How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘sexual attraction’

Sharing The Initiative

Courtship consists of a number of quiet attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, nor so vague as not to be understood.
—Lawrence Sterne

The person who makes the first move toward a relationship takes a certain amount of risk. He must declare himself in some way or another so that the stranger knows he’s interested in becoming better acquainted with her. If this is done very casually, then little of his self-image is at stake; if it’s done more seriously and more deliberately, then the person taking the risk is more vulnerable.

In traditional dating-based courtship, it fell to the man to take all of this emotional risk. The first move was always his. I doubt that this has changed very much even today. The very first move is still likely to be a male move, and both people may be more comfortable with that.

However, courtship is no longer only a one-way process, or it need not be. It is nice to be courted and to passively let a new friendship happen; it is also nice to court and to be more assertive about it. The very best scenario is when the two roles are interchangeable from one point in time to the next as they are when friendships are formed between same-sex friends.

Victor Hugo observed that the first symptom of love in a young man is timidity, but the first symptom of love in a young woman is boldness. The two sexes have a tendency to approach, and each assume the qualities of the other. This move toward androgyny and toward mutuality is certainly conducive to better relationships and to fewer misunderstandings. Yet how to go about it is often less than obvious.

The Flirtation

The Flirtation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the initiation of relationships, as in other aspects of sexuality, there remain vestiges of the double standard. The first approach which is made shouldn’t be too forceful for either sex. But being obvious and blatant is more or less acceptable for almost all men—or at least all men who have a reasonable claim to being your social equal. While being blatant may be “acceptable,” it is becoming increasingly less enticing to women, and a more subtle approach is preferred. Being obvious and blatant is equally bad form for a woman—even an emancipated one. More importantly, it is unlikely to achieve your desired ends.

The woman who sets out to court a man has a double task: how to take the initiative, and how to take the initiative without seeming to take the initiative. She must be explicit without being obvious. She must be evocative without being provocative.

It’s no wonder women do not yet know how to act in this role, and men don’t know how to respond.

To Choose, To Court, To Woo, To Win

The pleasantest part of a man’s life is generally that which passes in courtship, provided his passion be sincere and the party beloved, kind, and discreet. Love, desire, hope, all the pleasing motions of the soul, rise in the pursuit.
—Joseph Addison

Traditionally, the term “courtship” has been used to refer to something which a man does to a woman. He goes to court her, he pays court to her, he woos her; and if he is successful, he beds her and, maybe, later weds her as well. “To court” is an active verb, but traditionally, it is the man who does the acting.

Within the context of the new roles of a lover that I have been focusing on in my posts, women also have an active part to play in the formation and conduct of relationships. It follows, therefore, that courtship will become a two-way process. He will still court her sometimes. But on some occasions, she will also court him.

The new courtship may be the pleasantest part of a woman’s life as well. If, as I’ve suggested in my posts, men don’t yet have enough practice at being sex objects to do it very well, it’s also true that women don’t have enough practice at courting to do it very well. The process is, or should be, subtle. The result should be flattering and pleasant whether the courtship itself is successful or not. In addition, men need to learn to let themselves be courted; and often that means that you, as a woman, must teach the man in question this role, if it is unfamiliar to him. If you are going to presume to pick a lover, then you must do more than collect applications and sift through them: you must also be willing to pay court to him. Doing this requires essentially the same attentiveness and delicacy that one would hope to find in a lover who is courting you.

Even though we are in the 21st century, the new courtship is a revolutionary idea for many. Traditionally, women have been trained to seek out relationships by making themselves as attractive as possible and then to wait hopefully to see who might come along and take notice of them. They follow what amounts to a cupcake method of courting: they sit like cute little cupcakes, complete with icing, and wait to be gobbled up. Consider the celebrated ski bunny who wiles away her day in the ski chalet bundled in a fashionable sporting outfit, patiently waiting for the ski wolves, filled with the rush of adrenaline to return from the slopes to gobble her up.

Stop trolling !

