How do I communicate better when I'm about to, erm, get my freak on?
April 10, 2015 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Exactly as it says on the tin. How do, without faking it, I be more upfront about my dating/sexual inexperience with my potential partners, and when?

I'm a 26-year-old cishet dude who just started online dating, and I'm starting to get into more situations where I'm going home with people, on the first or second or third date, but even though I want us to have a good time, I have no idea what to do physically, and I don't know how to get that across, or when. I'm not willing to 'fake it til I make it' because I don't even know what to fake; my libido's fine, but I don't watch porn or anything so I don't really get the mechanics of it (which should be fine because it's all unrealistic and doesn't resemble "real" sex anyway, right?) That, and I don't want to make any assumptions about what my partner wants me to do or not do, so faking it seems like it has the potential to cause more problems than it solves.

I've talked about my feelings on this with my therapist, and as one potential solution, she's encouraged me to speak up on this and be more upfront with my partners, and sooner. Ideally, what I'd like to communicate is something along the lines of, hey, "I find you attractive, and I want to make sure you have a good time, but I'm still really new to this!" but maybe in a more nuanced way. What I'm worried about, though, is that it feels like there's just this silly cultural expectation looming over us that good sex should just "happen" and that talking about it and what we like, etc., won't do any good except to kill the mood. Not to mention the pervasive cultural tropes like how one has sex can be viewed as an objective performance, and that the guy should, as a requisite, have plenty of notches in his bedpost and thus is expected to take the lead and to somehow get everything fall into place from there -- they feel so, so icky to me. How can you have a good time with someone without at least some talk? I want to make room for my partners to be able to meet me halfway and feel like they have agency and that they can express what they want and like in bed. But it doesn't feel like we're all mature enough yet for that.

So far I've managed to make out with a couple of people, and that was a bit "meh" as I tend to clam up for reasons I'm about to describe, so I haven't gone much further than that. This tends to make my and presumably my partners' experiences rather un-fun because I overthink things ("ok, what do I do now? what does she want me to do?"), and that gets in the way of making the connection between thinking and feeling internally "wow, this person is pretty cool and attractive and fun to be with and I want to be even more with them" and expressing that physically and verbally. Then I start worrying about whether the other person's thinking I don't find them attractive, and so on, so the entire encounter turns into something like an unsexy nervousness death spiral for me and possibly them, and we end up awkwardly falling asleep and never seeing each other again. My therapist feels that it would help if I were more upfront and if I took things slower, but I'm not sure exactly how, or when, to be more upfront or say "hey, I like you, but can we take it a bit slower?" without killing the mood or making my partner feel like I'm not that into them.

I mean, I'm attractive, socially competent, generally have my life together, and am not a chronic beanplater as this question might make me sound; I just didn't meet anyone with whom I really clicked before I started online dating, and I wasn't willing to date or sleep with just anyone, just for the sake of it. While I'm finding it way easier to meet people with whom I really jive, I feel like I've missed the bus on this all at 26. It feels like as you get older, your partners start expecting more from you, and that you be able to perform at the drop of a hat even though you know absolutely nothing about them and what they like. And as a consequence, it also feels that from here on it'll be nigh on impossible for me to meet someone who likes me and whom I like back, but who also happens to be mature and considerate enough (GGG?) to respect my intentions and my inexperience when I bring it up. That feels like such a high bar from here, though.

