My boyfriend was abused as a child. How can I help him – and our sex life?

My boyfriend and I have known each other for almost two years and have been dating for eight months. Our relationship is perfect, except for one thing: our sex life. He can only climax through masturbation. I have tried everything. I have asked him what he likes or if he wants us to watch porn together, but he won’t tell me what kind of porn he likes because he says it is embarrassing it is a taboo subject for him. We have had sex about 10 times in the eight months we have been together. He doesn’t give oral sex and has never made me climax, either. We have had sex last for an hour – and still nothing. He told me it was because he masturbated too much, then he said the reason was that he had been sexually abused when he was younger, then a month later he said it was the result of a low sex drive. I don’t know if he is just not attracted to me, even though he says he is. I also had a discussion with him about whether he was gay, but he swore he wasn’t. He is my best friend and I want to make it work. I want him to be comfortable with me and I want to help him let go of all the bad stuff that has happened to him so he can be happy, with or without me.

Back off. Stop trying to “fix” him. You obviously care about him a lot – and I understand your frustration and your desire to help him enjoy sex and be able to climax with you – but he does not need the pressure you are putting on him. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often struggle with adult relationships. Tragically, their future sexuality is frequently designed by their abusers and it takes a long process of healing to move beyond it. Being unable to complete or even enjoy sex is common among survivors. Shame is often part of the legacy of abuse and may explain why your boyfriend is minimising his problem as the result of excessive masturbating or a low libido. Accusing him of being gay, pushing him to watch porn or prolonging attempts to make him climax will all be experienced by him as cruel and torturous – and may even re-traumatise him. Stop. This is not about you and nothing you can do will help, except being kind, loving and supportive – and gently encouraging him to seek the proper healing he needs and deserves. 

  • 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 (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see

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