Dear Margo: It’s Generational

When did “sluts” become “friends with benefits”? Margo Howard’s advice

It’s Generational

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

Some Bumps on the Career Military Road

Dear Margo: My fiance is in the military, and for the past few years, we’ve been moving around the South. I am a New Englander, so this has been a completely new experience for me. While I’ve appreciated my time here, have learned a lot and have come to love a few things about this area and culture, I am hopelessly heartsick for home. My fiance and I usually make friends easily, but at our current location, we’ve both had a difficult time doing so, which no doubt adds to my misery. I’ve talked to others who’ve been in the military for decades, and they say it was harder to meet people at this base than at any other. So it’s not just us, but that doesn’t make me any less lonely.

I do what I can and try to enjoy the little things. I get home to visit as often as I’m able. I’m lucky enough to have found a great job here, which is not the case for many military spouses. And I know to some extent I am idealizing home. This is all particularly jarring and somewhat disappointing to me as I’ve always been the optimistic, go with the flow, I-can-be-happy-anywhere type. While I hate our location, I like military life in general, and we are in this for the long haul (18 more years). In his field, it is virtually impossible that we will be stationed anywhere near home. There’s a slight chance we could go overseas, which I would love, but most likely, we’ll be bouncing around the South for quite a while. How do I lessen my homesickness and enjoy it more than I do now? — Left My Heart at Home

Dear Left: My position has always been: “It’s the guy, not the place.” While I understand and sympathize with the problems having to do with your particular base and being parked in a different part of the country, I do see some bright spots. You have a job you enjoy, and you get to go home to visit. I can’t exactly figure out why your particular base is tough in terms of finding friends, but I suspect it can be done if you put some effort behind it. There has to be a town near your base, so perhaps through work or an affinity group you could broaden your horizons beyond life at the base. I hope you’ll start humming the song “Accentuate the Positive” and let the lyrics be your guide. I think you’ll be just fine. — Margo, optimistically

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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211 Responses so far.

  1. avatar James says:

    When John from Essex was a young man, they also had a term for men who acted the same way; they called them “men.” How about pointing out to him, Margo, that if he did have a FWB he would be every bit as “loose” as she is? However a person feels about casual sexual relationships, in the 21st Century it shouldn’t be acceptable to hold men and women to different standards.

    • avatar Karen Lauer says:

      Seriously!!  I couldn’t believe I read that response on a website dedicated to WOMEN!  Holy cow!!

    • avatar cl1028 says:

      Amen! How unbelievably offensive!

      • avatar Diana Danh says:

        YEAH! Don’t hate the player, hate the game! We are all just animals and sex IS just something we are all programmed to want to do.

        • avatar phanie says:

          As I don’t eat my own feces and I can think for myself, I do not consider myself an animal. But thanks!

          • avatar R Scott says:

            Good to know that you, like most other animals, don’t eat your own feces. Thanks for the info.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            phanie, you have three choices: animal, vegetable or mineral. Assuming that you have a beating heart, indulge in respiration, and are capable of reproducing in the usual mammalian way, you qualify as a mammal, species: homo sapiens.

            Very few animals indulge in coprophagia. Among those that do regularly are chickens, infrequently, canines. Phagia means eating, or swallowing.

            Humans may suffer from coprophilia. It is very rare, but does, indeed, exist.

            “Philia” comes from the Greek for “love” (though not by Aristotle’s definition). Coprolite is fossilized dinosaur feces, from the Greek kopros (dung) and likithos (stone). I leave it to you to define coprophilia for yourself, and to realize the meaning of coprophilia…and that humans are simply highly evolved, but very capricious, animals.

          • avatar Mandy says:

            So are you vegetable or mineral then?

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Well darling, since my small black heart is beating, and I am typing, I’d guess I’m animal. It might have been amusing if it wasn’t such an obvious question. Droll. The query I might ask of you is if you’re a higher or lower animal, but that answer is screamingly clear.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            O, mandy, MANY apologies. My computer showed your reply as being to my comment for the better part of an hour…then, after I replied to you, it reconfigured and shows your reply being in regard to the post from phanie. I am truly, truly sorry…and yes, this has happened on this site before.

            I should have reset before I posted. Again, heartfelt apologies.

          • avatar Mandy says:

            Not a problem. I just looked at the screen like a confused puppy for a second and then read your next comment. :)

    • avatar Mandy says:

      Well said, James!

