I Thought You Were Like a Ken Doll

Is a man who is a virgin not really a man?

There is a list of things that no man wants to hear. Most of them are simple: no man wants to be called weak or spineless or useless or ugly. For that matter, I doubt any woman does either. And yet, these things tend to slip out, as one statement did a few weeks ago.
It began innocently enough: a simple Italian dinner in the East Village with some current college friends. I was sitting at a table with two of my favorite females catching up on life and our lack of love over pasta and salads. All appeared to be well.

Then the discussion of my [lack of a] sexual life was brought up.

It’s not something I’m afraid to talk about. I have a weird relationship with sex compared to modern mainstream culture—somewhat caused by my lingering conservative Baptist upbringing and somewhat because of personal intimacy fears I have yet to face. It’s not like I don’t have any sort of sex drive; I identify as a straight man, albeit a virgin. It seems that everyone besides me wants to make a big deal of it. I don’t take sex lightly, and I’m not going to just throw away my virginity because “I’m getting too old.” In the meantime, I live a sexless existence. It’s cool—I’ve enrolled in Asexuals Anonymous.

The young women I’m having dinner with (who we’ll call Katy and Jill for the sake of anonymity) are close personal friends of mine. One of them I thought I may actually have an interest in forming a romantic relationship with at one point until I realized how in love she was with another man (who was, of course, another good friend of mine). These ladies have my best interests at heart, truly. We have spent a lot of time in our college’s dining hall or going on late night walks in Boston or seeing loads of theatre. We are, in many ways, intimate, but not romantic. We agree on lots of things. They just happen to think that what’s best for me is a sexually active lifestyle, and this causes moments of disagreement as well as spawning some unique (and enlightening) conversations.

“Wait, Daniel. Have you even seen porn?”

They start down the road we’ve traveled before, discussing love and relationships and sex. Frankly, I have little to contribute. But Katy gets the bright idea to ask: “Wait, Daniel. Have you even seen porn?”

A momentary hush settles over our corner of the restaurant. Jill turns towards me with big, expectant eyes, and I realize I’m cornered—literally and figuratively. There was a time in my life when I would have cared to answer this question honestly, but that time has passed. A combination of maturity and my exposure to the liberal leanings in the great state of Massachusetts has put me at ease when discussing these otherwise taboo matters. “Yes, I’ve seen porn before,” I answer. “I don’t like it, but I’ve seen it.”

Most of the men out there I imagine will agree with me when I say that initial question was a little … vapid. If you are a male who has grown up in the last three decades in a country that has any amount of internet access, you have most likely seen porn. Is that so shocking?

Apparently, for some, it is. Katy and Jill went into a tizzy, launching a discussion which was, in my opinion, far too personal for the public forum of a restaurant. I mean, if my mother had heard this discussion (or after she reads this post), even her toes would have been turning red with embarrassment. They wanted to know everything: How many times have I seen porn? Do I watch it regularly? Why don’t I like it? Have I ever masturbated? Have I watched it with other guys before? Is that a thing guys actually do?

I wanted to crawl under the table, find a copy of the Holy Bible, and swear to never mention sex at a dinner table again. Instead, I remained above ground with my face turning all shades of pink, then red (then purple?), trying to change the subject to something else. I never thought I’d be having this conversation with women—even this pair of close, caring friends. I never wanted to.

The discussion was winding down. Jill was sitting next to me with this perplexed look on her face (which was nothing compared to the distracted glances and pauses in conversation from the table sitting next to us). I asked her why she was looking like that. She couldn’t seem to look me in the eye. “It’s just that … I don’t know, I guess I’ve never thought of you like this,” she replied. “I always thought you were like a Ken doll I down there.”

Dear women of the world: you should never say this statement to a man. Women may spend a lot of time trying to look like Barbies, and men may want to look like Ken dolls, but not in the smooth, sexless, between-the-legs department.

I wanted to protest. She should know that just because I don’t sit around objectifying women all day in front of her doesn’t mean I’m not attracted to any of them. Just because I’ve never tried to have sex with her doesn’t mean I don’t want to have sex with anyone on the entirety of God’s green earth.

It was like she imagined me as a forest nymph with wings, or a cherubic angel sporting a halo on a cloud—something sexless, genderless, an “it.” I was being compared to a piece of smooth plastic. Trust me, for better or worse, no part of me resembles a Ken doll.

I said none of these things to Jill. Instead I laughed in a moment of shock and just repeated the words: “A Ken doll.” How exactly does one respond to that?

