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Sex and the Single Girl

Where is today’s Helen Gurley Brown telling women that it’s OK to have casual sex?

You’re single, let’s say by choice not chance, and you have a full, happy life. There’s only one thing missing — sex. How do you get it?

This was a question posed on a private singles group moderated by social scientist and singles advocate Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. During a radio show interview, the host asked DePaulo about sex, assuming that for single people, getting sex means having a series of one-night stands.

Of course, that isn’t the only way — it’s one way. But it did get a few of us singles to question, well, just how do we go about getting sex?

First, let’s not make assumptions. Some people are just not that interested in sex. Much has been written about the lack of interest in sex in Japan, but there also has been a rise in the numbers of people in the States and elsewhere who identify as asexual — people who do not experience sexual attraction.

And, yes, there are plenty of people in committed relationships and marriages who aren’t having much sex, if any. It would seem like they have no excuse for not getting it on, but of course, there are many reasons why desire wanes after you’ve been in a relationship for a while. Still, there’s always the promise of sex if not the reality of it.

Not so if you are single. There’s rarely a promise. Just — for some — hope.

The many ways to get sex

So, how does one go about getting sex as a singleton?

Honestly, singles seem to have many more options for having sex than many committed monogamous couples have (except, perhaps, the ones in consensually non-monogamous partnerships).

Sluts and players

Still, there are problems for the ethically slutty singles among us.

When Kate Bolick’s book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own was published, she was shamed by a book reviewer for being single yet having “a nearly seamless string of long-term, serious relationships with men” and who questioned “how well she understands living a life truly alone.”

Wait, what? Does living alone mean being alone 24/7 with no relationships at all, sexual or not? Are singles not allowed to have “long-term, serious relationships with men”? How about with women? How about with men and women? How about just one long-term, serious relationship? How about this — we accept that being single doesn’t necessarily look the same for every single person?

Just as bad is how singles are judged for expressing their sexuality — too much sex and you’re promiscuous, a slut or a player. Not getting any? Aw, that’s too bad but, “What did you expect if you don’t want to couple up and settle down?” Meanwhile, it’s just as messy if you are married and still not getting any, as the singer Pink recently revealed. I’m not sure why so many people are worried about how much sex people are getting, or not, but evidently a lot of people are.

And, of course, women have been told that we can’t do casual sex well for so long that we’ve internalized that message and generally accept it as true, although at a certain age — aka midlife — a lot of us feel more confident and comfortable with casual sex. What if we got different messages, though? How would that change the way we felt about sex as single women in our 20s and 30s? Where’s today’s Helen Gurley Brown — the late Cosmo editor in chief and Sex and the Single Girl author who helped single women in the 1960s realize that they could have a fulfilling solo life by indulging in casual sex?

Sex can be wonderful and challenging whether we’re single, married, coupled, gay, straight, young, old or anything in between and beyond. We may not always be able to get it when we want it, in the way we want it. Still, being single isn’t a handicap when it comes to getting and enjoying sex, “meaningful” or not.

Want to learn how to have an open relationship? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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