This is going to seem like it’s coming out of left field, given how many questions you get are some form of “HOW DO I START HAVING SEX?”, but – honestly – I’m not ready. I want it eventually, but now is not that time. I’ve got my hang-ups and my issues, and they are mine to keep.
I think I’m finally starting to be ready to date – again, lots of reasons why I wasn’t dating before that aren’t important – but I’m not ready for sex yet and I have a feeling that any of the folks I start seeing will expect sex. How do I bring this up? When do I bring this up? I don’t really have much experience in general, but I’m expecting that the person that I’m going to coffee with eventually will want to have sex with me, especially given the questions about whether I’m a top, a bottom, or versatile…
I’m not ready. I will become ready in my own time; that’s not what I need help with. What I need help with is figuring out how to properly communicate it and what to expect when I do so. Should I lay it out in the open early on? Should I wait until sex comes up? Should I even put myself out there if I won’t be putting out?
What should I do?
– Put Out About Putting Out
First of all, POaPO, good for you for knowing what you are and aren’t up for. There’re a lot of people – men in particular – who feel the pressure to not just be up for sex that they don’t want but to be performative about how much sex they want. There’s a long-standing cultural narrative that if you’re of a certain age and just not ready (or interested) in sex, then there’s something wrong with you. The fact that you can recognize that you’re just not there and own it is commendable.
So let’s talk about what you do about it.
The first thing is that you’re going to want to relax about the question. While yes, it’s generally expected that sex will eventually be part of a romantic relationship, laying things out right off the bat can be a little… tricky. Telling somebody on the first date often isn’t appropriate and can feel presumptive. It’s a little off-putting for someone to say “Just on the off chance you thought you were going to fuck me tonight, I just want to let you know that is not on the table” out of the clear blue sky.
At the same time, there’s an understandable impulse to want to give full disclosure early, so that potential partners can make an informed decision about whether they want to date you.
Here’s my thinking: it’s going to be context-dependent. In an online dating situation, it may be worthwhile to say something along the lines of “I take things slowly” or “I need to be comfortable/feel connected to someone before things get physical”. In a time when terms like demisexuality are starting to have greater penetration into the mainstream, more people are likely to understand that this means that sex isn’t likely on the third (or fourth, or…) date. Yes, this will cut down the number of people who contact you dramatically… but at the same time, these are people who are unlikely to be compatible with you in the first place.
For people you’ve met in person however… I’d bring it up when things start to get physical. You don’t need to give a speech about why you’re not ready, not if you don’t want to. But a simple “Hey, just so you know, here’s what I’m up for, here’s what I’m not up for and how about you?” can make things much simpler. That “and how about you?” is important; you’re sharing your limits and asking them to share theirs. Asking them for their wants and limits makes this a dialogue about consent, rather than just a talk about “why someone’s not getting head today”.
Just as importantly though: don’t frame this as though you’re damaged or broken. You’re not. You just know what you are and aren’t ready for and that’s fine. You’re showing that you know yourself well enough to know when something isn’t right for you – either for now or at all. You’re telling them the awesome things they do get, and isn’t that great?
Just remember: telling people about your limits is a superpower. You’re telling them one thing about you; their response tells you everything about them. Someone who either doesn’t respect your limits, who tries to argue you out of them or who is upset that you aren’t ready for sex is telling you what you need to know: that they aren’t right for you and better for you to go and find someone who is.
Hi, Dr. NerdLove,
Here’s a unique one for you. I’ve been totally blind my whole life, really struggle initiating sexual connections with women, and I believe the two are correlated.
To be clear: blindness doesn’t make me any less able to handle the sex itself (yes, people often ask), nor does it keep me from meeting women, building quality relationships, etc. It helps that I’m generally quite gregarious, love conversing with people, and have developed really strong verbal communication skills, both talking and listening, to compensate for my inability to see body language. In most life situations that’s enough, but when it comes to flirting and building sexual tension, I find it isn’t.
I’ve read many of your blog posts, and you often point out how most communication happens nonverbally, so you need to be able to read the body language women are using, whether they tense up when you lean in to initiate a kiss, get uncomfortable after being touched in a way they don’t want (which I can sometimes tell just by feel, but not always), or are even interested in being approached at all.
