You Need Help: Do I Disclose That I Haven’t Had Sex In a While?

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Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.


Q:

I am in my late 20s and I haven’t had sex with anyone since I graduated university several years ago. I just couldn’t keep having bad random sex and the drama that comes with it while I was moving across the country, supporting my family, and trying to figure out post grad life. I feel like this is so against the norm that it has been received by my friends as akin to being a virgin, which is frustrating and inaccurate. Now that I’ve got my shit together, I’ve found a girl I like and I don’t know how to explain my history to her without sounding like I don’t like sex (not true) or that I am inexperienced and no fun. I’ve tried just not having the conversation, and that never seems to go well. How do I own up to this as if it’s the most normal thing for me to have done?


Hi friend!

First off, congrats on finding a girl you like! That is sometimes very hard to do, to find someone you both like and want to have sex with. Huzzah! Four for you!

Now to the meat of your question. I’m about to tell you to do something very, very difficult. I’m about to tell you to ignore A METRIC TON of conditioning that we’re all subjected to every damn day of our lives. It will be hard! But the nice part about the advice you’re going to get today is the sweet, sweet knowledge that nothing is wrong with your life, body or experiences. Nothing is wrong! You are normal!

In August of 2015, a book was released titled The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills. Here is an article about it and her on Mother Jones that I highly recommend you read to get a good gist of what the book is about (and here’s Carolyn writing about it on Autostraddle!). To sum it up, here’s a highlight:

But for Hills, a New York-based magazine writer, the way people talk about sex is plenty mystifying. While working as an opinion columnist in her native Australia nearly a decade ago, Hills began to notice how the media seemed obsessed with the idea that young people only wanted no-strings-attached sex—and lots of it. “What was being said about young people and sex very much did not fit my own life,” says Hills. “And I felt a sense of insecurity around that.”

[…]

So what is the Sex Myth? For Hills, it’s the misconception that people need to be good in bed in order to be “adequate human beings.” “We internalize this idea of sex as something that is constantly available and that everyone is doing, and if you’re not doing it, there’s something wrong with you,” she explains. The book intertwines anecdotes, scientific research, and occasional moments of self-reflection to make the argument that people too often allow their sexuality to be defined by factors outside themselves.

There’s an entire book about how no one feels like their sex life is 100% normal. Everyone is convinced they are doing it wrong. People who have a lot of sex think they have too much, and people who don’t have a lot of sex, or haven’t for a period of time for a myriad of reasons (like you!) think they’re not doing it enough. People who like some kinds of sex think they’re weird; people who don’t like some kinds of sex think they’re weird. I feel very strongly that, since no one is 100% normal, everyone is normal. So, listen carefully: not having sex while undergoing stressful times in your life — not having sex for any reason, actually — is, in fact, the most normal thing for you to have done. Nothing is wrong with what you are doing, and any friends who react differently need to embrace the whole “you do you” motto. You are normal. Nothing about your sex life is weird — at least, nothing you have divulged to me in this letter ;0).

Now, do you still feel the need to have a conversation about your sex life with the girl you like? You don’t need to, but you should be having a pre-sex convo with the new lady anyhow, to talk about what you’re comfortable with, STI history, etc. If the fact that you haven’t had sex in a while is still freaking you out a bit or making you nervous, then yeah, you should go ahead and mention it while you have this conversation! Because mentioning it and getting it out in the open might make you less nervous, and thus make the sex more enjoyable. And don’t approach it like it’s weird; certainly don’t apologize. Here are some ways in which you can bring it up — give these sentences a try while you’re alone to see which one works for you:

  • Just so you know, I haven’t had sex in a while and it’s making me a little nervous. So if I seem jumpy, it’s not at all a reflection of how much I’m enjoying myself! I’ll tell you what I need in the moment. [And then please actually do that!]
  • Over the past few years, I haven’t really had the opportunity to have sex because my life has been a little stressful, so I’m REALLY EXCITED ABOUT THIS.

