This is not a plea for sympathy — as a white male, I know I am one of the least sympathetic demographics. Rather, this is a window to understanding. Sex, for the single man, is akin to the Netflix “Arrested Development” reboot: eagerly anticipated, disappointing in execution, and only a reminder of how good it used to be.
In July, just after moving to Nashville — itself the continuation of a five-month dry spell — I was assigned to review BangFit, a sex-as-workout program created by PornHub, for a national magazine’s website. I was single at the time, but as an intrepid freelance writer and general sex- and fitness-enthusiast, I believed this wouldn’t pose too much of a challenge.
Without social connections and dreading the long game required by the bar scene, I figured I’d need to cast the widest net possible, and nothing says “all fish welcome” quite like Tinder. In a succinct bio, I laid out my plight: tall, fit man seeking partner to engage in protected sex while being coached by cartoon figures on a laptop and wearing Fitbits. Oh, and I’d write about it. “Pseudonyms OK.”
The only woman that I met for this, unsurprisingly or not, hadn’t read my carefully worded want ad (the modern version of proof that no one reads Playboy for the articles). The look on this woman’s face after I asked her to look it up in the coffee shop was akin to what haunted house patrons must see.
I never wrote that story because I couldn’t get someone to have even normal sex with me before deadline.
My brother-in-law and I talk about the sex I’m having — or, rather, not having — sometimes. I’ll regale him with stories of the single life that must be terribly underwhelming. A few dates with a woman who just got out of a four-year relationship, or another whose ex really did a number on her and she’s not really in a place to commit. Or a second-year law student I see once a week at the movies.
I’ll talk to my younger brother, and he’ll advise from his perch of a committed relationship that maybe instead of going out on dates with the 2L, I should just ask her to be exclusive because the solidity of a relationship will provide clarity — and, ostensibly, lead to sex — instead of this going-to-the-movies-on-Sunday-nights thing we’re currently locked into.
As I get older, the more I ache for the right person, for sex and more. But sex is similar to dating, I think: It’s easy to sleep with or date the wrong person, but much harder to sleep with or date the right one. And just like with relationships, the downsides of sex with the wrong person make abstinence almost appealing.
Part of this push-pull, I’m betting also for other men, is the creeping terror of catching a sexually transmitted disease. I get a literal ache in my scrotum at the thought. STDs are today what D.A.R.E. drugs were to me in middle school: seemingly lurking around every corner, ready to pounce and able to maim for life.
Did you know the average STD screening doesn’t test for HPV? No one wants a main dish of true love with a side of cervical cancer. There were 1.5 million cases of chlamydia reported in 2015 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gonorrhea and syphilis, while both rarer than the clap, experienced double-digit percentage growth.
Then there’s the chance of an unwanted pregnancy, which, as far as I can surmise, ends in either a Ben Folds Five “Brick” situation or a disaffected teen who shops at Hot Topic.
I’ve managed to make it this far as a single guy without an STD or without child support. It is now a game of Russian roulette to not pick the wrong person, even as the desire to feel someone’s touch causes me to toss and turn in bed.
So what does one do in the interim?
Well, I masturbate a lot, if you really want to know. Single guys are doing it way more than you might believe possible, if that is possible. Doing it seems to help, as not — by my own trial-and-error — can lead to embarrassing texts of the “U up” type. I do CrossFit and play volleyball (a lot and a lot).
The hope of having sex more often than biannually has led me to ask out every woman that I am attracted to. Sometimes I’ll boomerang back after passing a woman on shop bench and, respectfully, say, “Excuse me, I don’t normally do this,” et cetera, because by the time you hit your 30s there is no lasting embarrassment at being shot down.
Sex is still as strong motivator as ever. It causes Steve Carell to have his chest hair ripped off by the strip and Jason Biggs to penetrate a pie. It pulls my feet toward a woman dressed in Ohio State Red at a bar even as their football team is pulling away from my Michigan Wolverines. In the single life, I’m betting the most sex comes from the fewest number of partners, and so all I’m looking for is one.