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Good-Riddance to Friends: TV Fantasy was a Model for Heartache
by Steven Rhoads, May 10, 2004
Sex in the City signed off earlier this year and Friends has now [will follow this week] followed. The shows are listed as comedies, but they are really fantasies when it comes to their recurring themes of uncommitted sex.
What is most striking about both shows is their androgynous outlook toward the contemporary sex scene. For the women, romantic interests abound, and there are at least as many men as women hurt by failed relationships. The sex, despite the occasional bad scene, seems as wonderful for the women as for the men.
Of course, both Rachel and Miranda must live with their adorable accidents, but these off-stage babies rarely slow down their footloose, single lives. These single moms miraculously manage their demanding careers without smudged make-up, spitup-spotted clothes or sleep-deprivation.
While babies are left largely unseen, venereal disease hardly exists. In the real world, exposed women are dramatically more likely than men to be infected by a sexually transmitted disease (eight times more for HIV, four times more for gonorrhea), but even Samantha's world class promiscuity has left her disease free.
Even when they avoid both pregnancy and VD, women get less out of casual sex than men do, and they get hurt by it far more often. Testosterone regulates the male and female libidos, and men have far more testosterone than women. Surveys show that men around the world like sex more than women do, and they would like to have it with far more partners. In and out of marriage, women say they engage in sex to share emotions and love. Men give reasons that are more narrowly physical, such as need, sexual gratification and sexual release. Women read romance novels, while men view pornography.
My wife, an English teacher at an all male college, has trouble getting Shakespeare's romances across to young men whose sexual world is more elemental. When she asked what sort of women they would fall in love with, one young man said it was too early to think about love: "He hadn't slept with enough women yet." Still another classmate opined that "sleeping with a woman who has already submitted is like playing a computer game you have already won."
These differences in motivation lead to a lot of pain for young women. Seventy-one percent of teenage girls report being in love with their last sexual partner but only 45 percent of boys do. And teen girls are far less likely than boys to report being happy with their sexual experiences and far more likely to report that they wished they had waited longer to have sex. On the other hand, married women report that marital sex is the best they ever had, and far more regularly than men they say the sex is better two years after marriage than it was on the honeymoon.
The picture doesn't get prettier for more mature singles. The Samanthas of the world are few. According to the research of Syracuse University anthropologist John Townsend, the most sexually experienced single women, while still believing that casual sex is fine, find that their feelings will not cooperate. They feel used, hurt and demeaned after sleeping with men uninterested in relationships. Many of the most sexually active men, on the other hand, regularly engage in pleasurable sex with women they barely know and sometimes don't even like.
The real world of thirty-something, single women bounces from books like How to Heal the Heart By Hating to those with advice about How Not To Stay Single. In 1999, 29 percent of 35-to-44-year-old females were unmarried; in 1960 fewer than 13 percent were. These facts are best explained by men enjoying unencumbered sex while hoping that a more appealing and equally willing woman may be right around the corner.
Too often, in today's culture, women stroll off to the playground of casual sex only to be hurt. They conclude, wrongly, that they are too sensitive to enjoy what their favorite female TV characters seem to love. Rather,the feeling that casual sex makes them unhappy is too common among women to be idiosyncratic. It's a normal, healthy reaction to a bad idea. To get what they want most -- a committed, loving relationship and good sex -- women should start by saying, "No."
And good riddance to false Friends.