I’ve noticed a vicious resurgence of The Rules in the air lately, at least in some circles that I travel in (mostly on Facebook). If you’re not familiar with the misogynist drivel that was first released in 1995, the subtitle of this unfortunate book was Capturing the Heart of Mister Right. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know.
There are many, many, many bad ideas in this book, but one of the worst is that women should withhold sex until they’ve “captured” their man. Because, you know, all men are natural aggressors and all women are submissive, delicate flowers. Between this and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, the ’90s really did a number on our cultural evolution vis-à-vis sex and dating. Even though we’re more than a decade past this retrograde philosophy, it has stuck around, and in my opinion, held us back.
When dating is framed this way, putting the onus on women to withhold affection and “capture” men’s hearts before they can take physical pleasure in a romantic connection, we’re already starting with a destructive deficit. If a relationship is to be truly equal in every way — sexually, emotionally, intellectually and otherwise — we should not begin with a kidnapping metaphor. We are still stuck in the fairytale trope of Rapunzel locked in the tower awaiting a prince — her one and only prince, the one she was destined for — to release her from her proverbial prison. (What is this prison, I wonder? Is it singlehood itself?)
One of the ways we can free ourselves from the prison/tower complex is to have sex on the first date, when we’re attracted, horny, and all the other conditions are right. When we know we’re safe and our potential partner has been vetted, why not go for it? (Stalking potential sex partners to make sure they’re not sociopaths is what Google was made for.)
Two things we really do need to be concerned about are sexual assault and STIs. It goes without saying that first-date sex should be protected sex — you should carry condoms, just in case your partner doesn’t have any. It’s also wise, even if you’ve done the requisite online stalking, to make sure a few of your girlfriends know what you’re doing and where you’re going.
It should be said that I’m talking about “dating” here, which is perhaps a bit outside of hookup/Netflix and chill culture, even though the lines often blur. Does this apply to Tinder dates? Yes. But not the Tinder dates that are purely for the purposes of getting laid that night and only that night. I’m glad those exist, but I am referring to the kind of dates that you hope might have some potential to lead to more dates, if nothing else.
There is a huge caveat here: Some of us don’t want to jump in the sack, and it’s not because of self-judgment or internalized misogyny — it’s because we just don’t want to. We’re all wired differently, and for some women, attraction builds more slowly.
If I’m not instantly attracted, there will be no slow build — it just won’t happen, even if the guy is brilliant, hilarious, kind and otherwise perfect. If I can’t get it up for him in the first five seconds, I never will. I suspect there are more women like me out there, but there are few examples in our culture, outside of Samantha Jones, and lately, Amy Schumer, for us to relate to. These characters have been judged for being oversexed — but maybe they’re just like you and me — just braver.
I believe that lust can become love as easily as love can precede lust — as in the cases where two friends eventually hook up. But privileging one over the other is a cultural construct born of rom-coms — not of real life.