Hi DNL! How do I stop feeling bad about lack of sex and not being able to get it? This has been an issue for me pre- and post-COVID. I’m a thirty-something heterosexual male who’s never identified as traditionally masculine, was a late bloomer in dating and never really found fulfillment in my twenties. I’ve learned a lot about myself since then and now know the types of people I click with the best, but the pandemic has put a huge wrench in my ability to seek what I look for even with all the education and “tools” for growth that people like you teach.
I’ve done my best to educate myself about toxic masculinity, I don’t give a shit about status or admiration from male peers (I’m just not interested in associating with heteronormative men, and my “male” friends are on the queer spectrum and don’t encourage unhealthy conversations about sex), I don’t watch porn, I make sure my masturbation habits are healthy and have a toy that I use for “maintenance”, and yet I’m still feeling miserable without being to share the experience with another human being. It’s the collection of emotions, senses, smell, touch, noises, and everything about it that I just can’t find from solo sex, VR, toys, porn, etc. Am I a sex addict or something? I feel broken about suffering from so much angst and depression about this, and my therapist isn’t really helpful in talking about this issue. I want to change therapists but there’s a severe lack of resources I can access and don’t even know where to begin with finding a therapist that understands male sexuality without shaming or giving platitudes.
My “love language” is physical and before the pandemic I had several people I could call cuddle buddies to help with skin hunger, but we are not sexual and the ones I am attracted to aren’t available or are not interested in me sexually. Due to the serious restrictions in my area, I can’t even find a person to create a “bubble” with until there’s a vaccine (which will be delayed in my area due to government fuck ups). Online apps have not been helpful for me either and I’ve done everything I can to take personal responsibility to improve my experience but it’s just an exercise in rejection and constant disappointment.
Things are really not looking well for economic recovery in my area and it feels like it will be years before things are back to “normal” with opportunities and etc. How can I survive a few more years of this?
Impending Basket Case
So first off, IBC, let’s clear something up right away: you’re not a sex addict (in part because sex addiction isn’t a thing), nor are you broken. You’re just lonely. The fact that masturbation isn’t necessarily cutting it for you doesn’t mean that you’re addicted or that there’s something wrong with you, it means that you’re starved for human physical contact. Humans are built with an inherent need for touch and physical contact with other people. Touch is one of the ways that we generate oxytocin, it’s part of how we form bonds with others, and it’s an important form of communication with people in our lives. When we cut ourselves off — or are cut off — from physical contact with others, we suffer for it, mentally and emotionally. There’s actually a surprisingly poetic name for this condition: skin hunger. We are literally craving the emotional and physical connection with others, and we’re noticing the difference between the amount that we need, and the amount that we are receiving.
And COVID is exacerbating this in a big, big way.
While it’s easy to focus on the loneliness of not having a romantic or sexual partner, the distancing and quarantining demanded by the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone by drastically reducing the amount of even incidental touch we have in our lives. Whether it’s hugging our loved ones or even the touch we don’t think about or that doesn’t necessarily register AS touch — someone cutting your hair, working with a physical trainer and so on — we are all feeling a distinct lack of touch in our lives, and that’s drastically escalating the feeling of isolation and loneliness that was already at epic levels.
Unfortunately, it’s really, really difficult — nearly impossible — to replace authentic touch from others. We can laugh about the “Oh Japan” memes that go around about someone inventing a device to simulate holding your partner’s hand or feeling like someone’s cuddling with you in bed, but they’re attempts to fill a very real void and sense of lack… and frankly, they don’t really work.
There just isn’t a substitute for the real thing, as it turns out.
That’s why the problem you’re dealing with isn’t a lack of sex, IBC, it’s a lack of connection and contact. Masturbation scratches one particular itch, but not the whole, because the issue is a holistic one.
So what can you do about all of this?
