The utter humiliation of being with a man who never wants to make love to you
22:10 GMT, 8 August 2012
Christina Hopkinson: 'I felt hideous'
When women of a certain age get together over a few bottles of wine, there is one topic which is guaranteed to come up: sex — or, rather, the fact that they don’t want it.
‘I just can’t be bothered,’ they sigh over glasses of sauvignon blanc, ‘It must have been at least a month since we last did it. I’ll have to give in soon.’
They exchange stories of batting away wandering hands and trade strategies for deflecting their husbands’ amorous advances, and one thing is abundantly clear: men want more sex than women do. Far more.
But what happens when it is the other way round When the woman in a relationship is the one being sexually rejected by the man she loves
It is devastating, doubly painful. And I should know. For I spent over a year in a relationship where I was the one being brushed off. It destroyed my relationship, and very nearly my self-esteem, too.
I was in my late 20s, the age at which women often feel at their most sexy and confident, having shed the insecurities of their teenage years, yet retained the glow and slender limbs of youth.
When I look at photos of myself at that time, I see a woman with unlined skin, long, shiny hair and a body that — while not model-perfect — was a healthy size 10.
But I felt hideous, and was convinced I was utterly repellent to men. This didn’t stem from any deep-seated lack of self-esteem, but from my boyfriend’s total lack of interest in having sex with me.
There were no warning signs of this when we first met — quite the opposite, in fact. He was seven years older than me and seemed a typical alpha male — tall, broad-shouldered and handsome, with a high-flying job in London, a plush flat and a sports car.
We clicked over Martinis at a party, after which he pursued me with a determination I found flattering. He would send flowers, call and text me endlessly and wine and dine me at swanky restaurants.
Yet as soon as he’d got me, the physical attraction he’d felt for me seemed to disappear. In the first three months of our relationship, I could count the number of times we had sex on one hand.
And whenever we did have sex, it would be initiated by me and I always felt as though he was ‘putting out’ under sufferance.
At first, I tried to tell myself it didn’t really matter. After all, friends in long-term relationships had told me that the sex tails off eventually, anyway.
Yet I couldn’t suppress the feeling that something wasn’t right. I blamed myself, telling myself I was too fat for him to fancy. Worse, he blamed me too.
‘You really don’t want that second slice of cake,’ he’d say. ‘I won’t love you if you get fat.’ Since he wasn’t loving me at all, physically, I could only assume I’d already, in his eyes, crossed that line.
Christina Hopkinson, author of 'The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs'
I don’t think he was trying to be cruel — it must have been difficult for him, too, struggling with the idea that ‘real’ men are always up for it — but I was desperately trying to find an explanation for his lack of desire.
We got on very well in every other respect. We were both at the stage in our lives where we were tiring of noisy nightclubs, preferring to stay in with home-cooked dinners.
We also had lots of shared interests — yet the fact he didn’t want to have sex quickly poisoned every aspect of our relationship.
I could never bring myself to ask him why he didn’t want to make love — because I feared what the answer would be.
Instead, we started sniping at one another, and soon we were trading bitter, vile insults. His jibes revolved around me being fat and the fact that he was much better looking than me.
He told me how odd and unnatural I was for wanting to have sex, and that there must be something wrong with me to be such a sex ‘maniac’.
And I retaliated. I told him that if we stayed together, I would be unfaithful — and that this would be justified. That he was getting a bit of a paunch himself. That it wasn’t as if I fancied him that much, anyway.
And while I would usually report back every dating disaster to my tight-knit group of friends, I said nothing to them of our problems.
I was so ashamed of the fact that my boyfriend found me physically repellent that it never even occurred to me to confide in them.
Christina's former boyfriend was happy to fall straight to sleep, leaving her feeling rejected
The fact is that in the many conversations I’ve had about sex, I can only think of one friend who has complained that it’s fallen to her rather than him to initiate sex.
‘It’s not like I even want to do it that much,’ she says, ‘But if I don’t make the effort then it’s never going to happen and the less we do it, the less confident I feel about making a move.’
The notion that women might want more sex than their partners, and thus be the ones who are being rejected, is one of the last taboos.
‘It can feel much worse for a woman because of societal norms around sexual relationships. ‘You’re supposed to have a male partner who’s dying to have sex with you so if he’s rejecting you, it goes against our perceptions,’ says Relate counsellor Christine Northam.
Looking back, I wonder why I put up with this void at the heart of our relationship for as long as I did. At the time, I felt that to break it off because of sex would be to overstate the importance of sex, to place the physical above the cerebral.
When we did finally break up after a year, it was — ostensibly, at least — nothing to do with sex. He wanted to have children, but I was absolutely sure I didn’t want to have them with him, so I ended the relationship.
It was only with hindsight that I could see how destructive our sex life — or lack of it — was.
There are many understandable reasons that relationships go through fallow periods — childbirth, broken nights, work stress and sickness — but we were at the beginning of a relationship between two healthy young people and we should have been enjoying ourselves with some frequency.
More than a decade on, I’m 42 years old and happily married to a very different man. With three small children, two jobs and a litany of household chores, our life together is more Morecambe and Wise than Fifty Shades Of Grey, but he always makes me feel desired.
And my experiences with my previous boyfriend are still vivid enough to remind me that if it all peters out in the bedroom, then we’d better watch out that other areas of life don’t get poisoned too.
Just Like Proper Grown-ups by Christina Hopkinson is published by Hodder in hardcover, 17.99.