Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything: Let's Talk About (Not Having) Sex!
Listen, I’m not trying to say that this advice column has gotten stale. I still love it! I have gobs of affection for it! I like reading about your problems, and then gossiping about them with the Overlords, and then trying to spin that gossip into something that’s maybe-sorta-kinda-if-you-squint-at-it helpful and regurgitating it back to you all. But if I’m being honest… sometimes your questions are hard, and they sort of make me wish we were another kind of advice column. The kind that gets heaps of spicy, sexy sex questions.
And sure, whatever, I’d be fucking useless at answering
hard tough sex questions, because I’m that special kind of repressed New England prude that doesn’t talk about feelings (including pants-feelings). But a girl can dream, can’t she? Specifically, a girl can dream about ways to incorporate bear traps into foreplay. Which is why this week’s question got me all aroused excited! It’s about sex! Or, well, sexuality I guess.
Ok fine, it’s about someone who hasn’t had much sex and is wondering what that makes them. So it’s basically the perfect sex question for these parts.
[Reminder: You too can get a personalized Pajiban answer to your life-problems! Just email us at [email protected] and let us Pajiban-splain your life back at you. Trust us, we know… stuff.]
Here’s this week’s question, from a reader I’m going to call “Maybe Demi” because I’m not that clever:
I am a 40 year-old woman, and I’ve never been in a relationship. I’ve never had more than a second date, and that was only one time. I didn’t have sex until I was 32, and it was a one-night stand just to finally stop being a virgin. That’s the only sexual encounter I’ve had. All along I’ve had people tell me I’m too picky and my best friend can’t understand why I don’t want to just hook up with people, but ultimately I thought it was normal to only want to be intimate with someone that you truly liked and wanted you for more than just sex.
I’ve read some about demisexuality and the idea that some need an emotional connection to feel attraction to someone, and I wonder if that describes me, but how do I know? With being gay or completely asexual, that seems pretty cut and dried. I do feel attraction to people, though it’s more of a “you’re cute” than a “you’re cute and I want to bang you.” I do want to have sex. I just don’t know how to tell if what I’m feeling is demisexuality or self-protection because I don’t feel attractive to others and am anxious about putting myself out there for ridicule. Maybe it’s both?
Dear Maybe Demi,
So, confession time: I’d never heard the term “demisexuality” until I read your letter. Which I suppose isn’t particularly strong footing to get this column started on, but here we are. Luckily a little bit of research goes a long way, and I pretty quickly found an online resource center devoted entirely to demisexuality. It described demisexuality as an orientation on the asexual spectrum, but not quite asexual in and of itself:
Demisexuals are considered part of the asexual community because for the most part, they don’t feel sexual attraction. Many demisexuals are only attracted to a handful of people in their lifetimes, or even just one person. Many demisexuals are also uninterested in sex, so they have a lot in common with asexuals.
The thing that makes them different from asexuals is that they are capable of feeling sexual attraction—it’s just that it only happens after they form a deep emotional bond with someone.
But even as my grasp on the particulars of demisexuality grew, it didn’t really help me figure out how to approach your question. Because frankly, I’m not entirely sure what it is that you’re asking — or whether what you’re asking is really what you need help with in the first place. On the surface, it seems like you’re looking for us to tell you what your sexuality is, and I’m not comfortable labeling you. Not only because I can’t tell enough from a two-paragraph question to do that, but also because I don’t think applying a label is going to clear up your confusion. Even if you are demisexual… well, what then? You’re still the same person you always were. The same person who was confused enough that you wrote us a letter. So somehow, I think the problem here isn’t your classification — it’s what that means for your life moving forward.
So let’s stick a pin in the question of labels, and focus on a few other things you mentioned in your letter:
“I thought it was normal to only want to be intimate with someone that you truly liked and wanted you for more than just sex”
Speaking of labels, “normal” is a pretty dangerous one to use when talking about sexual preferences. Even amongst us Overlords, we were split on whether we prefer to have our physical relationships with a side of emotions or not, and why we behave the way we do. I mean, I’m not a one-night-stand gal. I can’t get comfortable with strangers, and comfort is a big element of sex for me because, practically speaking, if I’m feeling self-conscious then I ain’t gonna have much fun. So it’s in the interest of me having freaky fun orgasms that I establish some base level of trust with my partner, even if that’s not exactly “love.” But that’s just me! And me choosing not to engage in sex outside of established emotional comfort zones isn’t the same as not being ATTRACTED to people I’m not comfortable with, because I’m definitely attracted to complete strangers if they’re hot enough. I’m not demisexual, is what I’m saying, but more importantly, my behavior and my reasoning isn’t any more “normal” than that of some of my colleagues, who are proponents of one-off, emotionally detached sexual escapades. What they described sounds fun too, and it makes them happy, and that’s great! I’m even a little jealous! But hey — we all have our hang-ups.
The fact is that even when people share similar behavior patterns, the reasons why they behave that way can be vastly different. So while it may be useful to compare yourself to others or to seek labels in order to not feel alone — and you’re DEFINITELY not alone! — focusing too much on whether you’re “normal” may distract from the underlying reasons that explain why you behave the way you do.
“I do feel attraction to people, though it’s more of a ‘you’re cute’ than a ‘you’re cute and I want to bang you.’ I do want to have sex.”
This, to me, is probably one of the most important things you said in your letter. Because it actually tells us what you’re feeling, and what you WANT. The question of sexual attraction is a big part of demisexuality, and if you feel attraction to people that you aren’t emotionally invested in then, from what I can tell, you’re probably not demisexual. Though I’m not an expert, and you should probably talk to a professional who specializes in sexuality and even sex therapy to explore this more (here’s a locator you could try). However, your point about your attraction not necessarily being of the “I want to bang you” variety is interesting, because it could indicate that you’re not feeling sexual attraction at all — or it could simply be that you don’t have enough sexual experience to identify the attraction as sexual in the first place. Sex is weird, and sometimes when we’re not having sex the IDEA of sex gets so built up in our heads that it gets in our way. Finding someone attractive doesn’t mean you necessarily are picturing them naked — especially if the idea of being naked with someone is already causing you discomfort.