First of all: yes, it definitely sounds like you need to switch therapists. One of the things people don’t realize is that finding a therapist is a lot like finding a romantic partner; you need one who you feel understands you, one you feel comfortable with and who you feel you can connect with. This is why many people have bad experiences with therapy; they have the wrong therapist entirely. Now like I said: I don’t think sex is your problem, but finding a therapist who’s sex-positive and doesn’t shame people for their sexuality isn’t as hard as it used to be. The American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory that can help you find a therapist in your area. However, even if there aren’t any therapists within driving distance, there are plenty who take clients remotely via Zoom or Skype or telemedicine apps.
(In fact, COVID has sparked something of a revolution in telemedicine, especially with therapy; this is one of the few upsides to the whole situation.)
Second of all: there are other ways of getting your need for touch met, even during the pandemic. Some of them are a little trickier, simply because of the risk of COVID exposure, especially as cases go up during the holiday season, but they do exist. There are massage therapists who are still working and who’ve implemented changes in order to minimize (but not eliminate) the risk of transmission. Finding one who is rigorous about safety protocols — or even will take clients in outdoor settings, assuming the climate in your area permits it — can help you ease your need for touch and contact. Similarly, pets actually help ease skin-hunger. Cuddling with your dog or cat goes a long way towards easing that sense of isolation and helps dial back that desperate sense of loneliness and needing to connect with another living being. It’s not the same thing as having a partner with you, but it definitely helps.
Third: don’t necessarily give up on dating apps as a way of meeting people. While yes, dating apps can be frustrating during the best of times and dating during COVID has created a host of new and unique challenges, they’re still the best way of meeting someone while the lockdowns are still in effect. Much of finding success on dating apps requires trial and error and learning how to use them to the best effect. I’ve written a lot about the best practices for online dating, so be sure to check the archives.
But another thing to consider is how much of your issues are regional, and whether you’d be better served finding a way to move elsewhere. While I will freely admit that this is easier said than done, if a lot of your problems come from where you live, then making arrangements to fuck off to greener pastures might well be the thing that helps give you the emotional resilience to grit your teeth and hang in until the vaccines are available to the wider population. Part of what has been so frustrating for everyone during the pandemic is the open-ended nature of it and the uncertainty of the future. Humans as a species don’t do well with uncertainty; it makes us deeply uncomfortable. Knowing that an end is in sight — that there’s a goal we can work towards and achieve, or that there’s a point where a vaccine will be available — is frequently the thing that gives people the push they need to hang in there. Putting as much money into a “Get The Hell Outta Dodge” fund, searching for jobs and apartments in new cities or even hitting up your friends in other areas for info could well be the thing that gives you the hope you need that will give you the strength to grit your teeth and power through. Even slow progress is still progress, and seeing your funds grow can help inspire you to hold on and push even harder.
You’re in a shitty situation, IBC, and it’s completely understandable that you feel the way you feel. But you’re not even a little broken. You’re just a reasonable person in an unreasonable situation, trying to cope with things as best you can.
You’re not helpless and you’re not hopeless. It sucks now, but it will get better. You just need to gather the tools and resources that will help you make it through.
You’ve got this.
All will be well.
Hi Dr. NerdLove,
I really love your blog and I have used it a lot to gain confidence in dating and put myself out there over the years. I am an overweight 27 year old male, I am trying to lose weight and work on myself.
Recently I met an amazing girl before COVID, we have been able to make it work. I have to say that I really like her a lot. However, my girlfriend told me she had shared her bed with a long time ex-lover last week while we were still together. Apparently, she was going to take him to the airport the next morning. The house that she is living in has a guest room and there is always the couch where her “friend” could have stayed. I have to say that I am devastated, I feel like a fool. I know that I don’t own my girlfriend and she’s entitled to do whatever she wants especially in her own home, but I feel completely blindsided.
She is acting like it is completely normal to share an intimate part of her space with an old flame and I am supposed to just accept it.
I asked a friend and he told me if stayed with her I would only be enabling her to act this way and that I would be a cuck haha.