Here’s the deal—I’m not going to concern myself with trying to find a sexual partner right now. There are too many issues occurring on our planet for me to be so concerned with this “first world problem.” I have faith that, if it is meant to be, someday I will meet the right woman. We will first fall in love with each other’s souls, then we’ll give each other our bodies. She’ll discover more than just a Ken doll down there, and we’ll put it to good use.

 

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Image courtesy of  starpause kid/Flickr

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About Daniel Jones

Daniel Jones is a rising senior at Emerson College in Boston where he is double-majoring in Writing, Literature, & Publishing and Theatre Studies. He began writing in high school for his local newspaper and has since been published or held editing positions in various college publications. He has interned with the Boston Book Festival and Samuel French, Inc., based in New York City. He hopes to find a career combining his interests in theatre, literature, and gender. If you have any ideas concerning this or have a particularly amusing comment, feel free to get in touch with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Daniel, I’m sorry your friends are embarrassing you like this. I’m also sorry for this other guy who’s telling you you’re basically less of a man for not sticking up for yourself. That takes practice. Being born with testicles doesn’t mean you were born with the innate knowledge & skill set to effectively “shut people down” who are violating you. That is a learned skill. It’s not right for your friends to grill you in public (or private) when it makes you so uncomfortable. They are most likely acting from inexperience. You absolutely do not have to just sit & be embarrassed by anyone through any social gathering. You are still young, and I’d say it’s very “normal” for a man to not have chosen or have had the right-for-them opportunity to have sex yet. Don’t let their ignorance or inexperience shape your self-esteem.

    The first step to having the kind of sex you do or do not want is being able to know & speak aloud your desires & boundaries. It’s awkward & takes practice, but gets easier with time. This is a perfect opportunity to practice this with your close, platonic girlfriends when they start going outside of your comfort zones of conversation regarding your sexuality. When you’re ready to pursue a relationship & sex, you’ll have some practice with talking about what you want & when to say “Yes!” or “No, thank you.” or “not right now, maybe later.”

    There are few things in life that need to happen right in the moment. Except for talking about running from a fire or other emergency, there is little need to have any conversation you’re not comfortable having whenever someone is pressing. All time-outs & postponements are completely legal. Here is a good formula for speaking your desires & saying “No,” without too much shaming or invalidation of your friends if, “I can’t talk about this now. We can talk about this later, maybe.” doesn’t work. This “formula” is scalable for asking for just about anything or saying “no.”

    1. Describe the situation, & express your feelings.
    2. State what you want or say, “No.”
    3. Validate their side & their feelings.
    4. State consequences, if any, if they don’t do what you ask or respect your “No.”
    5. Offer a compromise if one of your objectives is keeping the relationship.

    Here’s a possible script of that: “Your talking about my sex life in public makes me uncomfortable & needs stop. I can tell you’re trying to be my friends by being curious & hoping for good things for me, but the way you’re going about it is not demonstrating respect for me, my feelings, or my privacy. What you just said about me being a Ken doll is frankly nasty & hurt my feelings. I don’t think that’s your intention. If you can’t keep these topics to private spaces, I’m not going to want to keep going to lunch with you, or continue to feel comfortable sharing anything personal with you. Now, tell me about [change the topic immediately.]” or whatever you think you need to do to get them to understand that they are crossing the line with you. If they attempt to ask more or an explanation, be strong and don’t answer. If your friends are not interested in caring about interacting in a way that is caring, compassionate, & in consideration of your feelings, then you’re hanging with the wrong people. This may be very hard to do at first, but I promise afterwards, you’ll feel good about standing up for yourself and speaking your truth… and the opposite sex appreciates someone who will stand up and say, “No.”

    Your sexual activity does not make you a man. Things like compassion, honor, & honesty do. You may be telling yourself that you don’t want to pursue a relationship, but you also say you were possibly interested in one of these women. I wouldn’t want to pursue a relationship if I were constantly fearful of being grilled by my peers about things I didn’t necessarily want to talk about. Stick to your personal values & hang with people who are considerate of you. You’ll start to attract the kind of potential partners you’d like.

    Good luck.

    • Correction:
      *The first step to having the kind of sex you want, and avoiding the kind of sexual interactions you do not want, is being able to know & speak aloud your desires & boundaries.*

      • It’s actually classed as sexual harassment I think…Although that may rely on him saying he doesn’t like the conversation first if he hadn’t already. Boundaries exist for a reason, not everyone is comfortable with that level of intimate talk especially in a public setting.

        As for what she said….being called a Ken doll would hurt me more than a punch in the face. Some people are clueless…

    • Sounds to me like you need some new ‘friends. Someone who’ll respect you and what you believe in.

  2. I’ve had conversations similar to that before but not in public. Sorry that you had to go through that, in public, at the hands of close friends.