Am I wrong? I kind of feel like, even if y'all here on the Green, who happen to be way more thoughtful and understanding about these issues than the vast majority of people, do end up reassuring me that, yes, I'm indeed wrong, and thus what I'm feeling is totally reasonable, that I should speak up, that I sound like I'd probably be a wonderful & thoughtful partner and hence I have nothing to worry about, and that decent people indeed are out there, and who, if they like me, are willing to work with me and give me the benefit of the doubt -- well, I feel like I'll have trouble taking that advice to heart, because Metafilter isn't representative of the real world where both genders happen to be generally shallow and inconsiderate and to not do talk well and are willing to write off a new person (like me!) because the first time with them didn't go exactly according to plan or something trivial like that. Apologies for the pretty long run-on sentence, but I think that kind of pretty neatly encapsulates the meta-question I'm asking here. TIA everyone!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

I think I'm going to have lots more to say about this, but my first response is that while the general population may indeed be shallow and inconsiderate, when it comes to the much smaller population of people you are willing to date, you have every right to expect the approximate level of sensitivity and thoughtfulness you can find on metafilter.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:46 AM on April 10, 2015 [14 favorites]

You can ask people what they like/if they like what you're doing; different people like different things so it's not a weird question. Also, don't tie yourself up about wanting things to go "exactly according to plan." Sometimes yea, sometimes nay.
posted by transient at 8:50 AM on April 10, 2015

First of all, no matter how experienced you are sexually, each new partner is... well new...and you have to learn their bodies and their preferences. Everyone is always sort of starting from scratch with a new partner Keeping that in mind may relieve you of some of the pressure to "know exactly what to do."

And there are plenty of people who are your age or older who have minimal experience, haven't tried every position in the book, or racked up a long list of conquests. And there are plenty of other people who appreciate that, value that, and wouldn't make a decision about whether or not to have a relationship with you based on those factors.

While it can be really hard to talk about what you like and asking your partner what she likes, especially in the moment, doing so makes a big difference. Here are a couple of things you could try and/or think about.

- Bring up your inexperience, feelings about it and how that impacts how you want to approach sex during a completely non-sexy time. Of course it's hard to have a conversation about your values around sex when everyone's clothes are half-off. Do it over some coffee on the 2nd or 3rd date if you think things are going somewhere.

- Set out parameters of how far you want to go physically before you are alone and in private. Set up some ground rules to ease the pressure.

- Ask your partner to give you pointers, coach you, move your hands, so you can learn.

- Tell your partner when they're doing something you like. That way they are learning about you and you are modeling for them that talking about things in the moment is fine and sexy.

- Compliment your partner in the middle of things. Tell them they are sexy when they do A. How hot it is when they do B. How great it is to touch them, look at them. Lots of people have body issues and being told how hot you are really can get things moving and open the doors to freer conversations about sex and prefrences.
posted by brookeb at 8:52 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

it feels like there's just this silly cultural expectation looming over us that good sex should just "happen" and that talking about it and what we like, etc., won't do any good except to kill the mood.

This "feeling" is your inexperience talking. There is nothing sexier than good communication. There are myriad ways to communicate - any of them done well can be a turn-on. Making assumptions is a turnoff.
posted by headnsouth at 8:57 AM on April 10, 2015 [9 favorites]

Going on a few dates should screen out most of the shallow demanding jerks before you even get to the bedroom. I wouldn't bring up the experience level unless they're obviously expecting very specific things (e.g. BDSM), which they should clearly tell you beforehand. Otherwise, I wouldn't say anything until you're actually making out and it's probably going to go further. Say something like "I'm sort of new to this" or "I don't have a lot of experience, can you show me what you like?" I would personally love a partner who's a little shy and bashful and naive about it all, but some people do want you to take charge and they won't be a good match for you. No worries - everyone's first (few) time(s) are pretty awkward.
posted by desjardins at 8:58 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm a lot like you in that I want to have a connection to someone before becoming physical with that person. I admit that it does limit the dating pool. I have gotten past this by just not becoming physical with someone until I feel comfortable. If it pushes men away, then so be it. I'm probably not a good match for someone who wants to have sex in the first 3 dates. Perhaps you aren't either and it becomes a matter of finding people who feel similarly as you.

I'm a woman and I would feel very relieved if a man said to me, "I really want to get to know you and go on some fun dates. Can we hold off on the sex until we know each other better?" I suppose it's somewhat unsexy to say and maybe I'm weird, but just once I'd love to hear that from a man.

