The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, March 12, 2010

On keeping the legs crossed

I posted a quote advising women who wish marriage "with good men" to not sleep with a man until he is in love with her. This triggered a powerful response from one reader, wishing that men would keep such opinions to themselves. I wanted to respond.

1) I do not claim to be able to read the mind of the guy who wrote this--so any interpretations of the position must be my own. That said, note that the quote doesn't suggest that women who sleep with men on the first date are sluts, bad or wrong. He DOES suggest that it is a non-optimal strategy for a woman whose intent is marriage. In other words, he is teaching you how to manipulate men. Is his position correct? Generations of parents all over the world offer pretty much the same advise. Are they all wrong? Perhaps.

2) If they are right, that men are less likely to consider marriage with a woman who has sex with them immediately, then it makes BIG sense to make this opinion known. In that way, if a woman decides to have sex sooner, she won't be surprised if she doesn't get the result of a man offering a ring. So long as our actions are in alignment with our beliefs and lead to our is pretty cool. What is sad is when someone operates on the assumption that human beings are infinitely malleable, that because it seems "fair" for men or women to be able to behave any way they want and remain equally attractive...well, let's just say that wishing doesn't make it so.

3) Remember that you are talking about affecting an UNCONSCIOUS behavior (falling in love) with a CONSCIOUS behavior (withholding sex until the guy is in love.) Why not simply encourage guys to fall in love regardless of when sex begins? Well, because it doesn't work, that's why. You can't just tell someone to change their unconscious wiring.

4) Men will stop trying to influence women's behavior when women stop trying to influence men's behavior. Bring a lunch.

5) Note that this advise is hardly to a man's advantage: men want easy access to sex. Advising a woman AGAINST this is not really to our advantage now, is it? Unless, of course, the intent is to actually help women who don't understand this principle to understand it. They are then, of course, free to make whatever choices they choose. But they can't say no one ever told 'em.

6) Men definitely find sexually aggressive women less interesting. I don't, personally. I mean, the very first time a woman came on to me really hard, I was nonplussed. After that, well, woof. Great! But that's me. The tendency seems to exist in the animal kingdom, and isn't just a male social thing. I remember in "Ordeal" Linda Lovelace wrote about how her husband wanted her to have sex with a dog. (Jesus. What a sick shit he was.) Anyway, she didn't want to do it, and also didn't want to defy him. So she checked with an animal trainer, who told her that if she was sexually aggressive, the dog would be confused and unable to perform. So that's what she did.

What does this mean about human psychology in this arena? Not sure. But it is best to understand rules and tendencies before you break or bend them.

7) I didn't consciously decide to become celibate before marriage or love. What happened is that I hit a point where I was attracting any woman I wanted, and realized I wasn't willing to play the games that made it possible. Specifically, I had a little conversation with God in which I said I wanted a life partner, a friend, someone I could really be myself with, and was willing to wait forever to find such a person, if necessary. I don't know how that would have shaken out--because the next morning I met T! Now, on her end, she'd gotten quite tired of sleeping with guys who didn't really care about her, and made a vow not to do that again. I suspect that my vow would have led to celibacy, but I really hadn't thought it through that far.

8) There is no escaping the fact that trying to create the same rules for men and women in the arena of sex will be difficult. There may be a few sub-stratas of societies somewhere where such rules are functionally identical. But there are NONE to my knowledge in which women have MORE sexual freedom than men (except to be with their own sex. Women definitely have an edge there.) When I point out that there are some basic behaviors that cause a "DING!" response in men or women (the whole beauty/power thing) I always get responses suggesting I am a troglodyte. But I'm not saying I would design the world this way. I'm just saying that certain things are observable realities. If you want to build a space ship or airplane, you had better the hell understand gravity.

If the "gravity" of human sexual relationships means that, for instance:

1) Men are judged more for power. Women judged more for beauty.

2) Men reach their greatest power over forty. Women between the ages of 17-35.

3) Almost all societies expect men to be more sexually experienced and aggressive than women. "Men are the gas, women are the brakes" as the saying goes...and this relates directly to the fact that women get pregnant and men don't.

