Dear Dr. NerdLove,
As a 22 year old guy, I have no idea how to express myself sexually, since I’ve never really done that before. It helps to state upfront what I’m looking for: when I say “express myself sexually”, I mean it fairly literally. I want other people to talk to about my desires and fantasies. I have a lot of “ideas” in my head and I want to meet other people who are into the same stuff as me. It’s really that simple. I’m not asking for the intimacy or relationship of a “sex partner”, because I don’t necessarily need a “sex partner” anymore than I’d need a “Star Wars movie watching partner”. Rather what I need is a kind of “fandom” I can join, or even just a “sexual friend” (not FWB, literally just “friend who’s into the same sexual stuff in the same way we’d like the same TV show”). I don’t need a full-blown relationship, just someone I can just “geek out” with and share interests with. It could be as simple as an adult pen pal, or someone I meet up with for coffee once or twice a month. I literally just want a safe place and a safe person to share myself with, and someone who can share themselves with me. I’m not asking for a full-blown swingers or BDSM club, just an adults-only space to talk to others about adults-only stuff.
On one hand, I understand this question seems a bit ridiculous because of how easy the need should be to meet even without your help. There are tons of groups and places out there in real life, to say nothing of the infinite variety of online communities. Why would anyone have trouble finding a place where they can talk about even the most obscure stuff?
For me, the problem is that I’m a very cautious, perhaps even paranoid person, and combined with my sexual naivety I just don’t know how to navigate and explore the adult world safely.
My sense of caution is borne from the fact that my life as a whole is more important than any sex life I could ever have. If I was guaranteed a 40-year career with decent pay and benefits, comfortable retirement, a nice house, respect by my peers in the field, etc and the condition was never experiencing any sexual pleasure ever again, I would take that deal. Contrariwise, I’ve come an enormously long way in my life, and it would be awful to ruin it all just because I wanted to have some fun. If I play my cards right I’m set for a very good life, but as far as exploring and expressing myself sexually as an adult, I don’t know what game I’m even playing. I don’t want to make a bad decision by not knowing what I’m getting into, get involved in something dangerous or illegal, and then have my life ruined just because I was horny and didn’t know what to do with myself.
As an example of how my problem works, I know there are message boards, subreddits, websites, chatrooms, etc dedicated to exactly the kind of stuff I like, but since people can easily hide who they are online, I don’t want to risk talking with somebody who turns out to be underage. As such, I don’t go to such places or do such things. No matter how much I want to interact with others, I don’t do that because I have too much to lose if something goes wrong, and the fear of something going wrong would ruin the fun of something that goes right.
To steal a metaphor from someone I heard once, my sex life is like being stranded in the ocean: surrounded by water, none of it drinkable. Or at least that’s how I’d describe the situation for online communities. With regards to real-life communities for adults, I’m in a desert: no idea of where to even find water.
Yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel that I’m too responsible and big-picture minded for my own good, that I’m over-cautious and paranoid, and that maybe I’m surrounded by tons of great options I’m just too scared to look into, or because of my naivety even safe things look scary since I don’t have the experience to know they’re trustworthy. Yes, it’s my determination that my life as a whole is better and more important than any sex life I could possibly have, but at the same time sexuality is a basic human urge, and I’m caught between “I can satisfy myself safely if I know what I’m doing. Hundreds of millions of people watch porn, role-play, go to strip/kink/swinger/BDSM clubs, etc and they’re just fine.” versus “I don’t know that much about the adult world or how to get into it, and even if I did the safest option is to do nothing.”. It’s a battle between “My fear is possibly irrational, and I can afford to have some fun.” versus “No amount of fun is worth the risk. Fear keeps me safe.”
My current solution is to avoid interacting with others for maximum safety and focus entirely on what I can do for myself. More specifically, I harness my skills as a writer and make stories for myself, but in a lot of ways this just highlights why I want another human being to express myself to: I’d like someone other than me to listen to and enjoy my fantasies. I’d like to know what someone else thinks of them, or what their own twists on my scenarios would be. I also want to learn about what someone else likes, even if I don’t like it as well. I know exactly what I like, but someone else has the potential to reveal something I didn’t even know I wanted, or offer some other new idea or perspective I hadn’t thought of before. Ironically, writing erotic literature for myself has taught me about what an adult “partner” and “intimacy” is really all about. It’s not just someone else who can make you orgasm. It’s the emotional connection of sharing our deepest desires with someone, and them trusting us with theirs. I want that experience of sitting down and talking to someone about our turn-ons as casually as we’d discuss our favorite movies. I want to know that part of someone, and I want them to know that part of me.
Once more, I’m not even looking for a sex partner or girlfriend, at least in the normal sense of the word. The intimacy I’m looking for is actually closer to being fans of the same sports team or TV show rather than sharing the same bed. Heck, I’m completely open to talking about myself to another guy. Literally anyone 18 or over who can say “Yeah, me too.” is fine by me.
Cautious Yet Curious
Off the bat: this was an incredibly long letter that I had to cut down to make it work for the column, CYC. Getting a letter selected for Ask Dr. NerdLove means keeping things manageable, both for me and the readers. It’s one thing to include relevant detail. It’s another to ask two to three questions in a letter that runs close to 3k words.
