You Need Help: It’s Okay If You Haven’t Had Sex Yet

Q:
I’ve only really come out to everyone (myself included) in the last year, and it’s really just been over the past few months that I’ve felt truly okay calling myself gay and felt at peace with that (after getting over the whole “raised-Catholic-in-the-Bible-Belt-you’re-going-to-hell” adolescence and such). I’m about to be in my senior year of college and have never been on a real date with anyone, let alone hooked up with another girl. I’m super self-conscious and every time I start to think about it as a possibility, I freak myself out. I’m too inside my head to think about relaxing and opening up to someone, and I feel like I’m getting to a point where people will judge me on my lack of experience. Am I being dumb for being so worried? How can I stop psyching myself out of everything?

First of all, try not to feel bad about worrying. It’s natural to worry about things you feel insecure about, and if you feel bad about it, you have to experience two negative feelings – the insecurity, and the worrying about it – instead of just one. And it’s totally natural to worry about things you feel insecure about!

No one worth having sex with will judge you on lack of experience. Here’s the thing about sex: what works for one person might be terrible for another. What’s terrible for one person might be another person’s secret favorite. Everyone’s different, and everyone’s different brains and bodies will respond to different things in different ways. In some ways, you’re actually at an advantage, because you don’t have preconceived ideas about what might work because it’s worked in the past. Instead, you’re free to focus on the person in front of you, on what they’re telling you with their mouth and body, and on what you’re saying with yours. Don’t think of not having had sex as a disadvantage — think of it like a secret weapon. The experience you need to try to build isn’t what to do with a girl in bed; it’s how to communicate with that girl before bed is even a question, as well as once it is.

The best way to communicate is to practice good intent, to listen to what someone is saying they might want or not want, to be respectful, and to know what you might want or not want and communicate it back and see where things line up. It is shockingly hard to do this well, but the key is to have a strong sense of self, to trust the other person does, too, and to go from there.

In order to do that, you have to have a sense what you like and what you want all on your own, before there’s another person there. Personally, I put a lot of value in going on sexual journeys with other people, on exploring and learning and playing together, on trying this thing that you never thought of before but that they’re finding so exciting you can’t help but want to. But I put even more value in masturbation. If you haven’t spent a lot of time having sex and figuring out what you like and don’t like by yourself, it’s going to be much harder to have sex and figure out what you like and don’t like with another person. Plus, if you’re having really good sex with yourself, it takes some of the pressure off of sex with someone else — partnered sex is fun, but it’s not the only type of sex you can have. Take some time alone and get creative. Try different types of touches in different places. Use different fantasies, erotica, and porn and learn more about what gets you off. Experiment with yourself a little.

After that, if you want, feel free to spend a little time researching how to have lesbian sex. Don’t get too caught up in your head about it, though: again, the best way to get good at sex with a specific person is to really pay attention to that specific person.

And a note on that person: this might be controversial, but it’s okay to not be totally relaxed and open with someone right away. It’s okay to turn down that stove and take that pressure right off yourself until you’ve spent a little more time together. Unless you’ve moved through the world with everything sunshine and rainbows all the time, you’ve probably met some people around whom it did not feel safe and good to relax, and when you have enough of those moments built up, it can be super hard to feel safe and good relaxing around someone new. Don’t force it. Don’t feel bad about not forcing it. You don’t have to walk around like an open flower, your insides there for everyone to see. All you have to do is be open to being open.


Want to ask Autostraddle a question? Submit your own quick and dirty questions any time! 

Carolyn Yates is the NSFW Consultant, and was formerly the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor, for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She recently moved to Los Angeles from Montreal. Find her on twitter.

Carolyn has written 927 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. ” I’m about to be in my senior year of college and have never been on a real date with anyone, let alone hooked up with another girl.” I wasn’t even out yet and hadn’t kissed a single soul at the beginning of senior year of college, and I started college late! Props to my adolescent self for not doing stuff I didn’t want to do. This column is of course, as always, A+ advice that would have helped me. Part of me being able to come out to myself and start dating was setting this goal for myself: I’m gonna find someone I wanna ask on a date. Then I’m gonna ask them. Then I wanna have fun on ONE date. All that before I even think about having fun on another date. And once I’d done those things and a couple more dates, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other so yeah, don’t let the later get in the way of now.

      • And then there’s the question: Where do you meet someone you want to ask on a date? Like say, idk, you’re an introvert/homebody but you don’t really care for online dating apps.

        • @iflipforrizzles One thought for meeting people is to find community around your interests. What are your hobbies? Do you like making things? Love theater? A sport? A tv show? You could go to a meet-up or event related to that thing and talk to one person. Or talk to folks online in your area (try meetup.com). Don’t worry about dating, just start to make friends on a one-on-one basis. Ask a person you find interesting to coffee, if that’s less intimidating than a meet-up. Friends lead to more friends and sooner or later you’re gonna find some queer peeps. Takes longer, and can still be hard for an introvert, but maybe it’d feel more natural than dating apps? I dunno, just throwing ideas out there 🙂

  2. Thanks for this 🙂 I have always felt insecure about my lack of experience, but thinking of it as an advantage really clicked for me – never thought of it that way before!

