Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating column that carries an unlicensed portable nuclear accelerator on its back.

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This week, it’s less about getting into someone’s pants and more about getting out of your own head. We’re going to be talking about anxieties and expectations and how to handle them. One reader wants to know about how to have a fulfilling life even without sex, while another simply wants to have a life and handling the panic attacks that he gets when he tries.

Have a seat, put the colander helmet on your head and let’s start the process of finding out whether you’re the Keymaster or the Gatekeeper. Coffee? Yes, have some.

Let’s do this.

Hello Doctor!

I have a tough one for you, but I’m really hoping you could help me. Have been putting writing this letter off for several months, as I’m not sure how to put my issue to words.

According to internet legend I’ll be a wizard soon! That’s a nice way of saying I’ll turn 30 soon and I’m a virgin, and that is not going to change. I had written a lengthy letter explaining my situation but thought of an analogy to spare the details: think of being in prison sentenced to life. That’s just to say that the usual “you have to go out there and meet people” or “you just have to be patient” advice simply doesn’t apply to me (and it’s not “oh you’re just thinking that way”).

I’m not a social imp, I have friends that I enjoy their company, a fantastic job with more-than-I-can-expend pay, but I feel like my life is empty and meaningless without romantic involvement. Lately I think I have developed depression, and the thought of living this way for my remaining years aches me. I love books, video games (that’s how I found Kotaku! Fantastic website btw!) and movies, they’re great to keep busy but once I’m off of that it’s back to feeling miserable.

My questions are these, 1. can one have a meaningful and fulfilling life without sex and relationships? And two, is it possible to kill or at least decrease the sexual desire in any way? I truly wish I was asexual, the constant need is just a bother. I have read a lot about this in online sources I could find but the answers vary deeply with no solution.

Thank you. I appreciate your time.

Zifnab The Untouched

Before we get to the meat of your letter, Zifnab, I want to give you some straight talk: I’ve met very few people who were truly cut off from having a sexual relationship with another person, no matter how bad they thought things were. 9 times out of 10, the issues weren’t because they were unfuckable, it was because of what was going on in their heads. Self-limiting beliefs are a motherfucker, and they can blind you to the reality of the situation.

Of course, part of my job is to help people get past those self-limiting beliefs and discover how what their lives could be if they’d get out of their own damn way, so that’s where my biases lie. So straight up: I don’t believe that you’re doomed to be a virgin forever. But I can’t force you to change your mind and that’s not the advice you want. So having voiced my objections for the record, let’s get to your question.

Yes, you can have a fulfilling, happy life without having a romantic relationship. Millions of people do it every day. While there is a cultural bias toward the idea that people need to couple up in order to be complete, it is entirely possible to be happy and single. What you need are things that fulfill you, not things that fill the empty hours and kill time as you trudge closer and closer to the grave. You want something that ignites the fire of passion in your soul, things that make you leap out of bed in order to do or experience them. Things that drive you, that compel you. Having that passion in your life gives you purpose, meaning and direction.

This could be your job. It could also be a hobby that you love, an interest that you want to pursue or a cause that you want to champion. You may find your passion in volunteering to help political campaigns or joining Habitat for Humanity and building homes for the less-fortunate. You may have a love of botany and horticulture and growing rare flowers. You may discover a love of history and spend time taking classes and attending lectures and visiting museums. You could find that travel is your passion and make it your quest to set foot on every continent.

Now, if books and video games are a passion, then more power to you! Get a library card and rejoice in the fact that there are more books than you could read in a lifetime. But I get the impression that they’re not; you seem to enjoy them, but they aren’t what you live for.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a passion right now; part of the joy is finding it. It can take time and a willingness to experiment, to try new things and get out of your comfort zone by doing things you thought you couldn’t and so never tried. Not only can this quest for self-discovery lead you to find things about yourself you never dreamed possible, but it also makes you a more well-rounded and interested person. People with passion in their lives are inherently more charismatic and interesting. They have certainty and drive that most people lack and we’re drawn to that.

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This is important, because the other reason why discovering and pursuing your passion is important is that it helps you meet your fellow travellers, people who have interests and passions that align with yours. You’ll find that by pursuing your passions, you’ll have new, awesome people coming into your life, and having those friends can help fulfill your needs for emotional intimacy.

Now as for your second question: technically speaking, yes, there are ways to kill your sex drive. It’s just a bad idea. You could, for example, gain a lot of weight. Higher levels of body fat cause sex-hormone-globulin to decrease, which lowers the amount of bioavailable testosterone, which lowers your libido. You could drink to excess, or take up a heroin habit. You could keep yourself under constant high levels of stress to increase the amount of cortisol in your blood. All of this will not only decrease your libido, but also lower things like skin tone, hair luster, liver function, cardiovascular health and vital signs.

There are also medical options which I won’t go into here because, quite frankly, most of them are permanent solutions to a temporary problem. The problem isn’t that you’re a virgin, Fiznab, it’s how you feel about being a virgin. If it were just about the fact that you’ve never had sex, then you’ve got options. You can always hire an escort, after all. If you’re worried about the legality of it, flights to Reno are cheap and it’s a short hop from there to the Bunny Ranch. You could also work with a sexual surrogate - a sex therapist trained in helping people with emotional and physical issues that may handicap or inhibit their ability to have sex.

