Dear Alice,

I am afraid my need for sexual attention is getting out of hand. The past several weekends I have wound up kissing guys in bars, and I find myself less interested in flirting or having interesting conversations with them than I am in getting that rush of meeting someone new. This weekend I had sex with a guy I had just met in a bar and I have no idea why. Making matters worse is that he was much younger than I am and I don't think we had anything in common whatsoever. I feel like I am devaluing myself and I don't want to lose my self-respect. How can I find the cause of my behavior and how can I stop?

Mrs. Robinson

Dear Mrs. Robinson,

While some find casual kissing in bars or an occasional one-night stand to be fun or no big deal, others may not be interested in that at all. Many people may feel differently about casual encounters at different points in their life as well. The desire for sexual attention is normal. When having sex with a much younger or older partner, if all involved are caring and consenting adults, then play ball! Mrs. Robinson, it may be helpful to reflect on why you get a rush from meeting new people right now. Has there been a change in your social circle or relationships? Does it make you feel good to know others are interested in meeting (or kissing) you? Whatever the answer, these and other feelings are valid to have. Exploring them may actually help you discover some new aspects of yourself and what you want from your life.

It sounds like you may be concerned about your recent run of bar-inspired flings. If so, taking some time to do a little digging may be helpful in bringing awareness to behaviors or feelings that you may want to change or is causing you discomfort. Is it possible you have been using alcohol or other substances differently these past few weeks and feel that this is contributing to your actions? Or are you using this string of striking strangers to soothe a broken or lonely heart? It's true that bar encounters such as these can serve as a harmless, and even valuable, boost to a person's self-esteem, particularly post-heartbreak. However, as you mention, if the reasons behind the actions don't mesh with your personal values, it may affect self-esteem and self-respect.

A healthy self-esteem and self-respect are essential to a person’s health and well-being. Self-esteem is, simply, how good people feel about themselves and it can come from many places. However, the impact of self-esteem, or the lack of it, is complicated and far-reaching. Self-esteem and respect affect the choices people make, who they choose to be involved with, and the ability to take action to make change in their lives. If you’re concerned about your behaviors, and you’re worried about harming your self-esteem, being aware of your feelings and exploring potential solutions can be a helpful next step.

To explore further, if you’re concerned about your choices or behaviors, it might be helpful to look at what else is going on in your life at the moment. Sometimes a persons' actions may be reflective of how they’re dealing with recent changes or stresses. Maybe you've moved, find school stressful, are looking for work, are dealing with a difficult family circumstance, or are going through some other kind of transition. Perhaps there are unresolved problems that are now resurfacing. Depending on your level of concern or your desire to change your behavior, you may find it useful to speak with a mental health professional. Alternatively, you may find that spending some time with a trusted friend who is willing to pore over recent events with you is all you need to clarify your feelings.

What matters is that you’re comfortable with yourself, that your actions make you feel good about yourself and those around you, and that you’re protecting yourself and partners from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unwanted pregnancy.

The process of self-realization may help you figure out what is behind your actions. Try to give yourself the freedom to honestly assess your feelings. Once you determine why you’ve been seeking out these experiences, you may be able to find other ways to meet those needs in ways that make you feel more comfortable. For example, if you’re interested in meeting new people, you may find other ways to get involved in your community that allows you to routinely meet new people. If you’re looking for exciting experiences, you may seek out a new sport or hobby that gets your adrenaline pumping. And if you were interested in having more sex, that’s okay too! A one-night encounter isn't bad or wrong in and of itself; it's the feelings that come up for you before and after that may, or may not, need to be addressed.

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson, 

Alice!

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