Ask Joan: How to Reveal a Dating Must-NOT-Have

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“When do I reveal that intercourse is off the table?”

Dear Joan:

I am a 66-year-old single woman who would love to find a man who understands from the get-go that intercourse is off the table. I’ve had a lifetime problem with vaginismus, which I’m working to resolve, but there’s no guarantee. The advice I’ve seen for enjoying sex when intercourse is painful presumes that the people are already in a relationship. But how do I find a guy through online dating who would be receptive to sex without intercourse? When do I bring this up?

Is this a deal breaker?

Is my situation usually a deal-breaker? It doesn’t make sense to go through all the effort and time to find someone who sets off sparks only to tell him, on our third hot date, “Sorry, I can’t do that.” It seems like advanced notice would avoid a painful let down for both of us.

Suppose I put this reality on my online dating profiles right up front?

My last, otherwise wonderful relationship of two years died because we could only “do it” once, with as much pain as pleasure, despite my best efforts with dilators, lubricants, and Kegels. I understand that there are guys who are okay with sex without intercourse. The problem is all the wasted time and emotional investment for those who are not.

Suppose I put this reality on my online dating profiles right up front? I tried this once — I wrote this passionate, honest paragraph about how much I loved sex but alas could no longer tolerate intercourse:

“Despite the riches in my life there is one lack that I must live with: as much as I love being with a man and all its attendant sensual pleasures, I cannot – for now – have intercourse. I’d rather be upfront with this now, because I also value honesty.”

Two men responded positively. One said he admired my bravery and honesty, but no date resulted. The other said he no longer gets erections because of prostate surgery. We made a date but didn’t hit it off. Then I lost my nerve and changed the profile back to not revealing.

Should I try again? One person told me, “Be upfront. You will filter out the men for whom this is a deal-breaker early and save everyone heartache down the road. There are men out there who fear that their inability to perform in the PIV domain will be a deal-breaker for women — you want to find those men.”

—  Want Sex but Not PIV

Joan responds:

Vaginismus is a condition of involuntary muscle spasm and pain preventing vaginal penetration. You’re right that it would be wise to reveal early that you’re sensual and sexual, but that excludes vaginal intercourse, a.k.a PIV (penis-in-vagina sex). As you know, you can give erotically charged, totally satisfying sexual pleasure in a variety of non-penetrative ways.

You may be reluctant to put such a personal and private revelation in your dating profile for strangers to see, but you also don’t want to wait until a new relationship gets hot and heavy before springing the news. If this is a deal-breaker, why not reveal it early? Some men will not want to date you, and that’s a good thing, because you don’t want to date someone who wants a type of sex that is painful to you.

You said you were honest in your dating profile for a time, and two men responded positively. When those two didn’t work out, you lost your nerve. Your disclosure wasn’t the reason those two didn’t work out. Most first dates (and “pre-dates”) don’t work out.

Truthfully, there are many men, especially in your age group, who require or prefer sex without intercourse. They may delight in sex, but for a variety of possible medical reasons, they don’t have reliable erections, or they may not get erect at all. That doesn’t mean that they can’t have exciting, satisfying sex with a partner — just that it will happen with hands, mouths, and sex toys, not PIV. Word your profile so that you can find these men.

Think of your wording in your profile as inviting men in who want what you want. The way you worded your disclosure before sounded sad and apologetic, as if you were reluctantly admitting to a fatal flaw. It’s not a flaw, and it doesn’t have to be a setback. Consider more positive wording, such as:

“I’m a sensual, sexual person who, for medical reasons, cannot have sexual intercourse. Maybe that describes you, too. Let’s discover other ways to give each other pleasure if the chemistry is right.”

Readers, I hope you’ll offer your suggestions, especially if you’ve faced this problem yourself.

One last point: you said you’re working on your vaginismus, and I assume that’s with medical assistance. I hope this includes a pelvic floor physical therapist. These are specialists who deal with vaginal pain. Ask your OB/GYN for a referral or Google “pelvic floor physical therapy + [your zip code].”


Joan Price has been Senior Planet’s “Sex at Our Age” columnist since 2014. She is the author of four self-help books about senior sex, including her award winners: “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex” and “Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved.” Visit Joan’s website and blog for senior sex news, views, tips, and sex toy reviews from a senior perspective. Subscribe to Joan’s free, monthly newsletter.

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