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I’m Worried That I’ve Become Bad At Sex

I'm concerned that my partner might want to leave me.

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A red Anthurium and Orchid plant losing their petals
Margeaux Walter
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For my entire adult life, I’ve prided myself on being good at sex. That may sound conceited, but there are some things I’ve accepted I’ll never excel at, and some I’ve taken to naturally. Sex is the latter. Just as I consider my long hair my best feature, my ability to give and get pleasure in bed has been something that always has boosted my confidence, so much so that I’ve taken it for granted — until now. While I have plenty of other positive qualities (I’m a good listener, I’m easygoing and supportive), sex is what I’ve considered my biggest asset in my decade-long monogamous relationship.

Even though I know my boyfriend loves me, I’m insecure about a lot of the ways I don’t fit into our culture’s ideal of womanhood. I don’t know how to cook anything that’s not from a box or a can, I don’t wear makeup, I live in sweatpants, and I’m more than a little messy. But the bedroom is where I shine — or so I thought. 

For most of our relationship, we’ve always finished each encounter sexually satisfied. I admit to being vain enough to preen when he compliments me in bed, my ego perking up at the attention. Sex has been a way for us to celebrate good news, commiserate over bad, and reconnect after we argue. We haven’t faced dry spells or mismatched libidos or affairs or any of the other sexual problems I know plague many couples.

Recently, though, sex hasn’t been that blissful oasis of joy, though not for lack of trying. We’ll start off smoothly, but once we actually get it on, the sex will start to fizzle out. He never has trouble with erectile dysfunction, but whereas in the past I always used to be able to make him orgasm, that hasn’t been the case over the last few months. Instead, sex has started to feel rote, more like something we’re just going through the motions of, literally, each of us locked in our own thoughts but not truly connecting as lovers.  

I’ve tried everything I can think of, but even when we switch positions or add dirty talk or a sex toy into the mix, sometimes it still doesn’t happen. Rationally, I know I’m not responsible for my partner’s pleasure, just as he isn’t for mine — and that we can each enjoy sex even without a big finish. But in practice, this experience, happening not just once but multiple times, has rocked my self-esteem and how I see myself. I always thought sex was like riding a bicycle: Once you know the basics, you’re all set. 

But maybe in my mid-40s, I have to approach sex with what Buddhists call beginner’s mind. Perhaps rather than trying to apply everything I’ve learned from the past two-plus decades of my sex life, I need to start over and go back to basics, including focusing more on foreplay (or even making something like a hand job the main event) and talking more openly about what would make him and me feel good, without any judgment or pressure. 

I also know that I have to stop playing the blame game, because feeling like a failure in bed is definitely not sexy. Instead, it makes me want to cry, and I worry that, despite there being no evidence, he might want to leave me.

I’m hoping we can get back to where we once were between the sheets. In the meantime, I’ll be working on reminding myself that I’m a good girlfriend, whether I’m good in bed or not.