DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: This is going to be a question that has been talked about a lot all over the internet; I’m writing this since I trust your judgement more than random dudes on Reddit or whatever.
I’m a straight/cis geeky guy from Finland (so sorry about my possibly weird English). I’m 27 and a virgin by pretty much any standard — that is, no physical or emotional intimacy with anyone ever.
To offer some background, I’ve always been really passionate about (and successful with) my studies, work and hobbies, but for the longest I had some serious social anxiety and probably also some form of depression (but I never sought help for it); for most of my university years I didn’t even have any friends. In early 2015 I started to seriously work on my social skills and style (your site and book have certainly helped me with this!) and seeing a therapist. It was roughly a year ago when I started getting actual compliments from my friends at work, sometimes from random people in bars etc.
So I thought about trying online dating and created a profile on OkCupid. Around here OKC is basically known as a dating site that’s especially popular among people who care about issues like feminism and social justice, and are generally left-wing/green, and this is why I joined OKC too.
I found lots of people who looked awesome based on their profiles (and who had high match percentages with me), but looking at their questions, I would very nearly always find that I have a serious red flag in my answers: any question about dating virgins or dealing with virginity comes up as a conflict or mismatch.
In my area I found *one* (1) woman who had a fair amount of answers and didn’t seem to consider virginity a deal-breaker, but I had a very low match percentage with her for other reasons.
So my virginity is a huge, huge deal. I should mention that apart from some Muslim immigrants, there are basically no people in my country who abstain from sex for religious reasons, which maybe explains why it’s unheard-of to be a virgin in your 20s, unlike in the US. I was really discouraged by this experience and ended up not messaging anyone.
So what should I do? I’m obviously not going to pick up some random girl from a nightclub who is too drunk to notice that I’m inexperienced, nor would I expect to learn anything from an experience like that. Is it unethical to try to seriously date someone while you’re hiding something that you KNOW would be a dealbreaker if they knew?
Never Been Kissed
DEAR NEVER BEEN KISSED: First of all, I want to give you full credit, NBK: you’re doing everything right. You’ve made a lot of improvements to your life and you’re dealing with some of those emotional issues in the best way possible. So, straight up: congratulations. You’ve made a lot of progress, and you should be proud of what you’ve achieved and the work you’ve been putting in. I want to see you continue to improve, so let’s get you over this particular hurdle.
As is frequently common, I think the problem you’re having is different from the problems you think you’re having, NBK. You seem to be having a lot more issues with things in theory rather than in practice. Right now, you’re letting your impression of how people may react get in the way of taking the plunge and starting some conversations. And hey, I get it; you’ve been living with the idea that being a virgin is shameful for a long time and it can seem like these mismatches are giant dealbreakers. To which I would say… maybe they are. But maybe they aren’t.
Now, before I get too deep into the weeds with OKCupid’s system (which, in fairness, gets tweaked fairly often), let’s talk a little about virginity and disclosure.
First: there’s really nothing shameful about being an older virgin. Most of the stigma surrounding virginity tends to spring from toxic ideas surrounding masculinity – though God knows that women get hit with this too. Some people are late bloomers. Some people had life-circumstances that precluded sex or relationships. A very good friend of mine was a virgin until marriage; he and his wife are deliriously happy and have a horde adorable kids now. Life is nothing if not full of wondrous variety.
But here’s the thing: right now, the only person who’s really getting on your case about your virginity… is you. There’s a lot of self-directed shame here, and I think you’ve absorbed a lot of BS myths surrounding being a virgin. You had a later start than people and that’s fine. Life’s not a race and there aren’t any prizes for being on the left side of the loss-of-virginity bell curve. It’s not going to make that much of a difference in your relationships; everyone starts from the same place, and any relationship is a learning process. Your lack of experience is only going to be as much of a detriment as you let it be. Even when it comes to the physical side of things, as long as you’re willing to listen, take directions and be as mindful of your partner’s pleasure as your own, you can still be an amazing lover.
So should you tell people? Or should you conceal it?
As a general rule, I’m pro-disclosure. If there’s something about you that might be polarizing – which could be anything from severe food allergies, to having kids, to being in an open relationship, to whether you have herpes – then yes, I usually suggest being up front about it and mentioning it so that people can make informed decisions about whether or not they may want to date you.
I’m also conscious that stigma is a thing and can often cause people to recoil reflexively from folks who might be a great partner if the first person didn’t have that knee-jerk reaction. So while I’m pro-disclosure, I tend to give a certain amount of wiggle-room. I don’t necessarily feel that everything needs to be disclosed up front. I think that it’s not unreasonable, especially on the first or second date, to not bring things up that aren’t immediately relevant. That’s not to say that you get carte blanche to hide it or lie about it or never bring it up… but to my mind, it’s not unreasonable to give someone the chance to get to know you before they make their decision about said issue. Obviously, you do disclose to them – you want to give them the option to decide whether to continue seeing you or not – but sometimes getting to know a person helps break through the stereotype of “People who do/have X are all like this!” Or it might help them realize that said deal-breaker isn’t quite as important in the scheme of things with this particular person.
