Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Get Over My Anxiety about Being A Virgin?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m in my first new relationship in 10 years and things are going really great! We’ve been together for over 3 months now and we really love and care about each other. However, due to the pandemic situation, we aren’t doing anything physical yet. As a result, there’s been a lot of talking about sex, what we like/don’t, and definitely sexting which has all been great to do with each other in the meantime!

The thing is, I’m a virgin and my girlfriend is not. This, in itself, doesn’t bother me at all, especially when we’re both mid-late 20’s. To her credit, she has been incredibly supportive and understanding of any insecurities I have about losing my virginity, which has been so good for me. Luckily, we seem to be very compatible sexually too!

The hang-up I’m having comes from the conversations we’ve had about sex and what she likes and wants to do in bed. Naturally, much of what I’ve learned about her in this area comes from things she’s done with her ex. My girlfriend has only expressed having good sexual experiences, which is definitely music to my ears for her sake. But when I look at myself, someone with no experience (eager as they are to learn and pleasure their partner), I find myself feeling like I won’t be able to satisfy her as well has her ex did. I’m not even specifically talking about our first time, more just in general.

I haven’t really talked to her about this issue specifically because I know what she’ll say: that she loves me and she’s not comparing me to her ex like that. And I believe her! She also has never made any comments specifically about “how great he was” or anything of the sort. And she definitely does not deserve to be asked about it from me either. But there’s just something within me that wants to prove to myself (and kind of to her as well) that I can be her best partner; better than that last guy.

What can I tell myself to stop worrying about being the “best” when I know there’s no way of knowing (unless she tells me herself one day)?

– The Competitive Novice

DEAR THE COMPETITIVE NOVICE: First of all TCN: congratulations on your new relationship! Your girlfriend sounds awesome, and a great match for you… especially as your first time.

It’s just a shame that your jerk-brain is making you feel a little insecure about things. But thing is… that’s all it is: your jerk brain and random feelings, not truth or prophecy. And to be perfectly fair, that’s a really common insecurity. A lot of folks — mostly men, but definitely women and non-binary people too — worry that being a virgin means that they’re going to be at a disadvantage when it comes to satisfying their partner. This is especially true if their partner has had a long or varied dating history; they worry that their lack of experience is going to mean that they couldn’t possibly measure up in some way.

But that’s not true at all.

Now one of the reasons for this is that people tend to get very rules-lawyer-y about virginity and treat penetration as the end-all/be-all of losing one’s virginity. If you didn’t get your end in — or have someone get inside of you — then it doesn’t “count”. But a lot of folks who are virgins aren’t complete blank slates, who’ve never been physical with a partner at all. Lots of people may never have had penetrative sex but have still had or performed oral sex, mutual masturbation or any number of other sex acts and are, in fact, quite good at them.

(And if penis-in-vagina penetration is your end-all/be-all for “losing one’s virginity”… well, there’re a lot of gay men and lesbians who are lifelong virgins… but still have a hell of a lot of sex.)

But the other reason is that good sex isn’t about the numbers. A person could have partners that number into the triple or quadruple digits… but still suck in bed. Yes, they’ve had a lot of sex, but rarely with the same person more than once. Meanwhile, a person could be a provider of mind-blowing orgasms, even though you can count the total number of partners they’ve had on the fingers of one hand with plenty to spare. That’s because great sex isn’t about pure technique or how many times you’ve inserted Tab A into Slot B; it’s about the connection between you and the person you’re sleeping with. It’s about paying attention to your partner — both what they’re saying, but also how they’re responding. It’s about learning their cues, their preferences and just what they like and when. And it’s about being willing to discuss what you’re into, what you need, what you’d like to try, what are your “maybes” and your hard “no’s”. These are all things that take time, intimacy and communication.

And that, TCN, is where you’re actually doing everything right. In fact, if I’m being perfectly honest TCN, you’re already doing everything that I’d be telling you to do. The fact that you and she have been having these conversations and sexting back and forth and talking about the fact that hey, you don’t have much experience in this particular arena are all part of how you set yourself up for some great sex when you both feel like you’re ready.

But the thing that you need to keep in mind is that the part that’s screwing you up isn’t about the likelihood of how good the sex will or won’t be — either for your first time or overall. What’s getting you is your ego. You seem to be coming at this like you have something to prove… almost like you want to compensate for being a virgin in your 20s. So hey, if you can show that you’re some f--k-prodigy, wouldn’t that be awesome? Yes, except not really. Because here’s the thing: you have nothing to prove, man. You aren’t in competition with anyone else — not her last boyfriend, not other dudes she may have gone on dates with before you, not anyone. You know this because hey, she’s dating you. You can stop pitching, you’ve already made the sale. It’s fait accompli at this point, all over but the squishy noises. What’s going to happen next is going to be you and her getting to know each other physically, getting to know each other’s bodies and responses and making it all work. And that’s going to be a collaborative exercise, not a case of your standing on stage and being told “alright, show me what you can do, stud.” The physical aspect of every relationship is different, and getting to know each other means that you’re both going from off-the-rack to bespoke f--king. That’s something the two of you do together, not something that one does and the other gives a rating to. It’s a holistic endeavor, something that’s about the both of you.

Y’know. Kind of like your relationship overall.

What you need to do is worry less about your ranking and focus more on being present in the moment. And that means not just when you two can get together for some physical time but while you’re flirting and sexting and getting each other rev’d up. The more you put your attention on that moment, not some theoretical dick-measuring future, the better the connection will be between you and your girlfriend… and the better the sex will be too.

Good luck.

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