fault because the LW can’t take a hint.*
      (especially since in this case, the hint is like a House Full of Velociraptors, it’s so obvious).
      Also, the LW has made it clear that he WON’T stop pressuring his girlfriend into having sex even when he is told that she’s not attracted to him and she doesn’t want to have sex. he is not making it safe for his girlfriend to say no, which means that even if she’s not being super-direct, HE IS RESPONSIBLE for that.

      1. “Also, the LW has made it clear that he WON’T stop pressuring his girlfriend into having sex even when he is told that she’s not attracted to him and she doesn’t want to have sex. he is not making it safe for his girlfriend to say no, which means that even if she’s not being super-direct, HE IS RESPONSIBLE for that.”

        I just snagged that on a closer read of the letter (was distracted at the same time). But yeah I made a lot of mistakes in reading. Oops. Major oops. I apologize sincerely for that. It has been a long day.

        I still stand on what I say about her being confusing because I was genuinely confused as to her motives too, as described by the LW. I totally missed the “Spoiler: She Doesn’t” in the title until…well, now. I am simply going to admit I am an utter idiot and probably don’t understand social constructs I have a lot to learn about life still.

        Thank you for calling out my idiocy. I really do appreciate that. I’ll make a closer read before commenting next time.

        1. Honestly, if it weren’t for the “not physically attracted to you and possibly a lesbian” I would be along the lines of “dude, your gf doesn’t know exactly what she wants or can’t say it, you should walk away because she’s not going to be clear and that’s bad for both of you.” And I also wondered if sometimes days later she said she liked it and sometimes days later she said she hated it.

          But I’m just kind of flabbergasted at how they didn’t resolve their sex life after the maybe a lesbian and no longer physically attracted to you thing. Because that should be a sex stopper. And once it wasn’t, the fact that it’s making her angry, and for such a long time – the sex should’ve stopped at least until she can clearly articulate what she wants, on her own, with no badgering.

          1. Even if she said days later that she liked some of these times, that doesn’t make it confusing or suspect that the rest of the time she doesn’t.

            Even if she weren’t a lesbian, his behavior is not ok.

          2. Also, even if she said she liked it days later… well, that was days later. If she’s liking it, that should be obvious when it is happening. It should kinda go without saying.

            I have certainly been guilty, when pressed, of saying “Uh, yeah, sure, I liked it, I guess,” whether or not that was actually true. (Conflict avoidance is a hell of a drug.)

            I think the “She said she liked it, that’s like a yes right?” is just as suspect as “She said maybe tomorrow, that’s like a yes right?”

            And honestly, saying “Well, she said she enjoyed it,” creeps a little close to victim-blame territory for my comfort. As in, “She said she liked it so all the no’s and maybe’s don’t count.”

          3. Post-hoc rationalizations so someone can convince themselves it wasn’t that bad/they’re not a victim/there’s nothing to see here I would like to get on with my life not ARE NOT THE SAME THING as consent.

  30. Can I also just give a shout-out to Captain Awkward for somehow running a blog that attracts a question like this? I don’t know what combination of factors leads to this, but it’s really amazing, because this is such an important question, and I am so glad the LW decided to ask somebody, and I don’t know what it means for this place that he came here to do it, I just know that I’m glad there was someplace where he felt he could voice these thoughts. Because jesus, this was obviously way worse than he thought, and he needed to hear these answers.

    1. Yes.

      And LW, if you’re reading this far: hang in there. Do the right thing first, and then get right in your head-space so you never do the wrong thing again; but you’ve taken the first step now, and that’s important.

      And LW’s girlfriend, if you’re reading this: I hope you have a trusted counselor you can talk to about everything, because you’re at a hella confusing juncture in your life, and you need some support too. LW might be a fine person, but you can’t expect him to be your BFF, especially since he needs to break up with you (that kind of friendship can get toxic fast, even without the coercive sex). Build your support network and your Team You, and go from there.

  31. Um, what? “I am not attracted to you” is not a thing that you respond to with “OK, cool, so how do we work through that so that I can keep having sex with you?”. It’s not something that you work through at all. Why, when someone has told you that they are not attracted to you, are you still trying to talk them into having sex with you?

    Not only are you being a shitty partner, you’re being a shitty friend too. It this woman isn’t attracted to you, and thinks she might be gay, then your sexual relationship is over. It may well be possible to still be friends, but honestly, in the long run I wouldn’t stay friends with someone if I had memories of all the times they kept responding to my attempts to refuse sex with “hey, that doesn’t sound like a clear yes, how do we make it one?”.

  32. wow, hello every creepy guy who talks big about consent and then refuses to acknowledge a “no” when he sees one.

    advice for other dudes: don’t be this guy.

  33. So much of this sort of thing is down to the ways we bring up boys and girls. Boys are taught to be forward about what they want, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” etc and girls are taught to be nice and polite, not to make a fuss, be the peacemakers. So the poor girlfriend IS saying no in her head, but her conditioning is saying she should let him down gently, maybe she’s making a fuss about nothing (she isn’t). Meanwhile, LW is acting like a bit of a spoiled brat, tbh. I know a lot of people, men especially, don’t do the non-verbal stuff well; and that men often read “yes” into anything but an absolute “no” (and sometimes not even that, sadly). But he’s doing that small child thing of “please mummy, please please please” … “well, can I have that now?” … “how about now?”, hoping that she’ll give in and say “oh all right then, just stop bugging me”. That’s annoying when the person asking is 6. It’s bang out of order when they’re 20.

    1. Worse than that is that LW, like so many men (studies have shown it) does know he’s being told “no” in other words – extremely clear ones when it comes to “I am not attracted to you” and “I think I may be lesbian”. Consciously or not, he’s following the classic pattern of choosing to ignore what he doesn’t want to hear, and has strayed into rapist territory by doing so.

      1. THIS. I get really sick of the “but men are so BAD at the nonverbal and indirect stuff!” thing, partially as I am on the autistic spectrum + a nonbinary person read as female, and it irks me SO MUCH to see NT men getting given a pass for this shit. Guess what, the vast majority of guys are perfectly fine with nonverbal language – miles better than me, at any rate – and especially perfectly fine with indirect refusals (which can be a bit tricky to pick up on but not the hardest thing to teach yourself and relatively straightforward compared to other stuff everyone’s expected to know, in my experience). Now can we knock it off?

  34. LW, everyone else has given some great advice, and I hope you’ll take it on board even if it’s hard to hear. I wanted to add from my own perspective as someone who had a very serious relationship which started in my teens: you need to let go of the love you wish you had. I don’t know if this is the case with you, but I found that having been high school sweethearts meant that we were that couple who everyone thought of as ‘the’ couple. Other people expressed dismay whenever I voiced any problems with the relationship (‘You guys can’t break up! You’re my example of a good couple!’) and I was wedded to the fairytale idea of meeting ‘the one’ when I was really young. All of this really contributed to me and my partner being prepared to pretend that the giant elephant of ‘this relationship is really not working at all’ was not crushing us to death. We stayed together for way longer than we should have done, and even though things never got as toxic as it sounds like your relationship is, I’m still dealing with the emotional fallout to some extent (and probably so is he).

    You haven’t failed if you break up. Not loving each other now doesn’t invalidate the love you shared. No longer having the kind of matching desires and love which makes a relationship work doesn’t mean you don’t still love and care for each other in really deep and meaningful ways. What will invalidate all of that, though, is staying in this relationship and allowing it to get more and more coercive and abusive.

    1. You haven’t failed if you break up. Not loving each other now doesn’t invalidate the love you shared. No longer having the kind of matching desires and love which makes a relationship work doesn’t mean you don’t still love and care for each other in really deep and meaningful ways. What will invalidate all of that, though, is staying in this relationship and allowing it to get more and more coercive and abusive.

      THIS. LW, loving someone doesn’t = being in a relationship with someone. It means valuing and respecting that person, and their desires and boundaries, and treating them as if their health and happiness matter to you. Breaking up doesn’t necessarily mean it was wrong from the beginning and You Failed Love Forever, You Worthless Thing. It means that at *this* time, the relationship has become too toxic to continue, and the best, most loving thing you can do is end it. If want to know HOW to love someone, the first step is to stop asking “What do I want?” and focus on the other person.

      As others upthread have said, I’m sure all of this is hard to hear. But please believe that we are not ganging up on you for pleasure. Listen to pfcmarie: people here care about what happens to both your GF and you.

      What you have right now is a choice: to respect her, and take a step towards being the loving respectful guy you seem to want to be, or to not respect her, and become a full-fledged rapist asshat. It is a *choice,* and it is *your* choice. I think you know the right one to pick.

