On collision course with self-prescribed therapeutic imperative
February 21, 2011 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Almost 30, filled with hang ups and doubt, on collision course with self-prescribed therapeutic imperative. [Abridged Autobiography Inside]

Background: Guy, 29, straight. I have a history of really unstable self-image. Sometimes I'll feel really cocky, and full of piss and vinegar, feeling my oats, like I could take on the world; but a lot of the time I sink into bouts of self-harm, drug/alcohol binges, and skipping meals for a feeling of control. In the past, during those times I'd lie awake thinking of how much I suck, and how to kill myself.

At my lowest (after I started stubbing cigarettes out on myself, and attempted suicide twice), I told my family and friends about my problems, and checked myself into a mental hospital for a week. They diagnosed me as Bipolar II: alternating between hypomania, and sever depression. Hypomania means I'm reckless and impulsive, but I don't think I can fly or deflect bullets. I was put on anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, and held for observation.

After I left, I found a therapist who does CBT, and some other active non-talk therapies. She's great, and she says I'm making good progress; overall, I agree. I think it's due in part to my willingness to hurl myself at new situations, which is probably still some remnant of hypomanic behavior, even if not technically the disorder itself. I've checked in with a psychiatrist monthly, and had my medications upped several times. My mood swings have become more tolerable, less self-destructive.

The problem that's arisen (haha), is that the anti-depressants have acutely increased my sex drive. Which should be great, but as my therapist put it, I have "walls everywhere," rather than boundaries. Even as a small child, I can recall my mother and her friends bitterly decrying their husband/SO's sexual wants within earshot. Sex was portrayed as this imposition men put upon women. Sometimes (as a child) I was addressed directly, given "advice" about women that basically reflected their own neuroses. I'd become humiliated, and eventually learned to divest myself of any connection to my own body.

I have no religious, or articulable moral hangups, but sex has terrorized me all my life, to the point that making any kind of physical advance seems like the worst, most despicable thing I could possibly do. So I've managed never to do it. I feel the impetus sometimes to express some kind of physical interest; but even conceived innocuously, I keep seeing an image of a girl going Ecchh, what the fuck?! Are you out of your mind? What made you think I'd want you touching me? And walking away, to normal intimacy with someone else, as abstract to me as a musical note. When it first occurred to me that sex was something women actually cared about, it was incomprehensible to me. Fortunately, I've managed to separate the women I know now from those I knew as a child, feeling only resentment toward the individuals responsible for my childhood trauma. I don't view women as the “other.” We get along fine, and I’m as comfortable talking to them as I am to guys, etc. As far as I know I'm liked.

My longest "relationship" was with a woman as walled-off as I (a sweet girl, just kind of emotionally arrested), so when I finally expressed my feelings toward her (after a couple months of going out), she quietly freaked. She later told me that "that part of her" was dormant. We're still on OK terms. In the second longest span, I asked out a girl, knowing that she would be leaving the country in a month and a half. So we went out for that time. We were slightly physical, while blindingly drunk, just before she left. Of course, she had to start it.

The remainder of my dating history describes briefer series of movies, dinners, drinks, good conversations; after which we gradually drop off into casual friendships. After four or five "dates," we both just sort of slow down on visits, then finally stop. I've never acted clingy, or been turned down. I'm not fighting them off with a stick, but I've noticed when they make cheesy excuses to hang out with me, or are cueing me to ask them out. In other words, I can give a reasonable facsimile of a well-adjusted, confident guy, offering a semblance of a healthy relationship, to a point — then I hit the wall, and possibly confuse, irritate, and bore these women.

Unless I'm completely mistaken about the problem, and none were ever interested to begin with (a thought that keeps me awake at night).

Whatever the case, it's not faux "respect," or disinterest that keeps me from communicating my intentions; it's an intense fear and hatred toward my own body and sexuality. I want to feel close to someone, vulnerable, physically explore them, but I'm also rattled with a paralyzing degree of conflicting emotions. However, I can reciprocate touch to the extent that, I guess, I was given "permission" by her initiating it. A big burden, with no way to say it.

Now, the immediate concern. At the risk of sweating desperation from my eyeballs, and failing because of that, I've made it a goal to get laid (I hate that term) before my monumental birthday in several months. It doesn't have to be good, or fun, or sober, or lead to anything afterward. It just has to happen, with someone I'm attracted to, and by way of whatever charm I can raise (for god's sake, do not suggest an escort). I do eventually want fulfilling physical relationships, but right now I just have to prove something to myself.

I'm not good at hitting on women cold, as in approaching them in bars or clubs. It's easier with women I meet through friends, or activities (which I may well be, in spades, in the next several months).

I suppose I'm looking for advice on how to fulfill my sophomoric goal.

Please don't suggest "Intimate Connections." I read it, and it didn't jive with me. And don't say I'm simply not ready to deal with intimacy. I never will be if I keep thinking about it, not trying anything. I won't be dissuaded by words. I'm too certain the precedent will change the way I think about things, somehow.

