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Love and sex have never worked for me and I don't understand why.
January 13, 2013 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Straight guy here, mid-30s. I'm a relationship virgin apart from two or three very brief and superficial ones, and would be an actual virgin if not for a handful of sexual encounters, almost all of them very unsatisfying. I've always fantasized about love and sex but whenever things get real my heart and body seem to lose all interest. What's wrong with me and are there other people out there in the same boat?

I'm not sure how to start so I guess I'll go chronologically. I didn't get naked with a woman until I was 23 due to a mixture of natural shyness and self-consciousness from having pretty hideous acne throughout my teens/early twenties. And when I did my body wouldn't cooperate - when it came to the moment of truth it was like I didn't feel any attraction to the one thing I had been fantasizing about for years, a woman's naked body. This has happened to me again and again. Over the years I've had occasional, though infrequent, opportunities to kiss/make out with/have sex with women, and it's basically done nothing for me. Kissing a woman feels like touching someone else's mouth with your mouth. Touching a woman's breast feels like putting your hand on a protruding bit of flesh. There's no thrill, passion, or excitement. I'd just as soon be eating a good burrito.

Emotionally it's the same. I've always dreamed of finding someone to love but the number of women I've been emotionally attracted to can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And when I got intimate with these women, which happened once or twice, it was the same - no pleasure at all (which naturally turned them off as well).

To forestall an obvious question - I'm not asexual, nor gay-and-in-denial. I masturbate regularly and have had sexual fantasies, exclusively about women, since I was 9.

I don't understand this. My theory is that I missed the window of opportunity, i.e. I was such a late bloomer that by the time opportunity presented itself there was so much riding on it for me emotionally that I was too nervous to perform. But I don't actually feel nervous in these situations, I just feel numb and uninterested.

I guess what I want to know is: (a) what's wrong with me? (b) are there other people with similar stories? (c) are there online communities/support forums for people like me? (d) what can I do? The thought of living the rest of my life without love or sex makes me wish I'd never been born. I'm in therapy, which has helped a lot for depression, but not for this. But maybe unstructured talk therapy isn't what I need. Unfortunately I probably can't afford surrogate partner therapy, but if anyone has recommendations for particular modalities of therapy that might help (or particular therapists in the SF bay area) please share.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I kiss anyone for the first time, however attractive, I get so incredibly anxious that I go into Emergency Mode and my emotions shut down, so all I feel is LIPS MASH MASH MASH THIS IS SO WEIRD. If I power through that long enough, I relax and start to feel things again like KISSING KISSING KISSING LIPS.

Of course, I don't know what's going on with you, but if anxiety is causing you to reflexively shut down emotionally, there are ways to address that - what can you do to increase your level of relaxation? What has successfully made you less anxious in the pas?
posted by prefpara at 7:48 AM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


But I don't actually feel nervous in these situations, I just feel numb and uninterested.

Sounds a little like dissociation for me - you are in fact so nervous that you go numb to escape the nerves (that's my layperson's description, the link will do a better job of describing it). I recently asked a question that led to advice that EMDR is helpful for this; I haven't yet tried it.*

Have you ever had the opportunity to get to know a romantic partner over time, and kiss them on several different occasions as you get more comfortable with them? The first few times I kissed someone my response was similar to yours. I could not understand what the hell people were raving about. But eventually I began to find it enjoyable.

Also, in fantasies we leave out things like inhibition, anxiety, weird things our partners say that stick in the back of our heads, worry about whether or not our partners really like us, the lights being too bright, the room being too cold, etc. So it's really not unusual that reality is nothing like your fantasies.

*IANAT, if the description of dissociation rings a bell you should bring it up with your therapist.
posted by bunderful at 8:06 AM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you're not feeling sexual arousal at all in concrete, real-life situations, you might want to have your testosterone levels checked, or consider whether your orientation may be different than what you've always assumed it "should" be (homosexual, asexual, etc.).
posted by availablelight at 8:06 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


You mention depression. Are you on meds for this? This is a well-known cause of decreased sex drive/performance.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:07 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is nothing wrong with you. There are LOTS of people with stories exactly like yours. Part of the problem is exactly what you said. There was so much stress, anxiety, and fear placed on the sex act that your body reacts poorly.


Any activity can be affected the same way. Your best way to overcome it is repetition. One night stands won't fix it. You've said that going for a professional surrogate partner is beyond your means. However if you do get yourself in a relationship with an understanding partner, over time you will find that your anxieties will drift away.

