In this week’s Ask Sally column, 32 year old Lisa says, ‘My boyfriend doesn’t satisfy me sexually’. He’s kind, hilarious, and financially stable, but selfish in bed. Sally Brown has advice for a complicated matter
I’ve been with my boyfriend for four and a half years. We live together, his family adore me, and for a year, we’ve been discussing a serious future together. The idea of marriage and kids are on the table, and I couldn’t think of a better person to spend the rest of my life with. He’s kind, intelligent, hilarious, and a financially stable accountant. But he’s selfish in bed.
He never initiates foreplay and doesn’t seem interested in doing anything sexual unless it’s penetration
Even in the early days of our relationship, he has never been able to satisfy me. I feel like sex with him is a race, and the one who orgasms first is the winner, the loser gets nothing, and the winner is always him. He never initiates foreplay, and quite frankly, he doesn’t seem interested in doing anything sexual unless it’s physical sex. I struggle to orgasm through penetrative sex, and I need other forms of sexual contact to get me in the mood.
As soon as he has reached his peak, his participation in an intimate night together is over. I often find myself lying in the dark after sex, fuming with sexual frustration, as he falls into a peaceful sleep. I’ve been reduced to having to finish myself off after he has fallen asleep, and I’m starting to feel fed up, and used.
He’s perfectly happy for me to go down on him, and he even asks me to do it occasionally. But he has only done it for me twice, and the second time it was only for a couple of minutes. Since then, he has never done it again, and if I suggest it, his response will be that he’s ‘tired’.
I’m 32 and I feel like my chance to start a family will slip away if I end the relationship over bedroom problems
I have tried to talk to him in the past, but he got offended, and it resulted in an argument. I couldn’t master the courage to bring it up again. I’ve tried to come to terms with his selfishness in bed, but it really bothers me. He’s so caring and generous outside of sex, but as soon as we’re in the bedroom it’s all about him, and I feel like my needs aren’t important to him. I’m 32 and I feel like my chance to start a family will slip away if I end the relationship over bedroom problems. I will have to start all over again as a blank slate. It could take me years to find someone, climb the relationship ladder, and get married. And I don’t know what to do.
Lisa, 32, Manchester
Reading your letter reminded me of a film that came out a couple of years ago, a comedy called Don Jon. Jon (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a womaniser who thinks he’s hot stuff between the sheets, until he beds Julianne Moore’s character, and she puts him straight (she tells him it felt like he was masturbating using her instead of his hand).
Like increasing numbers of men, Jon learned about sex through watching porn, where foreplay barely exists, women are aroused by a few cursory breast gropes and whipped into a state of ecstasy by a man pounding away. Oral sex is for men only sex and as soon as the man comes, the sex is over. Given that there is more porn available than ever before, is it any wonder that so many men are completely clueless when it comes to what women want in bed?
You are right to address this issue now, as it’s not one that will go away by itself and it’s no foundation for a happy marriage. It’s great that your boyfriend is intelligent and hilarious, but no amount of brains or humour will make up for the growing resentment that you so clearly feel at his ‘selfishness’ in bed. But there’s something about that description that I find puzzling. Outside of the bedroom, you describe him as kind, caring and generous. Yet when it comes to sex, he seems to undergo a Jekyll-and-Hyde type transformation into a selfish and insensitive brute who doesn’t give a monkeys about your feelings.
have you ever considered that rather than being selfish in bed, he’s actually insecure?
I wondered if you had ever considered that rather than being selfish in bed, he’s actually insecure? It sounds to me that he lacks the confidence to venture outside the straightforward act of intercourse. You don’t talk about his previous experience but I wondered if it had been limited to short-term relationships or one night stands? And whether his idea of what makes good sex has largely come from watching porn? It’s obvious he’s not too ‘tired’ to give you oral sex, but I wondered if deep down, he’s too terrified, because he lacks confidence in his technique. And he may not know that most women do not orgasm through penetrative sex alone.
The other dynamic at play here is that for four and half years, you’ve pretty much pretended to be happier with your sex life than you are. You say you lie in bed ‘fuming’, but he’s peacefully asleep and unaware. You stopped trying to talk to him about it after he got offended, and no longer ask him for oral sex. It’s time for you to stop pretending, and start telling the truth.
It’s not going to be an easy conversation but it’s an unavoidable one. It’s best done outside of the bedroom, perhaps the next time a ‘planning our futures together’ conversation comes up. However much you feel that this is ‘his’ problem, you need to present it as ‘our’ problem, otherwise he will get so defensive he’ll shut down the conversation before it starts.
deep down, he’s too terrified, because he lacks confidence in his technique
You need to tell him how much you love him, and how much you want to spend your life with him, but that you want to make sure you are both as happy as you can be in the relationship, and that includes exploring and developing your sex life so that you will both want to make love to each other for the rest of your lives. Tell him you don’t want to end up as one of those couples who never has sex. Tell him you feel that there is so much more you could be doing together. You need to present it as an erotic journey you will embark on together, which is exactly how you should approach it. I get the impression that you shy away from difficult conversations, and have a low tolerance for conflict in your relationship, so you will need to be courageous about it. If you can’t imagine having this conversation with him, then try opening up the conversation with a carefully worded letter, followed up with a face-to-face discussion.
You need to present it as an erotic journey you will embark on together, which is exactly how you should approach it
I would also strongly advise you to book a course of sessions with a sex therapist (find one through the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists; or Relate; or type ‘sex therapist’ and your postcode into counselling-drectory.org.uk). Your boyfriend may strongly resist this, so you may have to book an appointment, tell him how much it means to you for him to come along but be prepared to go on your own if need be. If you continue to go, and invite him to join you, chances are his curiosity will eventually get the better of him and he’ll start turning up. A sex therapist will take your sex life right back to basics, giving you homework that may start with simply stroking non-sexual areas and exploring how that feels for both of you, then gradually building up slowly over a number of weeks to reintroducing intercourse.
Presented in the right way, your boyfriend could see this as the opportunity he’s been waiting for to build his confidence in the bedroom, and expand his repertoire, without having to admit that the reason he so ‘selfishly’ sticks to his routine is that the alternative is admitting he hasn’t got a clue how to change it. However, if he is very resistant to the idea or simply refuses to accept that there is room for improvement in your sex life, then there may be other issues. He may have an over-active porn habit, so that he is effectively masturbating when he’s with you, running porn scenarios through his head. Or he may have difficulties around his sexuality, or how he feels about sex generally. If he refuses to engage with the idea of change, you need to be brutally frank and tell him how unhappy you are with your sex life. If that makes no difference, then you can decide whether you really want to marry someone who simply refuses to change something that is making you unhappy. I know it’s hard, but if you can, try to put your (perfectly valid) concerns about your ticking biological clock to one side while you sort this out. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to choose between having children or having a good sex life you deserve to have both. But it’s up to you to be brave and make it happen.
Sally Brown is Healthista’s resident therapist and agony aunt. She loves finding out what makes people tick and will winkle out your life story if you sit next to her at a dinner party. She feels lucky to make a living from hearing those stories, and helping people make sense of their lives and reach their true potential. Registered with the British Association of Counselors and Psychotherapists, which means she has the qualifications and experience to work safely and effectively, she also writes about emotional and psychological health for the national press.