  3. This is so great! Thank you Carolyn!

    I had never gone on a date with a girl or done anything with a girl (or really anyone) until my senior year of college, too. I was super nervous, and my first girlfriend and I went on like 8 dates or something before I could relax enough to even kiss her. I talked to her about it on our first date, I was like “I want to kiss you but I’ve built up a bunch of inhibitions I can’t just get rid of yet,” and she was so, so sweet and cool about it. If you’re just honest about whatever you’re feeling, and if the person is the kind of person you wanna be doing stuff with, it’s all gonna fall into place. 🙂

    So just know you’re not alone! And, for the record, for me: fast forward about 5 years and I have enjoyed dating a handful of people, I have a wonderful life partner (of 2 years so far), and, since I am polyamorous, I look forward to going on first dates and fiftieth dates in the future, and continuing to learn sex stuff forever!

    P.S. Even people who have had a lot of sex are sometimes terrible in bed… see what Carolyn said about coming into things without preconceived ideas of what sex is going to be! 😉

  4. This describes me almost exactly! I’m about to be a senior in college (went back to school a little later though) and I have never really been out on a date or had much experience with intimacy. Sometimes I wonder if something is wrong with me. Now I see others have been through the same thing, makes me feel much better 🙂

  5. I didn’t date until after I graduated (23!), and this was a huuuuge stress for me as well. The only thing I would add is that it’s okay if your first time isn’t ~mind-blowingly amazing.~ A lot of my friends were a bit surprised when I said my first time was “fine,” but, like you, I think I was too stressed about my inexperience (even though my partner knew and even thought it was special that I’d waited so long), and was therefore unable to really relax into it and enjoy it. It is a journey, so don’t rush it! (Telling myself as much as you here…)

  6. Thank you for that last paragraph. Ever since I was sexually deceived in a decidedly cruel way, I’ve struggled with how much I’m obligated to disclose to sexual partners. I want to be as honest and well-intentioned as possible, but I needed to hear that sometimes it’s okay to keep some things to yourself.

  7. Aww, this was a very sweet and caring article. I was a late bloomer too – didn’t date until college and didn’t have sexual experience until graduate school. Waiting until you’re comfortable is worth it. Even though I am no longer with the person, there aren’t regrets because I was able to have open, honest, and caring experiences in the context of a loving relationship. Afterwards I was able to explore myself more openly and be less apprehensive with future relationships.

  8. Seeing this article and the comments make me feel so much more chilled about life! I’m about to go into my third year of uni and I haven’t dated/kissed/etc anyone, even though I came out to myself at 17 (I’ll be 21 this year). The fact that there are so many others that are the same is super validating!

  9. I’m posting this reluctantly (since I realize this wasn’t made with people like me in mind), but I suppose anybody could have this problem. Pretty much everyone here talks about being inexperienced going into college. Are they’re addition challenges that come when you haven’t even dated let along had sex with another by the time you’re over 30!?

    I realize my problems aren’t the same as problems post coming-out, unless you count finally being able identifying as Aspie which has certainly complicated my social life in general. I totally agree with the last paragraph about the importance of not forcing things and getting to know if each other first (believe me just making-out would be crossing a threshold for me at this point). I’m just not sure when or how to properly bring this up with somebody else whose probably more experienced.

  10. This is such a great article.
    Oftentimes as queer people, I think there’s a pressure to “catch up” to our heterosexual counterparts who have been practicing dating and sex since jr. high, leaving us feeling inexperienced and behind the curve.
    But really, take your time. It’s okay if you have no experience! Your comfort is the most important thing, and you shouldn’t let anyone make you feel bad about that.

    • Yes! This is very true. I can speak from experience that not ever heterosexual is already experienced by that age. In fact a great many people are still feeling behind the curve going into college without even knowing their peers are in the same boat.
      I want to emphasis that I don’t feel in anyway bad about being inexperienced. I’m only unsure about how to explain it someone and how far into a relationship before you can should explain in.

  11. Also WHAT EVEN IS SEX?

    I know that’s a bit disingenous but really like a boy fingered me at 17 and that was shit and not at all sex and in no way do I count that as having sex for the first time but then the first girl I had sex with also basically just fingered me so the only difference really is in my head.

    Also in my experience some girls just orgasm more easily than others. Don’t read too much into it if you’re having performance worries.

    • Omg me too!!! I had what i didnt consider sex with a boyfriend at 14, but then i grew up amd expanded my ideas of what sex are and have since only had sex with women.
      So 15yo me considered myself a virgin but 25yo me would count that as sex. It’s incongruent in a way i find displeasing.

