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I don't want to masturbate or have sex: what's wrong with me?

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Anonymous asks:

I am celibate and a virgin. I don't masturbate. I think all forms of sexual activity are ok as long as people say safe and respectful, and this includes masturbation. I was never abused. I was brought up in a very open environment, where my parents never shied away from answering any kind of question about sex and answered very honestly and frankly, and never said anything was "sinful" or "shameful." And when they couldn't answer, both me and my siblings were pointed in the direction of good resources. There are plenty of things that "turn me on." I fantasize if I'm very horny but I wouldn't call that masturbation, and it's never that "graphic" in my head, it just "gets me off." I don't like watching others have sex either, like on tv or movies - I enjoy seeing people kiss or dance much more and think that is actually way more erotic!

MY QUESTION IS THIS: is there something wrong with me?

Heather Corinna replies:

(Anonymous' question continued)

I feel like there is something so strange about a person like me who is so reserved- celibate of all sexual activity, and yet, I don't really have erotic dreams, and it doesn't SEEM like I'm repressing anything. I will say that I am EXTREMELY creative and passionate, and my artistic, musical and intellectual passions very often will consume me and I feel complete and fulfilled when that happens, not negative.

I think that the same thing happens when I fall in love with another girl - I become much more emotionally passionate about them than sexually, though the latter certainly isn't absent. I've never been in a serious relationship but if I were to, I would definitely be shy and awkward but I believe with the right person - someone I care about who cares about me too and communicates - I would be a great sexual partner. With all this talk of "everybody" masturbating and "everybody" touching themselves to get in touch with their sexuality, and "everybody" doing this or that kind of sexual exploration I feel like a complete dud as a human being - somehow "less than human" because "everybody" does something that I just don't do. I'm left out. I feel pressure to masturbate from sites like this and sexperts but I just don't want to, and the more I'm pressured, the more I don't want to and the more exasperated I get. I'm sorry this is such a long question but please, WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?

I'm very sorry that you've been feeling pressure, particularly if you've felt it when you are here.

Just bear in mind, though, that this is an opt-in website about sexuality and sex, intended for readers who want to know about sexuality, want to read about it, who have questions about sexual feelings or sexual practices. We address a range of choices and experiences, for sure, but we don't exist to be not about sex, but to be about sex. If someone felt really uncomfortable reading about sex and sexuality, or reading about people's sexual feelings or experiences which might differ from their own, this would probably not be the best place to choose to spend time at.

If I, as a vegan, choose to go to a site all about meat, I should expect to find content that's all about meat, and see lots of stuff that grosses me out and leaves me feeling lousy. If I spend a lot of time at sites about meat, live in a world where I'm surrounded by it on top of that (and we do), I might well feel some pressure to conform, even if eating meat just doesn't remotely feel like something I can imagine myself doing or ever want to do. However, what I can do, then, is do what's in my control when it comes to the choices I do have with environments and limit my exposure as best I can. Obviously, I'm still going to see billboards about burgers and milk everywhere I go, but limiting my media and environment choices in the ways I can to choose things which are more inclusive of me and more about my own experiences and choices tends to help balance that out. Same goes with if I, as a queer person, choose to surround myself with material for or about straight people, or if I, as a feminist, fill my house with copies of Maxim or FHM. Get my drift?

We don't say that "everyone" does anything here. In fact, we've always been pretty intense about helping people to keep generalizations in check. We also do have a good deal of material that either isn't about having sex or masturbating at all (like all of our anatomy content), a big piece on celibacy, and some pieces about folks who aren't sexually active, even with themselves. We talk a lot about how readiness for sex isn't a one-time deal, but something that varies all through life and that it's common for people to have times when sex just isn't wanted or all that interesting. But when there are things which are pervasively common, we'll say they are, and masturbation is one of those things. When most of the questions we get are about if masturbation is okay -- rather than if not masturbating is okay -- there's no way or reason to render the more common experience invisible.

However, sometimes any one of us is the exception to any given rule or typical commonality. For example, we have a lot of material here that talks about how a majority of women can't reach orgasm from intercourse alone: even though I write all of that, I do so knowing I'm not part of that majority, but that's okay. I can be different from a majority and have nothing wrong with me, and so can you.

I get that for many people -- to some degree, we can even safely say most -- feeling normal, feeling like everyone else is pretty important. It can feel all the more when you're younger. But what I'd encourage you to do is to recognize that your own uniqueness -- whether we're talking about masturbation, about the way you look, an idea you have, the way you make music -- is just as valuable. Most of us are going to have some aspects of ourselves where we find a lot of commonality with others, and some where we're more, or even very, unusual. There's not a thing wrong with our variances, nor does having them mean something is wrong with us.

Do most people masturbate at some point in their lives? Yes. Do all people masturbate? No. Do people who masturbate necessarily do so all the time? No. Does everyone who does masturbate do so in their teens, rather than later in life? No. In fact, when you see stats that show most people masturbate, those are usually about a lifetime's experience, not one given period of time.

