#56: The elusive voluntarily celibate man.

Do we live in a world that allows men to wait for sex?

Hi,

I am a 23 year old male and I’m saving my virginity for the right person. When I was 18, I did fall in love, but I haven’t felt the same way about anyone else since.

I feel like more guys can't openly talk about this because it just gets them bullied.

When I was 18 or 19, I was really stupid and was actually honest with other people about my dilemma. I received either harassment or silent judgement from most of them. My theory behind why our attitudes towards sex are horrible is this: males are pretty soulless these days, and that soullessness has seeped into a significant minority of women.

Anyway, my question is: Are there any books you’d recommend to help prevent me from becoming jaded about marriage and sex in the United States?

I feel like I’m swimming upstream and fighting for my spirit when it comes to relationships and sex.

I feel trapped some days, as I feel I'm in a society that doesn't want me to be happy and doesn't want me to find a long term relationship. Yes, that does sound like I'm pinning it on society and that's not productive but when every guy I know has been jerking off since middle school, it’s clear that there is a giant problem in this country that nobody wants to talk about it because it's embarrassing. 

Best,
ANONYMOUS TWITTER USER*

Dear Anonymous Twitter User,

There’s a lot going on in this letter! I think the scope of your question is a lot broader than just asking for book recommendations.

I get the sense that the recommendations are secondary to your chief concern, which is, “How do I navigate a world that doesn’t seem to make space for someone with my values?”

The other questions I’ve managed to pull out from this letter are:

  • To what extent is this society’s problem, versus your problem?

  • How do you prevent yourself from becoming jaded?

  • Are we socially conditioned to view men as only wanting sex?

  • How do you fall in love again?

The world is at odds with your values. Now what?

So, let’s start by addressing that. It can be very disorienting to feel like your genuinely held beliefs are at odds with the people around you. One immediate recommendation might be to find an online space where you can be your whole self, but let’s be real: not everyone is satisfied by digital friendships, regardless of how common they’re becoming. And even if you did already have that, that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable for you to feel alienated by the people you work, go to school, or live with.

The first thing I’d ask myself if I were you is: What are my values, and which ones are most important to me? You sound socially conservative, but I wonder what’s informing the choices you’re making. Do you hold these attitudes about sex because of your faith? Your political orientation?

If it’s one or the other, I recommend that you not only seek out friends in those groups, but consider dating people in those groups as well. In my experience, if you’re upfront about dating-for-a-relationship instead of dating casually and seeing where it’s going, people are more willing to make allowances for you— waiting to have sex being among them. But I get the impression that maybe it goes a little bit deeper than that. My gut feeling is that it’s not simply the sex, rather, it’s a whole host of values that are further complicated by the sex piece.

Of course, there’s always the chance that you aren’t socially conservative, you just go against the grain in this one area.

If that’s the case, my advice is this. If you’re getting along with your peers across every other vertical, but only feel at odds with their opinions on sex, I’d agree to disagree as much as feasible. Have confidence in your own beliefs. I’m a strong believer that the pendulum is going to swing back again, and your feelings will be in fashion again, but it might take some time.

People bully people they disagree with in general, but real friends will accept you for who you are. This sounds like an empty platitude, but take it from me, someone who straddles being a normie and an absolute eccentric.

Frankly, even if your opinions leave people feeling judged and uncomfortable, everyone is granted the bandwidth to have at least a few opinions that go against the grain of what the group’s buying.

And to echo my point about sex— women will be willing to wait for you if you’re in the habit of taking things slow, and dating women who want relationships. You said it yourself, the woman-as-fuck-boy is a minority.

You’ll encounter some rejection, sure. Women do want sex, and I’ve had male friends who’ve lost opportunities because they, too, move more slowly.

But people, particularly women, who want relationships are a lot more flexible than the cultural atmosphere might suggest. I would imagine that some women may even find it fun somehow, a refreshing change from the usual forced hook-ups/sex-as-bargaining-chip scenarios that so many experience.

To what extent is this society’s problem, versus your problem?

One thing that stood out to me in your letter is that you end with, “when every guy I know has been jerking off since middle school, it’s clear that there is a giant problem in this country that nobody wants to talk about it because it's embarrassing.”

I agree with you that we have a very warped view on sex in the U.S.

As I wrote in But was it rape? here’s how I view the problem, in a nutshell:

And then there’s the fact youth culture’s contradictory messaging around sex further complicates the situation.

Hyper-sexuality is fashionable, but signals once traditionally read as flagging attention should not invite unwanted attention. If a man doesn’t make the first move he doesn’t like you, but if he does make the first move and you don’t like him, it’s harassment. It’s okay to sell sex, and market yourself as though this is true, but beware the person who assumes you’re a sex worker without you explicitly announcing it.