      • Yeah I’ll never have piv or pia but I count myself as ‘losing’ it at a young age with guys & girls. (twelve with a gf & thirteen with a guy)
        My major hangup is that guys never saw fit to kiss me til I was 24. Don’t want to shame sws but I read that they don’t kiss. That means (in my mind) no guy wanted anything emotional w me til I was into my twenties, just a sex object. Especially as I was brought up with the idea in the media that first kisses were akin to a practice first sex.

  12. I hope this isn’t too personal but I’ve been having a lot of internal issues with this myself recently and it would be good to talk about it! I’ve known and accepted that I strongly prefer women and want to prioritise women romantically & sexually since I was 17, yet I’ve just turned 24 and I still have no sexual experience with women. This didn’t upset me so much until the last couple of years when I started to feel that I’ve really let myself down. At 17 I was so excited to go to university and be primarily with women, I would’ve been horrified if I’d known that in seven (!) years I still wouldn’t have slept with/dated one.

    I wasn’t out until I went to uni at 19 and then I was very new to queer spaces, had (and still have) absolutely no confidence approaching women, even now if I’m in an lgbt space, even a queer women’s night, I find myself avoiding eye contact with anyone and completely freeze up at the thought of approaching someone (the only time I did successfully I was very very drunk and I’m surprised it worked!). I guess I didn’t prioritise seeking out women enough and throughout high school had become so good at fabricating attraction to men, that during my time at uni I wound up in two relationships with men that I’m not sure I was ever really attracted to, with whom I had sex that at first was okay but soon became incredibly distressing and eventually somewhat traumatising for me. They were open relationships so I could’ve seen women, and very occasionally I made out with one at a club, but ultimately my relationships took up a lot of time and I also struggled a lot with mental health issues. The past couple of years I’ve had to move in with my parents due to health issues, and there is literally no chance of my having a love/sex life here.

    Ultimately I know that I can look at all this and realise why I’ve yet to have sex with women, and that it’s valid, but it doesn’t stop it from being frustrating and saddening: I feel that I’ve had so many years robbed from me and that I’ve wasted so much time being miserable and living inauthentically when I could have pursued romantic/sexual interactions that would have felt right. It’s just so bizarre to look at the past 5 years of my life and be like ‘Wow! I really made ALL the wrong choices!’

    And I’m not sure how to proceed from here: when I do move out I’d prefer to have casual sex than to start looking for a relationship immediately, but I feel that being 24 and not having had sex with a woman is a difficult thing to navigate in that context – telling casual sex partners about my lack of experience seems odd, but I also don’t want to just seem bad at sex with no explanation. If anyone has any advice at all I would really appreciate it!

  13. Thank you for this. Besides the amazing things already mentioned, I’d thought I’d share my experience for other trans women out there.

    Want to know something really cool that I have absolutely no issues sharing: I’m 30 and have never had sex. No first kiss. No holding hands. No dates, no brining partners to meet the folks, no romantic getaways. My grand total of romantic experience is a single night when my high school girlfriend and I hiked into the wilderness and lay in an abandoned airfield under the stars.

    And want to know something else cool? I’m bisexual – with an emphasis on the sexual part. My hormones are completely out of control. If I saw a pile of rocks with a snake in it, I’d probably jump it. I can’t stand being in the same room as someone I’m attracted to, because I’ll start visibly blushing, running my hands along my arm, and biting my lip. I got it BAD.

    So, then you may be wondering: how do I survive? Not ashamed, before transition it was a lot of masturbation. And now a year into transition, with sensual pleasure in places I never even imagined, even MORE masturbation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with learning to love your body and give it pleasure.

    That being said, would I like a relationship? Wouldn’t I like to have sex and hold hands and ride off into the sunset together? More than anything in the world.

    And now that my gender issues are finally being resolved, I just might finally get my wish. The thing is, lots of people have intimacy issues. But for me, as a trans woman, I have some unique issues to overcome. Besides the incredibly difficult, terrifying, and possibly dangerous process of finding a partner — once I do find a partner, I shut down.

    My mind tells me I have a vagina and that sex works with me using my vagina like any other woman. But, then when I look down, I get confused because my brain tells me sex should work one way, and I’m seeing something entirely different. I’m slowly becoming more intimate and allowing myself to be loved, but it takes time. I’m seeing this guy right now, and we’ve been on several dates, but the thought of holding hands, or any kind of intimacy still freaks me out.

    Things I know that are helping/have helped is to see a therapist/counselor to try to work through these issues. I also find the warmth and natural touch that women bring have helped lower my barriers a bit. I still sometimes jump when a girlfriend will touch my shoulder, but then I remind myself that it’s o.k. to show affection now. And it’s o.k. to receive love. Because those gender barriers are gone. I can finally just be me.

    The sex will come. Give it time. Learning to love yourself all over again important now. Life is new; every experience is now your first. Cherish them all, and worry about the sex when it’s time.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.