The End of Friends With Benefits

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.

Join our conversation (100 Comments).
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  1. 31
    Johnny Boy

    This is what modern dating has come down to now a days unfortunately. As explained here:

    you used to go out on a few dates and if you liked someone, you’d consider having sex; now people have sex the first few dates and if it’s good, they then start to consider dating that person.

    It’s ok if that’s what you want; but if not, as you stated above, the only person you have to blame is yourself.

  2. 32

    Why is it that every interaction with the opposite sex has to be about marriage, or even a permanent relationship. Why can’t we just enjoy life right now, until our circumstances change?

    I just ended a bad relationship. My husband of nine years was emotionally and verbally abusive to me, and it was starting to borderline on physical violence.  I was about to do the fifth  police report, when he finally decided that he would agree to leave my house. It is mine from a separate estate). I was definitely not ready to fully trust someone enough to have a serious long-term relationship.

    But I didn’t want to miss out on  enjoyable  male companionship, either. It shouldn’t have to be all one way or another. Not every  sexual encounter must be with the end goal of marriage. A sympathetic shoulder  can be quite healing. I found someone who is probably unsuitable for me as a long-term partner. He was very supportive of me emotionally, when I really needed a friend. He’s from a different culture, and my life will be enriched and greatly from this experience. The chances of him remaining in this country for one year are excellent, but permanently,  very poor.   In my marriage, I lost my pregnancy and was never able to conceive a child again.  My current fella  wants kids one day, but doesn’t want to have them  unless  he’s living in his own country, with someone from his own culture. I feel like I am not “marketable” to someone who wants children, but I am an ideal fit for someone that doesn’t want children right now.

  3. 33

    Absolutely fascinating reading on the latest youth culture. Well, I was too young to actually be a child of the free-love hippie culture; now I’m too old to be a woman of the hook-up culture. Funny how life works. One person up there in the comments did say for women to learn about how men think and for men to learn about how women think – consider those comments “priceless,” as that is the key. No point in trying to act like the opposite sex, just learn what it is that makes them tick and come to an agreement that works for both of you. Negotiation is not a bad word, even with its connotations and link to “business.”

  4. 34

    I cannot, will not ever understand why women cannot have sex without emotions. That is completely strange to me. Who cares if the man respects you? It’s sex. Why would you feel used or dirty – you used him as well (to get laid). Is this really how woman feel, or is this still a remnant of what was hammered into their brains by society (that women should not want to engage in sex that way).

    From a biological standpoint, this doesn’t make any sense at all. Most species in nature would go extinct if females formed an emotional connection just because of sex, or felt bad after a “casual hookup”. Why would human women (and it’s just women, not men – if it was both we could excuse it as being human) be so different? It seems to me that even in hardcore feminists, some of the outside “programming” still comes through. That whole stigma of being called easy (or worse), or being unnatural for a woman,  that ends up leading to guilt or bad feelings.

    I’m a woman, and I don’t get it. Sex is sex. Feelings are feelings. One does not lead to another. I’ve not once in life ever had any sort of bad feelings relating to a hook-up, one-nighter, friend with benefits, fulfilling a fantasy, etc. If I want sex, I want sex, not emotional intimacy. One is a physical craving, the other an emotional one. Big difference.

    I do believe that sex gets better in a relationship (usually), since both partners get to know their likes and dislikes better. That does not mean that a woman can’t have fantastic, guilt free sex during a one-nighter with the right partner(s).

    That being said, the men I consider for casual sex are generally men I would never date. They basically serve one purpose, and one purpose only. Maybe that’s why I have no problem with it?

    I’m not criticizing anyone or trying to say what they’re feeling is wrong. I’m just trying to understand WHY women would feel that way. I doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Then again, as I’ve mentioned (likely too many times before), I am a high testosterone woman, and as such, tend to think/feel like a man. Is this just another way in which I cannot relate to women? I always thought it was just residual pressure from society, but is this truly how women feel nowadays? Looking back over time to ancient civilizations (Romans, Egyptians, etc.) women certainly did not have qualms about enjoying sex (despite society’s outlook). In a lot of more recent cultures, and even some current ones, there are plenty where women do not connect sex with emotions. So why us? Christianity?




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