Choosing Me: What I learned from my year-long, sexless relationship
A little over a month ago, I broke up with my boyfriend of one year. The reason? SO MANY. But mainly because, well, we weren’t having sex. To put it into more poetic words- we were having intimacy issues. DEEP intimacy issues.
From the outside, we seemed happy. We’re both attractive. We both have our shit together- respectively, because we’re still in our 20’s. We were doing long distance for about 9 months of our relationship which is not very conducive to MORE sex but we would visit each other and vacation together every 2 months or so. We both have our stories and our challenges with sex and sexuality but I thought that we could work it out together.
In the beginning I thought I was lucky. Last summer, I’d found a guy- unexpectedly- who didn’t want sex from me...jackpot! After years of fuckboy binges curtailed by COMPLETE celibacy, I was ready for neutral territory. And someone who screamed boyfriend material without come-ons was just that- sexually neutral.
So I found a guy I’d label as ‘safe’. No shame in that. I remember after our first date thinking, “I don’t know if this guy wants to date me (because I couldn’t read him at all- now a red flag, I know) but I know that he should be in my life. He’s a really good person”. And please, don’t let the fact that this person has a comparatively abysmal sex drive to me be a pitfall in the picture I’m about to paint. They really are a good person and will make someone (a less sexual someone) very happy someday.
After 2 weeks of dating I invited this person to one of my Burlesque shows. A ‘test’, if you will, to weed out the people who think they know what they’re signing up for with dating me. I am sexy, sex-positive, queer woman and I love shaking my slightly covered boobs at people ie being a Burlesque Performer. This clears the herd real quick when it comes to potential relationships.
Flings past have shown me their true colors when invited to Burlesque shows by either not showing up or coming and being very awkward or *expectant*. To my surprise he was neither a flake or a freak! He came with a friend and he showed up WITH A DOZEN ROSES. I was smitten.
Fast forward a few weeks later. We kept dating aimlessly, as one does for the first 1-3 months. He met my friends and I his. He met my family and we even went to a friends wedding out of town together in our 2nd month. Even during an overnight I was curious as to why he never ‘wanted’ sex from me or even made a pass. I can read sexual energy like a billboard- this guy was void of it. But, of course, I brushed this off as a ‘new type’ of respectable man that I just wasn’t used to yet.
But then the intimacy disconnect kept growing more apparent. Anytime we’d kiss it felt a bit distant. It was sweet but there was no passion behind it (another red flag- I know). Okay, in hindsight this retelling is full of red flags. Years of terrible dating will throw off your perception of what qualifies as building a good relationship.
We hadn’t so much as made out when he casually called me his ‘girlfriend’ one day. I pushed the lack of intimacy aside and figured we’d get to it eventually.
Then he had to leave Texas for his job a week after the ‘girlfriend’ incident. We talked and figured that we cared enough about each other to try and keep a good thing going. We were both falling for each other and it seemed like the universe was unjustly trying to test us. Now I realize we should’ve just left it there. We got deeper into this relationship with the distance added and still no sex… even with bi-monthly visits... at 5 months of dating. I mean...
We did talk quite a bit about the lack of sex. Long-distance phone conversations aren’t ideal to have deep dive chats about your sexual history and what you want a partner to do in bed. But such are the trappings of long-distance relationships. This put even more undue pressure on us both, prematurely, given the circumstances. So here’s the best that I could manage after practically pulling this out of him (an emotionally laborious task I got all too familiar with since he, and I quote, “[didn’t] like emotional stuff”):
He had one previous long-distance relationship that ended in the sex not being part of the equation. Common theme much? I was shocked to learn that he’d had more partners than me. I thought, “Why the hell is he acting like a VIRGIN then?” (not that virgins can’t be sensual or don’t want sex).
But this was beyond me. Poking and prodding and asking “ why”, because it’s in my Cancerian nature to get to the bottom of things, only made him distance himself further. Which made me self-conscious and hurt.
Maybe it’s because he knows I’m so open with sex and he didn’t want to be part of that. To which I rebut- do you even KNOW ME?!? I’m a sexy ass BURLESQUE performer who gets (partially) naked for strangers all over the world and hosts women’s sensuality classes - COME THE FUCK ON! I NEVER, not once, tried to hide any of that. If you know that about me, why would you take on the, let’s say, sensually laborious task of dating me?!? I digress.
Point is, I was always upfront about who I was and what I wanted or needed from a partner (sex, sensaul touch, physical proximity, emotional intimacy) was made extremely clear. I always communicated what I desired by verbalizing “I want to have sex”. And it was always open for discussion. But when I tried to bring up the lack of sex or communication about the lack of sex, I was always met with a long sigh to the effect of, ‘Ugh- not this again... it’ll happen when it happens’. Or ‘Yeah I agree… we need to do that’ with no action.
