To my wOw readers:
I gotta tell you, I haven’t created such a commotion with an answer to a letter since I wrote about handicapped toilets back in my “Dear Prudence” days. Many people suggested I accept ten lashes with a wet noodle … but, alas, my mother took the noodle with her.
The letter in question, of course, was from “John in Essex.” My English correspondent wrote this:
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.
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I now believe hell must have previously been anchored to who-knows-what, because it sure broke loose when I heard from countless numbers of women. The complaints were that I didn’t believe in sexual parity, I was endorsing a double standard, there really was no such things as “sluts,” I should have told John HE was a slut, and furthermore, I should retire. I was also taken to task for using the phrase “venereal disease” rather than STD. (I think physicians would disagree with this person.) Oh, and more than one person wrote that my having been married four times suggested I must have had “a colorful past” of my own. I acknowledge the colorful past, but I can tell you it never involved anyone I was not, well … involved with, and certainly not with anyone who phoned up and said “How about it?”
One writer said:
“This generation thinks that women can have fun if they should choose to this way and they have more to offer as a partner than their sisters who value virginity/purity/chastity. Instead of chastising us for that, celebrate it, or crack down on male sluts as well.”
I clearly didn’t craft my answer carefully enough, because I was somewhere between laughing and playing along. I mean, here is this guy saying Friends-With-Benefits is terrible … and he wishes he could find some of these women. By me, this is humorous. It was in no way reflective of me thinking that women are not free to do whatever they wish in the sex department. I have always believed that one can be busy, sexually, without being a slut. (Which, by the way, is a valid term if a woman’s #1 identifier is that she will sleep with anyone.)
The one thing I am not veering away from is that FWB can be totally without meaning, which I think is a shame. I do, in fact, believe that sex is recreation – for people who have a relationship. If people wish to engage in this pastime with casual friends, fine with me. I just think it takes away from any intimacy aspects of sex. And perhaps the word “slut” has become so expanded as to not mean to me what it means to others. I, for example, refer to myself as “a private plane slut.” I admit that I think FWB is an odd concept for, say, women over 45. I could be wrong. And I certainly wasn’t chastising anyone who chooses to live her life this way. I do not believe in a double standard. I do believe that women who are getting it on with anybody and everybody is the female equivalent of a womanizer. As I have said on Twitter, I wish there were a font for irony or sarcasm. For the readers who thought I was bashing women, I hope I have cleared up what my thinking actually is.