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I love my boyfriend but I’ve only had two orgasms in two years

Ask Roe: The ability to discuss changing sexual needs is a necessary part of a healthy long-term relationship

Dear Roe,

My boyfriend and I have been together for two years and now live together. We have sex frequently, even more so earlier on in our relationship but still what we’d both consider to be a lot.

However, in those two years my boyfriend has made me orgasm once, maybe twice. Our sex is entirely centred around him, what he wants and his pleasure. Even down to the lingerie I wear, how my hair looks while we have sex, what positions we’re in. His preference is for me to do all the work. He is a kind, loyal and soft person and we’ve a fantastic relationship otherwise.

But this is a problem and as someone who thinks sex is a really important part of any relationship, I am struggling. I think female pleasure is important so I know I should be enjoying our sex as well. But I’m not. And I don’t know what to do after two years of saying nothing. Maybe he doesn’t know how to pleasure a woman, but my fear is also that he just doesn’t care. I know I have to speak to him but I feel like after two years of saying nothing and pretending not to dislike our sex life that it’s too late.

It’s not too late to have this conversation unless you decide that it is, and it’s not too late to change the sexual dynamic in your relationship unless one or both of you decide that it is. You need to start talking – but also to start thinking, and reflecting on how on earth you got here. Sex is never just about sex – it’s about communication, respect, pleasure, connection and a myriad other qualities and values. You say you value sexual pleasure, mutual pleasure and it sounds like you want to have respectful, equal, communicative relationship – and yet you have spent two years saying nothing and pretending not to dislike your sex life. How and why did this happen? How are your values and your reality so unaligned?

One-sided dynamic

You describe a very one-sided dynamic in your sex life, with your boyfriend’s pleasure being the centre. However, I’m unclear on what exactly you have been communicating to your boyfriend. Have you been acquiescing to his requests while he fails or refuses to notice that you are underwhelmed with your sex life - or have you been pretending to be enthusiastic, including faking orgasms and pretending to enjoy the positions he prefers, getting dressed up in lingerie etc more than you do? This distinction is important, because while it’s possible your boyfriend has selfishly ignored your lack of pleasure, he cannot be blamed for a situation where you have been lying about enjoying your sex life.

For you to address this issue, it’s going to be important for you to think about how this happened. Why, at the start of the relationship, were your sexual needs and desires treated as less important than his? Why did you not feel comfortable expressing your needs to him? If this wasn’t based in this individual relationship and you, like many women, simply felt uncomfortable centring your pleasure because literally everything in our culture for all of modern history has prevented us from doing so – that’s understandable. You’re dismantling a lot of deeply damaging shame and silence that surrounds female sexuality, and you get to cut yourself slack for not doing so in the past, and congratulate yourself for wanting to change how you move forward.

But, more personally and most importantly, what is happening in this relationship that you now fear that if you tell your boyfriend that you need something differently to feel appreciated, valued, and sexually fulfilled, that – to paraphrase you – he just won’t care? You describe your boyfriend as kind, loyal and soft, but you doubting that he cares about your pleasure, fulfilment and equality in your relationship seems completely at odds with this description. What is this fear based in? Is it coming from a thread of selfishness or a sexism that you have seen in him, or is this a fear that you are unfairly projecting on to him out of resentment for the past two years – a resentment that he may not deserve?

Long-lasting dissatisfaction

I don’t ask this to dissuade you from addressing this issue – you should and must – but to be clear on the cause for such a long-lasting dissatisfaction. If your boyfriend genuinely doesn’t realise how dissatisfied you are, it’s not fair to assume he won’t be open to change. On the other hand, if you genuinely believe that he might not care, then it’s time to dig into why you would want to stay with someone who is “kind and loyal” only when getting everything he wants and being asked for nothing in return – because by definition, that is neither kind nor loyal.

As you approach this conversation, it’s important to remember that the ability to discuss changing sexual needs (along with changing emotional needs, financial needs, etc) is a necessary part of a healthy long-term relationship. People’s desires, libidos, interests can change over time, and partners should be open to discussing these evolving needs, and feel safe and respected enough that these discussions always feel possible. Look at this discussion not just as an investment in your current sex life, but your relationship overall. If you are unable to raise important issues and respect each other’s needs, that’s a flag.

Not feeling fulfilled

Start a conversation with your boyfriend outside of the bedroom, when you’re both feeling calm and comfortable. Express that you love him, but there has been an issue of you not feeling fulfilled by your sex life, that you feel that his pleasure has been centred, and that you would like this to change so that you can both feel like your needs and pleasure are being equally prioritised. If your boyfriend expresses genuine surprise and asks where this is coming from, you can be honest and tell him what you’ve been reflecting on – that you didn’t feel comfortable because of some things outside of your relationship such as general patriarchal norms that always centre men’s pleasure and left you without scripts to correct this, and some things inside the relationship, such as a lack of open and honest check-ins about your sex life. You can tell him that this isn’t a question of blame, but of evolution, and that you want some things to change and hope that he’s open to this because it’s important for your relationship both inside and outside of the bedroom for you to be able to address your changing needs. Allow him a little bit of shock and maybe some hurt that you didn’t tell him sooner, but keep the focus on how you are both going to move forward, together. Remember that this could be an exciting new chapter of your relationship, with a reason to explore your sexuality anew, together, and you can both treat it as such.

However, if he gets overly defensive, dismissive, or acts uncaring or hostile towards the idea of changing your sexual dynamic to better fulfil your needs – you have just gained a lot of critical information about your boyfriend’s maturity levels, his care and respect for you, and ability to grow and evolve in a long-term relationship. Pay attention.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe

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