It’s as though it’s designed to simultaneously paralyze us and desensitize us from sex. Many of us are confused to the point of alienation.

We’re simultaneously sex negative and uncritically sex positive, and this comes together at a confusing, often alienating crossroad.

It’s doubly worse for men, who are expected to act in choreography with a system that’s always moving the goalposts. The constant push and pull of: don’t be a soyboy, but don’t cross my boundaries either. Know your place, but pursue me if I think you’re sufficiently hot. It’s, uh, not fair, to say the least.

But you might be slightly more conservative than I am on this, naming pubescent masturbation as a core piece of the problem.

Here’s my question for you: Is that a problem? Or did you mean to allude to 13 year olds watching porn? Do you find a lot of your male friends struggle with their sexuality because it’s too informed by porn?

My diagnosis would be closer to, it’s a shame that we’re putting boys as young as 13 in the position to view sex as a product. Outside of that, let puberty do its thing.

With respect to porn, my opinion there is, when you’re denied sex, your mind perverts in strange ways. Stuff starts turning you on that you never thought would turn you on. Suddenly you wake up with a MILF fetish you never knew existed, or you start sexualizing people’s knees. Things level out once you start having real life, in person sex. That is to say, I think the damage porn does in a sexual dimension is reversible with strong, reliable, in-person bonding.

The question then remains what does it do to us socially? I’ve got an answer to that too, but I’ll get to it later.

I agree with you that you’re probably swimming upstream, but you may also want to do some self-reflection. Being overly restrictive or judgmental isn’t going to re-instill value into sex, you know? If giving into pubescent urges is enough to make you cynical, then you’re going to stay cynical.

The best I can say is, again, the pendulum is very clearly going to swing back, and we’re seeing the seeds of this happening. Reactionary childbearing and a wave sex negativity is in the mail.

If you’re this conservative, but also not religious, then (and I don’t mean this dismissively) perhaps just wait it out— by the time you’re thirty, the world may align with you more closely. I also think this is the answer to porn’s social impact, too.

How do I prevent myself from becoming jaded?

To finally answer the question you did ask, my favorite books about family, marriages, and relationships are The Way We Never Were and The Truth About Marriage by Stephanie Coontz, and Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel. I’m not sure that these texts will resonate with you 100%, but I do think they provide some useful history and nuance. I disagree with Perel on some points, but I do think she lay out a both realistic and optimistic way forward for relationship-building. You may also enjoy The All-or-Nothing Marriage by Eli J. Finkel for its insight on how our view of relationships has changed.

But, really, how do you prevent yourself from becoming jaded? I think part of it is letting go of what other people are doing, to be honest. The best you can do is live your life in a way that feels authentic to you, hope to inspire others around you, and try and find a tribe. I’d have some more concrete answers, but it’s not clear to me what your ideal vision of the world is, or what moral framework you’re working within. But look at Mormons, many of them live lives totally authentic to their own values, and their strong community bonds helps fortify them against a world that’s at odds with what they believe a good life looks like. Agree with their lifestyle or not, I’ve always been a firm believer there’s a lot we can learn from them.

I myself have become a lot more jaded and a lot more hopeful since getting a divorce, navigating this brave new world of dating. The real annoying thing is that people are going to both disappoint you more than you ever could have anticipated, and then they’re going to turn around and remind you the world’s not such a bad place, either. So now my focus is curating what I do and don’t allow in my life, general trends aside.

Are we socially conditioned to view men as only wanting sex?

Yes and no.

No because I think people know men want relationships. We’re certainly not surprised when a man proposes, or gets married, or writes love letters or any number of stereotypically romantic behaviors. We certainly frame a lot of it as “stalkerish,” particularly when it comes from men who we don’t find attractive, but there’s definitely space for it in the conversation.

But there’s a caveat, here. A lot of the available advice or media frames men as being sexual conquistadors only. Even when you think about how we view incels, a lot of it is around “entitlement to sex,” versus “desiring connection, a vital part of which is sex.” We also often center sex when thinking about men pursuing women, even the advice or messaging that errs more towards life being a fairytale seem to do this.

You’re also starting to see a lot of this FemaleDatingStrategy/TheRedPillforWomen (whatever it’s called) “harsh truth”-style advice that portrays men as primarily sexual beings, who may incidentally fall in love. I think this is a disservice to everyone.

There are some basic principles that we can shake out, but yeah, viewing men as hypersexual automatons isn’t the same thing as acknowledging how the sexes approach relationships. It’s a garbage approach.

How do you fall in love again?

I can’t actually answer this question, but I can say: I believe you will again. You think you’ve found the one until you find the next one.

I believe in soul mates, but we have multiple throughout our lifetime. You’ll find her, keep your chin up.


*Letter edited for clarity.

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