You Need Help: You Can Want Sex Exactly as Much as You Want (or Don’t)

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


Q:

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


A:

Hello friend!

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.

Carrie's body is weird and she's making that work for her. She lives in DC by way of Los Angeles and has a conflicted relationship with social media, but you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram anyway.

Carrie has written 82 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. Wonderful advice. Sex used to really stress me out and I assumed it would always be terrifying even though I really wanted more in my life; it’s gotten a lot easier just with time and with spending time with people who were kind. The stomach-churning thrill that’s left is mostly a good thrill.

  2. Also: Asexuality is totally a thing! It’s a whole spectrum! It can even change over time! (If I wasn’t typing this on my phone I’d link to something on grey asexuality.)

    Exploring and getting to know yourself is awesome, but if you just aren’t that interested in this one activity, that’s totally cool too. Maybe you actually are pretty in touch with your own feelings on the matter, and if so, the way you are is 100% fine :)

  3. I was just coming on here to add something about the Ace Spectrum too! Not to foist it on the question-asker. That may or may not fit the experience they’re having. But to point out that it’s a thing. If that’s who you are, it’s healthy, and the unhealthy feelings and thoughts really do come from outside pressures, particularly given the predominantly “sexual” society we live in.

    I love the emphasis on exploration without judgment in this Answer. That’s so important!

  4. I caved into the social pressure and had sex fairly young and fairly frequently for a few years (I now wish I had waited), and it was all very unfulfilling and definitely didn’t make everything in my life different. It’s ok to feel ambivalent about sex, it’s ok to have a lower libido than other people, it’s ok to wait until it feels right even if that’s never, and it’s also ok for all of that to change over time given the right person and circumstances, or just because of changes in your own mind and body.

  5. Sex isn’t the same for everyone. It’s not necessarily the mind-blowing, life-altering experience society and friends make it out to be. And I’m finally realizing that it isn’t abnormal to have a low sex drive! Everyone is different! Embrace the difference! And if a partner isn’t fine with that, that’s ok; it’s not your fault. There is nothing wrong with you. Granted, on a personal level, I’m absolutely terrified of starting to date again and having to have this conversation because my ex tried to convince me to go to therapy because I stopped being interested in sex… Ahem… I’m not bitter, I swear!

  6. Much like Chandra, I also caved to the pressure to have sex earlier than I felt truly ready for, and I also wish I’d waited! It’s so much better to just go with what you feel like doing instead. This is a really great answer. :)

  7. I feel like this is an important topic to talk about. I think that while “sex positivity” has some great points, it is sometimes expressed in a pretty detrimental way and goes along with some shitty assumptions that everyone is having sex/wants to have sex/has particular kinds of sex/etc.

  8. Oh wow, this question could almost have been written by me! Although I’m a little less sure about the whole attraction thing, I’ve done plenty of solo exploring, and lots of things sound good in theory. But even setting aside my small mountain of gender dysphoria, sex and relationships seem so complicated. It’s a wonder to me that anyone gets to that point…

  9. I want to mention something that took me 25-ish years to realise, in the hopes that it might help you.

    For the longest time, I misunderstood what asexuality meant. I thought that a person who felt horny or who masturbated couldn’t be ace, because I assumed “lacking sexual attraction” precluded all those things. I therefore concluded that I wasn’t asexual, so it meant that I had to be allosexual like everyone else, right?

    So it took me a really long time to see that I might not be allosexual. The thing that tripped me up was that pesky horniness and sexual arousal that I would experience. FYI, sexual attraction is like, directed arousal for specific persons, not general arousal. You can totally get sexually aroused and still be asexual. From what I’ve read of your experience (only wanting to ‘get it on’ within the confines of hypotheticals and fantasies), I suggest reading up AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network), demisexuality, the grey-ace spectrum, and other resources to see if any of others’ experiences resonate with you.

    If it doesn’t, cool. But if it does, it’s nice to know that there are others who feel the same as you do. Please don’t let external pressure to have sex get to you. We live in a deeply sex-saturated world. Sex isn’t necessarily amazing or transformative or what have you. It only has as much meaning as you give it. You could theoretically have sex with someone who’s great at sex, but if you aren’t aroused, if it doesn’t work for you, then all that is moot. If sex is not something you want to have (whether it’s ‘now’ or ‘not ever’), there are other things you could be doing that you enjoy more. It’s great that the people around you are having sex and are open about how much it works for them, but you’re who you are. You know yourself best. If you are content with your sexless life, don’t let others’ assumptions (the assumption that you cannot be happy or well-adjusted without regular sex) affect what you do best — being you.

    Whatever you’re feeling (RE: sexual arousal and lack thereof) is perfectly valid, labels or no labels. I still don’t really know what to call myself in terms of the asexual – allosexual spectrum. I don’t think any category works for me perfectly, but knowing the variation of human sexual attraction out there helped me, and I hope it can help you too.

    • I’ve identified as ace for several years, and I still struggle with this sometimes. Especially with sex drive changes on testosterone, I have to continually remind myself that arousal does not equal attraction. Aces and constant self-monitoring for counter-proof, am I right?

      I think the social narrative that sex is this Great and Important Thing is so strong that sometimes it feels like I have to come up with a bunch of reasons for not pursuing it. Often sex positivity gets twisted into the idea that you ~owe it to yourself~ to try out anything that sparks vague curiosity, and the only space made for not having sex is if you are definitely 100% sure you don’t want it.

      I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I guess just the idea that “I don’t feel like trying that hard” is good enough?

      • Absolutely agree with you. It feels like there isn’t any space to just be.
        It feels like you either have to fit in, laugh along, and express understanding toward the sex lives that allosexuals have, or you have to completely renounce all sex, all desire, and all arousal only if you are Absolutely, Positively, 100% Certain that You Do Not Want Sex. And that one sexual experience or one incidence of sexual arousal (either in the past or future) completely undermines your ace credibility.
        I always feel like “I’m not really ace” or “I’m not really part of the grey-ace community” because Experience A, B, and C happened, so therefore I can’t claim to be X, Y, or Z. I know it’s not logical because I never feel that way about my lesbianism, but it’s hard not to fall into that trap of thinking in terms of black and white when it comes to asexuality.
        I am so here for the “I don’t feel like trying that hard” and nerd sexuality. Everyone’s comments somehow make me feel better, even though I wasn’t feeling bad about it originally, if that makes sense.

  10. Amen.
    To everyone chirping in in the comments, too.

    At some point I will simply refer to my sexuality as “nerd” if anyone asks.
    Awkward, unsure of myself, not getting any and fucking owning it.

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