Relationship

I’m 55 with herpes and low confidence – how can I have a healthy sex life?


I’m a 55-year-old woman and in the past 11 years I have had a string of failed relationships. I’ve been in therapy now for a while to address my patterns around men because I really want to be able to commit to a relationship. In the meantime I’ve discovered two things that I am finding quite devastating. One is that a previous partner told me last year that I was the only woman he had slept with who couldn’t achieve orgasm just by penetration. I had had no idea that orgasm without digital stimulation was possible until then. I am very jealous of women who experience this. The second is that I have discovered I have genital herpes. It presents on my lower back and has appeared about three times in five years but has only just been diagnosed. I can’t imagine anyone will ever want to sleep with me again. If I knew a man had genital herpes, I wouldn’t want to sleep with him, so why on earth would anyone want to sleep with me? I am utterly shattered by this.

First of all, your partner from a year ago was probably lying, or perhaps had pressured his previous partners until they resorted to faking orgasms. Sexual health professionals tend to agree that most women require at least some clitoral stimulation in order to achieve orgasm. Some men feel threatened by this fact, and many lack the knowledge, patience, technique or focus to provide sufficient clitoral pleasuring. And some men who tend to ejaculate early have never learned to sustain a lovemaking session that fully satisfies a woman. Your job is to teach a partner exactly how you like to be pleasured – and accept nothing less. And help yourself to achieve orgasm when necessary. Regarding your herpes diagnosis, you are joining the millions of other people in the world who have contracted it – either knowingly or otherwise. It is important to put it into perspective and understand it is manageable – you simply need to learn how.

  • 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 private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

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