    • avatar wendykh says:

      I can’t believe it either. FRIENDS btw is a big part of that phrase, the first word even. Try being a good friend to a woman, performing oral sex enthusiasticaly and competently, and believe you me you’ll get plenty of FWB.

  2. avatar MelG says:

    I wouldn’t say that FWB situations are sanctioned so much as simply tolerated these days. Among my group of friends (and we’re all in our early 30s), such a circumstance isn’t seen as a good thing or empowering; truth be told, we all avoid it as much as possible, particularly those of us who have been in that situation because we’d heard it was “fun”. It isn’t. It’s emotionally frustrating, even if you think that you’ve agreed to the terms of the “friendship” with the friend in question. Most of the people I know aren’t too vocal if they have a friend with benefits. They usually don’t talk about it until after the situation has run its course, as it inevitably does. And when the sex stops, so does the friendship.

    An overriding truth I’ve discovered: if someone is truly your friend and you want to keep them as such, don’t sleep with them. And if there are real feelings there, act on them the right way and save yourself the trouble.

    As far as LW1 is concerned, it sounds like he comes from the era when the only standard was a double-standard. It still very much exists today, no matter how sexually empowered and forward-thinking we’d like to believe we are.

    • avatar luna midden says:

      FWB-nothing new, it has always been around, and normally it fails big time. I am older then the FWB age-but I remember the ‘we are good friends and do not have a GF/BF, why can’t we just sleep with each other to satisfy our natural urges until…. (one or both meet someone to have a relationship with). Besides being a Seinfeld episode, (Elaine and Jerry, exes, decided ‘why can’t we have sex’ if we are with anyone else. They made up a long ridiculous set of rules, which got broke and Elaine got jealous when Jerry started flirting with other women.), I remember an advice column over 15 years ago. The LW was in such relationship with her GOOD FRIEND and got upset when he went out and got a new GF. She wanted to know why he would not continue their agreement, at least until he and his new GF started having sex. I forgot some of it, but she was routed out for having feelings for the guy, she was jealous and it would harm, maybe even delay his new relationship when he had her to fall on for ‘booty calls’. I have known a few that tried this sort of thing, it NEVER ends well. Just like Elaine and the LETTER, someone always started to feel comfortable, started having feelings, normally the girl and the guy did not have the same feelings as her. And once you go down that route with someone, very few can go back to being ‘just friends’.

  3. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Because it’s late, and it’s been along day, I’ll keep this relatively brief.

    John claims to have been a “young man” approximately thirty years ago. Now, if one considers one’s twenties as one’s true youth (misspent and lacking in “sluts”, or friends with benefits, poor dear), then John from Essex would be in his fifties. Like myself, who has evolved to the age of fifty-two rather successfully.

    Now, Margo dear, you made the following statement: “Your sly take on this subject is most likely shared by everyone who is middle-aged.” What do you consider “middle aged”? If your definition does indeed include people in their fifties, and I assure you, I have no problem with this, as I intend fully to make it well past the century mark, then your estimation of our take on the subject may be a trifle off. I have never considered women who had lovers who were also friends, and who could manage that balancing act adroitly, “sluts”, even if I never engaged in that sort of thing myself. Nor would I have said that of women with many consecutive lovers, or even more than one lover. Nor are any of these habits necessarily a guarantee of “accidental” inconveniences in the form of unwanted pregnancies, or STD’s (known in those halcyon days of yore, when men were men and loose women were properly known as sluts as venereal or social diseases).

    I don’t think that John from Essex is being sly. I think he’s being an unmitigatedly sexist, foul-minded, lonely, probably sexually inhibited and deprived aging archaeological find of a goat’s, ahem, member. As well as boorishly blatant. And I think that you’re being unusually judgmental, gender-biased, and archaic in your thinking. While “Friends with Benefits” may be an unusually droll way to express the notion of occasionally having a sexual encounter with a friend…it is not a euphemism for promiscuity…nor is it meant to be. Friends with benefits can be male and female, two females, or two males. The term does not refer to *multiple* partners. It is not a matter of being used…women, Margo and John, have sexual urges too, and may wish to act upon them with a trusted partner. That does not make them SLUTS. Nor does not wishing a romantic, or permanent involvement. Or having sex outside of marriage. Or using birth control to prevent pregnancies, or condoms to keep away things even a Lysol douche won’t remove.

