Last time, relationship therapist Moraya Seeger DeGeare, LMFT, heard from someone who fears her ADHD medicine is interfering with her libido. Today, a Refinery29 reader enquires about whether or not their anxieties around partnered sex have to do with being asexual.
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I have been with my partner for almost a year now and I’d say we have a very healthy relationship. We are comfortable with one another, spend lots of time together, and talk openly about what’s working in our relationship and what isn’t. I have never felt so connected to someone and they always say they feel lucky I walked into their life. I am more than happy with our relationship and I think my partner is too, but the one patch we can’t get through is communication with our sex life.
I believe I am some form of asexual. I have never really been sexually attracted to anyone and sex has never been a priority in my life. I’m completely content with not doing it often. I’ve given oral and fingered and helped with a vibrator, but we’ve never gotten around to using the strap-on we bought months ago. Both my partner and I are FTM trans, and I especially have a hard time with my body parts. I am not comfortable being reminded I have them, so I have avoided them and stuck to pleasuring myself in my own comfortable, low-tech way, which has made me super inexperienced with partnered sex. I’m working on that with myself to see if it helps with the two of us, but I move very, very slowly, and I think my partner is starting to believe I’m not trying hard enough.
Since I barely know my own anatomy, it’s hard to know theirs and what feels good and what doesn’t, which has led to some awkward encounters. My partner is not the same way. They are a bit uncomfortable with their body, but not nearly as much. I have been open with them about the fact I feel I’m ace and that’s why I never really initiate with them — it just never crosses my mind — and I let them know how I feel about them and that I love them and would absolutely have sex with them if they felt it was important or even just something they want to do. I’m extremely nervous about my lack of experience because I haven’t really engaged in anything sexual, especially with another person. I’m worried I will make things too awkward or hurt my partner from not knowing what I’m doing, especially if we bring in things like the strap-on that can cause actual damage to them. I want to have sex with them because we both enjoy it and I’ve never really regretted it with them, but I’m just so anxious from lack of experience and my feelings about sex in general that I’m afraid I may hurt them physically or appear apathetic when we do stuff.
I know that sex isn’t a make or break for either of us, but I want to make them happy and show them that I am trying for them in this way. It’s always been a hurdle for me in our relationship and it is something I want to get better with so both of us can have a good time. How can I get over my anxiety with this sort of thing? Do you have any tips for my discomfort due to my transness? And what are ways to take it slow to start so I can help them feel fulfilled without rushing myself into things I’m not yet comfortable with?
Feeling safe in your body will be a lifelong journey. It is for most people, because we are continuously learning who we are in each new chapter of life. But you and your partner have navigated additional layers of finding safety in your bodies as you have transitioned and found deeper understanding and comfort in your gender and sexual identity. You sound like such a loving partner. You want to make sure they know you are trying — to make them happy and fulfilled, to make an effort that shows progress, to have sex be a part of your relationship in a bigger way.
I’m curious if the root of your anxiety is not actually about an asexual identity. When you are turned on and you feel the energy that flows in your body, is that anxiety inducing in itself? Do you associate it with a more masculine or feminine part of yourself? This could possibly bring on a trauma trigger, or can even just feel like there’s another part of yourself that you don’t know. Getting to know this other part of yourself — this sexual, sometimes romantic part — might feel scary, but could be really worth diving into. Coming from a loving place, I’m also wondering if this feeling is coming from pressure you are placing on yourself and not direct pressure from your partner.
Sadly, so many places in the world are not accepting of you, your partner, your bodies, and your relationship. Just existing can feel like your identity is being attacked regularly. That trauma could easily be impacting your anxieties with sex and pleasure, especially as you weave in potential dissociation that comes with gender dysphoria during sex.
We need to shift the goal away from showing your partner you are making progress and towards loving yourself and your own body first. Asexuality is a spectrum — some people having no desire at all for sex while others may desire sex, masturbation, and orgasm at times. The way you speak of your sexuality makes me wonder what parts of your relationship to desire and sex are connected to an asexual identity and what might be anxiety with your own body. Although they might sound like one, I do think these could be separate things getting blended together here.
