Q. My girlfriend recently told me that she feels bad after any type of sex with me. She doesn’t masturbate, and she even feels uneasy after sexual dreams. She has no history of sexual abuse and says she feels ready for sex. She can’t really explain it to me. What can we do?
A. Sex is a curious thing that people react to in very different ways. Unfortunately, we don’t often see sex portrayed in very nuanced ways in movies or on television. Sex is often shown as very erotic in movies or as highly exciting or sensation- or performance-focused in much mainstream porn.
And yet in reality, people may experience many different emotions in connection with sexual expression and for any number of reasons. Being sexual with another person can make some people feel extremely vulnerable.
After all, it involves taking off one’s clothes, and for some people, sex can tap into the depth of their emotions. If they expect a lot of emotional closeness and don’t get it, they may feel lonely or sad. If they don’t want or expect emotional closeness but their partner expresses emotions they’re not ready for or feel able to deal with, they may feel uncomfortable or avoidant.
The experience of sexual pleasure and orgasm can also tap into people’s brain chemistry in ways that, as scientists, we don’t fully understand yet. There may be key physical differences that influence how some people feel during or after sex. I have heard, for example, from several people who describe sadness associated with sex for reasons they don’t understand.
Talking To A Professional Can Help
My suggestion would be to consider connecting with a trained sex therapist. Your girlfriend may find it helpful to speak with someone about her emotional experience of sexual expression. She can find a sex therapist through the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists website.
She might also find it helpful to speak with a healthcare provider to determine if there are other mood or anxiety issues that may be bothering her more generally, even outside of sex.
In the meantime, you two might consider exploring a range of ways of being intimate to better understand what helps her to feel good and what doesn’t. Perhaps there are certain types of physical intimacy, such kissing, cuddling, bathing together, or sensual touching, that will allow her pleasure without sadness.
Also, although many women masturbate, some do not – and that’s okay. If she’s not interested in self-pleasuring, that’s all right. Many women have satisfying experiences of sexuality without incorporating masturbation into their lives.
Finally, you two may enjoy reading For Each Other: Sharing Sexual Intimacy for tips on connecting in pleasurable ways.