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The new courtship isn’t so passive. Consider a metaphor from the world of fishing. One way of fishing is called trolling. When you go trolling, you move your bait slowly through the water behind a trawler, and various kinds of fish may or may not bite. In traditional courtship, women were trolling for suitors. The bait was put out there: some suitors took the bait and were hooked and reeled in; some just swam away.

The new courtship is more like fly casting. In fly casting, you are after a specific kind of trout which is found in a specific location and is tempted by a specific kind of fly. You must make just the right fly dance temptingly before just the right trout to get your fish. In trolling, you have to reel in your line to see what you have caught and then decide whether or not to keep it. In fly casting, if you do hook a fish, you know in advance it will be one you want.

It is worth remembering, while exploring metaphors, that both kinds of fishing require patience. And fishers of all kinds, like women of all kinds, are prone to exaggerate the wondrous qualities of the ones that got away.

Sex For The Joy Of It

In real life, women are always trying to mix something up with sex—religion or babies or hard cash; it is only men who long for sex separated out, without rings or strings.
—Katharine Whitehorn, Man’s Ideal Woman

Back in 1913, H. M. Swanwick speculated in The Future of the Woman’s Movement that women of the future would have men on only honorable terms—“love and liberty and mutual service”—or would go without. Nearly a hundred years have now passed and the projected future has presumably arrived, but many women are still settling for other terms as well. Many women, but not all of them.

If you can, pick a lover because he is the kind of man who turns you on and for no other reason. If you can pick such a lover, then determine the time and the place where you will make love. If you can pick such a lover, then share with him a mutually responsive and guided experience. If you can do all this, then you have a chance to enter the erotic world in the full sense of the phrase. And if you are very lucky, then you have a chance to explore the other limits of the realm of the senses.

If you think sex is not all that wonderful, then you’re not doing it with the right man.

 

Freedom Of Choice, Freedom To Choose

You cannot decree women to be sexually free when they are not economically free.
Shere Hite

If you ask a young man his thoughts about being a gigolo, he would likely reply with some scorn that this isn’t a role for a “real man” and that the man who does take up such a role must not be good for anything else. The same young man, however, would be pleased if his sister were dating a rich man who was generous with her, even if that rich man was of questionable physical appeal and devoid of personality.

If you asked the same young man what he would think of finding a rich woman to marry, he would likely reply with some variation on the aphorism, “The man who marries for money earns it.”

Gold Diggers

Gold Diggers (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

For the man who thought of this homily, it was, perhaps, an insight. For women, however, marrying money and then having to “earn” it is a fact of life that every girl of sixteen has already considered to be a clear and present option as well as a clear and present danger. If she marries for money, she expects to earn it. She is expected to give up control of her life in exchange for a comfortable lifestyle which will be afforded her as long as she submits to her husband’s will.

The young man who arbitrarily rejects a money marriage for himself sees no inconsistency in his profound hope that his cherished little sister will have a “good” marriage, which means a marriage to a man of means even if he is a little dull. For the woman of few resources, a husband to take care of things may be the only solution. With limited education and paltry self-confidence, it may well be better for her to marry for money than to work for peanuts.

If a woman is financially dependent upon a man, she is in his power, no matter how generous he is with her. It’s the degree of financial dependence which determines, in large part, the degree of power. Women need to obtain their own resources and to be content to live on them, however modest. If they can achieve a minimum standard of living for themselves, then sexual barter is not necessary.

If a woman has sexual freedom and has a degree of financial and social independence, then she has a new option. She has the luxury of choosing someone to love, and perhaps to marry, not because he is rich and not because he desires her, but because she desires him. Or better still because they desire each other.

Billie Holiday says it well when she sings ruefully, “Mama may have, Papa may have, but God blessed the child who’s got her own.”

Don’t Be a Working Girl

The prostitute is the only honest woman left in America.
Ti-Grace Atkinson

While there may be nothing intrinsically wrong with selling your body, there is something wrong in ending up in an exchange of sexuality for some sort of gain when the situation occurs unintentionally.

