Dear Dr. NerdLove:
First off, thank you for all the help! Your writing is exactly what so many people need to hear compared to the baseline internet dating advice. It has let me make immense strides with myself. I would not be having this issue without you; I would be 10 steps further back. There is always more work to do, however.
I am a Bi 20M in college who is scared to be sexual/flirt/initiate in that way with anyone. I am a virgin, and am mostly okay with this, but I will have chances to have sex thrown in my face and am almost comically unable to do anything, even though I know exactly what is on the table. Understand that this is a confusing and somewhat scary topic for me to broach. One time, someone asked me if I wanted to go to their room with them and “watch Netflix” and I stood there and said I had to play basketball with my friends. I hate basketball! I like her too! I do these things in third person it feels like, I’m just watching someone else do things I do not want. This is one of a myriad of situations I find myself in, consistently enough to be very frustrating. I was asked once to dirty talk over FaceTime (I did not understand the cues until I was essentially flat out asked). I could not do it. She would tell me just to say what was on my mind, it was completely blank. I felt completely inadequate when the call ended. Every sexual encounter I have had has been initiated by the partner.
I understand it is okay to be more restrictive with sex as a man, I don’t have to have sex with a ton of people to gain “value” or prove something, but this has become a problem. There will be mutual interest, and everything will go well, but I don’t make any moves sexually and things will fizzle out. It’s an important part of a relationship and something that I do want. I considered asexuality, but I decided that does not describe who I am.
It feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy, every failure compounds the anxiety the next time I find myself in these situations. Not having sexual experience is creating the anxiety that makes me recoil from sexual experience. What should I do about this? Read some smut and take notes? Keep at it until I get over The Fear? Find someone who understands and can take it slow? Stop making a big deal out of something that is not so (sex)? Is this intentional?
-Fear is my Mind Killer
Believe it or not, this isn’t all that unusual, FIMK. Just because someone wants something, even wants it more than they can possibly say, doesn’t mean that they’re going to leap at every opportunity. Despite the memes about how all men are satyrs who’re perpetually horny and would hump a tree if it was soft enough, there’s often a difference between the fantasy and the reality. It’s not that unusual to freeze at the moment that your dream’s about to come true because dreams are safe. In a fantasy, in your imagination or just thinking about what it would be like, everything goes perfectly. It all plays out exactly the way you want and it goes smoother than Kentucky bourbon.
Reality, however is messier. When dreams become reality suddenly things have stakes! There’s every chance that you’re going to trip up somewhere! There’re consequences! What if you say something wrong or you put your hand in the wrong place or you can’t get it up or you get off too quickly? What if you sneeze or cough or fart at an inconvenient moment?
Not to mention, the sudden realization of “wait, this is about to happen??” can overwhelm you and just cause your brain to vapor lock. One moment you think that you’re a sexual dynamo waiting to happen, who’s gagging to get some and then when the opportunity unexpectedly presents itself, the only thing in your brain is a dial tone. This is actually a common response to a sudden surge of adrenaline – one that you might get when, say, someone says “so, wanna bang?” when you’re not expecting it. Yeah, your life’s not in danger, but the surprise is so intense and unexpected that your brain just goes into red alert. There’s a reason why the “fight or flight” response is more properly “fight, flight, fawn or freeze”, after all.
But those aren’t the only reasons why you – or anyone else in your shoes, for that matter – might suddenly freeze up in the moment.
The first possibility that stands out to me is that, in the examples you list, someone else is initiating. That alone could be a major reason why your brain goes “bwuuuuuh” when the chance to have sex suddenly arises (er… as it were). It may be that you’ve still got a sort of psychological whammy over the idea of who’s supposed to make the first move. Having a woman propositioning you might be so outside of the norms you were taught that you end up grinding gears trying to respond.
Another way that speed might be the problem is that the opportunity for sex is coming up before you’re ready. Again, the examples you mention don’t seem to be in the context of a relationship. You don’t give many details but it certainly sounds like these are random hook-up invitations, rather than something that’s been building over time. Some folks are more of a slow burn when it comes to sex and sexual attraction and need to build up to it. Or it could be that the relationships are progressing faster than your comfortable with and you need more time to be ready to have sex. Or it could be that it seems as though the offer of sex comes out of the clear blue sky instead of coming up in a more organic fashion. Maybe things would be different if you were on a date that lead to making out on the couch; if they were to suggest taking this to the bedroom, it might not cause your brain to lock up like someone put sugar in your gas tank.
