Get Real! How Do I Tell My Boyfriend I Don’t Think He’s Ready for Sex Yet?

Heather Corinna

People are too often not as concerned as they should be about a partner's readiness for sex, often assuming males are "always ready." This pervasive double standard hurts both men and women.

This column appears as part of a partnership between Rewire and Scarleteen.

erohwaremac asks:

boyfriend and I have been going out for over five months now. In an
emotional sense, we’re a perfect couple. We love and respect each
other, and get along incredibly. However, I am his first real
girlfriend. I’m only the third girl he’s ever kissed and done other
things with. We "fool around" such as we make out, he feels me up and
fingers me, and I go down on him, etc. However, I have essentially
taught him everything he knows. He is a virgin. I am not. He tells me
he is ready for sex, but despite the fact that I love and think the
world of him, I know that he is not. Biologically he is raring to go,
but emotionally he is not. I don’t really know how to tell him this. I
know it won’t compromise the relationship, but I just don’t want him to
feel like I think of him any less. I just want his first time to be
special and wonderful. And the only way I can let that happen is if he
is totally emotionally ready. Deep down, he agrees with me, but his
hormones are getting the better of him. I don’t want to deny him, but
at the same time I don’t want to hurt him either. What do you suggest?

Heather replies:

Appreciate our work?

Rewire is a non-profit independent media publication. Your tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.


hat’s off to you for being so thoughtful about the readiness of your
partner. Too many people not as concerned as they should be about a
partner’s readiness, and people are often particularly prone to presume
male partners are always ready: that if men want sex, it’s all go, with
no need to consider things like emotional or practical readiness. It’s
a very pervasive double standard, one that I think really hurts men and
women. So, I’m always so happy to see female partners who don’t make
those kinds of assumptions. It’s not like sex before a person is ready
for it is any less likely to be problematic or negative for men than it
is for women, after all. Readiness matters for everyone.

I can see why you feel in a bit of a pickle, especially because
those kinds of assumptions are so culturally popular. Some guys can
take it particularly hard if it’s suggested they aren’t ready, or even
if they just feel for themselves that they aren’t. Some will feel their
masculinity is being questioned or threatened: a whole lot of cultural
ideals of masculinity include being sexual with partners, after all. or
being the one in a partnership to call all the sexual shots. But even
though it can be tricky, I think you can manage it just fine,
especially in a relationship that’s as solid and caring as yours sounds
like it is.

I can’t know about the overall dynamics of your relationships
besides what you have told me here. Do you think that, overall, your
boyfriend feels like he’s in a relationship of equals? In other words,
while yes, he’s newer to sex and sexual relationships than you are, all
the same, in that arena and others, do you get the impression you feel
like a partner to him, and he to you, rather than a mentorship kind of
relationship? If so, you probably have less to worry about with this
than you think. If not, you may want to tread more lightly, and also
make some extra efforts all around to assure y’all have and feel real
equality between you.

Ultimately, you can’t make this decision for him, and you shouldn’t.
It’s his to make, as you know. Who you can and do make decisions for is
yourself, and you are also half of the decisions you make as a couple
and a sexual partner. You can only determine what’s best for him to a
point, but you can absolutely determine what you know is best for you
and what you feel is best for your relationship. I think it’s fantastic
to want someone’s first time (and hopefully, every time!) with any kind
of sex to be wonderful and special. That is absolutely something we’ll
want for the people we love and care for.

But I would not suggest you frame the conversation you have about
this around what you think he is or isn’t ready for. That, to me, is
more a parent-child kind of conversation than the conversation we have
with a peer or partner. I think the goal is to state your own wants and
needs, your own sense of what’s best for you as a couple, and to have
discussions that help him discover what he feels ready for and which
support him in whatever place he’s at.

I’d use statements that express what you want, what you feel
is right for you and your relationship right now, and what is and is
not any kind of action or situation you feel fits or doesn’t fit the
way you want to love and be loved; the ways you are and are not
comfortable being sexual with him or any partner. For example, you can
say that it’s strongly important to you when having any kind of sex (or
intercourse only, if that’s how you feel about it) with someone you
care for, that you have as strong a sense they’re ready for that as you
can, and when you’re not feeling that yet, it just isn’t right for you
or what you want. You can express that the kind of sexual relationship
you want is one where everyone involved takes whatever time they need
to get to the places where both people are really ready for the steps
they are taking, sexually or otherwise. You can even talk about how
real readiness and full consent play a big part in you feeling turned
on, as they tend to with people who are paying real attention to their
partner, and want to truly, deeply connect and interrelate with them.

There are probably reasons you feel the way you do. You can
certainly bring up what those are, whether they’re about knowing people
who had sex before they were ready and had negative experiences, about
you having that issue yourself in the past, about what your ideals and
models of healthy, positive sexual relationships are and have been,
what have you. It would also be helpful to talk about what you need to
be at the place where you feel comfortable having intercourse with him.
Is it about his having a better understanding of certain risks
involved, be they physical, like pregnancy, or emotional? Is it about
wanting more time first to explore other kinds of sex and get in better
alignment with those? Is it about cooperation with birth control or
safer sex? Is it about wanting to refine your sexual communication
together more first? Is it about him understanding that intercourse all
by itself may be more physically satisfying for him than you? Whatever
it is, if you can give him a good, tangible idea of what you need, and
make it about your needs, he’ll probably be less likely to
interpret this as any sort of negative judgment about him as a person,
a man or a partner.

