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“All I knew was porn, and that didn’t help.”
An 18-year-old virgin from Turkey goes on Reddit for sex and seduction advicewith 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.