    To answer your subheadline: “Is a man who is a virgin not really a man?”
    I managed to be a man up until about my 30th birthday without having sex (but depending on how you define sex some would argue that I’ve still never had sex, especially when talking about “down there”).

    Yeah there is still a cultural idea that a man is defined by his sex life (or by how much he makes, or what car he drives, or how much status he has, etc…) and it’s not surprising that women would flip out over learning that a guy is not some walking libido looking for women to have sex with all the time (and this is not inherently bad, a guy with a highly active sex life is no more inherently objectifying men than a woman with a highly active sex life is objectifying men).

    I found this line of questioning interesting.

    How many times have I seen porn?
    More than I could count.

    Do I watch it regularly?
    Yes

    Why don’t I like it?
    Well I actually do so I can’t answer that one. But a guy that doesn’t like it doesn’t suddenly become less of a man.

    Have I ever masturbated?
    Yes.

    Have I watched it with other guys before? Is that a thing guys actually do?
    The fuck? I’ve watched porn with other guys before but one time and one time only (back in college) and it wasn’t exactly some eye opening experience. As far as I can tell its not some regular “thing” that guys actually do. It’s not on the list of common guy thing list like drink beer, play sports, and work out.

    You’re a better one than me Daniel. It would have taken everything I have to not aggressively respond with female sexuality stereotypes.

    To borrow from an proverb about clothing.

    The sexuality doesn’t make the man, the man makes the sexuality.

    • My pre-transition (perceived as male somewhat) period answers:

      How many times have I seen porn?
      None entirely, but I know what it basically entails, I’ve seen 5 seconds clips.

      Do I watch it regularly?
      Nope, never.

      Why don’t I like it?
      Doesn’t do anything for me. At all.

      Have I ever masturbated?
      I’ve tried to, but it wasn’t fruitful, so I decided it wasn’t worth even trying. I can’t cum.

      Have I watched it with other guys before? Is that a thing guys actually do?
      I’ve never done that, and I’d actively avoid situations where this could happen. I’d go to sleep, go home, excuse myself, anything to do something else, including sleep.

      Post-transition my answers don’t change much, except the asker isn’t perceiving me as male.

      I don’t mind touch, cuddling and sex, but the latter isn’t my favorite activity. I’m good at it, I like to perform at it, and I’ll do it to make my partner feel good…but I don’t get as much from it as they do.

      I’d never have no-strings-attached sex as I see no benefit in it. Plus I get attached easily, so I try not to get too close to people who I don’t intend to form romantic serious relationships with (not that it couldn’t happen, but it would just hurt me more).

  3. Daniel, thank you for sharing this. It has so much self awareness , honesty and integrity.

    It also helps to reflect the way women can be indoctrinated to stereotypical ideals of masculinity and canonize their own objectification. Such as the idea of you being asexual because you don’t objectify women or enjoy porn. I’ve been part of the porn conversation for a long time and have a lot of issues regarding the stereotypical ideals that are set up about femininity. But your story sets up a really good conversation for the way we too often tie a man’s sexual identity with overt sexual behavior or overt sexual material.

    I really hope you send a link to your friends that you had dinner with with this piece you wrote and give them a better understanding of you as a man. It might even open up their minds to viewing men differently then the cultural messages they may have bought into themselves about how male sexuality is expressed or exactly what it is. The only way these things change is through the often difficult dialogue that is required.

  4. Here’s what I find myself wondering: *why* haven’t you had sex yet? And it’s NONE of my business. NONE AT ALL. But I still want to know super, super bad. If it’s religion, I’d roll my eyes. I don’t consider that a valid reason for postponing sex. It’s valid for plenty of people, but not for me. I’m of the mind that no one should ever get married without having sex with their partner first. It’s one thing for a friend, especially one as close as these girls appear to be to you, I could sort of understand feeling pity because they worry you’re missing out on something, but even that isn’t really respecting your autonomy. So as not to put myself or a friend in that position, I’m not close with anyone for whom sex is not a part of their lives and something they can talk about openly. That’s a pretty fundamental incompatibility for me. But most, erm, “regular” people would be made uncomfortable by how often and explicitly I talk about sex (and kink). Acquaintances leave enough distance that it doesn’t become a problem.

    Desexualizing a guy who’s a virgin is less scary for women than the other knee-jerk response, which is to assume he’s a threat because he wants to badly to fuck someone, he might attack you. Both are shitty reactions.

