How do I find a sexual partner after 20 years of celibacy? | Ask Philippa

The question I’m a 59-year-old gay man who has been celibate for nearly 20 years. Up until Covid hit I was content with my lot. I had good friends and many interests. That died back during the pandemic and hasn’t really picked up again. However, during lockdown, I rediscovered myself as a sexual being. I found guys online who miraculously seemed interested in me. In the loneliness of lockdown, I felt oddly alive again.

Previously, my one and only relationship, which lasted many years, ended badly with my ex telling me that sex with me had always been bad and, by the way, I need to get tested. I tested negative and, although he had tested positive, I felt the loser. I had a brief fling with a guy about a year later (and another trip to the clinic), before eschewing sex altogether. Now the online sex I found over the past two years has awakened something in me. I feel like a sexual being again.

When I have offered to meet the guys I regularly engage with, they have either made excuses or just disappeared. I know this isn’t a route to happiness, but I find the face-to-face kind of approach frightening. I hang about gay bars, but just shrivel with insecurities. I have tried a gay dating app, but my one experience of it left me terrified for my life.

I haven’t got a clue what to do. I have so much self-doubt about myself as a sexual partner.

Philippa’s answer Reading between the lines it seems that since lockdown you may have let your friendships slide somewhat and have replaced them to an extent with the sense of connection you get from your contacts online. My first concern is whether you are in danger of developing something like a dependency on internet sex and, as a result, are having less contact with your friends and less involvement with your interests?

Internet sex appears to be a dead end when it comes to meeting people in real life and isolation is not good for anyone’s mental health in the long term. Reconnect with your friends, tell them you are up for meeting someone and – you never know – something may come of that. It is great that you have rediscovered your sexual self, but not so much if it is at the expense of your friendships.

It is very common that the instigator of a break-up seems to need to make the lover they are leaving into a bad person. I have heard many tales of the left partner having been told versions of “I never found you attractive.” This is not about you. He had to make you into something bad in his mind so he could separate.

You split with your ex and then had one fling and both these incidents are associated with sexually transmitted diseases. It is tempting for me to get very analytic about this and wonder whether somewhere in your unconscious you are associating sex with sin and punishment? I talked to a gay friend about it and he ignored my Freudian references and said the clap clinic was a great place to pick up hot men – they all like sex, that’s why they are there. I am not recommending this route, but it is one successfully taken by my friend and shows that you don’t have to link shame to STDs!

You’ve also had one terrible experience with a dating app. What we have here is a recipe for no confidence: three bad experiences, being chucked and insulted, hooking up and getting infected and then getting scared by someone you met on an app. If you were already tentative and had built up walls around yourself, each of these experiences will have added extra defences. When you go to a gay bar, I expect you stare at the floor or your phone and hope that’ll work – and of course it doesn’t. “I can’t do this,” becomes your self-fulfilling prophecy. What you need are some good IRL experiences to counteract the bad. Instead of a gay bar, try a gay group, such as a choir or a sport. Try a different app and read the safety guidelines first. You are going to have to feel the fear and do it anyway, because to move on from these bad experiences you must get back on the horse. If you don’t you’ll stay stuck.

Try a different app and read the safety guidelines first. You are going to have to feel the fear and do it anyway, because to move on from these bad experiences you must get back on the horse. If you don’t you’ll stay stuck.

It feels scary, as though you are clinging to a rope for safety and fearing that if you let go you’ll never stop falling. But let go and you’ll find the ground is but two inches away from your feet. Part of your reticence could be that you got out of the habit of being sociable in lockdown and your sociability muscle atrophied. This has happened to so many of us and it takes a surprising amount of time and many encounters to build it up again. A first step will be to reconnect with those good friends you used to hang out with before lockdown.

You are enjoying your body in a sexual way again, have relit your sexual spark, relearned how to love yourself and this is a fabulous start to finding great sex with someone else. You sound like a good catch to me. Don’t deprive the world any longer of your love.

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