I am a 21-year straight man currently in my third year at university.
I have never had sex or kissed anyone but I don’t think I am particularly insecure about this fact. I have always been a late developer and I don’t particularly like approaching people on nights out. Though a lack of attention has made me feel a bit anxious at times, I don’t actually really care.
The issue is that a lot of my friends have had a lot more experience with relationships than I have and I didn’t want them to judge me for not having experienced this. My solution over the last few years has essentially been to lie to my friends about my sexual and relationship experience. Most of my friends think I have had sex two or three times. However, recently I have started to feel quite insecure about this and I don’t know what to do. The obvious solution would be to just get with someone in a club so my friends could see, and that way the questions would basically stop – but that is easier said than done.
I’m not very tall (5″9), of Asian descent (which does not help on dating apps or in nightclubs) and not very good at talking to girls I find attractive (I mainly talk to them as if they are a friend, and I think this is probably my biggest problem). The only solution I can think of at the moment is to go to the gym so that I look a bit better and dress well.
At the heart of your question is the difficulties that we face in how we find our sexual selves in the face of the powerful messages we receive about sex, relationships, and ourselves.
For you, these messages are living and breathing in your friends who you worry will judge you. Instead of being real with them, you are considering making yourself have public sexual experiences with people in order to demonstrate something. This doesn’t sound like you are treating yourself with care, let alone the people you imagine getting off with in a club.
The easy thing for me to say is that you should simply not worry about being judged, and tell your friends the truth. However, the shame people face for either not having sex, or having too much sex, or the wrong kind of sex, or sex with the wrong people, means it is not easy to talk about. If our friends are not kind they might not be very accepting. We might monitor and punish ourselves too.
Your friends are a source of judgement for you here; but because you haven’t said anything, you are fixing them in a position where they can’t be anything else. You could say something like: “look I was trying to be the big man and say I’ve had sex and I haven’t. Sorry about that.” Maybe they will take the piss (about what you lied about or that you lied to them), but it also gives them the chance to support you.
They may well appreciate your honesty. Making yourself vulnerable like this gives everyone permission to do the same too. For many, this shared vulnerability is the path to intimacy and deep friendships. You might want to start with those who you trust the most (or who do know). Keep the circle of people who know small to begin with, then get their support about how to tell others (if you want). If this doesn’t feel possible, because your friends haven’t created the right vibe where you can have real conversations, then it’s okay to just not tell them too.
So you don’t have to tell your friends, and you don’t have to prove yourself by pulling someone in a club. What can you do instead?
The beginning of your email reveals a caring voice which I would encourage you to listen to more. Do you actually want to have sex and relationships? There is increasing awareness and acceptance of asexuality and aromanticism. Perhaps you might want to think about where you are on these scales? Think broadly about what kinds of relationships you value and what you value in yourself too.
If, after listening closely to your caring self, you decide that you might be curious about relationships after all, great. There are lots and lots of ways that you can make new connections. There might be people on your course that you like, or societies, unions or organisations you can be a part of. Even if they aren’t romantic connections they might be friendships (and don’t be sniffy about friendships, a friendship is a wonderful thing). Think about how you made the friends you have now. Perhaps you can draw on this to reflect on the skills you do have in co-creating relationships.
My general advice about chatting to people is to just be curious about how the chat unfolds between you. Try and enjoy it and tune into what is happening in your body, really paying attention to what they are saying, noticing your own tingling feelings of excitement or interest. Don’t try to achieve a goal, but allow it to play out. If you find them attractive, say so. Remember: a lot of people don’t have the skills or abilities to chat to someone in a club (and often, people are just there to dance).
Next time you go clubbing, maybe just go to dance instead of to pull. Moving your body, with a dancefloor full of other people, feeling the music going through you can feel amazing. It’s deeply embodied, you can get lost in the music, there’s a sense of flow, and also the possibility of collective joy. Getting out of your head and connecting to your whole body, might reveal some new ways of seeing yourself, experiencing what else you can do, and how others might see you. Going to the gym and getting new clothes might give you some of this too, but be cautious about exercising just to make yourself look more attractive.
And yes, dating platforms are an option. The worst of them invite us to monitor ourselves and others by highly defined and regulated categories. These individuated profiles just tell us about someone’s exchange value in a dating marketplace but teach us nothing about the people behind them, or our desires. They also reduce us to our most basic and unkind. Which, yes, results in racial discrimination and problematic attitudes to height and masculinity.
So I’d encourage you to soften your gaze when you consider who you are and why people might desire you. Some dating websites give you far more scope to tell a story about yourself (for example OkCupid) and for others to tell you about them.
Writing and rewriting yourself like this, as well as paying attention to what else you might be, is the work of the self. Be curious, be brave, and try and enjoy it.
Justin Hancock writes about sex and relationships for people aged 14+ at BISH and hosts the 18+ podcast Culture Sex Relationships.