Sex with the Unknown: Why I hate “I can’t. I don’t know you well enough yet”

Girl leading boy into the unknown

“I can’t. I don’t know you well enough yet.”

There can be no discussion about sex without at some point wrestling with this phrase.

As I talked about in a previous post, ever since the decline of organized religion began, the role of sex in the west has slowly been getting less and less clear. Nobody knows anymore whether we should continue holding sex as sacred and if so, why?

Finding itself at the intersection between the divine commandments of the past and the natural human sexual instincts, the west has thoroughly confused itself on the topic of sex.

The result? 

Incoherent messages stemming from a mixture of highly conservative and radically liberal ideas. As those who read my first post on the topic know, quite a few of these ideas draw out the implications of seeing sex as a form of communication. 

The conservative case has always been one of caution. Yes, sex is great at building intimacy and communicating a deeper part of you to your lover. Yes, sex creates strong bonds. But that’s precisely why sex should best be exercised with caution, within a relationship or, if possible, marriage.

On the other hand, the liberal case takes the bonding power of sex and embraces it firmly. After all, If sex bonds us all so well, let’s have more of it. It’s fun. It harms no one. And it makes life that much more enjoyable.

On the surface, it seems that both sides agree that sex is a form of communication. But look deeper and you begin to see the nuances and the implications of each position.

***

Conservatives, driven by caution from the power of sex, would rather postpone sex as much as reasonably possible without giving up on it completely. After all, the whole point here is to save the sexual form of deep communication for last, i.e. when the other person has finally proven themselves safe and worthy of the act.

Liberals, at least those of my type, would naturally disagree.

In the end, it is this very disagreement that makes the phrase “I don’t know you well enough” baffling and stupid as a sexual rejection.

Taken seriously, what such a phrase truly communicates is a commitment to conservatism, to safety, to caution. Sex is so dangerous that no mistakes are tolerable.

To be honest, I have never found this position persuasive.

Firstly, it has never seemed to me that sex is that psychologically dangerous. (and here I assume that knowing someone well enough does not refer to their HIV status..). Sure, a sexual misstep leaves a bad after-taste, but life moves on pretty fast. There are greater tragedies in life than sleeping with the wrong person once or twice.

Secondly, even if sex requires opening up deeply, there are still gradations to the process. Two lovers only get to truly know each other as they deepen their relationship. Sex might be a big first step (for some), but the dangers of a one time contact have always felt exaggerated to me. Consequently, the extreme caution of “I don’t know you well enough” has never ringed reasonable to me.

But there is more to this last point. The phrase doesn’t sound reasonable because, well, it often doesn’t make much sense. Embedded in it are assumptions which few ever question, but I have  intuitively identified and found troublesome to accept.

The first assumption is that one can really know somebody well enough without ever seeing their sexual side. To me, it has always seemed that there’s a real catch-22 situation going on here: to have sex, you have to intimately know the other person, but to know them intimately, you must know them sexually as well. It’s not clear how one gets out of this vicious circle and why, especially if one is committed to staying cautious and keeping sex for the right people only.

The second assumption is one that manifests itself on first dates especially. It’s one that basically equates physical with relationship time. I know for a fact I could have spend years around a person and feel less connected to them than I could to somebody I’ve just met. One thing the whole “sex on a first date” debate consistently seems to miss is that you don’t always need to wait years to know somebody is a match.

An easy objection here is that the passage of time ensures that the first impression was true; that there are dark sides to people one can only see over time.

To which I say: fair enough. However, what if those dark sides only show themselves sexually? And how do you know how much time is enough? Is six months enough to get to know a person? A year? Two? A marriage vow? It seems highly arbitrary.

Moreover, not only is it arbitrary, but it’s self-punitive. The more you wait, the more you have to deny yourself the pleasure of sex without the guarantee that things will ultimately work out fine.

I am not sure how much more certain you can be the other person is a great one after a year with them compared to an evening of deep conversation, but I presume it’s not worth the sexless 12 months in between. 

The crucial fact which I always have in mind when I think about such a cautious position is this: even people who’ve been married for decades get divorced and sometimes regret their marriages. What makes you think you can judge people better?

Ultimately, that’s the problem. To someone of a more liberal bent, the best response to “I don’t know you well enough yet” is “Well, get to know me then”. 

