How can I communicate about intimacy issues?
July 2, 2015 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I've been actively dating and having intimate encounters, but it's hard for me to address my sexual limitations and lack of experience with new partners. How to deal?

I am a bisexual male, turning 26 soon, and I am actively dating people. However, I have a problem...I have "intimacy issues," and I feel like I am too old to be dealing with this and have no legitimate excuse for having them. I can enjoy cuddling and making out and some sexual touching but when it comes to most actual sex acts, I have too many hesitations, limitations, discomforts, and a general lack of experience. I do have some experience but it is significantly low in comparison to my age group. I apologize if this seems vague but I don't feel like getting into the specifics of my experience at the moment, I'm looking for more general advice.

I feel like anyone I get involved with is going to expect that I am more experienced than I am, and that I have fewer limitations than I do. Instead of feeling guilty about not meeting their expectations, I know I need to communicate with them about this, but I lack the tools to do so. How can I discuss this sort of thing without causing people to get upset? I feel like when I've tried to talk about it in the past, people end up getting upset or condescending or saying creepy things, on occasion they have stopped pursuing me, on occasion they have pursued me even more aggressively but would silently build up resentment and it would turn into a toxic situation. I just want to be sexually normal but it's like I can't trust anyone enough to even practice with them and get to that point. These days I try to avoid bringing it up out of fear of rejection, and sometimes I feel guilty that I'm even trying to meet people at all while I have this stuff to deal with. I can't seem to catch a break whether I do or don't bring this up.

Any hot tips?
posted by cosmicbeast to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I feel like anyone I get involved with is going to expect that I am more experienced than I am

This is categorically not the case at all, and you should try to re-frame your thinking surrounding this. Feel grateful that you haven't had a ton of really awful sexual experiences in your younger years and move forward with an open mind knowing that every new experience you have is a building block. You won't become "experienced" overnight, but it just takes little steps here and there to cement a solid foundation.

Secondly, I wonder if you've ever spoken to a professional therapist at all? I know AskMeta is sometimes quick to offer the "Therapist advice" route, but in this case, if you've been dealing with these feelings of insecurity for a while and it has negatively affected your life in more ways than one, I think it's worth going to see a professional - just to talk things through about your admitted trust issues and anything else you might have going on.
posted by JenThePro at 2:06 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to answer that--I have seen therapists in the past and brought up these sorts of issues, but never addressed them in depth. I think it would be beneficial to see a sex therapist but I can't afford that kind of specialized work. As for general therapy just to address this, it is an option I've considered--I emailed one today who seemed like she could be helpful and understanding of queer issues but she wasn't accepting new patients. Looking for other resources for now.
posted by cosmicbeast at 2:13 PM on July 2, 2015

I think that you're being unnecessarily hard on yourself, my brother.

Monitor Your Thoughts.
You're also engaging in what David Burns calls distorted thinking.
I would definitely recommend learning the distortions, and, when you catch yourself engaging in one, be gentle, but firm with yourself and guide your thoughts back to a more positive stream.

Don't Rush.
Also, don't be too willing to rush into any sexual encounter or relationship or dating situation that you feel uncomfortable with. It's not a race, as the saying goes. Raise your standards, and really, really get to know the person before escalating to any of the above.

Allow Life To Happen.
You want a partner that you can unashamedly be yourself with.
That may take time to find that person, and I hope that you will get out there and just have a wonderful life and don't stress out too much about your experience level or anything else of that nature.

Connect Authentically.
As you move through your life, you will meet people, and you will learn how to get to know them and really connect. Once you really connect, that's when you can gently reveal your experience, your fears, your thoughts and your wishes to them.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 2:19 PM on July 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

What does 'sexually normal' mean to you? What sorts of expectations do you feel other people have? According to the CDC, the median number of sexual partners for men in a lifetime is seven, while for women, it's four. So you might not be as inexperienced as you think, and you may actually be more experienced than most people your age, given that these are lifetime statistics. That, and in the heat of the moment, I don't think anybody really has expectations front and center in their heads. People want to have fun, but they also want you to be having fun too, and if you are, then so are they.

Also, are you looking for short-term relationships, or for something with more long-term potential? You mention that you feel like you can't trust people enough to be intimate with them -- are these bad experiences you've mentioned the product of short-term things, flings, etc.? Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to put sex and anything beyond heavy petting on the backburner for until you've gotten to get to know your partner better. However, if you want to do this, you have to make it absolutely clear to the other person that you're looking to take things slow, or otherwise they might get confused. You don't have to go into the specifics of your inexperience if you don't want to just yet, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with bringing up your feelings with your partners at the right time and with the right tone. It's not really a big deal, but I think the trick is to raise your standards and feel comfortable enough with your partner to the point that it feels natural to talk about these things.

