Advice from the Trenches: Intimacy Conundrum

Dear C and Dr. B;

I’m 18 and this is my first year in college. I found a boyfriend and I am really into him, but I have a problem – I just can’t get intimate with him. I want to, but I feel repulsed just thinking about it. I keep the feeling to myself, but I really have to will myself to let him touch me. I have no idea where this is coming from! I don’t have any history of sexual abuse. But thought of his penis “penetrating me” disgusts me and when he put his tongue in my mouth it is all I can do not to vomit.

Rebecca Revulva


Dr. B says: Sex is many things: it is the information we have, it is anatomy, cultural anthropology, sociology, economics, psychology, chemistry, hormonal, political … sex is also about power and territorialism. All these things affect how we feel about sex and affects the consequences of sex.

Sex directly affects and is affected by your sense of control and autonomy. If you are in a position of little control over your life, sex can keep you oppressed; on the other hand, sex might be a ladder to climb out of oppression. Sex can also take away control and subjugate or enslave you.

Without talking directly to you I can’t be specific to your situation, but statistically there are probably cultural issues at play. Sex is just adult play and sex should be as natural as breathing, but religion transforms something normal, automatic and natural into an open invitation for god and community to watch, scrutinize and mislabel with “bad, dirty and guilt inducing.” Our western imaginations also complicate sex into romance, usually an impossible and improbable comparison based on movies, books and advertising. Our imagination can result in unrealistic expectations from sex.

There are sex therapists who can work with you two in sensate focus techniques. There are self-help videos on Tantra, which is very technique-oriented sexual spirituality. Tantra helps a lot as an alternative for western guilt and shame-based sexuality.

Of course, you should use protection and free will. Never do anything just to make someone else happy. For a relationship to work, you both have to be on the team.


C says: Dear Revulva – I have some other thoughts on your problem. The fact is, everyone in our culture is exposed to the same messages and images you’ve taken in, but few of them are driven to sexual revulsion as a result. The way that you feel is somewhat unusual. If there isn’t an obvious reason for it, there is still a reason.

Perhaps, as Dr. B states, sex should be as natural as breathing, but in reality, there are a number of other considerations involved. Any conscious being has to be aware that STDs and other potential outcomes, such as pregnancy, are possibilities whenever sex takes place. Are you squeamish because the potential for infection and invasion is there? I have a friend with obsessive compulsive disorder who was so disgusted at the thought of germs and cooties that she was 25 and had been through two years of therapy before she could bring herself to experiment with sex. And I don’t mean with a partner – it was that long before she could experiment by herself.

In the context of a relationship, sex can certainly just be about adult play and pleasure. But, especially for singles, it can also be dangerous psychological ground. There’s a lot of players out there who treat sex like a game, but it is an emotional intimacy of the deepest sort, and can produce oxytocin overdrive and emotional attachment along with pleasure. Having sex can make you vulnerable in a way that nothing else can. If you have sex before you are ready, it won’t strengthen you relationship; it could destroy it. Something in you isn’t ready for this yet. I hope that the steps that Dr. B prescribed will help. But if they don’t, you need to talk with someone. A problem like this isn’t going to solve itself.

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