    2. +1 to this! My last breakup was of a 3-year high school sweethearts relationship and everyone thought we were soooo good for each other and communicated so well and were so happy, and looking back I realize it was actually just because we were marginally better at communication than most people our age. Anyway, I ended up crying on the phone to one of my friends who had said that that relationship breaking up would be paradigm-shattering for him and he would lose faith in humanity* and asking if he’d really meant that because “I think we might break up and I don’t want you to hate me!”
      *dramatised version, he did not use that much hyperbole

  35. It’ easy to think ‘We’ve dated for four years and I don’t wanna just throw all that effort away. There’s gotta be a price for sticking it out. Someday, things will be better.’

    They wont. You don’t get presents for trying to work things out and burying your head in the sand. You get trauma and hurt feelings. Nothing good will come from continuing this relationship. Do you really want to be in the same situation four years from now?

  36. The LW doesn’t mention how he reacts to her “soft” no answers (apart from that he keeps on asking). I would just say that being grumpy or moody in any way because you didn’t get to have sex is NOT ALLOWED. I can understand being dissappointed but I think it is really important not to pressure or punish a partner by using your emotions. Say, “that makes me dissappointed as I like sexy time with you” but then I think it is on you to move on. Watch some TV, cook dinner, whatever as long as you accept the no.

    That’s kind of a general thought though as I think the LWs relationship should definitely end. The Captain’s advice is spot on.

    1. That also stuck out to me. When I give someone a “soft” no answer, it’s usually because I don’t feel comfortable giving them a more firm one. LW, even if you aren’t actively badgering your GF to have sex with you, not treating her answers as a clear negative and asking her to explain more clearly what they mean is basically saying to her “I am not hearing your answer unless you give it to me in the precise language that you are uncomfortable using.” That is not what Yes Means Yes looks like.

      1. Or worse, “You haven’t said no firmly enough so I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” which is opening the door for BADNESS. Then you’re getting into “well she hasn’t tried to claw my eyes out, so maybe she’s still into it?” There are so many evil bees. Even if the LW isn’t a rotten-to-the-core rapist (And I’m not saying he is), he’s on a slippery slope.

  37. Sooo, LW. You asked for a script. Have I got a script for you!

    “GF, it has come to my attention recently that I have been a really bad BF to you for a while now. The thing is, once upon a time (I think) we had a great physical relationship. I know I loved sex with you, and I had the impression you loved it with me. And then I killed it. I killed it by pressuring you to have sex when you weren’t in the mood. You tried to tell me no, but because I was horny and totally turned on by you I didn’t want to hear it… so I acted like you weren’t being clear, or told myself that because you’d liked it other times you’d like it this time once we got going, and I ignored the fact that that wasn’t happening. And so we had sex when you didn’t want to, more than once.

    And the more I did that, the less you wanted to have sex with me — understandably enough. But I felt something wonderful slipping away, and I didn’t handle that well, either. I kept trying to get it back by pressuring you more, which meant having more sex you really weren’t into, which just made everything even worse.

    When you said you felt used, I was like, “Nuh uh!” Because I do care about you. I was never just in the relationship for the sex. And my head and my heart totally did want you to be into the sex, too. It was only my body that didn’t care what you wanted sometimes, and I am so, so sorry and ashamed that I didn’t listen to my head and heart, and that because of that I pretty much raped you. Even though I would never, ever have done that if I’d thought about it that way at the time.

    But yeah — some people whose opinions I value have told me that’s basically what I was doing. Which is why it’s really no wonder you stopped being attracted to me. Actually, I think it’s amazing — and a testament to how good the rest of our relationship has been — that you could still want to be around me at all.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. You had every right to say “let’s just hang out and not have sex” if that’s what you wanted, and I should have said ok. I will never, ever do that to you again. I accept that there’s no way back to a healthy sexual relationship at this point. In fact, I’m not sure the whole friendship isn’t hopelessly tainted by all this.”

    Then either leave it to her to say whether she wants to preserve the friendship part or, if you don’t want to do that tell her you can’t be with her because what you want from the relationship and what she wants are just too different, and you’re just going to keep hurting one another.

    1. “I’ve probably also been manipulative about other things in our relationship. You’re going to get very angry when you realise how much I’ve screwed you over (pun intended).

      I’m going to work on this so that I don’t continue raping someone else in the future. I have to do that away from you. Right now I’m not safe for you to be around. You deserve better. It wasn’t your fault. I’m so sorry.”

      1. Ooh, excellent additions. I especially like “you’re going to get very angry when you realize how much vie screwed you over.” I think that’s very true. Right now, GF is in that coping/denial mode. But when time passes, and she begins to process what a mind-fuck this has been, it isn’t going to be pretty. Nor should it be.

        1. Hmm, I’m not sure I like “you’re going to get very angry when you realize how much I’ve screwed you over,” because it sounds like him telling her how to feel. Of course she’s going to be angry, but she needs to decide that on her own.

    2. “You tried to tell me no, but because I was horny and totally turned on by you I didn’t want to hear it… ”

      Lose the “by you” in that line, maybe?

    3. And then I killed it. I killed it by pressuring you to have sex when you weren’t in the mood

      Ehh – I’d disagree with this bit, actually. LW’s girlfriend could just have stopped being attracted to him and stopped wanting to have sex because … human.

      Totally agree with everything else, but that comes across as a bit “If LW hadn’t done / doesn’t in the future do X, then Girlfriend would have / Future Girlfriends will continue to dispense sex”. The sexual relationship can just have died a natural death: it doesn’t have to be something LW did. He has to take responsibility for how he responded to the end of the physical relationship (world of badly), but he doesn’t have to take responsibility for its end.

    4. I don’t generally disagree with the spirit of anything here, but I wanted to offer a slightly different take. If, while we were dating, any of my exes had identified what they were doing to me as rape or sexual coercion, I would have immediately jumped into “NO THAT’S NOT IT YOU WOULD NEVER” mode. Because that is too hard to hear (if you’re a rapist, that makes me a rape victim, and NO I am NOT READY for that), and because the trap of being the caretaking lady is too tempting (you’re not bad! it’s a mistake! it was my fault! don’t call yourself that!). I’m just thinking that, unless this talk definitively ends with, “and now I am breaking up with you and that is some irrevocable shit, call me up later if you need to yell at me, I can take it,” I can see “I pretty much raped you” turning into his GF’s opportunity to deny deny deny and shower him with reassurances to make this thing not at all what it is.

      If it were me, at any given time in my life, I would be eminently more equipped to handle a break-up than being told I am a rape victim. The second thing has to come from a place of safety and support and space and time, and I don’t think that’s the kind of thing to hash out in a break-up talk.

      1. I second this. Seeking understanding and forgiveness is a LATER problem. “I think our relationship isn’t working and we should break up” is a now task, and keeping it simple is almost always the way to go.

      2. Yes! This is exactly what I was thinking. If I were GF (and based on what LW says, I have been in a place that looks a lot like her place) I think that being told I was raped by the dude who is claiming to be the rapist would be very bad for me for a number of reasons. Naming her experience “rape” is something that that she should get to do on her own time. LW can still end the relationship, and should, but he can let her name this rape if and when she is ready.

        1. Exactly. He can say to her “I pressured you into sex, that was wrong and I should not have done it. I’m sorry.” (That is, naming *his actions* and the wrongness of them. And he definitely SHOULD APOLOGIZE at the least.) But naming *her experience* is a different matter, and is hers to do as she feels comfortable.

          Also, I would advise the LW to avoid focusing on the why of his actions during the breakup conversation, as that can so easily slide into excusing it and getting defensive and “But I didn’t MEAN to…!” territory. Better IMHO to keep it short, simple, unambiguous, and sincerely contrite. And also to listen, carefully, to what his GF says.

      3. “the trap of being the caretaking lady is too tempting”
        THIS. It’s a very small step from “I did something terrible and I’m sorry” to “I’m a terrible person and I feel awful and it’s your job to make me feel better.” If only I had a nickel for every time I started a conversation with “My needs aren’t being met because of X” and it ended up with me reassuring my partner, and my needs were totally ignored all over again. Self-flagellation =/= taking responsibility; it’s closer to wallowing in self-pity and self-hatred, when an apology should be about the needs of the person who’s been wronged.

        1. “Self-flagellation =/= taking responsibility”


          This. This so much. I dated someone who responded to sexual rejection (often of the “I love you but I’m too drunk and tired to have sex with you right now” variety) with a sulk session about how he was a horrible pervert…so I was left with the choice of either spending hours comforting him and assuring him I didn’t think he was a pervert, or I could say yes to sex and just lie back and think of England for twenty minutes.

  38. Long story short: There are better relationships out there. This relationship isn’t working, and it is not going to work. ‘Working things out’ isn’t happening, as you two are simply not understanding each other and communicating on the same wavelength. Break up. It will hurt. She’s been part of your life for so long, and is likely part of your identity now. But I promise, you will feel better for it.

