My first intimate partner publicly shamed me. Now sex makes me freeze | Relationships

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I am a man in my 30s and have recently admitted to myself that I cannot form an intimate sexual relationship. I am not, and never have been, interested in sex for its own sake; I want trust and intimacy even more than sex, although I hunger for both together.

I have been close with potential partners many times, but each time I get to the point where the other person wants to progress to sex, I freeze and cannot carry on, until one of us breaks it off. I then hate myself for not following through yet again.

I lost my virginity in my 20s with my first partner, whose sexual needs and energies far exceeded mine. We would have sex several times a week, or even several times a day when the occasion permitted, and I felt abused and trapped. I lost interest in him and could not perform in bed. I broke off the relationship quite soon, but he was very savage and took revenge by telling some of my friends about my failings as a lover. The pain and the shame of this exposure still haunt me. I try not to dwell on it, but how can I get past this endless cycle of failure?

Your body is protecting you from psychological pain or harm, shutting down to stop you going through the motions of sex when you don’t want it. This is often the case when a person cannot “perform” and it should never be seen as a failure. Healing from such a painful first experience with a partner takes time. It is important to recognise that your needs regarding true connection, trust and intimacy – and your distaste for “casual” sex – are valid and important. You know what you really want, and you know when it does or doesn’t feel right to proceed to having sex, so be confident. Don’t let anyone belittle you for it or coerce you into bypassing your feelings.

  • Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

  • If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to [email protected] (please don’t send attachments). Each week, Pamela chooses one problem to answer, which will be published online. She regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

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