Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Feel It In My Fingers, I Feel It In My Toes

It must be spring, because we're talking about sex again.

Althouse had a thread about prostitution in New Zealand and, predictably, like clockwork, the "all women are whores" meme surfaced. Though this was "all women trade sex for material goods" which is the complement to "all men pay for sex," I guess. (You don't hear "all men are johns", much, though, do you?)

I stayed out and let Freeman tangle with it for a while, and then Darcy added her two cents, and finally--I swear, it's like a mouse to cheese, putting up these dubious philosophical propositions--I caved and wrote a very lengthy response. Which I'm going to repost here and add a few things because, believe it or not, I had even more to say.

First off, the emphasis is wrong. And men are likely to make this mistake because they're so strongly sex driven, but relationships aren't "about" sex. Sex is part of a relationship. If it's the reason for your relationship, you probably are better off with a prostitute or--if you're more monogamously inclined--a mistress.

But it's such an impoverished view of the whole man-woman dynamic. Anyway, here's what I wrote, with some additional notes:

Actually, the theme of the "cheapskate girlfriend" is not at all uncommon in a relationship where the woman has or controls the money. That particular phrase isn't common, I'd grant. ("Stingy bitch", maybe.) This reflects more the fact that men don't complain much about their women not giving them money because society associates masculinity with economic prowess.

Women talking about cheapskate men was used as evidence of their material natures. But women also complain of stingy lovers and, truthfully, stinginess in all areas of life. Sometimes people just complain. Other times, well, it's easier to say "He's tight with money" than "he doesn't love me."

And, certainly, women make this association, too, to a degree. Women who use this as their primary criterion are known as "gold diggers", a phrase which most wouldn't appreciate as a descriptor much more than "whore".

Saying that "most women trade sex for material goods at one time or another" but then trying to defend it as "well, it's not professional, so they're not whores" seems a bit specious to me. Isn't "trading sex for material goods" the very definition of prostitution? How is it not "professional" if they're getting paid for it? Are they pro-am?

I also don't buy Sofa King's addition of "a close personal relationship", either. The phrase was "material goods". There's a qualitative difference between "close personal relationship" and "jewelry".

There was a little sleight-of-hand here. Revenant used the word "material" and Sofa King added relationships as something men give women for sex. This is one of the creepier notions. Young people get into relationships because of sex--and, certainly, women were traditionally the gatekeeper ("no sex until we're married") because they were risking more.

I'll get into this more later, but sex <> sex. In other words, if a man and a woman have sex, it's not necessarily an equal exchange. In fact, it's probably almost never an equal exchange. The woman's risk is greater, partners' sexual apettites are almost always going to be different or out of sync, and just the raw value of time and attention is unequal from person-to-person.

Men and women in relationships do things that lead to sex. You could cynically attach a monetary value to all those things, and say they were both trading things for sex.

This is belied by the fact that the exchanges continue even when sex isn't in the picture. And sex continues even when there's no material trade.

One might: have sex to strengthen a unit that better survives in the word; have sex to get pregnant; have sex because it has a physiological and psychological benefit for your partner; have sex just for sex--because it's fun.

None of this is prostitution or "trading for material goods". Most of it falls into the category of "moral".

Sofa King actually said "What is the moral basis for saying that any one of these forms of compensation is superior to any other?" Which is just kind of silly. Morality has all kinds of things to say about when sex is okay and when it's not. Sex is one of the driving forces of morality.

But the part that made Darcy sad and which I thought was--well, demonstrably false as well as cynical--was when Rev said "A guy who tries building a relationship on kind words and deeds and going dutch on everything isn't going to get any. The relationship is probably going to die early on, too."

If I were to make an observation about women, it might be that they're shallow. I'd say the same thing about men, too, though, and I'd add a caveat: They're superficially shallow. Heh. That is to say, we all judge based on outward appearances at first. Guys go for the pretty girl, women go for the rich guy--and, frankly, I've never seen good looks work against a man, or money work against a girl.

But ultimately, most of us look a little deeper, and a guy can go a long way on kindness--even if he doesn't mean it.

As clichéd as all this stuff about women + gifts is, isn't there also a cliché about the poor young couple starting out with nothing but love? (True story: A friend of mine is celebrating his wife's birthday by taking her to the park and picking flowers from their garden, etc. Guaranteed he's "getting some" tonight.)

There are a lot of other clichés that don't fit neatly into the women-as-whore paradigm. Lots of men are supported by women. Medical students hook up with nurses (and then when they're established drop them for showgirls). Starving artists hook up with waitresses. Starving artists mutually work menial jobs, supporting each other as best they can.

No, in practice, there are only a few situations where this idea works out at all.

Do women sometimes receive an expensive gift that they respond to with sex? Sure. Some relationships degenerate to the point where the only worthy expression of affection is money from him and sex from her.

But in a healthy relationship--one that isn't going to end when her beauty or his money runs out--when an expensive gift moves a woman to sex, it's because it represents something else: The attention of the male and his demonstration that he values her, that he's willing to work or sacrifice for her, and so on.