You can make clear that you love him, you care for him, you’re
attracted to him, and you think of him as your equal and a person of
maturity. I’d mention that having sex doesn’t mean someone is any more
or less mature, especially since so many people feel that it is. This
situation is quite a perfect example of how maturity can be about a
choice NOT to have sex. It sounds like you have strong feelings for
him, you’ve obviously wanted to be sexual with him, and yet, you’re
exercising maturity in holding off on a kind of sex that, however
wanted by you both, just doesn’t feel totally right or like it’s going
to result in the best outcome for both of you. That’s serious maturity,
just as it’s very mature for any of us to choose for ourselves not to
do something we know we’re not in the best space for yet.

I’d emphasize the fact that intercourse isn’t the only sex there is.
I know that might sound like semantics, but the thing is, oral sex and
manual sex ARE both kinds of sex, just like intercourse is a kind of
sex. I’d be sure that’s something you both recognize and acknowledge,
especially if you’re concerned he might not feel quite on par with you
in this sphere. It’s not that you feel he isn’t ready for sex: you’ve
had some kinds of sex together already, after all, and I assume you
have because you have been comfortable with your perceptions of his
readiness for those activities with you. But you just don’t
feel like, as a couple, you’re both at the place for THIS kind of sex
you’d ideally want to be at yet. And when we’re talking about a kind of
sex that not only tends to be more culturally loaded than other kinds,
and which also presents physical risks other kinds do not, that’s
particularly relevant.

While I’m at it, know that "hormones" only have so much impact. It’s
very unlikely to be hormones that make us want to have one particular
kind of sex rather than another. Our hormones, after all, don’t really
know the difference: for the most part, stimulus is stimulus as far as
they’re concerned.

What’s more likely is that intercourse is something he wants to do
because it’s another sexual activity TO do, and he enjoys sexual
activities with you. It may be something he wants to do because it’s an
activity he hasn’t done yet and is curious about, and because, as many
people do, he assumes it’ll feel good. He may also want to because so
many people frame intercourse as THE sex, as THE sexual thing that
means you have really HAD sex, as THE kind of sex that’s really about
bonding, while others aren’t. That, in fact, is probably the biggest
driver of all, far more so than hormones. Mind, none of that is
actually true in any essential way, but just like the idea that men are
always ready for sex, those kinds of ideas about intercourse are really
pervasive. I don’t know if those are ideas you hold yourself or have
been enabling (you say he’s a virgin and you’re not, so you do in at
least one way put a greater premium on intercourse as capital-S sex
than other kinds of sex), but if so, I would suggest you reconsider
them and unpack them a bit together. ALL the ways we are sexual with a
partner are real, all of them are ways we can bond together, all of
them mean we have had sex, all of them can be THE sex if we’re fully
present in it (and intercourse can be no kind of sex at all when we’re
not). The only quintessential, rather than ideological, differences
genital intercourse has from other kinds of sex are a) that we’re doing
something where our genitals are interlocking, and b) we’re doing
something that presents higher risks of infections, and if we’re
male-bodied and female-bodied, something that can potentially create a

I do want to add one last thing you might want to pass on to him.
With any and every new partner, we’re all really learning for the first
time. Because you’ve "taught" him what you like with kissing doesn’t
mean that if and when he has another female partner, he’ll walk in
knowing what to do. She might like something completely different than
you do, after all, and may kiss a different way than you do. You can’t
teach him about sex with everyone: you can only teach him about sex
with you, just like he can only teach you about sex with him. We may
sometimes find common threads between one partner and others, but when
a person knows that they are always learning sex anew with a new
partner, it can help them to feel less like babes in the woods, or like
one partner is a teacher, rather than a partner. Just something
for you to remember, and that might make him feel like this joint
learning (and it is joint, because you have been learning with and
through him what he likes, too) isn’t just about the fact that he’s a
total newbie to sexual partnership and you’re The Big Expert. It’s
learning for you both because you are new to each other, not because
he’s new to sex with anyone.

As you’re saying all of this, give him the chance to share his own
thoughts and feelings, and listen to what he was to say, too. I know
you say you think he agrees with you about where he’s at, but if it
turns out he has a different perception of his readiness, it’s
important you hear that and that he feels heard. Of course, you still
get to make whatever choices you want to about if you want to have that
kind of sex with him or not: even if he and you felt he was
100% ready, that doesn’t mean it has to be a go for you if it still
doesn’t feel right, even if you don’t know quite why. Lastly, I’d be
sure to close any conversation like this making clear that you’re open
to continuing talks about this, and intend to assess this together as
you go.

That all said, my sense from what you wrote is that your feelings
are coming from such a great place that it’s hard for me to see you
mucking this up. Really. I think if you take in some of what I have
said here, use a lot of I-statements, and, most of all, lead with that
mutual respect and care you two have you’re going to do just fine, and
he’s going to feel just fine about it, as well as very deeply cared
for. I think the conversations you have about this are likely to
improve your relationship, both with where it is now, and if and when
it gets to a point where you do choose to have intercourse together.

Besides my best wishes, I’ll leave you with a few links I think you
will find helpful and which might also be good tools for the two of you
to work with together.

Load More

Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

Thank you for reading Rewire!