  39. When I was young and in my first serious relationship, there were times I said things that I thought were absolutely earth-shattering admissions. They felt that way internally, and when I finally said them out loud, I felt like the sun would explode. Things like, “I don’t trust you” or “When I’m with you, I’m unhappy,” or “I can’t go on like this, I’m so miserable.”

    When I said those things? I thought I was saying break-up things. And I sometimes had partners who took those as break-up things. But often, I had partners who said, “Oh, well, then, we’ll work on that,” and went on playing video games as if what I said hadn’t just been the most fundamentally scary thing ever. And because I was young and unsure of myself, I let them define the meaning of what I said for me. In my head, I had just said the break-up thing. If they didn’t act like it was the break-up thing, then I assumed maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe “I don’t like being with you” didn’t mean something as serious as I thought it did.

    LW, when your girlfriend said, “I’m a lesbian and I am not attracted to men,” when she said, “I don’t want to have sex anymore,” she was saying something earth-shattering that she thought was a break-up. If you reacted with, “Cool, we’ll work on it, but fundamentally this changes nothing for me,” she may have retreated in confusion, letting you define what she just said means. That’s something you do when you’re young and inexperienced. Today, if I had to say something like, “You are too sad to be my boyfriend” (and I just recently did), it would be followed up with, “I need you to change this within X time frame or I can’t be with you.” But I didn’t know to do that at 20. I didn’t know that my partner didn’t have to agree that things were bad and unsalvageable before things were bad and unsalvageable. I was still testing my feelings against others to see if they were normal or right.

    LW, when your girlfriend said she was a lesbian, she broke up with you. You two are already broken up. She may not have known how to say it in the most 100% explicit way (she probably thought “I’m a lesbian” was explicit and earth-shattering enough), and you didn’t know how to hear it. She needs to be responsible for learning how to hold to her own emotions, whether or not her partner agrees with them (something we all have to learn and is *especially* hard for women), but you need to be responsible for not trying to date lesbians, no matter how much you love them or want them to date you.

    And note that none of this excuses the fact that your girlfriend has explicitly told you, multiple times, that she doesn’t want to have sex with you, and you have ignored her. So maybe don’t blame her for not explicitly breaking up with you, since you’ve already shown her that being clear and direct with you ends the same way as being indirect and uncertain: you do what you want and wonder why she’s not enjoying it.

    1. This is why therapy is so great. I relate to you saying something mind-blowing and getting the opposite reaction of what you thought would happen. I went through the same thing and ended up assuming that other people were Right and that I was just crappy at explaining myself. Now I’m relearning all this. It’s profound and it’s great but it’s so much work. Work that would be unnecessary if people would just take things at face value.

    2. I think this is a really good point. I’ve been taking at face value that GF wants to retain the overall relationship despite saying she’s not attracted to LW anymore and her not being into the sex. But at a minimum, she’s shown willingness to end it all — you don’t tell your BF/GF “I’m not attracted to you or even your whole gender!” unless you’re fully prepared to see them walk! She’s probably thinking “what more do I have to say???”

    3. Oh, wow, big memories. I once said to an emotionally abusive boyfriend, “I wish you would just hit me instead, because it would hurt less and I’d know what to do about it.” I was 18 or 19. I think I was trying to get him to break up with me, because I didn’t feel like I had the ability to do it myself. Saying that was the hardest thing in the world, and it didn’t work. He just got mad.

  40. (Warning: Harshness and judginess)

    Dude. Your girlfriend is in no conceivable way, shape, or form being “unclear.” She is being POLITE. She is trying to reject you in this nicest it’s-not-your-fault way possible. Your unwillingness/inability to understand this doesn’t actually mean there’s any ambiguity there, it means you are being, in addition to kinda rapey, really, really dumb.

    If anyone here has a right to be confused, it is your poor girlfriend. She probably started dating you under the belief that you are not dumber than a stick. However, when she says “I think I am a lesbian and I am not physically attracted to you at all” and you are all like “That is okay, we can work this out! This also means I can keep having sex with you, right? I am not really sure but I am going to do it anyway, because I believe in yes-means-yes”… that is very much a dumber-than-a-stick response. It is likely causing paralyzing cognitive dissonance in your girlfriend’s brain.

    I don’t really know what it is about relationships that cause some otherwise intelligent and normal-seeming people to suddenly lose grasp of even the most basic concepts that a functional adults ought to know–stuff like what simple words like “lesbian” mean, or that their partners have basic human needs like using the bathroom and sleeping. But it is, sadly, a terribly effective abuse tactic to just pull shit on people that is utterly outside the expected realm of “things human beings say and do to each other” so that the partner has no script for dealing with it or objecting to it or telling other people about it and just sits around for a while going “???????????” and “Did that really just happen?” and “WTF?” and “????????????????????” some more. Some abusers do this on purpose. Some people, and it sounds like you are in the second category, just seem to get so used to having someone as a fixture of their lives that they stop bothering to engage their brains when dealing with their partners, possibly because they subconsciously realize that if they applied their intelligence to the situation they’d see how fucked up it is. I don’t know. I just know that it’s really, really hard to process when someone you’d entered into a relationship with, in the understanding that they were at least sort-of functional, reasonably intelligent adultish humans who at least kind of liked you, turns out, after several months or years, to (a) horribly dislike you (b) not understand that you are a human or (c) not have a grasp of screamingly obvious things. It is like working in a library for ten years and then finding out the other librarian cannot read. It doesn’t compute.

    Your girlfriend is probably having some Does Not Compute issues dealing with the fact that (a) you are her boyfriend and claim to love her and care about her deeply, yet you keep basically raping her, and that (b) you are a twenty-year-old man who is probably in school or has a job or otherwise appears to be functional within society, and who claims to be a feminist, yet you do not know what a lesbian is. These are big and confusing contradictions for her to be processing.

    You need to break up with her, like, yesterday.

  41. Or to use another analogy. Picture this: You’re sitting in a beautfiful restaurant and both of you open your menus.
    LW: How about we get a starter to share?
    GF: I…well no, I don’t really see anything I like.
    LW: Well I want a starter, how about prawns, you want prawns, right?
    GF: Well actually honey, I don’t like prawns at all, I hate the taste of them.
    LW: Oh okay, that’s fair enough
    LW: How about prawns?
    GF: Well actually honey, we had prawns the other day, so maybe not today?
    LW: Great, I’ll order prawns.
    GF: But….but….
    LW: Oh, is there a problem? I’m sure we can sort it out, yay prawns!

    Do you see the parallels between your situation? Your poor girlfriend is probably going “but I said…oh never mind it’s not important.” And you’re doing it constantly. THINK ABOUT IT.

  42. His girlfriend doesn’t find him attractive, suggested she’s not even attracted to his gender, and feels badgered when he asks her for sex. Honestly, I think sex is the least of his problems. Instead of asking, “do you want to have sex now?” he should be asking “do you want to be in this relationship, and if so, on what terms?”. They clearly want two different things.

  43. LW, I’m not going to echo all the (VERY VERY GOOD, FOR DEITY’S SAKE, PLEASE FOLLOW IT) advice that’s already been given, but instead point out that for all you claim to love and care for your girlfriend (and I believe that YOU believe you do), your view of this relationship as presented in this letter is almost entirely one-sided. She’s stated explicitly that she is not attracted to you, and she clearly doesn’t want to have sex with you, yet you insist the two of you will ‘work everything out.’ It doesn’t sound like you’re considering her point of view at all. Would YOU want to be with someone you weren’t attracted to? Would YOU want to stay with someone you didn’t like having sex with, but who constantly tried to convince you to anyway? Do you honestly not comprehend what being in this relationship is like for HER?

    When I broke up with my high school boyfriend because he was possessive and controlling, his primary reactive was shock, even though I clearly stated my reasons (and had refused to put up with his crap during out blessedly short relationship). He simply couldn’t accept that our relationship would end, because HE didn’t want it to. In his mind, I was his girlfriend, and that was all that mattered. It really hit it home for me that he didn’t really see me as a fellow person with my own life at all.

    I understand that being together for so long, especially being so long, can make it feel like you’re going to be together forever, but : you’re not, you SHOULDN’T, and it won’t be the end of the world. In the meantime, please try to think a little less about your own perceived “needs” and try to empathize a bit more with this person you claim to love.

  44. This sort of thing can happen with the genders the other way around. It manifested itself somewhat differently, I think due to the difference between men and women’s biology and socialization.

    About 5-10 years into my marriage, I started having trouble performing in sex. At the time, I didn’t understand why, but my wife’s reaction was to get more insistent and then to get angry (getting angry and yelling is pretty much her catch-all response to anything she doesn’t like.) She started accusing me of failing in my marital duty. I had originally liked the fact that she was the one who usually initiated sex, but by then, it seemed like a burden.

    Eventually, for other reasons, I decided I could not remain in the marriage and after about two stressful years of negotiations, my lawyer said I could move out. It was not until I was actually out of that house (which felt like getting released from the Chateau D’If) and had time to get used to not having to deal with her all the time that I connected my inability to perform with the sense of oppression I felt (but didn’t realize I was feeling) in my marriage.

