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Sex, Revisited: Are We Simply Romantically Challenged, Or Are We Sluts?

"Can a healthy sex life obscure your ability to recognise, or even appreciate, romance?"

Sex and the City defined a generation of thinking on fashion, sex and dating. With a TV reboot in the works, we’re delving into some of  Carrie Bradshaw’s most seminal questions in a new mini-series: ‘Sex, Revisited’. Four writers will answer the questions through the lens of 2021 because we couldn’t help but wonder…

Are We Simply Romantically Challenged, Or Are We Sluts? by Courtney Thompson

Sitting down to coffee with a friend at a cafe, with the sun streaming through the auburn leaves, I was telling her about my recent sexual encounters when she paused and considered me.

“Courtney, you know what I’m really excited for? The day you come to me and say you’ve met someone you really like and are excited about.”

Her comment tells you everything you need to know about the current state of my love life, full of men who are a mix of rude, annoying and subpar to the point where I struggle to recall their names. They are, I’ll admit, numerous and even worse, incredibly forgettable. Which hadn’t been a problem until my friend’s remark made me realise how often I came to her with these kinds of stories.

She got me thinking: am I simply romantically challenged, or am I a slut?

The truth is, I’m probably both. But let’s go back 20 years to when a woman asked the same question under different circumstances.

Her name was Carrie, and she’d been dating furniture designer and perennial Good Guy Aidan for a couple of weeks. The problem? They hadn’t done the deed, and she was dumbfounded by his reticence to have sex. When she raised it with him, he reasoned that he was holding off because he was simply being a romantic. This prompted her to ask: “If you’re a thirty­something woman living in Manhattan and you refuse to settle, and you’re sexually active, it’s inevitable that you’ll rack up a certain number of partners, but how many men is too many men? Are we simply romantically challenged, or are we sluts?”

Firstly, it must be acknowledged that Carrie’s invocation of ‘slut’ as an insult speaks volumes about how much has changed when it comes to the way society views women who aren’t afraid to express the fact they enjoy sex. But, let’s pause to consider her enquiry nonetheless. Can a healthy sex life obscure your ability to recognise, or even appreciate, romance? Carrie and Aidan’s trajectory seems to suggest that real romance and sex are, to an extent, mutually exclusive. By waiting more than 10 days (!!) to have sex, their relationship is somehow inherently more special, more intimate, more serious. At the end of the Sex and the City episode in which this situation unfolds, Aidan stays over the night and Carrie admits she was nervous to have sex that would “mean something”. This is all fine! The problem here isn’t with waiting, it’s with the in-baked (and, yes, slut-shaming) assumption that you can’t be a romantic and a slut at the same time, that being one somehow cancels out the other.

In today’s dating landscape, where “dating” is taken to mean you’re casual and “hooking up” to mean you’re very casual, there has been an even greater relaxation of the expectation that sex means anything. Liberated from the shackles that confined our sexual exploration to heterosexual, monogamous relationships headed for matrimony, we’ve been gifted with the knowledge that the amount of sex we have has no bearing on our moral value, and that sex can mean whatever we want it to, minus the shame. We can be both romantically challenged and sluts, or we can be sluts who are romantic, or we can just be sluts. Not only is worrying about your number of sexual partners more embarrassing than worrying about your ATAR, but it’s actually pointless. As with most things in life, the issue isn’t with quantity but quality.

My friend’s comment concerned me not because of how many men I’m sleeping with, but because they’re all shitheads who don’t deserve an invitation back to bed. There’s nothing wrong with being a slut, but it can be easy to confuse our right to have as much sex as we want with the assumption it’ll always be amazing. Reminding ourselves to check in on the quality of our partners will only improve our encounters. I’m excited for the day I can tell my friend about a new guy I like, but I live confident in the knowledge that being a slut won’t hinder the chances of that happening.

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