DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I want to preface this by saying that, throughout the entirety of my childhood, my mother mentally abused me (even before she and my father divorced). She’d tear up my things purely because I liked them or my father’s side of the family got them for me, she’d belittle me, she’d leave me with family members (12 years old and coming home to Dad reeking of cigarette smoke so badly the dogs fled isn’t fun), and there was a time when she left 14 year old me alone in an apartment complex until 3 am. (I don’t know when she actually came home, I just know 3 AM is when I finally broke down and called my father and he came and picked me up) It was so bad to the point that even now, after 10 years of having never seen her once, I still have moments and fits where I hate everything, or I hate myself, or I feel depressed and anxious and feel like I’m bothering and offending everyone around me.
I bring that up because… I’m wondering if that’s a factor in what’s happened to me here.
Here’s the thing. I’m not sure if I actually ever want physical sex. When it comes to things like porn or roleplaying (through text, I mean), I’m about as horny and kinky of a girl as you can find. But that’s what’s bothering me some; I only ever feel that way about characters. When it comes to me (as some people have tried to cyber rather than roleplay), even just thinking about it, I really think that physical sex isn’t something I’d ever want to have. Hell, I don’t even watch REAL porn, just drawn or animated or 3D stuff; I hate seeing real people naked, too, because it just makes me feel weirdly uncomfortable and I don’t get any actual pleasure out of it.
I’ve tried to masturbate before and I’ve never really gotten any satisfaction out of it at all, either. And considering how I react even just getting, say, water from a dog dish splashed on me, I think that all the sweat and other fluids would just make me incredibly uncomfortable and generally not enjoy it.
I’m not really worried about how this would affect relationships, at least not right now; I have a boyfriend who I explained all of this to, very clearly, alongside the fact that I simply do not ever intend to have sex before marriage (it’s my belief for my body, that is; I don’t care if other people want to). His only request was that I at least try it once with him if we were married, which I agreed to, since I think it’s fair and I would like to at least attempt it to be sure (plus I know I can trust him to stop if it comes to that), but he said he completely understood the rest and was more than willing to accept it if I wasn’t interested in sex. And, if it turns out that sex is important to him and he needs it and I can’t provide it, I’d be a little jealous (who wouldn’t?) but perfectly fine with him going to other people for those needs.
I guess my question is… is this really okay? Is the fact that I have no interest in physical sex something that’s just a part of the individual I am? Or is there something that’s still wrong with me, still f--ked up in my head, that I need to get treatment for? You seem to really understand a lot, so I was hoping you could shed a little light anyway.
DEAR CONFUSED COLLIE: So I want to start off by saying that I’m sorry that you were abused, Confused Collie – but it sounds to me like you’re pretty damn strong to have come through it all as well as you have. But as much as that abuse may have hurt, I’m not entirely sure that this is the cause of the issues you may be having. It sounds like there are a couple of different issues that are all coming together in one perfect storm of confusion and frustration. It’s going to be hard for me to give you a solid “this is what’s wrong” because a) human sexuality is a complex beast and it’s pretty damned hard to diagnose someone over an email and b) Doctor NerdLove is not a real doctor.
So while I can give you my thoughts, a lot of this are things that you should talk about with a trained, sex-positive therapist, especially somebody who specializes in sexual trauma and abuse.
Human sexuality tends to fall on a series of spectrums. There’s the famous Kinsey scale of sexuality, with exclusive heterosexuality on one side, exclusive homosexuality on the other and the wide range of options in between. At the same time, there’s a spectrum of sexual desire, with being hornier than a six-d
ked goat on one side and completely asexual on the other. The wide and wonderful variety of the human sexual experience means that people fall all over the place on these spectrums.
