Have you ever been in a relationship that wasn’t meeting your needs but you kept waiting for things to get better? That was me in a sexless relationship for the last two years of my life. Because I loved my partner, I fought to look past this one seemingly small issue, thinking, ‘sex isn’t everything.’ Especially because I was in recovery for sex addiction, and I thought needing to have sex meant I was relapsing.
If you’re unfamiliar with what it means to be a sex addict, basically I didn’t grow up with the tools to understand what emotional intimacy was and used sex as a replacement. Because of this, I constantly had this hole that I tried to fill (ahem) but was never satisfied. Whenever I was distraught, I’d get drunk and turn to sex because that was the only way I knew how to deal with my emotions.
When I met my partner, I was newly sober and beginning my sex addiction recovery. He told me he was celibate because he wanted to develop emotional intimacy before sex. It sounded perfect. I thought we would grow emotionally and be celibate together. But as my recovery progressed, I saw a sex addiction therapist and learned how to love myself, I discovered that my partner wasn’t just withholding sex from me – but emotional intimacy as well.
About a month into our relationship my partner had told me that he had health issues that affected his sex drive – but instead of working on them, he often pushed them aside because he was stressed about work. He barely wanted to make out or touch me when we weren’t having sex, because he said it reminded him of his health issues – so we focused on building emotional intimacy, or rather, I did the work of trying to build it between us.
Often, we’d go on dates that I planned which ended with me being upset because he was too much in his head and worrying about work. Our conversations only scratched the surface and he laughed off any attempt I made to talk about deeper topics. He often criticized me underneath the guise of joking around. When we did have sex on the rare occasion, he only cared about being with me to get off. My self esteem became so low that when I would cry after sex I would apologize because he told me my crying made him want to have it less.
If I were you right now, I’d be wondering why the hell I stayed for two years. But just like every relationship out there, there were both good and bad parts. He was everything I thought I was looking for in a partner: Supportive, funny and kind. As I was living in poverty, he gave me words of encouragement while I applied for social assistance, he lent me money when I was broke, me made me laugh non-stop and he was the kindest person I knew – plus, I grew up with emotionally unavailable parents, so I was attracted to unavailable men. He was the first man I dated who seemed to be the most emotionally available because he told me over and over that he was willing to work on things.
So, I kept giving him the benefit of the doubt – because health issues and work stress couldn’t last forever, right?
I settled into my fate as a 26-year-old who had zero-to-a-terrible sex life. I thought giving up my needs for him was a selfless act of devotion. How could I tell him I was unhappy when he was so stressed from work and had health issues to deal with on top of everything? It wasn’t until my therapist told me that his issues and my needs weren’t mutually exclusive that I began to feel that my pain was validated and that it wasn’t unreasonable to ask for what I needed.
The problem was, when I brought up the topic of our sex life, he was very open and communicative. We came up with a plan and he said he would follow through. But then he would miss a doctor appointment or have a work project that would keep him busy, and I’d push my needs to the side because how could I expect him to make our sex life a priority while he was juggling so much? As we were in a monogamous relationship and he wasn’t comfortable opening it up, I felt like my only option was to wait for things to get better. I never cheated, because it would have compromised my recovery.
I spent countless hours Googling, ‘why won’t he have sex with me?’ I took on the responsibility for improving our physical and emotional intimacy by staying up all night worrying, trying to put less pressure on him when we were together and trying to look more attractive so he would want me more – but he would just criticize my makeup. I put in all of the emotional labour – analyzing my feelings, his feelings, starting the discussions, following up with him when he would ‘forget’ to do something he said he would – like meditating so he was less stressed or trying a medication for his health issues. It was utterly exhausting, but after putting in so much effort, I felt like giving up was even worse.
It baffles me wen people talk about how they aren’t having enough sex because they only get it once a week. When we did have sex occasionally, about every other month, he would ask me to do things that I was uncomfortable with sexually, but felt like I had to. He told me that if I did them he would enjoy sex more, and in turn want it with me more. So, I went back inside myself as a sex addict who had let men use me to feel loved, and I felt triggered over and over because I believed eventually he would give me the emotionally intimate sex I needed. I felt like he wanted a porn star, not a girlfriend. Where he once loved going down on me, he eventually stopped. Every time I mentioned slow, passionate sex his dick would almost seem to become soft. And I didn’t bother to ask him to fulfill my kinks.
Not having my partner please me sexually was heartbreaking. But the worst part was having him withdraw from me emotionally. It was going to bed with a knot in my stomach, watching him get up in the morning almost instantly and feeling like he was somewhere else when we were together. It was this invisible pain that I spent so much time trying to understand so I could explain it to him and get him to work on it – but finally, he told me that he didn’t see things getting better, and he set me free.
Losing that hope was devastating. After putting so much effort into a relationship and a man I loved, I didn’t know what my identity was anymore. I had been so consumed with his issues that I had been neglecting my own happiness. I didn’t know how to enjoy life anymore, because I had been constantly waiting for him to enjoy it with me.
But this heartache of a relationship was the best thing that could have happened to me, because I knew that I would never let anyone treat me that way again. I spent so much time analyzing why I felt empty, what my needs were, how to communicate them to another person and when to recognize that I was the only one putting in the effort that I knew I wasn’t willing to compromise my needs ever again.
The period after we broke up was a sort of rebirth for me. Where I had struggled with social anxiety, I suddenly had this drive to go out and meet new people. I started to make new friends. I started to date again. Where I couldn’t remember what it had been like to feel attractive or desired, I started seeing guys who were emotionally and physically generous – and some guys who weren’t, which made me reinstate what I was looking for. I went from starving in a committed relationship to being fulfilled as a single woman more than I ever knew was possible. And you know what? It was fucking amazing.
When I was with him, I was timid and unsure of myself. But as time went on after our breakup, I started to feel the color come back into my cheeks. I started to look forward to life again. I started to do things that I had always wanted to do – and things I never thought I would do. We broke up in September and by New Years I was covering myself in glitter, dancing in my underwear and having deep conversations with strangers in cuddle puddles. And I was still sober and felt less and less like relapsing than ever before. I was a new person.
Because of my year in sex addiction therapy, I suddenly had this new-found knowledge of self-love and healthy intimacy. And after being in a sexless relationship, I knew what my emotional and sexual needs were. It’s my hope that no one else will experience this kind of pain, but if I hadn’t been in that relationship I wouldn’t have been forced to understand what I wasn’t willing to put up with. I wouldn’t have understood the importance of emotionally intimacy inside or outside of the bedroom, or that my pleasure is important every time.
As a woman, it’s revolutionary to discover that your needs come before anyone else’s, and that asking for them isn’t being too demanding. No matter what my future partners are going through – work, school, health issues – I now know that my needs and their issues aren’t mutually exclusive.
Follow Amanda’s column, MY PLEASURE: How to Enjoy Sex & Life on Medium.