l want to take a stab at responding to the query from Liberal Heterodoxy I mentioned yesterday. Given my position on older men/younger women relationships, and upon sexual ethics in general, he asks "How can a feminist man get laid?"
He receives some responses in the comments here and at his place. Many of the answers to his blunt but important question are very good, and I urge readers to have a look.
When confronted with a question like that from HL (that's what others are calling him), I can't answer solely from a secular, pro-feminist perspective. Though some of my more conservative friends consider me insufficiently orthodox (small "o"), my Christian beliefs inform both my feminism and my view of sexual morality. More than anything else on this blog, I've tried to make the case that feminist ideas about agency and pleasure and Christian ideas about restraint and commitment and radical giving are not ultimately incompatible, even if most of the loud voices in the culture wars insist that they are.
So, I'm not interested in providing men -- or women -- with advice on how they can "get laid" outside of the context of a loving, committed, mutually sacrificial relationship. I've toyed many times with writing my own list of "dating tips", based on personal experience. But I've shied away from doing so for several reasons. One, it would come across, I think, as very narcissistic (and I get charged with that enough as it is.) It's true that in my adult life, for any number of reasons, finding partners has not been difficult. But no one really needs me to rehash my dating and marital "war" stories. Too many people I know and love would much rather I consign those narratives to the past, and frankly, so would I -- I'm not interested in revisiting, over and over again, the triumphs and disappointments of a turbulent youth.
The other reason I won't offer advice on "how to get laid" to anyone is my reluctance to separate sexuality from broader issues of intimacy and commitment. Though I recognize that it's possible, from a secular feminist perspective, to reconcile casual, uncommitted sex with a radical belief in gender justice and equality, I have no interest in providing a rationale for it. There are plenty of articulate, interesting, voices in the secular blogosphere who can and do articulate a pro-sex feminist case. I respect many of these voices, even as my understanding of sexuality -- informed as it is by the church, Scripture, tradition and personal experience -- is different and more restrictive than theirs.
With all that said, here's the best answer I can give to a fellow like HL who wants to "get laid". The first thing you ought to do is ask yourself a basic question: Why should a woman -- any woman -- have sex with you? I don't intend that question to be flip or demeaning; I mean it very seriously. And I don't want an answer that goes into graphic detail about your (real or imagined) special and superlative sexual technique! Seriously, what are you really offering of value? Is it the promise of physical pleasure? Temporary companionship to assuage (and ultimately exacerbate) loneliness?
Really, I'm offering more or less the same advice here that I offered in this post two months ago on self-transformation. That post was focused on the broader issue of figuring out why someone ought to consider us worthy of dating or marrying. HL's question is more narrowly about sex, but my answer is still the same. From my perspective -- and this is only my own, not some edict from the pro-feminist high command -- a man who wishes to be an authentic pro-feminist while getting laid regularly by different women outside of the context of a committed relationship is living out a contradiction where his language and his life don't match.
I recognize within me a temptation to make pro-feminist principles easier for young men to embrace. I'd like to say something shallow and simple like "Hey, dude, as long as you are honest and sincere about your intentions, you can fuck around all you like -- just make sure to say nice things about respecting the humanity of your sexual partner, take equal responsibility for contraception, and be good in bed." It's tempting to give young men a free pass, the sort that allows them to indulge their sexuality with a clean pro-feminist conscience. But as far as I'm concerned, that amounts to giving men a license to objectify and use women as long they cloak their selfishness in pro-feminist rhetoric!
I can hear the howls of protest already: "Hugo, aren't you being incredibly paternalistic by suggesting that women are 'objectified" and 'used' by men? What about women's sexual agency? What about women who want casual sex from men and nothing more?" Look, I'm not denying that plenty of women have libidos that are not entirely wrapped up in romance and dreams of commitment! I have no false illusions about female sexuality, or about the ability of women to use others for their pleasure. But as a pro-feminist man, my first task is to witness to my brothers and call them to account. What would be patronizing is if I were to focus my advice primarily on young women -- and it's because I want to avoid that sort of charge that I direct my words to the fellas.
In the pursuit of sexual fulfillment, verbal candor is not enough for an authentic pro-feminist. Real honesty, real integrity, comes only when the actions of our bodies, the words on our lips, the thoughts in our heads and the deepest desires of our hearts are all congruent, all matching, all in harmony. At its best, pro-feminism is about more than paying lip service to the idea of gender equality. It's about seeing all human beings -- including those human beings whom we find incredibly desirable -- as extraordinarily precious. It's about recognizing that all of our actions -- how we eat, how we spend our money, how we make love -- have real and enduring significance, and a real effect on the lives of other equally precious living creatures. When we really grasp that aspect of pro-feminism, we can't help but be awed by the huge responsibility we have to be mindful of everything we do. And there is nowhere we need to be more mindful and careful than in the explosive and exciting world of sexuality, where our carelessness and our selfishness has such great capacity to harm others and ourselves.
So I'm sorry, I can't offer advice to anyone on "how to get laid". If that refusal makes my version of pro-feminism seem unappealing or strangely puritanical, so be it. But I'm not going to compromise what I believe to be essential principles about sexuality, humanity, and justice for the sake of winning a greater number of young men to the pro-feminist cause.
UPDATE: Long and provocative response from HL here.