Am I the asshole for feeling this way?
Thank you for all the advice you have given over the years,
Feeling Like A Fool
As is so often the case, this is a time when the question you’re asking me isn’t really the question you want the answer to. But hey, let’s start with the surface question before we get to what you really mean.
To start with, you’re not an asshole for the way you feel. You feel blindsided and upset, and those feelings are real. Telling you that you’re an asshole for having those feelings would be counterproductive at best; it’d be demanding something from you that you aren’t really in a position to give. While there are plenty of folks who will tell you that having those feelings makes you a bad person, the truth is that it’s very clear that you’ve been blindsided by circumstances you’ve never faced before, and you’re having very complicated emotions because of it. That’s normal. Even the hardest of the hardcore poly crowd deal with jealousy and difficult emotions, and virtually nobody can say that they’re going to be ok with a situation they’ve never encountered before until they’ve actually experienced it.
It seems pretty clear to me that this is the first time you’ve dealt with this, so it’s understandable that you’re gonna feel weird (at best). That doesn’t make you an asshole. And honestly, having strong issues with your partner choosing to share the bed with her ex when there’re other options isn’t unreasonable.
Now what you do because of those emotions is what makes you an asshole or not. Discussing things with her, expressing your reservations (in as calm and collected a manner as possible) and trying to work things out, for example, would be a fairly mature thing to do, not an asshole move. So, for that matter, would be deciding that this is a boundary for you, that you don’t think this is something you could be cool with and that if that’s a thing that she’s going to insist on, then it’s better for both of you to break up.
Yelling, insulting her or throwing around wild accusations, on the other hand would make you an asshole.
(I’m not saying that you did this; I’m saying that these are examples of asshole behavior resulting from those feelings).
However, all that isn’t what you’re really asking about. What you’re actually asking me is “is it ok that she did this, is it ok for you to get upset about it and do I think she cheated on you?” Which is a different issue all together. And that is going to depend on a lot of things.
But while it’s easy to dig into the rabbit hole of “did she cheat on you”, let’s take a slightly different tact and address a different issue entirely: a question of safety. Right now, not only is the COVID-19 pandemic still rampaging through the country, but cases are trending steadily up. And while a vaccine is around the corner, immunity is still months away at the earliest. Which means that we have to continue to be very careful in order to check the spread of the disease, especially when people are (foolishly, irresponsibly) insisting on travelling for the holidays, seeing families in large indoor gatherings and so on. And while people have formed quarantine pods with people who are supposedly safe… I’ve seen people who don’t seem to realize just how many people are actually in their pod or bubble. Because when one person in that group is part of someone else’s group and someone in that group has somebody who’s in yet another group, the number of people who are all being exposed to one another goes up exponentially. And while you and your crew might be rigorously safe, you can’t say the same for everyone in those secondary or tertiary groups. So I’ve got some serious side-eye for your girlfriend for bringing someone else around that could potentially lead to her or you getting exposed.
And while this may seem like a nit-picky thing to get upset about, I’ve literally seen people I know get exposed this way. So if the two of you didn’t have a conversation about safety precautions and acceptable levels of risk, especially when seeing other people… well, that’s not cool and a conversation you need to have — with her and with anyone else you may end up dating before the pandemic is over or you get vaccinated.
With that out of the way… let’s talk exes, beds and whether this was ok or not.
If we’re being honest, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, sharing a bed doesn’t automatically equal cheating or even an egregious violation of trust. I know plenty of partnered folks — people in monogamous, closed relationships — who’ve shared beds with people they weren’t dating or in relationships. It was literally two people using the same bed and honestly, that’s not really that big of a deal. There can be a lot of personal variation in whether somebody might be comfortable doing that themselves but honestly, it’s not an inherently intimate act.
(Really the issue that would give me pause would be one of comfort, rather than intimacy. But that’s because I’ve got joint pain issues, so I need my space.)