    I think my impotence was my subconscious (which has always been wiser than I am) recognizing that my wife was someone it was not (emotionally) safe to be around. I was eventually willing to admit that I didn’t feel safe with her, but not willing to admit that it was time to leave, or that it might have anything to do with my sexual problems. The fact that by then we had two young high-maintenance children didn’t make it any easier to consider leaving.

    If women are socialized to be compliant, I think men are socialized to believe they should be able to perform (sexually) on demand. But male biology doesn’t offer men the option of lying back and thinking of England.

    However, I was a bit like the LW’s GF in that I was in a relationship that I should have left but didn’t feel I could leave or even admit to myself I should leave.

  45. Hey LW. Here’s a thought game that might help clear some of the confusion up. Pretend you’re on a planet where nobody can talk. No words, not even anything as specific as sign language. If she had no words, how would your girlfriend consent to sex? How would you initiate sex? What does it seem like she is telling you non-verbally RIGHT NOW?

    Consent, true consent, is something that can be seen and felt, not just heard. It’s easier to think about when words can’t muddy the waters. If I pet my cat, how do I know she likes it? She purrs, relaxes, and reciprocates by leaning against me. How do I know she doesn’t like it? She stops purring, pulls away, lashes her tail. People have signals that are JUST as clear, but for some reason we ignore a flinching whimpering person when we’d never ignore that in a puppy.

    It’s easy to get caught up in the words people are using. I don’t know exactly how your conversations with GF go, but you’re confused about her words. Okay. But the reason you wrote this letter is because you are NOT confused about her body language, and her body is saying NO NO PLEASE NO. The problem is when you try to reconcile that with what’s in your head about how relationships should go or what you want or what she said in words (or you wished she said).

  46. At first I felt sorry for the LW, but the more I read it the more gross and icky feelings I get in my stomach.
    The LW’s contention here is that because his girlfriend hasn’t “explicitly” said no, he’s entitled to a yes, no matter how he tries to dress it up in pro-consent language (and actually, the use of that language to cloak incredibly not-okay behavior makes me feel even more sick). I mean, his GF has said she feels used and not attracted to him, and he’s still having sex with her? I don’t know whether to feel relieved that he felt badly enough about it to write to the Captain, or curl up in a ball and despair that our culture so thoroughly disregards women’s autonomy that bluntly stating that you feel used isn’t enough to get someone to stop trying to stick their dick in you.
    You could dissect this six ways to Sunday, but the LW needs to stop having sex with her when she doesn’t want it. Period. Right now, or preferably yesterday if that’s possible.

    1. Yes. This. I was feeling bad for him up until he said that she wouldn’t tell him “yes” and he was having sex with her anyway. How could anyone who reads CA, like, ever not recognize rape when he’s describing it? Committing it? The commentariat is being awfully polite to a self-confessed rapist, and I think part of it is no one wants to be mean to someone that can maybe be “fixed,” but… gross. Gross gross grosssss ew. I don’t even want to address the LW directly because I don’t have any advice other than “don’t rape anyone” which I think everyone else has already touched on.

  47. LW, I have some advice for you after you break up with this woman. Don’t get into another relationship until you’ve done a serious amount of work on yourself, don’t get into a relationship until you’ve accessed therapy, don’t get into another relationship until you are 100% positive that you would never, ever rape someone again. Yes “again”.

    This letter broke my heart for your girlfriend, because I’ve been her and please believe me that with 5 minutes of space and time away from my partner who acted like you – who could’ve written this letter, even – I realised he had been raping me. And it takes a lot of work for a victim to get over something like that – often, not all the time, as some people will of course handle the experiences differently – but you’re setting your girlfriend up for the potential of being in the world I live in now: massive difficulties around consent, panic around initiating sex even when I *know* I want to have sex, hours long conversations with subsequent partners trying to work out a way that I can enjoy my sex life without this panic being too frequent and that they can be assured that my consent is meaningful, nightmares, intrusive thoughts during sex of every disgusting instance where my ex boyfriend did something to me I hadn’t consented to, the horrible understanding that we’re in a society where most people I would think I just wasn’t assertive enough and so all the after-effects listed above are just silly.

    And the amazement I experience every time my partner says “look, I’m not entirely sure you’re into this so I can’t have sex with you right now.” It hurts so much to feel so relieved when someone just treats me like a human being. You’re setting your girlfriend up for the potential of having to deal with all these feelings, and I just don’t understand how someone can do that to another person.

    LW you absolutely cannot continue pretending you don’t know what to do here. To quote yourself:

    “has explicitly stated that she’s not physically attracted to me.” – Yet you keep having sex with her.

    “she never gives me a solid “yes”” – How many times have you had sex with her without a solid yes? Count them. That is how many times you have raped her. You already know she isn’t attracted to you, and then she doesn’t say yes to sex, and then you have sex with her anyway.

    “I never know if she wanted it or didn’t want it until sometimes hours or days or weeks afterward” – And count the amount of times you didn’t know if she wanted it, because that is the amount of times you’ve been cool with being a rapist. She may have not wanted it every single one of those times. Every single one of those times you thought “I don’t know if the person I’m about to have sex with wants to do it, but I’m going to go ahead anyway”

    “says that I’m using her body” – And so you you’ve been told, multiple times from the sound of it, that after these potential-assaults they were in fact viewed by her as things you did to her body that she did not want you to do. I’m sorry, you could maybe have the defense of being unsure the first time this happened (big stretch, IMO, anyway) but after she told you she felt like this, how the fuck did you have sex with her again when you knew it was a potential to be like this? When you knew how much it hurt her last time she did it?

    LW, you are smooth and make yourself sound pretty nice in your letter, but you know what your letter actually says “There is a person who doesn’t want to have sex with me. I have sex with them anyway. What magic words can I say to her that can make me feel like I’m not raping her?”

    Don’t date again until you are better than this. Get a therapist. If you tell your therapist about this and they say it wasn’t rape, get another one who does. And for the future, if you are ever about to have sex with someone or in the middle of sex with someone and you are not 100% sure if they want it, ask them immediately. If their answer is anything other than completely unambiguous enthusiasm, stop immediately. Because yeah, maybe they are happy with the current sex act and don’t want to stop, but you can’t know that until they say it clearly, and if you don’t know that for certain, continuing is despicable. Maybe you’ll be lucky and be in a situation where they did want to have sex. But you will not know, and that means you were happy to continue if they didn’t want to – even if you don’t end up raping someone in that circumstance because it turns out they did want to have sex with you, you prove yourself willing to be a rapist because you continued with the possibility that they didn’t.

    1. Gold star, A+, a thousand times YES. There are not enough words in the world for the agreement I feel towards this.

      I wish I could print this out and retroactively mail it to just… so many people. So many of them. My younger self included.

    2. Because yeah, maybe they are happy with the current sex act and don’t want to stop, but you can’t know that until they say it clearly, and if you don’t know that for certain, continuing is despicable. Maybe you’ll be lucky and be in a situation where they did want to have sex. But you will not know, and that means you were happy to continue if they didn’t want to – even if you don’t end up raping someone in that circumstance because it turns out they did want to have sex with you, you prove yourself willing to be a rapist because you continued with the possibility that they didn’t.

      *standing ovation*

    3. “It hurts so much to feel so relieved when someone just treats me like a human being.”

      This. A lot. What a weird feeling. *jedi hugs*

    4. This. Yes. It NEVER hurts to stop and check in, even in the middle of sex. If you stop and their response is anything less than ” No! I was using that penis! Come back!” then they really didn’t want that penis in them in the first place, and you’re not doing them any favors by putting it there. Yes, even if they *let* you put it there. There’s a lot of reasons women don’t feel comfortable saying no. Or don’t feel like they have enough control over their body that they get to say no.

      You don’t want to be the guy who puts it there when she doesn’t want it. You want to be the guy who’s actually paying enough attention to HER to see that something’s wrong, and who can table their own libido, unasked. That guy–that guy is amazing. I’m dating that guy right now, for the first time, and wow. I’m still dazzled every time he does it.

  48. A lot of people are mentioning that the GF is not only telling the LW she’s not attracted to him, but that she’s not attracted to men. Which sounds to me as if they’re saying “not being attracted to you is kind of a deal breaker, but not being attracted to your entire gender is REALLY a dealbreaker.”

    I’m guessing people are pointing that out because there are so many men out there who don’t believe women are actually lesbians and that if those women just had sex with them, they’d become straight. Which is totally bullshit, of course.

    But it’s important to remember that not being attracted to him, specifically, regardless of whether or not she’s attracted to other men, is a good enough reason to break up. She doesn’t have to have some universal reason that’s always applicable in any situation in order to have that be a dealbreaker in this particular situation.

