Is It Possible Men Don't Really Want Casual Sex?
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What do you make of the popular wisdom that in hookup culture, young men are pressuring young women into casual sex — that they’re setting the terms of these engagements?
I don’t buy it. When we interview adolescents or undergrads, the girls really have the impression that guys are just interested in sex, that they’re not interested in relationships. What we know is that most guys do get into relationships, they enjoy relationships, they do a lot of things in relationships that are not about sex and they’re not doing them just to put up with them in order to get sex. Guys get something out of relationships; they like relationships. If you add in the fact that average age of first marriage is something like 28 for guys, a lot of guys have the sense that this girl they’re starting to date at 17 or 19 or 21 probably isn’t going to be the one — and yet they are choosing to date. They could easily choose to just hook up — or instead of spending that money in a bar you could get a prostitute — but they’re consistently choosing to be in relationships.
How does the Casanova myth impact female sexuality?
One of the ways it impacts girls and women is they get the wrong proportions. They’re told that most guys, if not all guys, just want sex, that they don’t want relationships. So we have a lot of stories and evidence that girls are putting their bodies out there and doing things sexually in order to entice guys into relationships. We’re giving girls the wrong percentages which makes them perhaps behave in ways in which they wouldn’t behave otherwise — starting your contact with somebody sexually instead of relationally, for example. [Some have argued] that because we give girls this image of boys, girls are taught to not attend to their own desires and own sexual wants. So girls’ whole sexuality is really about both enticing desires from boys and also controlling that desire. That introduces some real issues around duplicity and intention. We’re not doing girls any favors here either.
You write that we see high-profile cheating scandals “simply as a guy trying to ‘get some’ on the side.” Is there not something to be said for acknowledging infidelity and recognizing monogamy’s failures?
Absolutely. I’ll talk about General Petraeus, because he’s the scandal of the week. He has chosen to have sex, and let’s highlight the fact that this is his choice. He’s certainly capable of controlling his libido. He chose to have sex with someone he knew very well, this is his biographer, someone who has had access to many parts of his life. This is not him hooking up with some stranger. This is perhaps falling in love with someone else. If we just write it off as, “Oh, it’s just another guy trying to get some on the side,” then we really miss the fact that this extramarital affair really has at its basis a relationship. This is a guy having sex within a relational context. We miss the fact that he’s having a relationship with his mistress — and because we tell the story that way, we don’t get an opportunity to reflect on our own relationships.