Meda asks this:
I’ve really been enjoying your sex and dating advice posts. Can I request one on overcoming social anxiety and depression and learning how to become sexual and date for the first time? I was physically and emotionally abused as a child, and I can’t interact easily with people now, even platonically, without feeling nauseous, unattractive, and annoying. Between fear of being touched and parents who tried to instil a disgust towards sex in me, I’m afraid to look up porn or masturbate. But I know the interest is there, and I want to overcome this. Any advice on taking the first step?
That sucks, man. Body shame is some grade-A nasty that no one should have to suffer through. Never fear, though – I got some no-bullshit advice for you.
So let’s start at the beginning, my friend.
Depression ain’t the same as social anxiety. It is horrible stuff that can and does wreck your life sideways. Go see a doctor about it, seriously. They’ll likely try you on a few different types of medication to see if any of them stick, and maybe send you to therapy, all that kind of stuff. And yeah, I know that shit is intimidating, but talking to the professionals is the best possible way to fix it.
Don’t believe any New Age bullshit about this. I mean it. Go see a doctor and get medical grade, high level help. If you got no insurance, go looking for free alternatives, or scrape together enough for a couple of counsellor visits or something. Really. Go do it soon.
Now, having said all that…
Brains are weird things, man. They’re more flexible than we give them credit for. This block you have going on is a defense mechanism – probably a pretty good one if it got you through a shitty childhood. Breaking through something like that just ain’t easy – but, see, you can make your brain do some pretty bizarre stuff. You might be able to route around it instead.
Yes, I’m aware this sounds like all kinds of odd.
So context matters. All this stuff you feel, it’s all in your head, and it’s tied int a way of thinking that’s been hammered into you since forever. Getting around it means you have to figure out a new way of thinking about the thing that’s making you feel uncomfortable – a way that doesn’t trigger all that nasty crap.
Example: for the sex thing, how about thinking about it clinically? Like, a huge ton of ingrained shame is holding you back here, so look for the aspects of it that have little or no shame attached, like academic research. It’s kinda the same thing for your body – if you’re afraid of being touched, and of masturbation, then try spending a while on Wikipedia reading about the actual science of orgasms, like you’re studying for an exam. Try examining yourself in the mirror, and say ‘Yes, this is the part of me that makes orgasms happen. Isn’t that interesting?’
It sounds pretty dumb, but there is method to my madness. This disassociates your way of thinking from the SHAME AAAAH stuff and forces your brain to make new connections between you, Meda-person, and the whole big disgusting world of sexy times, and hopefully these connections won’t make you puke. This becomes a new starting point from where you can develop your relationship with sex in a controlled way, at your own pace, and eventually you can bring yourself around to the scary concepts of pleasure and sex with other people and all that fun stuff. It’s like fooling yourself into thinking, ‘Yeah, this would be icky and dirty and wrong if I were actually engaging in sexytimes, but I’m totally not because this is FOR SCIENCE.’ Then, sometime later, when you’ve made the FOR SCIENCE part strong enough to stand on its own, you start to morph it into something more:
Yeah, this would be icky and dirty and wrong if I were actually engaging in sexytimes, but I’m totally not because this is FOR SCIENCE.
I’m totally not really engaging in sexytimes because this is FOR SCIENCE.
This is FOR SCIENCE and also WHOAH feels good man!
YAAAAY SEXYTIMES FOR ALL!
So hopefully this will lead around to you being comfortable with your own physical self, which is totally awesome. From that point, you kinda have to wing it when it comes to sexytimes with other people involved. Best I can tell you is that the process is more or less the same, except you have to explain to whoever you’re getting jiggy with that you gots some issues, and it’d be cool if they handled you gently and not get too weirded out by the whole thing. And, of course, it goes without saying that if they’re not willing to respect that or if they push you too far, you dropkick them off a cliff right back into Singles-town.
You NEVER, EVER tolerate anyone who thinks your mental health and safety don’t matter. EVER.
The nice thing about this method is that knowing a lot about something makes it a hell of a lot less scary. Like, if you’re terrified of spiders, and you surround yourself with pictures of spiders and articles about spiders doing their thing and plushie toys of spiders and whatever, and then you meet one in real life, they don’t seem so intimidating. You end up connecting them with ‘so that’s their thorax, and remember that article on how their eyes work’, instead of ‘AAAH CREEPY ALIEN THING DIE IN A FIRE!’
Does that make sense? It totally makes sense in my head. Total brain hack, man. Start reading on Wikipedia and see where it takes you. And watch Sexplanations, which is a great Youtube series where a very nice doctor lady explains all kinds of sexy things, and which is also more or less SFW as long as you’ve got your headphones on.
Social anxiety! I know this feel, bro. This could be fixed by anti-depression meds, but I ain’t gonna go there. So here’s my advice, because it worked for me – practice at talking to people where it doesn’t matter. Again, because interwebs, you can make a new username and pretty much become a new person overnight among a bunch of new people. So take the fandoms, for example – jump into one, immerse yourself in it, talk to other fans about it, and practice talking to people in the sure and certain knowledge that you can vanish, any time you want, and start over somewhere else. When the stuff you say has zero repercussions, you do get less afraid of saying stuff in general.
Apart from that, don’t be afraid of being wrong, or hurting someone’s feelings, or embarrassing yourself, okay? Shit’s always going to happen. Just remember you’re only human, and you will likely fuck up a lot. So if you’re wrong, be humble, and accept the correction. If you hurt someone, apologize sincerely, and make amends if you can. If you embarrass yourself, just smile, and laugh.
All those things you’re so scared of – I know what that feels like, in the back of your head, and the way it sometimes stops you saying anything at all. But see, they’re going to happen anyway, and they’re a lot less scary if you own them, and make things right when you have to. Just start with listening to other people. It’s easy to join in when they’re happy, and easy to stay quiet and listen to all sides when a fight is going down. And if someone tries to tear into you… listen to why they’re saying it, not what they’re saying. It’s really hard for someone to throw hate at you and mean every word, because actually hating people is fucking exhausting. They’re more likely being frustrated, or lazy, or lashing out because of other reasons, or all kinds of random crap that doesn’t hinge on you, personally.
(Also – best way to utterly defeat a troll? Psychoanalyze them. In excruciating detail. Once you start theorizing on whether their super-ego has had a positive or negative effect on their propensity for anonymous commentary, and speculating on the likelihood of their bad grammar usage indicating sociopathic tendencies, most of them tend to shut up because ANYTHING they post can be used against them.)
So yeah. For what it’s worth, my friend, this is my advice to you, with a side-bonus of inane rambling on the nature of the brain. May this wall o’ text serve you well.