Understandable this is easier said then done, but it works.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:09 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just FYI, asexuality (like most sexuality) is a spectrum. "I masturbate but do not have any interest in actual sexual interaction with others" exists on that spectrum.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 8:11 AM on January 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


The thought of living the rest of my life without love or sex makes me wish I'd never been born.

Why? I mean, if you don't even enjoy sex with another person then who cares if you don't have it? You don't have to. If you want love, then you want love. But if you don't enjoy sex, then perhaps find someone to love who also has little interest in smushing bodies together. Maybe emotional intimacy is all you need from another person. Find someone to cuddle and talk all night with, then have sex with your hand in the morning. It might be worth a shot to poke around some asexuality forums or dating sites to see if you can find a match.

But if your goal is to make yourself get excited about and enjoy another person's body, then continue on with therapy. If your current therapist hasn't helped you with this, then have him/her recommend someone who can.

Good luck!
posted by greta simone at 8:29 AM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think the important thing to consider re asexuality here is that OP is not happy about this and wants to change. It sounds like he is interested in having a satisfying sexual relationship with another person but is having trouble making it happen.

I have similar issues that are related to rigid boundaries and walling myself off, so one thing I try is to be mindful of when I'm doing this when I'm getting to know someone. When I can see myself shutting down I try to step back and assess what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. It would probably be beneficial to do this with a therapist - and look into dissociation like bunderful mentioned.

Maybe a different, more interactive kind of therapy would be beneficial? FWIW talk therapy has never really worked for me for anything.
posted by fromageball at 8:38 AM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


It sounds to me like you are depressed (the shame spiral) and anxious (losing attraction when confronted with a sexual situation). I understand how your "late bloomer" theory might be comforting, but it's pretty ridiculous. There's no narrow window of opportunity during which one can become a sexual creature, and 23 is well within the realm of normal.

I think therapy you need to talk to your therapist about this specifically. I know it's scary, but it's worth it I also think you might consider cutting back on masturbation, as that pretty much is training you to have a different set of sexual responses aside from those that come about through human interaction. It's safe, but it's not necessarily what you need.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:44 AM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Anxiety. It can kill sexual feeling. I know, because it has happened to me - thankfully only on relatively rare occasions. But what you describe reminds me very strongly of those occasions. For various reasons I have been in sexual situations where I was anxious. Once it was first-time anxiety. On another occasion it was first-time-after-the-break-up-of-my-marriage anxiety. On another it was this-is-all-wrong-I-shouldn't-be-doing-this anxiety. And on each occasion my normally rampant libido entirely deserted me. I couldn't respond to her, or her undoubtedly beautiful body. It wasn't just that I couldn't get it up, it was that I felt numb to sexual response. I can still remember what it felt like, and it felt bad.

And the bad thing about this is that it feeds itself. You worry that something is wrong with you. You worry that you have lost the ability of sexual response to a real woman. So you become anxious. Aaand... round and round it goes.

It sounds to me like you might have gotten locked into this cycle at a very early age and, unfortunately, been unable to break out of it. One thing that really can help break it is actually being in a relationship, so the fact that that hasn't happened for you doesn't help. Anyway, assuming I'm not completely off-beam in my reading of your situation I can only say that what works is to try to find ways to stop putting yourself under that pressure. You have to try to get out of that pressure that says "Oh God, I'm in that situation again, it's going to happen again." I know that is easier said than done. But you need to try to find a way to be with a woman you find attractive yet not feel that it has to go anywhere. Then, if it starts to go somewhere, you have to try to be in the moment; to think "Well, this is nice, I'll just enjoy this" and not fret about where it's going to go, and what you should do next.

Again, this is far easier said than done. But anxiety feeds on itself. You need to somehow take the food away. I wish you luck.
posted by Decani at 8:56 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a, pretty much, sexless marriage from 21-27... It ended up that I had un-diagnosed PTSD... and a large part of that is dissasociation. I remember looking back on those years in a very strange way- I KNOW I was there, I KNOW i felt something... but its like watching myself on CCTV... I just can't access my state of mind. i experienced no pleasure that I can recall.

Long story short, I was very sexually repressed for a very long time...and at 28 I'd had sex with very few people and enjoyed it with pretty much none of them- but after my brain recalibrated things got better... and now at 31 I have had 2 relationships, both where I have enjoyed sex... So all is not lost.
posted by misspony at 9:12 AM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am just throwing this out there, but how long have you been consuming porn, and how much do you consume?

