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A young man wishes he’d had more sexual experiences, and worries he is held back by shyness. Mariella Frostrup says the important thing is quality, not quantity. Email your dilemmas to

The dilemma I am a 20-year-old man, but I still get terribly insecure about my sexual experience. I’ve not been with many women and I often get jealous of partners whose number is higher than mine (in some cases much higher). I’d like more experience, but I feel I’m held back by my shyness in public situations or my feeling that women generally won’t be interested in me. I listened to someone the other day complaining about the burden of having had too much sex too easily. While I don’t want to become that, I wouldn’t mind somewhere in between.

Mariella replies Ah, the much-lauded middle ground. It’s not an agony aunt you need to find but a Google map. Forget the Amazon or Antarctica, the steppes of Siberia or the wilds of Namibia, the sort of places that promise exotic or individual adventures, you are asking me to point you in the same direction as everyone else: Ibiza, perhaps, or southern Spain. When it comes to sexual excitement you are looking no further than the home counties, where just over your picket fence the neighbours are keeping up appearances.

Your letter isn’t focused on the complications of your relationships, or the pleasure of them – it’s all about maths. But your ambitions appear to be based on an average that doesn’t exist. How much sex you have depends on everything from your religion to your location, your age to your libido, the length of your relationship, the stress in your life, the number of available partners in your vicinity. Looking for common ground on lovers accrued is a particularly unrewarding pursuit. I’ve got girlfriends who’ve been married for 30 years and girlfriends who’ve been having casual sex for almost that long. You certainly can’t tell which is which when you’re pressed up against them in a nightclub!

Why do you care about the sex levels of strangers? Physical attraction is such a primal instinct that reducing it to basic accounting seems entirely to miss the point. Sex is textured terrain – not a croquet lawn, but a wildflower wilderness where taste, smell, touch and other exciting sensations are out to play. When you’re in the throes of passion, it’s pheromones and bacchanalian instincts, barely remembered but instantly recognisable, that rule the day.

Instead of celebrating the experience you’ve already shared with a few individuals, and no doubt hope to carry on enjoying through life, you’re looking at it mathematically. You want to elevate your seduction score. But if more sex makes better sex, we’d all be trying to date porn stars. The old-fashioned truth is that really great sex normally occurs with people we consider equally inspiring before and afterwards.

I’ve been asked how to spice up sex lives, not really my area of expertise (any suggestions from readers gratefully received…), but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked how to keep up with Casanova in conquest terms. Sex is definitely an area where you want to retain your own unique appeal rather than inhabit a no man’s land between the great and the bland.

Your letter is fascinating because it doesn’t for a moment mention the quality of the sex you are having, the characteristics of the individuals with whom you have sex or the ups and downs of your sexual adventures to date. All you tell me is that, compared to your contemporaries, your numbers are down. It’s curious that as members of a species unique for idiosyncratic and individual achievements, so many of us hanker for the humdrum. Children are particularly consumed by this desire to follow the crowd, and (until we bankrupted them) it’s what made teenagers such fertile quarry for advertisers in their catch-one-and-they’ll-all-want-one philosophy.

Confronted with the absolute certainty of our mortality, it’s senseless that so many of us spend our lives trying to slip through our allotted time without standing out. As you get to my age and the people you love start falling like flies, it’s easy to become melancholy about missed opportunities. With only one shot at the art of living why are we so timid when it comes to exploiting it? For many of us, the sum of our ambition is not to stand out from the crowd while we draw breath! You are apparently seeking, not better sex, or sexier sex or naughtier sex but just more of it. I suggest you focus on the quality of your engagements and let others boast about the quantity. You would definitely be the more appealing partner amid the chorus of sexual bravado that rumbles on around us.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to Follow Mariella on Twitter @mariellaf1 © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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