In other words, there is an exchange going on. It's just not a material one.

Rev and I have locked horns many times over materialism. He's a materialist; he believes in nothing but matter. I think that's pretty silly because, you know, why would I bother with a piece of meat? Heh.

But a materialist is sort of stuck here: If there is no spiritual component to life then there has to be a material exchange of some sort, if you are kind to someone, that has to trigger something in their brain that releases a chemical that makes them feel good, or some damn thing.

In the stereotypical situation, where the man wants sex more than the woman, his sexual attention is at less of a premium. It can be self-centered. If she's not in the mood, sex can be her gift to him. (Wise women know this and wise men appreciate it.)

But how does he reciprocate? However good and considerate a lover he may be, where's the exchange in terms of doing something for your partner that you wouldn't necessarily be inclined to?

You think women respond to expensive gifts? Try doing the dishes. Paint a room. Fix something around the house. Rub her feet. Give her a back rub (that doesn't end up as a breast massage). Try easing her burden a little bit. Do something you wouldn't do except that it makes her feel good.

Try writing a poem or a song or doing something that demonstrates her place in your heart. Yeah, you stink at it, and it's embarrassing, but she loves it. Perform it in front of an audience.

Hell, just show her affection during day-to-day life. Maybe you both have jobs and kids and things are crazy, but you give out the same sort of "we're on our honeymoon" types of signals as you pass in the hallway, and see if that that diamond ring doesn't turn brass.

The "sex for stuff" paradigm only works with particular sorts of relationships with particular sorts of women.

Most women won't put up with it.

Boy, is that last line true. My favorite female commenters: knox, Darcy, Freeman, Ruth Anne, Amba--I can see them kicking a guy in the nuts who gave them a shiny bauble and expected sex in exchange for it. Women with any sense of self-esteem have a sharp sense of when you're calling them a whore, no matter how masked.

Women are funny that way: They'll give freely and generously something you couldn't ever buy from them.


  1. Your comment laid it out.

    What a pathetic thread. If those are the women that they know, they need to get to know better women. I have a lot of friends. I don't have a single friend into expensive baubles. And yet, there's a lot of sex going on...

    Also, by their rationale, if relationships are mere exchanges of sex for material goods, why is it that every beautiful woman isn't married to a rich man and vice versa? I know numerous gorgeous women married to men of extremely limited means and also numerous wealthy men married to women of very average sex appeal. Of course you can find people who only want material goods or who only want to get laid, but such people are not the norm and certainly not to be emulated.

    The moral bankruptcy of the outlook on display in that thread is indicative of the moral bankruptcy of materialism.

  2. I agree with Freeman, that thread was awful. Speaking for myself, I've never felt "strongly sex driven" in my relationships. The ones I enjoyed least tended to overemphasize the sexual side, and my favorites were multidimensional, often in ways that have surprised me. (usually in a good way!) I fall in love with the whole package, not just the pretty wrapping. I just have taken that for granted for so long I don't even think about it anymore.

  3. Thanks, Blake.

    Great thoughts, you guys.

  4. Be honest with me, ladies: If you had the vaguest inkling that you were the recipient of a gift, and that gift was a trade, as Rev has it, for sex, wouldn't you be creeped out?

    I would be! On either side. It'd make me call my whole relationship into question. One. Does. Not. Barter. With. Sex.

  5. No woman will ever doubt the sincerity of a man's love and commitment if he gifts her with a diamond necklace previously owned by the last Empress of Russia.

  6. I'm sorry I overlooked this thread at Althouse. Great comments over there, Freeman, Darcy, and Blake.


    A guy who tries building a relationship on kind words and deeds and going dutch on everything isn't going to get any. The relationship is probably going to die early on, too. patent bullshit. Sorry, but when men--or women--complain about this sort of thing, my immediate thought is "you really don't know how to pick 'em." (Of course, it's difficult to respond that way without getting personal.) I never dated a guy who acted like he could get in my pants after dinner and a movie, flowers, or some other outlay of cash.

    This: the poor young couple starting out with nothing but love basically describes my husband and me to a T! We BOTH considered an engagement ring a foolish indulgence in our circumstances, and our honeymoon (on a budget!) our wedding gift to each other.

    Anyway, I understand why all of it made Darcy sad; it made me sad too. They reduced women--and men--down to their lowest possible motivations, and then tried to act like "what's the big deal, we're just being honest here."

  7. wouldn't you be creeped out?


  8. wouldn't you be creeped out?

    Yup here too.

    No woman will ever doubt the sincerity of a man's love and commitment if he gifts her with a diamond necklace previously owned by the last Empress of Russia.

    Oh really? I think I would question that the man knew me at all as that gift would speak to complete ignorance about what I like and appreciate.

  9. Unanimously creeped out. :)

    And thanks, knox.

  10. Al Capone, who knew about these things, said that you can get more with a kind word and a diamond necklace than just a kind word....A fair minded woman would also factor in the possibility that an extravagant gift is perhaps an expression of extravagant affection. Such gifts are given not in contemplation of sex but in gratitude for kindness.