Because you don't feel those desires or those urges -- be it yet or ever -- doesn't mean you're repressed, either, nor that something like abuse or shaming has happened. Sure, some people repress their sexual desires, but that's not the only reason a person wouldn't masturbate or wouldn't feel the inclination to. Why some folks do, some don't, and some only do sometimes or at certain times in life varies. For some people, it's a religious choice, while others have different reasons. Sometimes, a person just isn't feeling it, yet -- as in, they will later, but don't now -- or period. We all have a different pace with the development of our sexuality, and some folks are just late bloomers. Others are asexual. Others still just express their sexuality differently: some people are a bit more esoteric or intellectual in their own nature and personality than physical, so physical expressions don't feel harmonious with who they are. Some people, for sure, do have sexual issues, which include masturbation not feeling okay or comfortable because of abuse or other trauma, and some people have low or no libido due to certain health issues (like diabetes, depression or hormonal imbalances) or as a side effect of certain medications (like antidepressants or birth control pills).

Any of this is totally okay, even if it's not "normal," if by normal, we mean most common. Based on what you've told me here, I can't see anything that suggests to me there is something wrong with you or that you're a "dud." How much prevalence sexuality or sexual activity has in a given person's life varies tremendously. For some people, it's huge, while for others it's a total afterthought or even a non-thought. For many, that's also often going to be phasal, with times of life when it is the biggest deal ever, and times when it's the last thing on a person's mind.

Here's what I hear you saying: for starters, you say that you just don't feel an urge to do one given thing that in many ways, is about personal expression and a release of various kinds, but that you feel like the other outlets you have for those feelings do you just fine, and feel more intrinsic to you. (And I do think -- as a matter of personal opinion -- that we uber-creatives will often tend to find sexual release or something a whole lot like it in a myriad of places, not just between our legs.) I also hear you saying that you seem to be at the dawn, as it were, of your love life and your sexual life: that you haven't yet been with someone for long enough, or where it felt right for you, to be sexually expressive or to even really know if that's something you want and what it would look like if you did. I hear that you -- like many people, and more so with women based on what research we have so far -- find suggestive depictions of sensuality more erotic than explicit depictions of sexuality. I hear you saying that you, like plenty of people, find that with others, your emotional feelings precede and/or take precedence over your sexual desires.

I also hear you feeling left out, but not because you feel like you're missing something earnestly wanted, but just because you're different right now than many people are. It also sounds like you've perhaps been seeking out material or information which you know isn't really about you or what you need right now.

Here's my suggestion: for starters, get away from here. I'm not uninviting you or suggesting you have no right to be here, and this may be the first time I've told a perfectly polite user to go away. It just sounds like you're immersing yourself in a topic you have no interest in, but feel like you should, especially the more you immerse yourself in it. In other words, it seems like right now, this -- and other places like this -- is more toxic for you than helpful. If and when you DO feel an urge to express your sexuality more physically, alone or with a partner, and have questions, come on back, any time. But for now, it sounds to me like your time and energy would be better spent in environments that are about the things you WANT to explore, not the things you don't. You say your artistic life is your big place of personal expression and solace: why not focus on that instead, then?

Again, I do think it is possible that what you are expressing here might be what is currently often referred to as asexuality. Here's excerpts of an overview of asexuality from the Asexual Visibility and Education Network:

An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community, each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently. Asexuality is just beginning to be the subject of scientific research.

Asexual people have the same emotional needs as anyone else, and like in the sexual community we vary widely in how we fulfill those needs. Some asexual people are happier on their own, others are happiest with a group of close friends. Other asexual people have a desire to form more intimate romantic relationships, and will date and seek long-term partnerships. Asexual people are just as likely to date sexual people as we are to date each other.

Many asexual people experience attraction, but we feel no need to act out that attraction sexually. Instead we feel a desire to get to know someone, to get close to them in whatever way works best for us. Asexual people who experience attraction will often be attracted to a particular gender, and will identify as gay, bi, or straight.

For some sexual arousal is a fairly regular occurrence, though it is not associated with a desire to find a sexual partner or partners. Some will occasionally masturbate, but feel no desire for partnered sexuality. Other asexual people experience little or no arousal. Because we don’t care about sex, asexual people generally do not see a lack of sexual arousal as a problem to be corrected, and focus their energy on enjoying other types of arousal and pleasure.

Whether you feel you are or are not asexual, I think you might find some comfort and solace in that community, so I'd suggest you take a look at AVEN to see if that feels like a better fit, or like a therapeutic place for you. For the record, asexuality isn't an illness or something wrong: it's just another sexual identity some people are expressing and experiencing.

I think you should also have a little more self-compassion and understanding in terms of whatever your own timetable is with sexual development and desire, as well as what your own journey is in that regard. In other words, give yourself more time, and throughout the next year, five years, two or three decades, see how you feel as you go and honor those feelings, whatever they are.

Because you may be different than a lot of people in any regard, sexual or otherwise, doesn't mean something is the matter. (And if it does, something is the matter with way more of us than we probably think!) I know I say it like a broken record around here, but when sex and sexuality are at their apex, are really "done right," they are about personal expression and -- for those who choose sexual partnerships -- shared personal expression. It's one thing if who we are happens to fall into spheres of common experience, but if we stand outside them, working to conform isn't the road to our own sexuality, but to someone else's. And if you just don't feel sexual or care about sexuality -- be that for now, or through the whole of your life -- then there's just no reason to dwell or focus on it, even though I recognize that it can be challenging to have that experience when it isn't so common and things like sexual desire, masturbation and partnered sex are so pervasive.

I usually toss in some extra links, but I'm not going to give you any more because I really do think it's best you take a break from sexuality material and head off to environments and communities that leave you feeling good, not pressured, and which focus on the things you DO have interest in and an affinity for, not those you don't.

written 20 Sep 2008 . updated 23 Jan 2014

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