There’s something decidedly wrong in selling your body when you are not fully aware of what you are doing. You’re being exploited when you’re conned or manipulated into a “deal” you didn’t want to make.

There is something decidedly unwise, and perhaps wrong, in selling your body when the rewards are slight and the exchange is unnecessary. Such selling is usually not worth the price in terms of its psychological and emotional costs.

The well-known feminist, Ti-Grace Atkinson, undoubtedly overstates her case when she claims that the prostitute is the only honest woman in America. However, it is valid to observe that there are many women who don’t think of  themselves as working girls who are dishonest about the extent to which they use their sexuality for nonsexual reasons. If you find yourself in a situation where you end up having sex for reasons other than the anticipation of a good sexual experience, then you are in fact acting like a working girl.

Working Girls (2010 film)

Working Girls (2010 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Margaret Sanger pioneered the Planned Parenthood movement and fought for birth control to free women from the tyranny of pregnancy. However, she also fought for freedom from sexual coercion. Writing way back in 1917 when such sentiments were not usually expressed, she declared, “A mutual and satisfied sexual act is of great benefit to the average woman, the magnetism of it is health-giving. When it is not desired on the part of the woman and she has no response, it should not take place. This is an act of prostitution, and is degrading to the woman’s finer sensibility, all the marriage
certificates on earth to the contrary notwithstanding.”

What Sanger is talking about is nothing like rape in the usual and violent sense of the word. It’s nothing like prostitution in the stereotypical sense of streetwalkers standing under streetlights and taking on all comers. What Sanger refers to is the not uncommon practice of women going to bed as a result of feeling sexually intimidated.

Respectable women, who don’t think of themselves as working girls, may have sex for many nonsexy reasons: for protection, for a new diamond necklace, for drugs or a fix, for simple companionship. Many young women act like working girls without realizing it. And having accepted this role, they wonder why it is that under these conditions, they don’t enjoy sex very much. They’re not in helpless situations, yet they continue to use their sexuality as an informal medium of exchange. Or sometimes they continue to put out simply because they feel they don’t have a choice.

If a man asks you to have sex with him, you need not be offended, but neither need you be obliging. A working girl may have sex in the absence of desire and may be tactful and cheerful in putting up with men who are unappealing or who are simply inept lovers. As a non-working girl, you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t. If you don’t want to have sex, your negative reply should be as polite as possible but also firm and unambiguous. The absence of desire is in itself sufficient reason to decline.

The correct answer to continued pressure and harassment from someone you don’t feel passionate about is quite simple. “Harry, you’re a toad. I don’t sleep with toads!” But even if the Harry in question is a toad, nice girls are too considerate and nice to say so in quite those terms. They might even imply it and have Harry look so injured and tearful they then have to go to bed with him just to provide reassurance that he’s not a toad.

The correct answer may be that you would rather watch television. That the room is too hot or too cold, and you are too energized or too tired, and he’s too big or too small, too young or too old, too this or too that. In any case, the correct answer is simply, “No, thank you, I don’t want to.”

It’s fine to let yourself be seduced, if you decide that’s what you want to happen. It’s not so fine to let yourself be coerced by force or by emotional blackmail. It’s not so fine to let yourself be bribed by presents or trips or dinners or promises of introductions or other benefits. Real sexual freedom, instead of the ersatz kind, is the ability to say no for the simple reason that this particular person, at this particular time, is resistible. When responding to a man’s unwanted advances, Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl, had this witty response, “You’re really lovely, but do you honestly suppose I can sleep with every man who asks me?”

If you pick a man because he really does understand pork-belly futures and he has the Swiss bank accounts to prove it, then you don’t have a right to complain that those are the only bellies he understands, and that he couldn’t find a clitoris even if he had a global positioning system at his disposal. If you want to enjoy your own sexuality, don’t be a working girl.

The Oldest Profession

It is a silly question to ask a prostitute why she does it. These are the highest paid “professional” women of America.
—Gail Sheehy, Hustling

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with selling your body. It is, after all, the oldest profession. And it is, after all, your body and you have a right to do with it what you will, including making some choices that others may think unpleasant or unwise.

There are a number of circumstances in which some or another variation of prostitution may be a rational choice. If you are young and powerless, if you are young and powerless and poor, then you use what you have. Eva Peron, who became a political icon in Argentina, was a major spokeswoman for los descamisados (the shirtless ones). She herself was born into a slum family and, it’s alleged, began her career as a teenage prostitute. Under such circumstances, when all that a woman has is an attractive body, it’s difficult to condemn her for doing the best she can with what she has.

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the ...

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a less dramatic level, the trade-offs involved in sexual exchanges can be very useful. Using your sexuality for nonsexual goals is a question of individual choice and is often a legitimate way to get what you want. In Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos quite rightly points out that “kissing your hand may make you feel very good, but a diamond is a girl’s best friend.” It’s more or less acceptable for nice girls to prefer men of wealth. While they may be considered gold diggers, they are also considered smart.

Granting sexual favors may not be necessary for survival, but it can be expedient. If the sex acts involved are at least not unpleasant, then having sex can be a convenient way of paying for dinner or of being nice or of exerting control or of creating a useful obligation.

If you want to get money from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick a rich one. The richer, the better. If you want to get favors from men, then there is no question about the kind of lover you should pick. Pick an influential one.

The exchange of sexuality for other favors can have important consequences. The legendary Hollywood “casting couch” is based on reality and has its equivalent in many other industries. Television celebrity Barbara Walters assures young women, “I didn’t get ahead by sleeping with people. Girls, take heart!” Perhaps she did not, but many have.

Many young women have come to realize that like Sally Stanford, the last grand “madam” in San Francisco who later became mayor of Sausalito, they too are “sitting on a fortune.” The folk wisdom is full of references to such exchanges, which don’t involve explicit prostitution but which do involve the trading of sex for nonsexual considerations.

It’s not only that one is advised to “go along in order to get along.” Women are also advised to “give head in order to get ahead,” and that happens at all levels. In a 1981 book The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, Irving Wallace reports that when Marilyn Monroe signed her first major contract, she is alleged to have exclaimed, “That’s the last cock I’ll have to suck.”

Tit for Tat: Sexuality and Exchange

The women who take husbands not out of love but out of greed, to get their bills paid, to get a fine house and clothes and jewels; the women who marry to get out of a tiresome job, or to get away from disagreeable relatives, or to avoid being called an old maid—these are whores in everything but name.
—Polly Adler, A House Is Not a Home

George Bernard Shaw, who was a master of one-liners, had a widely quoted conversation with a woman of note in which he asked if she would sleep with him for one million pounds. She said, “Of course.” “Well,” he said, “would you sleep with me for two pounds?” “Certainly not,” she said. “What kind of woman do you think I am?” “Madam,” said Shaw, “we have already established what kind of woman you are. We are merely haggling about the price.”

Cover of "Working Girls (Widescreen)"

If we define prostitution in terms of its minimum components, involving merely the performance of sexual acts motivated not by sexual desire but in exchange for some form of gain, then we cast a wide net. The impulse to go to bed, or to be taken to bed, is then based not on anticipation of joyous passion but on some other motive. The incentive may be as blatant as cold cash or as subtle as an improved chance for promotion, but it’s for something other than the sexual experience for its own sake.

One of the reasons it’s difficult to discuss prostitution objectively is that so many of the terms used to describe it are pejorative. Old-fashioned  terms like “tart” or “fallen women” or “harlot” sound strange in modern usage. The term “whore” is straightforward but very negative in tone. The terms “hooker” and “call girl” are less negative, but they refer to very specific kinds of activities.

The most neutral term is one now often used by prostitutes themselves, who refer to each other as “working girls” or “commercial sex workers.” By describing themselves as working girls, they convey the neutral attitude that prostitution is an industry like any other industry and that they are merely workers doing a different kind of work.

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