That lack of readiness may well be coming from a place of low self-esteem, too. If you felt more like you were the sort of person who deserved love, affection and, yes, sex, you might feel more in a place where you could initiate. Or it may be that you feel like you’re going to be judged for not being able to bang out like a champion by these people who are seemingly so much more confident than you.
A third possibility is that while you may want to have sex, the people propositioning you aren’t necessarily people you want to have sex with. Again, yes, there’re all the memes of how horny guys are and the constant flood of “I don’t care, I’ll take anything” types, but if you don’t find someone attractive or aren’t attracted to them (which are two very different things), then what you may be feeling is the conflict between “want to have sex” and “…with someone else.” For all the “love the one you’re with” advice and memes out there, a lot of people are choosy about who they want to actually do the deed with.
And a fourth possibility: you may just not want sex, but you’re supposed to and so you’ve told yourself that you do. One of the things we don’t talk about often is how much culture, society and our peers affect what we do… even when it runs contrary to our actual desires. A lot of men, for example, genuinely love and lust after fat women. Not “thicc”, not “curvy” but fat. However, fatphobia is so prevalent and the fear of judgement from their peers can be so intense that they chase after the people they’re supposed to want instead, even when it doesn’t actually satisfy them. This could well be the case for you – the idea of “men are horny and should be having sex whenever possible” may have hooked into your brain and left you feeling like you’re supposed to get this done but you aren’t actually interested. And that lack of interest may be a “yet”, or a “for now”, or even an “…ever”.
It could even be that you’re being propositioned by people of the wrong gender. You say you’re bisexual, but the examples you list that cause you to panic are all women. While bi and pansexuality does mean being attracted to more than one gender, that doesn’t mean that the attraction is split 50/50. Hell, it doesn’t even necessarily mean that the gender you fall in love with and want to have romantic relationships with is the one you’re most sexually attracted to. Is it possible that you’re bi-romantic but more sexually attracted to men? Have you had the same freeze response with other men at all?
Now, what to do about this is something of a tricky question because solving the problem – if it is indeed an actual problem – requires understanding the underlying issue. This is why my first suggestion would be to do some digging or soul searching and see if you can untangle just where the disconnect is. The more you can get into the nitty-gritty about what’s making you freeze up, the better of an idea you’ll have on how to proceed. After all, if it is a case of “right offer, wrong gender”, it doesn’t do much good to try to hook up with women when the opportunity arises. Similarly, if you’re more on the demisexual spectrum and need to warm up to sexual attraction, then random hook-ups aren’t going to help, regardless of the gender of the other person involved.
What I would suggest for now, however, is to take things slow. I think at least part of the problem is that the offers you mention are all 0-to-60-in-no-time-flat. If you didn’t feel like you needed to do all the things, right here, right now, then you might have less of an issue. Letting your sexual experience grow at a more measured pace – rounding the bases one at a time instead of trying to hit a home run at your first at-bat, as it were – you might have fewer issues. Finding a partner who’s willing to take things at a pace you feel comfortable with, one that lets you get familiar and experienced with different aspects of sex, may be precisely what you need. Instead of trying to lose your virginity all at once, taking things a step at a time may be easier for you. This way, you can build up your sense of competence and get that “well ok I have an idea of what I’m doing” so that by the time you get to, say, penetration, you’re not feeling like you need to be an instant expert.
But more than anything else, remember one thing: your first time doesn’t need to be some epic moment or some deep, meaningful event. It doesn’t need to be perfect and special, nor do you need to make sure it’s with someone you love or want to be with for the rest of time or whatever. What you want, ultimately, is to have sex with someone who’s worth having sex with – whatever that means for you.
Doc! how are you?
First I want to thank you because your blog is epic , it helps me a lot ! I’m currently trying to be the best person I can be and thanks to you I improve a lot! So first : Thank you very much Doc!
