When I was in college, I met a young man who, five years later, would become my husband. (Four years and no kids later, he became my ex-husband.) When we were dating — this was all the way back in the 1980s, when people still dated — I would needle him about his sexual past after we kept running into women from his high school days. The way they’d say hello to each other made me think they’d been more than friends.
After each encounter, I would say, “Wait, did you sleep with her, too?”
He would never answer my question definitively — he was not a kiss-and-tell type — but his chuckle made it clear when he had slept with the girl we’d just passed. When it kept happening, I finally asked, “So wait, how many girls have you slept with?” And: “How many did you go out with?” In those days, “go out with” meant to date someone for an extended period of time.
Again, he was evasive. But this I remember: “What? It’s no big deal. We were friends.”
“But friends don’t sleep with each other,” I’d say.
Then he’d look at me as though I were a cute but naïve relic of days past, when people who slept together were, at the very least, in a long-term relationship and in love. It's true that in the 1980s, marriage was no longer considered a “requirement” for sex, what with the pill having been around for some 20 years. But love? That was still a given.
I remember telling him that while sleeping with his female friends may have meant little to him, it definitely meant something to them. They were not in it for the same reasons, I said. Again, he thought that was cute.
I see now that my ex’s attitude toward sex did not represent the norm at the time, at least when I compare it to others I knew back then. But today he would fit in just fine. Twenty-five years after those conversations took place, America has undergone a sea change, a revolution really, with respect to men, women, and sex. “In the 2014 Relationships in America survey,” notes Larry Kummer, editor of the website FM, “sex before the relationship begins was the model — meaning the most common — point at which Americans report having first had sex in their current relationships" [emphasis mine].
It should come as no surprise that with such an upside-down approach to sex — first the sex, then a relationship (or not) — gender relations are a mess. With that one simple tweak in attitude — sex first, relationship later (or not at all) — everything changed.
A great example of this train wreck is the highly publicized accusation against comedian Aziz Ansari by a woman named “Grace” (not her real name). Grace is a 23-year old Brooklyn photographer who, after one date with Ansari, went back to his place and engaged in all sorts of sexual activity. After regretting the experience and feeling “violated,” she published a very personal account of their encounter for the website Babe in a clear effort to humiliate Ansari.
What it really did, though, was highlight the chasm between women and men when it comes to sex.
The #MeToo movement is a perfect example. With no cultural taboos remaining, men and women are not only free to, but assumed to, pursue sexual conquest with equal fervor. Women, we were told, have been liberated. And men, oh so foolishly, believed it.
That most women do not respond to casual sex in the same way some men do — men like Ansari, for example — is genuinely perplexing to men. Here is Ansari's response to “Grace’s” account of their date: "Everything did seem okay to me,” he writes. “By all indications, [their sexual activity] was completely consensual.”
So many men, so many people, just don't get it. They honestly believe, just like my ex, that women are capable of being impervious to one-night stands. If that were true, the excesses of #MeToo wouldn't be a thing.
Half a century after the sexual revolution, we are reaping the results of so-called free sex. But sex is never free, as men are now learning. Women continue to be the same attachment-oriented creatures they’ve always been, only now they’ve lost their power to say no — as the New York Times' new gender editor, Jessica Bennett, explains.
Some liberation that is! In the past, everyone knew women were different from men — in more ways than one, but especially when it comes to sex. With the pill, people assumed that removing pregnancy from the equation is all that is needed for men and women to become sexual equals.
Tell that to all the men who’ve been accused of hurting women by assuming women wanted what they want. Apparently the joke is on them.
Suzanne Venker (@SuzanneVenker) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is an author, Fox News contributor, and trustee of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Her fifth book, "The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage: HOW LOVE WORKS," was published in February.
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