I'm 28 years old and haven't had sex. How do I tell potential partners?
I'd like to believe its not a huge deal but I’m always so worried about how people will respond to this news and it scares me.
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly yell at people to either stop dating someone or ask their crush out. Or I talk about weird things that that no one is paying me to write about. (Mostly horniness!) I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
A BIG ANGEL:
I'm 28 years old and my only sexual experience was one very awkward drunken encounter in college. I've never actually been with someone sexually, let alone in any sort of relationship. I recently built up the courage to try dating for the first time in my life (my dating attempts have been [hopefully] temporarily postponed due to covid) but I am worried that my lack of experience will be problem. How do I bring up my lack of experience with someone I’ve just met? I'd like to believe its not a huge deal but I’m always so worried about how people will respond to this news and it scares me.
This image has nothing to do with anything. I just like bears.
There is a lot of good news here, even if you don’t see it or feel it or believe me at first. I promise you that there is almost no bad news. There’s just one tiny, tiny spot of bad news. The rest is good! I promise!!!!!!
Here’s the bad news (let’s get it out of the way so we can move on to good shit): the bad news is that with things like this—stuff society has made a big deal even if it is very much NOT a big deal at all—it’s very very very difficult to let go of anxiety. It’s difficult to not put pressure on yourself to try to speed the timeline up, to get everything Right The First Time (there is no right, but I’ll cover that below). Doing almost anything on earth for the first time is HARD.
Humans are bad at things the first time. Sometimes the first twenty times. My friend’s nephew—who is one month old—has recently been having a hard time shitting. Apparently, the doctor’s diagnosis is that he’s stressed and anxious about shitting which makes him constipated which makes him stressed and anxious which makes him constipated which makes… YOU GET IT. The solution is for the parents to snuggle with him while he shits. I’m not kidding you. And it seems to be working. (And it’s apparently not uncommon!) My point is this: we’re bad at things in the beginning. Even shitting doesn’t come as naturally as you might think.
So you’re going to get in your head about it, most likely. There’s almost no way out of you feeling nervous/anxious/desperate to some degree at some times. NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS.
The good news is that your brain is just being a diiiiiick and society is also being a diiiiiick and not having had sexual experiences by the age of 28 is super super super super super normal. Way more normal than you think. I wrote an article about “later” in life virgins for GQ and asked to talk to people about it and that article had THE MOST people ever reach out to me to try to talk to me. More people than I could even quote in the piece. I had to turn people away. And that doesn’t even cover people who have had one or two sexual experiences, who feel very limited in their experience but who aren’t *technically* virgins (a distinction that doesn’t matter much since virginity is fake, but which might feel like it does to someone who has had no experience).
You are so severely normal and I’m mad that anyone has given you the belief that your amount of experience sexually is in ANY way odd or pathological. It’s not. It’s common, it’s fine, it’s no big deal. (Again, the bad news is that you might not feel that that is true).
Imagine sex like ice hockey. Why hockey? Because I used to play and I love hockey. That’s why! Also because of some bad extended metaphors I’m about to do.
Ice hockey is the exact opposite of a casual sport. If you want to go play soccer with someone, you just need a ball. That’s it. You don’t even need a hoop. Or a bat. Just a ball will do. Soccer is like Mrs. Casual. Ice hockey is not. You cannot play if you don’t know how to skate. You have to basically. know another sport to play this sport. If you tried to play ice hockey, you would probably suck your first time. I did! Everyone I know did! Everyone sucks at trying things the first time because it’s the first time.
There’s another big sneaky reason that people suck at hockey when they first try. People’s first experience with skating is usually during a public skating session where they rent ice skates from the rink (because who would buy ice skates for their kid just to try out skating). Well. Rental skates SUCK ASS. It’s like trying to ski on two pieces of bologna. You cannot do that. It won’t work. You will suck at skiing if you try to ski on two pieces of bologna. You will suck at skating if you skate on dull rental skates. But everyone tries to stake on dull rental skates, thinks they suck and then never tries to play hockey. My point here is this: you will not start having sex as a virtuoso. You’re not going to be a sex god. You’re going to suck because it’s your first time. But you don’t have to suck for other reasons too. Take road blocks out of your way. Sharpen your skates. How?