    I’ve been reading your column for years, and this is possibly the most defective answer you’ve ever given. Perhaps, as with old Scrooge, it was a bad bit of potato, or some under-cooked turkey. A touch of dyspepsia. I’m not going to stop reading your column, I enjoy you, and it, far too much, and I’m not given to that kind of pettiness. But “loose women”? “Sluts”? Take some Pepto, and sleep it off, please.

    And yes, detractors of the soulless bitch, I ran on longer than I meant to do. Peace to you and yours. Enjoy Black Friday and all of the conspicuous consumption, leftover bird and beer. Don’t get trampled. Blitz out on triptophan.

    Love and a safe weekend.


    • avatar Melissa Taylor says:

      ^ this a thousand times.

      I am in my mid-thirties and friends with benefits has never meant to me or any of my friends that the persons involved are sluts or anything close to promiscuous. Perhaps you have the wrong idea about this term as it is usually used to refer to two people, of any orientation, that are friends that get together once in awhile (or more often if the mood suits) to enjoy each other with out having a coupled relationship. This does not mean they go around sleeping with anything on two legs.

      Melissa, nonjudgementally

    • avatar dcarpend says:

      Thank you. Thank you very much.

      I am fifty three, and I very definitely had sex in non-committed situations in my youth. Indeed, I like to point out to young people, who — like every generation — think they invented sex, that I was young during that vanishingly small window of human history between the discovery of penicillin and the advent of AIDS, back when sex was the safe vice. We all knew drugs could could kill you, but anything you could get from sex, at least that we knew of, we could cure.

      And it wasn’t just me. Most of my female friends were having sex without having some deep, overwhelming commitment. Indeed, it would have been considered a little unusual if someone were not. Why did we do it? For the same reason the men were doing it: We liked sex. Oh, shock, oh, horror!

      There is a real honesty about two people discovering they have sexual chemistry and running with it. What I find questionable is women who see sex as something they parcel out in return for promises and gifts. So far as I’m concerned, if you take material gain into account when deciding who you’ll sleep with, you’re a prostitute, and it doesn’t matter if that gain comes in the form of $100 on the nightstand, or fancy dinners and jewelry.

      And LW1? The reason why you never had such a relationship is that your fundamental contempt for women and our sexuality is clear.

    • avatar Diana Danh says:

      If this were Facebook I’d “Like” it! LOL

    • avatar Carol Palinkas says:

      I planned on responding, but could not have said it better than you just did. Perfect.

  4. avatar Ajen says:

    I agree with Briana’s comment– John from Essex’s letter did not strike me as sly so much as it seemed tedious and misogynistic. I’m not surprised he doesn’t have a “Friend with Benefits”; I’m surprised he’s got any friends at all with such an outdated, hateful attitude.

    This is a website aimed at modern women, yes? Well, in modern times, we call what John’s doing “slut-shaming”, and a great many women are tired of it. If a woman wants to have an active sexual relationship purely for the enjoyment of sex (imagine that!), then power to her. I thought part of feminism was about the freedom to make choices– this includes sexual choices. By assuming that a woman only makes such choices because she’s too dumb to do otherwise is incredibly insulting. Why is it stupid to enjoy sex with no strings attached? Men have been doing it for centuries without being called sluts OR loose. Funny how that works…

    Shrugging off this sexist attitude as a “generational” thing is like saying oh, well, isn’t it droll how people of color don’t want to be referred to by the offensive racial slurs any more. How delightfully generational!

    Unless, of course, by “generational”, you mean “embarrassingly ignorant”, in which case you’re absolutely correct. But a site that celebrates women and changing the world should do better than that, don’t you think?

    P.S. I think it’s pretty damn funny that John comes right out and admits that when he has sex with a woman, the act offers no benefits for her. I don’t doubt he’s right about that, but I suspect we’ve solved the problem about why he can’t find someone with whom to reap such a “benefit”.

  5. avatar Karen Ferguson says:

    To those who feel that people uncomfortable with the idea of FWB are not “modern” or are sexist, I consider myself immune: I really don’t care what anyone else does and so I’m not judging. But I join John of Essex and Margo in their bewilderment. It was the Casey Anthony case that confused me. One of her FWB’s, interviewed by the police, commented that their arrangement was uber casual and that she’d jump up, dress, and go home immediately. He said “I felt like the girl.” (In his own unknowing way he understood and took care of the sexism question.) But then he said “I asked her to take it up to the next level.” Without being a prude or a moralist –just being a realist– I wondered what exactly that next level was. I asked a twenty-something friend, who said the behavior of Casey Anthony and all her friends was absolutely typical. But I persisted: After sex, what’s the next level? What’s above sex? What do you do when you fall into one of those magnificent madnesses to ratchet it up a notch when you’ve already dispensed with sex with the same nonchalence as you toss out used ketchup packets at McDonalds?

