Apr 122011

In the comments related to my last post, Ian said:

…if a woman took sex off the table up front, as you [Emily] are advocating, my interest in cultivating her as a friend usually diminished dramatically afterwards. I think that runs true of most men. If I went on a date with a woman who let me know up front that there was no way she would consider sleeping with me, then even if I wasn’t particularly interested in her sexually the chances that I’d invest time in that relationship would be scant.

Let’s bear in mind that Ian is happily married and this is all hypothetical or, at best, post hoc, so let’s not holler at him please.

But. This… would mean… a woman who wants a straight man to get to know her as a person has to create an environment where sex is perceived to be at least a theoretical possibility. And…

(1) Nearly all of my closest friends have been men, and it never occurred to me that this might be true.

(2) This is exactly the sort of thing I tell my students is a cultural myth but isn’t actually true – men, I want to tell my students, are not actually dick-driven simpletons incapable of recognizing a woman’s personhood in the absence of sexual access to that woman.


(3) Well, if this is true, it goes some distance in explaining why I’ve been single since 2005. When I used to the “let’s have sex to get the question out of the way” strategy, I had relationships – relationships that ENDED, let’s be clear, but relationships. Since adopting the “we’re not going to be having sex anytime soon because I really do need to get to know you first, no matter how attractive you are” strategy, I have not had one relationship.

Now, I have no trouble creating an environment where sex is viewed as a possibility – all I have to do is NOT say “sex is not going to happen in the foreseeable future,” and my job takes care of the rest. So perhaps my best potential strategy is to say, “We’re not going to have sex in the foreseeable future UNLESS you successfully seduce me, and I am a challenge to seduce because I know so much about the game that I am the fucking Magister Ludi of seduction; in order to play with me you have to play a META-game, you have to improvise a new game with me, in the moment. Go.”

So. I ask you, readers of all genders: if a woman takes sex off the table, will a straight man be less likely to want to get to know her? If not, why is this a cultural narrative? If so, does the same hold for gay men getting to know men? And if it is true, what’s a girl to do?

emily nagoski

  78 Responses to “are doods… really… this… ?”

Comments (78)
  1. “Go.” LOL

  2. Why does the woman have to say anything? Your actions (i.e. no sex) will do the talking. A guy who only wants sex will walk away, but a guy interested in YOU will stick around long enough for you to evaluate his potential. Then you’ll have to make a move to keep him around permanently. It’s called communication.

  3. I think both of your strategies involve too closed a mind (being communicated). How about “I’m open to having sex whenever I feel comfortable with you, and If I feel comfortably sooner than I expected, then that is so”? (this is probably your thinking anyway, but you are not communicating that, you are communication that it is NOT AT ALL POSSIBLE for sex to be soon)

  4. Ermm.. No.

    I can’t quite think of a way to adequately phrase exactly how much I disagree with Ian on this one. If I’m getting to know someone as a person, then the possibility of sex (or lack thereof) doesn’t affect my desire to get to know someone in the slightest. As it’s mentioned in Ian’s case, I am also happily married, so the below is also hypothetical.

    If I went on a date with a woman …

    Well, this is a totally different case from the first sentence, where Ian’s referring to cultivating someone as a friend – if I were looking to date someone, then I would be using different criteria to assess potential than if I’m cultivating a friendship. They’re not mutually exclusive, of course – if a date didn’t work out, I would have no problem with gaining a new friend, and friends could change to relationships (one of the best ways to have relationships with quality people, surely?). But if I were dating someone, I’d like the potential for sex. I see it as an important part of a relationship.

    Note, I’m not saying it has to be straight away:

    “we’re not going to be having sex anytime soon because I really do need to get to know you first…”

    This is perfectly reasonable, and I would prefer to do things this way too.

    Of course, I have an active imagination and enjoy sex a lot, so even with people that I have no potential for sex with, I still think about it, so that may negate my point for some people. It’s probably worth mentioning that I have female friends that I’m not attracted to, so I feel like my opinion is still valid.

    Now, I have met guys who have the same opinion as Ian. They were without exception not able to see women as people first under any circumstances. They were not really interested in pure friendship, and saw pretty much all women as a source of sex. They had, in my humble opinion, stunted social skills when it came to inter-sex social conduct. Luckily, I’ve met far more men who are closer to myself in behaviour. I find the attitude Ian expresses annoying, because as you say, it reinforces a stereotype that reflects poorly on men as a whole and that I don’t find accurate in general.

  5. I am going to have to agree with greggorton84. That leaves the door open for honest communication, but it also lets the man/woman know that it could also not happen. It all depends on the connections outside of sex.

  6. In my experience, explicitly taking sex off the table chases women away too, Emily. No one likes being told “not if you were the last person alive” (well, somewhere…) but the range of signalling certainly extends from” prolonging the survival of the human race” to “where’s the closet????”.

  7. It’s certainly NOT true for me, even when I was single. Most of my friends all my life have been women (straight and gay). In my single days, many years ago, there would be women with whom I wanted to be friends and sex was not an issue at all. If I had a romantic interest in someone the relationship proceeded and intimacy developed at a *mutually agreed upon pace*. (….For the relationships that actually got off the ground.)
    I’m sure there are SOME men like this, but none of the male friends I’ve ever known are like this.
    I agree with Lee. Don’t say anything. Your actions and vibes will do the talking. “A guy who only wants sex will walk away.”
    Yes, there are some men who are jerks, and I feel like the rest of us get demonized as a result. It gets tiring. Most men are just as insecure, vulnerable, and lost/confused as the next person.
    Man TALK a lot about how instantly sexual they are but in actions we proceed with angst and uncertainty.
    I have been together with my wife for 29 years (married for 23). I sincerely hope I predecease her. I think I’d be too lonely as a single, old man because of childhood abandonment issues, and I don’t think I could go through the process of finding a mate again. It was hard enough the first time. I’m insecure when making new friends; I can’t imagine how hard it would be to find a new partner.

    • If you’re ever a single old man, god forbid, I promise to go skating with you all around campus at least once a week.

  8. Well, that all depends. In my neck ‘o the woods, it is somewhat *expected* that women will not be sexually available unless there is a “promising future.” I will say, though, that in my relationships I kept the door open, and just said no for awhile and that seems to work well (in hindsight). ::shrug:: Humans are complicated people, no?

  9. I think it has to do with the particular man and the particular woman and where they meet in the middle.

    (This is where I fear I sound conceited, but please bear with me…) As a straight girl who is attractive, when I was single I lost many male friends by taking sex off the table. In fact, when I got out of my last relationship I was really disappointed when a lot of men dropped out of my life because I said I had no interest in sex with them at that time.

    A few years later I’m still the same girl but I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for two years. I’ve noticed that most of my friends who are men are really my boyfriends friends. In theory, I could work a little harder to cultivate my (platonic) relationships with these men, but I worry that if my boyfriend and I ever break up the friendship would disappear.

    Which is my roundabout way of saying that, yes, in my experience most men back down from a friendship if there is no possibility of sex. I do have a couple of friends who are men, but I’ve never had a relationship with a man that didn’t involve a large degree of sexual tension on his part. The reason I even bothered to mention being attractive above is because over the weekend I had this very conversation with a friend who suggested that her experience was completely different because she isn’t “pretty the way you are.” By her account, she’s had the exact opposite experience I’ve had.

    (Is she right? I don’t know. There’s always the possibility that she was being self deprecating.)

