DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I wonder if you can write on the topic of getting over women’s sexual histories, especially when they’ve gone through long hook-up/casual dating periods and a man has not. Or maybe about guys who’re plagued by feelings of not measuring up in experience, number of partners, degrees of wildness, etc. I think many of your readers will be going through this as well, dealing with feelings of insecurity and perhaps craving some of the wild things or numbers of partners they hear of friends doing, hear of their dates or girlfriends doing, but none of which has ever been extended to them.
Obviously this is largely a personal request–I had a potential partner I was interested in tell me she’s been through a hook-up phase, had threesomes with previous boyfriends, but wouldn’t be doing any of that again. I didn’t press her on it, but it killed me to hear that, immediately and irrationally made me feel it’s about me. It made me feel like I’m not interesting or cool enough or exciting enough for her to be a bit wild with me, now that she’s had here YOLO moments. I think I’m really, maybe obsessively, struggling with thoughts of the ease with which many women can go wild if they so choose (I know that’s not the case for every or even most women, but it seems the case for those I’m attracted to). I am craving some wild experiences myself, if only so I no longer feel threatened by women who have had them and can graduate from feeling upset when I hear or suspect a woman I am interested in partook of orgies or something. For what it’s worth, I live in a major city where this kind of stuff is anecdotally not uncommon. Maybe I should be reading guides to make it happen for myself rather than tell myself I need to suppress these desires, though they are probably born of YOLO/FOMO, New York Times articles about orgies in NYC, porn, and a desire to make up for my entire 20s spent in depression despite having everything seemingly going for me.
Whatever thoughts you might share or write would be greatly appreciated.
DEAR MISSING OUT: As it happens, I have written quite a bit about getting over people’s sexual histories, and you can find them via my archives. This is an incredibly common issue that comes up a lot, especially for men who date women. This tends to come in two flavors: the guys who feel disgusted that their girlfriends and wives have had such an extensive sexual history, and guys like you, who feel like they’re somehow being “left out” when they find out that their partner isn’t as wild or sexually active as she used to be.
As tempting as it is to just say “get over it”, it’s useful to examine just why these scenarios tend to cause such anxiety, particularly in men. At their core, the chief issue is one of anxiety and insecurity, particularly in the less-experienced partner. In the former, men get obsessed with the idea of their partner’s “purity”, equating women’s value with how much sex she doesn’t have. When it turns out that the woman in question has a sexual past, guys get hit with waves of anger or revulsion… not because there’s anything wrong with the women, but because of how it strikes at men’s own sense of value and importance. For a lot of men, especially ones of a more conservative bent, the idea that women don’t like sex or that it’s difficult to get women to sleep with you is important; it means that you’re just that special or virile. You’re somehow demonstrating your superior value by doing what other men couldn’t: seducing this woman into being sexual with you. If, as it turns out, she likes sex and is confident in her own sexuality… well, now you’re not as special, are you? Worse, now you’re functionally “competing” with others. If she was inexperienced — or better yet, a virgin — then (in theory) you are by default the best lover she’s ever had. After all, she has no basis for comparison, does she?
(This, of course, ignores things like the fact that bad sex doesn’t magically become good just because you’ve never had anything to compare it to. Someone who eats a sh
king like Ron Jeremy is like being upset that you don’t drive like Dominic Toretto.
But just as importantly, there’s nothing wrong with wanting those experiences. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to have threesomes or have public sex or sex in group situations. This isn’t something you need to suppress, it’s something you should understand and accept as just being part of who you are. But in doing so, you have to recognize these desires as part of what will make someone sexually compatible or incompatible with you. This means that when you’re considering a potential partner, you’ll want to consider their sexual interests too. If they’re someone who isn’t interested in the kinds of sex you are — or who are at least open to trying it, within reason — then the two of you simply aren’t right for one another, and you’d be happier in the long run to find someone who is compatible with you.
However, one of the things you need to keep in mind is that very few couples have that kind of wild crazy sex right from the jump. Sex requires trust and communication, and the more outre the experience, the more trust and communication you need to have. Couples very rarely go looking for special guest stars or hitting swingers parties without having a strong foundation first… and that foundation is built over time. So while you can get there, it may take time, even with a partner who’s down to get wild.
And part of that process is finding out how your partner feels about things, especially if she already has a history of sexual adventure. If we go back to the potential partner who decided that she was done having wild sex, you would want to recognize that her decision that she was done having those sexual experiences almost certainly had nothing to do with you and everything to do with her. It would’ve been better to ask her about why she was done. If you can listen — really listen, without making her feel judged — then you might have found out more about her and where she is in her life. She might have been up for trying some of those things again with the right partner. Or you might have learned that she was absolutely, totally done, period, the end… in which case, it would be better for both of you to find people who want the same things.