Part of what makes human sexuality interesting is how fluid it is and how it’s affected by so many different parts of the human condition. Sexual desire and arousal patterns can be affected by physical issues such as hormonal imbalances, genetic predispositions, or from mental issues such as anxiety, self-esteem or basic belief systems. And when you realize that much of what we consider a “normal” sexuality is based off of somewhat arbitrary and culturally influenced standards…
All of this is a long-winded way of saying “The human relationship to our junk is f--king complex”. And that means that it’s frequently difficult to narrow down the cause of a problem… if there’s even a problem there at all.
So let’s start with the physical: you say that you masturbate but it doesn’t really satisfy you. You don’t say whether this means you’re unable to achieve orgasm, or whether the orgasms you do have aren’t satisfying. This isn’t actually all that uncommon; upwards of 10% of women haven’t had an orgasm, ever, either by themselves or with a partner. Sometimes it’s a medical issue – insufficient blood-flow to the genitals, for example, or a side-effect from commonly prescribed antidepressants. Other times it’s mental – the person may have a hang-up that means they can’t allow themselves to feel pleasure or they feel overwhelming amounts of guilt or shame. Still other times it’s simply how they’re wired – they may need incredibly intense amounts of direct clitoral stimulation that’s virtually impossible to get without mechanical assistance. Seeing an OB-GYN can help you figure out if there’s a physical issue that can be corrected.
But before I say “go off and see a real doctor”, let me ask a serious question: is this an actual problem for you?
You see, the rest of what you say makes me wonder if you might be asexual. Many people simply have very low or even nonexistent sex drives; sex just doesn’t interest them. Sometimes it’s a physical thing – they don’t get aroused. Sometimes it’s a mental thing – they don’t find sex exciting or even see it as being disgusting. Sometimes it’s both. People who are asexual may become aroused but have no interest in partnered sex. They may not become aroused at all. They may masturbate for reasons besides pleasure (helping you fall asleep, general prostate health, etc.). The fact that you don’t like the reality of sex – with the physical contact, the bodily fluids, the exertion and so forth – but find it arousing when it’s highly fictionalized falls well within the spectrum of asexuality. I think it may well be worth your while to check out the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network website at asexuality.org – it may well help you become more comfortable with your situation.
Now, could all of this be because you were emotionally abused by your mother as a child? It certainly seems like a strong possibility in my still-not-a-doctor’s opinion. Like I said: human sexuality is incredibly complex and is directly affected by cultural and emotional issues. So yes, it’s entirely possible that you’re internalizing some self-loathing brought on by your mother’s abuse – you say yourself that you have prolonged bouts of low self-esteem and feeling worthless. It’s not unthinkable that you’re better able to relate sexually to fictional characters because you don’t believe that you yourself are “worthy” of love or desire or sexual fulfillment. But abuse doesn’t necessarily automatically lead to sexual dysfunction (which I fully realize is a loaded term), no matter what Freud may have said.
For what it’s worth, I do think it’d be a good idea to talk to a therapist to help you with those feelings of self-loathing and anxiety that still plague you. But I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity to see a doctor to address your views about sex. Here’s my big question: how do YOU feel about your lack of interest in physical sex? Is it something that you’re concerned about – you want to have sex, but are bothered by how much it disgusts you? Or is it more of a case that you feel like you should want it, but you don’t?
If it’s the former, then yes, it may be worth talking to someone. You may not suddenly become a sexual dynamo by unpacking your feelings about sex, but it could help you become more comfortable with yourself. If it’s the latter… well, then it’s not actually a problem, it’s just part of what makes you, you.
And honestly? I think you’re handling it well, especially within your relationship. It sounds like your boyfriend is patient and understanding and that the two of you have clearly communicated your feelings with one another and have found a working compromise. That’s a huge part of what makes a relationship work.
I would suggest going to a doctor for a medical screening just to make sure that everything’s ok – some forms of sexual dysfunction and a lack of libido or arousal are signs of medical issues – but if you’re comfortable with how you feel about sex then go ahead and embrace it. It’s part of who you are, something that makes you another unique part of the vast wonderland that is the human sexual experience.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org