    • I am generally not considered attractive, and yet Billy Crystal’s line about how with regards to the ugly ones, “you pretty much wanna nail ‘em too” has been accurate for me. I suspect if a woman hangs around a guy for any period of time, he gets ideas, even if you aren’t attractive/his type.

      That said, this thread is cheering me up a little with stories of guys who aren’t thinking dick-first.

  10. I’m confused about where all this “not in the forseeable future” and “not if you were the last person alive” stuff is coming from. Didn’t Emily just say that she would communicate to the potential partner that she would like to postpone sex until they have gotten to know each other better? Those aren’t the same thing. On the comment itself, I think Ian’s comment is indicative of the real fragility of the facade that is masculinity.

  11. Come on now, you are completely missing a large facet of male/female relationship building.

    Yes, if it is a date, or even a date-like setting, then taking the possibility of sex off the table will taint the chances of a relationship ever beginning. A date, when all is said and done, is an interview for a possible mate and pretending otherwise is just silly.


    If the initial meeting and subsequent interactions are in a non-sexual setting (coworkers, someone who is already in a relationship etc), then it is definitely possible for a platonic relationship to be built.

    For me, it is all about the setting and the expectations set ahead of time. If I were to invite a woman, or be invited, out for coffee or a talk about a shared hobby, I would not expect sex to be an issue. If, however, I were to invite a woman on a date and she told me that she was not interested in sex, then I would be inclined to move on to find someone who is.

  12. i don’t think there is anything wrong with a man ‘just wanting sex’ nor a woman who says ‘sex is not on the table right now.’ that is clear communication. if i want to buy a ferrari and i go to a hyundai dealership, it will be helpful if the salesman tells me that they do not have ferraris and will not have them in the forseeable future and i will take my business elsewhere. if they string me along and say, ‘well, maybe we could get one for you, let me make some calls…’ that encourages me to stick around in spite of the dealership having no intention of offering what i want. i don’t think most men want to have sex with their female friends for real, but harboring the fantasy has got to be part of what keeps the wheels of attraction–even in friendship–turning.

  13. You’re a genius with a college degree (at least one), and it’s taken you THIS LONG to figure out a universal truth that any “ge-to” [ghetto to you] 8th grader knows. Damn straight you have no dates!

  14. The interesting thing to me is that Ian says, “even if I wasn’t particularly interested in her sexually the chances that I’d invest time in that relationship would be scant.”

    So, you don’t care to have sex with her, but you need her to (at least potentially) want to have sex with you. Without meaning to disparage Ian, that sounds like insecurity + a narrow conception (even if only subconscious) of what men and women have to offer each other, to me.

    Is it a widespread behavior? No idea… I’ve never tried overtly taking sex off the table.

    • Well, I see it more as “this woman has pre-rejected me without even getting to know me, which implies a fair amount of judgement on her part, which in turn indicates a far higher level of potential relationship issues right off the bat than I’m probably comfortable dealing with.” It’s not about her wanting to have sex, necessarily, it’s about their willingness to even consider you in that light.

      Consider: how many single women who aren’t actively seeking a relationship eschew make-up and wear baggy gray sweat pants every day? Few. Women want to “feel attractive” even when they aren’t actively attracting. That sounds like insecurity + narrow conception (even if subconscious), but is nonetheless an important consideration to the emotional well-being of those women. The same could be said about men’s “need” to be desired sexually. If not directly desired, then at least admired to the point of serious consideration. Taking sex off the table is essentially pre-rejection, to the masculine psyche.

      • Well, yeah, “I won’t have sex” could mean that she doesn’t find you attractive. Or it could just be some issue of her own that has nothing to do with you and she won’t put out for anybody right now. It’s not necessarily personal rejection of you entirely as a human being because she won’t “give you a chance” sexually.

      • Women want to “feel attractive” even when they aren’t actively attracting. That sounds like insecurity + narrow conception (even if subconscious), but is nonetheless an important consideration to the emotional well-being of those women. The same could be said about men’s “need” to be desired sexually.

        I wondered about this, but I have to come down on the side of: nah. Not the same. Because a woman can “feel attractive” by wearing her favorite boots or whatnot and going on her merry way. It has nothing to do with the reactions she provokes — as a lot of people have found to their frustration, attempting to console friends/partners about their attractiveness to little avail. It’s about how the woman herself feels.

        What you’re talking about is outside validation. You’re saying a guy needs to be provided with recurrent external confirmation of his desirability in order to feel comfortable in the presence of a person of the desired sex. That’s an argument in of itself, and an interesting one in the light of how culture determines a cis-man’s worth, but it’s not the same thing. Especially since to some people, open acknowledgment of sexual potential from a woman is taken as a half-promise to make the potential actual.

        So: the first scenario is a closed circuit, but the second demands the participation of others. (Verbally, emotionally, so forth.) Not the same.

  15. You’re surprised by this? You take away one of the major driving factors from a man up front, then don’t expect there to be some sort of negative consequence from that?

    Consciously or not, that will effect how you’re dealt with by a man. If I were attempting to be [romantically] involved with a woman and she removed that from consideration, barring other exceptional attributes or circumstances she would be removed from my consideration. Why should I need to jump through extra hoops for you? Further, greggorton84 is spot on, why are you announcing this so bluntly up front? You do have a choice on whom you’re going to end up entangled with, let that play out instead of slamming the door so harshly.

  16. I think caitmechanic hits upon an important point – there are lots of different shades in play here and I’m not sure we’re all talking about the same thing. If I was on a first date with someone who made it clear that our relationship could not lead to sex, there would be no second date. I could not be happy in a sexless relationship, so I’d be better off spending the time looking elsewhere. If the other person said, “I think sex complicates everything, so let’s just be clear: we’ll have to go on a lot of dates before I’d consider sleeping with you,” I’d have no such problem. Eventually that question mark that Emily originally posted about has to be resolved, but a frank conversation up front might buy time to get to know one another properly before dealing with sex. That may be the best we can hope for.

  17. Gosh. I’m a gay male. One of the most important aspects of my life is friendships with gay men like myself. Imagine if I refused to talk to a man who wouldn’t have sex with me. Ian must have a small, sad life if he only associates with women for sex.

    • Actually, I have a glorious, happy life. And note that I didn’t say “refuse to talk to”, as so many have quickly alluded, I merely contend that there is a dramatic lowering of attention, or at least a profound shift in perspective and focus, when sex is verbally taken off the table at the very beginning of a relationship. I think the dynamic is different with gay men, just as it is with lesbians. In fact, I’m pretty certain of it.

  18. I see several levels of “no” in your post, Emily. First, you describe the time spent with the other person as a “date.” That’s courtship. There are lots of ways for two folks to hang out together, but a “date” is a specific social form. Then, perhaps, you’re actually on the date — courting, and expecting courtship conventions to be respected, and you announce, “No sex, ever.” The other person has two obvious interpretations available: “Something’s wrong with me as a sexual person, at least in relation to this person” or “Something’s wrong with this person, at least in relation to me.” Either is, at best, um . . . unaffirming and uninviting. But you also insist on yet a third level of “no.” You want it to be OK to be in the midst of “making out,” one or two significant steps further along in the courtship process, and to say, “I’ve harvested what I want from this evening. Stop and go away.” Of course you — any person — should always have the right to say no, at every step into intimacy. But to demand that have no impact on the other person, no consequences for your overall interaction? Not a real world possibility.