So, I don’t think that you’re committing any great sin by leaving the fact that you’re a virgin off your dating profile. You have my blessing to ditch all your answers and start over.
One of the nice things about OKCupid’s questions is that you can skip them if they’re likely to decrease your match percentages.
I think that if you want to hold off on talking about your virginity until you and your date have had a chance to connect and see if there’s any chemistry, you’re well within your right to do so. Just remember: when you do bring it up, don’t roll it out like it’s something awful that you’re ashamed of. It’s not a drawback, it’s a bonus. Like I always say: people tend to take their cues about issues from you. If you present it as no big deal – hey, you were focused on school! – then 9 times out of 10, they won’t treat it like a big deal either. And the 1 out of 10 who does have a bad reaction? They’ve shown that they were someone you didn’t want to be dating in the first place. They learned one thing about you and you learned everything about them.
But let’s talk about those matches you haven’t been messaging. See, one of the things about OKCupid’s match percentage calculations is that people can weight their responses. They can say that an issue is Very Important, Somewhat Important or A Little Important. The heavier they weight their answer, the more it subtracts from your match percentage. So if you have a high match score with someone, but your questions about sexual experience don’t line up? It’s pretty clear that these issues don’t rank so highly in their list of Must-Haves that it throws you out of the running. For all you know, they very well may be thrilled by the idea of being somebody’s first… but now you’ll never have a chance to find out because you decided that they could never be into you.
So whether you do or don’t change your answers, don’t let your pre-suppositions about how other people will react keep you from taking a chance. If you never ask anyone out, you’ll never find the awesome people who aren’t concerned with how many people you have or haven’t slept with.
TL;DR – If you want to leave out that you’re a virgin, then go ahead. But your virginity is nothing to be ashamed of, and you really shouldn’t let your fear keep you from simply trying to start those conversations.
Good luck, NBK. And write back to let us know how things are going for you.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a freshman (19 years old) at a small American liberal arts college. So far, college life has been going really well for me; I’m making friends, engaging myself academically, and doing extracurriculars. But there’s still something I can’t figure out.
I never dated in high school, and I can’t get myself to ask anyone out here at school either. I guess a lot of it comes from a pathological desire not to be creepy; since I can’t be 100% sure that girls are interested in me, I don’t want to ask anyone I know out. Making people uncomfortable is the last thing I want to do.
I’m a little worried. It seems like lots of people are really sexually active; like everyone I know but me is getting it on all the time. Does the fact that I haven’t engaged anyone romantically yet mean that I’m somehow a bad person or that I need help? My college does offer free therapy, but I’d feel bad using that resource if it takes time away from those who need it more than I do. I guess I’m just confused and a little worried about my future, in terms of sexuality and romantic stuff.
Slightly Worried College Kid
DEAR SLIGHTLY WORRIED COLLEGE KID: First of all, SWCK: use the resources you have available to you. College can be a confusing, stressful time. Most people are out on their own for the first time and that can leave a lot of people feeling lost and adrift. Those counselors are there specifically to help you unpack these issues and develop the skills to navigate this strange new world you’re in. So don’t hesitate to take advantage of them – especially now when it’s free.
Second: aside from having some needless anxiety, there’s really nothing wrong with you. Like I was telling Never Been Kissed: the fact that you don’t have much relationship experience doesn’t mean anything other than “you don’t have much relationship experience,” and that’s not a bad thing. Some folks come to it later than others. I didn’t lose my virginity until well into my sophomore year, so you’re hardly the last American virgin.
And something to keep in mind: college isn’t the all-encompassing sex-fest that a lot of people think it is. It sure as hell can feel like it, especially when you feel like you’re being left out of the party. But the fact you’re not neck deep in strange doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or that you’re the only person who’s not taking part.
But let’s talk creepers for a second. There’s nothing creepy about wanting sex, nor is there anything creepy about asking somebody out on a date, even if you’re not 100% sure they’re into you. You have to use your best judgement and take a chance. And if you get shot down… well, it stings, but it’s not the end of the world. Plus: part of the way you learn to read people and develop your ability to tell who’s into you and who isn’t is by asking and seeing who says yes and who says no.
I’ve covered the topic of creepers in almost exhaustive detail at this point, but there’s a fairly simple way to avoid being creepy: just be mindful of the person you’re talking to. And if you realize you’re making someone uncomfortable, then just apologize and adjust your behavior accordingly. I talked about how you can avoid creepy behavior on a recent episode of the podcast, so go give it a listen.
So talk to your counselors about your anxiety, and go out and be social. You’ll be just fine.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)