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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

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I'm a single, middle-aged man. I enjoy dating but do not want to get into a serious relationship. I enjoy sex, but sex seems to just ruin friendships because women like exclusivity. It's hard just to be friends with a woman if you are having sex. Makes me feel obligated. So I tell my female friends I don't believe in sex before marriage. Most are just fine with that. But I'm lying. I visit a prostitute about twice a month. She's young and drop-dead gorgeous. Her price is cheaper than a nice dinner for two, and she fulfills all my fantasies. There is no way any women I date near my own age can possibly compete. I'm happy having my platonic girlfriends and a prostitute on the side. Is that wrong?

It sounds like you want to have your cake and eat it too-both no-strings-attached sex and romantic/dating relationships with a number of women. There's nothing wrong with seeing a sex worker (aside from obvious legal issues and the fact that it sounds like she's worth a lot more than you're paying her). There's also nothing wrong with having close nonsexual relationships with women. What's wrong with this situation is your dishonesty and your assumptions about what women want out of sexual relationships.

When you say that you tell female friends that you "don't believe in sex before marriage," it sounds to me like you are implying that marriage might be a future possibility in order to get these friends to invest in an emotional relationship with you. You say that you aren't interested in serious relationships right now, but bringing marriage into the picture when talking with your female friends paints a very different picture. You don't have to be having sex with someone in order for that person to develop strong feelings for you and perhaps want an exclusive relationship. So, one level of dishonesty that appears to be at work here is that you are leading women that you are dating to falsely believe that you are interested in a future long-term, sexual relationship with them. If you are letting people know that you're not interested in long-term relationships right now, that's somewhat better; then your friends know to expect neither serious commitment nor sex with you. I urge you and others in similar situations to be upfront with dating partners about the level of commitment you're able to give.

There's a second layer of dishonesty involved in saying that you don't believe in sex before marriage. Since you are in fact having sex right now, you misrepresent both your values and your actions. Stating that you believe that sex should happen only in the context of a long-term, monogamous relationship is a pretty strong ideological statement, one that appears to be the exact opposite of how you actually feel about sex. To me, that is as serious a lie as the one you tell when you say you're not having sex even though you have an ongoing relationship with a sex worker.

You make a sweeping statement that sex ruins relationships because women like exclusivity. Not all women (or men) are looking for an exclusive sexual relationship. I would argue that when it comes to sexual relationships, people want to be able to make informed choices. They want to know what the parameters of their relationships with other people are: Is this going to be short-term or long-term? Monogamous or polyamorous? Where do I fit in to the other person's life? Your dishonesty takes away your girlfriends' ability to make informed choices, and instead manipulates them into making a choice that benefits you, but may not be the best for them.

If you want to have your cake and eat it too, I suggest telling the women that you are dating that you aren't interested in either a long-term relationship or a sexual relationship at this point in your life, but that you are interested in friendship and nonexclusive companionship. I don't think that it's necessary to say that you have an ongoing relationship with a sex worker, unless someone directly asks if you are sexually active. Honesty minimizes the risk that your friends will get hurt, and everyone deserves that kind of respect, even in short-term, nonsexual relationships.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them tolaura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns theTool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.

Photo by Lynn Allen of Black Sheep Photography