Anyone who'd object to, or react negatively to someone who's inexperienced or maybe a bit hesitant and who's upfront about it and is willing to communicate, is, in my (and many others') opinion(s), a shitlord of the highest order. You might also find this thread helpful.
posted by un petit cadeau at 2:49 PM on July 2, 2015

Anyone who rejects you because you don't have sex in the way they want is not the person for you. That doesn't mean you're undateable, it just means they're not the right person. Keep looking and don't let the fear of rejection keep you closed off.
posted by deathpanels at 3:38 PM on July 2, 2015

This only addresses a small part of what you say, but essentially the idea of "sexual experience" is nonsense. You don't "get good at sex" through practicing in some abstract sense. Just by caring about and paying attention to your partner's enjoyment. It's not about technique, just about being generous and kind.
posted by howfar at 4:03 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Straight male, 47, but because I'm intensively into my square dancing hobby, I hang out with a lot of gay men. For various reasons, in that social context I trigger a lot of gaydar, and I've explained that I really am het, and (with an eye roll), that "I really don't know what I'd do with any of y'all if I was attracted".

To which I've gotten a pretty consistent "Oh, {I,we}'d be happy to show you!"

So as you point out, no inexperience on that side. But, though I obviously haven't pursued it very far, I'm also under the impression that because HIV is definitely a thing in the communities I hang out with, that in that "we'd be happy to show you" there's a ton about talking about boundaries and limits.

Which means there's a call for be right up-front about "Hey, I have these quirks, I don't know how to negotiate them. You're not getting laid with me tonight, but I'd like to talk to someone about it." Yeah, it's scary as hell, but I'm giving you permission right now to do that.

However, I'd also point out that in both the BDSM and polyamory community, there's a hell of a lot written about clearly stating limits. Because I've been listening to the podcast a bunch recently, I know that Cunning Minx of Polyamory Weekly has done a bunch of work on writing your own user's manual. Here's an old blog post on it. Maybe starting there, with the intent of handing that document to someone you're interested in?
posted by straw at 5:07 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think it would be beneficial to see a sex therapist but I can't afford that kind of specialized work.

If you mean a sex surrogate, that's a really specialized (and very controversial, as a treatment modality, even in exceptionally extreme situations like the way outer fringes of abuse) niche and is not necessary for what is ultimately an issue of needing to learn the skills to manage your anxiety/response to stress and improve your communication. That's CBT, and any trained therapist can talk about sex and intimacy in the context of anxiety and communication. It's one of the biggest issues in people's lives. Make sure you tell the therapist you want to work on those things.

Don't let the anxiety convince you that you can't be helped or that nobody could possibly understand you or that you need a treatment so radical you have no hope of getting it. You just need to learn how to wrangle your feelings into words. People imagine that everyone else out there is living the kind of lives you see on TV, but very few people actually do, and most people are absolutely willing to meet you wherever you are as long as you're able to give them some GPS coordinates.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:56 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anyone who likes and cares for you, or is *cough* a decent human being, will be cool if you want to go slow.

Just recently I met a new cute fuck buddy with a traumatic backstory. They said, "You're hot! I'm so nervous! I haven't done this in a long time. Can you take the lead?"

I said, "I'll go first but you have the reins! Your pleasure is super important to me, I want you to be comfy. Anytime you want me to stop or do something differently, I want you to tell me straightaway. Deal?"

I started slow and ran my fingers up their arm, massaged their shoulders. "Can I touch you here? How about here? How does that feel?" Slowly we took off clothes and went new places. When they got so nervous they couldn't speak, I reeled it back until they relaxed. I don't want to play with someone who's not having a good time! Most importantly — when they squeaked out "I think that's enough for tonight," I STOPPED. Immediately! No questions asked! We cuddled and I petted their hair. Because we built a foundation of trust, the next time we played we were able to explore even more. They spoke past their shyness because they knew I would listen.

What you say is, "You're a babe! I'm a babe! I want to do this, but I'm pretty nervous. I think you have more experience than me. Let's go slow, and we can show each other what we like?"

No partner needs your full history. Or a litany of your woes and triggers. Because the underlying message of that is — you're apologizing. And you don't need to! You don't need to justify why or who you are. You can set any boundary you like and that boundary deserves to be respected. Walk out on anyone who makes you feel like shit! You're a fucking babe JUST AS YOU ARE. Treat yourself like one! State your limits clearly, and that's that.

In bed... talk, talk, talk. "Mmm that's amazing!" ... "Huh" ... "A little to the left" ... "I'm not super into that, let's try something else!" Talking does several things: it distracts your brain so you're less anxious about feeling ugly, gross, shy and inexperienced. It builds up trust when you see your partner respond to you. It also cycles you quickly into new behaviors, because you're getting immediate feedback on what's working and what's not. (If you're not used to vocalizing, try it while you masturbate!)

