QUESTION: My boyfriend and I have been dating for a while and have had sex, but lately he seems to be avoiding it. He even seems to avoid kissing. I know he likes me because he tells me I'm beautiful and kisses me on the forehead and cheek. I have talked to him about this but he blushes or turns away. He says he doesn't want to do anything sexual anymore at all. We used to have such a healthy, loving, sexual relationship. Now it is like we are "just friends". Help me out! What is he thinking? What do I say to him, to not offend or upset him? \nANSWER: Though the stereotype among heterosexual couples is that it is women who avoid sex, the reality is more complex. Both men and women might wax or wane in their desire to be sexual either alone (through masturbation) or with a partner. Because shared sexual intimacy with a partner is just that -- shared -- it can feel sad, hurtful, confusing or even rejecting when one's partner withdraws from, avoids or seems disinterested in sex. \nSometimes people withdraw from sex for medical reasons, such as a lack of interest related to a medical condition or a medication side effect, or performance issues (e.g. painful ejaculation or difficulty with erections). Others avoid sex because of relationship issues. And even though it seems like most college students are sexually active, that is not necessarily the case. While some students have active sex lives with partners, others have more sporadic experience with sex or even choose not to act sexual with their partners. Some try sexual activity with a partner and then decide that they prefer to wait to resume sex until the relationship has deepened, they have fallen in love, they are married or otherwise feel more "ready". \nA difficult aspect of having one's partner withdraw from sex is that while you identify this as a problem in your relationship, your boyfriend might not. It is possible that he is happy with his choice not to be physically intimate with you at the moment. As such, he might or might not find it useful to seek answers for his lack of interest or his decision not to have sex, such as visiting his healthcare provider to rule out medical causes or meeting jointly with you and a sex therapist to discuss relationship issues. \nThat said, if you identify this as an issue in your relationship that you would like to address, he might at least see the value in talking with you in more depth about this change in sexual expression or even meet with you and a sex therapist. An important point, though, is that while your goal might be to resume sexual intimacy with him soon, his goal might be completely different (e.g., to help you understand his decision not to be sexual). \nIf your boyfriend is open to exploring the possibility of sexual intimacy with you, it might be useful to read "Getting the Love You Want" by Harville Hendrix together. Though it is marriage-focused, it includes useful information for couples who are having trouble communicating. If you would like guidance or with these issues, consider meeting with a counselor or therapist. A way of approaching this issue may be to say something like, "I miss kissing you and being sexual in the ways that we used to, and I'm having trouble making sense of this change. Can you help me understand how you feel about it?" By putting the issue in terms of your perspective (rather than blaming him or making him feel like he's done something wrong) he might feel more comfortable talking with you. \nIt might be equally important to stress that you want to learn more about how his feelings have changed, and that you want to understand even if it feels hurtful. Again, this won't work if you simply want to convince him to be sexual with you -- instead you have to be committed to finding out how he's feeling, and being open to whatever it is he says, knowing that you might get an answer other than what you are hoping for. This is a challenging part of all relationships. Facing difficult times head on might or might not bring you closer together, but at least it might provide you with more information to learn where he is at, and what is possible for your relationship. Good luck.
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