Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

I Paid My Friends for Nudes. Does That Make Me Creepy?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a regular reader of your column, and while we may not agree on everything, I value the genuine empathy you have for your audience and thank you for taking my message.

I’m a 26 year old virgin for a number of reasons: a conservative upbringing, delayed interest in the opposite sex, body image issues to name a few. Despite my issues with women, I have strong relationships with my family, several close friends, and a fascinating job on Wall Street where I feel highly valued by my superiors and colleagues.

While I initially started college far from home and generally had the “traditional college experience” my freshman year, after a year, complications relating to homesickness, an ill (but long since recovered) relative and some financial concerns resulted in me transferring to a state university where I commuted from home and worked about 30 hours a week on top of that. I didn’t get socially involved at my new school, aside from a couple networking clubs relating to my major/career path.

Since graduating college, I’ve dealt with the same increased isolation typical of most people my age. Work keeps me fairly busy (typically 50-60 hours per week in addition to my commute back home) and my friends have largely scattered across the country and around the world. I’m by no means unique in this regard.

About two years ago, I met a young woman (let’s call her Peach) through a video game discussion forum and we initially formed a casual virtual friendship through Twitter and Snapchat. Our chats were platonic at first, about common interests including gaming, music and politics; over time, she virtually introduced me to one of her close IRL friends (let’s call her Zelda) and I started talking to both of them. While I find both of them attractive and intelligent, I know they live on the other side of the country, so nothing would realistically happen with either. Not to mention, both are about 4 years younger than me.

A little over a year ago, I was home alone late on a Friday night when I messaged Zelda randomly. In our conversation, she complained about the struggle of being a broke college student during the holiday season, when I got the nefarious idea that maybe I could help her out. I don’t think she expected me to proposition her that way, but I offered her money to sext and trade pictures with me and she agreed. I figured that word would get out to Peach sooner rather than later, so I ended up making her the same offer.

Since then, in addition to our regular conversations, I typically sext with both of them (individually) about once a month, and while it’s surely not money I can’t afford to lose, I’ve spent several hundred dollars on this over the past year.

I’m not under any delusions that anything would come out of this other than me blowing off steam. Both of them ask me for advice about guys, and I know that they’re both actively dating and hooking up (albeit with some social awkwardness) at their respective colleges. They’ve been up front with me that they’re in this primarily for the financial incentive. They’ve told me there would be no hard feelings if I was to stop, although I would probably begin to break contact with them in order to move forward.

I know within my heart that I need to stop this, that it goes against the values I wish to have, and I feel guilty as hell for even starting. I feel entitled and exploitative; moreover, I’m afraid that if I should ever find myself become an A-list name for any reason, even with my current track record, I’m on the fast track to being #MeTooed. Further, since we all know one another’s names and whatever details we share via Twitter, it’s possible that either of them (if they were so inclined) could hold this over my head.

At the same time, I attribute my inexperience as a contributing factor to this. While I know I shouldn’t feel this way and that it’s antiquated, like most adult virgins, I realize I subconsciously feel like less of a man until I prove that I can attract a woman. Although I don’t generally feel lonely in my regular life – I keep myself busy with work, friends, the gym, movies, volunteering and the like – I couldn’t shake the late night romantic loneliness and horniness, so I kept going back to the well in order to somewhat try and fill the void.

It’s recently dawned on me that Peach and Zelda probably think I’m pathetic or laugh at me behind my back, and I’m quickly finding myself able to divorce the fantasies from the reality of my situation. More importantly, I’m afraid that they only agreed to do this because I made them nervous, uncomfortable, etc and somehow creep them out. I would rather not make any woman scared in my presence going forward.

This finally brings me to my question: assuming I’m able to break this habit and not relapse or try it again with another woman, how do I move forward? Can I really just move on with my life and pretend this never happened with women I meet in the future? If I confess this to someone I date in the future, I assume she’d take off running, that I’d be branded a pathetic creep, or worse yet, predatory. I’m afraid to even bring this up with friends or parents, let alone someone I know less intimately.

