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Managing Vulnerability & Sexual Insecurity

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Worried asks:

Hi I'm 15 years old (male) and I want to wait till I find someone I really like before I have sex, but I want them to be a virgin too. I'm worried that if I wait too long all the pretty girls will have had sex and I won't be good at it yet, I'm worried that if they've already had sex that I won't be good enough for them, what should I do?

Heather Corinna replies:

One would hope that if you really liked someone for who they were that whatever their previous sexual experience was or was not would be irrelevant.

Mostly, because it really is, save that any life experiences we have are a part of who we are. So, if you like someone, part of what you like about them are the things their life experiences -- including sexual experiences -- have made them.

EVERY time any of us has a new partner, it really is its own first time. We have to (I say have to, but it's hardly a chore) explore and discover what THAT person likes and dislikes, what works for THAT person sexually, and how sex works for both of us within the unique dynamic of our individual realtionship. Someone who has had a few sexual partners before doesn't walk into a new partnership instantly "good at" sex with that partner, because we all differ pretty widely in terms of what we like and what works for us: we might be a little more comfortable with sex since we have some idea of what to expect, or be a bit better at communicating about sex, but that's about it, and those are hardly things that aren't a boon rather than a burden with a first partner. Plus, people who walk into sex with new partners with the idea that previous sexual experience means they don't have to learn sex anew with new partners tend to be pretty lousy lovers, in point of fact.

This idea that you'll not be as good a partner as a partner they may have had before -- or had you had a partner before -- is flawed. Having had sex before isn't what makes someone a good or great sexual partner. The things that do are more often things we learn and have in place without or before any sex at all: basic respect and care for people, creativity, good talking and listening skills, responsiveness (including ourselves) and self-awareness.

A partner who has not had sex before is no less "good" than one who has. Thinking about racing into sex before you feel ready, and/or before you find someone who you feel a connection with, who you really like, and with whom sex feels like the right thing for the two of you, so that you can be sure to nab a "pretty" girl who hasn't yet had sex with someone else because someone having had sex before makes you feel insecure isn't so sound. The smarter approach would be to realize that that really should not matter or be a criteria -- in fact, historically, the cultural and social pressures put on women when it comes to virginity have hurt them pretty profoundly. It has often enabled women and women's sexuality being set up as a sort of property, especially since the same standards are rarely or never applied to men.

Even in the situation you're setting up, might you picture how this would play out? Let's say you spend time dating someone, getting to know each other, with both of you investing emotional energy, then if and when you find out she's had previous sexual experience, what are you going to say to her? Are you going to walk away from the relationship entire, leaving her feeling pretty devalued, all because she had just happened to meet someone before you who she also liked and chose to have sex with? Ditch an otherwise great relationship that could be awesome for you both, leaving her feeling like rubbish, all because of a choice she made before she even met you that has no real relevance to your relationship with her? See what I'm saying? No one walks around with stickers on their jackets to label them virgins or non-virgins (save some people who are very vocal about pledging abstinence, but most of those folks are waiting for marriage, and/or wouldn't be so chuffed about you wanting to be with them because they're the pretty, available virgin you could find so you could feel more secure), so most of the time, a person is going to invest significant time in getting close to someone else before talking about their sexual history. To invest that time and then be tossed over for that reason is a pretty crummy thing to have happen to you.

In some ways, going that route is -- whenther you intend it or not -- hurting someone else in order to protect yourself from being hurt. It's understandable, and it's also understandable that any of us sees sex in the framework that it's been presented to us in, and seeks to work things through that framework. But it's really not necessary to do it that way: there are ways to manage your fears and expectations where neither you nor someone else are going to be made to feel lousy or without value. And the prevailing cultural sexual framework we have -- sorry for the heavy language -- is often not a good one, but we're also not required to work within it: we all have the choice to seek out better ways to look at and manage sexuality and relationships.

You and a partner are much more likely to have positive sexual experiences and a healthy sex life when the biggest entry criteria is that you like and respect one another a lot -- and that your own self-esteem is strong -- and when you both feel ready and comfortable together, than for one or both of you to be of whatever you deem an acceptable level (or lack) of sexual experience. What you're voicing really is an esteem problem of yours, and that's something you want to really deal with, rather than trying to set up whatever situations may bring it into focus in a way that enables you to avoid those insecurities.

Lastly, it's worth pointing out that partnered sex is something where everyone involved is vulnerable, not just one partner. When we meet someone where sex is the right thing for both of us, one part of things being right is that we're comfortable being vulnerable with that person: if we just set things up so that we can barricade ourselves in ways that we think will keep us from being vulnerable, then we're likely to miss out on the emotional intimacy that's part of what can be so amazing about sex. For certain, that vulnerability can be scary -- it is for everyone, virgins and those who are not alike -- but we take risks to get close to other people: if we avoid those risks, we usually avoid the closeness and the other good stuff, too.

written 29 Aug 2007 . updated 22 Jan 2014

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