Dear Virginia, I'm 48 and a widow. Six months ago I met a wonderful man of 50. We share everything and we love each other. But he won't have sex with me - just the odd kiss. He says I am in too much of a hurry and it was a year before he and his last girlfriend went to bed. Do you think he's impotent and embarrassed? How can I broach this? Yours sincerely, Fiona

Virginia writes:

It's very difficult for a woman to understand completely why exactly it appears to be so humiliating for a man to admit that he is impotent or has erection problems. I mean, as a woman, it's easy to explain that one just doesn't feel sexy at the moment, or is too tired. Admitting that one isn't in the mood doesn't mean that one's entire world comes crashing down, or feeling that one can't hold one's head up in public any more. (Though, to be fair, it is far easier for a woman to fake interest than it is for a man, for whom it can be utterly impossible.)

So is this inability to admit to a performance failure something wired into men's brains that they can't help, or is it just because most men, when it comes to sex, are total cowardly idiots? If I were you, Fiona, I wouldn't know whether to feel great pity and compassion, or irritation that he is being such a complete wally in being unable to admit to a perfectly common problem.

However, because I like to be kind, I'm going to assume this bloke is not a prat and is, rather, deserving of great pity.

And by the way, if it crosses your mind that he is actually some kind of old-fashioned gent who should be admired for wanting to take his time, forget it. He's not a 75-year-old, for God's sake, who was born in the 1930s, brought up to believe in linen napkins, rings on fingers and ties and suits at weddings. He's only 50.

No, it's quite clear to anyone that he's impotent - or, at best, has huge anxiety about his performance. If he weren't, you'd be quite aware of his having an erection, and getting worked up sexually - at which point he might say, breathlessly: "I'd much rather wait a while before we go any further." But clearly this bloke is not even aroused.

How to broach it without hurting his feelings? You must use guile. You must try to make out that you are the wounded and humiliated party. "I feel so unfeminine," you might say. "I feel so unattractive. Obviously you don't fancy me and find me repulsive. Oh, what am I going to do? I feel like killing myself." Then, if this man has any decency, he will realise that his feelings of sexual humiliation are but nothing compared with your loss of confidence, and come riding to the rescue with, finally, an explanation of his lack of sexual interest.

Once it's out in the open you can try all kinds of things. Doctors, sex therapists, injections, Viagra - there are loads of impotent men out there and loads of different possible solutions to a problem that is fantastically common. And even if none of this works there are ways of his giving you a reasonably satisfactory sex life without actual penetration.

It may be humiliating for him to have to admit he's just not very interested, but remember: it's also extremely unpleasant for you to keep pestering him for sex and receiving no proper resolution for your desire. If you knew what exactly was wrong, you wouldn't have to put yourself through the humiliation of constantly badgering him for sex and feeling like some voracious sex addict, and could calm down about the whole matter. If you knew where you stood perhaps you could resign yourself to being just friends, and look somewhere else for sex.

Readers say:

It's just an excuse

You are wise in approaching this issue with great sensitivity. Your new partner has obviously got some "issues" with respect to the physical side of your relationship.

Regarding his potential impotence: he either is, is not, or is not sure but might have some related anxiety or concerns. If he is impotent then eventually something will need to be done about it, and the matter will arise (as it were) sooner or later in your relationship. If he isn't impotent, then there is less of a "problem", although your expectations in the relationship might not be aligned. If he isn't impotent but has some sort of performance anxiety then the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

All said, I suspect his "it's too early" excuse is just that: a pretext behind which there is something more significant. You need to at least eliminate impotence as a possible cause of his inhibitions. I think it's time for you to move forward on this one, with some practical guidance for him - there's plenty out there - if your fears are confirmed.

Maggie Thomas

Worthing, Sussex

He's gay

Clearly he doesn't feel close enough yet to confide in you. But obviously he has a problem of some sort and you need to get to the bottom of it. Have you considered the possibility that he may be gay and not want to come out of the closet but needs companionship? Do you know why his last relationship failed? Could be for the same reason. Whatever his problem, unless he is willing to talk to you about it I don't see the relationship lasting.

Claire Jones


He doesn't want you

It sounds brutal and clear as a bell, but he's not attracted to you and doesn't want to hurt your feelings. If he was, he would have a hard time keeping his paws off you. One of the strongest ingredients to a healthy relationship is sex, and the last person who should be stopping you from enjoying that is your "wonderful man". Don't waste any more time on him and ditch him. You may need to polish up your self-esteem, but take your time - there's someone out there who does want to have sex with you.

Lin Bowles

Bury St Edmunds

He's a gentleman

No, I don't think for one moment that your wonderful man is impotent or embarrassed. I think that he is a member of a dying breed: a gentleman. He is courting you, waiting for your love to grow and flourish. Enjoy this time, without pressurising him. Physical love is only a small part of a relationship. Mutual respect is just as important, which is what your new man is showing you. When the time is right for your relationship to become more physical, rest assured: it will be worth the wait.

Carol Mears


Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I've been happily married for six years with a son of three years old. The problem is, I remember my wife becoming friendly with another man round about the time he was conceived, and I'm becoming convinced it's his child. I can even persuade myself that the boy looks like him. Can I ask my wife for a DNA test? I fear it might upset her too much. But how can I get these thoughts out of my mind? I seem obsessed by them. Yours sincerely, Derrick