I secretly hate sex and now fear I will lose my girlfriend

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The question I’m a guy in my mid-20s who also happens to be asexual. And no, I am not gay. I just can’t feel much, physically. I don’t see it as a problem, but people jump to conclusions online. No one other than me knows. I am in a relationship with this lovely girl and we have only been physically intimate occasionally (once or twice a month – been with her for four months), but it’s OK because she doesn’t have an insatiable need. But she doesn’t know the real me and I feel like I want to be honest with her. And I’m afraid she might leave me because she once said that sex solves all issues in a relationship – I disagree.

To me, sex is repulsive. I hate it. I also have problems with my erection, because I just don’t feel anything. She thinks it’s erectile dysfunction. I don’t want to lose her. I wish I could just be with asexual people, but that scene is pretty abysmal.

I want to have honest love, I am romantic, I love hugging, kissing, cuddling, snuggling, you name it, just not sex. And I’m so depressed that I can’t be myself. I want to love someone who loves me equally. Love is love, love isn’t sex and sex isn’t love. Should I tell her or should I hide this awful secret and bury it along with my decomposing body 6ft under in about 60 years’ time?

Philippa’s answer I felt concerned when I read: “I’m so depressed that I can’t be myself.” Being yourself with others is important if you are not going to suffer long-term loneliness. It is especially important with a partner or potential partner. It seems such a big hurdle for you that your solution, presented as a joke, is to wait for relief through death. I’m glad you saw this as being a long way into the future, but your mentioning death as a solution worried me.

To really understand another person and to be understood, we don’t have to be the same. We don’t have to have the same feelings, or lack of feelings, the same label, or even hold the same opinions. But we do have to be willing to make ourselves vulnerable to share how we experience ourselves and our world, and be willing to share those responses, feelings and thoughts with the other, and we do need to be open to being impacted by the other, in turn. What is important is that we can get near to understanding how someone feels and feel for them and be felt for in our turn.

Asexuality is a healthy sexual orientation just like being gay or being straight

The picture that came up in my head about this is that you reach out, then quickly pull away in case you get burned. Your experience was that people quickly jump to conclusions. Do you think it is possible, and I may be wrong, that you may have jumped to conclusions about them and then assumed they gave you the same treatment? I felt pushed away by your words, “And, no, I’m not gay” because I did not enjoy you assuming what my response would be. It made me wonder whether you can allow yourself to be uncertain about how another person might experience you? I also felt, when you reported your girlfriend as saying, “Sex solves all issues in a relationship”, that you may have been doing some assuming here, too, rather than finding out what she really meant, because such a line could have many interpretations. If we only have a relationship with another person in our head assuming we know how they will respond to us, we are not really having a relationship with them.

Don’t be too quick to put yourself or other people into a box. A judgment is like a full stop and puts a brake on discovering more. Once we slap a label on something we become less open to finding out about ourselves through our own unique experience and through honest conversation with others. You experience yourself as asexual and don’t have a problem with that. This is great! It’s a healthy sexual orientation just like being gay or being straight, and you can still have normal relationships. But, I don’t think your asexuality needs to preclude your being curious about yourself. Your sentiment “sex is repulsive” might be an area for exploration. Other questions for you to think about might be: from whom did you get the idea that sex is repulsive? And how has your personal history influenced how you think and feel about sex? The more you increase your self-awareness around this, the more you can share with people you want to experience intimacy with. You are right, to experience intimacy and love you don’t necessarily have to be sexual, however, you do have to be open.

Short answer, yes, risk rejection and talk to your girlfriend. Remain open to dialogue and don’t close the conversation down with assumptions. Remain curious about yourself and about others. If your girlfriend feels she cannot live without sex, there might be sadness for you and I’m sorry if there is, but about 1% of adults do share your orientation. I’m not seeing your problem as a lack of potential partners so much as your fear of getting burned. Maybe it won’t burn – just smart a little – then you can try again. Perhaps if you can stay curious, that asexual scene won’t be as abysmal as you assumed.

If you have a question, send a brief email to askphilippa@observer.co.uk

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