And one more thing to keep in mind: there’s really no such thing as “making up for lost time”. You may have been dealing with depression in your 20s, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve somehow missed your window for sexy adventures. There’s a reason why, if you go to swingers events or sex clubs, you’ll see that most of the people there are in their 30s and 40s. We may romanticize the young, but sex doesn’t end once the clock ticks to midnight on your 30th birthday. People have wild, awesome sex at all ages. You don’t need to “make up for lost time”, you just have to live your life now, in the present, instead of getting lost in a past that might have been.
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ty sandwich isn’t going to decide it’s delicious just because they’ve never had a sandwich before; they’re just going to avoid eating sandwiches in the future.)
But rather than examine those feelings and recognize the insecurity for what it is, those guys put the blame on their partners.
On the other hand, we have the folks who, like you, feel left out when they find out that their partners have had sexual experiences that they themselves haven’t. For a lot of guys, this leaves them feeling unworthy or lesser; why would those other guys get to share these experiences with her while they don’t get to? What do those men who came before have that makes them so much more deserving of wild sexy adventures while the less-experienced are left behind?
The problem in this case is that more often than not, these guys are asking the wrong question. As I’m often saying: women aren’t Mjolnir; whether they have sex with someone or not (or what kind of sex they have with them) isn’t a measure about whether that person is worthy or not. Instead, the better question to ask is how their partners felt about those sexual experiences… and, more importantly, why they’ve chosen to stop having them. If you were to ask, you might find out that the reason why women had those particular experiences had less to do with them and more about their former partners. They may have been dating people who insisted that they take part in sexual activity that they may or may not have been interested in themselves and felt like they had no choice but to participate. Lots of women have had partners who made demands of them, coercing or pressuring them into doing things that they wouldn’t have chosen to do on their own. Other times, they may do something they weren’t into just because their partner was and they wanted to make them happy, and they felt that this particular activity wasn’t so far outside of their comfort zone that they couldn’t bring themselves to do it.
Alternately, they may have decided to stop because they had a bad experience, or enough bad experiences that made them decide that it continuing just wasn’t worth it, even if they dug most of their adventures.
Still other times, women — like many men do — may go through periods of having wild crazy sex because they feel like it’s something they’re supposed to want. Or they may do it because they’re curious and discover that they didn’t like it that much after all. And of course, there’re plenty of people out there who will have a particular type of sex or sexual expression because of other issues in their lives. A good friend of mine was a submissive, not because that was her natural orientation but because of emotional issues that she had been facing; bad experiences left her feeling as though submissive behavior was how she “earned” or “deserved” people’s love and attention. Once she started confronting those issues, she began to realize just how different her actual sexual orientation was.
And like I said: women aren’t the only people who go through this. Plenty of men will adopt a performative sense of sexuality because they feel like it’s something they’re supposed to do. I’ve coached plenty of clients who thought they were supposed to want one-night stands and casual sex and couldn’t understand why it left them feeling empty and unfulfilled. Others couldn’t understand why they struggled with monogamy when society had taught them that desiring someone besides your partner meant that there was something wrong with you.
Now in your case, Missing Out, there’re few things at play. The first is that you need to decouple how your sexual experience — or lack thereof — from your sense of worth. Whether you’ve had the kind of sexy escapades that would make Caligula blush or you’ve mostly had fairly standard meat-and-potatoes sex is completely and utterly irrelevant to your worth or value as a man. The fact that other people may have had experiences you haven’t doesn’t make them better or more admirable than you; it just means that they’re different people who’ve had different experiences. Some people will go their entire lives without having caviar or a cronut or bibimbap. That doesn’t make them less than folks who have had it, it’s just food they’ve never eaten. Their lives are no less rich or fulfilling for the lack.
You also need to recognize that the craziness you think you’re missing isn’t as common as you think it is. Part of the reason why you’ll occasionally see stories in newspapers and why they stand out on blogs or Twitter or what-have-you is because they’re outré. They stand out because they’re not common; we don’t devote column inches to things that are daily experiences for folks. It’s not as though there’re tons of articles being written about people, say, tailgating before football games. And porn is to real sex as the Fast and the Furious movies are to driving; it’s over-the-top fantasy, not reality. Being upset that you’re not f