On Dear Margo and other things…

“Dear Margo” really pissed me off today. (Great, Katie, now even mature women are offending you? Actually, yes.) 

It deals with the word “slut” (among other things). While I don’t particularly care for the word itself, and thus I have no desire to in any way “reclaim” it, I do see the word as one of the biggest obstacles to overcoming the stigmas surrounding female sexuality. 

Dear Margo: I often see references in your column (and elsewhere) to “friends with benefits.” Where can I find a woman like this? It sounds wonderful. I can have sex and do nothing for her in return. When did this “friends with benefits” start? When I was a young man, we used to call those women sluts. So today we rename the sluts, and they fall for it. I wish I were 30 years younger. I could use a friend with benefits. —John from Essex
Dear John: Thanks for the laugh. Your sly take on this subject is most likely shared by everyone who is middle-aged. My guess is that this new casual approach to what used to be something meaningful is post-sexual revolution, if not post-post-sexual revolution. Somehow the kids went off the rails and decided sex was just something to do … you know, like a video game or playing darts. The women you call “sluts” I would call “loose,” and they have been around forever. That behavior, however, was not sanctioned, as it is now; there was usually a reputational price to pay, if not a venereal disease. (Those are still possible, by the way!) Around the 1780s, Count Talleyrand observed: “In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.” So you see, dear, the activity has remained the same; only the name has changed. —Margo, historically

Read more:Dear Margo – The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/dearmargo#ixzz1f7enXBCX

Margo reminds the writer that this is not a new behavior – a reminder for which I am grateful; this is in no way new behavior and shouldn’t be treated as such – yet she reinforces the negative connotation of words such as “loose” and “sluts,” going so far as to imply that these woman who are participating in “friends with benefits” relationships have venereal diseases.

This irks me for multiple reasons, but let’s start with the most obvious. Saying that a venereal disease is a price to pay for loose behavior is way off the mark. Sex does not equal disease. More sex does not equal more disease. Sexually transmitted infections and diseases have existed for most of history. They don’t just belong to women (who get screwed, literally, because their anatomy is more receptive to diseases). They are spread by any number of people in any number of different ways. While people who have a higher number of sexual partners may have more opportunity to come in contact with more diseases, that is not always the case. Anyone engaging in sexual activity should regularly take the responsibility to seek medical attention (including preemptive care like obtaining birth control pills and STI testing). Some people contract something the first time they have sex. Some people never do. Having a casual sex relationship – “friends with benefits” – does not imply dangerous sexual practices. The rates of sexual infection are through the roof in so many demographics. Someone you know has one, and, for all you know, so do you. The only way to be sure is to be tested regularly and be honest with your partners. Trust me, they’ll respect you for it. (While you’re at it, don’t forget to get your HIV test!)

Secondly, Margo focuses on the women. It is interesting to me that both the writer and respondent think that the issue of “friends with benefits” implies a lack of morals on the woman’s part, yet not on the man’s. So it’s perfectly fine for men to engage in this sort of behavior while women are shamed for doing exactly the same? Are we socially regressing? Seriously? Did this year’s SlutWalks teach you nothing? Women walk this terrifying line between progressive sexual freedom and the social sanctions they face for embracing and “owning” their sexuality. Trust me, I get a lot of flack for being so outspoken. There are a lot of incorrect assumptions made about who I am as a woman because of it. Just because you’re pro-sex or sex positive does not make you a floozy. It means you’re informed (hopefully).

Finally, I take issue with Margo saying that this behavior is sanctioned, when in fact, it isn’t. Her tone proves that much. Again, the double-standard for sexual behavior is still alive and well. Men are allowed to have certain desires and act on them, yet women are shamed for either having desires or acting on them. As far as I see it, there’s no reason to walk to the purity line if my husband/future partner won’t be expected to do the same. That said, there’s nothing wrong with making any of those choices – for purity, for modesty, etc. Sexuality is a gift, and it shouldn’t be used recklessly. There is something to be admired about the sanctity of any sexual relationship; many of those “friends with benefits” relationships also contain the elements of respect, admiration, and companionship that are mutually satisfying for both partners involved. 

But are those relationships socially sanctioned? No, at least not for the female participants. We still use derogatory language when referring to girls exploring their sexuality; we still put men down by calling them feminine names; we still objectify women; we reinforce beauty as a means of success. We are doing nothing but reinforcing antiquated power structures through our subtle expressions of disapproval of what acceptable female behavior can or cannot be. 

When the writer of the letter says, “It sounds wonderful. I can have sex and do nothing for her in return,” he is completely forgetting that any “friends with benefits” relationship is a relationship just like any other. Things that keep relationships alive? Mutual satisfaction. Trust. Respect. Communication. Things he doesn’t seem capable of providing. 


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