I think there are a lot of great answers here, and I'm not saying it's the definite answer, but it's worth thinking about whether this is just a matter of what you're used to, which might be changed with (for lack of a better word) practice.

You might also look into autism spectrum disorders like Asperger's or High Functioning Autism, which affect sexuality.

Sometimes people are kinky or need a little something else besides "touching bodies" to be turned on. Power dynamic, fantasy scenario, something.

Good luck, this sounds tough.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:24 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
OP here. Thanks for the replies, everyone. I think "dissociation" is pretty much right - a lot of the things in that link look familiar, including the freeze response which I remember having had frequently as a child. Here are some specific answers to questions people brought up: I had my testosterone levels checked recently and they're actually in the high part of the normal range. I'm not on any kind of meds. I'm sure I'm not homosexual or asexual; I have lots of interest in sex with women and in "smushing bodies together", at least in my mind. My porn consumption was zero until the last couple of years because I had no home internet access, so I'm sure it's not about that.

Please keep the replies coming, this is helpful to me.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You mention less than five instances of emotional attraction - have you ever been in love, or even experienced intense infatuation? Because if this is absent, certainly for me and probably a considerable number of other people, it will be little more than "smushing bodies together."
posted by infinite joy at 10:30 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess what I want to know is: (a) what's wrong with me?

So, you have normal sexual desires and fantasies. You have cravings for companionship. Yet when it comes to do actually do it, you freeze and go numb, emotionally and physically. That seems to put the problem somewhere in the thinking part of your brain. To quote a cliche, your body is saying yes, but your mind is saying no.

It sounds like an anxiety/depression thing to me as well.

(b) are there other people with similar stories?

Yes. Loads.

(c) are there online communities/support forums for people like me?

There is an online community of people getting ready for zombies. There is probably one for you too.

(d) what can I do?

This may sound trite, but have you thought about drinking more? There's a reason why lots of young people go to bars, get drunk, and hook up. It's because intimacy can be awkward. In fact, a therapist of mine once said that the only aspect of life alcohol improves is one's sex life. In every other arena – work, family, health, fitness – it's a relatively detractor. Yet when it comes to facilitating sex, it's a trend that's been going strong for thousands of years.

Since you have a history of depression, you may need to watch your intake or even avoid that advice entirely, but if you can have a few drinks and loosen up, it might help you get to the next step. Which is kissing and enjoying kissing. Kissing is the first step in mating. Don't worry about mastering the bedroom and becoming some king of sexual titan at first. Have a few drinks and start making out. Have fun with it. When you are comfortable kissing, the next step will come. And then the next one. And then the next one.
posted by nickrussell at 10:32 AM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


This may sound trite, but have you thought about drinking more?

posted by nickrussell at 6:32 PM on January 13


I decided not to say this, because it generally doesn't go down well hereabouts. But I'm glad someone did. Give it a try.
posted by Decani at 10:35 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think "dissociation" is pretty much right - a lot of the things in that link look familiar, including the freeze response which I remember having had frequently as a child.

Is there any sexual trauma in your past?

Not saying there definitely would be, but that dissociation is common with people who have sexual abuse in their childhoods.

Though to be fair, there isn't in mine, and the first time I had a sexual encounter, I also had my first, full-blown panic attack. Hyperventilation and all. In other situations--loving relationships where I felt safe and supported--I've been fine. Anxiety is a bitch.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:43 AM on January 13, 2013


Your "late bloomer" theory doesn't make sense (several of my serious partners had their first sexual experience after 23; my father's first sexual experience was with my mother*, and he didn't mert her until he was 35, and he had a passionate relationship with her and, after her death, with other women) as a universal.

But. Maybe it's something that has built up a particular accumulation of anxiety and shame in your head, about you. And maybe unpacking that would help. My guess is that your therapist could either do this work with you, or, if it's not in their professional focus, refer you to someone who specializes in helping people understand their sexuality.