    Intimacy is dangerous, for all organisms — disease, threat, external vulnerabilities — and courtship, that step by step easing toward vulnerability and intimate engagement, is equally universal. Could it be that you’re asking to harvest from courtship without having to fully acknowledge the other person’s personhood? Has personal history or chemistry somehow made the safety-and-control side of the calculation overriding for you? Are you struggling to have some of your profoundest needs met without taking those gentle, gradual chances that are the core of courtship?

    Your blog, your teaching, your advocacy, the daring chances you take in exposing yourself here, are a huge gift to the world. Be sure you gift yourself too, with all the things you wish for us.

    • Well I don’t say “no sex, ever,” (except under rare circumstances where I do really mean NONE EVER and those are always also circumstances where I mean “no relationship” too) I say “not soon” or “not now” or even “not yet,” all of which, to my ears, imply “maybe later.” But what I’m hearing, both explicitly and implicitly (in people’s interpretation of my post) is that they sound to other people – or, let’s just say it, to MEN – like “never.”

      Do I think I’m not taking the other person’s needs into account? Nope. I think I’m pretty dysfunctionally inclined to take the other person’s needs (esp thei sexual needs) more into account than I do my own, and this “not now” thing is one among an array of efforts to reverse that. Historically, if I said, “okay I’m done now, please, thanks” and the other person said, “oh but…” or more typically “you’re joking,” i’d just go “well fine” because I my desire to stop didn’t match my fear of alienating this other person. I’ve done it with you, Bill. That has changed, though; if not being ready – yet – to take off my clothes or have intercourse or whatever alienates the other person, then so be it.

      But I am seeing value in the “win me. Maybe you can,” approach. Especially because I do ultimately WANT to be won and the culture is such that men bring an expectation of having to work for sex. And god knows I’m a prize WORTH investing some time and creativity into winning. It seems therefore both fair and potentially more effective than just saying “sex isn’t on the menu.”

      • I feel like there’s been a bit of a miscommunication. Ian, as far as I can tell, was referring to having the goal of courting someone and having them tell you “no, never.” I suspect that “no, not now” would dissuade people with purely sexual intentions but not courting intentions. Neither, I would think, would dissuade those with friendship or some other non-courting/sexual intentions. It seems like he interpreted what you were saying as being “no, not ever,” which would underlie the misunderstanding (and would make far more sense given what he said about failure and rejection).

      • I like the “win me” approach.

    • Oh, I would add that risking a “no” and having it respected by the other person is a pretty crucial “gentle, gradual chance at the core of courtship.” Dudes who can hear “no” without feeling hurt and personally rejected or pushing back or feeling like its not fair are the dudes I want to say yes to, dudes I want to step closer to.

      • Actually, I’d say “Dudes who can hear “no” without APPEARING to feel hurt and personally rejected, and then keeping their cool about it”. Only the most callous man can hear “no” and not feel hurt and wounded at some level. But the masculine consciousness encourages us to hide those feelings, and the more adeptly we do, the better our social position and potential for mating. Which means many women have the reaction you do, when you see a man calmly handle rejection, that is, you become more attracted to him.

        On the one hand, to the less socially astute male who doesn’t understand this, one rejection can be devastating enough to cause him to flee. To a man who does understand that how he handles rejection is one of those checklist-items that women sometimes use, he understands that rejection doesn’t necessarily mean never.

        But this also leads to the pesterer, and the guy playing “the numbers game”.

  19. I think the problem is in generalizing too much. Some men are absolutely driven by carnal desire, and if it’s not in his hand, he’ll fold and leave the table. They can also be driven by sex, only to find out there’s an awesome person attached to that vagina they’ve been craving.

    But other men are not like that at all. I shot down a guy pretty early on and we’ve been the closest of friends for over a decade.

  20. If a girl says “Lets Just Be Friends” (which in my context I take for both no relationship and no sex) then I probably think the very reason that she think she needs say it is somewhat of a dealbreaker. I have no problem with beeing friend with girlds where sex or relationship is off the table, but HEARING her saying that sucks. If You want to be my friend, treat me as a friend, not as a problem.

  21. “We’re not going to have sex in the foreseeable future UNLESS you successfully seduce me, and I am a challenge to seduce because I know so much about the game that I am the fucking Magister Ludi of seduction; in order to play with me you have to play a META-game, you have to improvise a new game with me, in the moment. Go.”

    That sort of wouldn’t work either. But I think mostly for the same reason Ian’s assertion doesn’t work: it’s almost certainly overstating the case.

    To use Steven Stander’s comment as an example, Ian’s probably wouldn’t really be saying “eww, but if you aren’t interested in skating then don’t bother visiting at all.” Neither are you saying “but if you can’t nail a triple Lutz then I’m not putting my skates on.”

    Don’t get me wrong — both seem like internally consistent responses to a system that’s not very generous to women who agree to sex or to men who don’t successfully pursue it.

    Ugg! “Agreeing to” just sounds so desolate! As does “pursuing.” I would only “agree” to go skating when invited if I didn’t really want to but was just being nice. It’s similarly disheartening to imagine “pursuing” someone in hopes that maybe, if you’re lucky or extra extra nice, they’ll go skating with you.

    Anyway, I’m actually pretty sure you meant someone needs to better than the best to seduce you if you have no romantic or at least sexual interest. And let’s just say I hope Ian only meant that he wouldn’t be romantically, or at least sexually interested in a woman without some hope of sexual interest in return.


    • Well I think part of the complexity here is that I have non-normative boundaries around friends/romantic partners/sex partners. I am quite happy to fuck my friends under appropriate circumstances, so taking sex off the table could happen for me regardless of what my (or the other person’s) romantic interest may be. And that makes my own situation different from most people’s.

      But there is an important conversation to have around “willingness” versus “wanting” to have sex. This is Suzanne Iasenza’s language for what I call ‘responsive’ versus ‘spontaneous’ desire. Some people’s desire (most often women’s) begins only after sexual contact has started, so you “agree” on the expectation that your willingness will, with adequate stimulation, BECOME wanting. Like, I agree to go skating even if I don’t really want to, because I’m WILLING to and because in the past I’ve found I had a good time skating even when I didn’t want to in the first place.

  22. Straight male here, but I don’t think I’m very representative. I’m married and polyamorous; I spend a lot of time thinking about sex, both intellectually and physically.

    For me at least, it’s definitely true that I’m less interested in getting to know a woman if there’s no possibility of sex and/or intimacy. Even an unrealistic possibility of sex is a positive factor.

    But, when potentially starting a relationship, the sex factor is a bonus over and above the base interest I have for any given person. Take that away at the outset, and it simply puts a woman on a level playing field with men and women to which I’m not attracted. I want relationships with people whom I have some interest. Sex is one of those interests, but there’s others too. Lack of possibility for sex isn’t a net negative.

    So, for example: If you (Emily) and I were to meet, and you said up front that you weren’t available for sex, I’d still want to be friends with you, because I find you interesting. (I think your work is amazing; that’s why I’m here of course.) But I’d be much less interested in another woman who didn’t have this interest factor and who wasn’t a possible sex partner. Also, if you were both intellectually interesting and a sex interest, I’d be smitten.

    I won’t speak for all men (gay or otherwise), but I’m guessing that this view isn’t unique to me. So, it would be relatively easy to reconcile this approach with gay men: take sex off the table, and a gay man would have less interest in another man, but not less than for a woman.

