I’ve been dating my boyfriend for six months, and I’ve started feeling funny about the quality of our sex. At the beginning, sex was fantastic between us. We both have high sex drives, are creative in bed, and I think we both felt that we’d found our sexual soul mate.
Lately though, I’m feeling more and more objectified by him. He texts overly sexual things to me. (That’s fine, but how about an “I miss you!” every once in a while!) He wants to do rougher things, and although I don’t mind that and even find it a turn on, I'm beginning to feel less like a partner to him and more like an object. I know he’s really into porn, he masturbates a lot, has had lots of casual flings in the past and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s a sex addict.
What are the signs? What should I do? I care about him, but I am feeling suspicious that he no longer sees me as an equal, and I wonder if, with his insatiable appetite, he might even cheat on me. I know he’s done it in the past. Help! To hear what Dr. Glickman has to say, read more.
Dr. Glickman's Answer:
First thing — good for you for listening to your intuition and your feelings on this. A lot of people ignore or don’t listen to those early warning signs, and that often leads to a worse situation. It’s important to pay attention to them when they first show up and I’m glad you did.
I hear the term “sex addict” used a lot. To be honest, there isn’t any consensus among therapists or sexologists about what it means and there is still a lot of debate about whether someone can be addicted to sex in the way that someone can be addicted to drugs, with all of the physiological effects that can have. At the same time, it seems pretty clear to me that some people have sexual compulsions that they have difficulty controlling or working with.
Now, maybe most people outside the sexology or therapy worlds don’t really care about the difference between sex addiction and compulsion. But I think it’s important to not throw the “addict” label at people (not that I’m suggesting that you’re doing that) because it can be really triggering. In my experience, it tends to create a lot of shame and judgment on top of whatever difficult feelings someone may have because of their actions. Of course, if someone wants to use the word to describe themselves, that’s fine. It’s about self-definition, after all.
Leaving aside the question of whether your boyfriend is a sex addict, I think that the place to start is the fact that you’re not getting what you want. From what you say, it sounds like you enjoy some of the same things, which can be helpful. But if you want sweetness and loving moments mixed in with the rough and tumble, that’s a totally fine thing to ask for. Have you spoken with him about that? If so, has he been open to hearing that? And what have the two of you agreed to do? If you haven’t raised this topic with him, why is that? What could make it easier for you to talk with him about it?
Along those lines, what about the non-sexual parts of your relationship? Are you getting your needs and desires met? Does this pattern extend into those realms, too? If he’s open to talking with you and finding ways to support your relationship, great! That’s a good starting point for working through how things are for your sexual connection. But if he’s not open to that in other arenas, that’s probably a good reason to reconsider whether being “sexual soul mates” is enough of a foundation for a relationship.
Assuming that you two are both willing to work on this together, there are a few directions that you could take things.
One of the challenges that can arise when someone explores some of their sexual desires is that it can cause a disconnection from their partner, especially if they go through a phase of wanting to focus on a particular set of fantasies to the exclusion of other ways of being sexual. I’ve seen people fall into those patterns when exploring many different sexual practices, although it seems to be especially likely when rougher sex is on the menu. I’m not aware of any research on the topic, but my sense is that for some people, the heightened intensity of the interaction can make it easy to get lost in the fantasy and hard to stay present and focused on the real life person they’re with. So finding ways to connect in other ways, such as sweet text messages or more romantic sex can be a big help.
You might want to take a vacation from the rougher sex for a while, at least until you can reconnect in other ways. Being able to ask for the types of connection that work for you can be a big help. I like the book The Five Love Languages for that. The author describes five basic ways of giving and receiving love and care (words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch). He also talks about how we tend to have our preferred method and that we often get into conflict because we’re using different languages, not because we don’t care for our partners. It’s a good read, although I personally don’t care for his biblical approach and had to filter that out. You can get the basic idea on this page of his website without getting into his particular religious perspective, if that works better for you.
It could also be worth talking with your boyfriend about why he wants to have rough sex. For that matter, you might also get a lot out of exploring what your motivations are, too. There are many different reasons people enjoy any type of sex and having a clear understanding of what yours and his are could be really helpful for both of you. If you’re clear about what you want to get out of it, you’ll be much more likely to be able to create the connection that you desire. If you go that route, I strongly suggest not having that conversation during or after sex. Set some time aside for it when you’re both feeling relaxed and ready.
Finally, if none of that works for you and things don’t change, or if he’s not open to talking about it, that may be a sign that things really aren’t going to change. Take a good look at the situation and listen to your feelings. (It sounds like you’ve already been doing that.) I think that whether your boyfriend is a sex addict is less important than whether he’s able and willing to sit down with you and talk about your relationship, and whether the two of you are able to engage in the give-and-take that all successful relationships need.
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