I wasn’t asking for a proposal, I was asking my boyfriend to fuck me.
And there’s the problem.
I had to ASK. I HAD TO ASK MY BOYFRIEND to have sex. Who wants to ASK their partner for sex? Also, it’s ME. This is not to emphasize gender roles. But if you have to ASK your partner for sex because the lines of communication are so wrought and the body language so off that you can’t tell when they want it (all while being a young, fit, able, attractive couple) something is very wrong.
The inability to have sex or not wanting sex is fine. What is NOT fine is being unwilling to do the work necessary to meet your partner where they are and compensate somehow. I was more than willing to douse my own sexual fire for months on end. Then I would see him bi-monthly and I thought, okay THIS TIME maybe he’ll ravish me. This time he’ll surprise me with a romantic or sensual gesture. This time he’ll try to get physical.
And it never fucking happened. Which just made me incredibly sad.
There was one vacation we took where he was feeling himself, I suppose, and we had amazing sex. Once. That was 6 months into the relationship and never happened again.
For the remainder of the relationship, I convinced myself that maybe we could get back to that moment. Maybe we could recreate those circumstances where he felt really comfortable with me. Not so. That trip started a slow descent into even less sexual advances from him in months to come. No physical touch beyond holding hands. No kisses that led into more passionate expression. Not even so much as a booty grab. Nothing.
OVER A WHOLE ENTIRE YEAR, we slept together a handful of times. This is not enough. We tried. Oh how we tried. But the energy was always ALWAYS in ALL OF THE WAYS off. It’s like we became two separate people in bed- I was (and still am) empowered and confident in bed. He seemed to be a shell who couldn’t verbalize what he wanted or needed from me. He shrunk away while I find myself really in my element there.
I’ve mulled it over so many times in my head to think, “What could you have done differently to please him?” The answer is always the same- nothing. Not a damn thing.
I won’t continue to blame myself for someone else’s sexual insecurities.
The last straw was when I went for a final visit out of state. We had one full day together and had gotten back from a road trip. The same day, I might add, that he ‘ Planned to have alone time’. But as soon as I initiated HIS PLAN , I was shot down. We were getting cuddly in bed so I took that as a good sign. I asked him straight up, “Are we going to have sex?”, because y’know, honest communication. He froze up seeming disgusted and turned off, “Uhhh, I mean when you put it like that…” he trailed off, disinterested. This ended up being a small fight because I’d had it with the nonverbal bullshit. Just tell me what you do or don’t want, person I’ve been dating for an entire year of my life.
“I just think you’re not a very sexual person and I’m a HIGHLY sexual person” I said, to which he replied, “Yep. I think you hit the nail on the head.” unconcerned. Then he rolled over and went to sleep. No emotion. No explanation. No nothing.
I‘d been sexually rejected in my own ‘relationship’ for the last time. I would’ve fallen asleep too but I was absolutely fuming with how off-hand and inconsiderate the comment was and ended up crying myself to sleep as I thought about all the reasons not to walk out then & there.
He was just not willing to admit that sex and desire were completely conditional for him. No relationship will survive under that kind of pressure.
I’m a woman who’s worked very hard in many hours of therapy and multiple disciplines of healers FOR YEARS to unearth, shatter, then reconstruct my own sexuality and how I choose to express it. This is why I’m shameless when it comes to sex and sensual expression. It’s because I’ve made compromises in the past for others’ pleasure that have put my body, mental health, and general wellbeing in danger. I am unwilling to compromise. Or so I thought, until challenged by someone who I thought fully loved me.
I’ve fought tooth and nail to be confident in my body and say what I want. That voice isn’t grown overnight.
To have it be overshadowed by the insecurities of someone who I thought cared deeply for me, is fucking terrifying. I wanted a devoted boyfriend and I got it, I guess. But devoted doesn’t have to mean void of sexuality.
Maybe he tricked himself into believing he could handle me.
Maybe he loved me as a friend and the physical portion was just too much. Maybe he’s got some truly deep insecurities that he should work on personally to be able to share with any intimate partner fully (definitely, not maybe) . Or maybe he’s just A-sexual. I could go on, but I'm sick of wracking my brain over this. But whatever the reason behind their behavior (which ended up hurting me directly & indirectly), it’s not my job to ‘fix’ this person. Which is a lesson life keeps reiterating for me.
I have to say, to have such a gift as a woman who’s THIS willing work through and assist with any intimacy issue is a rare find. He just didn’t see that there was any change needed.
In discussing this with friends they say things like, “What?!? You weren’t having SEX? And you were long distance?? You should’ve been fucking as soon as you saw each other!” Agreed. Thank you for validating what’s been skewed by months of sexual meandering.
Or, “ I have sex the first date and if it’s not good, BYE! I would’ve NEVER put up with that” Fair.