    1. Amen! I know in my similar experience, I had thoughts of “Maybe I’m a lesbian” and “Maybe I don’t like men” because the sex I was having, with the man I was having it with (and that I’d lost my virginity to – so, the ONLY man by which I had to judge), was TERRIBLE and full of bad feelings. It was impossible to separate “Sex with this man is awful” from “Sex with all men might be/ must be/ will be awful.”

      I spent a long time wishing I could leave, get a girlfriend, and maybe have a chance of defining my own role in the relationship. The idea of being with a woman – who would understand me, and be gentle with me, and “get” me in a way a man couldn’t – was both really appealing and, I admit, highly over-romanticized. Lucky for me, I eventually realized that it’s possible to choose my relationship roles regardless of what gender my partner is – as long as my partner isn’t an asshole.

      Which is to say, I agree – what she eventually discovers in terms of her sexuality and how she defines it has no bearing on her need to be out of this specific particular relationship.

    2. Definitely true, but I think it’s important that when she says “I’m a lesbian” and he basically overrules that and continues their sexual relationship in a “but we’re still dating and therefore sex” way, he’s telling her that her understanding of her sexuality isn’t important or may as well not be real. Which is hitting the gaslighting square on the Bingo of their breakup.

  49. I really hope that the LW breaks up with her for both of their sakes. It doesn’t get much more unambiguous than her saying she is not sexually attracted to him, and he glossed right over that. “Yeah, she’s not sexually attracted to me, but I really want to make our sex life work!”
    LW, there is no work here. There is nothing to work here. This is not something about her you are going to fix. She is not going to want to have sex with you ever. She has clearly and repeatedly told you that she feels used and violated by you and you have consistently ignored that. By continuing to pursue your orgasms and smoothing over her lack of consent, you are actively harming both her and you. Get out and get into therapy.

  50. My read is that the LW is clearly focused on “getting to yes”, and not on truly understanding what his girlfriend is trying to tell him. His focus on obtaining “clear communication” from his girlfriend is obviously rules-lawyering and an attempt to turn his disappointment in her lack of interest in boning him into her issue to rectify.

    1. I absolutely concur. “Yes Means Yes” is possibly the worst-chosen pseudonym I’ve ever seen. The “yes means yes” model is that only clear, unambiguous, freely given consent is actually consent. ANYTHING ELSE is not a yes, and is not consent, and doing sexual stuff to someone without consent is rape. This letter, on the other hand, is practically the Platonic ideal of why “yes means yes” is necessary and “no means no” is an awful model.

  51. As an echo to what many commenters have said, and to the great advice in the answer, when I read this I wanted to zero in on an excellent detail in the answer:

    “*Anything* but…” — YES, that sentence. And in addition to that, in many unhealthy relationships (and it sounds like this one included, LW), “Okay!” is _not_ the same thing as “Okay…” or “…Okay” or even “Okay” and if, for any reason at all, you are uncertain that the response was not akin to “Okay!”, or unclear on the differences between these, then it isn’t an acceptable go-ahead. Because of coercion-this-has-been-covered-above.

  52. This isn’t so much a comment on LW’s relationship, since I feel like everyone else has been pretty much spot on with the advice and assessment his situation. This is more a reaction and/or addendum to the comments I’ve seen here. And I’m way late in the game and frankly a little nervous that THIS is going to be my first post here, but something has been bothering me for the entire thread, and I think someone else figured it out first:


    Pervocracy expresses my thoughts much better than I do, but the gist of it is that consent may be real, but not always enthusiastic. I have a long-term boyfriend who is wonderful and – take my word on this – very concerned about consent. And yet I still sometimes have sex when I’m just not that enthusiastic about it. This is because my libido tanks when I’m stressed, and his is pretty much constant. I don’t ever feel like “no” is not an option, and that is crucial. I just want, as Pervocracy put it, to make him happy (with the same acknowledgement that this has the potential to border on “being afraid to make him unhappy” in other contexts besides mine).

    My point is that the idea that “sex without enthusiastic consent is ALWAYS rape” bothers me, because it means that the person I love has been raping me repeatedly – and I don’t really get to define the situation otherwise, even though it’s my life we’re discussing. That lack of control over my interpretation of my own experiences is way more upsetting than the experience of having unenthusiastic sex.

    Now, I’m certainly not saying LW’s girlfriend (or anyone else who might have experienced a similar situation) doesn’t feel coerced or raped. She very well might. Or she might not, or she might not know, or she might not now but she’s reserved the right to change her mind at any time. But isn’t she the one who gets to decide that? I feel like it’s problematic if her boyfriend comes to her making huge assumptions about her feelings, because that seems dominating in entirely new and not-fun ways.

    None of this changes any of the advice above – LW’s girlfriend is saying no, he needs to stop having sex with her, he should probably break up with her, and he should get a really clear idea of what consent looks like. But I do wonder if relying on the enthusiastic consent model may not take into account certain interpersonal relationship subtleties, and if there might be a better one to offer as advice to people confused about consent. And I do feel like he’d have a better chance of making her feel like she has control over the situation by approaching her without making specific assumptions about her experiences. Based on his description, it seems to me that the whole “making assumptions about her thoughts and feelings” thing hasn’t been working so well for either of them.

    1. I’ve been waiting someone to link that post, because someone links it here every time the concept of enthusiastic consent comes up.

      I think the LW specifically should look for ENTHUSIASTIC consent, because I do not think he understands what “okay enough” consent is. He literally cannot tell whether his partner is into it.

      I think people who are newly in a relationship and just starting to have sex with each other should look for ENTHUSIASTIC consent.

      I think casual sex partners, one night stands, drunken hookups should look for ENTHUSIASTIC consent.

      I will continue to recommend the enthusiastic model on this blog. Not because I think everyone needs to be pressured to be like “GOD YES FUCK ME!” to have any sex, but because the model ISN’T ACTUALLY ABOUT THAT. It’s about both parties being active, willing participants who want to be there. It’s about the default being no sex, unless you’ve checked in with each other. It’s about changing the model that “sex is on the table until the other person says a good enough no” that this LW is specifically falling under. It’s about checking in with each other before, during, and after (something Cliff is big on). In fact, a lot of what Cliff says in that post falls under what “enthusiastic consent” is supposed to be. It’s about making sure that you didn’t “accidentally” rape someone by making assumptions that weren’t true, or treating “we’re having sex now!” as the default.

      I understand not liking the word, and I understand that sexual desire ebbs and flows in relationships. “Good enough” consent is for people who have an awesome track record with each other and who have negotiated something that works. This is not applicable to the LW’s situation. Like AT ALL. He THINKS he has “good enough” consent. I heartily disagree. The LW’s girlfriend can of course define that for herself, as can you, but she didn’t write in, nor did you.

      I realize that every time I recommend the enthusiastic consent model someone will link that post. Okay. Fine. It’s a good post! But there is a reason I say enthusiastic consent and don’t immediately undercut it, especially in this particular situation.

      By the way, this isn’t the opening of a discussion on that post or models of consent. This is the closing of a derail.

      1. oh hey look someone edited that post to be like “no, you may not use this argument for rape apologism, REALLY.”

        (Sorry if this is unwelcomely re-opening a closed thread, and feel free to delete. But I was a bit upset to hear that this had happened multiple times.)

        1. Thanks! It’s a good post! “I’m an asexual who is never turned on, so by asking people to use enthusiastic consent you are basically saying what I do with my partner is rape and that’s not right” has NOTHING to do with this discussion. Or the many discussions where that post gets linked. I don’t care if people sometimes have sex for other reasons than feeling horny at a given time and don’t wish to pressure people into feeling things they don’t feel, and I’m frankly tired of running across that assumption in these comment threads anytime the idea of enthusiastic consent comes up.

          “Good enough” consent is for advanced users, I think. I’m 100% happy teaching an enthusiastic consent model, especially in schools and to young people/people just starting out.

          1. I apologize is this was interpreted as a derail – I genuinely didn’t mean for it to be. One of the reasons I come to read the posts on this site is because I’ve experienced sexual assault, and working through ideas about consent and how it fits into a relationship post-assault is actually important to me on a non-advice level. I don’t actually disagree with any of the advice here, as I said, and I know that this is a side issue. And a part of my initial post that I actually deleted said that enthusiatic consent SHOULD be “consent for beginners.” But it’s difficult to find places to safely discuss issues of consent on a more general level, and I thought this point was salient to a more general discussion.

            My overall point was not meant to be a reflection on what the LW should do, and I explicitly said that his situation isn’t mine. It was more in response to some of the above comments. I just felt like after my assault, a lot of people were telling me how I should feel (including the guy himself), and that was pretty disempowering. While I think LW should consider what she might be feeling, it’s pretty awful to be TOLD how to feel when you might have conflicting or unclarified feelings about sex and consent and your own reaction to your situation – and that point might be relevant for the LW to consider.

