Opinion | Featured

She’s just not that into you: Defending no-strings-attached

Published: March 7, 2013, 1:33 am ET
Opinion Assistant

Before I begin, I want to put a disclaimer on this piece: as a straight woman, I have a very specific set of lived experiences that only qualify me to write with any kind of authority on some experiences of some other straight women. Within these bounds of heterosexuality et al., however, this piece is going to be half analysis, half sex advice, so there’s a little bit for everybody! (Unless you are not at all interested in the sexual exploits of straight college kids, in which case I apologize and will try to make it up to you with a recipe or something next time).

Now that we have that taken care of, I would like to take issue with the all-too-prevalent (though admittedly not universal) phenomenon of men fearfully assuming that the women they hook up with always want to date them, meet their parents, vacation together a few times and hopefully be engaged before the first baby.

This sounds ridiculous when I write it (because it is ridiculous), but let’s be honest: How often do women abstain from sending that first text to someone they are hooking up with/have hooked up with because “I don’t want him to think I like him!”? How often do men willfully avoid spending too much time with those same women so that they won’t “get the wrong idea?”

It may not be logical – it may not even be conscious – but we are, for the most part, conducting our hook-ups in a culture that assumes women engage in sexual activities because they are looking for someone to fill that sad void inside of them, and that men do the same because it’s their right to play the field and, heck, why shouldn’t they?

I’m not trying to call out individual guys here – I’m not even blaming men as a group– because I’m sure there are plenty of situations in which this stereotype is just as confusing and hard for men as it is for women. I’m just here to raise awareness of this odd social construct and the devastating consequences it can have for all of our adult, responsible, consensual sex lives.

There are three main issues with this expectation: it degrades women as autonomous human beings, it devalues their sexuality and ultimately, it just leads to bad hook-ups.

The first issue very much plays into this idea of the “MRS degree,” a fantasy in which women (modern, smart, 21st-century women, mind you) go to college with the express and exclusive intention of finding a husband. If that does happen to be your goal, more power to you for knowing what you want, but can it seriously be a widespread enough phenomenon that we need a name for it? Even if it were, nothing could justify that kind of general belittling of women’s educational and career goals.

The illusion of these swarms of MRS-seeking coeds can leave even the most well-intentioned male hook-up partner worried about upsetting or even “disrespecting” their consensual female partners by not wanting to have a romantic relationship with them. But this concern takes the first step in conflating a woman’s value with her purity. It assumes that if a woman has too many sexual encounters with men whom they aren’t dating, they are “easy” and therefore worthy of much less respect.

It does not take into account the multitude of other ways that same woman is doubtlessly contributing to our society, or the fact that she might just not care what you think. Even when a woman is saving herself for marriage, or for a serious relationship, or just chooses not to engage in the hook-up culture, none of those choices are related to her worth. Neither a man’s nor a woman’s sexuality should ever be connected to their quality as human beings. Ever.

Given how broadly female sexual purity is equated to worth, it should not come as a surprise that we generally assume women who engage in sexual activities are “after” more than that. After all, they’re giving up what our society considers their only source of power! When we assume that women who hook up with men are doing so in pursuit of a romantic relationship, however, not only are we playing into these outdated views of purity, but we are also wrongly assuming that all women need men to validate them.

Once again, we are forgetting that women often have many more things going on in their lives than this desperate search for boys who like them. And (again, I cannot speak for everyone here) trust me; if I really want to date you, my main strategy will probably not be to make out with you at a lodge.

This connects to the second idea of devaluing not only women as independent individuals, but of female sexuality itself. The concern of “using” a woman who freely and rationally chooses to hook up with you is inextricably tied to the assumption that men want (and get) something from hook-ups that women do not.

It segregates male and female sexualities into active “needs” versus passive… what? Getting picked up? Being won over? Even our language about hooking up trivializes women’s sexuality, engaging with this vaguely formed concept that women are never really hooking up just because they want to; it says that men are fulfilling this presumed evolutionary instinct, while women always have an ulterior motive.

Needless to say, this whole thing does not lead to the most rewarding hook-ups for either party. If a man is prioritizing his own sexual “agenda,” let’s call it, over his partner’s because on some level he believes he is the one who really wants it, then no one wins. Selfish hook-ups are really, really bad hook-ups. Also, under this paranoid mindset of hidden emotions and secret wedding planners, we both spend far too much time worrying and not at all enough time concentrating on the fun stuff. We can probably all agree that getting down while analyzing the level of commitment in your partner’s actions is less than utterly stimulating.

It all really boils down to this: for every time that this facet of our weird, messy hook-up culture stops one consenting adult from sending that late-night text to another for fear of “sending the wrong message,” that is just one less time you’re getting some. This fear of seeming “clingy” – or, for men, “clingable?” – leads to a string of random, sloppy first hook-ups which are nowhere near as satisfying as a regular one in which both parties can begin to understand the other’s wants and needs in bed.

We need to stop falling prey to these washed-out stereotypes. Stop for a second and reflect on what you’re really worried about. If men can manage to truly respect women as equal, autonomous human beings, and if they can understand how that necessarily entails accepting their sexual desires and limitations as entirely equal to their own, then it’ll be way hotter, I promise.

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  • Lucy Graham

    Hey, Gigi–I LOVE this. I am sending it to a bunch of my friends. I have been trying to articulate this for ages, and you did a really great job. Thank you so much for writing it; you just made my night. I am in a monogamous relationship and thus do not participate in hookup culture, but this stereotype still drives me crazy just for the reasons you mentioned: it fails to take into account women’s sexual needs while also neglecting them as beings who think for themselves. And I can imagine that a hookup in which she is ‘giving it up’ and he is ‘getting some’ would be more agonizing than fun…

  • William Black

    Your assertion that, “Neither a man’s nor a woman’s sexuality should ever be connected to their quality as human beings. Ever.” ultimately fails to take into account what a personal and deeply telling element of one’s humanity his sexuality is. What can be said of the woman who tries to gain self-esteem from mindless sexual adventures, (which cannot be done, because sex is not the cause, but an effect or expression of a person’s sense of his own values) but that she ultimately despises herself. It is a fallacy to believe that sex is a physical experience that functions independently of own’s choice or code of values. Love for another is the concretization of man’s values, he chooses to love the one who best represents that which he holds to be good or right. You have fallen into the common (and greatly damaging) doctrine that man’s sexuality belongs to some animal or lower part of his nature. This doctrine necessarily rests on the belief that man’s being is torn into two, opposing parts: his physical, animal body, and his rational, spiritual “soul.” Such a system of belief indicates only an inability to reconcile one’s desires, sexual or otherwise, with one’s core values or beliefs. This very system is the same one which rapists so commonly fall upon to downplay and justify their crimes, “It wasn’t I who was raping her, but just this uncontrollable, base desire which I could not resist.” A dangerous fallacy indeed.

  • philosophy: my strong suit? eh

    I feel as if you “think” this scenario exists and it prevails in your head, when in reality, it might not. You speak about these illusions of what men and women want and what each thinks about the other, when in reality, you are actually doing that with this entire article. You cannot claim to know that men perceive these things about women when, in fact, they might not!