I don't think anything is wrong with you. You're dating style is just different from what some women expect. My hunch is there are many women out there who are similar to you, but also feel pressure to perform within the first few dates.
posted by parakeetdog at 8:59 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

from the female side of this, i will just say that i would've appreciated a lot more honesty and directness from the guys i've dated. i would've loved if someone just straight up said "hey i'm kind of inexperienced and want to take this slow" or whatever else they wanted instead of the usual guessing game and trying to play it cool. it's exhausting and immature, and sadly pretty common among folks in their 20s.

for some reason it's like the cool thing to do now to not communicate and i've actually at some point trained myself to not communicate my needs because you know, just be chill! guys hate needy girls! ugh. you sound like a good guy and you should follow your gut feeling on this. i think once you open up the line of communication on the topic, it'll be a lot less awkward than you'd think.
posted by monologish at 9:05 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Here's the thing: you are presumably dating people because you want some kind of long-term partner, not just because you like going on first dates, right? Which means you want someone who understands you and likes you for who you are. Which means that anyone who is going to lose interest in you for your lack of experience just isn't the person for you.

Or, in other words, I think you should talk to the people you are dating about this. Don't make any big long speeches about it. But you can say to them something like, "I'm still pretty new to all this," in a pause when you are making out but before you guys are completely naked (I generally think it's a bad idea to bring up potentially surprising or delicate conversation topics when naked). And if she's the girl for you, she'll say, "Ok!" and you'll keep making out, and she'll maybe say to you, "Put your hands here," or she will put her hands somewhere on you and you're off to the races.
posted by colfax at 9:05 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman, and I can say with confidence that honesty and directness is probably your best way through. Its been my experience that most people DON'T like to play games and most people PREFER clarity and directness. Back when I was still in the dating game I was always very direct (ex. "I have really enjoyed this date and I think you're quite handsome. I think we should kiss now. Sound good?") and never once rejected. Most people actually looked relieved and thankful that I just laid it all out there, clear as day. The big secret about dating is that pretty much everyone hates the guessing game, the "don't want to make myself look too interested", is it too soon to call them, do they like me, and all the stuff like that. Pretty much everyone is happier when people are clear and direct.

So I say just be honest about it. Don't go out of your way to tell your dates first thing, but while you are kissing and it seem like things are getting more serious I think you are in the clear to say something along the lines of "I am really enjoying kissing you and find you super attractive and really look forward to where this could lead, but this is a bit unfamiliar territory for me." No person of quality would be upset over your saying this, and in fact I know of some people who would find this extra exciting.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:15 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

One way to look at it is if you are open & honest people don't like what you tell them about your inexperience they have self filtered themselves out of your dating pool, better to find out at the making out stage, than later on. Unless the people you are dating are also in experienced they know sex for the first time is awkward and not like the movies, no one realistically expects it to be just happen at least with a new partner.

Seriously most people are good & kind and don't' want to hurt other peoples feelings or play games. it's not just the people on Metafilter (if you are finding your life seems to be full of people that do, you need to find better friends) but they can't be those things if you aren't giving them all the information, if they have to guess, they are going to do what you are doing and make the guesses that leave themselves the most emotionally protected.

The difference between, oh he didn't make a move he's not interested I will stop going out with him so I don't get hurt and oh he didn't make a move, but he's got a good reason, I'll show him what I like/make the move/go slow/tell him I'm nervous too. Is knowledge. Use your words. As the saying goes "Those that matter don't mind, and those that mind don't matter".
posted by wwax at 9:25 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why not put some of this info about your experience and preferences in your online dating profile?
posted by tomboko at 9:40 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I actualy think you’ve been given a gift. You will be much more self-aware than most when it comes to your first steps into the world of sensuality; if you see this as an amazing new experience and open yourself to the many pleasures that it can bring with the right partner, you’ll be way ahead of the many mediocre firsts out there. I’d just treat it like finding the right travel companion for visiting a foreign country you’ve long wanted to see. You’ll know the right travel companion when you see her because she will react well when you confess your inexperience, and will be excited to explore with you.