Lots of queers would *luvvv* to train a newbie. Find yourself a daddy, mommy or bear!
posted by fritillary at 11:30 PM on July 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

I am a bisexual male, turning 26 soon, and I am actively dating people. However, I have a problem...I have "intimacy issues," and I feel like I am too old to be dealing with this and have no legitimate excuse for having them.

26 is hella young still, and anybody (but anybody!) can have issues around intimacy. The good news is that when you figure out how to address them with confidence and security in yourself, and find someone/people who will accommodate that with grace and understanding -- which just about anybody decent will -- well.. it's hot as hell!
posted by Drexen at 4:05 AM on July 3, 2015

Response by poster: If you mean a sex surrogate

I don't, I just meant a therapist whose job it is to focus on sexual issues specifically. I thought that was a thing but that they aren't necessarily covered by insurance. Anyway, I guess the issues are complex enough to address with a more general therapist if I decide to go that route. These answers and other conversation I've been having are helping me reframe my thinking on this topic though, so I may not need to do that.

What does 'sexually normal' mean to you? What sorts of expectations do you feel other people have?

"Sexually normal" to me means having a regular, active sex life, enjoying sex, not carrying around a lot of psychological baggage about it, being able to have sex with someone you're attracted to shortly after meeting them. I feel like most people have these expectations out of me. For context, I have more experience with men and not that much with women, which is a whole issue on its own. But a few examples: I'm expected to be into anal one way or another, if a guy starts fingering me without asking I'm expected to enjoy it (I don't), I'm expected to have an erection at all times while being intimate, I'm expected to be able to perform oral sex without having a gag reflex and also to swallow. If I have trouble with any of this, I am a prude or have "issues" or am supposed to feel guilty, regardless of whether they actually give me a hard time about it or not. Some of this may be in my head but it's what my experience reflects. For example, I was in a 2-month relationship earlier this year with a guy who I thought was on the same page as me when I tried to work this stuff out, but he turned out to be building resentment for me over time while patting himself on the back for being so "good" about dealing with my issues. I've had a few other negative experiences since then.

Also, are you looking for short-term relationships, or for something with more long-term potential? You mention that you feel like you can't trust people enough to be intimate with them -- are these bad experiences you've mentioned the product of short-term things, flings, etc.?

I am not looking for anything specifically. I wouldn't be against a long-term relationship. A super short-term relationship doesn't really interest me right now, so I would want to take it slow and make sure we are truly compatible before making a commitment. I'm just casually dating and getting to know people, but I want to be able to have *somewhat* casual sex as well without it being an issue, because I feel like in today's dating culture there is a huge expectation that you need to do that sort of thing first. And my bad experiences are numerous in their origin, some of them were from relationships (like the one mentioned above) that ultimately were short-term but didn't have that as the original intention...they probably moved way too fast. Some were from more casual situations, the results of bad decisions and communication. I've learned some harsh lessons about boundaries recently, and I do at least feel empowered to walk away from a situation that I'm not comfortable with, so that's good. Now the issue can I move towards comfort with new people that I actually want to spend time with. I want to enjoy sexual activity without so many hang-ups about it.
posted by cosmicbeast at 9:32 AM on July 3, 2015

Best answer: > I feel like anyone I get involved with is going to expect that I am more experienced than I am

Not here. No expectations at all. People have different paces.
Sometimes it's personal, sometimes it's happenstance (married young, not much exploration, separated in late 20s, 30s).

I've had people be as upfront as saying "Your hands are great, but I don't want anything to do with your dick." Not the most tactful, but she knew who she was talking to, and it was fine.

But at the same time, I get the whole "back-patting for being patient" thing. I have, in the past, overstated my patience, and not been honest with myself, to no good end. Alas, the only cure for self-deception is experience on one end or the other.

There are a lot of resources out there for negotiation. Yes/no/maybe is great..

If applicable, maybe it's possible to re-frame "hangups" as likes. If you don't like x, maybe you *want* y.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 10:08 AM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The examples you're mentioning as being problems are things that would be in no way expected in my community. If someone starts playing with my ass and I ask them to stop, they immediately apologize for example; we both view it as them crossing a boundary they should have asked about, not as me being a prude. And while it may not be men's FAVORITE way to get head, no one has ever complained because I use a hand on the lower part of their shaft instead of trying to take the whole thing in my mouth.

It could be that in your community these things are more expected, it could be the people you've been with are kind of jerks, it could be that you're oversensitive about your perceived inexperience. I suspect it's a combination of all three.

If you're comfortable negotiating this stuff while you're naked, I don't think it's anything you need to "disclose" upfront. But it sounds like in your situation, once things start to move along but before you're naked, saying something like "I don't do anal until I'm with someone for a while" might do the trick. And if they have a problem with that, they're not for you.
posted by metasarah at 7:10 AM on July 5, 2015

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