Ask the Doctors: Options for Older Virgins

Dr Queen:

Due to my upbringing, I wanted to wait for complete sexual intimacy until I met someone special, and so I have never experienced penis penetration. I am not gay ~ I just don’t believe in casual sex (I find it difficult to meet someone where there is mutual attraction and someone who believes in monogamy). I read that it is unhealthy to be sexually inactive and I have been fairly depressed about this lately.

Being realistic, I don’t think I will meet anyone at this point. So what are my options? I think it would be too painful to use a sex toy, as I can barely use tampons. Thank you for any helpful thoughts.

Thank you for your question. First I’d like to address the question of whether it’s unhealthy to be sexually inactive. I wouldn’t put it in precisely those terms. It’s often said that it is healthy to be sexually active, and I’d say that’s correct as far as it goes — other things being equal, sexual activity tends to help people relax and deal with stress, bond in relationships (if relevant), keep the genitals in good order, and it has implications for brain chemistry and burns a few calories. And certainly if a person has become depressed about a lack of sexual activity or opportunity, as you are, that in itself is not a health plus.

However, the sexual activity in question need not be with a partner. It can absolutely be solo to have all of the above positive effects, except the partner-related one. In fact, solo sex is probably far superior to partner sex that is not pleasurable: sometimes, of course, some partners are not very good in bed! So I am first going to suggest you revisit the question of solo pleasuring, whether or not you include toys. We’ll get to the question of other people in a moment.

If you were going to be solo-sexual (if you are not now), I’d suggest, first, that you have a look at Betty Dodson’s wonderful book Sex for One. Betty not only gives you a ton of information about masturbation — she also addresses the common notion that it is not “real” sex, and she talks a lot about pleasure, orgasm, toys, and more.

About toys: You could be getting a lot of pleasure from vibrator use without ever trying vaginal penetration. Although it is our culture’s very definition of “sex,” penetration is only one of many erotically pleasurable options, and I never recommend that women start with it, because if one is not physically aroused, it won’t feel good — as you have noticed with your experiences with tampons.

I would recommend reading Betty’s book and then exploring external, clitorally-focused vibrator use, or even simply masturbation with your hands (or some women love to use a stream of water in the tub, or a shower massage; others use a “no-hands” method, rubbing against a pillow or bolster), without any focus on vaginal entry. Explore states of arousal, and see whether you can get to orgasm.

Sooner or later, your body might send you the signal that it would feel good to have vaginal touch too — and you can do this with just a lubed finger, or with a very slim dildo. You can get dildos as slender as a tampon as well as much larger. So you don’t have to start with anything penis-sized (which of course varies widely also).

One hint: Get some lubricant to make your by-hand or toy-assisted forays into genital touch more comfortable and pleasant. It is a radical difference from dry touch, and you will want to be familiar with lube if you find yourself a partner.

Now then — I agree that, especially as a woman begins to get a little older, it can be challenging to meet and attract people who might be interested in an exclusive relationship — but it might be easier, in fact, than finding a young guy who is into exclusivity. As men come into mid-life, some have sowed enough oats to want to settle down; others were never the oat-sowing type, and are increasingly interested in a companion.

I’ll have more thoughts on finding a partner in a bit, but first I want to make a bridge for you between solo sex and meeting someone. If you are attending to your own pleasure needs, you might find that your depression lifts and that this, in and of itself, helps increase your attractiveness to others. There is a signal sent out by people who have a degree of satisfaction in their lives that seems to make it easier for them to meet people. It minimizes desperation, too: “This is the only chance I have for pleasure.” When you can give yourself pleasure, you know it’s not the case that you must take any opportunity for a relationship. And you do not send subconscious signals of desperation or extreme neediness.

I would guess that you might need a boost in confidence in two directions: your lack of sexual experience, and your general ability to attract a partner. Can you talk to any women friends in your life and trust them to help you clearly assess whether you need to dress a little differently, get a new hairdo, go to Toastmasters to be able to speak with more confidence? Or is all that in line for you already?

If there is anything about yourself that you personally consider unattractive, you will need to learn to change it or make friends with it. That’s why I wrote about body image issues in Exhibitionism for the Shy — before a person gets outgoing enough to attract attention, or a partner, she must sometimes learn to love and accept herself as she is. If this is part of what you need, I encourage you to consider seeing a therapist a few times to work on those questions of confidence.


But you’re still a virgin! Yes, as is everyone, until they’re not. Plenty of very sexually active people still have a lot of unexplored “virginities,” because each of us is unique in experience and desire. If you truly feel you would be more confident and comfortable if you were not a virgin, there is a safe way to address this: via a session (or a few) with a surrogate partner. This is a trained person, under the oversight of a therapist, whose job it is to help people learn sexual skills and overcome sexual challenges.

More surrogate work is done with men who have either erectile or ejaculatory issues than with women, but women who see surrogates generally fall into four categories: those who are deeply shy and reserved, and need help learning to be comfortable in an intimate situation with another person; pre-orgasmic women who need coaching; women desiring help moving away from vaginismus (who cannot be comfortably penetrated at all); and women in your position, who are still virgins. Some of these women feel that it would open the door to other sexual and relationship options if they could gain confidence through working with a surrogate. I will be clear here, in case you have not heard of this: you could go as far with your surrogate as full-penetration intercourse, losing your virginity in a controlled (and therapeutically overseen) situation.

If you were going to see a surrogate, how would you find one? I’d suggest contacting the International Professional Surrogate’s Association — where you can ask who might be operating in your area as a surrogate and as a therapist who works with surrogates. There are also a category of professional called a “sexological bodyworker” — some of these “SexBods,” as they casually call themselves, might also be appropriate to do teaching of this kind.  I stress that this is not just like having sex with just any random person–the surrogate or SexBod is trained to make it an educational and therapeutic process.

How would you attract a monogamous partner? With or without doing any of the above, it strikes me that your situation is tailor-made for one of the reputable Internet matching services that focus on connecting people with serious possible “matches.” You can assess the person online before you meet, and you will have the opportunity to communicate about your experience level (if you choose to disclose this); if you have the sense from the way a guy communicates with you online that he isn’t “the One,” you never even have to meet (though I would urge you to practice genteel Internet etiquette and get back to those Mr. Not-Quites with a “no thank you,” rather than just erasing their messages and leaving them in limbo).

Additionally, Dear Abby would say the same thing that I’m about to say: If you throw yourself into something that truly interests you, you will meet other who share your interests and values, and you will be at your best when you meet them. If you don’t get out much, ask yourself what kind of volunteer work, clubs, spiritual activities, or other group-related events might be out there to devote yourself to; the more these opportunities hew to your own values, the greater the likelihood that you will meet someone there who feels like Mr. Right.

I wish you the best of luck!


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Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at

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