    What’s a girl to do? If I was in your position, I would not explicitly exclude the possibility of sex from any man, even if you have no real intention of allowing it to happen. It’s a useful advantage, and can be a gateway to your other positive qualities; sex is the quick-and-easy way to lead people towards your deeper benefits. That’s not the same as feigning interest or availability… just don’t slam the door shut up front.

  23. I think Ian is correct. If sex is “taken off the table” on a date, then (from the guy’s perspective at least) it’s a signal that the woman is conflicted on how desirable she finds her date, to the point where she even stated it explicitly up front. Whether or not he’s particularly interested in her sexually, it’s an immediate rejection. That can be enough to kill a budding relationship in itself.

    Also bear in mind that many times men are trying to read what women are saying or not saying by implication, i.e. if a woman asks a man if he would like to come up and have a cup of coffee, the coffee itself is secondary. For a woman to say something without any kind of ambiguity or reading can lead men to misinterpret the actual statement as being far more extreme than what was intended. You may be saying “no, not now”, but if men have learned from experience that “not now” effectively means “not now, and never” then you have to work harder against that to ensure you’re not misread.

    • This.

      advice for parents that’s relevant here: It’s not about what you say, it’s about what they hear.

      The men you’re saying this to are hearing that there’s something wrong with them. They’re hearing “never”, or “only if you’re amazing.” The most amazing people are often the ones who don’t think they’re that amazing.

      • So useful! Because I thought, “But I *do* mean ‘only if you’re amazing’!” and then you said, “The most amazing people are often the ones who don’t think they’re that amazing,” and I thought, “Oh. That’s right.”

  24. I think it depends on how you say it. I was viscerally familiar with responsive vs. spontaneous desire before you gave me words for it (thank you, BTW, for that post, it was amazing), so if you say, “no sex until we get to know each other,” I understand that you’re saying it because of the way your SES works, even though mine works differently.

    However, if you say, “not if you were the last man on earth,” that’s hurtful enough to engage my SIS and I’ll loose sexual interest, likely forever. However, I don’t generally go out with someone I’m not interested in getting to know, so once sex is off the table, I’ll try to re-purpose the evening and make it one where non-sexual friends hang out and have a good time.

  25. So, like Craig, I am poly and have a life partner. So, this is a tad different from the majority of the replies here, and I think I know why.

    When you talk about dating and courtship, these are referring to what are essentially serial monogamous relationships (that is how I read it, because otherwise no one would have the experience of multiple dates to draw on). It isn’t a problem or anything, but taking a step back we start to see that many people date because they are trying to be fulfilled in as many ways as possible by the same person, whoever they may be at that moment.

    The reason I am poly is because I find it difficult to be fulfilled in all ways by a single person, and fulfillment is often intimate (though not necessarily sexual) for me, and that sets off triggers for insecurities in all parties involved, so really it is just a necessity to talk things out and to be clear with everyone.

    So, when I hear people say, “sex is a driving force for males” I think that it changes a lot given the container. I am not trying to say that monogamy is bad, or even serial monogamy should be avoided, just that from outside the box there seems to be a clear workflow on how some people (maybe those with a high sex drive) could find themselves in the situation where they are objectifying potential partners/mates because of those constraints.

    The only thing I wanted to point out is about Will’s response that Also bear in mind that many times men are trying to read what women are saying or not saying by implication.

    The first thing I thought of was that regardless of the woes of communicating about sex, I would rather no one be raped. The whole idea that “having a cup of coffee” is code for sexy times illustrates that not only is “common wisdom” dangerous, but it is also not true. We don’t need to have code words and hope that other people are in on it. Rather, we should encourage the development of discretion, by exposure to good models of talking about sex, and more education.

    Personally, I am very literally in my speech, and it gets me in trouble all the time. At this point, it takes me crucial moments to understand when other people are not being literal. However, I prefer it this way, because while I may shock people some time, I will be clear on my desires, and while I may not fulfill another person’s wishes, I won’t violate or abuse them.

    I don’t think that humans are incapable of learning how to communicate this way, and I think the end results will be more consensual sexy times, so I fully endorse it! ^_^

    • The first thing I thought of was that regardless of the woes of communicating about sex, I would rather no one be raped.

      Communication is complex and subtle. People flirt, imply, prefer not to say, wink and smile. When people have sex, it’s frequently done by “inviting them up for a cup of coffee.” What happens after that point is a successions of interactions. Smalltalk. Light physical contact, usually on the arm or the shoulder. The first kiss. The following kisses. Making out. A suggestion that maybe the bed would be more comfy.

      Nowhere does any mention of sex comes up. But someone who doesn’t want smalltalk will not be kissed. Someone who does not make out is not going to move to the bed. Seduction has a progression, and is never an accident.

      I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times a woman has said to me “I want you to come upstairs and fuck me.” It would be great if that did happen. It would probably be far safer for all concerned. But this is the system we have, and somehow most people still manage to date without raping each other.

  26. This is a wonderfully rich discussion, unusually rich, especially at a time when sex, gender roles, the status of women (and even more powerfully right now, men) are all in flux. Huge hugs and praises for Emily for being the brave initiator.

    Several folks have had awfully good things to say here about the precise messages at the beginnings of a courtship ritual. It feels like we’re all converging on an understanding. Amazing.

    Here’s my contribution. I think it’s much less important what the words are (not now, not ever, maybe if you’re amazing . . .) than what the projection or perception is of the person speaking them. If they feel walled off, frightened-and-aggressive, or simply emotionally inaccessible as a juicy, sensual, sexual person, the courtship won’t be pursued. It’s not about whether men are “carnal” or not. Courtship is a negotiation, not a right that is God-given to either party. Courtship is hard, scary work (right along with being magnificent fun), and we all have only a limited amount of time or energy we can devote to it in the midst of our lives. No genuine, heartful negotiation, no courtship. And that’s as true of friendship as it is of courtship.

    Female or male, being appropriately vulnerable is one of the great, productive tasks of our lives. It’s where all the most precious things are born.

  27. Married. Polyamorous. And I’m with Craig (more or less) on this one. I love meeting interesting and engaging people, and if I can become friends with them and have the opportunity to engage regularly, that’s fantastic. If I meet people who are uninteresting and unimaginative, I’m generally not thinking about having sex with them anyway because experience tells me they’re likely to be A Lot of Work as a sex partner, even if they physically appear to be super-hot. Interesting, engaging, and communicating mutual “sex is definitely a possibility at some point” signals? To quote an overquoted maniac, “Winning!”

    I think this conversation has a lot of Schroedinger’s Cat about it. When beginning a series of encounters with a relatively new person (i.e., “dating”), there is the indeterminate dual state of “will we or won’t we” with respect to sex. Once the duality “collapses” into a determined state, either by “getting it over with,” declaring it off-the-table for the foreseeable future, or the dating evolving into a relationship in which sexual relations is the most natural thing to happen, other lifepath lines begin to kick in as one path is eliminated and some others are activated.

    For instance, if one of the people is, shall we say, more of a jerk, whether or not the couple has sex is quite irrelevant to the emergence of that person’s jerk-like qualities. On the other hand, if both are well-balanced, emotionally mature adults, whether or not the couple has sex is again relatively irrelevant to the continuation of a friendship if that friendship had been developing over time. Although, it is true that “sex changes a relationship,” the nature of that change is complex, emergent, and therefore unpredictable.

    It’s the indeterminacy of the potential sexual encounter – keeping the “kitty” in the “box” (sorry) – that actually enables the relationship to develop (assuming one is to develop at all for these two individuals). And that is part of the wonderment of human sexual relations, I think.