It’s also harder for me to feel comfortable breaking the touch barrier without being able to see how women respond, and it doesn’t help that I know I’ll sometimes screw it up and touch the wrong place. Turns out it’s actually kinda awkward when you go for the upper arm but accidentally graze breasts, or what should have been a hand on the lower back turns into an unintentional ass grab because you misjudged her height by a few crucial inches. This sort of thing is rare, but it does happen every now and then. I’m pretty sure people always know it’s an honest mistake, usually they can see how embarrassed I am and end up trying to pretend not to be amused for my benefit, (or they just start laughing their ass off, which makes me laugh my ass off, and everything’s fine) but it still makes me hesitant to be the one doing the touching, at least until I know a woman a little first.
Anyways, now that I’ve written you a novel about my situation, here are my questions. How can I help women feel comfortable using words to tell me the messages they’re already naturally sending with their body language, especially when we’re still just starting to get to know each other?
Obviously they know I’m blind, so it’s not like it’s hard for them to figure out the problem on their own if they take a second to think about it, but occasionally even friends who I’ve known for years will fail to respond to something I asked, stay silent for a few awkward seconds, and say “Oh, damn! I just nodded my head, that was dumb!”
Usually this isn’t a big deal with most life things, but it seems like half the point of flirting is being able to figure out what the other person is showing us, so we don’t have to be constantly talking about whether it’s okay if we make that next move deeper into their personal space bubble, or if we’re now comfortable enough to try a more intimate form of touching.
Is there a reliable substitute for being able to see nonverbal cues and respond accordingly? Finally, speaking of touching, how can I get better at touching the women I’m flirting with, knowing I’m at a disadvantage without being able to see everything they’re doing, and also knowing I’ll occasionally touch the wrong place and there’s really nothing I can do about that? Is it just a matter of trusting them to tell me if I’m making them uncomfortable, or is there something else I can do to gauge whether more touching is wanted without actually trying it? I’d appreciate any insight you can give me, I look forward to your take on all this.
I’m Not Daredevil
Gotta hand it to you, IND, you’ve given me quite the puzzler. Obviously, I’m sighted, which means that I’m not going to have the same perspective on these issues, so take my advice with appropriate levels of salt.
But here’s something worth noting, IND: being blind hasn’t kept people from being successful in love. Ray Charles was a notorious ladies man, able to charm the literal pants off many, many women, even if he couldn’t see them.
Now it’s true, a lot of my advice focuses on picking up on physical cues, like watching for the triangle-gaze or body language cues like orienting or preening. However, there are still many sighted people who can’t read body language effectively. Fortunately, there are other methods. Some of it will be to rely on your other senses. If you’ve ever listened to books on tape or really good voice actors, you may have noticed how you can “hear” a smile or a frown in someone’s voice. Those can give you indications about how someone is actually feeling; just as a fake smile doesn’t reach a person’s eyes, a fake laugh can sound brittle or hollow. On the other hand, someone who’s sexually excited can sound like they’re smiling and nervous… or their voice might get slightly huskier, or they may swallow more than usual.
Other signs of interest would include reciprocal touching; someone who touches you back after you touch them. So if you were to, say, touch someone on the wrist with the back of your hand as you made a point and then they touch you, that would be another sign of interest. Similarly, if you are sitting side by side with someone and your knee touches theirs, do they move theirs away, leave it, or move to touch yours when you pull back?
But there’s one way you can generally be sure about how someone feels – whether they’re interested in flirting, in being touched or being kissed – and that’s to use your words. One of the things that can often make able-bodied people feel uncomfortable around handicapped people is not knowing what’s appropriate or not. This is especially true if they haven’t had much experience dealing with someone who’s deaf or blind, for example. You are in the position to model the behavior that you would like them to perform for you. So by being willing to use your words to clarify things, you’re giving them an example of what you would like from them. Part of this may simply be giving them permission: “Hey, you’re going to have to be really obvious with me because I literally can’t see what you’re doing.” Some of it might be explaining how you move through the world, and what helps make things easier on you. Another part would be asking for clarity or permission: “is it ok if I give you a hug?” “I would love to kiss you right now.”
As with many potentially awkward situations, people will take their cues on how to behave and react from you. The more that you can show them the sort of behaviors and responses that you would like from them, the more at ease they’ll be with providing them for you.