Needless to say, sex is certainly among the best ways to know somebody.

And still, I don’t think this is where the story ends. It might be just me, but I’d guess the same applies for many other people out there, especially those of the male variety. 

We are often reminded that sex and love can blind us.

But just like sex itself, lust, too, can blind us. In my life, there have been many times when the arbitrary barrier to sex imposed from the other side has transformed sex into a high-status goal which it otherwise would not have been. After all, if the other person values sex so much, why shouldn’t I? Of course, I’m naturally attracted to the best prize out there…

The problem is that then the relationship changes. The party that wants to vet you as a worthy sexual partner thinks they are doing a great job, while in reality they are only creating incentives for the other side to be different and play it safe. This is why, in my experience at least, only once sex has happened and there is nothing to achieve anymore does real communication begin to happen. Without a goal to change their behaviors, people fast reveal their true colors. 

In the end, this is why I hate “I don’t know you well enough”. To my ears it sounds like a refusal to talk while at the same time saying “I would like to have a conversation”. In other words, asking to do something which, while technically possible (e.g. by non-verbal means), is only made unnecessarily awkward by an arbitrary restriction.

In the end, it’s worth remembering this: there is rarely safety in life. Even extreme caution does not always ensure a good outcome. Rather, measured risks are usually what gets us ahead in life, and the sexual has no reason to be an exception.

Curiosity is not something that should attract us to books only…

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17 Comments, RSS

  1. letstalkdepression January 10, 2018 @ 12:18 AM

    ooooo. My favorite thing about this is where you talk about how real communication doesn’t happen until after sex. It is so true behaviorism change drastically once you take the step to be intimate. It’s like you go sky diving and you can’t go back up to the plane until after you have reached the ground. So when you get to that point in the relationship you see a little more of how that person truly lives life. Thank you again for sharing.

  2. nomaddernomadder January 10, 2018 @ 3:39 AM

    The” getting to know you” part is actually determining your investment. A women’s investment post-sex is usually greater than a man’s. You talk about the real communication afterword, absolutely correct, if it happens. The side of the scale has to be weighted in our favor, or who is taking the risk? It’s just sex, right, not always.Thought-provoking, though.
    Donna

    • blago

      blago January 10, 2018 @ 10:48 AM

      Could you elaborate on why you think the woman is taking a greater risk? I’m genuinely curious. If it’s about pregnancy, it seems that with the pill and abortion (whatever your opinion on those two; I do find them a bit yucky myself), the fact is you don’t have to have a baby if you don’t want it. And if it’s about feelings, that’s a bit individual. Curious to hear your thoughts 🙂

      • nomaddernomadder January 10, 2018 @ 5:29 PM

        Putting liberalism and conservatism aside and even how a woman was raised, her values, morals and such. What are her goals and what are his goals and should these be found out first? If in fact, he (or she) is looking for a “one night stand) then fine, be upfront, right? It’s one thing for people to be comfortable with sexuality, which I am not sure is divided in your generation. It’s something else entirely to be deceitful, which again, is not divided, as we have seen played out in front of us.
        Just to get a feeling of our point of view and purely for educational purposes, I encourage you to read this book.The Power of the P***y by Kara King.
        From what I have read so far you run a clean site, I do not want to use a derogatory term.
        The real statement the woman should be making is not “I don’t know you” it’s “I don’t know what you want from me, exactly, unless you tell me, so until I know the answer to that question, I am not interested in having sex with you, because I don’t want to be left asking the question when I haven’t heard from you a week from now”. It is about knowing intentions from the beginning so everybody is clear. Am I hopping around the word “feelings” because I think there is something wrong with them, maybe? Woman are alike the world over. They do not want to be deceived.
        Thanks for the conversation, I hope I answered your question.
        Donna

        • blago

          blago January 10, 2018 @ 5:35 PM

          Hey, thanks for the comment. I don’t particularly mind any language as long as it serves a purpose. I see some truth in what you’re saying. At the same time, there is the fact that it’s hard for anyone to say what exactly they want. Maybe you see in the other a great way to spend the Friday, but maybe it all escalates to something more. In short, I don’t think the mental model people have where we enter in relationships with clearly fixed goals is right. I think it’s much more accurate to say that we mostly enter relationships and adapt to the facts, without goals per se. I can elaborate, but I hope this makes at least some sense. Thanks again

          • nomaddernomadder January 10, 2018 @ 6:02 PM

            I have lived it and can agree with that 100%. If people were able to be themselves AND say what they want and need could you imagine what we could get accomplished??!!