Second: I have this “problem” but in reality I know it’s not a “Problem”. Let me explain. I know that, for cultural reasons, men have always to be the ones who made the first move. It was always like that. However, I find this kinda “unfair”; why are we the ones who made all the effort first?
I mean , we don’t have also the right to be seduced by a person? I never in my life receive a compliment by a woman, yet I’m here telling any girl I dig that they are “amazing”. They are , they truly are, but you know , they never said anything to me. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m not hot enough to get compliments on the daily.. but.. well sometimes is nice to be appreciated. The thing is, I feel that men are always the ones who made the effort, women just sit there and choose the best. I know that what I thought, it’s only my perception of things but.. a quick reality check tells me two things:
1. There is no heterosexual male escorts (because men are not desirable enough/or in demand to made this a business/or basically why a women will pay for a man if she is lusted for by them on the daily?)
2. Online Dating proves that even if we restrict the cultural factor , men still send the first message
So I guess my perception is not that “wrong”. Doc can you help me with this ? I really want to stop thinking like that, but I feel that men are in a huge disadvantage when it comes to dating
Have a nice day Doc !
-Just a Thinker
OK, as tempting as it is to just throw this out like red meat to wolves in the comments, I want to actually dig into this. Because hey, you’re not entirely wrong. It is kinda unfair that men, culturally, are supposed to make the first move. And yeah, it is nice to be appreciated.
The thing is though, is that you’re asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking is why it’s been this way for so long. Because hey, guess why men are “supposed” to do all the initiating? Because it’s a cultural norm that, even in the year of our Lord Bruce Dickinson 2022, it’s a norm that’s still vigorously enforced. And the people who enforce that particular rule, both directly and indirectly?
It’s other men. Not women. Men. Sing with me now, if you’re a regular reader you already know the words: it’s a case of toxic masculinity ruining things for everyone again.
Now, there’re a few things you’re missing in this particular equation, JAT, that might help you understand the dynamics here. To start with, the modern idea of dating and courtship is very recent. Even as late as the 19th century, the idea of marrying for love was seen as absurd, even foolish. Marriage, especially for members of the middle and upper classes, was more about contract negotiations and the transfer of wealth and property, rather than about love and romance. For women in particular, marriage was as much about survival as it was about anything else; in western countries, women having full financial autonomy was uncommon at best and literally illegal at worst. Shit, in the United States, women couldn’t have their own credit cards or bank accounts without a spouse or parent’s approval until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974. Similarly, women’s sexual autonomy was severely restricted. Women didn’t have full and free access to contraception – even if they were married – until Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, and abortion was likewise restricted until Roe v. Wade in 1971 and, as you may have noticed, Christians and conservatives have been trying to reverse that ever since.
And oh look, they finally got their wish and now they’re coming for gay marriage, interracial marriage and gay rights too.
Up until then, love, sex and dating had – and continue to have – much greater impacts on women’s lives than men’s. The advent of free access to birth control – including abortion – and financial autonomy meant that relationships weren’t a matter of life or death, nor having to weigh the risk between the sex they wanted to have against the likelihood of an unwanted pregnancy and what that would do to them.
I might point out that getting pregnant outside of wedlock – or sometimes even while married – were grounds for expulsion from school, getting fired from work and in many cases, getting locked up in what were euphemistically called “maternity homes”. And hey, that was if you were lucky enough to be in the United States. In Ireland, for example, the Magdalene Laundries – where unwed or undesirable mothers were literally enslaved by the Catholic Church – were in operation until 1996.
That history alone is a significant part of why women were expected to be passive actors in the mating dance. But even now, decades later, cultural norms continue to influence and control who makes the first move. A lot of men are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of women having sexual autonomy and sexual agency; you just have to look at the Fresh-n-Fit idiots to see how much they freak out at the idea of a woman expressing interest in someone – either first or at all. Look at how badly Ben Shapiro freaked out over Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion singing W.A.P. Or, hell, the number of fascist thought leaders who think women being anything other than TradWives is somehow a violation of the natural order of the universe. And while those may be at the extreme end of the bell curve, they’re by no means the only ones who push back against women expressing themselves sexually.