            It’s really sickening to me that someone might have thought that I am a rape apologist, since nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps this wasn’t an appropriate forum for the discussion, and I really don’t want anyone to take this idea and use it to reject the idea of a soft no. I truly apologize if that’s how the post came across.

          2. Thanks for this apology. I don’t think you’re a rape apologist, I also don’t think this thread is for working through YOUR specific issues that are not like the LW’s issues, and I’m also tired of seeing people “correct” discussions of enthusiastic consent by linking to that post. Let’s let this be the end of it, shall we?

    2. The LW’s girlfriend feels angry and used, she has said no and been ignored, and she has said after the fact that she didn’t want to have the sex they had. I don’t think her situation is at all like yours.

  53. feels inappropriate to “like”. excellent advice. hope that LW can move on to a healthy relationship, and that GF can experience sex without coercion 😦

  54. I would *love* to know what’s going through the LW’s head right now! He’s probably saying “but I would never do that, I love her, yes means yes!”

    Bullshit. Your girlfriend has been saying no, but you’re pretty much choosing to ignore that because she’s not screaming for help or trying to attack you. “Tomorrow” doesn’t mean yes. And seriously, what kind of fantasy world are you living where “I think I’m gay,” and “I’m not attracted to you” DOESN’T mean no? I mean seriously.

    Rape is legally defined as having sexual intercourse with someone without their consent OR BEING RECKLESS AS TO WHETHER THEY ARE CONSENTING. If you do this, you are committing the act of rape. If you commit the act of rape, you are a rapist. If you do it many, many times YOU ARE A RAPIST.

    Tell me this: is your question “how do I find out?” or “how do I force her to say yes and continue to justify raping her?” Seriously if she went to a police station to lodge a complaint of rape against you, SHE WOULD POTENTIALLY HAVE A CASE.

    I say potentially because police officers, LIKE THE LW will probably try to use the “But you didn’t scream for help” argument.

  55. So, the LW breaks up with his girlfriend because everyone needs out and that’s the fastest and safest way for everyone involved.

    Now what does he do?

    I think at this point the LW could benefit from finding a professional to talk to about this incredibly toxic situation he’s made for himself. Because it might not be obvious that he could use it as much as she – for the trauma of realizing he’s been raping someone he loves, to understand how he could have done such a thing, and best of all, to make damn sure it never happens again. (Yes, everyone should know how not to rape, but holy hell if you’ve already failed at that getting professional help is pretty damn important.)

    Which makes me wonder, would a rape hotline be capable of pointing him at a useful professional? (I could see it going either way, that they’re there for the victims rather than the perpetrators, or that they also want to solve the problem at the source.)

    1. Come to think of it, it’s actually kind of amazing none of us has thought to mention that a 14-to-17-year-old legally does not have capacity to consent to sex. It varies by jurisdiction, but there’s a good chance that while they were on opposite sides of 18 he was committing statutory rape.

      1. They’re only two years apart in age, though, and most state laws account for small age differences that happen to fall on opposite sides of the 18-year-old line. Also, we don’t know whether the LW and his girlfriend live in the US or another country with a different age of consent.

        There are a lot of things wrong with this situation, but I don’t think the age difference is one of them.

        1. I know some jurisdictions’ laws do, but I’m not sure it’s “most.” The age is relevant mostly because there are reasons minors legally don’t have capacity to consent — more often than not they don’t have the maturity/savvy to know what they want or the confidence to advocate for it in the face of manipulation/pressure — that are relevant here. And yeah, this is a time frame in which 2 years can be a huge difference, in confidence and power dynamics. It just emphasizes how vulnerable the GF was.

          1. I know some jurisdictions’ laws do, but I’m not sure it’s “most.”

            If they don’t, honestly, I think they should. Two years can be a big difference in some cases–including, most likely, the LW’s–but I don’t think it is for most teens. When I was in high school, I dated a guy who was almost two years older than me, but in the same grade (I was at the young end of my grade, and he had skipped a year), and I was waaaay more mature than he was.

            We didn’t have sex, but if we had, there’s no way I would have considered it statutory rape. And I don’t think my experience is particularly unusual. As a teen, I knew plenty of relatively mature people who were a year or two younger than me, and plenty of relatively immature people who were a year or two older than me. Two years never felt like a big difference in terms of either friendship or dating.

            I agree that the LW’s girlfriend is in a vulnerable position, and in their case, age likely contributed to their imbalance of power. But in general, criminalizing sex between teens who are only two years apart REALLY doesn’t sit right with me.

          2. I wasn’t actually advocating anything, just pointing out that legally she probably would not be considered to have the capacity to consent, with good reason. I, too, have issues with prosecuting based solely on the basis of them straddling the age divide. At the same time, it’s not exactly a fluke that the older boyfriend here was pressing for and getting sex the younger girlfriend was saying she didn’t want.

            This whole area is so fraught with difficulty, because it is trying to legislate intimate personal decisions at ages where people mature physically and emotionally at widely divergent rates… So what unbiased observers might agree was cool and healthy between young couple X would be wrong and abusive between Couple Y and ages alone won’t clarify which is which.

            On the one hand, statutory rape laws protect young girls from the he-said-she-said who knows what really happened so no consequences for the rapist shrug, by taking away the guy’s ability to claim “she wanted it, she’s just changed her mind!”, because it’s like “she was 15, dude, doesn’t matter if she begged for it, she was off limits.”

            On the other hand, if the participants are emotionally peers it seems wrong (and sexist) to hold the male accountable as a rapist for stuff they did quite mutually. Which is why I thoroughly approved of changes some jurisdictions have made (really only in the last 20 years) that require a 3-year or greater divergence in ages. It’s still awfully imperfect, though.

          3. It looks like we’ve reached the end of the threading, but I just wanted to let you know I agree 100% with your comment about how the area of statutory rape laws is fraught with difficulty.

  56. Another thing I haven’t seen addressed yet, LW, is this line of your letter:

    “She gets angry with me during these times and says that I’m using her body, or that I expect sex too often, and then she’ll stop sleeping with me as a way to set me straight.”

    Immediately after saying this, you tell the Captain that you know your girlfriend is within her rights not to want sex. But it appears that when she stops having sex with you, you don’t interpret that as HER CHOICE that is merely ABOUT HER and what she wants. You persist in making her choices about YOU, saying that she’s not having sex with you in order to punish you or manipulate you. This might be one of the reasons she fears turning you down directly; because when she does, you interpret her actions as a punishment for you instead of a choice that makes her happier or more comfortable.

  57. Ok, I have been a sex educator with Teens off and on for years and this letter just wouldn’t let go of me last night. These poor kids staying together in such a messed up relationship..

    However, the real thing bugging me is the dumping of the some of the commenter’s baggage on this guy. Yes, the LW reeks of entitlement and lawyering of consent. Yes, he is, at least, sexually abusing his girlfriend. But he is not your 25 or 35 year old boyfriend who took advantage of you after his tenth relationship. The LW is a 20 year old with a long term relationship that is his first. He is smart enough to know that something is wrong and OBVIOUSLY has no one in his life that he can discuss this with if he is turning to a feminist blog on the Internet. I would be willing to bet that his entire sexual history has been with this poor girl and some porn.

    I live in a state with semi decent sex education in the schools and do you know what they teach? Basic biology, mechanics, contraceptives, and that No means No. One of the side effects of the whole NO means No theology is that if the girl doesn’t actually say no, then it can mean maybe. Any male who has consumed any media in his life is aware that all guys want sex more than a girl and it is their job to talk, or seduce the girl into sex. Yes, that is soooo Rape Culture, but have you talked to a male teenager? They are obsessed with sex and they are unable to pick up pretty much any non-verbal communication about anything!

    So here is my problem with some of these comments. Everyone is willing to give the girlfriend the benefit, that she is inexperienced and too willing to be polite to be direct. However, the guy is probably just as inexperienced and probably less able to discuss his relationship issues with others as it would be dismissed as “he is just too sensitive”. Yes, he should have picked up on the “I may be a lesbian” (HUGE HINT) but people learn how to be a good partner by being a partner. This guy could be beginning Nice Guy / Coercive Rapist… or he could be a confused, clueless boy who keeps trying but doesn’t have the script or skills to figure out that he is destroying their relationship and this girl.

    For me the best comment for the LW is from @pfcmarie who explains what is going on, gives him a sympathetic solution, and still makes it clear that his behavior needs to stop immediately. I know that I may sound justifying, I am not. I just know a lot of teen boys in similar situations and know how absolutely clueless they are. I actually have had several boys ask me what to do when a girl starts crying during sex (WTF!!!). If our goal is to stop the rapists then when one asks for help, let’s give him some help.

    And seriously, LW, break up with your girlfriend and find someone who wants to have sex with you and seduces you.