If you no longer want to disclose this, but want to ask for more guidance than normal because you’re getting back into the swing of things, try: Because I’ve never had sex with you before, I might need more verbal and physical guidance than I normally would if I already knew what you like, so don’t be afraid to tell me what’s up! (And then actually be receptive to what she says!)

Normally, I would say “now go forth and jam.” But in this case, I will say “go forth and fuck!” And go forth with the knowledge that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. GOOD LUCK!

Staff Writer for Autostraddle, Part-time Faculty at The New School (teaching digital storytelling), Managing Editor for Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard Center for Research On Women. Follow me on Twitter @AEOsworth or on Instagram, also @AEOsworth.

A.E. has written 544 articles for us.

45 Comments

  1. Ali you’re a treasure. I haven’t had sex in like over a year and a half, and my straight friends gasped at the realisation, like “omg how are you still alive?!!”. I tell them yes I’m horny but I’m actually very much ok !

  2. When I got together with my current partner I hadn’t had sex with a woman in ages and I felt pretty nervous about it, so I was just honest and told her so. She didn’t mind, of course – any decent human who wants to sleep with you isn’t going to mind! It might seem awkward to talk about but in the long run it saves her worrying that you’re not into her because you’re a bit more shy and nervous than you would be otherwise.

  3. You do you. Sometimes literally! =)

    Your words are very reassuring, Ali, and not just to the letter writer.

    I’ve experienced a problem somewhat similar to the letter writer’s, the feeling I’ve had “too many” partners and am wary of completely disclosing that. I remind myself of the sort of principle you describe: What’s “normal” is what’s best for you.

    And to the letter writer, you’re normal too!

  4. I’m currently in my late 20s and in my mid 20s I ended up making the choice to be celibate for 3 years. It’s not that I had a lot of previous partners before, but I realized I needed to look internally to find my sexuality and what I actually enjoy in bed. I’m not even talking about masturbation, but rather getting in touch with what your mind wants and what gets you off mentally. Some people go the opposite route and have a lot of sex and activity partners to find what they want sexually and that’s fine too, but this way worked for me. Also, moving, a parent suffering a stroke, and deep depression didn’t help the labido for the first part of the celibacy period.

    I got back in the swing of things in 2015 and I feel more confident and more communicative towards what I want. Sure, I was a little nervous, but it’s like riding a bike….or something that rhymes with bike.

    I’m the type of person who can go a long time without. Sex to me is like Chipotle. I love it, it’s good. But when I don’t eat it for awhile I don’t crave it all the time.

  5. Oh my God you are not unusual at all! I’m so glad that among my friends we all talk about these things and everyone knows that it’s completely normal to go through periods when you’re not having sex with anyone.

    Also re: just saying ‘Hey, you might have to help me out a bit’ it totally works. As a gold-star lesbian until I started sleeping with men two years ago, the few times I have had a guy in bed I’ve always been really upfront about saying ‘I’m not used to this, you’re going to have to help me out, actually say something if I should be doing something different’ and it’s always been fine! If straight men, with their weird sexual egos and inability to communicate, can manage it, then I’m sure your partner will be cool with it too. You’ll be fine! Go forth and have fun with the lady you like.

  6. Hey well if you’re unusual then so am I haha. I currently haven’t been intimate with anyone in over a year (various reasons) and have gone 2+ years in the past (healing from abuse, even the thought of sex made me physically sick at the time). If your new person cares about you and respects you they’ll respect this part of you too.

  7. Oh dang, this is making me want to cry a bit.

    I’m 21 (goin’ on 22 in April) and I’ve had sex exactly once, when I was 17, and it wasn’t great. I’ve not bee kissed since I was about 19, when I was in a short-lived relationship that was an emotional disaster… and lord is this an overshare but… I can’t even remember what kissing and sexy things just generally are even meant to feel like with other people??