But I suspect that these are all things you’ve considered and—if you’re like many of the others I’ve helped with issues surrounding virginity—dismissed out of hand. And every time that’s been the case, the problem hasn’t been the fact that they’re a virgin, it’s been about how they feel about themselves.

Being an older virgin is unusual but hardly uncommon; more people—men and women both—stay virgins for longer than you’d believe. You don’t need to kill your sex drive, you need to learn to be comfortable with who you are.

So here’s my advice to you, regardless of what you decide: find your passion and make it part of your life. Let it fulfill you. Surround yourself with awesome people who care for you and make your life incredible. Get yourself a sex toy—the Tenga Flip Hole comes highly recommended—and use it to help satisfy the urges. And then, find yourself a therapist. Work with them on your depression and these other issues that are clearly holding you back from having a satisfying life. You’re in a bad place right now, but you don’t have to be. You can pull yourself out of this. You’re stronger than you realize and you can be better than this, whether you’re a virgin or not.

You’ve got this.

Good luck.

Hi, Doc. I’m hoping you might lend me a hand with a problem I’ve been having...

I’m a guy (28) who has always had issues with trying to form social relationships with anyone (male or female) ever since I was a kid. This kind of occurred due to an incident when I was younger, when I suffered an injury that made going outside and interacting a roulette wheel: red meant a chance to play outside, black meant violent migraines and searing pain.

I usually landed on black.

As time has gone on, I’ve gotten help with the migraines, but I never got used to trying to approach people and make conversation, or start friendships. Anytime I tried, I would end up going quiet out of sheer panic, and just staying silent when I could, offering short answers out of some worry of offending someone or being ridiculed.

I was later diagnosed with rather severe anxiety disorder, and possibly worse issues. While I am trying to seek out help for these issues (which is far, far tougher than it seems it should be), I still want to try and make some new friends in the meantime, especially since I have moved away from about 99% of people that I know. (The plan was to try and get me to break out of my shell; it has had some positive results! Confidence is going up!)

Do you have any advice that you could offer for how to relax in social situations, and how to make small talk easier? I feel like I might be able to pull this off if I can at least get past the initial barrier of even saying hi.

Any info would be much appreciated, and thank you for your time and kindness!

Sage of Silence

I’m glad you’re seeking out help for your anxiety, SOS, and that you’re getting the migraines under control. I totally get how difficult it can be to find mental health care, especially for anxiety issues. Finding a therapist or counselor is a lot like dating; you need to find someone you click with, and that can take time. If you’re in an area with relatively few resources, that can make things harder. Fortunately, there’re a number of ways you can find help; my friend and fellow advice columnist Captain Awkward has a great post on ways of finding affordable mental health care.

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For right now though, let’s talk about how to relax in social situations and get that anxiety under control. The first step is to remember that the body controls the brain. Our brains are actually very bad at understanding why we feel the way we feel. We literally feel the physical sensations and our brains decide the reasons for it after the fact. So when you’re out and about, you want to make your body trick your brain into being calm and composed. Start by adjusting your posture. Stand up straight, with your shoulders comfortably back and your arms hanging loose and relaxed. Having more confident body language makes you feel more confident. Then you want to control your breathing. Breathe in to the count of four, hold it for another count of four, then breathe out to the count of five. Do this over and over again. One of the symptoms of panic is hyperventilating as your body tries to flood your blood with oxygen to support the fight-or-flight response. When you overoxygenate, you prevent CO2 from entering your blood and leaving you feeling as though you can’t get enough air, which increases your sense of panic. By breathing slowly, you increase the amount of CO2 in your blood, and force your heart rate to slow, calming yourself down.

Next: stop making yourself the center of the universe. Social anxiety is exacerbated by the lies that your brain tells you. You become convinced that literally everyone is noticing you and is going to remember every single mistake you make. This isn’t true. Most of the time, we’re all too caught up in our own little worlds to worry about what other people are doing. What seems incredibly obvious to you is likely completely imperceptible to the people around you and even if they do notice, they’ll likely forget as soon as you leave their sightline.

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And if you do make a mistake? Own it. Apologize if you need to, but don’t apologize for everything. Nobody expects you to be perfect and the more you focus on trying to be absolutely 100% on point, the more you’ll tense up and cause a mistake. Accept that you’re imperfect and if you stumble, laugh it off. Most people will take your lead and if you treat something as not being a big deal, they won’t treat it like a big deal.

Small talk can be incredibly easy if you know what you’re doing. Here’s the trick: treat getting to know somebody like a game. You want to connect with them and there is something fascinating about that person, and it’s your goal to find it. You do this by asking questions… the right questions. Much like how games like Her Story require finding the right questions to get more information, you want to get to know people by asking questions that lead to them telling you more. Listen to what they say, rephrase it in your own words or find a way to relate to it, then ask a question that springboards off what they just said. Try to ask questions that can’t be answered with one or two words.

Just remember to occasionally give your opinion or make statements as well as asking questions; you’re looking to get to know somebody, not interview them for Larry King.

Good luck, SOS.

Are you an older virgin? Did you lose your virginity later in life? Have you overcome issues with social anxiety? Share your experiences and tips in the comments section, and we’ll be back in two weeks with more of your questions.

Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write doc@doctornerdlove.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.

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Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.

Illustration by Jim Cooke.