Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Stop Being Envious of Other Couples?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am a 22 year old heterosexual guy. For context, I never had a sexual and/or romantic relationship, or any sexual experience of any kind. “Nevertheless” I still consider myself to be fairly sex-positive. Over the last few years I have come across a lot of sex-positivity related content and by now, I think I get most of it: comprehensive sex-education is fundamental, consent is key, I am not entitled to any sexual or romantic attention from anyone, the sex a woman is having has no bearing on her “respectability”, the sex a man has is not a testament to his worth or to the value of his character, and I should not care about other people’s romantic and sexual endeavors.

Yet it seems some part of my brain didn’t get the memo. Whenever I see a couple (whether fictional or real) displaying affection/intimacy, I can’t help but feel varying degrees of resentment and bitterness. It has gotten so strong that even my enjoyment of fiction has been affected: I skipped the Witcher (books, games and TV) series because I get annoyed at how much sexual and romantic attention the main protagonist gets. It may seem inconsequential, but it’s really becoming quite pervasive.

The strange part is, I think I might have had a healthier outlook on the subject in my teenage years, despite completely lacking the “theoretical” knowledge I have now (for example I only learned about consent around age 18, on the Internet). In high school I was attracted to one of my classmates and tried to “seduce” her (as much as socially incompetent and emotionally unintelligent teenager can). When she ended up hooking with someone else, sure I was jealous, but it was really a “the lucky bastard did what I wish I could do” jealousy rather than the bitterness and borderline-hateful envy 22 year-old me would have felt.

The goal would be to attain a mindset in which my lack of sexual and romantic relationships doesn’t taint my perception of others and sexuality in general. There are two options that I feel I should get out of the way first:

- buy the services of a sex-worker to “get it out of my system”. I live in a country where it is legal and could probably do it without too much hassle if I tried. On the other hand, I realize a sex-worker’s job is not to ride negative mindsets out of their clients (to paraphrase one of your videos), and that a x-minutes session of body-part contact probably won’t solve the issue.

- go to therapy. I mention it because with everything I said so far, one would be forgiven to think that I am an “incel”, but I doubt that that description suits me. Apart from what I said above, I would say I am “normal” (in the statistical sense, not the normal=good abnormal=bad sense) enough, with hobbies I (more or less) keep up with and an education that is (more or less) advancing. So I don’t really see what a therapist can do, and I don’t want to waste the time of a therapist who has more pressing patient to attend to. Plus therapy isn’t cheap.

So here comes my question: how does one get rid of such a mindset regarding sexuality and women, before it becomes a hindrance to other people’s well-being and my peace of mind?

Thank you for your answer and your work in general.

Trying to Stay Positive

DEAR TRYING TO STAY POSITIVE: OK there’s a lot to unpack here, TTSP, but I think we need to start with just what sex positivity is. A lot of people toss around the phrase “sex positive” without actually understanding it or what it means. In fact, I’ve seen people try to use being sex positive as a way of coercing people into unwanted sexual activity; “if you were really sex positive, you’d go down on me me/ have that threesome I want/ sleep with someone else and let me watch,” etc. I’ve also seen people insist that sex-positivity means being willing to sleep with people right off the bat, being open to sexual activities that they don’t actually like, or to have sex with anyone who asks.

That — as the meme goes — isn’t how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

At its core, sex positivity is the belief that sex is natural and healthy, that individuals have the right to the consensual and pleasurable sexual activity they want… including not having sex, if that’s what they’re up for. Sex positivity in general covers things like comprehensive sexual education, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, safe sex practices and enthusiastic consent.

Notice very carefully that this says absolutely nothing about not being envious of other people. It would be one thing if, for example, you were judging someone for having had lots of wild crazy sex; that’s being sex-negative. Similarly, if you were upset that your partner had sex before you and you couldn’t get over that… that’s being sex-negative. But you can be sex positive and still have a sad that you’re not getting laid. The issue there isn’t that “sex is bad” or “they’re bad for having had sex I don’t approve of”, but that you wish you were having an experience other folks had or are having.  But at the same time… there’s a rather profound gulf between wishing you were the person getting lucky and getting angry or actively upset about it. That may not have anything to do with sex positivity, but it’s also profoundly not healthy. Bitterness and resentment aren’t really healthy under the best of circumstances. If you don’t deal with them, they have a tendency to curdle in the soul and lead to hate and suffering — your own and other people’s.

And if things are bad enough that Geralt getting together with folks makes you upset… well, that’s pretty bad.

Thankfully, you’re also self-aware enough to recognize that this is a problem. That’s good; as the saying goes, the first step is acknowledging that you have a problem. The next step is figuring out what to do about it. Now as I’ve told people before: just getting laid isn’t going to solve your problem. While I’m all in favor of visiting sex-workers if that’s your speed, that’s not going to actually solve your problem. Almost every time someone writes in complaining about the fact that they’re still a virgin, the issue is never the fact that they haven’t had sex. The issue is what they associate with losing their virginity: the sense of having been “chosen” or found “worthy” enough for a woman to sleep with them. Except — as I’ve said many times before — sex isn’t about “worthiness”. Women aren’t Mjolnir, and they aren’t wearing panties that read “whomever should get into these pants, should they be worthy, shall have the power of SCORE”.

(And if they are, then they owe me royalties.)

Women have sex for as many reasons as men do. Sometimes it’s because they want the validation of feeling desired. Other times it’s because they’re bored and there’s nothing else to do. Sometimes it’s because they love their partner and want to express that love physically, and other times it’s because they’re horny and the person they sleep with is the nearest, least-objectionable available warm body.

While I’m sure you’d have an enjoyable time if you went with an escort, I seriously doubt that it would actually make you feel better about things. In fact, I suspect it would make things worse; you would feel like you somehow “cheated” or that this didn’t mean anything or that the escort was looking down on you or what-have-you. I think the odds are better that, post-orgasm, you’d start feeling more bitter because you “had” to pay for it instead of “earning” it… somehow.

And just between you, me, and everyone reading this… I think we both know that the answer here is “go to therapy”. The fact that you have hobbies, that you’ve got a good education or that you’re statistically smack dab in the median doesn’t mean that you don’t need to talk to a therapist. The issue isn’t whether you’re abnormal or not, the issue is that you’ve got this kernel of resentment in you that’s only growing. Like I said: if the fact that fictional characters are having sex is enough to upset you… well, it’s definitely time to talk to someone. The fact that there’re people out there with worse or more more dire issues doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to therapy. Your going to talk to somebody and get help isn’t wasting the therapists’ time… not unless you don’t actually commit to trying to get better. If all you do is sit in their office and deflect or refuse to participate, then you would be wasting their time. And yours, for that matter.

But the fact of the matter is that you’re wanting to deal with this mindset regarding sex and sexuality is a good thing. But if you’re going to do so, then you need to actually do the work. I strongly suggest that you find a sex-positive therapist who can help you with your issues. Therapy may not be cheap… but it’s going to be a lot cheaper to address this issue now, while you still recognize that it’s a problem, than it will be months or years down the line when you’ve turned to dodgy subreddits or horrific right-wing YouTube channels that pretend to want to help you but only want to radicalize you and use your anger for their purposes instead.

Talk to a therapist, TTSP. The sooner you deal with this, the happier — and healthier — you’ll be overall.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com