It's also possible that your preferred sexual expression and your preferred romantic expression aren't aligned. Maybe your sexual orientation is toward fantasy and masturbation, and maybe your relationship orientation is toward a romantic partnership. There are people out there who have found partners with the same or complementary orientations, and who are perfectly happy with a spouse or sweetheart they don't want sex with who doesn't want sex with them. AVEN.org has resources and personal accounts from people with whom you might empathize.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:29 AM on January 13, 2013


* Funny story here. When we were both visiting him on a break from college, my brother and I were talking about a memoir by Dan Greenburg in which he talked about having been a virgin at 33, and we were sort of marveling at that and how challenging it might have been for him, when my dad--who had sort of dropped out of the conversation and was sitting there like an uncomfortable owl--suddenly blurted out that he had been a virgin when he met my mum.

Thanks, Dad, for your wacky oversharing ways.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:33 AM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


My theory is that I missed the window of opportunity, i.e. I was such a late bloomer that by the time opportunity presented itself there was so much riding on it for me emotionally that I was too nervous to perform.

Well, so I think you're half-right about this.

Here's the half I think you're missing. People who have their first kiss in middle school? They've also got a whole lot riding on it emotionally! They're also scared as hell — and maybe even so scared that they can't really enjoy it the first few times! There's even a decent chance that they're "too nervous to perform," at least in a sort of de-facto way where both of them are way too wound up and overwhelmed to go any further than kissing, and so penetrative sex is completely out of the question — but maybe also in the "erectile disfunction" sense. I'm willing to bet if you asked straight guys "Did you have a hard-on the first time you kissed a girl," for a decent number the honest answer would be "Oh god no, I was way too nervous." (Of course, lots of guys wouldn't give you an honest answer to a question like that. Which brings me to point number two...)

In American culture we talk about this stuff like it was a Female Issue — like the reason sexually active young straight kids move really slowly is just that girls are really timid and scared of sex and insist on putting the brakes on the whole thing. But that's bullshit. Boys are timid and scared too and half of the "Come on let's go to second base" shit is just bravado. When I was a thirteen year old boy, for all I liked to fantasize about sex, if a girl had actually taken all her clothes off and said "fuck me now" I'd have burst into tears and run away. I was just as timid and scared as my first girlfriend was. I was Just Not Ready, same as she was. She actually did me a huge favor by saying "just kissing, nothing more," because if I'd felt obligated to give her Something More it would have been completely panic-inducingly terrifying and I'd have been totally unable to enjoy any of it.

So what you're experiencing is the same thing that a lot of early-bloomers experienced early on. And they got through it. Which means that you can get through it too — if you cut yourself some slack and quit shaming yourself and putting excessive pressure on yourself to "perform" before you're ready.

Basically, I think your first kiss was well within the range of normal first kisses. But then I get the feeling you started telling yourself shit like "This is stupid! You're 23 years old! You aren't supposed to be scared — that's for girls and little kids. A Real Man would be hard as a rock and completely fearless right now! This is totally shameful and disgusting." My hunch is that it's that sense of shame and disgust that stopped you — and is still stopping you — from moving beyond the initial nerves and starting to relax.

So? Stop shaming yourself. Relax. Give yourself permission to act like a middle-schooler if that's what it takes. The next time you find yourself holding a pretty woman's hand, try not to be like "OH SHIT NOW WHAT I AM SUCH A PANSY-ASS FAILURE THIS IS NEVER GONNA WORK" but instead like "Hey, I'm holding hands with a real live pretty woman! Who likes me! And wants to hold hands with me! That's super-exciting, and also sorta terrifying, and I'm just gonna sit here and enjoy this feeling until my heart stops pounding quite so hard." And then relax and wait until you're ready before you make the next move.
posted by and so but then, we at 11:35 AM on January 13, 2013 [23 favorites]


I'm not sure that touching a breast is going to be electrifying all by itself, but the response you get from a partner is what generally is exciting. I do think a big part of early sexual encounters seem so POW! is the forbidden factor and/or the fear of getting caught. If you don't have any moral objections to it--you could hire an expert (or see a surrogate) and get a tutorial on the physical stuff before you decide to engage further.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:13 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
Some more answers to people's questions:

have you ever been in love, or even experienced intense infatuation? - Very rarely, but this is part of the problem - I think whatever is blocking my physical responses is also blocking me from falling in love. That said, I've occasionally been physically intimate with women I felt personally attracted to, and it was no more enjoyable or interesting than any other time.

have you thought about drinking more? - Drinking makes it worse, if anything - it amplifies the numbness and indifference. I've tried. (Same for pot.)

Is there any sexual trauma in your past? - No sexual abuse, but yes unstable home life in childhood and history of mental illness on both sides (bipolar/paranoid dad, depressive mom, with three divorces between them).