But I was clinging to the things that did match. I wanted all the other parts of him. I wanted the person I’d find refuge with at the end of the day on a FaceTime call. I wanted the guy who would run me a bath and give me wine in a chilled glass because he knows that’s how I self-care. I wanted the person who saw me struggling financially and gave me help. I wanted to make it work because he’s a good fucking person. But a good person is only worth so much if they don’t truly and deeply desire you- and show it.
This man did not desire me, was not honest with himself about it, and so I had to pry it out of him. Gross.
Frankly, after struggling to find someone worth a second look for so long, I was willing to hold onto the ‘good guy’ at any cost. Even if that meant letting the sexual piece of my soul fucking rot.
I’d become a shell of myself. I got really depressed and took it out on my body. I stopped working out for months and began spiraling into anxiety fueled sickness. The lack of intimacy made me feel less desirable in general. I had the relationship but where was the emotion? The passion? The chase? The FEELING?
In my Sexologist Training we discussed what we thought vulnerability was. I immediately responded with my definition of ‘seeing and being seen’. The fact that THIS is how I view vulnerability whilst being in a relationship completely void of it makes this even more infuriating.
I’m a highly intuitive person. I know when people want me around and walk away when they don’t. I will leave any situation swiftly if I feel like it’s uncomfortable or not worth my time. That’s why I was so thrown off by where we were after months of dating.
Months of me laying in bed, stale after recoiled cuddles. Months of exchanging pecks in passing but the moment I try to do so in public him shutting down and saying things like. “I don’t like PDA”. Months of me second guessing myself. Months of me trying EVERY GODDAMN TRICK in the book; lingerie, over-communication, no communication, letting him come to me (which NEVER HAPPENED), verbalizing ‘I want sex’- only to be met with an UNENTHUSIASTIC effort or something along the lines of, “Not tonight, babe. I’m [insert excuse here]”. Sorry, but I don’t want non-consensual sex.
I want nothing but enthusiasm with my partners. And I’m not weird or oversexed in asking for that- I was just made to think so because of a shitty partner.
Our last talk - the ‘break-up’ talk- boiled down to him basically saying that our relationship was pointless unless I moved to be with him. I suppose he’d given up months prior and we were in a stalemate because he thought that physical presence = good sex. To which I essentially replied, NOPE.
Being that he travels for work, I didn’t quite see the sense in me uprooting myself to join my SEXLESS boyfriend out of state. To me, if the intimacy piece wasn’t ever there, it wouldn’t appear magically upon cohabitation. Distance skews things, but not FACTS. Fact is, I consider sex & intimacy integral to a relationship. His thoughts about sex were as follows; and I quote, “I can take [sex] or leave it.” (HUH?!?) Sexual apathy has no place in my relationships.
In short, he completely agreed that he ‘wasn’t giving me what I needed’ and agreed that we should call it quits. Have you ever broken up with someone you deeply love (who’s fucking up royally) and their reaction is ’meh’? I have. It sucks.
Even further indication that he was an emotionally inept person.
After a year of putting my sexuality and sensuality on ice, I feel drained. You can’t table sexuality. It has to be present in some form and must be honored. Especially in partnership. My partner’s sexual insecurities became my own and they manifested wholly for a full 12 months. DAMN THIS EMPATHIC NATURE OF MINE!
I wish I could snap my fingers to get my mojo back. So here I am trying to piece my sense of self back together, because WHAT WAS THAT ENTIRE YEAR, EVEN?!?! I’ll be fine. I’ve dealt with worse. And I’m still killing my Burlesque game- even in heartbreak, I must say. GO ME.
I’m happy that I ended up choosing me, even though it took some time to listen to myself. And I will continue to do that as I engage in a sensual detox from this person and the shame they inadvertently left inside of me.
Since I’m a fan of lists (and TL;DR culture) here are my takeaways from a sexless, year long, long-distance relationship that should’ve never happened.
You can’t CONJURE sexual compatibility. Period.
Pay attention to your gut from the very beginning. If someone can’t handle you, in any way you need to be handled, move on.
Investing in the idea of someone changing with no action on their part is tell-tale sign of fuckin’ up.
If you can’t talk about it, you can’t fix it.
When someone says, “I don’t like when people cry”... while YOU are crying… maybe they have intimacy & vulnerability issues. The kind of issues that are too deep for ALL the good-hearted woo-woo healer awesome girlfriend energy in the world to fix. #breakupwithhim
Life’s too short to have a relationship where something innate, like DESIRE, must be fought for.
And finally, a note I wrote to myself during a crying spell: “Girrrl there are TONS of good, cute people with jobs willing to bang you RIGHT NOW. This is just a year-long lesson. The point? DON’T FUCKING SETTLE.”