I’ve had girlfriends and been emotionally attached but I don’t want to have sex

Tell Me About It: I am a 24-year-old male and I have never been physically attracted to anyone, either male or female

PROBLEM: I am really worried about my sexuality. It is something I have always found very hard to explain to myself and this letter is the first time I have ever openly discussed this issue with anyone else. But I don’t know who to discuss it with or how to even go about talking about it.

Basically, I am a 24-year-old male and I have had a few short-lived relationships with girls my own age. But I have never been physically attracted to any of them. I have actually never really been physically attracted to anyone, either male or female. I can, of course, appreciate that someone is attractive – I just never feel physically drawn towards them. I am, perhaps surprisingly, not a virgin and I can get an erection when physically stimulated, but I have never enjoyed sex and just find it to be a laborious task.

One girl I was with got really upset as she didn’t think I was into her physically, but I couldn’t find the words to say that I wasn’t really into anyone physically. It is not that I don’t want to be in a relationship – I actually do. I have been emotionally attached to all of the girls I have dated and on one occasion I think I was in love. I like the idea of dating and being in a couple. When I was in my teens I thought that I must be gay, but I wasn’t attracted to boys either. I may be asexual but when I have searched this on the internet I don’t seem to fit into this category either.

I suppose labels aren’t all that important and what I really want is to find a way to enjoy being in a relationship with someone who understands that I don’t enjoy or benefit from having sex. This may not be possible, but I need to find a way of explaining my difficulties.

ADVICE: You are sure of your romantic drive and the desire to connect and love someone fully but the corresponding physical, sexual desire is missing. This is something that is now becoming possible to talk about as people who have had this experience are beginning to share their stories. Labels both afford us something in that they allow us to talk about a topic but can also constrain the lived experience: it is very positive to know that others are also talking about their lack of sex drive, but the categorisation can feel too constricting if you don’t identify with it completely. Perhaps it is more useful to think of our sexuality as a continuum that we can move along depending on our circumstance, partners and nature.

Understanding and acceptance are at the core of love and it is what we want and expect from those we choose to let into our inner lives

You are clear you want to be in a relationship and have had at least one very good experience of this as you said you think you were in love – this bodes well for your future possibilities of seeking and finding loving relationships. Understanding and acceptance are at the core of love and it is what we want and expect from those we choose to let into our inner lives. However, you may want to begin with yourself and find some understanding and knowledge of yourself, your heritage and your family’s story of love and sex. You can do this by creating a ‘sexual messages lifeline’ where you investigate all the messages (mostly un-spoken) that you have received throughout your life.

This might start with looking at the messages your family instilled in you about being a boy and what that meant in terms of being good – what was the message about sex in that?

What happened when sex scenes were shown on TV?

Was there a message of openness or was it restricted or shut down?

How was puberty dealt with in your family and what was the official and peer message in school?

Finding a life partner is no small task and it requires us to open up our inner selves to another human being

All of these messages are internalised and can shape our intimate experiences in ways our heads barely connect with. Your body is rejecting sexual pleasure and this may be a natural condition for you or it may be your body’s way of protecting you from internalised censure. Either way, it would be very useful for you to have knowledge and compassion for what you are going through so that your body receives support rather than restriction.

If you find this research difficult on your own, it may be useful to connect with some psychological support that can guide you through the process – look up the Irish Council for Psychotherapy or the Psychological Society of Ireland for accredited professionals. When you fully understand and appreciate yourself, you will be able to express and stand up for your needs in an intimate situation.

Finding a life partner is no small task and it requires us to open up our inner selves to another human being. This requires that you choose someone who is worthy of this risk and so your attention should be on connecting with people you might consider sharing your life with. Anyone who is in this category will be able to hear and respect your romantic and sexual drives and you will also be able to accept and engage with theirs.Love stretches us so that we are more generous and more evolved and this is worth pursuing.