But the fact that you say you do want to have sex brings a lot of clarity to your letter, because it means you’re seeking answers about yourself in order to guide you as you try to find a fulfilling sexual relationship (I think). And THAT is an area we might be better suited to help you with. Basically, I am in no position to tell you if your need for an emotional connection with a sexual partner is driven by self-preservation or demisexuality, or neither, or both. But it’s real, and maybe we can help you work within that framework.
Unfortunately, if you want sex and need an emotional connection in order to have it, then the obvious answer is to date.
“I’ve never had more than a second date, and that was only one time.”
Even more than your potential demisexuality, I think the biggest question facing you is why dating has been so hard up until now, and that’s where your soul searching should begin. Because needing an emotional connection in order to have sex is one thing, but MAKING an emotional connection is another, and that’s something you didn’t really unpack in your letter to us. Though when you said “I don’t feel attractive to others and am anxious about putting myself out there for ridicule,” I think you were speaking about more than just sex — I think you were talking about your intimacy issues as a whole.
I’d love to hear more about how many dates you’ve been on, and how you found those dates, and what got in the way. Did they not call you? Did you feel nothing for them? Because there are a lot of different ways these one-off dates could have gone down. Sometimes we sabotage ourselves, expecting butterflies and fireworks when we really needed to give things more time. Or we sabotage ourselves by pouring too much of ourselves into an interaction that is still so new, and asking more of our potential partner than they are ready to commit. Not every date is the first step in a potential life-partnership — sometimes they’re just a chance to talk to someone new and interesting, and defusing the weight of those expectations can help things go smoothly. Of course, sometimes the date goes nowhere because it didn’t feel right, and that’s OK too! But if there are any dates you went on that you wish had led to a second date and beyond, then focus on those and think about what lessons you could take away for next time. Was there an opportunity you missed? Should you have taken the initiative to ask for that second date? Was there something about that person that grabbed your interest?
It sounds like you may struggle with self-esteem, which can easily compound into trust issues. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you believe that others will value you in ways you don’t? It becomes a vicious cycle, and definitely hinders your ability to forge new connections. But one way to beat your fears is to face them, and I think that means taking some risks. Talk to more people. Ask people out on dates. Even if you’re not feeling confident, fake it and see what happens. What’s the worst that can happen — you get turned down, or ridiculed? Yes, that’ll hurt. But the opinions of strangers are no more lasting or important than a fart in the wind, and the more you experience your worst fears the more you’ll realize that you can survive them. Yeah, rejection sucks, but you’re fine! You’re OK! And believing in your own strength and perseverance is a form of self-confidence. So push yourself outside of your comfort zone a bit.
Of course, maybe the emotional connection you need isn’t love. Maybe you just need to trust, and that could be something found with a friend. And if you’ve been following this column for a while, you know we’re very big on making new friends as adults. So if starting out with a date is hard, maybe you should try to just meet new people, and see where that takes you. Maybe instead of love, you really just need a reliable sex-friend!
But whether you’re dating or just making friends, it might help if you lay out your ground rules from the get-go, if only to ease your own mind. It’s OK to tell someone that you don’t want to have sex without an emotional connection, and manage their expectations so you’re not constantly worried about shooting them down. Genevieve also recommends scheduling the dates during the day, or around activities you enjoy, so you can keep things comfortable and low-pressure and facilitate getting to know one another. But don’t act as if you’re confessing something, or justifying yourself. You don’t have to justify shit. You know what you want, and you’re simply letting them know. Full stop.
— What are your feelings on vibrators and sex toys? Because one way to enjoy sexual stimulation without worrying about partners is to fly solo — and I’m a big proponent of utilizing vibrators in any journey of self-discovery. But that’s not for everybody, and that’s OK!
— Alternately, and this is something that Kate brought up, but have you talked to a doctor to see if a hormone deficiency could be a contributing factor in your experiences? That could impact your sex drive, which may be hard to identify if you’re assuming the reason you aren’t having sex is because you haven’t met the right person.
— Some Overlords would like to reiterate that one-night stands can teach us a lot about ourselves, and that traveling is a great way to ensure your hook-ups remain string-free. You know, in case you ever do feel curious. But also if you’re having a hard time meeting people you like in your area, it may be time to travel anyway.
— If you’re looking for some mythical, perfect partner, then yes, you’re being too picky. There is no perfect partner. Hell, I love my husband but I don’t think he’s the ONLY person in the world that I’d be happy with. He’s just the ONE person I’ve chosen to try with (and I don’t regret it!). It takes time to forge emotional connections, and sometimes the depth of those connections or our attraction to a person isn’t obvious from the outset.
— Whatever your reasons, I just want to reiterate that you are not alone. There are all kinds of reasons under the sun why people don’t have sex, or don’t date, or have a hard time connecting with others on any level. Some people go through long dry spells between relationships, and other people rebound in a day. Your reasons are unique to you, but don’t let the fact that you haven’t had many relationships or much sex make you feel self-conscious. The more important thing is to figure out what you want and how to achieve that moving forward, but don’t let your friends or anyone else make you feel bad for being true to yourself up until now. And if you realize that maybe you don’t actually want to have sex, or date, or be in a relationship, that’s absolutely OK as well. Forget “normal” and just do you.
— Bear-traps can ensure you have all the time in the world to get to know someone. Just sayin’.
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