As I'm sure you'll agree it's all to do with your personal state of mind.
Everyone is different in this respect (including the writers of the trip reports you have been reading) and each has their own version of their desires, morals, self-image and overall outlook on life etc.
Some members no doubt shared similar thoughts as you and found their own ways to manage these feelings or change their perspective. The bravado displayed at times by many of us is only one part of the story.
Now, P4P certainly isn't for everyone but the simple fact that you use phrases such as "I’d love to be able to" and " I envy guys who can .." show that you have a strong desire to at least try it. I feel that only by trying it out (and not just once as this will not give your feelings towards it enough time to have a chance to adjust) will you ever know if it is for you.
I myself initially had problems with getting my head around what I was doing in Pattaya. The fact that the girls can be so pleasant and treat you as though they really like you was very enjoyable but in the morning when it came to paying them before they left made me see the previous night's fun for what it was and at times this made me feel really down. The more I liked the girl the worse this feeling was.
Over time things have gotten easier and now I can enjoy most encounters for what they are. I still haven't completely adjusted as every trip is still an emotional rollercoaster.
My outlook is that everything evens out in the end. If we want really good times then we have to accept the bad times as well.
I first went to Thailand little more than two years ago and I've just bought the flights for my sixth trip so that should show how I feel overall. Yes, at times I've hit a few lows but I can honestly say that I've had some of the best times in my life in Pattaya, done things I would previously never have dreamt of and met some really nice people who were doing the same thing and at times going through some of the same issues.
Given your level of interest then I feel you really owe it to yourself to at least try it for a while otherwise you'll always be wondering 'What if ..?".
Maybe a good idea would be to start with a massage. That way you would be spending time with the girl on a professional basis (yet still with physical contact which most likely would arouse you) then when extras are offered it may be easier to take that step.
If that goes alright then next might be a short time. If you used Soi 6 then you would be able to simply pick a girl and do the buisiness without too much interaction beforehand - that way you could clearly see it as just a service the girl was supplying.
Having said this, I realise the subject of first steps is most importantly based on your feelings so your ideas may be totally different. Whatever you feel most comfortable with will be right for you.
Whew, am I still talking? OK, I'll shut up for now. Whatever you decide, if you ever have the chance then meet up with some board members for a drink. You might be suprised how normal we are and this should help change your perspective of the scene a little.