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Auntie SparkNotes: My Girlfriend Is a Ball of HND Anxiety

Dear Auntie SparkNotes,

Twenty months ago, I met the most wonderful girl. She is funny, adventurous, kind, successful and so beautiful. Our intimate life was amazing and we seemed to have a lot of chemistry.

She seemed adventurous at first… even showed interest in all kinds of crazy HND, but as the relationship has progressed she wants to do less and less in bed. The first thing off limits was fingering of all things. She says it’s “too pokey” or “too clinical.” It is, though, the main thing that gets me aroused. Later I found out her first sexual experience was a rape by three guys when she was 18, leading to an abortion and her taking a bottle of pills. She says it’s a reflex like “touching a hot stove.” Things just get worse and worse though. We become intimate a lot less. She’s even uncomfortable with me sexually caressing or kissing her body, even though she LOVES to be touched any other time.

Basically, she is a ball of tension during sex. Half the time I feel depressed and bad after sex now. Other women I’ve been with have told me that my skills were good, but I’m losing my confidence because this girl seems to hate the same things most girls love and that she used to love. She is just so uncomfortable, even uncomfortable watching anything erotic with me.

I’m at a loss. In every other way she is perfect. I’m not even sure how to confront her about it without making things even worse.

Any ideas on how to address this issue without just making her MORE tense and uncomfortable?

Three ways, Sparkler: Sensitively, respectfully, and carefully. (Obviously.)

But once you’ve got the obvious “how” of a tough talk figured out, you must realize: Even if you approach your girlfriend with all the sensitivity and respect in the world, the outcome of that conversation still hinges on whether or not she’s actually interested in having it.

And for your sake, I hope she is. But for the sake of being realistic, I’m also duty-bound to point out that she may well not be, or at least not in a way that’s likely to lead to any sort of satisfying resolution for you. Needless to say, you can’t force an uninterested person to want to have sex—with you, or in general. And based on what you’ve written here, “uninterested” sounds like an understatement. Even if your girlfriend’s aversion is simply a reflexive response to trauma (although if so, it’s a little bit curious that said reflex only started cropping up after months of adventurous, enthusiastic HND action), the bigger question is this: Is that okay with her? Would she prefer to enjoy physical intimacy with you, and to be comfortable with it? Is she interested in doing the work it might take, on her own or in tandem with you, to make that happen? Or is her ideal state of affairs—and by extension, her ideal relationship—one in which sex is simply off the table?

In short, what does she want?

These are the questions you need to ask her—again, with as much sensitivity and respect as possible. And whatever her answers, even if those answers are unpleasant or unexpected, do not react to them in a way that makes her feel punished for being honest. You’re missing a lot of information here; you need to get it, and process it, before you can even think about a solution. In fact, you may need to spend a long time talking to your girlfriend about what she wants, and what happiness looks like to her, before you even touch the question of how it overlaps (or doesn’t) with your needs.

With that said, keep in mind that your needs matter, too. And while you can’t force your girlfriend to feel differently about being physically intimate with you, you can recognize if physical intimacy is something you’re not willing to live without, and choose not to be with someone who won’t give it to you. And for the record, this girl’s perfection in every other regard really doesn’t matter if the one way in which she’s not perfect is vitally important to your happiness. (“This car is perfect! … Except that it won’t run.”)

Talk. Listen. Talk some more. See where you end up, and what you come up with. Just remember that in the end, you and your girlfriend both deserve to be with someone who genuinely wants and appreciates what you have to offer. And if your relationship isn’t that relationship? You both deserve better.

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