As to when to make your confession: I’d do it as soon as possible, but after the atmosphere between you has become relaxed and flirtatious. Not right after discussing something mundane or deeply philosophical. When sexy-times is in the air (because of flirting, because you are in your flat for a late night drink etc.) without being quite upon you. I’d make this part of the (sapiosexual) foreplay, as it were. If you give yourself over to the atmosphere, this conversation could be very sexy: what she would like to show you, what you are curious about, which of your senses responds easiest to what, how far you want to go and why, if you want to prolong the anticipation etc. This can be a sweet game which you can continue for as long as you want.

Also, what someone else said above is true: every person is so different that we are all somewhat inexperienced with new people until we get to know them, regardless of sexual history. Fumbling is frequently involved at the beginning. If you don’t dread it, it is exciting and heart-fluttery.

On preview, agree with people self-filtering as well - pragmatically, you will not become more experienced by magic, so you might as well get rid of the people who would find this problematic. Plus, there's no harm in looking for someone who would be a good fit on Metafilter!
posted by miorita at 9:55 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pretty much the #1 thing that sucks for a lot of women is feeling undesired. Cultural narratives, unfair, not logical, blah blah blah- I just recommend you accept this. Accept people as they are. I get a lot of subtext here of "not fair" and yep, you're right, life isn't fair. The solution is to lower expectations from other people. Pity them and have kindness. People are all just people, they can't read your mind, and they have weaknesses and flaws. So, for the feeling desired thing- just be really nice and understanding. "You are very pretty" "you look nice" "yor eyes are gorgeous" "I'm so lucky" - cheesy and cliche? Hell yes. Do I still kinda smile when boyfriend says them, especially if he's not "in the mood"? Yeah, you know what, I do. Sure I do. I like to think I'm fairly smart and not petty most of the time. Embrace the lizard brain and forgive people (women included) for being shallow and insecure. Just let go.
-If a lady really likes your soul, she'll forgive some bedroom awkwardness. If a lady really likes your pecs, it's gonna be hard for her not to be disappointed. Dig?
posted by quincunx at 9:58 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

My therapist feels that it would help if I were more upfront and if I took things slower, but I'm not sure exactly how, or when, to be more upfront or say "hey, I like you, but can we take it a bit slower?" without killing the mood or making my partner feel like I'm not that into them.

But you are already anxious that you are not nurturing the mood and/or making your partner think you are not into them, so what is the actual risk here except that things get better?

it feels like there's just this silly cultural expectation looming over us that good sex should just "happen" and that talking about it and what we like, etc., won't do any good except to kill the mood.

That is not a common expectation of people who have been naked with other people, because it's not a common experience of people who have been naked with other people. Physical intimacy with a new person is often a combination of awkward, funny, hapless, and passionate. It doesn't smooth out and improve without communication.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:12 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have no idea what to do physically, and I don't know how to get that across, or when. I'm not willing to 'fake it til I make it' because I don't even know what to fake; my libido's fine, but I don't watch porn or anything so I don't really get the mechanics of it (which should be fine because it's all unrealistic and doesn't resemble "real" sex anyway, right?)

Well, as far as the actual mechanics go, mainstream porn pretty much does resemble real sex, usually. You say you haven't watched any, but are you averse to trying maybe just a bit of some of the less out-there stuff? I think you can even search for "educational" videos on some sites (or so I've heard, right ). What you see will make more sense in situ, and if you follow the great advice above on being honest and communicating, I'm sure the right partner will be more than happy to work with you on refining things. You sound lovely - have fun and good luck.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:30 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Inexperienced" is a terrible word when it comes to sex and relationships. Maybe try banning it from your mental lexicon if for no other reason than it's an oversimplified shorthand that could mean a lot of different things. It's easier to be direct about what you mean when you're talking to your prospective dates. That might mean switching from "hey, I'm inexperienced" to "hey, I don't usually hook up casually, are you ok with that?" To be perfectly honest, that takes a lot of pressure off you and your date who otherwise would be wondering what the hell you really mean when you use that scary "inexperienced" word.

