Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.
One of the reasons I like reading this column is it gives a little glimpse into the future of what could be, and I would love that right now.
I’m 23 and have known I was queer since I was maybe 19. I sort of didn’t have any sexual feelings for a while and then, very slowly, I did. Now I definitely recognize my sexual attraction and I get turned on; the main issue is that I just don’t really want sex that much. Like, hypothetically, and when I kind of vaguely fantasize about things, yes. But when it comes to the actual moment of, y’know, breathing through insecurity, overcoming barriers, taking risks, I’m like, that seems like a lot of effort, what if I just don’t. (I feel the same about being in a relationship). And sometimes, just not doing it seems fine! That’s a valid lifestyle, that’s okay, plenty of people live that way and are happy and fulfilled.
But I think sometimes I feel like I’m not as happy or fulfilled as I can be, because I’m in some lovely delightful sex positive environments and everyone’s like “what kind of porn do you watch” (I haven’t yet — my friend got me freaking DVDs and I just haven’t watched them) or tells me “sex is amazing.” People sort of insist that everything in life is different once you have sex in a way that makes me feel like I’m making things less great for myself. Also there are studies that say having sex is healthy and that makes me feel like not having sex is not healthy?
I feel very silly please help,
Unmotivated About Getting It On
I’m going to start with one of the first things you said: “the future of what could be.” Guess who gets to decide that? You! You get to create whatever sort of sexual-or-not future you want. I bring that up because it seems like external pressure is the real “issue” at hand here.
At the end of the day, you’re the one who gets to live in your body and be you. So you have a right to figure out your feelings and intentions around sex for yourself, on your own time. If that means you’re not into it right now, great! If you find yourself wanting to explore it more later, great! And if not (say it with me), great! I know that might sound like a non-answer, but it’s actually The Point: you’re the one who gets to make the choices here, and they’re all valid. “Sex positive” shouldn’t mean “pressuring you to have sex” — it should mean “supporting whatever choices you make about sex.” And that process can and should be fun.
Lest you think I’m spouting platitudes, let me share with you a bit of my own experiences. I didn’t have sex until after college and didn’t care all that much about it, to be honest. I knew I should care, but I was busy! Priorities, y’know? It wasn’t for lack of opportunity; I’d been in plenty of situations where I could have “gotten it over with.” I just… didn’t want to? It didn’t seem worth it. Thankfully my friends and family left me alone about it — maybe I just got lucky, maybe it’s because I’m disabled and no one expects disabled people to have sex anyway, who knows. But I also knew I was supposed to want this thing and be frustrated that I wasn’t getting it. It was like phantom pressure: not enough to sway me, but I couldn’t get rid of it, either. Maybe you’re feeling something similar now. (Related: a lot of that pressure comes from The Sex Myth, which Carolyn does an excellent job of breaking down in this article you might find helpful.)
So when I met the first person I truly, honest-to-goodness wanted to sleep with, I was both incredibly nervous and slightly taken aback. I had a lot of the same reservations you mentioned around being vulnerable and the risk of new intimacy. Those are absolutely justified; you are putting yourself out there every time, whether it’s the first or the hundredth. I actually don’t remember much about my first time except that I felt mortified for most of it. It wasn’t a bad experience — I just felt super exposed (because I was!). From there I became more comfortable and it got better. You could say I learned a lot. But I still didn’t love sex as much as I thought I should or would. That’s since changed, but not because the “right” person/relationship/experience magically appeared and changed my world. It’s because I took the time to get to know my body at my own pace, without anyone else’s input.
Based on your answer, it sounds like you might already know this, but masturbation can help with that process a lot. There’s nothing quite like hands-on (sorry) experience when it comes to figuring out what you like or don’t. You can watch porn as part of that, or not. If those DVDs your friend bought aren’t the kind you want to watch, okay! Try erotica, or audio porn, or fanfiction, or whatever. If your sexuality is something you’re interested in exploring, give yourself permission to experiment, and also to not be super into everything you find. It is okay to be like “huh, not for me” and move on; you don’t need a perfect batting average. It’s not a personal fault if you’re not turned on by something. I’ve watched plenty of stuff that ended up feeling like nothing more than an instructional video. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me or the way I experience desire, and the same is true for you. Also: you are under no obligation to share with anyone what kind of porn you watch, if any. I’m sure your friends mean well, but if a question feels invasive you don’t have to answer it. Friends should respect boundaries.
I also wouldn’t let a preoccupation with health be your central motivation in all this. “Healthy” bodies look and behave in all kinds of ways — including having sex or not. “Good health” covers so much more ground than we give it credit for. So not being super into sex, or waiting to do it, or never doing it at all has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a “healthy” person. (And if I may get on my soapbox for a moment, a lot of language around health relies on false equivalencies anyway.) The important thing is feeling as good as you can in and about your body. Sex can be part of that or not. Again: it’s up to you.
It sounds to me like a lot of your anxiety around feeling “unmotivated” comes from places other than you: your friends, that phantom pressure that insists sex should be the best thing that could possibly happen to you, or wherever else. It’s okay to slow down and give yourself time and space to figure this out. Be patient and explore all this only when and because you want to — not on anyone else’s timeline — because that’s the only way it’s going to stick. It may turn out that you like some sex things you haven’t discovered yet. Or maybe you’re just not that into sex. Either conclusion, or anyplace in between, is valid (and may evolve over time — be generous with yourself there, too). The important thing is to learn and explore, and you can’t do that just because someone else thinks you should. You have to do it for you. You know what will happen otherwise (because it sounds like it already has): you’ll build up all this anxiety that isn’t even about your sex drive, but other people’s evaluation of it. That kind of thinking is like a snake eating its own tail. You need to cut off the food supply.
Sex can absolutely make you happy and fulfilled, but so can a ton of other things. If you prefer those other things, there’s nothing “unhealthy” about that, or about you. Take your time, trust your own process, embrace that silly feeling as you try new things out, and arrive at whatever destination(s) confident that you know yourself better than before. That’s what counts, and there aren’t any rules for that. There’s also no wrong answer. But no one else can answer for you.