This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. I never reprinted it here, for reasons that now escape me. But the Blowfish Blog archives are apparently no longer on the Internets, and the original piece is no longer available. So in the interest of completism and making all my published works accessible, I’m going ahead and posting it here.
I don’t usually write this column as an advice column. But I make occasional exceptions. And last week, someone wrote a comment in this blog asking for advice… a comment that I (a) felt compelled to answer, and (b) couldn’t answer in just a few words. (Link to original comment no longer available, since the Blowfish Blog archives have gone missing.)
The commenter had responded to a call for sexually-themed New Year’s resolutions by saying that she’d had a terrible experience with someone she met on the Internet, someone she’d traveled across the world to be worth who turned out to be, shall we say, unworthy of her affections. She had vowed to never get emotionally attached to a man again. And she asked this:
So this puts me in a quandary: how “palatable” to a potential male partner would I be if I told him I just wanted some awesome sex without a relationship or any bullshit “I love you’s” that we both know he probably doesn’t mean anyway, and if he does, he only means it when it’s convenient for him to truly love me?
But I don’t think that’s the right question here.
I don’t think that’s the question I should be answering.
The question I think I should be answering is one that this commenter didn’t ask. It’s one that she assumed she knew the answer to. And I think the answer she’s come up with is wrong — seriously wrong.
The question I think I should be answering is, “Since I got my heart broken by a lying jerk, should I assume that love is always a lie, give up on romantic love forever, and just get my sexual needs met with no-strings sex?”
The answer to that question is a vigorous “No.”
But more pertinently to the question at hand:
This assumption is going to seriously interfere with a satisfying no-strings sex life.
For no-strings sex to work, you need to feel happy about sex. You need to feel happy — at least potentially happy, willing and able to be happy — about the people you’re having sex with. And you need to feel happy about yourself. You need to see no-strings sex as something positive you’re pursuing for its own benefits, and for your own reasons. You can’t treat no-strings sex as second-rate, something you’re settling for because you’ve given up on what you really want. Not if you want to have a good time doing it.
And yet, if I’d dated a woman who was looking for no-strings sex because she’d been so badly burned by love that she’d vowed never to try that again? If I’d dated a woman who only wanted no-strings sex because she knew that love was bullshit, and that if I said “I love you” I’d only be lying anyway, so she didn’t want to hear it?
Every single one of my red flags would have gone up.
That doesn’t sound like any fun at all.
I am entirely in favor of no-strings sex for people who genuinely want it. I think there are lots of excellent reasons to want no-strings sex. I even think that “I recently got out of a relationship, and I want sex but I’m not ready for another big commitment right now” is a pretty okay reason. And while I am a great lover of love, I don’t think serious romantic relationships are right for everybody all the time. I think there are people who would be happier being single — some temporarily, some permanently. We don’t all have to do relationships the same way.
At best, you’re going to have some sad, disconnected, unsatisfying sex. You’ll probably get a lot of rejection, too: from guys who are insulted at the assumption that they’re probably liars, and/or who find the prospect of sex with disappointed, pessimistic women to be less than alluring. And at worst, you’re going to make yourself vulnerable to some serious assholes. (Think of the kind of guy who’ll meet you and think, “Hey, she’s bitter and unhappy about men and has given up on love — I bet she’ll put out.” Is that the kind of guy you want to be sleeping with? Forget whether they’d be safe or trustworthy — do you think they’re going to be any fun in the sack?)
In a lot of ways, no-strings sex can be emotionally harder than long-term relationship sex. At least, it’s a different kind of hard. You have to date more people, put yourself out into the world more. You have to date a lot of frogs… and you have to date a lot of people who are going to think you’re a frog. You have to be willing to suffer a lot of rejection — and to do a lot of rejecting yourself. You have to be in a pretty strong, self-confident place for that to work.
And it doesn’t sound like you’re in that place right now.
I don’t think you need no-strings sex.
I think you need a therapist, a vibrator, and time.
Not necessarily in that order.