That's super-exciting, and also sorta terrifying, and I'm just gonna sit here and enjoy this feeling until my heart stops pounding quite so hard / to think "Well, this is nice, I'll just enjoy this" - These things are exactly what I DON'T feel, and wish I did. I don't feel nervousness, anxiety, enjoyment, or excitement in these situations - I feel pretty much nothing at all except boredom, and awkwardness at the thought that this is supposed to be fun for both of us but clearly isn't.

hire an expert - I've actually tried this several times - some of those times my body just wouldn't cooperate, other times it did (only just) but the experience was still meh, presumably because of the lack of any kind of personal/emotional connection.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:37 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there any sexual trauma in your past? - No sexual abuse, but yes unstable home life in childhood and history of mental illness on both sides (bipolar/paranoid dad, depressive mom, with three divorces between them).

Well, look, watching the adults you love go through three divorces can make anyone gunshy about intimacy. And despite your insistence that your numbed reactions aren't anxiety, there are many different ways for anxiety to manifest.

So I'd keep at it with your therapist, or maybe another therapist (have you tried CBT? CBT is good for anxiety), and I'd go easy on yourself. It's pretty normal to only want to hook up with people you're attracted to and those feelings of Man, sex is weird are pretty normal for people without much sexual experience, too. For me, it was all about exploring sexuality with people who I really liked and who made me feel safe. I bet that's the key fo ryou, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:54 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


have you tried non-sexy touching? being massaged (partner or paid), hugging friends, having your hair brushed, getting your back scratched? i too sometimes have trouble with going from zero to full-throttle boob and crotch-grabbing; it's like "ok. here's some meat, i guess." but if i have my back scratched and shoulders rubbed, my body responds, and i find it subsequently easier to respond to sexy touching. also, sometimes it's just nice to have my back scratched and shoulders rubbed with no expectation of sex.

also, never underestimate the power of laying side by side talking dirty and masturbating. sometimes it's easier to have an orgasm by yourself, then kiss/touch/massage when you're feeling relaxed and glowy.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 12:57 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


You don't have to supply an answer to these questions here, but thinking about your responses might help you identify a pattern - which you can then break.

How quickly do things normally go when you meet a women you have chemistry with? Do things move towards sex within one night? 3 dates?

It might help to slow things down.

It's better to call a halt if you aren't really present for what's happening. And it's ok to say any of the following to your partners:

(If you get in over your head and things are moving towards sexytimes): "Hey, you're great and I'd like to slow things down a bit. Can we go back to [talking, holding hands while clothed - whenever you were last connected to what was happening]?"

(If you find yourself in a situation of being invited back to her place before you are ready): "I really like talking to you and I want to keep seeing you. I'd like to take things slow and get to know you. What do you think?"

If you really can't think straight but things do not feel right, excuse yourself to the bathroom. Sometimes it can really help you get some distance and just figure out what to say next, whether that's "I need to go home" or "I need to put my clothes back on."

Those are just some things that have worked for, um, someone I know. Definitely talk to your therapist about strategies that feel right to you.
posted by bunderful at 1:02 PM on January 13, 2013


That's super-exciting, and also sorta terrifying, and I'm just gonna sit here and enjoy this feeling until my heart stops pounding quite so hard / to think "Well, this is nice, I'll just enjoy this" - These things are exactly what I DON'T feel, and wish I did. I don't feel nervousness, anxiety, enjoyment, or excitement in these situations - I feel pretty much nothing at all except boredom, and awkwardness at the thought that this is supposed to be fun for both of us but clearly isn't.

Okay, fair point. But so I'm speculating that with enough time and enough patience with yourself, you'd get there.

I mean, put it this way. Suppose there was a woman who you really liked, and felt really comfortable around, and she said "Anonymous, for the next month or two, all we're gonna do when we go back to my place after a date is hold hands and cuddle and talk." I'm guessing that at some point in that month you'd stop feeling numb and bored and start feeling (a) consciously nervous, and then (b) actually kind of good and (c) excited about the idea of moving on to something more than cuddling someday.

(It probably wouldn't even take all month!)