Sometimes the sexiest thing our partners can do is show themselves love. If you think about it, your partner loves you, and so you’re loving something they deeply love. We are in a time when people so often are throwing out therapy words on TikTok like “toxic” and “narcissist” when in reality, most of our relationships would be thriving if we all took a moment to love ourselves, heal the parts of ourselves that feel unlovable, and welcome in our partners to know us deeper. That’s one aspect of intimacy that needs some highlighting — it’s not just inviting our partners into our mess, it’s inviting them into our healing.
Since I only have bits of your story, I encourage you to bring this into individual therapy. It would be a wonderful thing to work with a therapist who knows your personal history and supports you as you navigate gender, sexuality, anxiety, and dissociation, and how it’s showing up for you. When ready, it would be worth exploring these blocks in couples therapy with a therapist who is well-versed in sexuality and the struggles that trans individuals face. The National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network is a great resource to find a therapist who can hold complex identities, especially with people from marginalized groups, in their clinical work.
Let’s dive into your anxiety, because that feels like the most pressing part of your sex life. Could it be that you are worried that the thing you want and desire might not be okay or normal, or that the way you are when you are exploring sex might actually turn your partner off? Sometimes the thing that brings on deep disconnection and loneliness are having rigid boundaries around ourselves in fear of abandonment or something else bad happening. But when we do have our safe people, even if it is just one or two, lowering those boundaries and inviting people in can be so healing. Even if you say you like a low-tech masturbation, you can explore your body without toys, or you can share the fear of having something that you can’t fully feel as an extension of your body. All of it is totally okay! Not liking something doesn’t mean you’re doing sex wrong — it’s just your personal preference.
Fear can be the biggest blocker to curiosity and exploration of ourselves. Fear shows up in the form of trauma, anxiety, and sometimes in deep worry of rejection or abandonment from the people we love. The Transgender Self-Care Journal would be a great resource for you and your partner to help transition back to a place of love in these anxious moments.
Even in the most secure of relationships, fear can show up. Although it can feel misplaced — this person is your safe space, after all — fearing the loss of someone who fully accepts you can cause you to hide your deeper desires. To get you started on work that can continue in therapy, get curious right now by asking yourself these questions:
1. Be more embodied with your pleasure by asking: Where does my mind go when I am touching or pleasuring myself? Am I drifting away and almost out of my body, am I disconnecting from the sensation, even experiencing dissociation during sex? Am I tumbling so quickly into pleasure that it bumps into fear? Do I notice some of that sexual energy feels more masculine or feminine, and it causes another sort of discomfort?
2. Interrupt possible shame by asking: What desire do I have for sex with my partner that I might not have shared with them yet?
3. Get on the same page as a couple by asking: What role does sex play in our relationship long term?
Relationship anxiety lives so heavily in the unknown. Opening up the conversations and giving each other the freedom to have different opinions is one of the most vital parts of a safe and trusting relationship. The best thing to do is share your wants and desires, but also those more haunted thoughts you might have. Tell your partner about how if you don’t show progress with your desire for sex, you’re afraid that they might be disappointed or stuck in a place of dissatisfaction. By sharing fear, it gives them the opportunity to comfort you and tell you how they really feel, if it’s something genuinely pressing for them. Perhaps they will feel closer to you just knowing this is what you have been thinking about. Even if you wrote to me for support because you feel like you reach for reassurance from your partner too often, it can still show your partner that this is something really worth bringing to couples therapy.
When we avoid talking about things with our partner, we are not just throwing up blocks to disconnection — we are robbing ourselves of the deepest, sweetest part of intimacy that is letting someone into our inner world and growing together. These conversations with yourself and your partner are not about chasing an orgasm or having sex more often, they’re about the most pleasurable part of a relationship — really knowing another person.
DeGeare is a licensed marriage and family therapist, who specializes in intimacy, LGBTQ+ relationships, mixed-culture couples, and racial identity development. The advice in this column is to point you in a direction that encourages healing and creates safety for you in this world. It is not to replace the relationship with a licensed mental health professional who knows your personal history.