Reddit Gave a Teenager With Autism a Shockingly Helpful Sex Ed Lesson
"All I knew was porn, and that didn’t help."
An 18-year-old virgin from Turkey goes on Reddit for sex and seduction advice with a post titled "I'm autistic and I don't know how sex happens."
“I know how it physically works,” he asks an echochamber of strangers. “But how exactly is the part before you start making out and stuff? How do you let someone know you are sexually attracted? How do you know someone is sexually attracted to you? And how do you set up a situation where sex happens?”
If you’ve been on the internet for longer than two minutes, you already know how this is going to end. It’s like watching a kitten wander onto a freeway. You hope for the best, but in your heart you know that kitty’s brains are going to be splattered over hot asphalt.
But then something remarkable happens. The Reddit community doesn’t respond with snark or vitriol. They offer genuine suggestions, helpful suggestions. They’re patient and protective and encouraging. They talk to him like he’s a human being deserving of empathy. They ask him things like, “If you put your hand on the small of her back, does she move away?” They tell him reassuring things like, “Accept that it's going to be embarrassing, and you'll probably get rejected, and that's all ok.” They talk to him like kind people used to talk to other kind people before we moved the majority of human interaction online.
This isn’t fiction. It’s the story of Burhan Canbaz, an 18-year-old with autism from Turkey who went on Reddit looking for sex advice, and somehow inspired the most positive think tank devoted to politely debating the slippery slope of human sexuality that the internet has ever seen. Even when it got weird, like when the topic of meat-based puns got introduced—“Meat-based puns are usually flirting,” one user offered. “Am girl. Have used meat-based puns to flirt.”—it still managed to remain supportive and positive.
If you try reading all the comments—which are fascinating and well-intentioned and sometimes even personally vulnerable, with users admitting to their own fears and uncertainties about the unspoken rules of intimacy—you might catch yourself thinking, “Where am I? Is this still the internet? What happened to the trolls? What year is this? When the hell did all the rules change?”
But there’s one problem: The thread has no closure. This guy stumbled onto a supportive internet forum who tells him exactly what he needs to hear about listening and patience and communication. He’s thankful and optimistic, but it ends with a cliffhanger. Did any of it stick? Did he use this newfound knowledge to find the woman of his dreams? Or even just someone to hold hands with for a night? Does this story have a happy ending?
So we reached out to him. He agreed to speak to us from the Netherlands, where he now lives, to talk about how his life has changed since his Reddit sexuality masterclass.
TONIC: Reading your Reddit thread has renewed my faith in humanity.
Burhan Canbaz: [Laughs] Yeah. I mean, people were nice.
Almost too nice. You wrote at one point, “I never expected people to be actually helpful.” What did you expect?
I didn’t expect anything, to be honest. I don’t know, maybe something sarcastic.
Well sure. It’s the internet.
But it turned out quite a few people wanted to help. I actually learned something that was useful. There’s a lot more for me to learn, obviously, but it was a great start.
Why go online and ask strangers instead of an older adult or a friend who knows you personally?
The problem is, my mum is Muslim and very conservative, so she couldn’t help me. My friends are also very conservative. They can’t do shit, man. Then I ended up at a very religious high school in Turkey where they didn't teach sex-ed. So everybody’s on their own.
Are you from Turkey?
Amsterdam. I’m back here now. But I spent five years in Turkey, and I was very socially isolated. Everybody is so fucking conservative and I’m not. I didn’t exactly get along with people. [Laughs] The internet was the only place I could learn things. Everything useful in my life I’ve had to get from the internet.
That can be a dangerous place to get an education.
What made you decide to throw caution to the wind and ask Reddit? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back?
Oh man, all of it. [Laughs]
There was no specific moment when you were like, “I can’t take it anymore?”
Probably when I turned 18. Up to that point, it felt like there was still time, somebody would come along and show me what to do. But at 18, I’m a fucking grown up. I should have some experience. And I still had no fucking clue.
No clue about sex in general, or the interactions leading up to sex?
I understood the sex part. It was how you got to that point. You have to know someone first. I’m not exactly the best at making new friends. I mean, I can make friends. Every time I go to the pub, I make new friends. But how do you go from friends to, you know, what comes next?
How did you figure out how sex worked? If there was no sex education at your school, where did you-?
The internet, mate. [Laughs]
All I knew was porn, and that didn’t help. I didn’t know it at the time, but you watch enough porn and you think, “Yeah, I see how this works. You say some cheesy line and then you fuck.”
You just show up at her house with a pizza, and she doesn’t have any money to pay you, and boom, you’re making sweet love on shag carpeting.
I was way off and didn’t even know it.
