“My Partner Doesn’t Know How To Touch Me”

Clients often say to me, “My partner isn’t a great lover. He or she doesn’t know how to touch me like past partners have.” To which I respond, “Maybe that’s true, but if your own anxiety, current life circumstances, and sexual/body history are weighing down on you, you will shut down. Anxiety kills desire. Past pain around sexuality eclipses sexual freedom. Body shame circumvents arousal. The work must begin with you. And from there you can have a very different conversation with your partner about what you like and what you don’t like.”

There’s usually a long pause, and then a sigh of relief that speaks to their realization that perhaps there’s hope for the relationship and their sex life after all. Paralyzed by the expectations of the culture that says that sex should be sizzling hot from the first kiss and that this initial spark should fan into fireworks when you stumble into the bedroom, it’s always a relief to hear the truth: sex, like love, is greatly effected by anxiety, desire and chemistry can grow with time, and we can’t even begin a conversation about “touch” without healing through the layers of pain first.

Unlike relationship anxiety, sex anxiety isn’t just about doubt about your partner. You can have sex anxiety if you’re single, newly dating, or with someone for twenty years. Sex anxiety manifests as resistance, reluctance, or repulsion around sexual activity, but it also shows up as disdain or shame about one’s own body. As our culture sends the seeds of body shame into our water, most people learn early on to loathe some aspect of their body and feel ashamed of their sexuality. This is when they sequester their aliveness into a tiny box in a far-off underground corner of psyche and then blame their partner for “not knowing how to touch me” or blame the elusive target of “the relationship” with the cultural explanation of “we just have bad chemistry.”

Furthermore, because we’re culturally wired to equate desire with longing-chase-drama, we often have difficulty being attracted to present, available partners. We have been literally wired by our culture to come alive in the presence of the unavailable jerk. This means that when we’re with an available partner we have to learn how to open our bodies to their touch. Again, your partner’s touch may be perfectly fine – it may even be on par with your last unavailable partner’s touch – but because you’re shut down behind your own walls of shame and mis-wiring around attraction you will experience it completely differently. And even if your partner is awkward in bed that doesn’t preclude sexual connection. As I said to a caller in the last round of Sacred Sexuality, when we make room for the awkwardness and remember that all of us are somewhat awkward when it comes to sex since nobody received the healthy owner’s manual (of which pornography most certainly is not), things get a lot lighter in the bedroom. There may even be some laughter as the two of you name the awkwardness and allow yourselves to fumble around until you find your way.

Let’s examine this even further: touch isn’t restricted to sexuality. Because we’re a sex-obsessed culture grown in the soil of a puritanical belief system, we think that touch only “counts” with a partner if it’s sexual, and when people talk about sex what what they really mean is intercourse. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that the delights of the body extend far beyond intercourse. To sit tenderly with a partner where touch is an exploratory journey, where silence is held in the cupped hands of deep trust, where there’s no agenda other than to become curious about our openings and, most especially for those prone to anxiety, our closings is a gift beyond measure. This is sex. This is intimacy. This is ultimately what we all seek.

Like all endeavors of the heart, it’s risky to open ourselves to another person. It’s a risk because we’ve been hurt, teased, shamed or abused, and nowhere are we more vulnerable than around our sexuality. But while it’s difficult to risk vulnerability with a partner in the best of circumstances, it’s often paralyzing when there’s any history that would cause you to shut down to the innate and wild aliveness that is your birthright. And I don’t think it’s possible to grow up in a woman’s body in this culture without experiencing shame in some capacity.

If you’re ready to heal this shame, experience the delights of the body, and reclaim your birthright of sexual freedom, strap on your headlight of curiosity and allow me to guide you alongside a group of compassionate women through this essential territory, teaching you how to excavate your shame stories and unpack the long lineage of buttoned-up bodied from which you descend so that you can re-wire your sexuality in the direction of health, freedom, and vitality. The third round of  Sacred Sexuality: A 40-day program for women to heal body shame and ignite desire  will begin on Saturday, June 23, 2018, and I look forward to meeting you there.

