The End of Friends With Benefits

I’ve written a bunch on hook-up culture (here, here and here to start).

Each post receives a lot of play in the comments below (82, 105 and 118 comments to be precise.) Because every time I write about this, it’s some version of the same thing:

I was an active participant in hook-up culture for nearly 20 years.

I never judged women who did the exact same things as I did.

Numerous studies show that women (on the whole) don’t enjoy hookup culture as much as men, but yet they still participate in it.

They participate in it because they’re trying extremely hard to convince themselves that they do enjoy it. Or they participate because they feel they don’t have a choice. If this is what all the most desirable men want, maybe it’s just the cost of doing business.

This dissonance is what causes women so much pain and frustration – blaming men for having low standards for sex, instead of understanding that this is common and that the only person responsible for who you hop into bed with is you.

When I point these observations out, a conversation breaks out about slut-shaming and double-standards, when, in fact, the studies are merely reflective of women’s opinions on hook-up culture. Too often, women (my clients!) feel used, undervalued and discarded by men – mostly because they tend to associate sex with feelings, while many men will sleep with virtually anybody regardless of emotions or long-term intentions.

This dissonance is what causes women so much pain and frustration – blaming men for having low standards for sex, instead of understanding that this is common and that the only person responsible for who you hop into bed with is you.

Enter this piece by Leah Fessler in Quartz.

This paragraph powerfully sums up the internal ambivalence of the sexually liberated woman who has been forced to come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t like hookup culture:

“While there was a major gulf between my public self and my private one, the one thing that remained consistent were my politics. I told myself that I was a feminist, despite subjecting myself to unfulfilling, emotionally damaging sexual experiences. And I believed it, too.”

Fessler continues:

“It wasn’t just the social pressure that drove me to buy into the commitment-free hookup lifestyle, but my own identity as a feminist…The idea that sexual liberation is fundamental to female agency dominates progressive media. True feminists, I believed, not only wanted but also thrived on emotionless, non-committal sexual engagements…

While various academic studies tout the damaging effects of hookup culture, I came across them much more infrequently. Besides, the alternative seemed to me to be abstinence–an equally unfulfilling option. I decided it was time to ditch my antiquated desire for monogamy. As Taylor’s article suggested, I would “play the game, too.”

So she did. As do so many women who remain momentarily sexually gratified but feeling hollow inside – almost against their own wills. This isn’t a “conservative” position. This isn’t a 1950’s position. This is what studies show and women have continually told me.

This is what Fessler studied in her senior thesis.

“After interviewing 75 male and female students and analyzing over 300 online surveys, the solidarity was undeniable: 100% of female interviewees and three-quarters of female survey respondents stated a clear preference for committed relationships. (My research focus was on the experiences of heterosexual women, although of course many non-heterosexual relationships happen at Middlebury as well.) Only 8% of about 25 female respondents who said they were presently in pseudo-relationships reported being “happy” with their situation.

The women I interviewed were eager to build connections, intimacy and trust with their sexual partners. Instead, almost all of them found themselves going along with hookups that induced overwhelming self-doubt, emotional instability and loneliness.”

This all-too-common experience is why I have a job, for better or worse. It’s also why I’m going to articulate how you can still partake in physical activity without getting as hurt:

Stop sleeping with men who aren’t your boyfriend.

Simply put: if he doesn’t respect your boundaries (that you won’t have sex without commitment) and he doesn’t step up to become your boyfriend (after around six weeks of foreplay), you cut him loose and move on.

No, it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a good work-around for women who want to fool around without getting too attached. Simply put: if he doesn’t respect your boundaries (that you won’t have sex without commitment) and he doesn’t step up to become your boyfriend (after around six weeks of foreplay), you cut him loose and move on.

This is not the only way to handle sex, obviously. If you like hookup culture, I am not attacking you in any way. This post is specifically for women who are sick of feeling used by men and are trying to figure out how to date, have fun, and not get their hearts broken.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.