    On a personal note, I do a lot of intimate-style social dancing (Latin, Blues, etc.) and I fall in lust all the time with many of my partners – it’s sort of the nature of that style of dancing. On a couple of occasions, after becoming friends with the partner, I put the “I’d really love to have sex with you” (not using those precise words) on the table. We talked about it; she eventually decided against it (for reasons other than not wanting to have sex with me, specifically), and we remain friends and dance partners. On the other hand, there are partners from whom I know I will never, ever get any (although I would love to), and we are friends and continue as dance partners. We of the male persuasion are not entirely driven by our “little head.”

  28. The quality of the people involved in this discussion is jaw-dropping.

    Emily, you have created a community of rare worth.

  29. There are three factors going on here:

    1) Communication (State intention/Say nothing)
    2) Desire (Desires partner/Doesn’t Desire partner)
    3) Activity (Has sex/Doesn’t have sex)

    If you consider a friendship as a long series of encounters associated with a degree of mutual sharing/investment/risk-taking, taking sex of the table and telling the guy about it doesn’t–as such–address the sexual activity as much as it affects the perception of desirability for the man.

    That’s the problem.

    Basically, by telling him up front sex is never going to happen and you are you are attracted to other men, you are sending a signal to him that–as far as you are concerned–he compares unfavorably and you are unwilling to invest risk/trust in him. Because of that, he will probably register you as someone he shouldn’t risk effort/time/resources on as there is the chance of getting taken advantage of.

    (Although, some men love to chase that situation.)

    If you don’t tell him you aren’t planning on having sex with him and you invest time/effort/resources in him, even if you don’t have sex with him, the impression is he’s desirable enough for you to be associated with and it ratchet’s up his willingness to invest. Just leaving the potential on the table–even accompanied by specific “no’s”–keeps the guy willing to invest.

    While guys often entertain the idea of sexing female friends, most know that it’s not going to happen most of the time. So, the disappointment part isn’t a shock. It’s the statement on undesirable-ness.

  30. Re: being single since 2005. There may other factors at play here. Once a person is out of college and grad school finding a partner (or friends for that matter) gets a WHOLE lot more difficult. (Trust me on this; even my therapist says so.) In school you are surrounded by people approximately your own age, with similar interests, and at a similar point in life (i.e., being in school). It’s like a wonderful social melting pot (fondue pot? stew pot? whatever…). Outside of school there are all kinds of people, of all ages, of all stages of their life, with all kinds of interests/values. At this point finding friends or loved ones becomes a needle in a haystack experience.
    At least that’s my experience and the experience of others with whom I’ve discussed this. In college, making friends was easy. Finding a loved….well not easy but at least it did happen. By the time I hit my late 20′s (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), both making friends or finding a partner got a LOT harder. Now in my dotage, making friends is really difficult. And if my Sweet Babboo ever predeceases me, find a new loved one would seem like Mission: Impossible (the TV show, not the movie).
    Another factor in your singleness. Look at where you work; it’s not like you’re going to meet that many guys at work.

  31. I’m a woman, and if a man tells me upfront “I don’t want to have sex with you right now and I don’t want to become polyamorous*”, I’m probably not going to want to continue a romantic relationship with him. I mean, why would I? I am a very sexually driven person, and he doesn’t want to fuck. And what about when we’re in the relationship? What if he has a low sex drive and wants sex only once a week or so?
    I also have many friendships with men, and if I couldn’t be friends with men I didn’t want to fuck my rpg table would be small and sad.
    *i.e. I can get sex from other people

  32. You knew I couldn’t NOT comment. So I did it in blog post form, here:


  33. As an asexual woman, I find that this question of interest (even interest in non-sexual activities/aspects of the person) tracking with sexual availability sits at the heart of many of my difficulties with relationships. I realize that what you said, Emily, was “not yet,” but I think some of the responses to the perceived “not ever” are interesting as well. I may be wrong but what I’m hearing here is that there is a perceived conflation of sexual and non-sexual desirability. Put another way, being sexually desirable strongly correlates with being generally desirable and worthy of time/investment/trust. Thus, having someone state that sex is not on the table would key into the idea that the person considers one not any of the aforementioned things. Is that indeed the case? If so, how would any of you suggest that an asexual person understand the way that lack of sexual interest impacts perceptions of non-sexual interest.
    I beg forgiveness if this feels like I hijacked your thread for my own personal purposes.

  34. For myself, as a guy, the possibility of sexual interaction is one of many factors that influence how interested I am in getting to know someone. It is by no means the only one, but it is a significant one. Learning that there will be no sexytimes affects my level of interest in a way similar to how my learning that someone isn’t a geek affects my interest. Not a deal-breaker, but significant. There’s a huge slice of some of my favorite things that I won’t be able to enjoy with that person. Whether the off-limits things are sexytimes or quoting GLaDOS out of context, it’s a disappointment.

  35. It’s fascinating to me that men will bend over backwards trying to understand female implications (have hot coffee = have hot sex), and yet they so rarely pick up on the subtleties we DO wish them to hear.

    • That’s because they want to hear a yes, not a no. So they look for anything that might hint yes and ignore anything that isn’t a screaming “no” in their face.

      I got told in a class once that when doctors have to break the news that someone died, they have to use the word “died.” Because any sort of vagueness or euphemism will give the person hope that they aren’t dead. People will latch on to the flimsiest bits of hope they can find unless you drop an anvil on them.

      • That’s a bit of a generalization about men, but so is the idea that all women enjoy being pursued and won. And since some women are adept at the “chase me until I catch you” method of seduction, in which a stream of gentle rebuffs is overcome with gentle persistence, it can be really, really confusing for any particular man to understand the subtleties of any particular woman. As I said uppost, there are some women who test a man’s worthiness by seeing how he handles rejection, and respond accordingly. The problem is that there’s no easy way to distinguish between that and “Dude, I’m so not into you!” unless you become overt about it. That’s assuming that the dude in question has at least some social skills and can recognize a definite red light in the first place, of course.

  36. Sex is a big part of most people’s understanding of what it is to be in an intimate relationship with someone. Barring it outright is remarkably like saying “I don’t want an intimate relationship with you.” In fact, saying that while trying to establish a social relationship is basically like saying “Let’s just be friends.” That sounds a lot like “‘let’s not date.”

  37. I was once told by a man whose opinion I generally respect that any guy who talks to you (a woman) can reasonably be assumed to want to have sex with you. Which seemed like utter hogwash to me, and I said so, especially since I have numerous very close male friends with whom this kind of tension, the question mark, has never been perceivable to me. But I have wondered since he said that if I’m somehow limited by my own perspective in this regard…was or is this tension really there for my dude friends, and if I were ever to explicitly declare myself sexually unavailable to them would this somehow create distance between us that would diminish our friendship? I sure hope not…

  38. This is a terrific discussion!

    It seems to me, as a few people above point out, that the problem is not so much what you’re literally saying as the messages people read into them. Because people so rarely say exactly what they mean, people you meet are looking for all kinds of other messages, messages that are much more of a legitimate turn-off.

    I wonder what would happen if, instead of phrasing things in terms of what is going to happen between you and the person in front of you, you described your general approach to sex, i.e. “I usually don’t have sex until I’ve gotten to know someone pretty well.” This way you’re still setting expectations, but not creating a perception that it’s about them, or that you’ve already decided you’re never going to have sex with them.

