Let's Get Naked (or not)

Dear SHE,

I just started dating this guy, and I really like him and want us to be exclusive and everything, but I’m feeling guilty because I know I won’t be ready to have sex with him for at least three months. Probably closer to six months, actually. How do I break it to him that if we’re going to be together he’s going to have to go a pretty long time without sex? Is it unfair to ask a guy to commit to a sexless relationship? Should I even bring it up?*

-Ms. Blueballs

You remember how sexy I find explicit, open communication, right? Well, Ms. Balls, it may come as something of a surprise that I’m going to caution you against initiating A Talk about your sexual expectations. This means no doing something silly like saying, “Hey, Mr. Balls, I really want to date your person...but you’re gonna be blue as Paul Bunyan’s ox for another three months. At least. See you on the other side!”

Do me—and your sex life—a favor: don’t put a timeframe on it. Unless you’ve just had surgery and won’t be fully recovered for a certain amount of time, or have taken a three-month vow of celibacy or something, there’s no way you can be certain that you won’t be ready for sex until a set date.

I’m proud of you for knowing yourself well enough to have a time-frame in mind, and my wariness toward the three-to-six-months thing doesn’t come from wanting you to be sluttier. (I want to be perfectly clear here, because I know I might come off as pro-sex all the time with my “let’s get naked!”s and “I LOVE YOU!”s and the slutty pseudonym and everything...) Don’t get sexually active with a partner before you’re both ready. If you don’t want to have sex for three months, don’t have sex for three months. Don’t plan on not having sex for three months, either, though. Putting a timeframe on your sex life—or on any aspect of your life—is a bad idea. I’m just saying: the future is unpredictable.

As well as you may know yourself now, being in a relationship changes people. Maybe your relationship will move faster or slower than you expect it to right now, or maybe being in this relationship will change the way you think about sex. Maybe you’ll be even less comfortable with the thought of getting naked and sweaty with your sweetie. Maybe you’ll be out-of-your-mind-horny, and he won’t be ready. (Contrary to popular opinion, not all male-bodied individuals are sex fiends. And not all female-bodied individuals are of your reluctant-to-have-sex attitude. Granted, women have more reasons to be wary of sex: a greater likelihood of sexually-transmitted infections due to the larger surface area of the genital mucus membrane, potential for vaginal pain and discomfort and the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. Not to mention the social stigma associated with being a “slut.” A stigma that your dear Slutty Health Expert works very hard to counteract.)

The moment you put a hard-and-fast timeframe on the way your relationship will develop, the moment that timeframe becomes a deadline of sorts. A looming source of apprehension or excitement, a goal or a deadline that you’re going to feel bad about. I can practically guarantee that you won’t feel good about giving your partner a sexual timeframe. You don’t want to set up a countdown to some magical moment when you’ll be “ready.” Passion doesn’t happen on schedule.

I still haven’t addressed your real question, though. How do you tell a person who has presumably had sex, who is presumably used to having sex, and who will presumably want to continue having sex, that that person will have to stop having sex to have a relationship with you? (First of all, stop presuming. Remember my earlier aside? The one where I said, “not all male-bodied individuals are sex fiends?”) You don’t want to make it into an ultimatum: sex or me. You don’t want to set a deadline: sex in three months, GET PUMPED, IT’LL BE WORTH THE WAIT (ohgodnowwe’llbothbetoonervous). And you don’t want to give up on the prospect of having a committed relationship: I won’t be ready for sex for a while, so we’ll be in a relationship but you can have as much anonymous sex as you want. (If that last one is the kind of relationship you’re looking for, I must warn you that that sort of relationship is not really “exclusive.” Polyamory carries an inherent risk of jealousy, even if the outside partners are “just” sexual outlets. And if you’re really so reluctant to have sex and your partner is really so eager to have sex, you’re probably not in a place where you should be in an exclusive relationship with one another. More on such sexual compatibility in a couple of paragraphs...)

So: do you tell him? Sure. Don’t just blurt it out as the world’s most awkward non sequitor, though. (“Lovely day, isn’t it?” “I can’t imagine being physically intimate with you for at least a few months, but I still hope you can see our commitment to one another as something to take seriously.”) Don’t make it into a big deal, an issue that frames your re- lationship, by having “Sex (or the Lack Thereof)” be the opening act of the drama that your relationship will inevitably become.

You’re under no obligation to bring up your sexual expectations until the topic arises naturally in the relationship. There is much more to a romantic relationship than physical intimacy, and you shouldn’t feel like you’re shortchanging your partner by delaying the physical intimacy until you’re ready. And just because neither of you are having partnered sex, doesn’t mean your partner shouldn’t be able to keep himself (or herself) sexually satisfied. (Masturbation FTW!)

That said, if and when your reluctance to have sex becomes an issue in your relationship, consider this: sexual compatibility is important. Sexual compatibility encompasses more than what you enjoy during sex, it also involves your perspective toward the act of sex itself. If you’re interested in pursuing a long-term relationship with someone, and that person finds a stint of abstinence unfathomable whereas you find that period completely necessary...well, then, you don’t seem very compatible to me.

Also (getting back to those presumptions I keep bringing up in my parenthetical asides), I don’t think it’s fair for you to assume that the man you’re interested in a relationship with will—by virtue of his masculinity—be turned off by a relationship with you because it will mean respecting your sexual restraint. Who knows, he may even end up being more willing to wait than you are. (Don’t doubt your Slutty Health Expert on this point. I’ve known it to happen. More than once.)

I hope I’ve been of some help, Ms. Balls. Remember: respect yourself, respect your partner, communicate openly and often, and have fun. Partnered sex isn’t the only way to have fun, and restraining from having sex with your partner just might make the eventual consummation (as long as you don’t put a timeframe on it and make it into an issue) all the sweeter. Restraint can be sexy.


*I am paraphrasing here. This question was not actually submitted to me in writing. But it was asked, and I do believe I established in my previous column that I’m going to start giving unsolicited advice.

Questions? Write SHE: Scripps Box #797 (no stamp required for intercampus mail!) or E-mail SHE : editor.scrippsvoice@gmail.com

(Make the subject “SEXXX” or something. SHE promises to ignore the email address from which your sexy emails are sent and assume everyone’s writing on behalf of sexually-awkward friends.)