My new partner is used only to 'lying back and thinking of England'

I want us to have a deep, meaningful sexual relationship, but she seems scarred by a previous marriage and thinks she shouldn’t have wants and needs of her own

Relationships

Sexual healing

Pamela Stephenson Connolly

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Photograph: Guardian Design Team

I have been married twice, once divorced and once widowed – and am now in a new relationship with a loving and very caring lady whom I adore. By her own admission, she is sexually inexperienced. She describes her previous sex life with her husband as “lie back and think of England” and says they only had sex when he wanted it, with no foreplay. I like to consider my partner’s wants and needs – which she doesn’t seem to think she should have. I am trying to be patient, but want us to have a deep, meaningful sexual relationship where we can both tell each other what we enjoy and how to enjoy it.

You need simple patience. Truly intimate sexual communication is an advanced lovemaking ability. When a person has been sexually deprived in the way you describe, it takes time to learn to receive pleasure as well as to give it. This task is potentially more difficult than you might think, because your new partner has been conditioned to ignore her own desires and respond only to the needs of a partner. Bypassing one’s true feelings or submitting to sex without desire – especially long-term – can lead to significant sexual apathy, while intercourse without physiological arousal can instigate chronic sexual avoidance and even a sexual pain disorder. You are very much on the right track in your wish to help her reclaim her sexual self, but do not discount the possibility that she might feel deeply guilty about allowing herself to experience pleasure, and that overcoming this sense of being undeserving could take considerable time. Be careful not to replace her previous partner’s tyranny with a different kind of coercion – that of having unrealistic expectations that she should quickly enjoy sex more. She probably feels considerable shame about her past sex life and lack of experience, so acute sensitivity is required. Respect her pace and, above all, do not let her feel coerced into trying to please you by forcing pleasure on herself ... or even feigning it.

• Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

• If you would like advice from Pamela Stephenson Connolly 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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