Initiating Physical Intimacy for the First Time

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Reader’s Question

I’m a young guy who recently started a relationship with a marvelous girl. My problem is that I’m never sure if I need to ask permission from her, or whether I am just scared/anxious/insecure or what, but I am not as intimate with her as I would like to be (even a peck on the cheek). I feel like I’m letting her down.

I haven’t had many girlfriends, and there were usually long periods in between them. I’ll never be a model, but I’m not a bad-looking bloke. I have a toned physique, but I miss cues to show it off to the girl I’m with. I’m not gay, and although I’ve never had sex, I would very much like to. So, I don’t think I’m asexual, but I do wonder whether I’m normal.

Psychologist’s Reply

The issue of desire is an important one, as you mentioned. There is a portion of the population who report that they rarely, if ever, have sexual feelings or drives. Usually, such folks don’t feel that they’re missing out on anything because they’ve always felt that way. Problems only arise when their partner is dissatisfied by the lack of sexual intimacy.

It sounds like yours isn’t a case of lack of desire, but rather a simple lack of experience and confidence. Of course, with anything we haven’t done before, there will be uncertainty and possibly anxiety. The safer response to an uncertain or anxious situation is to do nothing. No one likes rejection, or to be a source of social awkwardness or misunderstanding. So, when it comes to initiating various forms of physical intimacy, the “safest” choice is simply not to initiate. Over time then, non-physical ways of relating to one’s partner may become the norm, or the default behavior. The risk is staying stuck in a friends-only type of relationship.

The way to build confidence in your behavior is to gain experience, learning firsthand that initiation of physical intimacy and allowing your girlfriend to see your body are unlikely to result in awkwardness or rejection, since you’re already in a dating relationship. Such experience also teaches that awkwardness and rejection may not be as bad in actuality as you may have built them up to be in your mind. To a great degree, this confidence carries over to subsequent romantic relationships. Many people start the process of building this form of confidence during adolescent romantic relationships, so that by the time we’re adults, it seems like it comes easily or naturally for those people.

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So, how do you get started? I’m frequently surprised about how rarely we think about having a frank discussion as the key ingredient in the solution to a relationship difficulty. In your case, it seems logical to explain to your girlfriend your uncertainty over when and how to initiate physical intimacy, and that it has nothing to do with her, but simply your not having had much relationship experience. Such an honest conversation would reassure her that your seeming indifference is not due to a lack of attraction or desire. She may even feel flattered that she is the first girlfriend you’ve felt comfortable enough with, or invested enough in, to remedy the problem jointly. Let her help you by getting much of the potential awkwardness out of the way.

I’m confident that the biggest hurdles are having the conversation, and initiating greater physical intimacy the first few times. As long as your girlfriend is open to helping you, and your initiations are met receptively, I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll gain comfort and confidence. It will be a relief to simply express physical affection and sexual attraction as it arises, rather than staying stuck in your head analyzing what you could or should do next.

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