Ask Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Coral contributor, Kinsey Institute Research Fellow and internationally-recognized sex educator answers your sex questions.

My wife struggles with foreplay due to past sexual abuse. Is there anything we can do together or individually to help us have a healthier sexual relationship? Like seeing a sex therapist?

Thank you for this important question. Sexual abuse is something that is, sadly, quite common; and among those who have previously been victimized, many go on to experience difficulties in future sexual relationships. For example, sexual assault survivors sometimes have lingering trust issues, they might find it difficult to relax, or they might show involuntary and negative reactions to physical touch.

It is great to hear that you want to support your partner and work through this together. There are different ways to approach this depending on her comfort level. For example, one starting point might be for her to work with a trauma-informed sex therapist on her own for a while, with you joining the process later on. Alternatively, she might prefer to have you there every step of the way.

The important thing is to continue showing your partner support and to encourage her to seek help so that she can access the tools and resources she needs to feel safe. However, don’t pressure her and be sure to allow your partner to decide the path that she is most comfortable with.

Need help finding a therapist in your area? Here’s a handy therapist locator tool from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). Try to select a therapist who is certified through an organization like AASECT to ensure they have had the appropriate training and can therefore best meet your partner’s needs.

What’s the best way to close the sexual desire disparity gap? I want sex more than once per week, she wants less than once a week. How do we get to a compromise?

What you’ve described is known as a sexual desire discrepancy, a situation where partners don’t agree on the amount of sex that they want to have. This is one of the most commonly reported sexual problems. In fact, nationally-representative surveys have found that about one in four men and women report having experienced this in the past year alone.

Fortunately, it is possible to work through this problem; however, some strategies are more effective than others, and different strategies might work better for different people. We’ll explore some of these strategies momentarily, but it’s important to note that the most helpful strategies according to research are those that involve partners working together (as opposed to individually), so hopefully both you and your partner are motivated to find a solution.

Generally speaking, communication is one of the most helpful strategies. You might start by stepping back and having a broader conversation about what’s going on in each of your lives and how this is impacting sexual desire. Desire discrepancies sometimes emerge because one partner’s desire is being impacted more than the other's due to things like stress, childcare, conflict, fatigue, or changes in health. Sometimes, it is necessary to address these external factors before specifically addressing the sexual issues.

Communication may also involve coming up with a compromise; finding a frequency of sex that you can both agree on (maybe that’s once per week in this case?). This might be less than your ideal and more than your partner’s ideal, but that’s what a compromise is: nobody gets everything they want. Then, you might consider putting it on the calendar to make sure it happens. This can help to keep your sex life on track, and it actually has the potential to make it even more exciting in some ways. For example, when sex is scheduled, you can use the opportunity to build anticipation, to tell your partner how much you’re looking forward to it and what you want to do. It also gives you both the opportunity to mentally prepare beforehand to ensure you’re relaxed and in the moment. Remember: scheduling sex doesn’t have to take the fun out of it!

Another strategy is to work on cultivating more desire in your relationship. Some do this by increasing the amount of intimate touch in their daily life (think kissing, cuddling, and stroking each other’s skin) in order to stay connected. Others might try activities like showering together or giving each other massages, which can promote relaxation while simultaneously offering an opportunity for desire to set in. Yet others propose trying new sexual activities, such as using sex toys or acting on fantasies. Sexual novelty can be a potent way of boosting arousal and desire because we tend to get bored with sex and want it less when it’s the same every time.

Others find that opening up their relationship or being consensually non-monogamous is the solution, but this approach isn’t for everyone.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer here; it really depends on your own and your partner’s comfort levels. But, again, the key is really for both of you to be motivated to work on this together.

My boyfriend has trouble having an orgasm for me sometimes but always says ‘it's got nothing to do with me.’ Could he be gay? Asking because I recently saw in his phone history the porn he left up was, six guys and one girl... or is that really just something that turns him on?

Contrary to popular belief, it’s normal for men to occasionally have sexual performance issues. They might lose their erection. They might not have an orgasm at all, or find that it takes a long time to have one.

The penis doesn’t always do what the owner wants it to do for a wide range of reasons, from being tired to consuming too much alcohol to be unusually stressed or anxious. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one is uninterested in sex or not attracted to their partner.

When a partner experiences a sexual performance issue, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation, it’s important to be understanding, to avoid taking it personally, and to not make a big deal out of it. Performance issues will happen to everyone on occasion, but if an isolated incident becomes a source of great conflict or tension, this can lead to a recurring problem by creating a chronic state of performance anxiety.

So relax. If your partner only has occasional trouble orgasming and your sex life is otherwise good, it doesn’t sound like there’s anything to worry about. Odds are that he’s telling you the truth when he says that this issue doesn’t have anything to do with you. However, if it starts to happen frequently and/or he starts to feel distressed about it, it’d be worth consulting a sex therapist.

As for your question about the type of porn he watches, I wouldn’t make any assumptions about his sexual orientation based off of that. Most men (including most heterosexual men) have fantasized about these types of group scenarios before, and it’s not unusual for people to seek out porn that depicts their fantasy content.

Lastly, I should note that just because someone fantasizes about a given scenario, this doesn’t necessarily mean they want to act on it in real life; what turns us on in a fantasy versus what turns us on in reality are sometimes quite different.

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