I’m a 25-year-old virgin. How can I start a relationship when I don’t even know how to flirt?

<span>Composite: Getty</span>
Composite: Getty

I’m a 25-year-old man who has enjoyed reasonable successes in every area of my life, except romance. I have never had sex or a relationship, while everyone I know has. I have no idea why, but the problem must be me. Yet my friends tell me I’m fine. I don’t suffer from any serious conditions, mental or physical, and I have no problem making friends. When I was younger I might have made the mistake of being too focused on one single unrequited crush for years at the expense of other possibilities, but now I’ve broadened my view. Most women of my age who I meet are in relationships, and the few that are not told me they just wanted to be friends when I asked them out. I don’t know how to flirt, while everyone else my age has experience and knows what to do. I feel this has created a vicious cycle that I cannot escape. People tell me I shouldn’t be bothered about it, and that when the right time comes it will happen naturally. But for 10 years I have switched between trying and not trying, and still nothing ever happens.

Start with flirting. Like the sexual act itself, this is a learned experience, and – despite what your friends told you – it does not come naturally. Everyone could benefit from help and expert advice. Seek assistance to learn and practise social skills, especially those related to dating and courtship. Some people do not naturally acquire such abilities while they are growing up and becoming young adults – and it sounds as though you might need specific training. You may even be able to find groups of people who are seeking to learn the same skills under the guidance of a counsellor. Such groups can be valuable environments in which you could try role-playing and experimentation, and receive useful feedback.

  • Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

  • If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send a brief description of your concerns to private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Each week, Pamela chooses one problem to answer, which will be published online. She regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.