It's a trite suggestion, but a valuable one (in my experience) to just try and chill out a bit about all this. Intimacy is very unique to the people experiencing it, and you'd be better served by letting the moment guide your thoughts than using a mental checklist. Be as in the moment as you possibly can, and you'll enjoy the process more, you'll experience he process more, your date will read your cues better, and so on. Try some simple relaxation techniques before a date--all your prep work with your therapist is good, but think of it like you're an actor going into an interview about a movie you just made: you prep beforehand, a lot, but then you go in as relaxed as possible and just respond to the questions you get one at a time so you don't sound like you're reading from a PR script.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:31 AM on April 10, 2015

Good advice all around, but to address one specific concern of yours: most women do expect men to take the lead in escalating things during a makeout session, and it is possible, as you fear, that NOT doing so could be taken as a sign of disinterest. Making your interest clear with words, as others have suggested, is important.

As others have said, it is not necessary or even always ideal to smoothly have sex without talking about it. But if you want to do that at times, slowly escalating, such as reaching a couple inches under a shirt while kissing, and waiting for positive feedback is one way to go about it. (Not everyone gives good feedback even if they are into it unfortunately, but if you don't get it naturally, it's safest to slow down.) In bed, as well, most (but not all, darn it!) people are smart enough to make positive noises if you're doing something right. (In my experience with women, oral is usually right.)
posted by metasarah at 10:39 AM on April 10, 2015

For starters, my recollection is that more people wait until their early to mid twenties than people typically seem to think. A quick google turned up this: Sex Stats: Virgins on the Rise So I will suggest that you are mentally exaggerating your lack of experience and how uncommon that is for your age. It's not super weird at your age to have relatively little experience.

Second, when I got divorced in my late thirties/early forties, well, I had been with the same person for about half my life. Some of the men I connected with had similar long marriages behind them and also kind of felt like awkward 16 year olds. One younger man I was involved with was a Player. He had lots of sexual experience with lots of women and knew what he was doing sexually. But he had never been in love before and didn't have a lot of savvy about deep, serious long term romantic relationships. I learned a lot from him about sex, but he learned a lot from me about emotional attachment and having a serious relationship.

So I will suggest that even very experienced people still don't know everything and can still have new "firsts" and, in some sense, still have limited experience. My past experience includes a long marriage. Not everyone has that experience. It is a valid experience. It is different from someone who picks up strangers at bars routinely (like the younger man I was involved with during my divorce), but it isn't somehow less valuable or less valid or less important.

Third, I will Nth the suggestion that you are allowed to be picky about whom you get sexually intimate with and that you can limit it to people who will actually talk with you in depth and actually like talking with you. Furthermore, I will suggest that if you want a serious relationship and not just a series of one off sexual encounters, that approach is the superior approach for making that happen. Good communication comes first.

The second guy I slept with was my best friend. The initial sexual encounters did not feel super awkward because we already talked. We later got married. I don't regret marrying him. I still place a high value on being able to talk comfortably with a man before I sleep with him. I think it leads to better sex.

The personal policy I developed during my divorce was to just try to be my honest self and not try to pretend I was anything else. If that drove a man off, the sooner he knew I was not his cup of tea, the better. It hurts less. So I will suggest you work on developing your patter. Work on the phrasing and the like that you feel comfortable with for communicating that "I am a little bit of a late bloomer. I didn't really start dating until X time and I still feel a bit awkward." or whatever works for you to describe your situation in objective, neutral terms without a lot of judgey language about this somehow being bad. If some woman reacts in a dreadfully negative manner to this news, feel free to just walk out on her. She's a bitch and not worth bedding. But most women shouldn't have some big problem with it.