    • ‘If it’s religion, I’d roll my eyes. I don’t consider that a valid reason for postponing sex. It’s valid for plenty of people, but not for me.’ – You’ve just contradicted yourself there, by saying that being celibate as a religious choice is ‘valid for plenty of people’, having just said before that you don’t consider it valid at all. Prove that you do appreciate that it is valid for many others by omitting that eyeroll.

      You say ‘I’m not close with anyone for whom sex is not a part of their lives and something they can talk about openly. That’s a pretty fundamental incompatibility for me.’ -The idea that people with low sex drives, asexual people and celibate people would not talk about sex is a common assumption, but don’t let it surprise you too much. It’s possible to be very interested in sex without having it yourself, or even without feeling any sexy feelings about it yourself. It’s not a cut and dry subject. I think many people assume those not having sex are prudish or that they consider sex disgusting. I’m not saying this isn’t true for some people, but for many, many more it is not, and they would be happy to talk frankly about sex with higher sex drive or non-celibate friends, or hear about their friend’s sex lives. However the OP’s friends, imo, crossed the line and were rude and insensitive by prying into his past sex life uninvited.

      Nobody’s saying you can’t talk about sex, though you should probably use usual conversational digression about whether the person you are talking to wants to hear what you are saying or not. (And seriously, did you have to use the term ‘regular people’ to refer to the non-celibate?)

      • Dolores Haze says:

        No no, I meant “regular people” as in people who don’t live, eat, and breathe sexuality/sexology/sex education (and BDSM, which is even more out-there). I spent a lot of time hanging out with Kinsey Institute researchers as an undergrad.

        I have a hard time relating to people who are asexual/celibate/have a low sex drive, and haven’t yet parsed out when it’s a genuine incompatibility with my value system and when it just makes me uncomfortable. Work to be done.

        Thanks for your input & thoughtful response.

  5. I completely agree with the first commenter that setting boundaries with friends is important and that your lifestyle is none of their business in the end. Their trivialising of your choices is indeed thoughtless and hurtful. But I think there’s a bigger issue to do with what forms of expression are currently popular in society. As a woman in my 30s (currently single) I have had similar experiences in my life where friends’ assumptions and need to enjoy intimate discussion has felt encroaching. Yes, over time, I have learned how to set those boundaries, and it does get easier. But I thought you may be interested to know that many women also feel uncomfortable with intense and immediate intimacy that some people (mainly women but not exclusively) expect from their friends and acquaintances these days. I can go to a party and meet new people and within literally 10 minutes they will be asking me things like: why am I not married, do I want to have children, if not why not, am I lesbian etc. Now, these people think they are being liberated and spontaneous and fostering a potential friendship, and perhaps that I should be flattered by their concern and attention. What they don’t understand is that I value privacy and my sense of self, and do not share my most intimate thoughts and feelings with just anyone. I choose the people that I want to share my secrets with, I don’t have it chosen for me. Forced intimacy and this kind can be damaging for those of us with introverted personalities—we can be left feeling violated and diminished if we try to play along and do what is expected of us. We simply should not get drawn into it. Extroverts can tell everyone they know every thought in their head if they want to, good on them if they enjoy that—but we don’t have to accept it as the norm.

    • Ditto, I am very uncomfortable with women who constantly want to talk about their/my sex lives, and it seems to be getting more common. The level of discourse in our culture has become very low and crude. I met a woman at a professional conference who told me about her sex toys. I’ve been out with young women from work who always start discussing their boyfriends’ penises and sexual techniques. Yuck. I’m a sex positive person but I don’t discuss my sex life with my friends, it just seems inappropriate to me.

  6. Daniel,
    I’m a 28 year old virgin who is also happy with my chastity. I remember spending a lot of time just hanging out with my platonic women friends when I was in school. All that time I never realized that a lot of these girls were only friends because they hoped to get a relationship out of it. I just wanted to hang out. I’ve got to say I was quite the mama’s boy even up to third year of University.
    When I moved out of my parents’ I made new and stronger friendships with other men and those old platonic guy-girl friendships gradually died out. The older I get the more I see that sex shapes every decision people make and we kid ourselves by pretending we’re keeping things professional in our relationships. I’m not for sex outside of marriage or anything but I have to acknowledge that it was wrong of me to expect girls to be just friends and spend as much time with them as I did without dating them.

    I guess what I want to say here by telling you about my experience is that I think you may have to re examine your friendships. The Ken doll comment is telling. There is a part of your personality that is not being expressed in your friendships with the girls and this to me says they are bad friendships.

  7. So… wait… do you or don’t you want your female friends to be thinking about your “down there” anatomy? Do you think about theirs?

    I doubt she really thought of you as sexless, more like how she thinks about her dad or brother. On some level you know it’s there and what goes on but you never think about it directly.

