I discovered your column a few weeks ago and I have been reading dozens of your answers each day. You are a very logical and sensible man — and I need your advice. I recently graduated from college and I’m planning on attending graduate school in September. I am attractive, witty and intelligent; there are definitely men who think I’m sexy. I have excellent people skills and I can read people fairly easily. I can be bubbly and extroverted; people often find me charming. I’m also much more complex and insightful than I first appear to be.
Anyways, in my circle of friends, I am the logical, sensible one. I don’t go out on Saturday night and get trashed and hook up with strangers, but my friends do. I believe in making deliberate, rational decisions. I’m still a virgin because I know that I become emotionally involved when I am physically involved, and I would rather wait until I’m married (or in a very serious relationship). I don’t want to lose my virginity to some dude at the bar who bought me five tequila slammers.
My question is this: At what point do I need to break the news that I’m a virgin? I’m not planning on having sex anytime soon, but I really like kissing and touching. At the same time, being very pragmatic, I know that most men are just trying to sleep with me and move on. I don’t want to lead men on, so I’m not sure what to do. Do I bluntly tell the man that I’m a virgin? If so, when? At what point do I give him the option of bailing? Most people my age are sexually active (and I like older men) so the guy naturally assumes that he has a shot at getting me in bed. When a guy buys me a drink, I want to just say, “Look, I don’t blame you for trying, but I’ll never sleep with you.” I think sex is a healthy way to bond, have fun and so forth, but I’m waiting — and while that is certainly my choice, what do I tell the guy?
There is also a slight complication — I’m interested in power exchange. I like being dominated. Not in any serious or harmful way, but the idea of spanking turns me on, and I’d like to experiment with that. Do you see the predicament? I’m not a blushing virgin, but I am a virgin, and plan on staying that way for a while.
Pragmatic but Frustrated
Dear Pragmatic but Frustrated,
The image comes to mind of a beautiful woman carrying a bottle of nitroglycerin through the streets of Pamplona during the running of the bulls.
She likes being there. She likes how it feels. She finds it interesting and it excites her. But she does not want to participate. She just likes being there. She does not want to spill the nitroglycerin; she does not want to cause an explosion; yet she is on the streets of Pamplona during the running of the bulls. It may be her opinion that the running of the bulls is pointless and absurd. Yet she is carrying a bottle of nitroglycerin through the streets of Pamplona during the running of the bulls.
Here is something about young men. They will almost always be stronger than you. But each young man begins as a powerless child. The elder males lift him up and say, Look how strong he is! Make a fist! they say. Look! Throw a punch! they say. Flex those biceps! The young boy flexes his tiny biceps and poses. They applaud him, but he is not strong. He is just a boy. He has no power.
He would like to be strong. He reads about the Incredible Hulk and dreams of being able to roar in anger and transform himself into a giant muscled man that adults fear and run from. He dreams of this.
He reaches his teens. One day an elder grabs his wrist and holds it and he breaks the grip! He sees surprise and fear in the eyes of the elder. He realizes he has physical power.
This changes everything.
Girls have always been stronger than he is. His mother, his teachers, his older sister, even girls his own age have been stronger. They shot up faster; they were taller and smarter. They had all the power. Plus they had moral authority; teachers and parents sided with them against the unruly boys. The girls had social order on their side.
Then, suddenly, he is stronger than all the girls. He sees a girl and feels desire for her and realizes: I could take her. She is weak! I am strong! I could hold both her wrists in one hand and still have one hand free. I could break her. I frighten her. I see it in her eyes. I see that she is frightened and also that she likes me. I wonder if, secretly, she wants me to take the control from her. I wonder if it even matters what she wants. Maybe it only matters what I want. I have the power.
Ideally, this dawning of physical dominance in a young man coincides with the awakening of the moral imagination. Ideally the young man senses that with power comes responsibility to protect the weak, or he is taught this, or it is harshly drilled into him. If the young man is parented carefully and is encouraged to struggle with the difficult contradiction of power and responsibility, and if limits are placed on him, and the place and manner of his interaction with young women are controlled, and if through sports his energy is exhausted and his desire to dominate others is channeled, perhaps he can pass through this period and become a strong, just man.
But this is treacherous ground. Many men reach their 20s without grappling with the essential problem of how to use their own power in relationships with women. They remain like children. Children like taking things from each other: Give it back! They have fun that way. There is give and take, or, as you say, power exchange. Children spank each other, too. They play.
Sometimes their play turns ugly: I just want the toy and I’m tired of the game. I’m taking the toy. Let’s see what pure power and size can accomplish here.
You may meet a young man who, although not a child, is still struggling with these things. Because of your interest in power and dominance, you may be drawn to him. But you may meet him on the wrong night, or your interest in power exchange may be misconstrued as simply an interest in being dominated, and your desire to be heard and taken at your word may be disregarded, and you may find it doesn’t matter what you want or what you had planned because he is going to take what he wants simply because he has the power.
Later you may talk about what was right and what was wrong but the damage will be done: You will have experienced the terror of being an object of no consequence, an object to which a virtual stranger does what he wants just because he can. You will have begun by exploring the exchange of power but end up experiencing the trauma of utter powerlessness and violation. Such an experience can take years to get over; it can alter the course of your life.
So before you get into a “power exchange” situation with a young man, I suggest you talk to women who have experience in this area. You will want, perhaps, to participate in such play only with a man who is experienced in these things, perhaps a man recommended to you by a woman. Perhaps you would want to experiment only in a controlled setting.
Rape is not the only danger. If you play erotic games of desire and power, a moment may come when you are so turned on that all reason leaves you and you are nothing but your wanting, nothing but your screaming animal desire, no thoughts of justice, no plans for the future, no love of virginity, nothing but the moment and what you want, and in this moment if you are like millions of men and women throughout the millennia you will do what you did not plan to do. So prepare. Respect the power of your own erotic nature; meditate upon this most evolutionarily important aspect of the species: that we are designed to fuck and fuck a lot. Respect this part of yourself. Ready yourself and carry condoms. And if that moment comes, be ready to say I may give in to it and if I do give in to it, that does not mean I have failed; it just means I am human. I did what my species was designed to do.
You know what you want. That is admirable. But life may have different ideas. You may know a lot about nitroglycerin, but if you carry a bottle of it through the streets of Pamplona during the running of the bulls, something may happen. Your knowledge of the risks alone is no protection against them. So if you want to experiment, don’t experiment with a stranger. Things may blow up.
What? You want more advice?