When I brought this up with Peach and Zelda, they suggested I forgive myself and just learn from it which doesn’t help me much from a tangible standpoint. I’ve considered volunteering with a women’s shelter or the like in the future, but I feel people would assume I’m there for the wrong reasons.

I realize I’m rambling here, but my ultimate question is how do I repent? Do I even deserve another shot at dating? If so, how long should I wait?

Thanks for all you do,

New Decade, New Me

DEAR NEW DECADE, NEW ME: So there’s a lot to unpack here, NDME, but I think we can start with this simple truth: you are really blowing s

t out of proportion here. You’re letting your weird feelings over this twist everything up into really bizarre places and you’re ultimately putting together 1 + 1 and getting “fish”.

Here’s what happens if we strip out your feelings of guilt and shame: you asked two friends — friends who were having financial issues during the holiday season — if they were interested in a specific form of sex work. They decided that they were ok with this and since then you’ve been giving them money in exchange for their services.

That’s it.

This isn’t nearly as big of a deal as you’re making, my dude. Things might’ve potentially gotten awkward if Peach and Zelda weren’t ok with the idea, but hey, you got lucky on that score. You didn’t coerce anyone into doing something they didn’t want to do, you’re not exploiting anyone (at least, any more than capitalism exploits everyone) and you’re still on good terms with everyone involved. Everyone’s clear on what this means — you’re getting sexy texts and pictures, they’re getting money — everyone’s cool with the arrangement and they’re totally fine with things if you want to stop.

I mean, fundamentally speaking, this isn’t really different from signing onto a cosplayer’s Patreon because they do lewds and nudes or paying to be part of a porn star’s private Snapchats. The only real difference here is that you’re the one who suggested it to them first. Which, again: potentially awkward, but not entirely out of bounds depending on the relationship you have with them and the things they’re into and/or ok with. I’ve known plenty of folks who’ve decided to go into various forms of sex-work — camming, stripping, lewd cosplay — for a multitude of reasons. Some folks did it for the money, some did it for the thrills, some did it because it’s a way they express their sexuality… but for a lot of them, it took someone else bringing up the idea first.

Seeing as Peach and Zelda cool with the arrangement, are still cool with you and are also giving you the go ahead if you feel like you need to stop, I think you can let yourself off the hook. Because, honestly? The issues you’re having have far more to do with how you are viewing yourself than the situation.

I mean, all of this is pretty clearly coming from a place of self-loathing. The idea that Peach and Zelda only did this because you made them feel nervous is honestly kind of absurd on the face of it. If they were creeped out by you or felt weird about it, they wouldn’t have gone along with it in the first place and they sure as hell wouldn’t be continuing to keep a fairly normal friendship with you outside of it. They could’ve shut you down, told you to f

k off, blocked you and otherwise made it abundantly clear that they weren’t down with this. It’s not like you were holding a gun to their head, threatening to release the pics they already sent or were the only thing standing between them and penury. This was — and continues to be — an entirely voluntary and by all accounts, completely mutually consensual relationship.

At the same time, you’re convinced that they’re laughing at you behind your back or that they think you’re pathetic. I mean… which is it? Are they laughing at you, or are they creeped out by you and doing this under duress in order to keep you sweet?

But more to the point: sex workers generally don’t think of their clients as sad or pathetic or laughable. For the most part, it’s the same as any customer/provider relationship, and many folks doing sex-work have legitimate affection for their regulars, not disdain and pity.

(Well, unless you’re actually paying for that, but seeing as you’re not paying for a findom relationship, that’s a different ball of wax entirely).

Frankly, I think you might do well to follow various sex-workers on Twitter. Getting a better feel for them on the whole, seeing them as people with jobs and how they talk about their clients and customers might help change your perspective on all of this.