Similarly, I don’t think there’s anything inherently untrustworthy or sketchy about being friends, even close friends, with an ex. I think the idea that if you break up with someone, they’re given the damnatio ex memorae and you exile them from your life can be short-sighted. Her being close with someone who was important to her isn’t weird or something to be worried about. Under normal circumstances, being friends with one’s exes tends to be a sign of maturity and emotional intelligence.
Where I start to side-eye her is the fact that there wasn’t a need to share the same bed. You say she’s got a guest room and a couch, so it’s not a case of being in a studio apartment with just the one bed. That makes it a little hinky to me. Not enough to issue some declaratory statement that This Was Wrong, but certainly enough for me to say “did you really need to invite this drama?”
I have more of an issue with the fact that it seems like she’s dismissing your feelings out of hand. While there’s been a lot of ink and pixels spilled about the concept of “emotional labor” and what is and isn’t asking too much from our partners, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to talk things out, to provide some reassurance and hopefully find, if not common ground, then at least some understanding between the two of you. Maybe she could have explained her reasoning better, in a way that would help you understand her position and help you feel better. You could have explained why this makes you uncomfortable and the two of you could have found some form of accommodation for the future.
But dropping this on you from the clear blue sky and then (apparently) saying “deal with it lol” isn’t the coolest way to handle it. Maybe this is just the way she rolls, sure. But if that’s not something you knew about or that she was gonna share the bed with him, then it’s not unreasonable that you’re going to be a bit gobsmacked when it comes out of nowhere. While someone with a little more experience under their belt might have a different emotional reaction… that person isn’t you. Expecting you to react the way that person would isn’t reasonable. And while your girlfriend isn’t responsible for managing your emotions, you both do have a responsibility to each other and trying to work through issues like this falls very firmly into that category.
Now the question that’s hanging around like a fart in a closet is: did she fuck him? Honestly, I have no idea and I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a guess. Like I said: being close with an ex doesn’t mean that those pantsfeels are still there. And even if one of them still had the horn for the other, that doesn’t mean that anything was going to happen; it takes two to tango, after all. Having close friends who correspond to your sexuality doesn’t mean sex is going to happen, even if you’re sleeping in the same bed. So I think that question comes down to “do you trust your girlfriend or not”. If you do, and she tells you that nothing happened, then take her at her word. If you don’t trust her… well, then you’ve got a bigger issue than her sleeping arrangements and that’s usually relationship-ending problem.
(Incidentally, your friend’s take is kinda shitty and calling someone a cuck is generally a great indicator that you no longer have to take their opinion seriously.)
The question of “Is it ok that she shared a bed with him?” is an edge case. I’m inclined to say “it’s not great“, but more because of how it seems that she’s handled this. If she had brought up that this is how she does things before hand, then you could’ve hashed it out and at least started trying to work on your feelings about it. Similarly, presenting it as fait accompli and telling you that you just need to be cool with it, end of discussion isn’t not cool of her either. Even if she’s used to dating dudes who’ve been ok with it before, you aren’t them.
That’s why yes, it is ok that you’re upset about this. Like I said: you’re dealing with a new situation, and it’s understandable that you have a lot of complex and uncomfortable emotions about it.
What matters now is how you both handle things moving forward. If you and she can have that Awkward Conversation and you can explain — without judgement or accusations — why this bothers you, how you’d like this to be handled in an ideal world, and what sort of compromises you could be comfortable with… then that’s progress. Similarly, if she can accept that you feel this way and need a little reassurance from her and actually give you that reassurance and the two of you can find a compromise that works for both of you, then hey: you got through a rough patch you didn’t see coming. Now you’ve improved your communication, identified some sensitive areas in your relationship and are hopefully coming out of it stronger than before. But if you lose your shit at her or she dismisses your feelings out of hand and tells you to just get over it? Then that’s a sign that the two of you aren’t right for each other and it’s better that you end things now.