Image Credit: "Super Friends" on Photubucket
Are you receiving sexual benefits from a friend? In the movies, the friends typically become true loves. (See the recent "No Strings Attached" with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. Coming soon: "Friends with Benefits" starring Justin Timerlake and Mila Kunis.) It’s a new twist on the old fairy tale where the prince finds his true princess—via glass slipper—or the princess is awakened from her long sleep in a glass coffin by his kiss. All that glass. Fairy tales are so transparent, aren’t they?
The old Conventional Wisdom says that women can’t have casual sex because we are not capable of separating emotion from sex. Girls of the Hook-Up generation set out to prove that wrong, with mixed results. They are having sex with strangers, but not orgasms. And to sex with strangers without orgasms, I ask, WTF is the point? Rub up against him, get aroused—and go home alone to your vibe.
The related concept popular with several generations of men and women, beginning with Boomers, is the Friends with Benefits arrangement, still classified as “casual sex” but with more heart. Sex with someone you know and trust, affection included, no strings. What’s wrong with that? In theory, nothing. In practice, some people can pull it off better than others. Sex is sticky and messy, in a glorious way, of course. The science does show us that sex, especially ending in orgasm, does create feelings of attachment, more strongly in women than men. But unless they live by the gospel of Tucker Max (the leading cultural proponent of drunken sex between aging adolescent boys and bimbos), men too form attachments.
In my recent experience of interviewing men, listening to male friends and eavesdropping on men’s conversations on the street, in Starbucks or a neighborhood pub, I have come to the conclusion that, yes, men do at least occasionally talk about relationships with women in a serious way. In today’s New York Daily News, legendary shock jock Howard Stern confides that the dissolution of his first marriage “blew my mind” and led to a period of “running around and picking up women.”
How did that work out for him?
“I wasn’t thinking of myself as a human being—didn’t value myself.”
Are you surprised to hear that from Howard Stern? I wasn’t. He appears to have found the love of his life in second wife Beth Orstrosky, beautiful, warm and genuine. And he’s always been gut honest about himself as well as in his opinions about others. Stern embodies the masculine sexual duality that unsettles many women: He loves his wife and he loves porn stars.
As individual men and women and as a culture, we are continually grappling with gender issues—specifically re-defining how men and women respond to sex and how increasing economic parity between men and women has changed the way we relate to one another. Women are more capable of sex without commitment than the CW tells us we are—and men have more emotions tied into sex. Even the superficial romantic comedies and ordinary TV sitcoms often make some relevant comment on the subject.
The culture, in fact, seems to be ahead of the academics in searching for the answers. I’ve followed with amusement the dialogue among university professors and students about Professor Teri Conley’s evolutionary psychology paper on Sexual Strategies Theory (SST). Professor Conley regurgitates the theory that women, who are “choosy” about sex partners will always choose a good provider over an object of lust while men operate sexually under the biological dictate to spread their sperm as far and widely as possible. The professor writes—
“…the implications of SST are clearly that women would forgo sexual pleasure to have sex with a high-status man who would support them and their potential children. Thus, for women, at least, pleasure is intentionally discounted within SST.”
Woman as gold-digger, man as mindless conqueror of the pussy—Really? Some women, some men, yes. But the SST theory as a working model for defining Hook-Ups or Friends with Benefits arrangements or the choices we make in love and marriage—I don’t think so. Conley's position is not incompatible with the Republican House's stand against Planned Parenthood, an organization they claim encourages "female promiscuity." Both are (female) sex negative.
What do you think? What has your experience with "casual sex" been?
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