Just as a reminder: if you — or any of my other readers — have an incredibly long question or series of questions and want to be guaranteed of an answer, especially one that doesn’t get published, then consider the Priority Email Service; this is one of the private coaching options I offer.
Now with that out of the way:
Yes, CYC, you’ve nailed it on the head already: you’re playing things far too cautiously, under the assumption that the stakes are far higher than you think they are. Your aversion to risk, quite honestly, borders on the pathological. Now, you don’t mention whether this aversion to risk strictly revolves around sex and sexuality, or if it reaches into other areas of your life… but either way, there’s a simple truth: there is no such thing as a life without risk. Everything in life, up to and including just getting out of bed, entails an element of risk. There is no such thing as a perfectly, 100% assurance of safety in literally anything you do. The questions you have to ask are:
- How high is the risk of something going wrong?
- What are the realistic consequences of that risk?
- What can I do to mitigate that risk ?
- Is the reward worth the risk?
Downhill skiing, for example, is an incredibly risky sport. People injure themselves or die every year because of the dangers inherent to the sport. And yet, tens of thousands of people go skiing all winter and spring — and most without injury. They’ve looked at the odds, they’ve taken what steps they feel are appropriate to managing that risk (wearing helmets, skiing on slopes that equate to their ability, etc) and the reward — the thrill of skiing — is seen as being worth the risk. Driving a car is, likewise, one of the riskiest things you can do. The statistics of people who are injured, crippled or killed because of driving are horrific when you look at them. But again: people gauge the risks, mitigate them as best they can and decide that the benefit is worth the acceptance of risk.
In your case, CYC, your fear of taking those risks is keeping you from reaching out for what you’re trying to find. After all, there’re a number of places where, if all you’re looking for is frank and open conversation about sex and sexual interests, there are quite literally thousands of places. The most obvious are online communities that are specifically oriented towards those discussions. And while many of them are more aimed at a prurient experience — that is, folks are looking to get off on these discussions — there are many that are specifically for folks who want to ask “is this normal?” or even just hash shit out. Reddit has subreddits specifically for this. Fetish sites like FetLife, likewise, have forums that are for discussing of kinks and fantasies.
But what I think you’re probably going to want are sex educator or sex positive communities — the people who hang out in those tend to be loud and proud sex nerds, who like discussing sex for the discussion’s sake, rather than getting off. Considering some of the things that you talk about in your letter — including the parts I had to cut — you should probably start with Scarleteen; this is a sex ed site for teens and emerging adults. They have a number of resources, including message boards; these would be useful to you, and I would strongly suggest lurking for a while before participating so that you can get the vibe for the boards.
There are also a host of communities specifically for posting erotic fiction and hearing back from the readers. An Archive Of Our Own is possibly the most famous, though it’s specifically for fan-fiction, erotic or not. There’s also sites like Literotica, and of course, any number of subreddits and smaller forums to be found if you go looking.
But if I’m being perfectly honest, CYC, the issue isn’t whether you’re going to find a place to just geek out over sex and sexuality. It’s your fear that somehow this is going to destroy you. The things you seem to be worried about — that somehow you’re going to get in trouble for either talking about sexual activities or that you’re going to somehow be misled into illegal sexual activities — feels like it’s not just paranoia. A lot of the way you talk about this, from your word choice to the oddly specific fears, makes it seem like this is driven by shame, rather than garden-variety paranoia. There’s a real “sex is bad because it’s going to destroy your life” vibe to what you’ve written and it makes me wonder just where this came from. That’s not something that just crops up on its own; more often than not, this is something that’s instilled in people. That may be from educators, from religion and religious leaders or your folks. And honestly, that combination of shame, fear and ignorance is going to be a constant series of stumbling blocks for you, CYC. The irony of it is that this combo of shame and ignorance is far more likely to get you in trouble than browsing dodgy subreddits or making a FetLife account. The truth is that sex pretty much always wins in the end. It’s why gay conversion therapy is just torture by another name. It’s why people continue to have sex even when it could literally get them arrested or killed.
That’s why I think what you need, more than anything else is education. And quite possibly a few sessions with a therapist to unpack this level of paranoia you seem to have. That’s one reason why I suggest you check out Scarleteen first and foremost; they’re going to be an excellent resource for you with practical and applicable advice and information both about sex in general and about your worries. But I would also strongly suggest finding a sex-positive counselor or therapist to help you with your worries about risk and your seemingly morbid terror of sex destroying your life somehow. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a great referral directory that can help you find a sex-positive therapist near you. And these days, most therapists and counselors will work with you via Skype or Zoom, and some will work via SMS or instant messaging apps.
While outlets like the forums on FetLife or AO3 may be a useful place for expressing yourself, I think Scarleteen and AASECT are going to be far more vital in terms of helping you manage your fears. I strongly suggest you start there.
How about you, readers? Do you have a relationship win story? How have you improved your personal life, your friendships or your romantic relationships? What are some of the ways you’ve made your life better recently? Let’s share some hope, some positivity and success to help inspire folks to achieve their own victories.
Send your success stories to email@example.com with the subject header “relationship wins”; maybe you’ll see your success story in a future column.