Ask Bish – I have a strong desire to have sex but no arousal
An ‘Ask Bish’ about arousal and desire but also about being ready for sex, what sex means and what we expect from sex
I’ve been going out with a boy for almost two years (it’s been pretty slow). We haven’t had sex yet but were planning on soon. My problem is a have a strong desire to have sex but absolutely no arousal (and I never have). It really frustrates me because it is something I want to do but can’t.
Is there something wrong with me?
Thanks for your really interesting question!
This stuff is pretty complicated and it’s also very personal. You’re asking me to think about why this might be but have you thought about it very much? That’s what I’m going to encourage you to here ok?
Do you ever get aroused (even by yourself)?
You say that you’ve never had any arousal, is this just with this boy or when you’re by yourself too? It’s likely that you have experienced some form of arousal (blood rushing into the genitals, a tingling feeling, flushed cheeks, change in body temperature) but maybe you don’t recognise it as sexual arousal. Or maybe you have experienced sexual arousal by yourself but you don’t feel it with the boy?
Arousal can be pretty random and it can happen when we don’t want it (on the bus, in the classroom, at the supermarket) and not happen when we really do want it to. There’s more about this here, but arousal is a bit of a self-discovery thing. My advice to you though is to pay more attention to what might be arousing to you – do you have sexy thoughts or fantasies that make you turned on? If you haven’t thought about this maybe write them down in an ‘arousal diary’ (you can’t get these in the shops). Think about what might trigger these feelings, how it feels, what happens. Also think about what might be a turn off. Have you had any past sexual experiences or experiences with your genitals that make you feel uncomfortable for instance?
If you do have fantasies and thoughts then maybe you can share these with the boy. You’ve talked about having absolutely no arousal and also a strong desire to have sex. These are at either ends of a pretty long spectrum – so perhaps try and find somewhere in the middle where you feel *some* arousal and *some* desire. To do this you could think more about if you are ready for ‘sex’, what ‘sex’ means, what you expect from ‘sex’ and why (or if) you want to do it at all.
Do you really wanna have sex?
Have you read my page about whether you are ready to have sex? It talks about the various reasons that people have sex – I would encourage you to think about why you want to have sex. Is it because you think you *should*? Because you’ve been going out with someone for 2 years, it would be understandable if you felt some pressure to have sex. This pressure could be from the boy, or from other people, or from society (romantic relationship *have* to be sexual). You say you have a strong desire to have sex, but think about whether this desire is yours. Remember that romantic relationships don’t have to be sexual at all – there are many people who have strong intimate romantic relationships but don’t want or have sex (more on this here or check out this website).
What do you expect or want from sex?
People have sex with someone for lots of different reasons. I’ve asked you to think of whether you want to have sex but also think about what you expect from sex? People are often a bit black and white when it comes to sex – they either expect it to hurt and feel rubbish or they expect it to be mind blowing and awesome. Most people find that their early sexual experiences are somewhere in between. This is also true for if we have sex with someone new. Those first few times can feel nice and we can learn a lot about what we and they like from it – but it might not be mind blowing (but it shouldn’t be painful either so please stop if it is).
Maybe you want different kinds of sex?
You might not feel like you are aroused enough for ‘sex’ (which a lot of people think is just about penetration or what I call entry sex – like penis in vagina sex). For this kind of sex we need to be pretty turned on otherwise it can be painful or uncomfortable. However there are lots of different kinds of sex to try.
Like I mentioned earlier you could share fantasies with the boy, you don’t even have to be in the same room to do that. When it comes to ‘having sex’ you could masturbate together or separately, you could rub your bodies together, you could stroke or massage each other. There are loads of ideas about how to have really fun sex without penetration here.
Maybe you and the boy could also chat about what you want to do when you have sex. Instead of relying on the script of how we *should* have sex (insert any sex scene you’ve seen on the TV or film ever here) think a bit more about what you both might like. If you do this you might feel a bit more prepared, trusting and more connected with each other. Try this OMG Yes, Not For Me, Hmmmm exercise.
Is it The Boy?
You’ve been going out with the boy for 2 years. Like I was saying earlier, that doesn’t mean you have to have sex if you don’t really want to. You might be a bit annoyed at what I’m about to say, but have you thought about whether it’s this boy you want to have sex with at all?
Relationships are all very different, some are all about the sex, others are more about the non-sexual ‘hanging out and having someone to share lots of your life with’ and lots are somewhere in between. This can change all the time too. Maybe you’re not feeling that this is a very sexual relationship right now? Or maybe you have more sexual feelings about different people? Check out my relationship graph and see how you’re feeling about the relationship at the moment.
Hope this all helps! I’ll leave the comments open in case you want to come back and add more detail.
Big thanks to Meg, Petra, Ronete, Sarah and Tania from Sense About Sex for their very helpful advice to me about this. It’s good to ask for help sometimes.