A friend and I were discussing the sex positivity movement over dinner. We wholeheartedly embraced the precepts of safety, consent, and exploration.
Then we looked at each other, thinking the same thing: What if you want a boyfriend?
“Am I old-fashioned?” my friend asked.
“I dunno,” I answered. “I grew up in Wheat Ridge, which effectively means I was raised in the 1950s.”
It’s the holiday season and all I can think about is sex. Sex I had. Sex I didn’t have. Sex I’m glad I didn’t have, really, really glad I didn’t have. Sexual harassment. Sexual assault, if you count being groped on a Roman bus sexual assault or a rite of passage. Other people’s sexual assaults. Sexual assault on campus. In the media. In high office. Harvey Weinstein. Donald Trump. Charlie Rose. Who’s next? Captain Kangaroo?
Every day sex is on the front page of the New York Times and on the radio: Scott Simon talks about sex. And Terry Gross. Will Susan Stamberg talk about sex during Hannukah Lights this year?
My friend and I puzzle over this sex positivity thing for a bit, furrowing our brows. Draining the last of my blueberry-lavender mocktail, I posit this in a conspiratorial tone: “Well, you know who the sexual revolution was good for?”
I’m thinking of the book, “Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counter Culture,” which details life in Libre, a commune in south central Colorado, where an idealistic group of young people in the late ‘60s and ‘70s came together to reinvent society. But utopias are only as good as their utopians, and as I read, I found myself, a tail-end Baby Boomer, looking at these leading-edge Boomers and wondering, “What the hell were they thinking?”
From the vantage of the future, I saw women slaving in the communal kitchen to make three whole-food meals a day, minding children and breastfeeding, while their lovers and husbands sold pot, struggled to learn basic carpentry skills and opined about free love so they could enjoy the favors of newcomers and their friends’ girlfriends. What did the women get after being mansplained about “free love”? Heart break and more babies.
Free love. I am rolling my eyes as I type. “Free love”—for the dudes.
Sex positivity and free love. Is there a difference? We have more and different sexes now. We’re not so binary. Women talk about their sex toys and their Vitamixes. Polyamory is a thing. But so is campus rape culture. Ghosting. And the very human need to attach to another human being, safely and securely.
I’m as sex positive as the next married lady of a certain age. Maybe more so. Sex? Sure, Baby, when? But for young women looking for love? “I hate to say it,” I say to my friend, wincing, “The Rules.”
Remember the husband-trapping book from the 1990s? The one which basically sent women back to Wheat Ridge in 1950? Much of the advice now strikes me as misogynistic, “Don’t overwhelm him with your career triumphs, let him shine.” But the other bits, prompting elusiveness? Don’t call him first, don’t be too available, don’t sleep with him right away—common sense. While the authors of The Rules insist that men love the chase, so do women. Who wants a guy who’s hanging on every word and has no life? Who wants a woman who hangs on every word and has no life?
This probably has the stink of the patriarchy all over it. But I learned the hard way. Back when sex was like the shiny new ultra-high-definition TV we bought this weekend at Costco and all I wanted to do was “watch TV,” my boyfriends liked my enthusiasm but not enough to put a ring on it or venture an ILY.
“She has no mystery,” my dad confided to my mother, who knew from The Rules. During their college years after he dumped her to date some more amply endowed co-ed, my mother took up with a vacuum-cleaner scion and made sure Dad saw her and Mr. Hoover everywhere.
Yeah, no mystery and no wealthy heirs waiting in the wings. Just a tremendous yearning for love, companionship and rollicking good sex that I wore on my sleeve like a stain.
By the time I met Mitch, I was done. Done with drug users and cheaters and drinkers and the non-monogamous. Done with seeing fleshy pieces of my heart shed with every tear. It was time to roll up my sleeves and look for something grander. Time, in other words, to take my time.
I tell my friend, I’m all for young women exploring their sexuality. Girls, you go. Have all the safe, consensual fun you want. Just don’t pay for it with your hearts.