This also seems like maybe a case for working with a sexual surrogate which is really not the same thing as just hiring a prostitute but actually in some ways closer to going on a date with someone who's willing to say "Tonight we're just gonna cuddle and talk about how that makes you feel." (I mean, it's Not A Date in the sense that you're not gonna end up in a long-term relationship together, but it's a way of having that sort of physical encounter with someone who is going to be okay with moving super-slowly and helping you deal with whatever feelings come up in the course of it — including "socially unacceptable" feelings like "I'm bored" or "this is scary and awful" or whatever.)
posted by and so but then, we at 1:07 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I masturbate regularly and have had sexual fantasies, exclusively about women, since I was 9.

It would be interesting to hear about what your sexual fantasies are -- particularly how similar/different are they from being with women in real life?

e.g. how old are the women, what do they look like, are there more than one, are there men there too, what are the women like? are they aggressors, are you the aggressor, what kind of activities do you engage in? is there kissing? are the scenes emotional? what emotions? what is required of you, if anything? can you be passive? is there any bondage-type stuff or other objects involved?

In other words, when you have fantasies you get turned on, so what are the exact themes/situations/stimuli that do that for you?

I think this is very important!

Then, obviously, can you replicate any of that when you're with an actual woman?

Or, are your fantasies just the same as being with an actual woman, in which case we can perhaps infer that it's the "realness" of the situation that makes you go numb?

(I am not your therapist.)
posted by DMelanogaster at 1:22 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Have your experiences been with hook-ups, or girls you're dating? Have you tried dating a girl and taking it slow with her? Very slow? So that you're really comfortable with her, if not with sex? Like, kiss her goodnight lightly on date 3, slightly more passionate kissing on dates 4-7 or 8, a bit of groping on dates 9-11? Etc? Reducing your nervousness thru familiarity may help?
posted by Kololo at 2:02 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you can dissociate, you should be highly hypnotizable, so therapy aided by hypnosis might help get to the source of the problem and how to deal with it.
It sounds like you may be fragmenting your experiences so that you only are aware an aspect or two, say, sensation and behavior without the emotion and knowledge. Just a thought. There could be shutting down emotional response due to childhood neglect. There's the element of having built up some idea of what love and sex are apart from reality. I don't know why you can't bring this up with your therapist and ask for their input or recommendations, because it must relate to your depression somehow.
Have you had friendships? Loved pets? Any passionate hobbies or interests? I guess I am asking if you experience positive emotional extremes in any other parts of life.
posted by provoliminal at 3:14 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know a hypnotherapist in SF who also specializes in dating. May be worth a shot to contact him. Message me for his info.
posted by namesarehard at 3:45 PM on January 13, 2013


It might be time to try meds. Meds themselves are usually not a cure-all (meds+therapy is often the best way) but if there is some sort of issue curable by meds, you are probably doing yourself a disservice by not being on them. And there are a lot of issues (I AM NOT a psychiatrist/doctor/know much about it) that can be significantly helped by meds.


That said, finding the right med can be a trial... I don't want to discourage it if that is what your doctor thinks you need, but getting the right med for you can be a long, frustrating, painful process. But, if it fixes what it is intended to fix with no/minor/livable side effects, it is worth it.
posted by Jacen at 9:14 PM on January 13, 2013


No, you are not alone. I've been thinking of posting much the same question to AskMe, though I've always thought of it as "switching off" or "going cerebral/analytical".
posted by Decimask at 9:27 PM on January 13, 2013


From someone who wanted to remain anonymous:
Hi, you don't know me, but I almost wrote this exact question to askmetafilter a few years ago, right down to the "is it too late for me?" bit. My first few times having sex were totally dissociative, and frequently this problem would crop up in dates after that. The disconnect between my desire and my real-world performance was driving me up a wall, so I went with the usual advice you get here on the green: I saw a therapist.

This type of problem is what therapists are for. I can't tell you precisely why you're dissociating during physical intimacy, but I can speak on my own behalf by saying there was a whole knot of crap that needed untangling such as a lack of emotional communication from family for practically my entire life that led to weird norms of interaction with other people and severe clinical depression (it's a disease, treat it like one if you have it).

But in addition to that, I began to realize something else that the therapist didn't cover: sex as it existed in my head for all those lonely years was entirely different from the actual physical sensation of sex, and that's definitely one of the reasons I dissociated. You said it yourself, "I have lots of interest in sex with women and in "smushing bodies together", at least in my mind." I hate to say it, but whatever it is you have in your mind, it's probably wrong. The actual full-body sensation of sex is very different from masturbating, which is a mostly cerebral thing.