    And I keep thinking, after I fail at online dating, am apathetic about meeting people IRL, and as I consistently prioritise different things… Am I weird? Asexual maybe? Why is nobody interested and why am I not interested? Is it because my mental health has been consistently shitty? What the literal hell is wrong with me? Isn’t the early 20s the peak of wild sexual things?

    Just like OP I get told by friends that I am essentially a virgin. And I don’t always disbelieve them tbh. They are the same age as me and managing it, so why can’t I? They consistently ask after my love life then get openly dissapointed when nothing changes. Why is it that my younger sibling and her friends manage so much better than be, despite being younger??

    SO I’ve spent a lot of time feeling weird and possibly hideous and unloveable and emotionally/mentally dysfunctional. Because I lack a sex life or even any semblance of a love life and almost always have. Which I know is insane, I’m only 21!! But. That shit’s hard to unlearn. Esp considering how easy it ~seems~ for other people in my life by comparison.

    And reading this has helped. So. Thank you.

    Wow, so that’s my 2.20am overshare. Uh. Yep. That’s all folks!!

    • Please don’t feel weird and disheartened! When I was 21, I’d had sex exactly twice, having lost my virginity at 19. I felt the same as you, that I might as well just give up and clearly it was something wrong with me because everyone else is having sex and blah blah blah. I thought I was unloveable. I’m not! And you’re not! Lots of people aren’t having a huge amount of sex in their early twenties and that’s fine. You’ll probably find over the next few years that some of those people who are currently making you feel weird about not having sex will go through dry spells themselves and won’t know what to do. Early 20s is not the peak of wild sexual things for everyone. In fact, I don’t think it’s the peak of wild sexual things for most people, since most people in their early 20s aren’t actually all that great at sex or know what they want, because they’re lacking in experience.

      You have your whole life ahead of you and whether you end up dating people, or finding the love of your life, or being single for a really long time or forever, the most important thing is to remember that you are not a failure just because you’re not having sex. Please please don’t hate yourself or feel you’re inadequate just because you’re not having sex, I wasted so much time doing that and I really wish I hadn’t.

    • I didn’t have sex till I was 21, and it was awful! And super upsetting for a lot of reasons. And then I didn’t have sex again until I was 23, and that still wasn’t great. I was 26 before I ever orgasmed with another woman. And then I didn’t have sex for two years after that! And then I orgasmed one other time with another woman. And no sex since then, either! It just literally played out that way (and I slept with two people who are/were lovely but had issues sticking around at the time that had nothing to do with me). I may not have sex for the next five years! Who knows. But I totally get the feelings you’re describing. Sometimes my friends will describe their history and I”m just baffled. But I think most romance and sex narratives are total myths. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re beyond okay. xoxo

    • I had sex when I was 17 and then didn’t again until I was 22. I felt like such a freak. Now I’m 28 and well, not really having sex right now, but I’ve had a lot in between and that dry spell is just a random anecdote that doesn’t really say anything about me. Also there are so many 21 year ones who haven’t had sex at all , that is pretty normal. You’ve got tons of time and when you’re old and dried up like me 21 and 17 will basically seem like the same age anyway.

    • 23 year old virgin right here. I’ve also thought “Why is nobody interested and why am I not interested?” several times. I know I’m not asexual, but I wonder if I’m just… less sexual? At least when other people are involved. It’s like there’s never been a bunch of hormones making me do all those stupid, brave things others do when they’re young. I’d like to have a relationship and/or sex, I just don’t seem to want it enough for it to happen. How do other people do it???

      I very much appreciate your “overshare”, even if I’m clearly even more abnormal than you! Just kidding, we’re both perfectly fine. And who wants to be completely normal anyway? http://www.themiamihurricane.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/tumblr_mlia2z4ND01s0zamfo1_500.gif

      • Another 23-year-old virgin (although I hate that word) here. You’re definitely not alone. In my case I know the reasons behind my spectacularly low sex drive (being closeted for close to a decade, combined with the medications I’m on), but the end result is the same: I’m kind of baffled by how other people can just… go out and find someone and Do It.

