“A wise girl kisses but doesn’t love, listens but doesn’t believe, and leaves before she is left.” -Marylin Monroe
Take a look at the latest cover of Cosmo or any popular women’s magazine and you’re sure to find a catchy title promising secrets about how to gain the upper hand in a relationship via bedroom techniques. The idea that we can control a person by sex — either by “giving it up,” or “limiting it,” or “doing it well” — is a common myth plaguing our pop culture. Heather HotPants is guilty as charged. Growing up, I was told that withholding sex was a sure way to get whatever I wanted from the person I was with. My crazy Great Aunt Ruth would make comments like, “When your Uncle Robbie and I fight, I never apologize,” adding proudly, “I just don’t sleep with him and he always caves in after a few days.” Thanks, Aunt Ruth!
A relationship is a war for control. Or so we’re told. Stand strong, hold your line of defense, you’ll win the fight! Want nice dinners? Don’t have sex! Want to meet his parents? Don’t have sex! Want to be treated nicely? Hang with his friends? Land a wedding ring? Don’t have sex!
Does this really work? If we wait to have sex, can we use it to control the person we’re with? And if we have sex right away, does it mean we’re doomed to the island of disrespect?
On the one hand, it’s true, there are a number of horror stories I could tell you about sleeping with someone too soon. My cousin Rachel slept with a guy right away in college a few years back and called me crying about the consequences. “He won’t hold my hand in public,” she sobbed. “He tells me ‘they are girlfriend privileges.’ And he likes to remind me that I am not his girlfriend.”
Rachel became horrified by the thought of someone having sex with her and subsequently mistreating her. For a number of years after, she made rules about the right timing for sex in hopes of manipulating her partners into falling in love with her.
But these games didn’t work the way she expected. Some guys fell in love with her while other guys dumped her before they ever got around to sleeping together. By waiting to have sex, she realized, she wasn’t actually changing anyone — they were just revealing themselves to her more quickly.
“The nice ones were still nice after we slept together,” Rachel remembers, “And the assholes were still assholes after we slept together.”
“The only thing that changed was me,” she confessed. By waiting to have sex, she was simply giving herself enough time to figure these guys out. It helped her focus more on them — and what kind of people they were —rather than whether they liked her and wanted to be her boyfriend.
Today, Rachel proudly relies on her gut to tell her when the right time is to sleep with someone. Sometimes, that’s right away. Other times, it takes her longer to get comfortable. Rachel tells me she learned two things from those years:
- “You can’t control anyone. How can I force another complex human being into feeling a specific way?”
- “That guy, Mike, the ‘girlfriend privileges’ guy, well, he was a real dickhead. And I was weak for staying with him. Sex right away or no, I should have never clung onto someone as messed up as that.”
The bottom line: It’s risky to try to use sex to control others. In the end, you will just drive yourself nuts trying to scheme your way around. And as it turns out, you can’t be sure to get the upper hand, anyway.
These rules to “hold out” or “keep our legs crossed” — like many rules in our society — are driven by a tall, piping hot social order of fear. Dominant groups — like men or religious figures (or, oftentimes, both) — invented these rules a long time ago. You know, virgins and purity and all that stuff. But the sick thing is that as women — smart, ambitious, capable women like my cousin Rachel or those female editors at Cosmo — we have internalized these rules to try and use sex to our advantage. It’s a twisted turn of fate. But in the end, it’s driven by that same paralyzing emotion: fear.
If you’re scared people you care for will leave you, welcome to the club. Fear of rejection and vulnerability are some of the most common human emotions (and not just human, as it turns out). I’m scared of it, too! But that doesn’t mean that you should create fast, hard rules to try and wiggle your way out of ever feeling uncomfortable. Heather’s advice? Embrace that fear, don’t run from it. Vulnerability is what helps us grow into the people we want to become. Don’t use sex to control others. You’ll drive yourself crazy doing that. Use sex for what it’s made for: to have babies, to share intimacy or to have fun!
Good luck with finals, Brunonians! It’s been a great year!