I love my boyfriend, but I don't want to have sex anymore

Dear Alice,

I am 20 years old and recently lost my virginity to my boyfriend of six months. Before this happened, I strongly believed that I would wait until marriage because of both personal and religious reasons. My boyfriend completely understood my morals but then pushed the limits after only one month together and I didn't stop him. Not to mention we had sex before we told each other, "I love you." I regretted my decision the moment it happened. I know (now) that he loves me and I love him, but I still believe that what we are doing is wrong. I hate lying and that is exactly what I am doing by being dishonest with my family and peers. He acts so hurt when we do not have sex but I don't want to anymore. How can I tell him that I want to put an end to our sexual relationship?


Dear Ashamed, 

You have the right to choose if, when, how you want to have sex — regardless of whether it’s the first time you’re intimate or well into a relationship. Engaging in any form of sexual activity requires consent, which is a willing, unforced agreement from both parties. And just because someone consents once, that permission doesn’t extend to future interactions, other activities, or mean that a person can’t change their mind (more on this in a bit). For some, situations such as the one you describe may cause feelings of regret and shame. Know that what happened isn’t your fault and that there’s support out there if you decide to seek it. Also, many people choose to not have sex (known as abstinence) for a host of reasons. The definition of abstinence can vary from person to person (such as vaginal or anal penetration for some) and isn’t exclusive to people that have never had sex before. The decision to have sex in any form and at any time is deeply personal and one that needs to be respected. It’s also a key part of equal, healthy relationships between partners. Reflecting on how these experiences made you feel in the past and what you want in the future may help clarify how to move forward.  

Before delving into how to communicate with your partner about your sexual boundaries, it may be helpful to consider a clear conceptualization of consent. The idea behind consent is that you have a right to control your body, always. Before engaging in a sexual act, all parties need to give clear approval each time and for each activity. This explicit agreement involves both words, tone, and body language. Setting and honoring these boundaries helps everyone to feel respected, safe, and the most enjoyment from the experience possible. When consent isn’t present from all partners, the sexual activity would be consistent with sexual assault or rape. If you’re not sure if a partner consents, ask them. The principles of consent, which are broken down by Planned Parenthood using the acronym “FRIES,” include: 

  • Freely given. Consenting is a choice that all parties make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  
  • Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime — even if you’ve done it before and even if you’re both naked in bed. 
  • Informed. You can only consent to an activity if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent. 
  • Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, this means only doing what you want to do, not what you feel you’re expected to do. And the absence of a “no” doesn’t mean “yes.” 
  • Specific. Saying yes to one activity (such as going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (such as having sex). 

List adapted from Planned Parenthood

You mentioned that your boyfriend “pushed the limits” and that you “didn’t stop him.” It’s never okay to pressure a partner to do anything they aren’t comfortable with or to make them feel guilty. You may consider reflecting on your past experiences with your boyfriend and how they made you feel before deciding if you want to stay in the relationship or move on. If you opt to have a conversation, laying out how you’re feeling, what you’re comfortable doing (and not doing) may help you clearly set these boundaries. After, if your boyfriend isn’t accepting your needs or continues to push your limits, it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship. Some factors that go into getting that conversation started can be: 

  • Consider your wants and whys. Why is not having sex a value to you and how do you want to share those reasons with your boyfriend? What do you want in your physical and non-physical relationship with him? Why did it feel necessary to lie to your peers and family about your relationship and how do you want to change that moving forward? You may want to write these down for future reference or to have with you during the conversation. 
  • Choose a time and place. Sometimes it can be tempting to put off difficult conversations. But often delaying a tough talk only increases anxiety. There’s never a “perfect time,” but you may find it helpful to pick a time that can be uninterrupted for both of you. You might also consider having the conversation before any sexual activity begins and choosing a place that’s neutral — where you can both feel safe to speak openly and honestly. Avoiding places that may feel conflicting, such as the bedroom, may make you feel more comfortable when talking about an intimate subject. 
  • Speak and listen with compassion and openness. Making sure that both you and your boyfriend have a chance to talk will allow you to share what you’re thinking and feeling.  Good conversations are like well-planned traffic — there’s movement in both directions, with appropriate pauses and consideration of the others. You can let him know your wants and whys — this can give him context for what has shifted or changed since you first had sex, and how you’ve felt after that first time. Also, sharing both your concerns and also things that you appreciate in your relationship will bring some balance to the discussion. If you can, try avoiding assumptions about what your boyfriend is thinking or feeling. It may also prove helpful to speak from your own experience, using “I statements,” and allow him to share his views and input. 
  • Discuss what’s next. After you both have a chance to share your needs and limits, consider discussing what you both want for next steps. Are you in agreement with changing the dynamic of your physical relationship? Try to be as clear about expectations and boundaries as possible. What do you each want and not want? How can you negotiate those desires if they change as you move forward? There are lots of ways to be physical, intimate, and romantic — sex and sexuality are up for creative interpretation and exploration. When you both feel understood and are on the same page, it can help keep your relationship trusting and happy. For ideas about how to be intimate while being abstinent, you could check out the Go Ask Alice! Sexual & Reproductive Health archives.   

People can and do decide to stop having sex for all sorts of reasons. You’re allowed to change your mind and you’re allowed to define and redefine your sexual boundaries as your feelings evolve or change over time. Conversations about sex can be tricky, especially if you don’t feel heard or understood. While it may feel daunting, talking openly and honestly with your boyfriend about how you’re feeling and what you do and don’t want sexually may help you to clearly set these boundaries. Since sex can be sometimes confusing and hard to talk about, you may think about talking with someone you trust such as a health care provider, a mental health professional, or a religious leader before or after you talk to your boyfriend. They may also be able to help you navigate any difficult conversations with parents or peers. It takes courage to reach out and ask for help with tough topics — you’re not alone and can continue to seek support from those around you. 

Last updated Sep 10, 2021
Originally published Mar 14, 2014

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