“Watch out for Scott*,” my new friend Amanda warned me. “He’s kind of a perv.”
I had slightly zoned out of our conversation, but at this, I snapped back to attention. “Wait, what? What do you mean?” Women warning other women about men usually know what they’re talking about, and have an excellent reason for doing so. Joining a new social group often involves revelations of this sort – finding out the behind-the-scenes secrets is a rite of passage in any new social endeavor. It would be an understatement to say I was interested.
She rolled her eyes and breathed a long sigh, trying to choose her words. “I dunno, he just tries to fuck every girl,” she explained. “We slept together when I first met him and then he got weird about it. Just be careful.”
What Amanda didn’t know was that I’d already fucked Scott. The night before, in fact. My heart skidded in my chest.
This warning tripped some old, old detritus in my psychology. See, when I was a teenager and only fucking women, I was terrified of men. They made me nervous whenever I encountered them in romantic or sexual situations, in person or on dating sites like OkCupid and thesexchatsite.com. I worried sex with them would be bad and I’d hate it, I worried I’d be awful at blowjobs and handjobs and they’d judge me, I worried penises would be scary and gross, and – most pervasively and chillingly of all – I worried men only cared about sex. If I gave my heart – and also my hetero virginity – to a man, I worried he wouldn’t give a shit and would peace out as soon as the deed was done, leaving me regretful and alone.
I see now that these fears were ridiculous, for a few reasons. First off, men’s emotional cavalierness is a gendered stereotype, and therefore isn’t universally true. Secondly, there are plenty of women who are emotionally irresponsible about sex in the same ways I feared men would be. But thirdly: what is so bad about wanting to have sex with people?
Throughout my teenage years, a hard knot formed in my stomach any time I considered that a man might only want to fuck me and not date me. It felt like a humiliating betrayal waiting to happen. I got a taste of that betrayal when my first boyfriend broke up with me after only a few weeks of dating and then fucked four girls at a party the following week, to the gossipy amusement of seemingly the entire student body. I felt cast aside in favor of girls who “put out” quicker than I did, and required less emotional investment before they’d spread their legs. My apprehension stopped OkCupid banter and in-person flirtations in their tracks, because any time I developed crush-y feelings for a man, I’d remind myself: He probably only wants sex. And that felt like a good enough reason to cut it off, rather than risk bad sex and an even worse rejection.
Indeed, I’ve endured many such rejections in the intervening years. The casual hookup who broadened my kink horizons and then disappeared from my life without warning. The long-time crush who fucked me all languid and giggly in his cozy bed, and then took me out for a Valentine’s Day dinner a few weeks later to tell me he didn’t think we should date. The fuckbuddy who I spent over a year wishing would ask me to be his girlfriend instead. Of course, he never did, because that was never what he wanted – as he had been telling me all along.
These searing letdowns hurt much more than I could have predicted, but I learned key lessons from them about sex and love and the ways in which those things do and don’t intersect. I learned that sex can be good even if one or both parties have no interest in anything more. I learned that the euphoric highs and romantic cravings for “more” I experience after hookups are mostly illusory, and will pass. I learned that only wanting sex from someone doesn’t have to entail being a dick to them: you can be an emotionally responsible, conscientious slut, by checking in on your partners, making sure they’re okay, talking about any feelings that come up, and being straightforward about your intentions.
There were many times when those old, sexist, scary voices crept back into my head. He only wants you because you have wet holes he can fuck, I’d think, or, No one wants to date you because sex is all you’re good for. These are evil fictions murmured into the hearts of women to make us feel worthless and desperate. Patriarchy and capitalism are in partnership, colluding to destabilize women’s sense of agency and self-determination, so we’ll keep trying and trying to impress men in any way we can. We’re told that if we just work hard enough at being “cool” and “pretty” and “sexy” (but not too sexy!), we’ll be able to interest a man with qualities other than just our sexuality.
Here is the truth, though: some people are only interested in sex – whether that priority, for them, is temporary or lifelong. They may be shaken out of that pattern at some point when they meet someone whose brain and heart clicks with theirs in a beyond-just-sex way, but that type of connection is not something you can force with charm and willpower. It happens, or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, that’s not a reflection on you, or your desirability, or your value as a person.
I know this because, in my journeys as a sex-nerdy and usually-conscientious slut, I’ve encountered my greatest fear from the other side of the coin: I’ve occasionally been the person who only wanted sex. There have been friendly hookups and torrid one-night stands who made perfectly good company for a night, but who I would never, ever want to date. Our interests were incompatible, our senses of humor didn’t jive, we didn’t “click” – or maybe, at those particular times in my life, my priorities were just not romantic. And that’s okay.
I truly don’t think there is anything wrong with being the person who “just wants sex” – as long as you’re not an asshole about it. Pursuing someone with false compliments and thickly laid-on charm, just to get into their pants, is a gross behavior regardless of the genders involved. Pretending to want something you don’t, or lying to someone about your intentions, is emotional fraud and cannot be condoned.
It used to cause me a lot of pain that I couldn’t “read” when men were interested in just sex or something more. But now, years in, I know what to look for. Casual hookups and would-be fuckbuddies will often drop phrases like “hang out,” “low-key,” “just for fun,” as they ask me out for drinks at a dim bar, or even straight-up invite me to their apartment. Folks with more romantic intentions will typically pile on the compliments, pointing out my intelligence or humor instead of just my physical qualities, and will invite me on more date-like dates: dinner, comedy shows, fancy cocktails. They often don’t push for sex as quickly, and I can feel that difference of pace somewhere deep in my brain even if it’s not always consciously evident to me. My “gut feelings” about what men want from me are right more often than they’re wrong, these days.
I’ve also learned how to recognize in myself whether I want to date someone or just fuck them. My favorite litmus test at the moment is to ask myself: am I more interested in making this person laugh, or making them come? True, humor is vital to my attractions, including sexual ones, but this question is always at least a good starting point for me to decipher my feelings. Patriarchal scripts still make me feel like I “should” want to date someone I’ve banged, so sometimes I need to step back and ask myself whether that is actually what I want, or if it’s an illusion I cooked up to justify my own “bad,” “slutty” cravings.
There is nothing inherently wrong with sex – wanting it, pursuing it, having it. There is nothing inherently wrong with no-strings-attached, unromantic sex. These things only become problematic when you go about them in a problematic way.
If you’re gonna be a slut, be a kind, conscientious, empathetic slut. Be upfront about what kind of slut you are, and what that means for your partners. Let them decide for themselves whether they want to enter your orbit.
You might still end up the butt of warnings like “Be careful of that guy; he only wants to fuck you” – but hopefully, if you’ve spelled out your particular brand of sluttiness clearly enough in advance, those warnings will simply be met with, “I know. And that’s fine.”
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Heads up: this post was sponsored, and as always, all writing and opinions are my own.