My advice? Aside from therapy, find someone who's understanding and willing to take it slow who you can communicate with. Hell, the surrogate mentioned by someone else doesn't sound like such a bad idea, they're not prostitutes and might have some experience working with these types of problems.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:55 PM on January 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


unstable home life in childhood and history of mental illness on both sides (bipolar/paranoid dad, depressive mom, with three divorces between them).

Don't underestimate the impact that these factors may have had on your understanding -- both intellectual and sensational -- of emotional and physical intimacy. Mental illness can be terrifying for children who are unable to maturely make sense of an unpredictable parent's behaviors. Many times such children may have to resort to numbing out from their feelings in order to prevent adding any emotional energy to an unpredictable parent's state of mind. There may have been times when you had to dissociate in order to maintain a calm front in the face of an emotionally collapsing parent. At some point you may have even permanently numbed out from certain parts of yourself in order to maintain functional integrity, especially in an unstable environment. DO explore this possibility of emotional shutdown in the face of any potential for ramped-up emotions with a therapist, if possible.

Emotionally it's the same. I've always dreamed of finding someone to love but the number of women I've been emotionally attracted to can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And when I got intimate with these women, which happened once or twice, it was the same - no pleasure at all (which naturally turned them off as well).

I think if what I said above applies, then you might want to try a more patient approach here. If I were in your shoes, I would tell these women to consider giving it more time before calling quits (and let them know it isn't anything they're doing wrong or anything they can do to speed things up). It may just be that you need a certain amount of time experiencing comfort and security in a woman's presence before other systems can feel free to start firing. The groundwork for intimacy might just take some time to establish. Put a time limit (e.g. two weeks) and if nothing starts sparking then move on with no feelings hurt. I don't think there's anything wrong with the fact that you experience emotional attraction rarely (I'm wired this way too). I just can't help wondering if you might have more success going into relationships managing for dissociation. As the anonymous poster said above, find someone who's understanding and willing to take it slow who you can communicate with. Good luck OP!
posted by human ecologist at 1:39 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


You say you fantasize about sex and being in love, and you wish you could feel nervous or excited or anything in real life. To be clear, do you feel those things when you fantasize? If you do, do you think maybe it's a case of real life not living up to fantasies? For example, do you imagine partners saying or doing certain things, or reacting in certain ways, or expressing this or that emotion, but in real life, none of those things seems to happen? And it just feels underwhelming as a result?

If any of that seems to ring a bell, I can definitely reassure you that you're not alone. If you were, romance novels and fiction in general would not be so popular! Before I got involved with my husband I would similarly build things up in my head, and it did seem to make things that actually happen feel less exciting in comparison.

The thing about fantasies is that in your fantasies, you have perfect knowledge of what the other person is thinking and feeling and your own emotions are playing off that. You can give them traits they may not actually have; they're more direct, or more seductive, or funnier, or vulnerable, or whatever in your head. They always respond in the way you want or expect in your head. But in real life you may want deep and vulnerable when really they're practical and independent. You may want them to respond positively to your taking charge or expressing emotion but they actually just think it's weird or overwrought or annoying, or they want to take charge and you're stepping on their toes. All this emotional or sexual charge that's supposed to build just doesn't, and it feels lame.

The same goes for physical stuff. They don't like the things you imagine they like, they do stuff you don't like, they kiss too fast or too slow or it's too wet or whatever, they move too fast or slow or too much or not enough. You know what you want to feel like and it's nowhere near that and it feels like a waste of time.

If you feel like that's what's happening, the bad news is it isn't all that easy to fix. My best advice is to try abstaining from the fantasies and try to get to know people for who they really are without reading too much into things or filling in too many blanks with your imagination. Also, you keep trying until you find someone who meshes with you well enough; if you want to take charge you can find someone who likes that, even if you can't know exactly what it makes them feel when you do it. If you need someone expressive, you can find someone expressive. You just have to accept that much of the time, you won't mesh with people in the ways most important to you and that's okay. Move on and try again.

Also, know that as much as some people seem to just fall in love easily and have all kinds of awesome sex with practically everyone they're with, for a lot of people they're also just projecting stuff from their head and the relationships fall apart once they figure that out. While they may get through physical intimacy feeling excited, in the end they're still looking for someone they're actually able to mesh with, just like you and everyone else. The end result when the people don't truly mesh is the same for both types of people. It's normal that people don't get that kind of connection with others very easily, so you're not some broken weirdo.
posted by Nattie at 2:19 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


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