I will also suggest that it may work better for you and her if you focus less on you and more on her. Yes, give her the heads up that you have limited experience, but focus a lot more on telling her what you think and feel about her. Try to frame it positively. Let her know things like "Yeah, I know I haven't been with too many women, but I am just blown away by your curves." Women, no matter how experienced or pretty, tend to get a lot of negative messages and it doesn't hurt to say something positive, especially rooted in how you feel about them.

If they are very pretty, they may get a lot of messages to the effect of "I'd hit that!" but it is typically done in a really objectifying, assholish way. But even women who get those kinds of awful messages still want to feel like the man they are getting naked with has a positive view of them and their looks. It is possible to compliment a woman on her appearance without making her feel objectified -- as if her looks are all that matter.
posted by Michele in California at 10:40 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

"I find you attractive, and I want to make sure you have a good time, but I'm still really new to this!"

This. It's just perfect. Say it when sexy times are about to start but haven't gone far.
posted by harrietthespy at 10:54 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have no idea what to do physically, and I don't know how to get that across, or when. I'm not willing to 'fake it til I make it' because I don't even know what to fake; my libido's fine, but I don't watch porn or anything so I don't really get the mechanics of it (which should be fine because it's all unrealistic and doesn't resemble "real" sex anyway, right?) That, and I don't want to make any assumptions about what my partner wants me to do or not do, so faking it seems like it has the potential to cause more problems than it solves.

These are things you can educate yourself about, and there's really no reason not to. There is Basic Sex Stuff that most people like (not everybody! Some people have very specific and non-intuitive turn-ons! It's on them to communicate this!) and you can

a) read about it
b) see it demonstrated in non-degrading porn
c) ask questions about it on online fora or with especially open friends or whatever

I mean, yeah, the average partner probably is going to want you to make some assumptions about what they want, not ask them to lay out exactly where and how they want to be touched and for how long etc. Your meta-question at the end is spot on; most people are not as sensitive and openly communicative as your average AskMe answerer. You do not have to wait for a perfect communicator who is free of hang-ups to have a successful intimate relationship. You do have to take on some willingness to be awkward and not get everything right the first time, and to accept that negotiating sex is part of finding out if you're really compatible with someone, not the end result of finding that compatibility: youre not "sleeping with just anyone, just for the sake of it" if you have sex with someone and it doesn't work out, so try not to make sex the Rubicon of your romantic relationships (unless you really want your first sexual relationship to be your last, in which case you're asking a different question, one I wouldn't presume to try and answer).

I think harrietthespy has your verbal disclaimer nailed there; you shouldn't be afraid to be upfront about your lack of experience, but what you want to communicate is "this is new to me, and it's exciting and fun!" not "this is new to me, and it's fraught and terrifying."
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:05 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

In my experience there is little correlation between "experience" as number of partners and how well things go in the bedroom, some people go from fling to fling and never really reach a more intimate space which is usually necessary for really good sex to happen (because good sex usually involves trust and communication and chemistry based on liking the other person).
I've dated men with limited sexual experience and it wasn't an issue for me in terms of how I thought about them and it didn't really change things in the bedroom, except that I anticipated their having more nerves and potential performance anxiety which is always a bit of an issue with new partners anyway (and frankly I always find pretty endearing). I appreciated that they weren't jaded and set in their ways in terms of what they liked.

There is a lot of research showing that most women don't have orgasms with new partners and that it takes time for sex to be "good" in that sense, so I think slowing down is good advice all around. Maybe decide that you will only cuddle and kiss on the first few dates but will express how much you like your date and how attractive you find her so that you can both relax and enjoy things. Agreed with everyone upthread that how you'd like to express yourself to your dates is perfect.

The only red flags I look out for with men and sex (where things are going slowly or not really going anywhere) is whether the guy is withholding because he has power/women/sex issues, or is so uncomfortable with his body that he can't handle the intimacy, or is just not that into me and thus hesitating about going further.
posted by lafemma at 12:32 PM on April 10, 2015

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