We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Please send your sex and relationship inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, onto today’s topic: how to help your partner feel sexy.
Q: “After a really difficult conversation, my boyfriend confessed that he hasn’t been feeling very attractive or sexy lately. We’ve still been having sex, but I can tell his head is somewhere else. It feels like he’s been doing it for my benefit only. He didn’t say why he’s been feeling this way, but my guess is work? He has a very high-stress job that has been taking a toll on him. He’s also gained some weight recently, so it could be that? He’s always so sweet and generous with me when I’m in a bad place, but I’m struggling to take care of him in the same way he takes care of me. What are some ways I can help him feel sexier and more confident? I don’t want to pressure him to do anything; I just want him to feel like himself again, and to know that I always find him sexy.”
A: Thanks for the question! It's great that you're coming from a place of wanting to give your partner the same gift of support that he's given to you in the past. It sounds like he’s going through a rough patch right now and could really use your love and attention. When it comes to feeling sexy in particular, there are lots of different factors that could be at play, but most people get thrown off their game by stress, anxiety, and/or depression. It’s hard to feel confident in your own skin if you’re overwhelmed by life.
Here are seven ways to help your partner start to feel sexy again.
It sounds like the two of you are already having some tough conversations, which is admirable. It's fantastic that your boyfriend was able to tell you he hasn't been feeling sexy or confident lately. That's a tough thing to admit, so it might have been a good thing that you guys didn't go into too many specific details at the moment. Sometimes splitting difficult conversations into smaller chats can make those topics feel more manageable.
Wait a few days, then approach your boyfriend and say, “I really appreciate that you were able to tell me about how you're feeling. I want you to know that I'm here for you no matter what. I had a few questions that I was curious about, and I'm wondering if now is an OK time for me to ask them.” If he's open to talking, you can ask him a few questions like, “when did you start feeling this way?” or “what do you think may have caused you to start feeling like this?” If he's not open to talking at that moment, ask if you can have a raincheck. Keep talking about these topics for as long as he's in his funk. You don't have to have deep conversations every time; you just want him to know that you're there for him.
Ask Them What They Need
In one of those conversations, ask your boyfriend if there's anything he needs from you. He may not have an answer for you right away or at all; sometimes it's really freaking hard to know what we need! But it's still important to ask. If he struggles to come up with an answer, you can ask him if there are ways that you've been supportive of him in the past that helped at the time. Or you can share ideas based on ways he's been there for you in the past.
Encourage Them To Practice Self-Care
There's a lot you can do to be a supportive partner, but it’s also important to remember that it's your boyfriend’s responsibility to work on getting his confidence back. Self-care is one of the biggest topics that comes up in my sex therapy practice. It’s hard to take good care of yourself when you’re in a funk, but it’s also the only way to get yourself out of that funk.
What kinds of self-care does your boyfriend typically engage in? Is he really big on exercise? Meditation? Hanging out with friends? Encourage him to get back to or double down on his usual self-care routines. (Quick note on exercise — you want to encourage him to take good care of his body, but definitely don’t mention his recent weight gain. You’ll only make him feel more self-conscious.) You may also want to encourage him to explore new methods of self-care. Therapy in particular might be a good outlet for him at the moment.
Of course, one of the most obvious ways to help bolster your partner’s self-confidence is to give them lots of compliments. Most people in long-term relationships tend to forget to compliment their partners. It’s possible that he’s feeling a little self-conscious about your level of attraction to him, especially if he’s already not feeling like himself. Give him specific compliments about the things that attract you to him. Compliments about his physical appearance are nice, but aim for more personal things too, like the way you feel when you’re with him, or the emotional connection between the two of you.
...But Don’t Go Over The Top
At the same time, you want to make sure not to go overboard with the compliments. He can tell if you’re being disingenuous and just trying to butter him up. You want to make an effort to compliment him, but you don’t want to pressure yourself to come up with stuff that you’re not genuinely feeling in the moment. If you notice yourself struggling to come up with compliments, or sounding strained when you try to compliment him, dial it back a bit.
It’s great that you mentioned that you don’t want to pressure your boyfriend at this time. You’re getting the sense that he’s going through the motions with sex, for your benefit. It’s OK for him to be having sex with you for your benefit more than for his, but you want to make sure he knows it’s a choice. You can tell him, “If you’re not feeling sexy, I don’t want you to feel pressured to have sex with me. It’s important to me that we continue to have quality time and physical touch, but it doesn’t need to look a certain way, like intercourse. I just want to make sure you know that.”
Help Them Relax
One of the best things you can do to help your partner feel sexy again is help them relax. Stress is the number one mojo killer. It really can’t be underestimated. How does your boyfriend usually like to relax? Does he like going on walks? Watching TV? Having some quiet alone time? Try to do whatever you can to support him in relaxing. You can also surprise him with little things like taking care of some of his chores around the house, or making the executive decision about what to order for dinner. You can surprise him with sexual favors too, if he feels up to it. Pamper him with a full body massage, a blow job, or a hand job.
Wishing you both the best!