        • Haha I’m asexual and 22 and never had sex. And I feel less insecure about that now. I feel still quite a bit insecure about not particularly wanting sex in the foreseeable future because that’s a dealbreaker for a lot of folks (and it’s one I totally get! it’s just frustrating to be in the teensy minority side of said dealbreaker).

          But I’m baffled as to where and how other people get DATES. How do you do it???? (It doesn’t help that most of my single (or at least single-ish) friends are fairly attractive straight dudes who seem to be able to get dates by *existing* in public spaces.

          • No joke. My best friend is the same age as me, similar body type, also bisexual, BUT is taller, blonde, tattooed, and extroverted. Whenever we go somewhere together, she literally gets constantly flirted with, complimented & asked out by both men and women. It’s like she has a superpower. I can’t help but feel jealous sometimes and wonder why everyone picks her over me, but I’ve come to realize, the answer is: resting. bitch. face. Oh, and the kicker is that, unbeknownst to her, I originally became friends with her because I had a raging crush on her. FML

    • When I was 21 I was in exactly the same boat, so I know how challenging it is. In my case, I decided to forgo sex until I felt completely comfortable with myself. (I was still dealing with being closeted to most people, dealing with trauma, and not even fully comfortable with my own body or sexuality.) The process sucked for a long time, but now it’s been a few years, I don’t really feel like I missed out. I am closer with my friends, my family, and myself.

      As for the dating thing, I think I will always be pretty weird. But the great thing about dating is that you can find someone who matches your weird! Normal is overrated.

  8. Fun fact! The first time you kiss or fuck somebody is always going to be a little weird, because every person is different and this is the first time you’ve done a thing with this person! And if you’re really into a person, it’s nerve-racking even if you just boned somebody last week, because you’re super into this person and you don’t want to mess it up. From the other side, you’re partner isn’t going to be able to tell the difference between I-haven’t-had-sex-in-a-long-time nervous and I-don’t-want-to-screw-up-sex-with-you nervous. So, if you want to disclose, great! If you don’t, also fine! It’s very unlikely that anyone will notice/care.

  9. This is effing perfect. Ali you’re a gift.

    Because I actually really, really identify with this question — and honestly, have had some strange receptions to my own lack of having a lot of sex. But the good news is, no one who was actually an awesome human who was genuinely interested me ever gave a damn. It’s all totally normal, some people have just internalized this myth more (sad for them!) So, good luck to the question asker, I bet it’ll all go awesomely, because Ali is right — you (and me!) are totally normal. Whatever that means ;) Yay sex!

  10. Some reassurance from the other side: I’ve dated someone who had been celibate for many years for the reasons you mentioned. I respected that what she’d done had been right for her, and didn’t question it at all. I just thought she was really cool, and really cute, and I just really wanted to sleep with her, and to do whatever would make her comfortable.

    (And FYI, enthusiasm more than made up for recent experience!)

  11. I’m 25, and I’ve never had sex. I was really depressed and confused throughout high school, and then once I was in university and a bit more chill I was so busy all the time balancing school and a job. Being super introverted hasn’t helped either, nor does the fact that I’m very feminine and mostly interested in other feminine women. I’m definitely not asexual (I’ve been MAJORLY attracted to both men and women, just not very many!). Every once in a while when I’m trying to fall asleep I suddenly panic and think I’m a major loser who’s missing out on a key part of life and oh my god I’m going to be alone forever! But no, I really do believe one day the stars will align and I will find someone to have sex with, until then I’ll keep living my awesome but unintentionally celibate life with my friends and my cat.

