I am a young bisexual man who is considering entering into a relationship with an asexual woman (she is not aromantic). I really like her and we have incredible chemistry. She is funny and beautiful and I cherish the fact that even though we are of different genders, we are both queer. Here is the issue: I am a virgin and I do not want to be a virgin for much longer. I want to have sexual experiences, but she has made it clear that she is not interested in sex at all.
If I had to quantify it, I would say that I want to date her more than I want sexual experiences at this time, but I don’t want to lose out on the opportunity to have sex or feel trapped if I do enter this relationship. I worry that if the relationship becomes serious, I may not have the opportunity to have sex with someone else for a long time. So what do I do? Do I hook up with someone and then enter into this relationship? Do I suggest an open relationship (which I don’t really feel all that comfortable with and I’m not sure she would either)? Or do I accept that sex is not on the table for me at this time and date her? I need help.
Congratulations on finding someone that you are excited about being in a relationship with! This is a rare and beautiful occurrence, so it’s something to celebrate. There’s nothing more magical than feeling that click of connection with somebody you can really imagine being with. I encourage you to enjoy this time of excitement and possibility, Frustrated, and to be open to the unexpected—this sounds like a situation that might really benefit from staying in the moment without rushing to any particular conclusions. In a nutshell, my advice is to stay in the question rather than leap to answers. (And before you become even more frustrated by my vagueness, I will explain what I mean by below!)
I can certainly see why you are struggling with the potential mismatch in terms of sexual desire, or lack thereof. For many people, sex is an essential aspect of both self-expression and romance, and the dominant culture puts particular pressure on young folks like yourself to exit the status of “virgin” while simultaneously shaming folks for being “sluts.” This is the first thing that I invite you to question: What does being a virgin mean to you, and what is behind your sense of urgency to change that?
Are you longing for the physical pleasure that sexual contact with others might bring, or are you more interested in the emotional intimacy that sexual experiences can foster in a relationship? Or is it simply that sexual intercourse feels like a milestone or rite of passage that you need to achieve in order to move into the next phase of your life? Or perhaps some combination of the above, or different reasons entirely? All answers are valid, but getting some specificity here may help you to decide what is right for you, Frustrated.
If your interest in not being a virgin much longer (to use your words) is about achieving a milestone in life, then arranging a simple, straightforward hookup with someone on an app might meet your needs. If it’s about the physical pleasures of sex, then perhaps you might negotiate a relationship where “one night stands,” but not dating, is allowed. And if you are interested in building emotional intimacy with people through sexual experiences, then you may want to think about a more flexible model of polyamory or open relationship.
You mention in your letter, Frustrated, that you’re not all that comfortable with the idea of an open relationship. You might want to consider: Why not? What worries or anxieties does that open up for you, and is there a way that you could structure an open relationship that makes you feel more comfortable? Don’t get me wrong, you definitely don’t have to be in an open or polyamorous relationship if it’s not right for you. But it may be helpful to consider all the options fully before dismissing them off hand.
If thinking all that through makes you feel even more overwhelmed than before, Frustrated, then I’ve got good news for you—you don’t have to figure everything out right now! This is what I mean by staying in the question: as long as you’re honestly and thoughtfully communicating with your potential partner about where you’re at, it is 100 percent okay to try something out, see how you feel, change your mind and then try something else.
Every good relationship involves communication, discussion, negotiation and experimentation. One of the great joys of being queer and a part of queer culture is that you don’t have to do things in a prescribed way. You can, as a famous cartoon science teacher once said, “get messy and make mistakes.” Indeed, this is where the best learning usually is.
In practical terms, this looks like having an honest (but sensitive!) conversation with the woman that you are considering entering a relationship with. You might let her know how wonderful, beautiful and exciting you find her. You might tell her how much you’d like to date. And, crucially, you might also tell her that sex is something that feels important to you to explore, and then ask what her own wants and boundaries are.
People often surprise us when we take the time to deeply and authentically explore their needs and desires. I’m curious, Frustrated, about what your potential partner might say if you laid all your proverbial cards out on the table.
What is it that she hopes to get out of a relationship with you? Is it possible that she might be okay with—or even supportive of—your desire to have sexual experiences with others? Would she be willing to explore (non-sexual) romantic intimacy with you to see how things feel while staying open to the possibility that you might also want to hook up with or see other people at some point? How open are both of you to ambiguity—as in, enjoying each other’s companionship without needing to commit to a particular relationship structure or set of rules beyond honest and open communication?
It makes total sense that you might want to decide on a structure and set of rules for a relationship right away; structure can help us to feel safe and gives us guidelines for how to treat our partners well. Yet going too quickly into creating an ironclad relationship contract often backfires—this is why so many monogamous couples end up cheating on one another, and why some polyamorous partners still end up feeling jealous and taken advantage of. We create relationship rules and norms without taking the time to actually try them out and renegotiate if they’re not serving us.
Staying in the question doesn’t mean that you get to do whatever you want without regard for anyone else’s feelings. It means that both parties in a relationship acknowledge that part of being a human in a consensual relationship is navigating complex situations, competing needs and desires that may shift over time. Something I might recommend if you do enter a relationship with this person, Frustrated, is committing to regular check-ins about how things are going. Keep one another up-to-date on how you’re feeling about the issue of sexuality, and if you’re going to change things up (for example by seeking out a hook up), make sure to discuss this before you make the change. This will help to build a dynamic of trust and emotional safety.
Take your time, Frustrated. There’s no need to rush into a relationship, into a hook up, into polyamory or into swearing off sex forever. You are allowed to slow down and really feel your wants and needs in the present, as opposed to wants or needs you think you might have in the future. You’re allowed to simply follow your desire and see where it takes you. You’re allowed to change your mind and switch directions. The key is to be both honest and kind, with yourself and with your potential partner.
So go forth, Frustrated. Get to know the terrain before drawing your map. There is so much to be learned through curiosity and exploration. Get messy. Make mistakes. This is how you find out who you are.
Kai Cheng Thom is no longer a registered or practicing mental health professional. The opinions expressed in this column are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content in this column, including, but not limited to, all text, graphics, videos and images, is for general information purposes only. This column, its author, Xtra (including its parent and affiliated companies, as well as their directors, officers, employees, successors and assigns) and any guest authors are not responsible for the accuracy of the information contained in this column or the outcome of following any information provided directly or indirectly from it.