17 comments to “My Partner Doesn’t Know How To Touch Me”

  • Katherine

    Hi Sheryl
    I really struggle wth sexuality and it brings me a lot of anxiety because I am in a loving relationship wth an amazing man and for some reason I always shut down when it comes to sex. I feel like I have no desire and don’t get “the point”. I do feel very self-conscious about the …private…parts of my body and ashamed of them. Also if I see something sexual on TV or in a book and feel aroused I quickly shut it down because I feel I should reserve those feelings for only when my partner is around.
    I’m so confused. I love him so much and am so attracted to him but when it comes to sex I recoil and can’t get aroused.
    I feel there is something wrong with me.
    Would your course help me?

  • ScaredyWife

    It’s incredible that this would be your post today when only yesterday I was looking at the emails from the first sexuality course I enrolled in with you. I am very much looking forward to taking it again as I was “stuck” the first time with how difficult I found allowing myself to feel the feelings around the deep pain and shame that I had around sex. I recently gave birth to my first child and just started thinking about sex again (dreading it), and having the familiar intrusive thoughts around my husband (“He’s not attractive enough” or “I just don’t want to have sex with him”). I’ll need to wait until the next sexuality round since I am so focused on the aforementioned baby, but what a lovely idea to want to have sex with my amazing, thoughtful, loving, husband.

  • Michelle Lily

    My goodness…. I needed this post today! Thank you. Having been sexually abused as a child and teased about my body relentlessly as a young teenager I have definitely got a bucketload of anxiety around sex and avoid it like the plague. My poor (available, beautiful, loving) partner… “Anxiety kills desire. Past pain around sexuality eclipses sexual freedom. Body shame circumvents arousal. The work must begin with you.” Got it. Thank you. The course sounds great. xx

  • Ravenna

    Wow, I have been feeling so turned off to sex and so closed off to love. With massive amounts of fear and anxiety. I dont have so much past pain regarding love, sexuality, bullying and body shame. Hm, no wonder! I would love to take this course in the future after I have taken in all of Break Free. I hope to one day.

  • MCP

    Could this aid women who have endometriosis or are otherwise suffering sexual anxiety due to physically painful experiences in the past?

    • Absolutely. Quite often there are emotional elements bound up in the physical symptoms, and when we dive gently yet deeply into these sectioned-off areas of our heart and history, the physical body opens and shifts as well.

  • Alisa

    How do we know the difference between anxiety and incompatibility? I really struggle with this. I am married with two small children and still suffer from relationship anxiety and doubt

  • My absolute favorite part of this post: “where there’s no agenda…” That’s what freedom sounds like to me!

  • J

    Hi Sheryl,

    I’ve been struggling greatly with my sexuality recently. I’ve just come out of a long period of relationship anxiety and having completed the break free course I know that I love my boyfriend who I’ve been with for nearly four years and I want my future to be with him. However I seem to not be able to get aroused when we have sex. I initiate it quite often so the desire is there and when we have sex I enjoy it but I don’t get the physical sensations that come with being aroused and it is distressing me a lot. I’m only 25 so I would expect myself to become aroused easily. I’ve just did the thing you shouldn’t do being searching on google and read a number of things that have spiked me and made me have thoughts such as ‘Maybe I should leave?’, ‘What if I’m gay?’. We have been through a number of difficult times, one being him sleeping with someone else, I’m not sure if this has anything to do with it.
    I’ve signed up for your sexuality course and I’m really hoping that will help!


  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    I really enjoyed reading this post, shame about our bodies does contribute to sexual anxiety. We do build barriers around the shoulds around sex and that diniminshes our enjoyment.
    Thank you Sheryl 🤗❤️

  • BB

    I have been following your work for a while now and have been practicing the tools daily after taking trust yourself a year or two ago. It has taken a long time but I am seeing alot of changes now, I finally have answers to alot of things in my life and feel that I know my true self. The inner world is so much more important to work on first than the external. Thank you Sheryl xxx

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