    • avatar Ajen says:

      Karen, I’d like to clarify my remarks re: your comment to avoid misunderstandings. It is perfectly okay if people are uncomfortable with the idea of FWBs. That is entirely their right, and this type of relationship is not for everyone. Not being comfortable with it doesn’t make a person sexist.

      But implying that women (not men, only women!) are stupid or lacking in morals for wanting to choose this type of relationship IS sexist. Calling women (not men, only women!) names and trying to shame them for exercising their right to choose to have such a relationship is also sexist.

      John isn’t merely “bewildered”, he’s being deliberately nasty and dismissive toward women. In some circles, this passes as humor, but I’m glad to see that more than one commenter sees it for what it really is.

      As for your questions, I’m not really sure what you’re asking. Wanting to “take something up to the next level” usually refers to a closer degree of intimacy. Given the brief context you provided, it sounded like the witness wished to take the relationship from the level of “no strings attached” to a relationship complete with romantic attachments. In other words, emotional and romantic intimacy in addition to sexual intimacy.

      As for describing a FWB relationship as cold, unfeeling act (i.e. like tossing out used ketchup packets), I think that’s making assumptions about how other people think and feel without actually knowing.

      • avatar mmht says:

        Ajen, you said it perfectly!

      • avatar A R says:

        In my opinion, I’d guess that Margo also saw the comment for what it was. She simply sidestepped his intended nastiness by calling his comment “sly”.

        I read it as I do when I hear someone snarkily say, “Nice move” to someone who flubbed a moment, and the offender replies, “Thank you for noticing.”

        You *know* the person who snipped it meant to be rude, but by refusing to acknowledge it, you take power from them.

        I read Margo’s reply as such.

        • avatar Ajen says:

          That’s a very generous interpretation, but I’m afraid I just don’t see evidence of that.

          Thanking him for the laugh and then saying his opinion “is most likely shared by everyone who is middle-aged”? Describing the newer generation as having “[gone] off the rails” for enjoying recreational sex? Going on to say that what John calls “sluts”, she calls “loose” and that the price for enjoying a sexual relationship is a venereal disease?

          That is not sidestepping, refusing to acknowledge, or taking power away from John’s opinions, A R. That is a direct affirmation of them and then throwing more fuel on the fire to boot.

          When someone says something demeaning and offensive about an entire group of people, acting as if the comment as funny and perfectly acceptable in polite company and then adding some offensive comments of your own is NOT the classy road, it’s the disgraceful one.

    • avatar dcarpend says:

      What’s the next level after sex? As a woman who asked her husband out on the first date, largely because I hadn’t been laid in a few months and I found him attractive, I’m qualified to answer this question:

      We had really great sex on that first date. Had that been all, we would have had a few fun weeks, and that would have been it. Instead, we also discovered that we tremendously liked and enjoyed one another, had a deep and inherent affinity. We rapidly found that we couldn’t decide which we wanted to do more, have sex or talk to one another. So we saw one another several times a week, both for sex and just because we wanted to be together. We made opportunities to do things together other than get laid. We ‘came out’ to our group of friends as a couple. While neither of us had been sleeping with anyone else — too busy with one another — we eventually formally agreed that we were sexually exclusive. After 2 1/2 years, we moved in together (and, at the same time, moved away from the city where we had met.) 2 1/2 years after that, we married.

      We are still together after 22 years, 16 of them married. We are still crazy about one another. We are more deeply committed than ever, and our mutual trust, emotional intimacy, and understanding are implicit and profound. This all started with sex, rather than culminating in it.

      I find it odd that people somehow think of sex as the ultimate in intimacy, when we all see people around us who have been sharing beds for years with people from whom they are obviously estranged.

      • avatar Diana Danh says:

        That was a beautiful response. I felt the same way with my husband. The first night I met him I saw fireworks, he was just above and beyond anyone else I had ever met before. Everything he said and did even before we met was right on the mark. I think these slut shaming people are just so jealous, insecure and emotionally cold that they have lost their humanity.

      • avatar Michelles11 says:


      • avatar wendykh says:

        I married my husband of 7 years and two kids because he gave me my first vaginal orgasm, no lie. I had been married and divorced previous, spent many years finding myself sexu