I'm scared of intimacy after nine years alone

To the outside world I look confident and successful, so people are surprised I don't have a partner. But I haven't had a sexual relationship for nine years, since the boyfriend I was with in my 30s turned out to be a cheat.

It took me five years to trust a man again, but when we tried to have sex I was too nervous to go through with it and he called me frigid.

Now I am so scared of more rejection I back off when men like me. I don't want to die without having proper, loving sex again. What can I do

Withdrawn: A reader is too scared to start a new relationship after being hurt in the past (posed by model)

Withdrawn: A reader is too scared to start a new relationship after being hurt in the past (posed by model)

Yours is a heartbreaking story and the saddest part is you now feel there’s something at fault with you.

In actual fact you’ve had a completely normal reaction to two unusually cruel men. The fact that your boyfriend turned out to be a cheat must have left you reeling with shock and self-doubt.

There’s a tendency to blame yourself for not detecting the lies. Instead, you retreated to lick your wounds and them met another brute, who rubbed fresh salt in them.

Wanting to take sex slowly does not mean you are ‘frigid’ — which is a hateful term, used in my experience only by men who are inept lovers.

Who doesn’t feel frozen and withdrawn when not warmed by kindness

Under the circumstances, your decision to withdraw from the dating arena is totally understandable. Some people protest that the best cure for heartache is ‘getting back in the saddle’, but plenty of souls wonder if the risks are really worth it.

Sexual abstinence is less talked about in our society than sexual intercourse, but many people choose, like you, to opt out of the relationship game for a long time. There is nothing unnatural about waiting until you feel cherished and secure within yourself before risking intimacy again.

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Although almost everyone feels vulnerable when they are in bed with a new love interest, it seems to me your confidence has been so badly dented that you would be well advised to get some professional counselling (try the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s website).

You might also try talking to some of your closest friends. I think you will be surprised by how many women have similar stories and by how protective your friends will be. Enlist their support in helping your find a trustworthy man. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of vetting from your pals.

I would also advise taking things very slowly indeed and, if you meet someone who seems kind and committed, there’s no shame in telling him your story.

Many chivalrous men actively relish the thought of rescuing a damsel from your kind of distress.

There are plenty of men who are versed in relaxation techniques, such as massage, foreplay and old-fashioned conversation.

If you can find someone who is happy to just hold hands and kiss for a few months (or longer) and who makes you laugh and feel comfortable, I am sure you can progress to a happy sexual relationship.

In fact, many say the ecstasy is all the more exquisite for the long waiting time of abstinence.