My boyfriend has such bad hygiene I don't want to have sex with him. How can I tell him without hurting his feelings?

Crystal Cox/Insider; Samantha Lee/Insider
  • Your boyfriend’s subpar hygiene habits could be a sign of a larger problem related to his mental health.
  • Therapist Kelly Scott suggested expressing concern over his hygiene patterns, asking how he’s been feeling, and seeing if you can be supportive in helping him with his hygiene routine.
  • If it turns out your boyfriend just isn’t good at hygiene and isn’t open to hearing your perspective, it could be important information for you in terms of where your relationship is headed.
  • Have a question for Julia? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously.You can read more Doing It Right here.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

My boyfriend has the worst hygiene. His feet smell, sometimes his breath isn’t fresh, there are times where I notice he has dried snot in his nose, his lips get cracked quite often.

I love him deeply and have addressed a few of the hygiene issues, but sometimes I don’t speak on it because it may hurt his feelings. At times, his hygiene turns me off and I don’t want to kiss or have sex with him. What can I do?

– Atlanta

Dear Atlanta,

I can see how confronting your boyfriend about his hygiene, or lack thereof, could feel uncomfortable. I get second-hand embarrassment at the thought of telling a person they have something stuck between their teeth.

At the same time, having a conversation about why cleanliness isn’t so important to him could help you get to the bottom of the situation.

You said that you’ve addressed the hygiene issues before, but next time, rather than pointing them out and asking that he shower more, ask him why he’s neglected his hygiene.

According to Kelly Scott, a relationship therapist at Tribeca Therapy in New York City, forgoing common hygiene practices could be a physical sign a person is having trouble mentally or emotionally.

It’s one thing to re-wear a pair of socks or have trouble getting dandruff under control, but Scott said skipping shower after shower or seeing his own cracked lips and leaving them that way are concerns worth addressing.

“If we’re talking about, you know, the situation at the time of the coronavirus, I think depression and stress are expressed really differently in people,” Scott told me. “Sometimes it looks like people being really artificially cheery, sometimes it looks like people not being able to get out of bed, and sometimes it looks like not wanting to shower and not having motivation for things.”

If your boyfriend put off basic hygiene even before the pandemic, that could mean he’s been dealing with underlying issues for even longer than the past few months.

The next time you bring up his habits, start by expressing how much you care about him and then tell him you’ve noticed his behaviour and wanted to check in on how he’s been feeling.

“I think being direct is always a good thing,” Scott said. She suggested saying something like, “Hey, this is what I’ve noticed, and I’m really worried about you and I care about you. How are you feeling? I’ve noticed these things and it just doesn’t really seem like you. Can we talk about getting you some help or do you need something from me?”

If your boyfriend says his hygiene is related to his mental health, you could suggest mental health resources and also offer to help him a bit to show how much he means to you.

Scott suggested taking a playful approach, like showering together, to make the experience more lighthearted.

And if it turns out your boyfriend simply isn’t clued into hygiene best practices, Scott said a direct approach is still the way to go.

“I think beating around the bush can lead to misunderstandings and also really like bruises people’s egos,” Scott said. “I think ultimately, in a healthy relationship, you should be able to tolerate some critical feedback in both directions.”

According to Scott, you should expect your boyfriend to be a little taken aback when you bring up his hygiene since it is a touchy subject by nature. But if he remains unwilling to change or holds your concerns against you, it could be important information for you in terms of understanding his priorities.

As Insider’s resident sex and relationships reporter,

Julia Naftulin

is here to answer all of your questions about dating, love, and doing it – no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.

Have a question?

Fill out this anonymous form

. All questions will be published anonymously.

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