    Also, “If you are a male who has grown up in the last three decades in a country that has any amount of internet access, you have most likely seen porn” Like it’s just a natural occurrence, a force of nature. No, you went looking for it. Most men have, but not every man. It’s a legitimate question.

    • I think you’re right in what they were trying to express, but it was still a very insensitive way to express it.

  8. Daniel, the conversation these ladies engaged in with you was so wrong on many levels. Although it wasn’t my first thought when I read the article, I have to wonder how it would have been perceived if you were a lone gal and two guys were questioning you?

    Funny that your article falls on the heel of another article about men struggling with intimacy. Perhaps your views, in the eyes of some women, would represent an inability to be intimate? Men, according to some women are supposed to act like XYZ to be intimate? NOT!

    That being said … good for you! You’re not alone on the idea of waiting. I was a virgin when I got married and I’ve been married for 38 years. There seems to be a stigma that goes with being a virgin and I don’t understand why it’s okay to place labels on virgins? How often do we read on TGMP that men have to be okay with stepping up and out in the light about who they are and feel comfortable with who they are as a man? Yet when a dude admits to his virginity, something must be wrong with him? Why? Because he doesn’t fit into that societal norm that all men think about is sex? Then many go the way of “you see sex as bad because of your upbringing?” Wow

    I may suggest that turn the tables on these women and be proud of your position but then again we’re taught not to judge others. If you did turn the table and ask them about their sex lives, you’d be looked at as a judgmental ass wipe and who are you to judge them?

    Hang in there Daniel, you sound like the kind of guy my daughter married. You’ll make some father a good son-in-law.

  9. Daniel,
    The world, and especially America, needs more men like you. Thank you for standing your ground! It will be worth the wait!!! Have you heard of the study Lust Free Living? My husband has been leading this at our church and it is a great study. There is a version for men (Man Up) and for women (Unveil). http://www.lustfreeliving.org/

    I hope that encourages you in you journey to finding Mrs. Right!

  10. Daniel Jones, will you marry me? lol

  11. Your friends have treated you as something less than a friend. Do they know this? While you certainly aren’t obligated to discuss your sexual choices with them, you may want to consider telling them that they’ve failed to respect and support you as you are. This last is of course not only one of the duties of friendship, but perhaps the definition of it.

    Perhaps you’ll be amused to find a 53-year-old gay man agreeing with you, but while sexuality is inarguably a very significant part of being human, sexual experience is far less so. There are many valid reasons to choose not to have sex, and none of them make you asexual. I have – for various good reasons – not played the piano in many years, but I’d be rightly insulted if someone accused me of being unmusical. That part of my life may not be active at the moment, but it’s still very much a part of my humanity.

    To be called a “Ken Doll” isn’t a denial of your penis – it’s a denial of your heart – but we live in a shallow culture where few people think or feel deeply. I hope you’ll forgive your friends their insensitivity and stupidity, even as you decline to accept it.

  12. Peter von Maidenberg says:

    (Disclaimer: I “lost it” early, but have been living a largely incel existence since. So call me whatever you like, but “Peter” is preferred.)

    To most of us in this post-Sexual Revolution culture, celibacy in adults has become a very strong marker of immaturity – of social, and possibly emotional, dysfunction. This assumption has, in ±40 years, become foundational – mostly unspoken, and almost entirely unquestioned.

    There’s a corollary belief system that says as bad as it is for women, it says even worse things for men. A woman celibate is at least a woman, if probably an immature or disordered one. But an immature or disordered man cannot be a man. He might do all right as a quiet homosexual, or do very evil things as a pedophile, but at all costs he should not be allowed to think he can just go out one day and start hooking up with women – let alone start a full relationship with one that includes sex. He is too broken, too unformed, past his sell by date.

    In a day when we’re more and more OK with interracial couples, gay couples, etc etc., the idea of the incel man getting his freak on is still a quiet taboo. Maybe more so that it was in the days when religion and singlehood meant celibacy was enforced. It makes many of us faintly sick inside. And we need to look into ourselves and question that.

  13. In a sexually obsessed world, I admire your stance. That is all. Forget these friends and their judgements. Live your life authentically :)

  14. Quite a refreshing article, especially considering most articles I’ve read on GMP of late. An article with a high view of sex for a change. Also good to see many comments coming in support of that view as well. Surprised actually. Thought readers would generally be more aligned with the opinions of the two girls mentioned in the article. I don’t believe the girls are ‘bad’ in any extreme way, as some commenters are encouraging the writer to ditch them as friends – they are part of a broader culture who holds a very low view of sex, intimacy and self-respect however. Hope it was a learning and mind-broadening experience for them though.

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