These things are pretty simple, observable realities. Some are changing in the 21st Century. NONE are reversing. It would make an hysterical comedy-fantasy to write about a world in which you DID reverse these things. Now...that said, we are clearly moving toward a world in which these things are less important in the mating game. But I think everyone should make up their own mind whether they agree that these are the "default settings." And then you should decide if you want to play that game. If you choose not to,

1) I wish you luck. And you may well have it--more and more people are playing by different rules than our ancestors embraced.

2) If you don't get the results you want, be certain that you really think it's worth it to buck the odds.

Personally, as far back as Jr. High I realized that the prettiest girls liked the most powerful boys. That meant dating high school guys. In high school, junior girls wanted senior guys. Or college guys. In college, they wanted guys who had already graduated and had jobs, cars and apartments.

I could have pitched a bitch about that, and raved about how unfair, manipulative, shallow, etc. it all is. And felt very self-righteous in my lonely bed. I decided to become powerful, and to find a segment of society that considered my particular type of power sexy. Can you say Science Fiction conventions? Let's just say I had a LOT of fun, and leave it at that. And I eventually grew out of that, and moved on.

But it is no more reasonable to expect young men to ignore their deep programming than it is for women to do so. Men and women manipulate each other with fear and guilt, and always have. I suggest laughing at the whole thing. Consider those who play these games to be children, perhaps. And commit to being aware and adult enough to attract an awake, aware, adult partner. And in my estimation, although women mature a little faster, overall, there are about equal percentages of decent, mature, aware, adult human beings on both sides of the gender aisle.


Ernessa T. Carter said...

We disagree. That's fine. Also I think you might be putting being sexually aggressive and being comfortable having sex on the same level, which I don't.

I really don't think there are rules that have to be obeyed in order to find The One. I think the very definition of The One is that he or she accepts you as is, w/o you having to adhere to some weird set of rules that no one can quite agree on.

I think most people who make their own rules and date according to their standards are the ones that end up winning.

I don't think it's wise to manipulate your future mate. It sets a precedent.

When you say that men are attracted to beauty and women are attracted to power. Yes. But it's more complicated than that. My husband thinks I'm absolutely beautiful and I believe him when he says that. Other Americans -- not so much. Europeans and Africans -- much more so. But the thing is, I don't want or regret the guys that don't think I'm beautiful. Just as guys who I'm not attracted to shouldn't be sad about that. To women I say, don't bother with trying to conform. Someone out there will think you're beautiful and treat you as such. Date him. To men I say, don't worry if the prom queen won't go out with you. Someone that you think is beautiful will love you. Date her.

I don't understand the need for Tolbert's advice. I doesn't help women towards becoming their most authentic selves.

re 2) "it makes sense to make this opinion known" -- what women doesn't already know about this opinion? We're told it over and over again. Why say it again?

No, it's not to a man't advantage. But in my opinion, it's REALLY not to a woman's advantage either.

re 6) prove it. Find me a statistic. Show me a sexually aggressive woman who cannot find a man if she wants one for the long term.

7) Funny, I stopped dating all together for 3 months, had the same conversation with God, said that I was "ready" and decided to aggressively be myself going forward. Got asked out by my husband less than a month later. Never blamed sex for not finding him sooner. There was other stuff to blame also timing also life. It was all a lesson and sex didn't hinder my journey.

I understand what you understand to be the rules and in my opinion if you actually want good results, you'd be well-advised not to play by anybody else's rules.

Only your own.

Okay, this is REALLY the last comment. My writing practice is mad at you. :)

Thanks for the two thought-provoking posts.

bud said...

I'd like to thank etc for her comments, and everyone else.

I have a very good friend who has been through 1 bad marriage and 2 disastrous ones, along with who knows how many "relationships" - who was complaining that she can't find Mr Right. I told her that it was because she was so willing to settle for Mr Right-now, she had no time to figure out if they were a loser or a user, and by the time the blinding light of SEX SEX SEX wore off...

She told me that I was an old fart who didn't understand "modern dating". The old fart I admit to, but I tried to explain, without much success. Your view, etc, I think is very close to her's, and this gives me much more insight to what she was trying to say. I still think she needs to go out with someone for awhile before hopping into bed, and I think I might be able to explain this much better now.

Thanks, Steve and everyone.

