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 wouldnât 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, itâs not okay to say it in a way thatâs 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.)