    Some people also really enjoy the tang of that possibility in the air, even if it never leads to anything. The uncertainty and tension which seem to bother you is part of what makes relationships with the attractive gender fun, even if they’re “platonic” and will always be so. So taking it away may just be a buzzkill for some people.

    • This is probably the best of all the discussion. Ginny is right on target with her assertion that stating things in the matter of fact way initially suggested is most definitely a rejection of the man whether it is intended in that way or not.

      If instead you make it a part of a broader discussion and not about this person specifically, there is no personal rejection.

      So the reader will understand my prospective on the topic, let me describe my recent past. I am a recently divorced heterosexual man in my early 50′s. I spend 18 years in a marriage with no love and little sex. In the last 10 years of my marriage, the few times we did have sex my ex made it abundantly clear she had no real interest in me or sex. I have no wish to seem shallow but given this history I will make no effort whatsoever to pursue any woman who tells me up front that there will be no chance of sex in the foreseeable future.

      Note that none of this means I expect sex from my female friends. I have lots of women who are just friends. There is no expectation of anything physical. But, I do not take them on dates.


  39. Wow, many of you have a different experience than me. Plenty of my best friendships, with any gender, formed when there was absolutely not going to be sex, ever. Once in a long while, I was the one who got told “can we just be friends.” I’m polyamorous and in a long-term relationship, but it used to be monogamous, and had been for a long time. There is very little difference in the way the male friends who know about this, which is plenty of them, relate to me. I have not suddenly been perceived as “on the market” or anything like that. It’s still up to me to make moves on a fellow, and let him know what to do next. The more daring of them tell me what their wishes are and ask me what I would like to do.

    I’ve never been in a crowd that acted the way some of you are describing, where men are mostly interested in relationships where there might be sex. Never ever. Instead, in my crowd — the bi-poly-pagan-gamer-geeks — the default assumption is that everyone wants to be friends, and anything else will be negotiated should those people wish to. Some folks are a bit oblivious and need to be hit over the head with the “I’m interested” hammer. We tend to have visits, parties, game nights and other medium to large gatherings pretty often. So there are lots of just-social chances to meet and see people, some of them new, many of them old friends or friends of friends. It’s a really nice way to meet people, because chances are that they won’t be put off by any of your non-mainstream quirks, that they share some friends, maybe even share some geekeries… Also, signalling conventions permit people to be much clearer than in normal circles without giving offense unless you’re actually rude, not just blunt. You can be subtle if you want, but you don’t have to. I’ve had a few relationships transition from friendship to dating or even friendship-dating-friendship, and it hasn’t caused any major differences in them aside from degree of snuggles and sex. I think this is because the friendships almost always happen first. Many of us don’t want to date people who aren’t friend material.

    I think I prefer dealing with the geeks.

  40. I had another thought about this conversation today. Kindly do not read into this any implications and values judgments that do not appear…

    This attitude (sex being a necessity even early in a relationship) has been perceived by a lot of people, and perhaps society in general, as inevitable. And some men seem to say it’s so (for them, at least). I think it’s a valid belief – sex is important. However, the expectation of sex is one reason why certain large groups cling to more old fashioned “courtships” and the like rather than the modern dating scene. A lot of conservative types just don’t love the idea of women mostly, but men as well, feeling as though they have to put out in any fledgling relationship in order not to risk losing the person. More liberal folks respond by pointing out that people (esp. women) are more free than ever to say no today, which is true. But…I guess the point I’m wanting to make is that this is one fairly valid reason conservative types are apprehensive about being more open and accepting of sexuality. The old order, with all its problems (including premarital sex, admittedly) protected people who preferred to wait. Personally – I know I can refuse to have sex at any time – but I also know that some people will judge me for it (both fairly and unfairly) and that’s disappointing.

    But all actions have consequences, and ultimately it’s not fair of any person to expect a date to have no reaction or only a positive reaction to a statement like “no sex for now/the foreseeable future.” Just some thoughts for you fine folks.

    • But all actions have consequences, and ultimately it’s not fair of any person to expect a date to have no reaction or only a positive reaction to a statement like “no sex for now/the foreseeable future.”

      Exactly. That’s one thing I find a little odd about Emily’s statement that prioritizing sex over a possible friendship is an implication that men are “dick-driven simpletons incapable of recognizing a woman’s personhood in the absence of sexual access to that woman.”

      It’s not that men are incapable of recognizing a woman’s personhood. Men simply prioritize their attention in favor of women who have the possibility of sexual access over women who don’t. It doesn’t mean men are simpletons — after all, they’re putting their time and energy where they think it will best benefit them. I thought Ian’s blog post was very insightful when it came down to his experience with a lesbian co-worker — if you’re a guy and it’s a given that you think about sex, then the corollary is that you tend less about things that aren’t associated with sex, even if it’s not what you may consciously want.

  41. So. I ask you, readers of all genders: if a woman takes sex off the table, will a straight man be less likely to want to get to know her?

    Having an advance rebuffed is one thing. At that point, I’ve opened myself to rejection, and while rejection hurts, it’s still possible to be friends, since I figured you were interesting enough to make an advance in the first place. Though the manner of rejection makes quite a difference.

    On the other hand, a pre-emptive rejection (which is what it sounds like you’re talking about, whether that’s how you intended it or not), when maybe all I was after was finding out if you’d make an interesting friend? Nekulturny. The odds of me wanting to get to know you better as a friend just hit zero. Good day.

    Imagine it from the other side. You walk up to David Mitchell and say “Hello!” and he replies, “I’m not going to have sex with you.” How do you feel? Do you think this is a man you’d like to be friends with?

    • If david mitchell said that to me i’d say “thank christ! Come and have a beer!” See. Among the various difficulties is the fact that I would be GLAD if someone were both straightforward enough and as interested in getting to me without the pressures of trying to make sex happen. So it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around NOT wanting it…

    • If that was an opening salvo, I’d ask myself two things:
      1) What about me led you to make that statement? If I asked if sex tonight was a possibility 5 minutes into a first date, a slightly off-kilter answer like that wouldn’t bother me. If I asked what type of pets you have, I think “psycho”. If I simply said hello, I think “stuck-up bitch – how dare you make assumptions about me when you don’t know me – either you think I’m physically attractive, or you think I’m not even worth getting to know before rejecting”. The policy of no sex early in a relationship isn’t the problem – the declaration of it is.
      2) What other reason would I want to know this person? They can still be a friend, councilor, professional colleague, person-who-helps-me-move, etc. But I need some other reason to bother. Maybe I’m moved by your artwork or writing. Perhaps I find you entertaining, want to learn something from you, or want the satisfaction of having been kind to another person. But, if I don’t have any reason to do so, and sex has been pulled off the table with a definite declaration, I see no reason to invest any more time in you than I’d give to the guy who works at the gas station or than is required by politeness.

      P.S. I used to think “not yet” meant “there is a chance in the future”. I learned, having burnt 9 months of my life that “not yet” means “I’ll string you along until I can find somebody I want to fuck, and then I’ll want you to be happy for me that I’ve found him”. Sorry – your gender can either play the straight-forward game, or the “why don’t you understand what I want” game, but not both without crazy-making.

  42. What a great discussion. Two points.

    People are very very good at simultaneously believing and disbelieving something, walking a tightrope between two mutually exclusive states and gleaning the best of both, but generally this cannot survive bald statements of fact. Flirting is a great pleasure, a shared and conscious delusion, mutual play-acting that (often) neither party takes seriously. But saying this is what they are doing lets all the air out of the balloon.

