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Are my boyfriend's sexual hangups personal, or cultural?
by Cait Robinson
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Dear Miss Information,
I've been involved with a man twenty years my junior for almost a year now. It's a hush-hush relationship, which works well for both of us. But a couple of things don't work well for both of us. I've gone down on him dozens of times, but there's been no move on his part to go any further, or to reciprocate. I'm guessing the non-reciprocation is just because he's kind of egotistical, and pleasing someone else just isn't his thing. I'm actually okay with that, because I love giving head more than I love having someone go down on me. But what I really love is fucking, and he shows no interest in taking that next step. I've told him I want to, I've told him I'm prepared with condoms, lube, etc... but nothing. Have you ever heard of a guy who'd rather get a BJ than get laid?
— Blown Off
Dear Blown Off,
Oh, sure. I know guys who refuse to touch a girl they're into, for fear of escalating the relationship to a level they can't handle. I know girls who stop at first, second, or third base, as a way of keeping a lid on their attachments. I know people who will sleep with someone on the first date, but disappear before they have to talk about themselves. The line between "comfortable hook-up" and "emotional wilderness" can be wildly different for everyone, but it's kind of a red herring. Often, when someone draws a seemingly arbitrary line like this, it's not the physical act they are avoiding, but rather the intimacy it might engender.
You say you're in a "hush-hush" relationship. Odds are that he's trying to keep the relationship surrounded in ripstop fabric: if he controls the level of physicality, he can stay more detached. Just a guess. The best way to find out what's going on is to ask him what's going on. A year of an unfulfilling relationship is a long time. All this leads me to wonder: what about this relationship is "working well?" Does your love of giving head really outweigh the fact that he will neither reciprocate nor engage in discussions about trying other things? A friend with benefits should either provide benefits or conversations about benefits — if you find you're getting neither, you may want to examine this whole endeavor.
Dear Miss Information,
I'm living abroad, and I have a really wonderful boyfriend who lives here. He's caring and patient and funny, all that good stuff, but lately the sex has been lacking. We've been dating for around eight months, and while I'm aware that all relationships have a time of adjustment and learning that varies from couple to couple, I've been worried that our language barrier and cultural differences are keeping our sex life below the level that it could be.
The sex is plain vanilla. There's nothing wrong with that, except when it seems like there's no hope of anything else. It's hard to work out the kinks without all the right words in whatever language we choose to use. I do my best to communicate what I like and don't like, and what I want, but it doesn't always seem to work. Because of his culture, he also doesn't seem to be interested in being as communicative as I try to be (he's not hostile about it, but I don't want to nag at him to talk to me about sex), so I have a hard time figuring out what he likes or wants.
I've done the talking and the showing, and nothing seems to really get across. I've thought about maybe watching some videos together, but I'm afraid I would have a hard time finding videos of some normal, non-porn-inflected sex. I feel great about our relationship, but sexually, I'm really starting to lose steam. What can I do? Is this a cultural thing, or are we just sexually incompatible? I feel like we haven't even had enough of a real chance for me to write it off as a plain old mismatch.
— Lost in Translation
Dear Lost in Translation,
First of all, where are you from and where are you living now? I assume you're American, given your wording, but both of your cultural backgrounds make a huge difference in this question. A reserved Dane is going to be a different ballgame than a reserved Egyptian, so it's hard to work blind on this. Do you think he has religious reservations? Cultural ones? Or do you think it's just a personal thing? Perhaps insecurity or nervousness? As a fun bonus, we American girls (if this is, indeed, a "we") suffer quite a reputation shock abroad, in that we are often considered "easy." He may find this stereotype intimidating, assuming that you dance on any available pole and bang your roommates in hot tubs. (Thanks for your international dominance, MTV!)
It is interesting, though, that you describe him as "funny." Generally, sense of humor is one of the hardest things to comprehend in another language or culture, and if you're fluent enough in his language (or he in yours) to find each other funny, you're likely fluent enough to communicate where the clitoris is located. That might suggest that this is a personal issue, rather than a linguistic one.
If I had to guess, I'd say this is likely a personal issue (i.e. his shyness, inexperience, etc.) wrapped up in a cultural one (overt discussions of sex put him on edge). The key, then, might be in trying to find culturally-sensitive ways to bring all this up. It would also be helpful to discuss these things in pressure-free, abstract, and fully-clothed contexts, rather than in the middle of sex. He might be more receptive if there's no immediate pressure to perform.
This would be a great topic to bring to any local female friends you may have, if only to get insight into his cultural frame of reference. If you don't have close enough friends, think about how the country treats sex in general, and use that to inform your approach. For instance, in a particularly conservative country, you may have to change your phrasing to avoid coming across as an Aggressive American Female. (Shoes! Multiple orgasms! USA! USA!) If formal conversations reach a stalemate, put a renewed effort in nonverbal communication. You can often read when someone is into something, or when they're not; he should be able to pick up the same signals about you.
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