Steve Perry said...

I tend to agree that it always comes down to individual choices and decisions, but the general advice has a certain precedent. This is not your father's future, to be sure, and things are shifting fast underfoot, like sand when the wave recedes; still, the old saw is "Why buy the cow if the milk is free?" And there's a kind of truth in it.

The balance between lust and love, between a one-night stand and a long-term relationship is tricky, and in an age where sex can be fatal, the notion of taking care before and during is not a bad one.

The advice from men comes because they know how men behave. If a woman understand that a young man whose primary goal is to get into her pants might be willing to say anything he thinks she wants to hear to achieve his short-term goal, maybe when he offers up that he loves her on the second date, that might not do the trick.

If she is game for the sex, fine, but knowing that a man will lie to get it? It's good information to have if she wants to make an informed choice.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

I do think there are more mature, adult women, than mature, adult men. Or there'd be fewer single-parent households run by women.

mkf said...

it's a brutal, eternal truth: men don't value what they don't have to work for. why is this so hard for people to understand?

and it's not just men. an assistant DA friend of mine once told me that as soon as a jury finds out a rape victim has a slutty past, sympathy for her often goes out the window--and the women are far more judgmental than the men.

is it "fair" that men get to flit through life pollinating every flower that opens to them, and women have to bear the consequences? maybe not, but what is, is.

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Steven Barnes said...

Those "mature and adult" women also have a very different reproductive strategies. That's just a little bit comparing apples and oranges. To determine if more males or females are "mature" you'd have to select an arena in which their values are approximately equal, and then see who rises to the occasion more frequently.
If you measure men by women's standards, they come up short. Measure women by men's standards, THEY come up short. Both are only partial perspectives.

Anonymous said...

"In high school, junior girls wanted senior guys. Or college guys. In college, they wanted guys who had already graduated and had jobs, cars and apartments."

When I was a junior girl in high school, I definitely wanted to date a high school guy instead of someone in college. In college, I still preferred my own age group and didn't want to date a guy who had already graduated.

Anonymous said...

"it's a brutal, eternal truth: men don't value what they don't have to work for. why is this so hard for people to understand?"

Because many men IRL *do* value the sex they don't have to work as hard for. Think about it, which requires that a man do more work:

(a) having sex with a woman who's already interested in having sex with him, after they went on several dates and she enthusiastically agreed to sex with him

(b) having sex with a woman or girl who was uninterested in having sex with him, after he spent tons of effort grinding away at her resistance and she finally caved in and resigned herself to sex with him


IRL, a lot of men don't even try (b) and go for (a).

Even some virgin men with poor social skills still stick to dating and trying for (a) IRL instead of going for (b) in ways that don't require social skills (crunching numbers to earn a bigger bride price or smuggler fee, pumping iron to be stronger at pinning people down, pulling strings in the family to get engaged to a cousin and wait for her to be "old enough," etc.).

Anonymous said...

"Those "mature and adult" women also have a very different reproductive strategies."

For some of them, it's even an immediate-survival strategy instead of a reproductive strategy:

"VANCOUVER - Lesbian and bisexual youth are up to seven times more likely to get pregnant than their heterosexual peers, a study of British Columbia students has found.

"The surprising findings were published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. The data used for the research were gathered from adolescent health surveys done in B.C. schools in 1992, 1998, and 2003.

"The heightened risk is explained by several factors, including an attempt among closeted gay, lesbian and bisexual teens to prove they are heterosexual to avoid harassment and discrimination.

"'For some gay, lesbian and bisexual teens it’s camouflage,' said Elizabeth Saewyc, lead author of the study and an associate professor at the University of B.C.’s school of nursing, 'because it’s still pretty stigmatized and they still face a lot of harassment at school.'

"Results from the surveys, which were conducted anonymously among about 30,000 students in grades 7 through 12, indicated as well that boys are more likely to cause a pregnancy if they identify as gay or bisexual..."

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Anonymous said...

"it's a brutal, eternal truth: men don't value what they don't have to work for. why is this so hard for people to understand?"

Why is it so hard for you to understand the logical truth that if we have to say "no" when we mean "yes" then we have nothing left to say that means "no" when we mean "no"?