[Sorry for the tl;dr post, but since I can't respond easily later, I want to cover everything.]
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I recommend that you tell the woman this, exactly has you've written it here:

"I do eventually want fulfilling physical relationships, but right now I just have to prove something to myself.... It doesn't have to be good, or fun, or sober, or lead to anything afterward."

That doesn't sound like it will attract a woman, but at least you won't hurt someone else while trying to heal yourself.
posted by Houstonian at 9:48 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Forgive me, but this sounds like a bad goal. It sounds like a great way to either fail and feel worse about yourself, actually treat a girl rather badly, or have an awful experience that will be more destructive than helpful. (What happens when she says "ouch!" or "stop that!" because you're in a hurry and not sure what you're doing? You--who sound basically like a thoughtful guy--probably won't feel too great.)

At the minimum, maybe a longer time frame?

Alternatively, what about posting a really frank Craigslist/LoveLab/whatever post that's like "take my virginity, please"? That, back when I was seeing guys, would have interested me, and might interest others. It sounds like you want some kind of extremely sex-positive poly/swingy/etc woman who is comfortable with slightly odd sexual situations.
posted by Frowner at 9:50 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Put an OKCupid ad saying clearly that you are looking for no-strings-attached sex. That way, you will know that the people who answer understand that that is what you are looking for, and you will be able to reassure yourself that that is what they are looking for.

Your mother and her friends, by the way, didn't come up with the "Sex is horrible and no good woman enjoys it" meme by themselves. They were carefully indoctrinated into it by a sexist culture. The patriarchy hurts men, too, and this is part of why feminism is a good thing for everyone--even though on the worldwide scale of things this is far less urgent a problem than girls' schools being burned to the ground in Afghanistan or patients at reproductive medicine clinics being firebombed, it is still unfortunate that a sexist, sex-negative culture made it so hard for you to get your groove on.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:24 AM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

I know you want to get this over with relatively quickly, but maybe you could also look into cuddle parties or dance classes as a way of becoming more comfortable with physical intimacy.
posted by ambulatorybird at 10:54 AM on February 21, 2011

This strikes me as sort of the opposite of what you need to do. You want to have sex just to get it over with, which is perfectly understandable. You say that you have this huge mental block, and that you can't initiate/take the lead on any kind of sexual contact. But you can reciprocate. A woman you pick up at a bar or meet on craigslist or even okcupid is, likely, not going to understand why you don't initiate anything, and is very unlikely to make the first move (obviously a woman can make the first move, but they often don't feel comfortable - see Sidhedevil's excellent point about the total and indiscriminate badness of the patriarchy). I suspect this is why your relationships are fizzling out at precisely the moment when sex is usually on the table for most couples.

So, a casual hookup isn't going to do it, because she won't understand. There are two categories of women who will:

1 - professionals - you've already rejected this course of action (you may want to reconsider, but that's off topic).
2 - a woman that you trust enough to be honest with, and to explain the nature of your hangup, and what you need. This can be a woman you start dating who agrees to take things slow, or a friend of yours who you are also attracted to. And that, dating your friends, who you trust, seems like the best strategy for you here.

But give yourself a break about the birthday coming up - 30 is not a big deal these days. Good luck!
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:07 AM on February 21, 2011

So, a casual hookup isn't going to do it, because she won't understand.

Unless he explains it clearly upfront in an ad. I can imagine women I know personally who might really dig the idea of being someone's first sex partner in a completely no-strings kind of thing. It's worth a try, in any case.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:46 AM on February 21, 2011

Maybe you need to rethink your goals. That may make you feel better than using a woman as a cum receptacle.

People of all genders can enjoy casual sexual encounters without it being degrading to any of the parties involved. The thing with making that work, though, is that it's really important that everyone in the negotiation understands where everyone else is coming from.

The whole idea that "all women see sex primarily as a deeply bonding emotional experience and all men see sex primarily as a way to get their rocks off" is the same kind of gender essentialist nonsense that led to the OP being messed up about sex in the first place.

The OP can find women who are looking for no-strings-attached sex if he is upfront about wanting that and looking in the right places. The OP can also set aside his quest for no-strings-attached sex if he chooses to do so. But shaming the OP for wanting no-strings-attached sex is just exacerbating the problem.

Both women and men experience oxytocin surges during orgasm, btw, so the whole "IT'S SCIENCE" thing is a very flimsy argument here.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:51 AM on February 21, 2011

I initially thought the goal was fine then realized: it's much closer to what you fear and dislike about the idea of sex than the majority of sexual encounters.

You need to find a way to feel confident that a woman wants you, maybe by finding someone who likes making the first moves (ideally), who is naturally very vocal about how much she likes what you're doing or accommodating enough that she'd do that if you asked her to, and/or someone whom you can check in with along the way to make sure this is still what she wants. I don't think finding those attributes necessarily requires going to either a pro or starting a long-term relationship.