On the same tip, you’ve apparently created this idea that they hate you and might blackmail you or decide to just out you because F

k YOU THAT’S why out of whole cloth. Ignoring the fact that outing you would also out them — and society is FAR harsher on women who are sexual or perform sex work than it is on the guys involved — they’ve given you no reason to think this would ever cross their minds. They’ve told you that it’s totally fine if you decide you need to stop and they’ve told you that you should forgive yourself about this. These are not the actions of blackmailers-in-potentia, they’re the actions of people who are letting you know that everything’s fine.

Similarly, you’re really getting the point of the #MeToo movement wrong. #MeToo isn’t about demolishing guys who were a little awkward, asked out someone who wasn’t interested or punishing people who engaged in a consensual relationship involving sex-work. It’s about women drawing attention to how ubiquitous sexual assault and sexual harassment is in our society and how survivors are shamed into silence. It’s quite literally people speaking up and saying “Not only do I believe this person but this happened to me, too”. Your guilt — guilt that’s apparently unfounded — has blown all of this up to epic proportions when ultimately it’s having all of the impact of a gentle fart in your life and some extra spending cash in theirs.

So with all of this in mind, what should you do?

Well, to start with, I think you should end the financial side of your relationship with them. Not because you’re doing anything wrong, but because, frankly, you’re twisting yourself up in knots over this for no good reason. Ending sexy-Snapchat-for-pay side of your relationship will give you one less thing to be flagellating yourself for. I don’t think you need to end your friendship with them, but you do whatever you gotta do.

But the next thing I think you need to do is stop isolating yourself so much. You mention you’ve got work, you volunteer, you’ve got your friends and so-forth… but it doesn’t sound like you’re actually dating or trying to meet people to date. That, I think, is something you may want to prioritize, if only to help you feel less lonely or helpless.

It will also help you learn to forgive yourself, which, straight talk, you need to do. Peach and Zelda are right: forgiving yourself (for something that doesn’t really require forgiveness, but anyway) is going to be more important than whatever performative moral carbon off-set you decide to do.

Part of why you’re feeling guilty about all of this is because you feel like you’ve taken the shortcut on sexual connections; you couldn’t “earn” it, so you decided to “cheat” and that somehow makes you pathetic. But like I’ve told multiple older virgins: the fact that someone’s slept with you doesn’t mean you’ve “earned” anything. Hell, there’re plenty of times that their deciding to sleep with you has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.  The fact that you hooked up with someone you just met at a bar doesn’t mean that you were “chosen”, that you’d “earned” anything or that you were the best possible choice in a room full of dudes. Sometimes the reason why someone slept with you is because you were the nearest, least-objectionable warm body.

You didn’t jump the line or cheat the system by engaging with sex workers,  or even suggesting it to your friends. You just found a way of scratching an itch. The problem is that you’ve decided that this means that you’re the lowest of the low for doing so.

But folks who pay sex-workers aren’t all patheti-sad dudes who can’t get laid any other way. Some have needs that their partners can’t or won’t need, some have fantasies they want realized, some simply want the convenience and the cleanliness of a one-and-done interaction. You were lonely and horny and wanted both a release and a connection. That’s completely understandable. The way you went about it was wrong for you, seeing as how worked up it’s made you, but in and of itself it’s not that big of a deal.

So yes, forgive yourself for this, then go ahead and stuff the whole thing down the memory hole. There’s really no reason to continue flagellating yourself over this or to feel like it’s some deep dark secret you’re obligated to disclose. You didn’t do anything wrong, exploitative or heinous. You helped out some friends financially and got some sexy thrills in exchange. That’s not really a big deal by any stretch of the imagination.

If you feel the need to atone, then here’s your penance: hie thyself over to the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists’ referral directory and find a counselor in your area. Make an appointment with them and spend some time talking with them about your issues surrounding sex and sexuality and guilt. Because honestly: the only person who you’re hurting is you.

And if you’re gonna leave anything from the previous decade behind: that should be it. Now go and sin against yourself no more.

Good luck.

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