    Second point. I was always interested in sexual relationships. I still am. But as a senior at 60, I find that in the past 10 years I have magically been removed from the list of those who have to fight off the boys — even the ones my age. I can’t remember what my ground rules even are, not having used them in several years.

    I’d enjoy another stable relationship, (or an unstable one!) but though I’m on a couple of dating sites and have a circle of unattached friends, it looks like I have outgrown all the interested men. Is it because I’m old enough that the will-she/won’t-she question now seems to be settled upon first meeting?

    • Aha yes. I find this thought – that SAYING you don’t intend to have sex anytime soon pops the other person’s cognitive dissonance bubble – very helpful. I find cognitive dissonance intolerable myself, but many good people can’t live without it.

      If there is ever anything I can do to help get you dates, just say the word!

  43. Emily,

    Apologies if these end up being too personal of questions.

    If you are not interested in developing a sexual relationship with someone with whom you are not yet friends (a reasonable position to my mind), I’m not clear why you date people with whom you are not yet friends (maybe I I’m failing to understand what you mean by “date”). I assume that there are men that you know well and find attractive. Wouldn’t they (who you wouldn’t have a problem with having sex with) be a more reasonable romantic relationship pool for you? The solution to your question to your friend seems to me to be to make it clear that you only date people you know well. Take sex out of the equation, but make it clear that that is a completely impersonal thing, that it isn’t a matter of not being sexually interested in them, but of not knowing them well enough to be sexually interested in them. Which sounds like what you are doing, except that you still seem to be viewing these people you are just getting to know as part of the romantic relationship pool.

    Personally, the strategy you suggest as being your potential best strategy (the “win me” strategy) is the absolute worst strategy. Your old strategy and your current strategy are both techniques for removing the over layer of sexual tension from the process of getting to know someone (and I take that to be your goal), your new potential best strategy fails absolutely at that goal and goes further, adding a layer of, “If you play me just right, you will get to fuck me,” which makes you a prize to be won by the appropriate masquerade. Merely because playing you will require non-standard meta-strategies does not remove the D/S subtext of vanilla het courtship (I have no complaint with BDSM, but I don’t care for it as inescapable subtext).

    I’m long married and monogamous, but were I available, I would hope that I would flat out turn down any one who proffered me the “win me” situation.

    Do you have any available, good friends, with whom you are well past the getting to know you phase, with whom you find the idea of having a romantic relationship attractive? Do any of them know that they are in that category? If any of them did, and were likewise interested, would you be comfortable having sex with them tomorrow (that is, is the desire to delay having sex actually about wanting to know someone well first, or is it about drawing out the early phase of a specifically romantic and sexual relationship)? Even if what you would want in building a romantic/sexual relationship with one of your good friends would be a slow build of sexuality, I think that would still be more attainable with someone you already know.

    My spouse was my best friend for several years before we started developing a sexual relationship, and sex had been pretty explicitly off the table for most of that time. It worked out much better than either my first romantic relationship (which went from 0 to sex in about a week) or my second romantic relationship (in which we gradually progressed sexually over the course of a year and a half), both of which developed simultaneously as friendships and as romantic relationships. Others’ experience obviously various, but that is mine.

  44. If you want to be friends, and you’re in a non-date context, why are you bringing up sex at all?

    If you’re in a dating context and you communicate (verbally or otherwise) that sex isn’t on the table, then you are purposefully crippling yourself. You are locking doors that need the potential to be open.

    Sex is an integral part of any committed relationship.

    The above statement is more important than most people realize. If you’re in a committed relationship, “not right now” is an acceptable answer to “do we want to have sex”. “No” isn’t. I see more relationships fall apart because people don’t understand that some things are necessary in a relationship: sex, comfort, security, trust, intimacy, communication, humor, etc. Leave one out and that relationship is broken, at best.

    Imagine what happens if you take any integral part of relationship off the table. “I’m sorry, but cuddling is off the table for the foreseeable future.” “Intimacy isn’t on my table for the foreseeable future” “Developing trust and spending more time together as we get to know one another are off the table for the foreseeable future, I can only spend so much time with someone before I get to know them well.”

    Sex is *part* of getting to know someone well. Maybe there is some other state of existence wherein the beings involved don’t need it, but we are physical and sometimes bodies must touch. Sex is the gift of sharing our bodies.

    Greggorton84 is correct when he says that both of Emily’s strategies involve too closed a mind.

    I sincerely believe that 99.9% of all males decide whether they’d be willing to have sex with a female THE FIRST THING when they see her, even if it’s non-verbalized, unconscious, or suppressed by their thinking mind. Most women do the same thing. If you’re Paying Attention, you can see it happen, often in that first moment, and it can tell you a lot. What some people call “mutual instant attraction” is often when both people recognize that moment.

    When someone removes the *possibility* of sex from the equation, it tells me that they are someone who is a repressed individual who has more issues than I want to deal with. Acquaintanceship may be possible, but friendship is unlikely and anything more is “off the table”.

    There might be many reasons why sex is practically off the table. Social mores (work relationships, coveting thy neighbor’s wife, etc), monogamous relationships, illness, physical separation are just a few. Denying the possibility is something else.

  45. I’ve never posted a comment on a blog before, ever, so I would first like to say that I find your website very interesting. Keep up the good work!

    I’ve only ever been in one sexual relationship (I’m 22). However, if I were to somehow find myself in relationship tomorrow, and we started getting hot and bothered together, and and she said, “Not today,” I would be fine with that. Disappointed? Most likely.

    However, if this kept happening consistently, it would bother me. Is it me? Is it her? Does she not trust me enough to tell me why she’s uncomfortable taking things further with me? Did I do something wrong?

    A little communication can go a long way. If he isn’t interested in getting to know you better, and thats what you want, then you have both saved yourselves time and trouble. That’s a good thing right?

    In part I agree with Ian about being able to handle the rejection. Guys know if we want to keep the possibility of getting there later open, we have to play it cool. But not only that, I think its wrong if thats all a guy cares about. He should respect that she is unwilling to go further and not want to push for more.

    I don’t want to have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex. I feel weird saying this as a dude, but I’ve been on the not wanting it side myself. The woman I was with seemed to always want sex.

    My job is physically demanding, so sometimes I’m just tired and I want to sit on the couch and watch TV when I get home. Or occasionally I just don’t feel it. But if you touch my junk I’m supposed to be ready to go, right? So…let’s go. Or I could tell her I don’t want to and she thinks its her fault that I don’t want to even though I told her I’m just tired from work…

    Then there’s the fact that not only do I take longer than average to finish, I don’t enjoy it as much (therefore taking longer to finish) if she isn’t enjoying it. So I’m already tired from work and I’m still having to put my best foot forward and do more work when I get home.

    Then theres an issue similar to not wanting sex. If a guy doesn’t finish, this apparently also means she’s not doing something right. Sigh. I’ve been mono y mano for a year now, and I’m enjoying it. I do miss having a relationship sometimes, but at least I get what I want, when I want it, and I don’t get in trouble for saying no!

    I guess what im trying to say here is that I know what its like to feel obligated to have sex, as a guy, and I would never want to do that to someone else. Maybe its unusual for a guy to feel that way? Maybe thats why you have a hard time finding a guy who can handle “no.”

    At the same time, though, I completely agree with Ian about bluntly saying that you’re not interested in sex. I don’t interact with every woman I know as if she’s a potential sexual partner. (Maybe that’s why I’m no Casanova?) That doesn’t mean I don’t notice her assets, or I wouldn’t go there. Because I do and I probably would.

