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Why Random, Meaningless Sex Is a Bad Idea for Women

A young couple sitting hand-in-hand in a coffee shop

In the weeks following “Grace’s” babe.com tell-all about her bad date with actor-comedian Aziz Ansari, the internet has exploded with articles instructing women on how to date. Women should tell their partners “exactly what we want sexually, and how we want it,” suggested Roxanne Jones on CNN.com. HuffingtonPost quoted sex therapist Sarah Watson, who says that sexual pleasure is a woman’s “birthright.” Newsweek counseled, “Consent must be enthusiastic, it must be verbal, and it must be specific.” But hardly anywhere in these myriad articles did anyone suggest that a woman’s sexual experience would be improved if she got to know her partner first.

Call me old-fashioned, but I thought dating and sex were two different things. On a date, a woman can learn important things about her partner — things that may inform her decision about whether or not to have sex with him in the future. Is he polite, kind, and conscientious? Does she find him interesting? Does he make her laugh? Is he the kind of man she could imagine herself in a relationship with? And then — when she’s got a sense of who he is, if she likes him, and where the relationship is going — she can decide whether or not she wants to take things to the next level. But this, apparently, isn't a feminist-approved dating technique.

Much of the tension around dating in America today stems from the idea that sex is simply one item on a menu of things you might do on a first or second date with someone you barely know. Maybe you’ll have dinner, maybe you’ll see a movie, maybe you’ll have sex. But the fact that it’s physically possible to have sex with a stranger doesn’t mean that it’s safe — physically or emotionally — to do so.

Our current culture’s obsession with consent highlights this disconnect. Of course any sexual encounter should be consensual. But the idea of needing written consent as “a cautionary way for one person to ask permission to have sex with another” (as sexologist Dr. Ava Cadell suggests in Men's Fitness) seems like a step too far, assuming the couple is in an established relationship. People who know and trust each other are capable of sending clear messages about whether they want to have sex, and communicating with each other if something isn’t going well. A woman having sex with a man she doesn’t know, on the other hand, probably should have written consent — along with a portable panic button, a can of Mace, and a carload of male family members waiting outside.

The emphasis on physical pleasure — the idea that women deserve to derive as much pleasure from sex as men do — has eclipsed the idea of emotional connection. But the irony is: most women’s ability to derive pleasure during sex comes — at least in part — from their emotional connection to their partners.