    • This is almost an exact description of my life. Thank you for commenting, it was really nice to read someone else’s experiences and feelings are just like mine :)

  12. THIS. I haven’t had sex in years, and I’ve only been with one person, and I am the opposite of slut-shamed (celibate-shamed…?) every darn time I talk to a queer lady. But TBH I just don’t wanna do it unless I find someone who’s patient enough to go at my pace. Aaand I’m still waiting, which isn’t nearly as much of a problem as everyone else makes it out to be.

  13. Yes, sooo normal to have periods of time without sex in one’s life! After I made the decision to stop dating guys and figure my shit out, I took 2 or 3 years without sex. I’m sure there will be other periods of my life when I go without it for whatever reason…and honestly, that history is only your sex partner’s business if you want it to be. (The first woman I slept with, there was no wayyyy I was telling her beforehand that she was my first! I ended up spilling the beans right afterwards, and she just chuckled kindly.)

    The point is, unless your sexual history is something that puts your sex partner at risk of STIs or whatever, it’s your business until you want it to be their business for the sake of sharing, getting more emotionally intimate, etc. It’s not directly relevant to your sleeping together IMO.

    Have so much fun!!

  14. OK, I recently ended years (to the point I’m not doing the math for you but I chuckle at your friends who find two years a long time) of celibacy (a couple of them were on purpose, and then nobody worked out, and nobody worked out, and nobody worked out… and then there was a bit of life… and… suddenly it was 2016). It’s more like driving a rental car– you know the principles, but there are personal quirks, and those are what makes it fun.

    Someone who fits and cares will work with you, and take it slower, or suddenly faster, or give more words or noise or… well. You perhaps get the picture? It’ll work if it should. If it’s doesn’t, well, the pessimist says that’s someone to reconsider. Whatever happens, have fun. It is so possible, even that first time with awkwardness.

  15. You guys, really?
    I haven’t had sex in so long my friends and family have started a prayer circle.
    But sex isn’t like going to the supermarket and buying Grapefruits.
    I mean, for some people it is, but just to go out there and pick one up, to cut open and spoon out, can be a pretty bitter experience if you don’t sprinkle some sugar on top.
    And I like the grapefruits for the sugar I eat them with.No sugar, no grapefruits.
    So, where was I?
    I let my dates, when I do bother dating, know that I have no effing clue what I’m doing well ahead of time.
    If anything, they get even sweeter.

  16. Being 32 and coming out at 30 this post resonates with me on so many levels. Coming out was a long journey for me, one that i know i had to go on, but i sometimes wish it would have happened in my early 20’s. Never dating in high school and then 2 failed relationships with men in college i pretty much gave up any kind of romantic life until i was finally ready to admit to myself it was time to live an authentic life. This also means at 32 i have NO DATING experience so the prospect of explaining all this to a possible partner causes enough panic without even adding the panic of the conversation that happens when sex enters the picture. When i started the process of starting to date one of my best friends told me that i needed to go out and sleep with as many girls as i could so that i could catch up… i found this advice to be hilarious but not something that i could follow as it just wasn’t who i was. My sexual experience with guys was pretty limited and obviously not something that worked out for me and i had no experience with women at all when i started this whole journey into the life of dating. This became a hilarious joke to most of my straight friends who were all very excited to hear what they hoped to be my future stories of dates and hookups. I was honest with the first woman i “dated” and she pretty much ran for the hills which made me decide to give up again which lasted a year. After some time i decided to jump back on the dating horse again and i met someone and we started casually hanging out. Anytime we got to the “this might lead to sex” part of the night i would come up with excuses as to why i wanted to go slow because i liked her and didnt want to go there yet. That worked for a bit but i never was actually honest with her about my history and my inexperience. One faithful night after too many drinks as my best friend puts it i “conquered the vagina mountain”. It was awkward and pretty horrible and soon enough the relationship ended kinda badly. We did meet for drinks after it ended and i finally explained exactly what was going on with me and she was angry i didn’t tell her sooner. I still feel like a puppy learning to walk when it comes to this whole dating thing so hopefully i figure it out at some point or that it gets easier… Does dating get easier?? Can anyone actually be good at dating?? I am extremely grateful for finding Autostraddle. I finally feel like i am pretty normal and at some point i will maybe “conquer the relationship mountain”.

