Yesterday, I came across a sad Reddit post entitled “I’m a 28 year old virgin and nobody would ever guess.” “I have a secret and it is ruining my life,” writes Reddit user secretvirginman. He confesses not only to being a virgin, but to having suffered from severe bullying as a kid — something he doesn’t think he ever got over. Now he’s finding himself losing control a bit. “I think I’m turning into an alcoholic,” he writes. “I literally cannot make a move without getting shitfaced. Sometimes I just can’t possibly build up enough liquid courage and just end up blacking out and/or going home.” There have been recent occasions on which he has brought women home with him, but every time he’s been unable to perform sexually.
It’s a pretty wrenching, affecting post, both because it simply can’t be fun to be a 28-year-old virgin, in general, and because secretvirginman’s situation seems to be compounded by a lot of the macho pressures he’s facing. He writes that he’s considering hiring a prostitute just to no longer be tainted with the scarlet V.
I was curious what recommendations a professional would make here — suffice it to say, the advice offered up by Redditors in the comments section is uneven at best, even if it is mostly well-intentioned — so I emailed Vanessa Marin, a psychotherapist “specializing in all things sex.” Here’s her response, which she addressed to secretvirginman directly:
“First of all, I’m sorry to hear about all of the abuse you have suffered. Abuse has a horrible way of sucking all the joy out of life, and these effects can be especially pronounced when it comes to sex.
I know that you’re intent on losing your virginity, but I think you should shift your focus to getting into therapy to help you process the abuse and bullying, and develop coping strategies that don’t involve alcohol. Your problem isn’t that you’re a virgin; it’s that you have unresolved trauma. Your first sexual experience isn’t going to be a magical panacea for your problems. In fact, it sounds like aiming for this drunken one-night stand is only serving to exacerbate your anxiety.
I would recommend that you give online dating a shot. Walking up to a woman at a bar takes a LOT of guts, even for the most self-confident men. You might find it much easier to express your attraction through writing. Plus, you can make it clear that what you truly want right now is a relationship.
When you meet a woman you like, take your time working up to being intimate. If you build trust and comfort, you’ll be far less likely to experience erectile difficulties. Going slow isn’t a strike against you — it’s actually something that plenty of women desire. My female clients frequently complain about feeling pressured to sleep with new guys right away. Plus, one in every four women has been sexually abused, so there are lots of ladies who have negative associations with sex just like you do. Think of how much less anxiety you would feel being with a woman who understood your complicated relationship with sex, didn’t put any pressure on you, and wanted to work as a team to build a healthy sex life. These women are out there, I promise!
Being a virgin doesn’t need to be a huge deal, either. I see a lot of virgins in my sex therapy practice, and they all tend to feel like they’re the only person in the world who hasn’t had sex yet. You’d be surprised by how many people your age still are virgins. Plus, having had sex doesn’t mean you’re having great sex. I’ve never met a person who didn’t struggle with their sex life in one way or another. Your buddies from the bar might be taking girls home, but they might also be experiencing erectile problems, early ejaculation, or sexual guilt. The bottom line — we all have our hang-ups when it comes to sex.”