  11. In matters of love and relationships, I always turn to the wisdom of ... Al Capone.


  12. LOL, knox.

    But William, while I understand the point you are making, and it is one of the same points Blake made, your view is not what most of us were having trouble with.

    Gifts given as an expression of affection and not in anticipation of any sort of reward sexually are matter the value.

  13. If love is sought as a child seeks gifts, from giving to getting the value then shifts

  14. Jeeez, I am glad I missed all this girly stuff.

    When I saw it was about whores I passed right over it.

  15. Blake,

    You said "all women are whores". Freeman said "all women are whores". I didn't. Neither did Sofa. That's just how you decided to restate my words, because it suited your purposes to make me sound like a misogynist.

    So your whining about how nobody says "men are johns" is dishonest. The reason I didn't say "all men are johns" is that I was unwilling to follow your and Freeman's apparently-preferred approach of stating my position in the most insulting way possible.

    So go fuck yourself if you can't be honest, ok?

  16. Rev,

    OK, here are your exact words, "Most women trade sex for material goods at one time or another."

    OK: "all women are whores" isn't exactly precise, "all women are whores at one time or another" is exactly what you're saying, and even further supported by your next sentence:

    "It is just that few do it without the euphemisms that surround an intimate relationship."

    Euphemisms? Euphemisms for what, Rev?

    Who's not being honest, here?

  17. Euphemisms? Euphemisms for what, Rev?

    Euphemisms for trading sex for material goods.

    Yes, I know that you insist on calling anyone who does this "a whore". That's your problem, not mine. I explained to you that I don't think the word "whore" applies unless it is a professional activity, and even then is an insulting term.

    Most (not all) women trade sex for material possessions at one time or another. Most (not all) men trade material possessions for sex at one time or another. If you want to take the juvenile approach of saying "women are whores, men are johns" then go ahead and do so. But don't try to pass that off as my position, because that isn't what I said. That's like if I said that Barack Obama was a lazy and unintelligent black guy with no respect for the law and you told people I called him a "nigger".

  18. Oh.

    So your problem is one of nomenclature?

    What if I had summarized this as "Most women are prostitutes sometimes"?

  19. "Most women are prostitutes sometimes"?

    Yeah, and pardon some of us women for taking offense to that. Rev, you can use or not use the names that exist in society to coincide with the definition "trades sex for material goods," but either way it's (1) incorrect and (2) offensive.

    On most other topics, you're one of my favorite commenters. On this topic, you've managed to piss me off (something that's hard to do) because you generally seem very reasonable, and yet here you are accusing most all women of trading sex for possessions. WTF? No. Sorry. That's certainly the reality for certain women, but most women? Not even.

    Or is this a regional thing...? :)

  20. A guy who tries building a relationship on kind words and deeds and going dutch on everything isn't going to get any. The relationship is probably going to die early on, too.

    I've got a ring and twenty-one years that contradict this claim.

  21. It's more accurate to say

    "Most women/men I KNOW OF blah blah blah."


    "It's been my experience that women/men blah blah blah."

    No one knows most people. We are limited to those we have met directly, or indirectly through acquaintances.

    "If those are the women that they know, they need to get to know better women."

    Couldn't have said it better.

  22. I can be on both sides of this fence.

    When I was younger I ran with a crowd where a kind word to a women would get you nowhere; and a kind word and a cigarette would get you everywhere, anytime.

    I changed crowds, and met my wife.

    On the all women are whores debate:

    What would it take to disprove this? When all women are making the money, buying the presents for AND still giving sex to the man?

    I think you need to break this down along age lines. When a man is 13-30 all he wants from a relationship is sex. From 30 to 60 sex is the bonus from the relationship, and from 60 on sex is nostalgic, and the relationship is boss. These ages are approximate, and your mileage may vary. Women may have similar drive changes, but I am smart enough not to generalize about something I don’t know anything about.

    Hell, you can even see the change on the single guys. Why did I quit running with one crowd and start running with another? I was tired of cheap sex and wanted a relationship. There are also men who will marry the whore, because they never want a relationship; just the sex, and trade whores when the attraction of the sex wears off or one of the parties wants a relationship and the other does not.

    Do the golddiggers exist? Hell yes. Will anyone deny that there are attractive women who have sold their bodies into a marriage for the man’s money or position? Look at Ann Heche, who probably ‘went lesbian’ solely to help her career for cryin’ out loud.

    Simply put, I have to quote O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?; I’m with you fellers.

    I don’t believe either side is wrong, or right. I think each side is viewing a large, complex issue through a very narrow lens and developing conclusions based on a small sample of the information.

  23. Well I don't think any of us are denying that goldiggers exist. Any episode of "The Real Wives of _________" will prove that.

    It's the implication that goldigging motivations apply to every relationship; if not often, then inevitably, at some point or another.

    I never had sex in exchange for loot. I never dated a guy who acted like he expected it. Do I know of people who behave this way? Sure.

    But saying that most or all relationships function this way is just wrong. In both senses of the word.


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