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Mutual respect and communication are key to successful relationships, regardless of the gender of the partners. Nina Maile Gordon/The Conversation, CC BY-NC-ND

‘My girlfriend is intimidated by the idea of having sex. What should I do?’

This article is part of I Need To Know, a Q&A service for teenagers by The Conversation.

My girlfriend was brought up in a conservative family and is intimidated by sex. She enjoys sex but flinches if I initiate. I’m starting to lose a lot of self confidence as a result.


Key points

  • Communication is everything! It might be a little strange at first, but talk about these things
  • Make sure you’re on the same page about what you both want out of your relationship
  • Talk, talk, talk!

Thank you for the question. Simply put, being in a relationship can be complex and unfortunately there can be too little, or no real guidance on how to make a relationship work effectively. Discussing sex with your parents, teachers, friends and family members might make you feel embarrassed, or may not even be possible. This sucks because our relationships are some of the most important aspects of our lives!

Sex and sexuality are important to intimate relationships and who we are, but when you start having sex with someone new it can be scary (even for adults). For people of some religious and ethnic backgrounds there can also be shame, confusion and stigma about having sex. Keep this in mind when speaking with your girlfriend. Be open, understand her concerns and let her know you’re listening (and be sure you are listening).

If one person in your relationship doesn’t want to do something that’s very normal! Just talk about it (no matter how strange that might feel). The Gender Spectrum Collection/Zackary Drucker, CC BY

Communication is everything

Respect and communication are key to successful relationships, regardless of you or your partner’s gender. It’s important to express to our sexual partners what we are comfortable doing and when. It’s perfectly normal to feel comfortable doing something on one occasion, then not wanting to do it on another.

Not wanting to have sex or do certain acts in a relationship isn’t a failure or due to a lack of love or interest – it may feel like a blow to your confidence, but it’s just a normal part of developing a respectful relationship.

So what should you do? Start by expressly and openly talking with your girlfriend about what you are comfortable doing and when. Encourage her to do the same. It might feel weird at first (or even a little embarassing) but having these conversations now is important. And with practice, this type of openness will only make your relationship and sex life better.

Read more: 'Is it normal to get sore down there after sex?'

Get the conversation flowing

  • Talk about how you’re feeling in the relationship and check in with your partner. Are you happy? Is she happy?
  • Talk about what you’re comfortable doing (maybe you feel comfortable just doing oral, and she doesn’t, or maybe she feels comfortable taking things slowly – that’s perfectly normal and okay)
  • Talk openly about consent and make sure you’re both enthusiastic about having sex before going any further. It might seem weird, but just ask: Is this what you want?
  • Also make sure you both understand it’s okay to stop having sex (withdraw consent) if either of you begins to feel uncomfortable with what is happening.

More than just ‘sex’

There is so much more to sex than penetrative intercourse, but that is what many people assume is “sex”. Oral sex, mutual masturbation, rubbing, foreplay, are just some of the alternatives and equally satisfying – you might find this article from Archer Magazine useful.

First and foremost, sex should be enjoyable, comfortable and satisfying for both your girlfriend and you. And the key to getting to that stage is talking!

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