    1. I don’t know if mine is one of the comments you’re talking about, but when it started we were 18 and it was his first real relationship. And I believe he was a basically decent person who had internalized all those horrible myths. Seems like my baggage is pretty relevant? Anyway…

      This guy could be beginning Nice Guy / Coercive Rapist… or he could be a confused, clueless boy who keeps trying but doesn’t have the script or skills to figure out that he is destroying their relationship and this girl.

      This is a really dangerous and false dichotomy.

      Offer him all the kindness and sympathy you want, but I don’t think any of the commenters who were blunt and used the r-word did anything wrong.

    2. no. 20-year-olds with no prior relationship experience can still be sexual abusers. just because he isn’t as bad as the other boys you counsel doesn’t mean he’s a clueless sweetheart that just needs to be patted on the head. the girlfriend shouldn’t have to pay in trauma for his learning what consent means.

    3. Does it suck that a lot of boys/men who would really rather not be rapists become such through miseducation? Yes, and thank you for working to change that.

      However, that’s no excuse for raping anyone, and certainly no excuse for crying about the poor menz (boyz) who are raping their girlfriends. Particularly given the large number of boys/men who have never raped anyone, not even in their first sexual relationships. I assure you, many of them also received those horrible messages, yet somehow they figured out how not to rape anyone. It’s not magic, it’s called “having some Goddamn respect for your SO(s) because they’re human beings just like you”.

    4. “They are obsessed with sex and they are unable to pick up pretty much any non-verbal communication about anything!”

      Wrong. There have been studies to show that people are damned good at picking up nonverbal cues and that this is not an excuse. They know what it means but they conveniently choose to ignore it.

    5. As one of the people in the world with “baggage,” fuck you for telling me it makes me less informed instead of more. I get enough of that from abusers, I don’t need it from “allies,” too. That might sound harsh, but considering you decided to single out my advice as the best, I want to make damn sure you know I’m not on your side here. Telling survivors they’re too mean and too loud and too insensitive to abusers is just garden variety regular victim-blaming dressed up like reform. Don’t associate my name with it, that is everything I am against.

      I firmly believe in working with offenders to get to the source of the suffering in the world — it’s my actual living, doing this. I get that these are real, multi-faceted people, the abusers and rapists, with joys and love and care and hopes and dreams and honest-to-god misunderstandings. And sometimes helping them requires sympathy and a soft touch that is very hard to give to abusers, and I don’t blame anybody for being unable to do that. I especially don’t blame people who have actually *been* abused who can’t find it in their hearts to give the abusers cookies.

      This kid didn’t come to a treatment facility to talk to professionals — he came to the internet, he came to a public forum, so he gets to hear from survivors who give no fucks about his feelings as well as from people who are able and willing to do the squeamish work of talking a rapist through his sadness. Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere else he could go to get the kind of professional, empathetic care somebody who cares about working with offenders could give him. He also probably doesn’t have anywhere else he could go to hear about what rape does to women — I can fucking bet you no woman he knows will make themselves vulnerable enough to tell him these things, the way he acts. Both these things are crucial, and neither is more important, worthwhile, or necessary than the other.

      To get better, to stop offending, offenders need somebody who will care about them and work with them and meet them where they are, because all humans who want to get better need that. I get that. I’m willing to be somebody who does that. But he also needs to know just what the fuck he’s done, the severity of it, the horror of it, the unbelievable damage. I have no faith in a reformed rapist who doesn’t understand, cannot bear to hear, how horrible rape is. Providing care without consequences only makes better adjusted abusers, not ex-abusers.

      These commenters are fulfilling an important half of the healing process here, theirs and his, and I say again to you, LW, with love in my heart: listen to even the angriest, scariest, and meanest of them. This is what you will leave in your wake, the rest of your life, if you don’t stop now: more baggage that is told to quiet down every time an abuser speaks up.

    6. Also, your comments about teenage boys not being able to pick up on non-verbal stuff? Provably false. Commenters have left some links upthread to studies that have teased this effect out, and if you’re educating teens about this and still giving boys the excuse of “not knowing,” I really think you need to read those links.

      1. Seriously. Also, teenage boys are not a monolith, any more than teenage girls are. Some are great at picking up non-verbal stuff, some aren’t, and some are in between. Because, you know, teenage boys are people. They’re not some special species that’s incapable of understanding how not to hurt other people.

    7. Everyone is willing to give the girlfriend the benefit, that she is inexperienced and too willing to be polite to be direct. However, the guy is probably just as inexperienced and probably less able to discuss his relationship issues with others as it would be dismissed as “he is just too sensitive”.

      In addition to all the wonderful things other commenters have said in reply, I’d like to point out that we’re all giving the girlfriend the benefit of the doubt because SHE’S NOT RAPING ANYONE.

    8. See, the thing is, LW may not be a horrific monster. In fact, he probably isn’t. Most abusers aren’t, at least in my experience. The guy who fucked me up in high school wasn’t a much older adult who was knowingly and maliciously abusing me for his own entertainment; he was a stupid, scared kid with no support system. He had abusive parents. He didn’t know how to deal with rejection. He thought I was the only person in the whole world who would ever love him and he couldn’t stand to lose me. I know that now, and I knew it then; that’s a big part of the reason it took me two years to break up with him.

      That doesn’t make what he did to me okay, though. And it sure as shit doesn’t mean the damage he did wasn’t real. The fact that he was lashing out in his own pain and immaturity doesn’t magically negate the fact that I still get panicked over certain sexual acts, or that I’m deeply wary of emotional intimacy, or that the smell of the cologne he used to wear makes me nauseous. He hurt me very, very badly, and I’m quite sure he didn’t ‘mean to.’

      I recently saw a post–I actually think it was linked from this blog–about the cultural idea of ‘manpain’ and how we have this pervasive habit of focusing on the man in any given emotional equation, on his feelings and his pain and the reasons he is the way he is and how his actions have arisen out of all of this. And we do this to such a degree, we get such a tight focus on his humanity, that we kind of elide the humanity of anyone he might have hurt in the process of expressing his pain/confusion/immaturity.

      LW might genuinely not have realized that he was doing harm. He might be reading this post, and these replies, with a sick feeling of mounting horror. In fact, I hope he is, because that might just mean that he has the basic empathy to understand that what he has been doing is inexcusable, damaging, and wrong, and to never do it again.

      1. Okay, thank you for this, because it really solidified what was pissing me off here. I started dating my abuser when we were very young teenagers. He came from a semi-abusive but mostly just emotionally problematic family, and didn’t have a very good understanding of boundaries or good, happy relationships, anymore than I did. When he started abusing me, it was the clumsy fumblings of a kid who was trying to act like a man and was desperately afraid of losing what he felt like he deserved or needed. I really don’t think, at that age, he understood that what he was doing was horrible, that it was hurting me, that it was ruining us, or that it was turning him into an awful monster of a man.

        But the years went on and for fuck’s sake, he knew by the end. His abuse was honed and perfected, and nothing was good enough until he got me crying and terrified and miserably shut down, staring at the wall, paralyzed with sadness. I educated him, praised him, helped him, held his hand, talked him through it, treated him with kindness and empathy and caring and the benefit of the doubt for every moment of that, even when he was raping me, because he just didn’t understand, obviously, he hadn’t learned, he didn’t mean it.

        I’ve often wondered if, back when he was too young to understand what he was fully doing, some harsh words from somebody he respected would’ve sobered him up. But the fact is, he was surrounded by people who were tripping over themselves to make excuses, people who told him he just didn’t understand and he was too young and inexperienced and maybe if we just explain it one more time, nicely and in the right voice, he’d get it. Which, for serious, do you think rapey teenage boys aren’t surrounded 99% of the time with people explaining things nicely to them, giving them the benefit of the doubt, assuming they’re just too dumb to get it? If 1% of the time they get a survivor screaming “YOU ARE A RAPIST” at them, that’s not a malfunction, it’s a fucking opportunity to get something nobody else is giving them.

        This kind of “they’re just young, they don’t understand, don’t be so mean or judgmental” crap is not only a disservice to survivors, it’s a disservice to the offenders. They need to stop this shit before it’s too big to stop, before they’re in too deep, and they’ve alienated themselves from anybody who cares enough to be honest with them about how awful they are. Fucking up has consequences, sometimes enormous ones, sometimes “you have been screamed at on the internet” consequences. If you take away the consequences, you take away any reason to change, or even acknowledgment that there’s something worth changing. This kid wanted a feminist perspective, and he got one. If he wanted rape apologism, he could’ve asked literally anybody else he knows.

        If we think kids are old enough to drive, old enough to choose a college or career, old enough to sign a lease, old enough to vote, why the fuck aren’t they old enough to hear “if you rape your girlfriend, she will be unbelievably hurt and traumatized, and women will be disgusted with, enraged at, and terrified of you.”

