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I want to take sex slowly, but women assume I’m not interested

Ask Roe: The only way I feel comfortable and enjoy sex is if I know the person

Dear Roe,

I’m a 29-year-old man. I was sexually abused as a child. I was abused by a man, but I’m straight. The abuse didn’t go on long, but I didn’t tell anyone about it at the time, and developed a lot of anxiety around the idea of dating and sex.

I had sex for the first time when I was a teenager, but for a few years, every time I had sex it felt like something I was doing out of obligation or expectation. I would feel terrible for weeks after, and usually cut off contact with the person I was sleeping with because I didn’t want to have sex again, but didn’t know to communicate with them.

A few years ago, I started going to therapy and it has helped me stop blaming myself for what happened. I’ve been more confident about meeting women, and have had two pretty serious relationships. The only way I can enjoy sex is if I know the person and feel really comfortable, which takes time.


I'm single again and dating, but when I tell women that I want to take things slowly, they usually expect to have sex quickly. I've had a few women say they don't think I'm interested in them because I wasn't trying to have sex with them. One woman even asked me if I was gay. I don't want to tell every woman I've met about what happened to me, but I don't know how to show I'm interested while moving slowly. I think it's pretty normal now to expect a man to want to have sex, and I don't want to just shut off most of my dating opportunities.

I’m so sorry for what happened to you, and so indescribably happy that not only did you survive it, but that you were brave enough to reach out and get help to ensure you could thrive. The fact that you are not only dating and seeking out love and affection, but that you are doing it with an awareness of your own boundaries and comfort level, shows an admirable amount of resilience, self-awareness and strength.

It is entirely understandable that you would want to take physical intimacy slowly – this desire is completely understandable and valid, even for people who haven’t been through a trauma. There is no sexual timeframe or pace that works for everyone, and if someone can’t respect your desire to move slowly, that is absolutely their problem.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture saturated with messages that insists that men – particularly young men - should constantly want sex, and should be pursuing it at all costs. These messages are hugely damaging in several ways. By insisting that men want sex all the time, we can implicitly blame or erase the experiences of male victims of sexual assault by assuming they must have “really” wanted it. We can make it harder for men to refuse sex, wait until they are ready, or to set boundaries around sex. And as you experienced from that deeply ignorant person who questioned your sexuality, we can even equate the myth of men’s constant desire for sex with masculinity or sexuality, which is deeply wrong.

Women can absolutely perpetuate these myths and ideals about masculinity, sometimes from a place of toxicity, and sometimes from a place of insecurity. As well as absorbing all of these damaging messages about men, women are constantly objectified and told that their sexual desirability is a huge measure of their social and personal worth. Straight women are constantly bombarded with the idea that if a man is attracted to them, he will want to sleep with them at the first possible opportunity. And so when a man wants to take things at a slower pace, many women will take all the messages they’ve received about sex and attraction and assume he’s not interested.

Basically, limited ideas of sex and gender are ruining dating and sex for a lot of people.

It’s unfortunate that you not only have to take on the burden of your own abuse and healing, but are also combatting these damaging stereotypes. Enthusiastic consent is fundamental to all healthy, empowering, pleasurable sex, and due to your experience, it’s particularly vital that you get to set boundaries, feel safe, and never feel like you’re having sex just for someone else. But I do think that you can communicate through this. It’s unclear from your letter what your exact limits are regarding physical contact in the early stages of dating or how you communicate them. For most people, some form of physical connection and physical chemistry is a huge indicator of attraction, so if you’re not interested in touching them at all or going for a goodnight kiss after a couple of dates, many women may believe your intentions are more lukewarm or platonic than they are.

But whatever your limits are, you can communicate through them. It may just be helpful to be explicit about your interest, and to make sure that you are clearly communicate that your boundaries are about your desire for comfort, not your lack of desire for your date. This will involve being very clear about your enthusiasm, interest and attraction – while also setting a boundary. Try phrases like “I think you’re fun and smart and really beautiful, I’m seriously attracted to you. I prefer to go slow when I’m with someone I like, it’s just my thing, but I’m really excited about getting to know you. How’s next Thursday for dinner?” This way, you’re being very clear that you are attracted, offering reassurance, being proactive about your interest – while also stating a personal boundary.

If pushed, you could maybe want to clarify that it isn’t for religious reasons etc – not that religious reasons aren’t valid, but in your case, explaining this could prevent your dates from assuming a value system that isn’t accurate to you. But explanations like “It’s just how I am, it’s how I’ve always been when dating, I just like to move slow” are perfectly clear and reasonable. If someone reacts negatively, that is their issue, not yours.

That’s one of the beautiful benefits of having clear boundaries: you quickly filter out the disrespectful, immature and toxic people who don’t respect them, making the good ones easier to spot. I’m excited for you, and the person who proves themselves worthy of you.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies. If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at Only questions selected for publication can be answered.