And that’s before we get into the number of men who freak out when women make the first move. Not just because they believe in a deeply conservative idea about gender roles, but because they assume that a woman making the first move is either a trap, or a sign that she’s much more interested than she actually is.
This, incidentally, also affects who gets compliments. Men will compliment women they don’t know, because they know the risks to them are very, very low. A woman complimenting a man, especially a man she doesn’t know, runs the risk of him assuming far, far more about her level of interest and may respond in ways she would not appreciate.
Now, even if you take the question of ‘who initiates the encounter’ out of the equation entirely – just taking it as writ that men are always supposed to make the first move – it’s still not the case that women aren’t putting in equal amounts of effort too. The difference is that many men don’t recognize what they’re doing as part of the work. Anyone who’s ever complained about how long women take to get ready before going out already knows just how much work goes into, say, women making themselves look good before leaving the house. Contrary to what you may think – especially considering the relative paucity of male skin-care, make-up or other forms of grooming prior to going out – getting dressed up, doing their hair and putting on make-up takes work. All you have to do is look at make-up YouTube and TikTok and see what goes into even the “no make-up” look, never mind things like contouring.
Similarly, while they may not be making the approach, that hardly means that women are just sitting around like taxis lined up at the taxi stand, waiting for someone to raise their hand and call them over. There’s a lot involved in being approachable, in catching someone’s eye and sending “come over here and talk to me” signals without coming across as too forward – lest the guy think she’s a slut, heaven forfend. Not to mention the work it often takes to keep their interest, keep the conversation going, be just enough to keep someone’s interest without giving the “wrong idea”, and so forth and so on. It’s a shitload of work, just in the “traditional” dating mode.
But let’s take your specific examples.If we start with the lack of heterosexual male escorts, then there’re a few things you haven’t considered. The first is that there’re more straight men doing sex-work than you realize. You may not know this because, hey, you’re a straight dude; you’re not exactly looking for another straight guy to suck your dick for money.
(More on that in a second).
But they do, in fact, exist, in many, many different forms. One of the most obvious examples would be the host clubs in Japan, where Japanese women go to pay for getting attention and care from attractive men and may even pay for dates outside of the club. Even if we leave out straight men with OnlyFans accounts, dancers at male strip-clubs and the like, many of the male escorts who service other men are, in fact, bisexual or straight guys doing what’s known as “gay for pay”. More men are willing to buy sex or pay sex workers, yes… but, again, it’s only recently that people were willing to even consider the idea that women like sex, never mind would want to be willing to pay for it. But they do, in fact, exist and their female clients are often older, inexperienced women who struggle finding sex.
(Yes, women do, in fact, struggle with finding sex partners, just like men do.)
It’s also worth remembering that sex has entirely different risks for women than it does for men. Women are at greater general risk for sexual violence than men are, including sex workers. Cis women, trans men non-binary folks with vaginas are at risk for unwanted pregnancy, where cis men aren’t, and it’s easier for folks with vaginas to contract STIs than folks with penises. And, of course, at the base level, there’s the classic orgasm gap; men in general are more or less guaranteed to orgasm during a sexual encounter whereas a full third of women won’t orgasm during sex with a man. Hiring an escort’s a lovely idea, but unless you can find a review site for women looking for male escorts, you’re gonna have a hard time knowing if this is going to be an incredible experience or a mediocre-at-best waste of money.
Your second example is, quite frankly, completely wrong. There is no excising the cultural factor, because culture follows us everywhere. We don’t cease to live in a society just because we’re communicating through Tinder instead of chatting someone up at the bar. The same cultural and social mores that affect us in the physical world are still in force online, whether on Twitter or Hinge.
So, TL;DR: yeah, it kinda sucks that things are so tilted towards men doing the initiating or expressing interest. But it’s tilted that way because of toxic and restrictive norms surrounding male and female sexuality and literal generations of cultural upbringing, not because women “have it easier” or because they’re lazy. If you want things to be different – and it certainly sounds like you do – then start helping to create a world that’s more equitable, safer and welcoming for people of all genders, instead of assuming that it’s just that women don’t feel like putting the effort in.