Hey Doc, first off I’m a big fan of your site and really appreciate all the healthy dating advice you give. I’m a 26 year old straight male and I’ve basically had intense shame about my sexuality for my entire adult life. It’s really held me back and makes it extremely difficult/impossible for me to seek out relationships.
Some background, and apologies if this is a bit long. I got my first girlfriend back in college when I was 17. We dated for about 10 months and I didn’t realize it at the time but it was an INCREDIBLY unhealthy relationship (possibly abusive? I’m not sure what qualifies). I’m now fairly sure she had something like borderline personality disorder, but being naive I mostly just took it upon myself to change to make her happy. She was extremely jealous and passive-aggressive, would accuse me of cheating if I so much as talked to another girl, would constantly explode at me over the tiniest things, made me basically cut most of my friends out of my life, etc. She also very early on (within a few months) started to frequently pressure me to agree to marry her, which I was extremely uncomfortable with but eventually gave in to and said I would consider it. But the worst of the problems revolved around sex.
Initially she seemed very interested in sex (she was not a virgin) and would talk about some kinkier stuff she wanted to eventually try. To my surprise, she said that she didn’t want to have sex until 6 months into the relationship, which I fully respected. However, she would somewhat frequently perform oral sex on me (never on my request, it was always her initiating) but would always turn down my offers to reciprocate. After 6 months we did start having sex, though it was very infrequent (I think maybe 4 times total). She always acted into it before/during, but afterward she would immediately call her mom and talk in front of me in Chinese (no idea what she was saying but it was very uncomfortable), and would seem upset/passive-aggressive for a while.
She had some really nasty sex-negative views which we would frequently disagree about. For instance she believed that a woman should only have sex with a man who was willing to marry her, otherwise she would be “devalued”, and that sex was a thing that women did for men to keep them happy. She would also slut-shame girls who dressed in revealing clothes.
Eventually, near the end of our relationship, she revealed that she apparently hated sex, thought kissing me was disgusting, and didn’t even like hugging me. Rather than being flattered/happy that I found her attractive, she basically took it as an insult. I said that we didn’t have to have sex or kiss anymore if she didn’t like it, so we stopped.
I should also note that during this time, my dad dumped my mom after 20 years of marriage for a woman 20 years his junior. It had devastating effects on my family, particularly my mom, and I hated my dad more than anyone in the world. I promised to myself that I would never be anything like him.
Finally after maybe a month or so of no sex, my girlfriend and I broke up, and she said some of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard in my entire life: that I didn’t love her and that I only used her for sex, and that I was “just like my dad”.
Honestly, hearing this was my worst nightmare come true. Here’s why:
- If a woman says no, I will absolutely 100% stop whatever it is I’m doing, and won’t push it.
- If a woman seems hesitant but doesn’t say no, I will absolutely 100% stop whatever it is I’m doing and ask her if she wants to continue.
- If a woman says yes/seems enthusiastic then I can trust that as a great sign to continue, right? … except I can’t.
Apparently for all those months, my ex-girlfriend hated sex and felt used/forced into doing it but said nothing. This is so incredibly horrifying to me. I was basically… forced to rape someone for months without realizing it.
On top of this, what my dad did, and the accusation that I was “just like him”, have caused me an incredible amount of shame over the mere fact that I’m sexually attracted to women in general.
After breaking up with my ex-girlfriend, I didn’t date or have sex or any relationships for over 5 years. I went into a pretty terrible depression and eventually got therapy for over a year.
I finally managed to find a girlfriend via online dating and we dated for a bit over a year and it was a MUCH healthier relationship.
However, it’s been about 9 months since we broke up and this deep-rooted shame is still really holding me back. I occasionally work up the courage to introduce myself to women and I’ve managed to go on a few dates via Tinder, but I’m absolutely incapable of making any sort of romantic/sexual moves, so the dates all just go nowhere.
In my mind, making a move = creepy, sexual assault, unwanted sexual objectification, irremediably insulting. I know it’s not rational or true, but it’s what I’ve been conditioned to believe. (It probably doesn’t really help that in an attempt to learn how approach dating/sex in ways which are respectful toward women, I spent years reading radfem-esque dating “advice” articles which were basically just big lists of all the ways men should stop being horrible, but no actual advice on what is desired/considered okay.)
Honestly at this point I don’t know how to move past this. I know that it’s unhealthy to focus on the worst possible outcome, and besides, as everyone seems to say, what’s the worst that could happen? You try to make a move but get rejected and it’s a bit awkward, right? Nope, the worst is FAR worse, and I know because it was my experience. I take rejection incredibly well. In fact, I almost prefer being rejected because at least I know that “no means no”, which is way better than “yes but secretly I feel violated/used/raped and I won’t tell you until after/possibly ever”. To make a move on someone means risking that they may feel violated, even briefly, and after my experience with my ex-girlfriend, taking this risk just seems completely incompatible with my drive to be a good person.
At the same time, the fact that I feel this way makes me feel like a nasty sexist asshole because it implies that women are fragile flowers who are incapable of handling a moment of discomfort. Obviously I don’t believe this on a rational level, but it’s the logical conclusion of my deep-rooted fear, and this also makes me feel like a bad person, because I do not want to be sexist.
In the words of Andy from The 40-Year-Old Virgin: “You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much I completely stay away from them!”
As I mentioned before, I did therapy for a while and it helped me sort out the reasons why I have all these hang-ups, but ultimately I can’t seem to move past the fact that my worst fears were actually proven true, and could happen again.
Do you have any words of advice to offer?
A Guy With Issues