Since I can remember, I’ve always thought of myself as unattractive. At school I was considered undesirable and teased indirectly about my looks. In my later teens men started taking an interest and I became sexually active and happy, eventually entering my first relationship which lasted 4 years. This relationship ended about a year ago and though I am over it, my ex dragged out the ending and it became quite bitter with another woman involved. He would openly compare me to her and make comparisons and refused to kiss me but also would not end the relationship and have very unemotional sex with me – as though I were an object. He began making direct comments about my lack of attractiveness and eventually I left. A month or so after that, I slept with one man after a date in a dark room. Since then, I have been unable to be naked around myself or others. I cannot look at myself in the mirror and my sex life has completely stopped as I can’t be intimate unless the room is pitch black, I have clothes on and I don’t know the guy. It’s been almost a year since I last had any sexual contact with anyone and it’s upsetting me greatly. I worry I won’t ever be able to be naked or intimate with anyone again. The problem has progressed – I have always been nervous of spending time with just one person unless I know them extremely well as I fear awkward silences or general awkwardness. This has merged with my inability to have sex as I also fear being alone with someone I intend to have sex with: what would I say? What do we talk about? What if there is nothing to talk about? I miss being intimate with others and there have been multiple times I could have engaged in sexual activity or perhaps formed a relationship on one occasion but I can’t discuss this issue with anyone other than close friends and the distress it causes me knowing I won’t be able to have sex leads me to push potential sexual partners away. I decided to seek help on here after tonight, 2 separate men I know I can speak to alone, came to my room to ask if I’d like to sleep with them and both times I panicked and was unable. (age 20, from UK)
Thank you for writing in with your question. I think you need to take a few steps back and stop worrying so much about sex and what others think of you and start working on your relationship with yourself. You have had some negative experiences which have contributed to your lack of confidence and poor self-image. It is upsetting when others objectify us, but it is even more harmful when we treat ourselves this way. You are much more than just a sexual being and you need to find ways to realize this. The more comfortable and confident you are with yourself, the more you will communicate this to potential partners, which in turn will draw more respectful partners to you.
My advice is to work on your self-esteem first, then focus on becoming more comfortable in social situations. Take sex off the table and just start going on lots of dates. Have fun. If you aren’t ready for one on one interactions you can begin by going out with a small group of people, followed by some double dates, and work your way up to one on one casual dating. You learned a lot from your past relationship but it’s time to move on and begin to have new experiences. Your comfort level with physical intimacy will return in time. If you need help with any of this, please consider seeing a therapist.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts