Pressure Points

I don’t talk about my personal sex life a lot in this piece, and I don’t talk about it in much detail; but I talk about it a little, in fairly general terms. Family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life — use your own judgment on this one. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

“If you won’t have sex with me, I’m going to break up with you.”

This is supposed to be one of the meanest, most selfish, most manipulative things to say to someone you’re dating. In the dating books and teenage advice columns, girls and women are constantly told that if guys say this — if they insist on sex as a condition of preserving the relationship (or getting into it in the first place) — then they’re bad guys who don’t respect you and aren’t worth your time. They’re pressuring you into sex when you’re not ready for it… and that’s a bad, bad thing.

But here’s the problem.

The “I’m going to break up with you if you won’t have sex with me” thing?

I actually don’t think it’s unreasonable.

This is kind of a moot point for me, since I’m out of the dating scene. But if I were going out with someone — of either gender — who said they didn’t want to have sex until marriage, I’d suddenly remember an urgent appointment elsewhere, and would be out of there so fast it’d make your head spin.

Even if marriage weren’t the issue. Even if they said they wanted to date for, say, several months before having sex. If someone told me that on a first date, there wouldn’t be a second one; if they said it after a couple/few dates, they’d get the “This isn’t going to work” conversation.

And I wouldn’t consider it “pressure.”

I wouldn’t consider myself an asshole for doing it. Not in the slightest. I’d consider myself completely reasonable, and entirely within my rights.

Let me be totally clear here. Of course people have the right to have sex on their own timetable. And that includes delaying sex for months into a relationship, or even waiting until marriage. (I think that’s a bad idea for a whole lot of reasons… but people certainly have the right to do it.)

But the people that these “wait ’til marriage” people are dating? They have the right to their own sexual timetables, too. And that includes wanting sex fairly early in the relationship. Saying, “I want sex pretty soon, you don’t, so I don’t think this is going to work” isn’t the crime of the century. It’s a reasonable thing to say.

Obviously, it’s not okay to say it in a way that’s pressuring or manipulative. It’s not okay, for instance, to use peer pressure; to say things like, “Everyone else is doing it.” And it’s not okay to make your partner feel like a bad, flawed, inadequate person for saying No, or for saying they want to wait. That is mean and selfish. It’s pretty much a textbook example of it.

And obviously, I’m talking about relationships that are more or less equal: relationships between adults, or between teenagers and other teenagers. The dynamic where adults use their greater confidence and experience to manipulate teenagers — who generally have less confidence and are more vulnerable to social pressure — into having sex… that’s some fucked-up shit.

But as long as you’re respectful of your partner’s right to say No, being clear about what you do and don’t want in a relationship is reasonable and healthy. And that includes being clear about what you do and don’t want regarding sex.

Besides… think about it. Why is it considered mean, manipulative pressure to say, “I won’t go out with you if we don’t have sex”… but it’s perfectly fine, virtuous even, to say, “I won’t go out with you if you won’t wait until marriage to have sex”? Why does the latter count any less as pressuring your partner into a kind of relationship they may not want?

You can argue that it’s different for teenagers. You can argue that teenage girls lack the confidence and ego strength to clearly state what they want in a relationship, they they’re extra-vulnerable to social pressure and the desire for attention and affection… so it’s important to teach them that it’s okay to say No.

So fine, let’s teach them that. Do we also have to teach them that it’s not okay to say Yes? And that the boys in their lives who want them to say Yes are selfish, manipulative jerks who don’t respect them and are just using them for sex?

Because of course, this issue consistently gets presented as if boys or men are always the beastly animals who want the sex, and girls or women are always the ones holding out, the virtuous gatekeepers of sexual morality. The idea that women might want sex, too? That women might be the ones with ants in our pants? It’s apparently inconceivable to the folks writing the dating advice. (As is homosexuality or bisexuality… but that’s a rant for another day.)

Well, count me as one big counter-example. I’ve always liked to have sex fairly early in a relationship. Even as a teenager. Sex is important to me, and I don’t want to spend years, or months, or even very many weeks, dating someone if the sex isn’t going to work. I want to know early on if we’re sexually compatible. And besides, I’m a horny bugger. I want sex because I want it. Sex, like virtue, is its own reward.

And I’m sick unto death of being told that my libido is either freakish or non-existent. I hated it when I was a teenager, and I hate it now.

Just like guys who date women are sick of being told that their libidos make them bad, selfish, manipulative boyfriends.

So let’s rewrite this dating rule, shall we?

Let’s delete, “If a guy says he’s going to break up with you if you won’t have sex with him, then he’s a mean, selfish, manipulative jerk who doesn’t respect women, and you’re better off without him.” Let’s strike it out of the dating advice database forever.

And let’s replace it with something like this:

“If the person you’re dating — regardless of gender — wants sex a lot sooner than you do, that’s probably a sign that you’re not compatible.

“And if they want to delay sex a lot longer than you want to, that’s also probably a sign that you’re not compatible.

“You have a right to your own sexual timetable — and so does the person you’re dating.”

(I developed this piece in a comment thread on the Friendly Atheist blog. So thanks, dude.)

Pressure Points
OrbitCon: The Orbit's online conference. Attend from anywhere.

11 thoughts on “Pressure Points

  1. 1

    “If the person you’re dating — regardless of gender — wants sex a lot sooner than you do, that’s probably a sign that you’re not compatible.”
    This is what I told my daughter, a sexually active 18 year old college freshman with a steady boyfriend. He was a virgin when she got a hold of him and was not reluctant to engage in sexual play with her but was a little leery of the “going all the way”. She was very kind and gentle with him and he finally came around (literally) and is starting to enjoy some of the more adventurous things my daughter enjoys.
    That said, I always warned her about having sex with some one if she was not ready. She had plenty of high school boys use that line on her. SHE dumped them and they did the “I’m sorry, please take me back” crap. She never did, waiting until she was ready to experience sex on HER terms.
    If you are talking to an adult in your post above, I say yes you are right. But for people just starting out with their sexuality, going slowly is not a bad thing. Being pressured for sex is degrading to some people and the guilt afterwards can be devastating and destroy a relationship.

  2. 2

    “That women might be the ones with ants in our pants? It’s apparently inconceivable to the folks writing the dating advice.”
    LOL, I’m a counterexample too.
    Refusal to have sex is a deal-breaker for me, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable that it should be. Why would he refuse? Because he doesn’t want to do it? Because he thinks it’s a sin? Okay, game over, we’re incompatible.
    Please see my post “Immodest proposal: sex on the first date?” post

  3. 3

    I disagree with you on this one…somewhat.
    I agree that people who want to save sex for marriage probably should not be dating people who don’t.
    However, in the case of people who simply don’t want to have sex more or less immediately, I have to disagree. And it sounds like you’re saying that people who don’t want sex to be part of the relationship from the start aren’t as into sex as you are (I’m using the general “you,” not “you,” specifically), or don’t like it as much, or something. That’s simply not true.
    Just because someone says no to sex on the first, second, or third date does NOT mean that their libido/sex drive is any less strong than yours. It may mean that they have a hard time separating sex from love. Maybe they want to be reasonably sure that the emotional part of the relationship is going to work before they do something they know is going to get them emotionally involved quite fast. As a friend of mine says “Your pussy grabs and your heart goes with it.”
    On the other hand, sexual compatibility is important, and if the sex is bad, I agree that may very well be a deal-breaker.

  4. 5

    My girlfriend once asked me if we’d still be together if she hadn’t had sex with me when she did (three weeks into the relationship). I told her without any hesitation that No, we wouldn’t be.
    She was appalled.
    I explained things more or less exactly as you did, just now. We’re still together, but she thinks I’m evil, LOL.

  5. 6

    Hi there! Long time reader, first time poster.
    This is an interesting idea for me, and I’m also going to have to disagree somewhat.
    Waiting for sex until marriage is obviously a dumb idea, considering the vast variations of sexual drive and preference out there. Compatability is very importaint for a long term relationship (and I hate how that people shove that issue aside in some quest for “purity” on a wedding night).
    However I am one of those people who a)has a very high sex drive and b)will not have sex with someone I date right away. This has more to do with my own caution (maybe I’m a cynic?) about trust.
    I don’t open up quickly to people, be it friends, boy/girl friends, or otherwise. I probably wouldn’t be with my S.O. right now if he had not gone slow, and put no pressure on me (we waited a month).
    In the light of such issues as STDs and personal safety, I don’t think wanting to wait a few weeks should be taken as an indication that the person is an incurable prude. It may just take some people longer to feel comfortable. As they say… once burned, twice shy!

  6. 7

    To Dolce and Cinders:
    I didn’t say I insisted on sex “right away.” I didn’t say I insisted on sex on the “first, second, or third date.” I didn’t even say I wouldn’t be willing to wait “a few weeks.”
    I said I wouldn’t be willing to wait until marriage, and I wouldn’t be willing to wait a few months, or even “very many weeks.” (We can quibble over the definition of “a few weeks” versus “many weeks,” if you like… but I’m not sure how productive it would be.)
    I also never said that wanting to wait a few weeks meant you were an “incurable prude.” In fact, I said that wanting your own timetable was reasonable. I just said that it was reasonable from both ends: the “wanting to wait” end, and the “not wanting to wait” end.
    So please don’t put words in my mouth. I’m in an irritable mood today anyway, and having words put in my mouth is a pet peeve of mine that’s likely to send me over the edge.
    Now, if your timetables are reasonably close together, then of course there should be some wiggle room, some willingness to compromise. And I even think the compromise should be made by the person who doesn’t want to wait as long. (The consequences of not having sex when you really want it aren’t as great as the consequences of having sex when you don’t really want it.)
    So if Pat’s timetable is “I like to have it within two or three weeks,” and Chris’s is “I like to wait a month or so,” and if Pat really likes Chris and feels that the relationship has potential… then yes, they’d be a fool not to wait another two or three weeks. (I don’t think they’d be immoral, but they’d be a fool.)
    But if Pat’s timetable is “I like to have it within two or three weeks,” and Chris’s is “I want to wait until marriage” or “I want to wait several months,” then I don’t think it’d be either wicked or foolish for Pat to cut out. And I’m really tired of the cultural trope that casts Pat as the manipulative villain in that situation.
    (BTW, I didn’t mean to imply that wanting to delay sex means you don’t have a high libido. I don’t think that, and I didn’t say it; but if I accidentally gave that impression, I apologize.)

  7. 8

    I completely agree down to the smallest detail. This is what I’ve had to tell friends before, regardless of what position they were in (wanting to wait or not); it’s a reasonable thing to be a deal-breaker in a relationship, so find someone else who feels like you do.
    I didn’t get the impression you were saying people ought to submit to sex immediately. I’m not sure why the other few commenters did. There’s a lot to be said for some patience if one is really into the person who wants to wait a bit longer, but if that person wants to wait way longer than their partner is willing, well, time to go elsewhere.

  8. 9

    “So please don’t put words in my mouth. I’m in an irritable mood today anyway, and having words put in my mouth is a pet peeve of mine that’s likely to send me over the edge.”
    Ah! Sorry, I didn’t mean to do any such thing. I just misunderstood you, and wanted to add to the conversation. I never intended to imply you thought everyone who waited was a prude, I apologize for coming across that way. This is why I tend to lurk instead of post, there is so much potential for misunderstanding on the internet…
    I really like your blog (thank you for all your great ideas), and generally agreed with your post. Now that you’ve explained your point more, I totally agree.

  9. 10

    I agree with what you said, but that’s not often how the manipulation goes. It’s not “I want sex”, but “If you really loved me, you’d have sex with me”.
    It’s exploiting politeness; people are very reluctant to say “I’m not sure I like you that much” even though the answer is more like “of course I’m not sure; if I were, I’d be planning the wedding.”
    And there’s a depressingly common genre of person who is attracted to the hunt more than the prey, and will lose interest and dump someone shortly after getting into their pants.
    Although I have to give credit to C. L. Hanson’s opinion. If you can just enjoy the sex for what it is, and avoid catching any diseases on the way, it’s an even more effective way of identifying the check-list types.
    But many people find sex more portentious than that. Indeed, the legend of this kind of emotional pressure is when it’s applied to The First Time.
    One piece of advice I give people is that sex is wired deep enough into the emotional brain that, for better or worse, you WILL remember your first time for the rest of your life. And having sex for the first time just to see if they want anything else out of a relationship seems a trifle cold.
    Not that you’re not right in the situation you portray, but I think reality often has slightly different circumstances.

  10. 11

    “And there’s a depressingly common genre of person who is attracted to the hunt more than the prey, and will lose interest and dump someone shortly after getting into their pants.”
    On the one hand, I think those are dangerous people with whom to fall in love, at least for me. Part of a lasting relationship is to reach that point where I am no longer being chased — I am caught and can happily be kept. (Metaphorically, that is.) I could never be a “rules girl” for life, marrying someone, but making him or her keep chasing me forever.
    But when it comes to non-romantic sex — friendly sex — I think I have a kink for being chased. I like to be convinced. I like to say “maybe” or “I’ll consider it” for a little while before I say “yes.” People who enjoy the hunt, even people who who ONLY want what they cannot keep, make perfectly good friends-with-benefits if you like saying “maybe” about as often as you say “yes.”
    I guess that comes back to compatibility. I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that pressure itself can be erotic, if pursuit and anticipation turn both people on.

Comments are closed.