In an article dated yesterday, Meghan O'Rourke critiques recent statements by older conservative men to the effect that the sexual revolution has made young women "sad, lonely, and confused." It got me thinking how little these guys know. I certainly was never sad, lonely, or confused, despite happily taking full advantage of the sexual liberation available to young women of my generation.
At age 18 (approximately 15 years ago) I had zero experience of the opposite sex other than palling around with a number of guys in high school and going to a couple of proms. I wasn't interested in any of these guys sexually or romantically so I made sure that I was never in a situation where any of them could come on to me in any way. I just didn't give them the opportunity. Besides, I was kind of an academic grind so I didn't have time for any nonsense or complications.
By the time my first year of college rolled around, I was wondering what I was missing out on. That summer, I went out on about a zillion dates to try figure out if there was anyone I liked well enough to become involved with. I went on a lot of bad dates. Towards the end of the summer, I became aware of a co-worker at my job who seemed not only good looking but intelligent, funny, and artistic. At 24, he was several years older than I. Nonetheless, I worked up the courage to ask him to lunch. He seemed thrilled to be asked. We had a great time at lunch and he asked me to go bar hopping with him the next night. I determined in advance that if still liked him by the end of the night, I would ask him back to my parents' apartment (my parents were away) and so I did. (I actually asked him back for coffee and literally made him coffee.) In any event, I wound up sleeping with him that night. (I should point out that we practiced safe sex and contraception, and that I had asked some mutual friends about him to try to assure myself that he wasn't an axe murderer.)
It was great. I was quite pleased with myself the next morning. I was well aware that it could have been a one-night thing but it was a positive experience for me, so I didn't mind. I walked my date to his job the next day. That night I called him to make plans for the weekend. We wound up dating each other exclusively for the next three years. Much later, this guy told me that he had meant to treat that first date as a one-nighter. He changed his mind because he was amazed and intrigued that I would be confident enough to call him after having slept with him. (In my naivete at the time, it never occurred to me that I would be expected to mope around by the phone waiting for him to call me.)
My relationship with this guy was a lot of fun, but we were fundamentally incompatible and I don't think we were ever in love. I don't think either of us was too heartbroken when the relationship ended. I then spent two years relishing the single life in England and then in law school. I went on a lot of dates but never even kissed anyone; there were men I enjoyed being with but with whom I never got to the point of wanting to get physical.
In law school, I became friendly with a neighbor in my student apartment building. We'd chat in the hallway and we always really clicked. One day, he asked me to come in for a beer and to watch some TV. I wound up sleeping with him. A year later, he asked me to marry him and I said yes. We have been together for a total of ten years and happily married for seven. Although I never had marriage on the agenda until my husband proposed, marriage has been an incredibly life-enriching and fulfilling experience for both of us.
In sum, my sexual and romantic life has been overwhelmingly positive. I attribute my happiness in this regard to three factors: (1) dumb luck; (2) good sexual ethics (practicing safe sex, practicing contraception, and respecting my sexual and romantic partners); and (3) the opportunity to make my own choices without shame or negative social consequences.
Now, I don't mean to imply that my behavior was risk-free. I clearly did take risks, but I chose those risks with my eyes wide open while also taking intelligent measures to reduce those risks. Nonetheless, my birth control could have failed and I could have wound up with a pregnancy for which I was unprepared. Despite practicing safe sex, I took some risk of contracting a disease. My partners could have turned out to be dangerous. In fact, I did endure one negative consequence of my premarital sexual activity. I contracted HPV which led to a pre-cancerous condition called cervical displasia. Because I am in the habit of going to the doctor for routine check-ups, it was caught early. I underwent minor surgery to have the displasia removed. My doctors advise me that I am in the clear as my displasia has not returned since. (I understand that there is now a 100% effective vaccine to prevent contraction of current forms of HPV.)
In sum, I have no regrets. At age 34, I have emerged from my younger adulthood with my pride and dignity intact. Although I am in a very "respectable" monogomous relationship, I remain grateful to this day that I grew up in an era where I could exercise autonomy and control over my own sexual choices without shame or social stigma.
(Thank you to Amanda at Pandagon for pointing out the O'Rourke article. Amanda's own post on this is called "To be truly happy, American women should simply turn into Realdolls." She demostrates beyond all doubt the insulting nature of the assumption that men won't get married if they are able to get sex outside of marriage.)