DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m sure you get messages like this all the time, but I’m at a point where I feel like nothing will get better for me. I’ve always felt like a social reject, although I don’t struggle with socializing or making friends, I do struggle with relationships & sex. I’ve always had low self-esteem and a firm belief that I was unworthy, and too ugly for intimacy. I was made fun of for being an introvert, soft-spoken and also my ethnicity. This caused me to lack confidence growing up. I had hoped to deal with all this by the time high school ended, but things just got worse. My college experience was mentally depleting too, I went to parties, but never had sex. At this point, I knew I was abnormal. It kind of confirmed my worst fears that I’m undesirable, and nothing would change. I’m not particularly hot, but I have always had a muscular build (played rugby), and I assumed that I’d eventually stumble into something. Maybe I took rom-coms too seriously, I don’t know.
I did have a relationship at 26, going on 27. I had some performance anxiety issues, and felt so humiliated. My partner was supportive, but I still felt emasculated, like a failure. I was able to please her consistently, and make her cum through fingering and oral. Although I was hard at times, I just was too nervous for intercourse. I still feel like a “virgin,” and beat myself up for not being better. Notably, this woman had some trauma from sexual assault, so intimacy was difficult. She was kind of stiff and uncommunicative in bed, and I am glad that I was able to give her pleasure. I experienced a genuine connection with her, but am deeply dissatisfied. Part of me fears I’ll be a punchline with her friends and future partners (“limp dick loser” etc..).
The relationship ended because she felt I was too distant (in terms of location and mentally). My first meaningful relationship with a woman ended without intercourse, which is something I dwell on everyday. To clarify, she never made fun of me, and said affirmative things about me I’d thought I would never hear. Sex is a two-way street, and she had clearly been through a lot. I’m glad I could provide her some comfort, but I did not enjoy myself. I’m rambling, but I don’t struggle to get an erection, I just rarely feel that desire/arousal anymore.
Ultimately, I feel deflated at starting so late, like an inept idiot. I don’t feel like a real man. I’m now 29, and going to be 30 this coming March. I feel like I’ve wasted my youth and my 20s, which is difficult to come to terms with. If I was not deemed attractive in my so-called prime, how will things ever get better? In real life, I’ve been on many dates, get lots of matches on apps, and even hit on at bars. These occurrences do nothing to improve my mental state or outlook. I still feel like there’s a massive gulf in experience with other men. I do struggle with initiating or expressing interest in someone, because I still think I’m an ugly nerd. I’m just exhausted about feeling so invisible.
I really don’t know what to do. I feel like I’ve missed out on so much. I am on anti-depressants (SSRIs) and have lost my sex drive. To me it’s not about pleasure anymore, just a source of insecurity and inadequacy. I don’t like thinking about sex, because it makes me feel inferior. I feel like I cannot recover from this, and am always bitter, and resentful of others. It seems so much easier for most men. I had the tools to succeed. Had the ability to be a good partner, I know I can please a woman, but I feel like a lost cause.
SSRIs have brought some stability to my life. I have been suicidal, and lost close friends and family members during my 20s (untimely deaths). I just feel like a bundle of grief and regret on certain days.
I’m not sure what I’m asking here… I want to get better and have the attributes to be a decent catch or boyfriend. Things just never added up for me. I don’t know how to shed this negative self-image. This quarantine period (stuck in a small town where I don’t know anyone) has been very, very trying for me. I imagine it’s the same for many others.
Thanks for all you do,
DEAR HOPELESSLY ADRIFT: First and foremost HA: there is absolutely nothing wrong with having not had sex or having been a virgin slightly older than the average. I mean, even just counting the number of letters I receive from people just like you and clients I’ve worked with who have been older than the national average, you are emphatically not unique or even uncommon. Lots and lots of people didn’t have sex or relationships until their 20s, even 30s and 40s. That’s not “abnormal”, my dude. That’s just that you’re someone who is a little shy and soft-spoken and who was apparently surrounded by assholes.
The biggest problem you have is that you’ve taken bulls--t ideas about “what it means to be a man” and internalized them to the point that you can’t bring yourself to take the wins when you have them. Take, for example, your first partner. Not only was she caring and supportive, but you were able to please her, sexually. But the toxic idea of what a “man” is has convinced you that since you didn’t do it just with your penis, it doesn’t “count” somehow and you believe that she’s going to mock you for having only pleased her with your hands and mouth. Which is, again, for the cheap seats, bulls--t.
(Also, just to be clear: that’s how the majority of women reach orgasm during partnered sex. Most women don’t achieve orgasm through penetration alone; they need clitoral stimulation that’s most easily and efficiently achieved through oral sex or manual masturbation.)
You had sex, my dude. If you weren’t 100% hard during penetration or you lost your erection? You still had sex. Even if you didn’t have penetration at all, you still had sex. Virginity is a f--king construct my dude; it’s not a quantum state that’s only changed by getting a diamond hard P into someone else’s V. Otherwise there’d be a whole lot of folks who have a metric f--kton of sex who’d be virgins for life.
Just as importantly: you haven’t wasted s--t. Hey, you didn’t party like movies tell you you’re supposed to in your 20s… big fat hairy deal. That doesn’t mean your 20s were wasted, it just means you didn’t party or f--k around. That’s all. You were doing a bunch of other things that are just as valid, just as real and just as legitimate. Did you learn about yourself? Did you grow and improve? Did you try new things, have new experiences? Congratulations, you didn’t waste your 20s.
And like the sage once said:
You young boys gotta chill
30’s the new 20, ——
I’m so hot still
Let me reassure you: the only people who give a six-legged rat’s ass about how much “experience” you had are a) asshole dudes and b) you. Women, on the whole, don’t give a damn about your sexual resume. The women who are going to date you and sleep with you aren’t dating your number, they’re dating the whole you. The only reason why this would be a problem would be if you pre-reject yourself or — worse — insist that a woman doesn’t like you even as she’s insisting that she clearly does.
Plus: as someone who did a lot of unlearning and re-learning in my late 20s and early 30s, I can tell you from personal experience: my 30s were way better than my 20s would’ve been, if only because I had more life experience and better credit.
And by the way: a big reason why you’ve lost your sex-drive is because you’re on SSRIs. Trust me, been there, done that. It’s a known side-effect of a lot of anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants.
Now what should you do? Well, this is a time when you talk to a therapist and work on these issues. Clearly you’ve talked to someone to get on the meds… if they’re not helping you, then it’s time to find a different therapist. I highly recommend checking the American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists’ referral directory to find a sex-positive therapist near you who’ll help you work through those issues. And, incidentally, there are other antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds that will help you without killing your libido dead.
Just as importantly: work on getting to know some of the folks around you. Yeah, the pandemic makes it difficult, but I’m willing to bet that there’re MeetUps and other organized events that’ve moved to Zoom and other apps. Now’s a good time to start making connections in your area; not for dating, but simply so that you have more friends; having a social circle and support network is important, both for your mental and emotional health but also just for your overall well being. Meet some awesome people, make some cool friends and you’ll realize just how much you’ve been beating yourself up for no good goddamn reason. And the better you start to feel about yourself, the easier it will be for you to start meeting some awesome women who are dying to meet a guy just like you.
You’re in a tough place man, I get it. But trust me: those feels aren’t reals. It’s just toxic masculinity f--king with you. You’ve got far more to offer and far more going on than you realize. The more you’re able to dig out the bulls--t you’ve internalized, the happier you will be. And it will all go much faster than you realize.
You’re ok. I promise.
All will be well.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org