More from Tonic:
What was the biggest revelation from your Reddit roundtable? Was there one piece of advice that made you go, “Oh wow, I had no idea?”
The touching part really surprised me. When a girl touches you, and it’s not always what you think it means, or it’s more than you think it means. You think a touch means something, like when they touch your hand or your back, but maybe it’s not anything.
Unless it is.
Unless it is! [Laughs]
Except wait, no, it might not be.
It can get really confusing. But it made me think about the non-verbal ways that people flirt with each other.
Some of the Reddit advice got very, very specific. One of them gave you a step-by-step guide: “Start by touching upper arm. Then upper back/shoulder. Then move on to waist/lower back. Then hands.” Was that helpful?
It was, yeah.
Really? To me, it felt less like advice on intimacy and more like directions to the airport.
Well, I didn’t take it too literally. It’s like when you learn to dance. You want to know exactly where your hands and your feet are supposed to be. You can mix it up when you get more comfortable with it. You just start with small touches and if she likes it, you can go up. I had no fucking idea about that, but now I do.
What about their advice for what happens in the bedroom?
That communication can still go on in the bedroom. When you’re in it, you can just say things.
You weren’t aware that you could talk to your partner when you were both naked?
No! In porn they never talk. They just fucking switch it up. It’s like they’re fucking telepathic. But you can actually talk. You can say things like, “I don’t like that” or “Do you like that?” I knew about consent. I knew you had to make sure somebody wants to have sex with you before you start having sex with them. But that was it.
There were no follow-up questions?
Yeah. I mean, I never saw that. That never happens in porn.
Ron Jeremy never says, “Are you enjoying this? Should I keep doing it?”
Some of the Reddit advice, even at its most well-meaning, showed how confusing sex can be. People were telling you things that seemed borderline contradictory, like, “Ask permission every step of the way. But don’t ask too much or you’ll kill the mood.” Was that encouraging, or did it make you more trepidatious?
Very encouraging. I mean, maybe at first it was a little vague. But when you’re in there and it’s happening, you realize, oh yeah, it is both of those things. It’s not just one thing or the other. Sex isn’t that black and white. It changes from one minute to the next. You have to ask permission, but not go overboard with it.
Wait a minute. Are you telling me what I think you’re telling me?
[Laughs] Yeah, it happened.
I was a virgin before the thread, but then sometime afterwards, well, I crossed that bridge.
Can Reddit officially take credit for this?
I don’t know about that, but it definitely helped.
We don’t need a play-by-play or anything, but you’ve had like three dozen intimacy coaches who are probably a little curious how it happened.
Well, there wasn't much of an approach from my side. Me and this girl, we had some conversations and went shopping. Then she showed me a condom in her purse and said, “I’ve been thinking about this.” Then after a few days she called me and we met up and went to her home. That’s about it.
Was there talking, or was it mostly porn star telepathy?
I had to verbally communicate at every position switch, and when my penis got softer I had to say, “Can you give me a blowjob?” Things like that.
And you asked her what she was liking or not liking?
Yes of course. If I didn’t ask for something, I intentionally did it very slowly so that she could see what I was doing and say no if she didn't want it, because people also told me you shouldn't talk “too much” in the bedroom. I also didn’t touch her belly, because I knew that wasn’t something she was comfortable with.
How did you know that?
She went to the bedroom to undress while I was in the living room and then came back out wearing just a shirt. I asked about it and she told me she was insecure about her belly. Even though I don’t care about a few pounds, I remembered what they were telling me on Reddit, that it isn’t always what’s going on in your head. She was insecure and she wanted to keep her shirt on, so that was fine with me. I think what I learned is, it’s not exactly a big mathematical question. You just have to slow down and listen to the other person. You’re not doing this alone, you know what I mean? That’s kinda obvious, but you can get so wrapped up that it’s easy to forget. Just think about what she’s thinking about, and you’ll be okay.
Wow. You actually had a healthy, mature sexual experience that was at least partly inspired by a conversation you had with strangers on an internet forum. This is unprecedented.
Well, let’s see if I can do it again. I was lucky.
It’s not like you won the lottery. You’re building confidence. You’re thinking about her more than your immediate needs. You’re already ahead of 90 percent of guys out there.
Maybe. But just because it happened once, I’m not sure I know how to make it happen again. You know what I mean? I’m thinking about contacting a sex therapist. I really need to understand how this works.
Or maybe you just need to get out there and keep trying. Nobody goes into this knowing everything. You keep trying and failing and trying and failing, and you get rejected over and over until you figure out what works and what doesn’t, and eventually it all starts to click. That’s how everybody does it. That’s not just you.
I guess so. At least I’m getting closer. [Laughs] I don’t believe porn as much anymore.
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