    However, I would definitely be less interested in a new acquaintence or a coworker if she told me that she was completely uninterested in having sex with me. I mean, that’s just not something you say. That’s assuming I’m not hovering over you all day, breathing through my mouth, and constantly calling you. Please call me a creeper if that happens.

    Saying you’re not interested in having sex with someone out of the blue, to me, sounds an awful lot like an insult. It’s like saying, “Hey, I like you, but you’re really just not that sexy, funny, interesting, intelliguent, and/or charming,” all at once. I’m smart enough to figure out if you’re not that into me if I’m even trying to get your attention.

    I’m a bit tired right now, so hopefully I presented myself in a coherent fasihon. I not, oh well. I’m a bit crazy and incoherent anyways! Aloha.

  46. I wouldn’t post this normally, except when I read this it immediately made me think of this post/discussion (and since WP doesn’t allow images in comments): a softer world: 663 ^_^

  47. If a person is interesting I want to learn more about them and I shouldn’t have to check under the belt to make sure it is appropriate to do so. I meet a number of people who are female and don’t end up knowing them as well as I might like since:
    They are nervous that I am insincere in my interest and just biding my time to make a pass. our friends and family unfairly assume if we spend a lot of time together that there is sexual interest.
    Their partner gets jealous that I am infringing on their position, (this one really burns me because I hate jealousy.)
    Society has taught them that men are too different from women for real friendship.

    However, most of my friends are male because of people like Ian, who it seems to me have a warped view of sex as some sort of relationship goal. People like this actively perpetuate this idea, by their actions they confirm the fears of women, they affirm the assumptions of friends and family, and by assuming that everyone else is the same they justify jealousy to themselves. These ideas spread from them faster than I can undo the damage, which is reasonable, I am just being a casual friend, they are causing real harm.

  48. And as a follow up, I should make clear that by no stretch do I think that my hardship from this attitude is as large as that faced by the women like Emily who have to put up with it.

  49. if a woman took sex off the table up front, as you [Emily] are advocating, my interest in cultivating her as a friend usually diminished dramatically afterwards. I think that runs true of most men.

    Most men? Sounds like a generalization to me, and because men are so diverse, I’m very reluctant to assume Ian’s statement is true for most men.

    A lot of the comments here sound like Billy Crystal’s character from “When Harry Met Sally”. Harry said that men and women can’t be just friends because the man will always want to have sex with her. While that might be true for some men, that just runs contrary to how I’ve seen a lot of men interact with their platonic female friends.

    I might still be interested in a woman as a friend even if she’s not interested in me sexually. Friendship is a gift, whether it includes sex or not, and a genuine offer of friendship should not be turned down lightly.

  50. “Most men” is a generalisation. I feel insulted by it.

    That is all.

  51. There’s a lot of interesting thoughts here. But I just have to say, it seems like a negative note to start on. By saying “no”, you are telling me that you have already consided the possibility, and made a decision. I may have been thinking about it since the momeny I saw you, or it may not have crossed my mind yet, but you have already considered it and rejected me. Like someone else pointed out, regardless of what you intend to say, people often hear something different. If you haven’t considered it, why are you telling me this? I didn’t lead in with telling you I have no intention of lending you my car, even though that is my general policy with everyone I meet. Why did you need to tell me about your sexual intentions towards me? All I can figure out is that you thought about it. And hey, that’s cool and the gang, I am perfectly willing to respect that decision. But if I do find myself desiring you, I will probably keep away, because you made your feelings clear, and spending time with someone I want who doesn’t return the feeling is unpleasant. So, from a strategy perspective, you are surrounding yourself with people who really are not interested, or who don’t respect your having said “no”. I like to have some friends who are “maybe” even if realisticly it’s not going to happen.

  52. Certainly, if Emily was on a date in the UK, where direct statements about anything at all tend to be received with horror, Emily’s ‘no sex yet’ statement would be heard magnified zillions of times.

    In Britain (in my limited experience) men are often reluctant to make it clear they want to sleep with a woman they’re dating, for fear of being seen as rude and presumptuous. Thus it’s left to the woman to be direct – but in a positive sense, not a negative one. The assumption is that the woman isn’t going to sleep with the man for a while at least, so there’s no need to say it. If a woman does want sex, she’s going to have to either say so or make a very obvious move indeed. Which I think is quite nice, because it’s assuming that sex shouldn’t be on the table at the start, and that women shouldn’t be made to feel bad for taking sex tacitly off the menu until it’s clearer whether the relationship will work in other ways.

    But if a woman actually says ‘no sex for the moment’, I think the average British man is likely to hear ‘I think you are a neanderthal who needs the most obvious things spelled out for you, and an unattractive one to boot’. And if a woman did think that of a man, of course he would invest less in a friendship/relationship with her. So no telling David Mitchell you won’t sleep with him Emily, the poor man would be devastated!

  53. “men, I want to tell my students, are not actually dick-driven simpletons incapable of recognizing a woman’s personhood in the absence of sexual access to that woman.”

    With work and other demands I have enough trouble tending to my existing friends. I see even my best friends all too rarely. While I’m happy to make a new acquaintance, I rarely invest heavily in new friendships with men or women unless there’s an unusually large overlap of interests.

    Therefore, given that men want sex, and that they have limited time and money, what strategy would you suggest they pursue? When faced with a choice between investing in a relationship with a woman who has made her disinterest in sex abundantly clear, and a woman who has not ruled sex out, how would you suggest he behave?

  54. I’m married and not looking for new sexual partners, but I would be taken aback by a new female acquaintance telling me that she won’t have sex with me. Just as I would also be taken aback by anyone telling me that they won’t lend me money, or that they won’t leave me alone with their children, or that they wouldn’t introduce me to their other friends, or any number of other examples. Aside from the wound to the ego (what am I, chopped liver?), excepting those situations where I actually asked to borrow money or babysit or whatever, it seems to indicate that the other person has boundary issues surrounding money/strangers/sex/whatever – possibly for the best of reasons. Would it not be offputting to strangers if, when I met them, I made it clear that I’m a doctor and that I don’t give out free medical advice? It seems to me that that would come off as being a jerk.
    If I have to choose between two potential friends, one of whom sees me as enough of a potential risk that they must pre-emptively shoot me down in some specific area and another who may actually feel the same way about me but doesn’t tell me to my face, why would I not prefer to cultivate the friendship with the second over the first?

  55. A monogamous friend and I (who am poly) talk about people’s “valence” for partners when we try to figure out how come we work so differently. Valence is a chemistry word for how many other atoms an atom can hook up with. Her valence number for partners is 1 while mine is 2-3.

    I’m coming to see that people might also have different valence numbers for other things, too.

    First, people seem to have different numbers of friendship slots. AKA how many friends they want to have and can handle at one time. For example the “extroverted” party person type of people have a lot of slots for casual friendships. So they can have 30+ people they chat with on a regular basis.

    There are also slots for sex partners.

    And also for committed relationships. Someone who’s monogamous has a valence of 1.

    So yeah, sometimes saying “no, not interested in sex” might take you out of all the sex partner slots, leaving you only with the amount of energy they put towards making new friends. Which if they have enough friends at the moment (for them), might not be much.

    I think that because it’s so difficult to talk about sex in this culture, it might be easier to find friendships then sex partners. So there might be a lot of people running around pining for one, but not the other.

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