Learn about sex!!!! Read about it (there are great books, which I will link below). Listen to sex podcasts. Watch porn (with the understanding that most porn is centered on the straight cis male gaze and is not realistic, but it helps to know what turns YOU on). Read erotic books! You don’t have to come in to having sex without any info. This isn’t a Marvel movie; you can look up spoilers. Get as comfortable as you can with talking about and hearing about sexy stuff. Practice saying “dirty” shit out loud in your car or your room or the shower. I know it sounds silly. It is silly!!! That’s ok. Take in info and be ready to LISTEN TO YOUR PARTNER WHEN THE TIME COMES. Not everyone likes having sex in the same ways. Be open, be honest, ask for what you want and be clear about what you need. That will make you miles better at sex than most people.
But let me be clear: the goal is not to be The Best. The goal is to feel good and have your partner feel good. That is The Best sex. Are you going to know what to do to make your partner come the first time? No. You are not. You’re not going to be able to guess or intuit that. It’s impossible. Talk to them. Communicate.
And start that communication early. Before the actual sex. Give your partner a heads up that you don’t have much sexual experience. It doesn’t have to be grave and serious; it does not need to come out like a confession. You did nothing wrong; you have nothing to own up to. All this is is a piece of information that will help you both have a better time. Set the tone that what you’re saying is No Big Deal (because it’s not). And say something like, “Hey, I just wanted to give you the heads up that I haven’t had much sexual experience before, so it would help a lot if you communicate to me what you like and don’t like so I make sure you’re having a good time.” If you want to include more info, great! You also don’t have to! The reason to tell someone is so that the sex is better for both of you, NOT because they are owed information about your past.
No one—NO ONE—cares that you don’t have experience. I swear to fuck. No one cares. No one gives one shit. Some people may handle you telling them a bit better than others—it will come down to their own history and emotional intelligence. It has nothing to do with you at all. Someone might respond with, “Cool.” Someone might open up about their own experience or lack thereof. Someone might have a beautiful, kindhearted response that makes you cry it’s so lovely. I don’t know. No one’s reaction changes the fundamental fact that it’s no big deal. It doesn’t change how the sex you two have will go. People with lots of experience are bad at sex all the time! Some people never get better at it! Some people are good at it in general but not every time! It’s ok. Mediocre sex is part of life. It will not kill you.
Any “sex” that is non-consensual in any way is not actually sex, but rape or assault. It might help to read about consent, too, to make sure you know signals and signs for both your sake and your partner’s sake. You need to know how to ask for things to slow down/stop and you need to know how to listen to those requests, too.
You can and will have good sex. It will take a lot of work on your end to push through the awkward moments and anxiety. I’m sorry. Laugh. Listen. Pay attention to yourself and your partner. Do not focus on orgasms; focus on feeling good. It’s ok if you don’t come the first time. It’s ok if they don’t come the first time. If you had a good time, that’s good sex. I promise you, you’ve got this. I’m sorry the pandemic is likely slowing down the timeline, but try your best to not jump the gun and have sex with a shitty person. I am all for one night stands and I don’t think you need to lose your virginity with someone Who You Care About Deeply or anything like that. I’m just saying, don’t put yourself in a bad situation just because you’re impatient. Be safe and be kind (including to yourself).
This is not a big deal. It feels like one, and I’m sorry for that. But it’s not. It’s about the same sized deal as if you told someone you’d never played hockey before.
A few good books about sex (there are hundreds more):
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
She Comes First by Ian Kerner
Love Worth Making by Stephen Snyder
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org