Dear Margo: It’s Generational

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

It’s Generational

Dear Margo: I often see references in your column (and elsewhere) to “friends with benefits.” Where can I find a woman like this? It sounds wonderful. I can have sex and do nothing for her in return. When did this “friends with benefits” start? When I was a young man, we used to call those women sluts. So today we rename the sluts, and they fall for it. I wish I were 30 years younger. I could use a friend with benefits. — John from Essex

Dear John: Thanks for the laugh. Your sly take on this subject is most likely shared by everyone who is middle-aged. My guess is that this new casual approach to what used to be something meaningful is post-sexual revolution, if not post-post-sexual revolution. Somehow the kids went off the rails and decided sex was just something to do … you know, like a video game or playing darts.

The women you call “sluts” I would call “loose,” and they have been around forever. That behavior, however, was not sanctioned, as it is now; there was usually a reputational price to pay, if not a venereal disease. (Those are still possible, by the way!) Around the 1780s, Count Talleyrand observed: “In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.” So you see, dear, the activity has remained the same; only the name has changed. — Margo, historically

Some Bumps on the Career Military Road

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

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

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

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


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211 comments so far.

  1. avatar jessica lewis says:

    Does anyone know how to unsubscribe from this thread? I have clicked on “Manage your subscriptions” at the bottom of the thread, and the link in the gazillion emails I’ve gotten with updates, and it tells me I don’t have access and need some key. Help!

  2. avatar JustChillPeeps says:

    So, where did Margo Howard Sounds Off go? I had to use my history to find that thread and see nothing anywhere explaining why it is no longer available. Too many really pissed-off readers maybe?

  3. avatar Briana Baran says:

    All righty then. Here is the Online Etymology (etymology is the study of the origin of words, for those not acquainted with the term, and no, I am NOT being condescending or sarcastic…yet) Dictionary’s description of the origin of “Slut”:

    “Slut: c.1400, “a dirty, slovenly, or untidy woman,” probably cognate with dialectal Ger. Schlutt “slovenly woman,” dialectal Swed. slata “idle woman, slut,” and Du. slodder “slut,” but the ultimate origin is doubtful. Chaucer uses sluttish (late 14c.) in reference to the appearance of an untidy man. Also “a kitchen maid, a drudge” (mid-15c.; hard pieces in a bread loaf from imperfect kneading were called slut’s pennies, 18c.). Meaning “woman of loose character, bold hussy” is attested from mid-15c.; playful use of the word, without implication of loose morals, is attested from 1660s.

    Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily. [Pepys, diary, Feb. 21, 1664]

    Sometimes used 19c. as a euphemism for bitch to describe a female dog. There is a group of North Sea Germanic words in sl- that mean “sloppy,” and also “slovenly woman,” and that tend to evolve toward “woman of loose morals” (cf. slattern, also English dial. slummock “a dirty, untidy, or slovenly person,” 1861; M.Du. slore “a sluttish woman”).”

    So, actually, many of you are wrong. “Slut” has not historically been a derogatory word in the sense we are seeing today, and its use as a pejorative meaning a woman of loose morals only seems to have begun in mid to late Victorian England, when the Christian Church was responsible for setting all laws governing contact between men and women, and all sexual behavior of both sexes.

    Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “slut” as: “Slut
    SLUT, n.

    1. A woman who is negligent of cleanliness, and who suffers her person, clothes, funiture, &c., to be dirty or in disorder.

    2. A name of slight contempt for a woman.” There were actually more names for a man who behaved lewdly, and was promiscuous (rakehell, rake, whoremonger, lech, debauchee, rakeshame) than there were for women.

    As far as I can tell, “slut” as a truly vicious pejorative meaning a totally untrustworthy woman with no self-respect whose sole purpose is sex with anyone, regardless of whom she hurts, including herself, did not gain its meaning until the mid-20th century. Like other words, in the 2000’s, it has gained an additional use (as in shoe-slut, shopping-slut, clothing-slut) in regard to doing anything to self-indulgent, ridiculous excess.

    English is a constantly…changing language. I’d say evolving, but I’d be lying, because the language is crumbling. Take alcoholic, and such terms as “sexaholic”, or workaholic”. People think and believe that “-aholic” is an actual suffix, but it’s just the end of the word “alcoholic” ( -oholic) altered by one letter. It is a colloquialism made real by constant use.

    As for “slut”, eventually it WILL lose its significance. “Nice” used to mean a girl who was a little to heavy with the make-up, and a little too free with her favors. “Easy” meant a girl who was a LOT too free with her favors, and was a serious pejorative. “Weird” once meant “fate”, and “queer” meant strange or peculiar as a noun, or ruined or messed up (as in, “He queered that deal”) as a verb.

    O, and the SlutWalk people have seriously twisted the etymology of “slut” on their websites to suit their needs. Too bad. That’s what happens all too often with Causes. It was NOT a horrible insult directed at sexually free women from its inception. Only relatively recently. To reinvent the past to gain credibility diminishes the Cause instead. Look at the Tea Ba…err…Party. And Fox News.

  4. avatar Parzifal5 says:

    I actually think men also judge their own sexual encounters as naughty, wicked, and dirty, but the difference is they are PLEASED by this; to them it means that they had great sex with someone they were very attracted to, or maybe they lived out a fantasy and it was even better than they imagined. It is a true mystery to me why a man would denigrate the woman who made that great experience possible. 

    I try to make it bearable by reminding myself that some men just aren’t good men and their opinions aren’t worth listening to. I think John should do us all a favor and just continue having a meaningful relationship with his hand and the internet.