The Vine: January 30, 2013
How do you push yourself into having sex if your body/gut instinct doesn't necessarily want to? I know from reading previous columns that you're normally a fan of "getting it over with" with a good-enough candidate rather than waiting for a perfect moment.
Logically and rationally, I would like to experience sex, even boring or bad sex, but I have reservations about it. And no, I'm not 19 or 25, I'm 36 with no particular sexual or relationship experience. I am the worst result of what happens if you tell twenty-somethings to hang in there and be open to possibilities because eventually it will happen (which is what I thought in my 20s and I believed it then, too). I didn't worry about it much at all, and then I hit 29, my father got sick and died, and I spent the next few years too depressed and sad to worry about sex. I then headed to graduate school and had two years of really being happy and having friends who loved me…however, I hit my 36th birthday and my mother was suddenly horrified and negative about my advanced age. (She'd like grandchildren, I don't care.)
I'm also away from said friends and have a pretty unhappy and lonely life at the moment, which is adding to the problem of obsessive anxiety and sudden worry about the issue. I am working on fixing the life, so that part isn't a problem. However, since most of my friends are partnered or parents, and the single ones have at least had some experience, I'm feeling like the isolated, lonely adult who thinks there is something wrong or broken about me. I usually make up some vague stories, depending on who the friends or dates are, to cover my abnormality or freakishness, but it's always anxiety-provoking once the subject turns to sex and I can't relax about sexual jokes in case I give something away.
I am fully aware of all the Google results about adult virginity and how the farther above 30 you are, the "weirder" you are, and how you can't develop as a sexual person if you're waiting for the perfect partner, etc. I was waiting to feel real attraction, but I don't think that will happen in my case. There are all kinds of reassuring stories from 20-somethings who lost their virginity late, and occasionally even stories from people over 30; I've just never seen someone at my age trying to negotiate sex. I don't plan to mention it at all – enough reading has convinced me that I shouldn't trust anyone to be kind about this, whether potential partners, feminists or anyone else. My good-enough candidate is okay but not someone I'm attracted to or like or think about very much, even though we've been on 4 or 5 dates.
I think I'm wired backwards – I'm around men for a few months, gradually develop feelings for them, and then sexual attraction is the very last thing that happens. I'm not visual at all, and it can take anywhere from a few months to nearly a year to get attracted to someone as in the really lustful, sweep-you-off-your-feet kinds of feelings. The other problem is that I've only been attracted to about eight men in the twenty years or so since puberty – a timetable of roughly every two years, only since the age of 28, it's been every four years. The last two men have been attractive both emotionally, intellectually and sexually, which was a first, but didn't return the feelings.
There's not a lot out there about what to do when your crushes just aren't requited, besides move on – and after a certain point, most people seem to assume you're asexual or you just haven't felt sexual desire. And a few men have liked me (even though I didn't figure out I was attractive until about 23 or so), but as bad luck would have it, I didn't like them back. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't have just slept with the guy who offered when I was 26, but I wasn't attracted to him, so I said no (a few make-out sessions in college felt a lot like breast exams at the gynecologist's, and that's kind of what I'm guessing sex would be like).
I actually have a pretty normal sex drive, just very little ability to want to sleep with a lot of people, and I think there's an assumption that interest in sex = wanting a lot of partners or thinking one partner is as good as another. (My therapist does not seem to think that there's Something Wrong with me.)
Now, I've rather given up on sex with mutual attraction or mutual love, so I'm wondering how bad boring or "getting it over with" sex can possibly be. I'm of two minds about it: it feels like I'd at least feel a little more normal to learn that there is no "secret," and maybe it would open the door eventually to some sort of companionship. I'm not upset about being single forever since I do have friends who love me, and I do realize that true loneliness is dating someone you don't like and having to pretend it's love.
But I would also feel like I'd be doing it only to feel normal, plus I'd have to be drunk or think of it like sex work in order to be able to get through it. What say you and the TN readers?
A couple of things jump out at me here, starting with this: "a few make-out sessions in college felt a lot like breast exams at the gynecologist's." I had many make-out sessions in college, and most of them felt like that, and/or like being greeted by an enthusiastic retriever. College dudes oftentimes just aren't very good at making out (not that college gals are either, necessarily; I was hardly Dance of the Seven Whatevers myself, but you know what I mean), so that isn't the greatest evidence for a "the first time is something to be endured" platform.
On the other hand, there's this: "I'm wondering how bad boring or 'getting it over with' sex can possibly be." Um: it can be pretty bad, I won't lie. The first time with any partner is a bit awkward; not always, but a lot of the time it's elbows, and having to turn a too-bright light on to deal with the condom wrapper, and "Could you move up a little bit? …Your other 'up'?" And the very first time is painful for some women, plus you're anxious, which doesn't help you relax down there…a lot of people report that their first time was magical. A lot more people are mostly glad it's done with.
Not to give you more agita here, but…how to put this. Okay: it's not exactly a secret that a woman's first time is often uncomfortable. This is a big part of why I recommend getting it over with; the unknown is the biggest obstacle, and once you know what it is, you don't have to fear it (plus a major part of the fear, the pain, is probably over with). But I get the sense that you're looking for reasons not to do it — reassurance that it's okay to find it daunting, or off-putting, or not a priority, or the validity of any of those rationales.
And if you don't want to do it, that is fine. "I would also feel like I'd be doing it only to feel normal." You and almost everyone else on earth, who had no way of knowing whether we were "ready" until we did it, who didn't want to get left behind (I skipped a grade, I had myriad issues with that). That is fine. "I think I'm wired backwards" — join the club. I've had a few partners I didn't develop a truly deep attraction to until we had sex. It happens. Everyone's different, there's basically no "normal," and that is fine.
If you want to wait some more, wait some more; if you want to strap your pinot on and get it over with with the first likely sailor who comes to port, do that. I would advise you to do it, because you say you understand that it can't be perfect, but I don't think you really do. You can't; you've never done it. This is not a judgment, but whatever you think about sex and whatever you think other people think about sex, before you've had sex, it's just passing the time; you have no context.
Again, that's normal. I did the same thing. It's a way of controlling a situation that seems very fraught and chaotic (and can be); I don't think you're having any inappropriate reactions. But I do think it's better to do it, and have done it, and maybe have a few things you'd do differently the next time, than to have to keep thinking about it. Your virginity is making you unhappy and taking up too much psychic real estate. You deserve not to have to think about this anymore, because I don't think there's any way for you to think about it at this point that doesn't make you feel alienated and freakish — about what's essentially bad timing, and not a comment on you at all.
For your own sake, enough. Try it. Understand that it is what it is the first time, but also let yourself be a drama queen about it, a little bit, because it's a first and it's intense. (It can also be hilarious. The design of the human penis is puzzling. No offense, penis-havers. Love you guys. I've totally lost control of this parenthetical. [kaff] Anyone here from Jersey?) Everyone has Things Around It; accept that and give yourself a break.
And if you don't try it, the only one who's going to be disappointed and think you're all busted and fucked up is you. You aren't. And the Nation probably has some citizens who were a little…less eager than I? More considered? Waited longer, in any case, and can speak to your situation a bit more directly, so we'll hear from them.
Short verzh: Do whatever you feel, but in my opinion, you will feel better if/when you have done it.
Readers, let's do this.