    • I hate dating. Hate! I’m talking about official dates right off the bat, not my preferred method of “hanging out”. Also, I was a virgin until I was almost 29, when I slept with a woman (wrote all about why I held out so long on my blog which is linked from my profile). That “relationship” lasted less than a year. Since that girl I’ve slept with precisely one other person – a guy I dated last year, when I was 32. I’m like the girl in the earlier comment who talked about grapefruits and sugar :]. I apparently can’t have sex with a person unless I know them well enough and am attracted to them, though I’d like to think I could easily jump in bed with a person I find very hot too. That last wish unfortunately has never manifested before me and, sadly, it has been very rare that the person I like also likes me back AND is available for even shagging. In fact, only two times in my life has that scenario played out…Needless to say, you’re not alone. I truly have no idea how some people seem to always be dating and sexing on a regular basis.

      • My straight friends keep telling me that dating is the worst and i should stop trying to do it. All of these said friends are in long term relationships… I guess i just have to keep trying no matter how much i think it sucks and riddles me with panic. Sooner or later it may work out right??

        • Yes, I too hate dating, but the last time I made myself do it, I met my current girlfriend! I love this woman so much that the preceding four years of very little dating/sex and the initial awkward get-to-know-you phase were 100% worth it. I was a little nervous about my sparse dating history, but it turns out she had even less experience and was even more nervous. This had no lasting negative impact on our relationship–in fact, her openness to discussing her feelings with me is one of the things I love most about her. So, sometimes dating works out even though it’s awful overall!

  17. Ah I love this post! I just had sex this weekend with my ex, and the last time I had sex was with her 14 months ago. So clearly I’m rocking this whole dating thing…NOT.
    As humans we seek to find commonalities and we revel in knowing we are “not alone”. I’m dating and trying to find someone but after 14 months and 12 girls not a one wants a serious relationship and so it maybe another year plus of celibacy but such is life. All we can do is keep on keeping on.

  18. I was going to comment saying I’d not had sex for something like 5 years in my mid-20s but being asexual it didn’t bother me one bit, then I remembered I totally had sex with a number of people in my mid-20s but had forgotten because sex is so inconsequential to me as an asexual person.

    Sorry, this isn’t really helpful! Hope you have good sex.

  19. I’m in a similar boat. As a straight woman, I didn’t date at all in high school or college. I was normal weight for most of high school except for my senior year. I gained a tremendous amount of weight and was morbidly obese in college (around 260 lbs. at my heaviest). For years, men avoided me like the plague. After a while, I got sick of it and managed to lose around 150 lbs. and yet men still ignored me. No joke. The first, and only, boyfriend that I have had I met on a dating site when I was 26. I am now 32 years old (will be 33 in May). If my luck with men continues as it has been, in May 2017 it will be 6 years since the last time I had sex. Six years feels like an eternity to me. (I have never had a one-night stand, fling or hook-up with anyone. They don’t interest me. Plus, I’ve never had a guy friend come on to me in that way.)

    On the plus side, I started taking swing dancing lessons last June. At first, I was hesitant–a friend had to convince me to go. While it is far from having sex with someone, there is some physical contact involved. The dancing has drastically improved my mood and confidence, as well as body issues. Blues dancing has even helped me become more comfortable with being touched. (I used to be uncomfortable being hugged, even by relatives.) I figure if dancing has helped me maybe it can help someone else.

  20. I’m about to have this awesome person over and I’m nervous about this but also really, really excited. I’m so nervous I haven’t been able to kiss them yet. I’ll try to take this advice, though! Phew!

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