Simply put, I can’t develop any romantic feelings for people. There’s some things I feel I should share for the sake of context:
I’m capable of sexual attraction — I am bisexual, and while it has been the cause of some stress during puberty I don’t feel like it has been a significant factor in my problem. I used to be able to develop these feelings in my early/mid teens. I experienced 4 crushes on males and 3 on females, but never pursued any relationships. I’ve recently been reflecting on my childhood and have realized I stopped being capable of these kinds of feelings while my mum was dying of cancer. At this time I was 15, 16 when she died, I am now nearing 19. I first had sex at 17 with a boy I had no feelings for — an age considered old in my social group. As with many other teenage girls, I had a lot of self esteem issues: I was overweight until I started starving myself at 15 — this continued until Summer last year. I’ve continued to sleep with people I have no feelings for — romantic or platonic — but I get no joy from it, just a temporary ego boost and then feelings of loneliness and some self-loathing. I don’t enjoy seeing the people I have slept with, even if I can’t find anything wrong with their personalities or appearance — when I see them I feel sick and uncomfortable, and I don’t want to be around them. I have been in relationships with people who have adored me without reciprocaton, which has made me feel guilty and damaged. I get along with people very well, I have no problems expressing what I’m thinking, I can easily introduce myself to strangers; generally, I have no problems socialising or communicating. I have considered therapy but I’ve got a stubborn and independent personality — I don’t like to rely on other people because it makes me feel weak and I’m afraid they will make mistakes. I live away from my family because of university, but do occasionally speak to them. I used to speak a lot with my older brother, still do whenever I visit, and he seems to have the same problem — we also have similar personalities. I can function well in life despite this problem, but would appreciate some advice. (age 18, from Scotland)
Thank you for writing in with your question. I am very sorry that you lost your mother at such a young age. Significant losses like that can have a profound effect on us and might be the root of the problem you are having. A part of you might have shut down emotionally in order to protect yourself from further loss. This makes sense at the time, but if it continues, it can lead to other problems.
I understand your hesitancy to seek help but I really hope you will consider seeing a therapist, especially one who specializes in grief. Therapists are human, so they will make mistakes, but they are trained in helping people through difficult times – in a nonjudgmental way. Your university most likely has a student counseling center that would be easy to access. If not, look for a private therapist or a grief support group. In the meantime, keep talking with your brother since you share such a significant loss.
Finally, don’t worry so much about having sex until you give yourself time to heal and feel geniune connection to others again. Take it off the table.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts