Margo Howard Sounds Off

Our beloved columnist clarifies her position on a charged topic: “friends with benefits”

To my wOw readers:

I gotta tell you, I haven’t created such a commotion with an answer to a letter since I wrote about handicapped toilets back in my “Dear Prudence” days. Many people suggested I accept ten lashes with a wet noodle … but, alas, my mother took the noodle with her.

The letter in question, of course, was from “John in Essex.” My English correspondent wrote this:

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

I answered:

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.

* * *

I now believe hell must have previously been anchored to who-knows-what, because it sure broke loose when I heard from countless numbers of women. The complaints were that I didn’t believe in sexual parity, I was endorsing a double standard, there really was no such things as “sluts,” I should have told John HE was a slut, and furthermore, I should retire. I was also taken to task for using the phrase “venereal disease” rather than STD. (I think physicians would disagree with this person.) Oh, and more than one person wrote that my having been married four times suggested I must have had “a colorful past” of my own. I acknowledge the colorful past, but I can tell you it never involved anyone I was not, well … involved with, and certainly not with anyone who phoned up and said “How about it?”

One writer said:

“This generation thinks that women can have fun if they should choose to this way and they have more to offer as a partner than their sisters who value virginity/purity/chastity. Instead of chastising us for that, celebrate it, or crack down on male sluts as well.”

I clearly didn’t craft my answer carefully enough, because I was somewhere between laughing and playing along. I mean, here is this guy saying Friends-With-Benefits is terrible … and he wishes he could find some of these women. By me, this is humorous. It was in no way reflective of me thinking that women are not free to do whatever they wish in the sex department. I have always believed that one can be busy, sexually, without being a slut. (Which, by the way, is a valid term if a woman’s #1 identifier is that she will sleep with anyone.)

The one thing I am not veering away from is that FWB can be totally without meaning, which I think is a shame. I do, in fact, believe that sex is recreation – for people who have a relationship. If people wish to engage in this pastime with casual friends, fine with me. I just think it takes away from any intimacy aspects of sex. And perhaps the word “slut” has become so expanded as to not mean to me what it means to others. I, for example, refer to myself as “a private plane slut.” I admit that I think FWB is an odd concept for, say, women over 45. I could be wrong. And I certainly wasn’t chastising anyone who chooses to live her life this way. I do not believe in a double standard. I do believe that women who are getting it on with anybody and everybody is the female equivalent of a womanizer. As I have said on Twitter, I wish there were a font for irony or sarcasm. For the readers who thought I was bashing women, I hope I have cleared up what my thinking actually is.

86 comments so far.

  1. avatar Briana Baran says:

    This is for Sadie BB. First and foremost, I am not certain what other sites that offer a “Reply” function you frequent, but I can assure you that none of the others I peruse have the defective, narrowing effect that this site uses. My husband, who is an IT administrator, and is extremely familiar with professional website design, finds WoW’s website maddeningly, but amusingly, dysfunctional.

    The acceptance of black people (which probably goes back much further than you are aware), women (once again), and gay people in the military was not promoted in the latter half of the 20th century, and currently, from within the military. The groups that support the Causes are civilian in nature by a vast majority. In the meanwhile, thousands, if not millions of black, female and gay people joined up, and served successfully, and made the point WITHOUT embracing A Cause, but by doing their jobs, and doing them well without wearing the hair shirt of an abused and discriminated against minority.

    I’d also like a source for your numbers vis a vis rape, sexual assault and harassment. You cited the DOD for statistics on improvements regarding prosecuting cases of harassment, assault and rape…but I could not find your statistics there.

    Of course, I have fairly firm convictions regarding the definitions of rape, assault and harassment…having experienced all three. Some people are very fuzzy about the latter two…a man putting his hand on a woman’s shoulder becomes “sexual assault”, and asking her to have dinner with him, even politely, more than once in less than a six month period is”sexual harassment”. I don’t believe in “there’s rape and then, well, there’s rape” (which may be why I object so strenuously to fans of Roman Polanski’s), and sexual assault should entail forcible sexual contact without penetration, or any *sexual* contact after a person…not just a woman…says “No”. O, and yes, I am clear, penetration can be with anything, anywhere. As for harassment, my definition is of undesired, long-term insistence on using unwanted suggestive language, vulgarity or innuendo, asking for sexual favors in return for advancement, a raise, or in order to maintain a current position or even keep a job, lewd gestures, sending of pornography with intent of obscenity, behaving in a provocative manner after being asked to stop, constant unwanted touching…I think you get my drift.

    But the idee fixe is impossible to loosen once its adamantine jaws clamp shut.

  2. avatar Sadie BB says:

    Another interesting link
    I do not know anything about this org so grain of salt…
    http://deploymentpsych.org/topics-disorders/sexual-assault-in-the-military