I’m a 26-year-old lesbian in a two-month-old relationship with a great girl, and I’m having the same problem I always have when I get past the first date with someone I like. I’m terrified of physical intimacy. I’ve never had sex or anything close to it, and this girl is only the third person I’ve kissed. I think of myself as a sexual person in private, but I’m afraid it’s too late for me to learn to be sexual with other people. This girl is sweet and smart and funny and she’s been so patient with me, but I know her patience will run out eventually, and I hate making her feel bad when I telegraph my discomfort with her attempts to be physically affectionate.
I was in therapy for three years and I’m no closer to figuring this out than I was three years ago. Please help me, Dan. I need to know what’s wrong with me and how to fix it before I mess up a really good thing.
Desperately Seeking Answers
First, the obvious: You could be asexual, DSA. Many asexuals want intimacy, affection, and maybe even some making out... but not so much sex. And asexuals who don't know what asexuality is and/or don't understand themselves as asexual are sometimes confused or even panicked by what they perceive as a conflict, i.e. a longing for romantic intimacy/connection but no desire for sex. But there's no conflict there—if, indeed, you're asexual.
I'm hoping asexuality came up at some point during your three years in therapy—therapy that, I'm assuming, covered your disinterest-bordering-on-revulsion regarding sexual intimacy. Asexuality seems like an obvious answer, but you didn't mention asexuality anywhere in your letter, and—as many Savage Love letter-writers can confirm—there are lots of therapists and counselors rattling around out there who aren't familiar with the most up to date research on asexuality or anything else having to do with non-standard-issue/non-default-setting human sexuality. So maybe it hasn't ever come up? If that's the case, DSA, start exploring asexuality resources/message boards/subreddits and see if you relate. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network is a great place to start.
Asexuality doesn't have to be the answer. There could be some other issue: a past trauma, a low libido, an undiagnosed health issue. But if three years of therapy couldn't unearth the issue, DSA, I'm not going to come to diagnose what ails you from a two-paragraph letter. Does that mean you're hopeless? No! It's not too late for you to learn to be sexual with other people if that's what you want and need to be happy. But I'm afraid you'll have to get back into therapy and talk to your doc and ask to have your general health as well as your hormone levels assessed.
What should you do with this great girl? Obviously, be honest. Explain to her—don't just "telegraph" to her—how you're feeling and (to the best of your ability) why sex makes you uncomfortable. She could take it personally, she could decide to bail, but she could also think you're a great girl and be fine with moving very slowly.
And here's a practical tip on moving slowly: When you say you, "think of [yourself] as a sexual person in private," DSA, is that because you masturbate? If so, there are sexual things you can do with a partner well short of intercourse. You don't have to start with oral sex, anal sex, penetrative sex; you can start with masturbating together without touching each other. Lay on the same bed and be together and be close without touching, DSA, and then get yourselves off on your own—she gets herself off, you get yourself off. If that works, get a little closer. Repeat that a few times. If that works, try some simple touch—snuggling up close without laying a hand on each other—while you get yourselves off. Repeat that a few times. Then let her hold you while you masturbate, hold her while she masturbates. Repeat that a few times. And if that works... in time you may feel comfortable allowing her to assist you while you masturbate and vice-versa.
If she's not fine and doesn't want to move slowly? Well, that may be the end of this relationship—but there are other women out there who may be willing to (or may need to) move as slowly as you need to. But if it turns out you are asexual (if even masturbating with someone isn't something you can do), you still have options. You can date other asexuals, if you're asexual, or other graysexuals, if you're graysexual. For you, DSA, and for the record: I'm not saying asexuals should only date other asexuals. But if you decide you want a relationship characterized by intimacy, romance, and a deep connection but little-to-no sex, finding someone who also wants the same things, finding someone with whom you are sexually compatible, is a good idea. The same advice—prioritize sexual compatibility—applies to people who have people with high libidos, not-for-everyone kinks, no interest in monogamy/non-monogamy, etc.
Good luck, DSA!