Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Tell Someone We’re NEVER Having Sex?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a bisexual woman in my early 20s who’s moving to a new place where I’m going to be hanging out with lovely cool nerds, some of whom I might want to date?

Things are going pretty well, with one lingering problem: in my last relationship (… which was also my first), I found out that any sort of penetration (v) for me is horribly, soul-crushingly painful. (Before you suggest anything… look, we tried it all. Just take my word here.)

The desire is there, but the pain is worse than a rib tattoo and there’s also a sense of “something has gone horribly wrong” that takes the mood out back and shoots it like Old Yeller. Right now, I’m in a place where women’s health sucks. The state pushes abstinence-only sex-ed, and even the Planned Parenthood I went to to get this checked out basically tested me for STDs (all clear, at least), said “man, that’s some weird pain,” and shrugged. Some health digging later, I’ve got the possibilities narrowed down, and the most likely culprit is Vaginismus, an involuntary contraction of the muscles that sometimes happens without a clear cause.

Now, you’re not a real doctor, so let me cut to the meat of the question. Even ignoring the move, getting settled in, medical costs, scheduling, etc… most solutions out there will take some months to do their thing, if everything goes smoothly and this is what I think it is.

However, I would really like to find my way to the dating scene and hold hands and kiss and have sex (that doesn’t include penetration) very soon!

Now how the hell do I break this to potential partners?

I’m goddamn terrified of one of them thinking I’m lying and subjecting me to horrible pain in a vulnerable moment, and I don’t want to present this as an “oh, well… someday” thing, because I don’t want someone sticking around for what could be rather than what’s there in the moment. And also there’s my anxiety brain whispering that THIS is why she cheated on me, even when I know very well that my anxiety brain is full of some hot bulls


When do I tell someone that a kind-of-expected-and-easy-for-most-people sex act is 100% off the table? Sometime between the second date and right before? In an ideal world, everyone would be cool, but unfortunately, there are Stealth Assholes and folk who never did the supplemental sex-ed and think penetration is supposed to hurt.

Not to mention potential hurtful gossip and stigma if I really misjudge someone.

Sorry, Dr. NerdLove, but this has been weighing on me.


The Spirit is Willing, but the Flesh isn’t Having It

DEAR THE SPIRIT IS WILLING: This is a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is that, unfortunately, there’re a lot of folks for whom penetrative, PIV sex is a must-have. Anyone going into a relationship with you is going to have to go in with the understanding that the possibility of penetrative sex is months or possibly years down the line, if ever. That’s going to be a deal breaker for a lot of folks.

The good news is that there are people out there who don’t necessarily want or prioritize penetration, and there’re others who’ll be cool with either waiting or expanding their sexual horizons beyond the standard acts. Now these folks may be a little thin on the ground, but they are out there. And in what is, admittedly, a mixed blessing: your condition is going to make finding them a lot easier. See, you have what’s known as a Sorting Hat condition. When you tell somebody that penetration is off the table – no ifs, ands, maybe butts – you’re telling them one thing about yourself. It’s a singular fact in the matrix of who you are.

How they respond to that information is going to tell you everything you need to know about them. You’re going to get the whiners. You’re going to get the problem solvers, the ones (men, especially) who think they’ve got the key to getting what they want (and, incidentally, “fixing” you). There’ll be the folks who saythey’re cool with it but will keep nudging up against your boundaries because it can’t be THAT bad, can it? There will be the ones who’ll start getting impatient.

But there’ll also be the ones who understand, the ones who think you’re awesome and are willing to take a lack of PIV sex as a price-of-entry to the relationship. These are going to be your okapi – often hard to find, thought to be legendary but actually out there if you go looking.

So where do you FIND said okapi?

Well, ideally you want to look in places where you’re most likely to find folks who’ve expanded their definitions of what they consider “sex”. You also want to look in places where people are used to negotiating boundaries or which acts are acceptable and which ones aren’t. The kink community may be a good place to start. Even if you’re not necessarily kinky yourself, the safe and trustworthy kinksters in the scene are folks who are used to different sexual practices that may or may not involve penetration, and are used to agreeing to what is and isn’t on the table. You’re also more likely to find people who’re open-minded about sex in general and better able to use their words. It’s also fairly common practice to vet potential play partners within the community, which can help weed out folks who may think that your objections are optional.

But that FetLife and munches aren’t the only places you can look for partners. Online dating may well be your friend here… but this is an area where you’ll need to disclose what is or isn’t on the table right up front. Possibly in your profile, almost definitely before you meet in person. While it may feel a little weird to bring up sex before you know for sure that you’d want to sleep with that person, the last thing you want to do is waste your time with someone who’s going to be fundamentally incompatible with you. And as for people you meet in person? Well… that’s an area where you’ll want to have an Awkward Conversation early on. You’ll want to get comfortable giving what’s known as the safe-sex elevator speech: the elevator pitch of your must haves, your can do’s and absolute no’s. “Here’s what I’m up for tonight, here’s what turns me on, here’s what I need to get off, here’s what I absolutely cannot do… now how about you?” The more comfortable you are with talking about this, openly and honestly and without shame, the more you’ll not just find people who are down for what you’ve got to offer, but the more you’ll be encouraging others to open up and be clear.

Meanwhile: just as you’ll need partners who have an expansive definition of sex, it’ll be good for you to start getting creative with sex as well. There’re all kinds of options for happy fun naked time that don’t involve penetration… and even some that do. Some are obvious; mutual masturbation, frottage, oral sex, anal sex and so on, but the list doesn’t end there. Don’t forget that masturbation sleeves like Fleshlights and Tenga are out there; these can be incorporated in the bedroom as a way for your partner have penetrative sex with you, without causing you massive amounts of pain in the process.

And the benefit of getting conversant with all of these other ways of getting you and your partner off means that you’re going to have so much more to offer a partner than someone who’s ideas of sex are standard and common. Sex with you will never be boring, and it may well encourage them to broaden their own horizons in the meantime. That’s a pretty awesome thing to be able to offer future partners.

Just remember: when you do roll this out to future partners, don’t explain it like you’re broken or that there’s something wrong with you. This isn’t something to be ashamed of, nor is it a deep dark secret that you have lurking in the background. It’s part of who you are and what’s made you the woman you are today. And if someone isn’t going to be ok with that? Then they’ve just let you know that they’re not right for you.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (; or to his email,