        1. *standing ovation*

          You have an amazing way of saying exactly what I want to say, except in a really eloquent, powerful way. I had a similar experience in my mid to late teens with a slightly older guy and you and aebhel just summed up the atmosphere perfectly.

        2. YES. yes yes yes thank you. One of my favorite things about CA (I’m a long time reader but new commenter) is that her advice reminds me that, if someone is hurting you, it doesn’t matter WHY they’re hurting you. Regardless of the reason, they should still FUCKING STOP.

          I’m another of those people with “baggage” and anger – and I hate the very term “baggage,” as though my anger and feeling weigh me down. In fact, it was my anger that freed me, because it was the thing that finally taught me to enforce my boundaries.

          Also, my past is super relevant too. My abusers and I were young, and I too was questioning my sexuality. So no, I’m not going to be super sympathetic.

          1. If you’re standing on my foot, you need to get off my foot.

            If you came for a country where you stand on peoples’ feet as greeting, you still need to GET THE FUCK OFF MY FOOT.

            He’s been told “stop being an evil rapist who rapes,” and I’m sure his feelings are hurt. BUT HE STILL NEEDS TO STOP BEING A RAPIST WHO RAPES.

      2. I’m right there with you, aebhel. All of my sexual relationships (but not the couple of casual hook-ups) were traumatic, starting when I was 18 and culminating in 7 years with my abusive ex until I broke up with him at the age of 35. They damaged me profoundly in different ways. And you know what was a key contributor to it? My concern for the poor, clueless, inexperienced, young, hurt man in the equation. His feelings. My worry of being a cock-tease when I was reluctant to become sexually intimate. His self-image. I made excuses for them. I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I took care of their needs and denied that I had any of my own. I was sexually compliant and often disengaged even when performing sex. I was terrified of emotional intimacy and afraid to explore my own sexuality.

        [warning: way TMI on date-rapey sex]
        My first sexual relationship was in college. I said yes to becoming the SO of the first person who ever expressed any interest in me. I explained to him that not only was I a virgin, I was completely inexperienced, having only been kissed once (against my will, I might add). After a couple of months of pressure, believing that I was supposed to be interested in sex at the age of 18, and worried about the whole cock-tease thing, I finally didn’t say no and passively experienced PIV. It hurt like hell because I wasn’t aroused at all, and I bled all over the place. And he dumped me the next day with no discussion. We were part of the same social group, so I did my best to pretend everything was fine for the next 2 years.

        At the time, I told myself that he didn’t know how to deal with my pain, so he took the easy way out. He was just ignorant and in over his head. Yadda, yadda. The next person I was involved with thought I was a virgin, and I explained the circumstances around my first experience. “That must have hurt,” he commented. “Yes, I guess it must have,” I replied, still unable to acknowledge the pain as mine, and I could not talk about it. It took a decade to really be able to start putting it in words.

        Eventually, I stopped making excuses for that guy. He wasn’t just some confused and inexperienced teenager. He was an asshole. What he did was wrong. He knew he’d done me wrong. How do I know? During the next 20 years, when visiting college buddies, every now and then someone would ask me what was the story about me and him, because whenever my name came up in conversation he would act real strange. Obviously, something was up, and they wanted to understand his unexpected reaction.

        Deal with it now. Get it out in the open. Acknowledge the harm and the pain. Accept the consequences. Become a better person. Asking questions is the first step, so congratulations for stepping up on your own, LW. Even if the answers aren’t what you wanted to hear, they are what you need to hear.

    9. As a fellow sex educator of teens: fuck you.

      “They are obsessed with sex and they are unable to pick up pretty much any non-verbal communication about anything! ”

      Stop working with teens. Right. Fucking. Now. This attitude does NOT make anything better, it makes things worse. You are excusing the LW’s actions as “it sucks but… boys will be boys lololol!” What about the MAJORITY of boys (and men) — the ones who DON’T rape? If MOST people can get it right, that makes it pretty obvious that the ones who don’t aren’t poor babies who need hugs and a pat on the head and “it’s okay, you didn’t mean to”. They need to be taught FIRMLY and IMMEDIATELY that what they’re doing is completely unacceptable.

      Also, everything that everyone else already said to you. Times a hundred bajillion.

      1. You took the words right out of my mouth.

        If my partner swings his fist in his sleep and bloodies my nose, I’m not magically unhit because he didn’t mean to do it or didn’t know he was doing it. And really? This guy knows on some level that she doesn’t want to have sex. He’s complaining that he’s not getting an enthusiastic yes. Well, THERE’S YOUR ANSWER BOYO.

        For fuck’s sake. This shaming bullshit has been used to silence and erase survivors. It is NOT okay.

      2. Seriously. Women are not rape training wheels.

        This is essentially saying that an awkward, horny teenager getting his feelings hurt is worse than a girl getting raped. Apparently we need to start stockpiling young boy tears, they are obviously the most valuable commodity in the world.

      3. No shit. The idea of someone who works with teens sending this sort of “it’s OK, sweetie, you couldn’t help raping that girl, because your penis makes you bad at reading social cues” nonsense sends chills down my spine.

        OP – I don’t want you ever giving a young man advice about sex again, because you’re actively teaching them the bells and whistles of rape culture. You are training them to believe that if they rape someone it isn’t their fault. Stop it, right now.

      4. I’m really confused where the whole attitude of ‘gotta explain it to him nicely so you won’t hurt his feelings’ comes from. (Er, actually, I’m not, but bear with me.) Think of other stuff a young man could be doing, at least partially out of ignorance, that’s doing damage and going to turn him into a monster. Abusing alcohol, experimenting with hard drugs, and starting a career in crime come to mind. In which case the answer isn’t “poor thing probably has a hard time understanding”, it’s “FUCKING STOP THAT NOW, and here’s why”. And those examples don’t even necessarily involve traumatizing ANOTHER EQUALLY IMPORTANT HUMAN BEING WHO IS ACTUALLY THE INNOCENT ONE HERE.

        So yeah. Fuck the “but we’ve got to be nice to him” idea. It doesn’t work on any level other than really, really ugly ones that I don’t want to type out right now.

        1. It’s kind of amazing how obvious it becomes if you substitute…really any crime at all for rape, here. If a young man was robbing convenience stores, we wouldn’t go, “Well, as an adolescent he has an underdeveloped ethical code and lacks self-control, and also he probably doesn’t have his own disposable income, which must be really tough for him, I think we need to come at this from a place of understanding.” We’d say that he needs to knock that shit off, maybe pay back what he stole, maybe spend some time in jail or doing community service.

          We wouldn’t start those conversations with all these disclaimers about how he’s not REALLY a bad person, he just made a teensy-weensy little mistake. Because we understand implicitly that stealing shit is wrong, and we believe that he ought to understand that as well. The problem here is that we (as a society, anyway) don’t seem to have that same implicit understanding when it comes to abusing and raping young women.

          1. Well, and we’d be saying that out of a place of concern for the kid! I mean, if you are among the folk here who have any degree of sympathy for LW (and I do, while recognizing that not everybody should or needs to, and also recognizing that he doesn’t really necessarily deserve it), our advice is coming out of that concern as well. Like, if your nephew was a robber, you’d be all, “Hey, man, if you keep knocking over convenience stores, you are going to experience some super scary consequences that will ruin you.” You wouldn’t give a damn if yelling at him about it hurt his feelings, because what could happen if he doesn’t stop is worse.

            But, realistically, not much is going to happen to rapists, so I guess we don’t have to yell at them out of fear of the consequences they’ll experience if they don’t stop. Instead, we have to get them to care about the consequences to people who aren’t them if they don’t stop, and shocker! Appealing to the empathy of people who violate other people out of a lack of empathy is a bit of a losing game from the start. Really, the only consequence most rapists are likely to experience is social censure, and we’re supposed to find a way to make that less consequence-y?

            Only in the rape logic garden can removing all accountability, anger, resistance, and negative consequences result in less rape. Again, that is the poison rapists drink, and it tastes just fine to them. It’s a fucking mystery why we keep crankily spitting it out.

    10. Everyone else has said so much more eloquently what I want to and would say if I weren’t seething with rage at your comment. Instead I’m just going to add a fuck you as well. (From an aspiring teen sex educator)

    11. Well, gosh, why would anyone give the benefit of the doubt to a rape victim and not assume that she’s responsible for the fact that she’s being raped and not then extend the same sympathy to the person who’s raping her? Truly it is one of life’s great mysteries. It must mean that we’re all big sexist meanies.

      Do you hear yourself? Because you sound ridiculous.

  58. I have a long reply lined up to the LW that I’m a bit hesitant to post, but for now I just want to thank the whole Awkward Army for their replies and discussions on this subject. This couldn’t have been more timely and to the point for me. While I’m twice the LW’s girlfriend’s age, this story is still eerily recognizable at present and I haven’t stopped thinking about some of the insights you’ve all given me in the past 48 hours or so.

    Thanks. Honestly.

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