          • blago

            blago January 10, 2018 @ 6:04 PM

            Honestly, I probably couldn’t. But that’s why it’s worth moving in that direction gradually. So we can pleasantly surprise ourselves 🙂

  3. De León January 10, 2018 @ 7:10 AM

    I agree that the only guaranteed way to know if someone likes you for more than just sex is to have sex and see what happens afterward. And I agree that by putting so much weight onto the actual act makes sex a high-status goal and a Big Deal when it didn’t have to be. But if I say “I can’t. I don’t know you well enough,” it’s not because I’m looking for some sign that the other person is committed to me or making sure there isn’t some fatal flaw before doing it. While I don’t really consider having sex with someone a relationship milestone, I do need to get to the point with someone where I feel comfortable enough to just let myself be. Sex is not enjoyable when I’m stuck inside my head no matter how attracted I am to the person. It’s a bad trip. I’m not talking about needing time, either. It’s quality over quantity. If I don’t feel a strong enough connection then sorry, but “I can’t. I don’t know you well enough.” Just wanted to give another perspective.

    • blago

      blago January 10, 2018 @ 10:46 AM

      Yes, that’s certainly worth considering too.thank you for sharing

    • blago

      blago January 10, 2018 @ 10:50 AM

      Oh, and of course, if you are not actually into the other person, then maybe one should move on. Or do you find that it really takes time even with the right people?

      • De León January 11, 2018 @ 3:31 AM

        Yes, if you find that you’re not actually into the other person then move on. No point in lingering. I was mostly referring to the beginning stages of dating where I feel attraction but I still need to feel a bit more comfortable with the person to have sex. By the “right” people, do you mean someone I’m in an established relationship with? If so, then no because then we’ve already gone past all that.

  4. applebunnee January 11, 2018 @ 12:11 AM

    Excellent post, I love the topic of sex in this age.
    Sex and its views had changed throughout time and I think that is the true paradigm we should be addressing. Should we develop our views using the paradigm of an ever changing society? Or something constant, and unchanging?
    Sex should be personalized-conservative v. liberal should be the least considered when one is developing their sexuality, in my opinion. However, I do believe anyone can have sex-yet not everyone can engage in healthy sexual relations, emotionally speaking. For men and women, the topic of sex cannot be considered and discussed in the same way. We are not built the same, our interaction with sex just isn’t the same.
    I am sort of rambling but the point I’m trying to make really is sex is not black and white-there are so many factors one should consider when engaging in sex.
    When we come to a point where we feel like very little or nothing has to be considered, I think that’s because we have been desensitized or have normalized any significance sex could hold.

    • blago

      blago January 11, 2018 @ 12:15 AM

      What you said about sexual relationships I complete agree with. I had the fortune of a great first and starting out later so I’ve had time to think through some of the implications. I’m not sure about teenagers however. There is a lot that can go wrong there, it seems. Anyway, thanks for commenting! Hope you stick around 🙂

      • applebunnee January 11, 2018 @ 12:18 AM

        Haha I’m still here. But not just teenagers. Think about women who are used to getting things they want using their sensuality. I know this because I am a female, and it’s a rather easy thing to do. But then sex becomes a persuasive mechanism rather than anything you addressed in your post. Sex is never normal to those kinda women. Then again hey sex sells. And this is normal nowadays.

        • blago

          blago January 11, 2018 @ 12:26 AM

          Yes, I’ve often thought about the different dynamics of men and women with respect to sexuality. Women seem to have an easier time at first, overall and on average, but it’s like in the 30s and beyond, men have it easier. My point is that it’s foolish for a girl to rely on her sensuality only because time doesn’t work in her favour. I’m also beginning to ramble so I’ll stop 🙂 (by encouraging you to stay around, I was gently asking you to follow me haha)

          • applebunnee January 11, 2018 @ 12:29 AM

            Yes, I got that haha but I had to respond. And I’m better with more direct suggestions 😂😎

          • blago

            blago January 11, 2018 @ 12:30 AM

            Well, a gentleman can’t be so direct with a lady.. 😉

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