Your fear is actually one I've heard of other female friends running into -- in this era, you're not the only man who really, really doesn't want to be an ashole who oppresses and objectifies a woman with his lust. But there are many cases when women really, really do want a guy to be attracted to them and to physically act on that desire. Reading sex-positive feminist blogs or hetero erotica written by women with female protagonists would expose you to women who want men. In your masturbation (?) you can start to imagine a woman wanting you to express your desire for her; mental rehearsal like that could go a long way. And you can start looking for that in real life, but I would not have a deadline that discourages you from listening to see if a certain situation is one of those times or not, and I do think it'd help to do as much as possible to have the change first occur in your own attitude toward yourself. Best of luck. This sounds really hard, but it also sounds like you've come a long way (no puns intended).
posted by salvia at 12:11 PM on February 21, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
First, I want to thank everyone for their comments and criticisms. I'm not extremely fond of this idea myself, but the only way I've ever gotten beyond my problems has been by the most direct confrontation possible. If I don't leap blindly, I just flounder.

I feel an urgency to do this while still in my twenties, but if I felt I had the luxury, I wouldn't want to rush through it at all. It's just that I think it'll suck, and I don't want to dwell on that. In my estimation, I'd have to be sloppy drunk just to deal with it, and ideally we'd have gotten inebriated together (even if I had intense emotional feelings). That's my preconception of it, as nasty as it is. There's the possibility it'll make things worse for me; I only know I can't tolerate the sense of stagnation, and that I've failed myself because of this.

I'll readily admit how stupid this might be, but it's a ridiculous situation to begin with. I didn't mean to sound like I was intent on some one-night stand kind of thing. It's just not off the table.

If I were in a relationship with someone I trusted, I wouldn't want to rush through it at all. If I thought she understood my position, and I wasn't trying to gloss over anything, I'd just take it easy and try to be attentive. Perhaps it sounds super weird in this context, but the drive behind almost all my actions in life is an all-consuming curiosity. I like to become engaged in how things work, and I'd feel that same curiosity toward her, and her body. I already have felt it; I just haven't been comfortable enough to express that, as much as I've wanted to.

Interestingly, just this morning, my therapist lead me through an exercise, and I stumbled onto this massive concentration of shame/self-loathing from when I was a pudgy little kid. Clichéd shit, I know, but there it is. I think it's part of the reason I expect disgust toward me from other people, and why I flinch at the vulnerability.

I've been on OKCupid a few times; I'm OK — if young — looking, but height plays an important role on paper, and I lack it. I get messages, but not from women I'm attracted to (and cougars, for some reason). In real life, I think I've actually managed to date out of my league (physically). I wasn't speaking rhetorically when I said I'm about to be in a position to meet a lot of people, women included. If there's some healthy way to proceed from there, while realizing that I do have to seize opportunities this time, I'd prefer that to something that'd just leave me feeling more creepy than ever.

Thank you.

Follow-up e-mail:
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:01 PM on February 21, 2011

If all you want is no-strings-attached sex, then I am unsure as to why the person has to be an ideal match for you in terms of age or appearance (or you them)? You're not getting married; you're doing something fun together that you'll both enjoy, yes?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:08 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been on OKCupid a few times; I'm OK — if young — looking, but height plays an important role on paper, and I lack it. I get messages, but not from women I'm attracted to (and cougars, for some reason). In real life, I think I've actually managed to date out of my league (physically).

Okay, there's a reason why NSA sex is NSA sex, and relationships are relationships: With NSA sex, you never want to see the person again.

Also, why not a hot cougar? Sounds like they might actually be perfect for your particular situation, no?
posted by Nixy at 2:40 PM on February 21, 2011

Can you go on a couple of dates with a woman, then explain that you have an issue around initiating any sort of sexual contact, and that if she's interested, she'll need to make the first move? It might help with your issues to do this in a very non-sexual context, like a public place, making it clear that it's not an expectation, just something she could do in the future if she wanted to. You could even communicate this via email, before you meet online dates.

If a guy told me this, I'd really have no problem with it. If I were attracted to him, I'd be happy to set the pace and initiate intimacy. But I'd also feel comfortable that I didn't have to initiate anything I didn't want to.

Also, you may have more luck with women who are slightly older, or who self-identify as feminists. To draw some broad generalizations, women who fit that description are probably more likely to feel comfortable expressing their desire clearly and in a way that would make you more comfortable.
posted by psycheslamp at 2:43 PM on February 21, 2011

What about a sex surrogate? This sounds like the perfect situation for that.
posted by Maias at 3:54 PM on February 21, 2011

I know someone in your position who paid for sex. Whether it ultimately helped, I couldn't say, but he saw it as a way of getting physical contact to stop being the be all and end all. Whether this is a good choice for you is for you to decide, but it is an option. Sex workers, after all, are professionals.
posted by mippy at 7:58 AM on February 22, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
The last woman I dated might have been hinting at me to do something, but I'm so tentative I can't settle on that belief. She'd did things like have me walk through a secluded garden with her, hang out with her on the rooftop bar of this LA hotel, in this enclosed waterbed thing. We were touchy-feely, but didn't kiss. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

But I was thinking, if I'm in a situation like that again -- where we're already touching each other -- I could probably manage (without my own freaking out) a quick smooch on the cheek or something; maybe that'd help me gauge the situation and determine what I do from there, or give her the option to reciprocate/escalate if she liked. Or is that still too ambiguous?

What do you think?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:55 PM on February 24, 2011

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