I don’t go to strip joints very often, only when I’m in Vegas with my fatuous buddies. I enjoy it immensely while I’m at the club. A pretty, near-naked young woman in my lap – how great is that? But later, when I’m back in my hotel room, I am invariably stricken with a vague melancholy. It certainly isn’t a morality or guilt thing. And it’s not pity or loneliness. It’s an amorphous sense of emptiness, like something is off balance, and I don’t like it.

It’s probably my fault. When I’m at a club, I usually try to concentrate on one stripper. I’ll take some time to pick her out, and at some point I’ll ask for her REAL name. A silly one will insist she really is Tiffany (or Crystal or Amber…), and a more serious one will smile and shake her head no. But every once in a while, especially if it’s a slow night and we’ve talked a bit between dances, she’ll tell me her real name is Barb (or Cindy or Vicki…). I’ll ask about her family situation or her “other” job or what she wants to do with her life, and as we talk she becomes real to me, and the dances become immeasurably more erotic as a result.

It’s not much for a fetish, I know, but I’d rather have Barb the struggling mother of two in my lap than her glitter-eyed doppelganger Tiffany. Barb is the real person, and I find sex, even if it’s just a lap dance, infinitely more interesting when it is with someone you know.

A bachelor friend of mine – who (because he is a bachelor and can afford to) routinely spends time in the company such women – thinks I am crazy.

“Once you get to know them, it ruins it,” he insists. “They tend to be flawed souls with inexplicably complicated lives. Who wants that?”

I do. I want to know her flaw. I want to know why she needlessly consternates her life and how she feels about telling her brother she’s a “model.” And not at all because I want to change her. I just want to know who she is.

That’s why I would never hire a prostitute. I’m married, but it’s more than that. Even if I were single, I wouldn’t do it. Why? Because I’d insist on getting to know her, and after that there would be only two possibilities: 1) I’d either like her, in which case the sex would be good but I’d feel even shittier afterwards, or 2) I wouldn’t like her, in which case the sex would be dull, and I’d still feel vaguely shitty afterwards.

Now I’m no prude or wimp. I have enjoyed a fair share of casual sex in my day (more on that later!). But when I look back on my sex life, it is the sex with women I loved, or at least truly cared for, that I remember vividly and treasure. In honesty, I have a difficult time remembering the one night stands. And I don’t remember any of their names, which I feel sad about now.

Worse, I have troubling memories of the sex I extorted by either pretending to care for or simply using women who genuinely cared for me. And worst of all, I can feel actual physical pain when I remember the women I should have loved. They loved me, and in truth I loved them, but I never allowed myself to admit it. This essay is my heartfelt apology to these women, and it is a friendly and powerful bit of advice I wished I had received when I was a young man.

I side with Laura Hollander from my story “A Lifetime in One Moment”: it is impossible to have good sex with someone and not share a part of your soul with that person. Unlike Laura, I don’t mean love necessarily – not at first. Being a guy, I certainly don’t want to discourage casual, mutually commitment-free sex. But even in the simplest, most fleeting “fun-loving” tryst, there is an unavoidable human emotional investment, a connection – a mingling of souls, if you will.

The only way, I think, to avoid the otherwise natural inclination to care for the person you are sharing your nakedness with is to either dehumanize the event, the person, or yourself (or all three). It is this dehumanization, I suspect, that accounts for why I feel vaguely unpleasant after my strip club adventures, and why I have no interest in anything more in the way of professional services.

Guys are hardwired to want to have sex with every vaguely attractive woman they see. Guys are not hardwired, however, to make numerous emotional investments. So, they objectify, dehumanize. Fortunately, most women, most of the time, demand some kind of emotional investment. I now understand how important those investments are, and I also understand why one should respect those demands with dignity and honesty. I thank and celebrate these women – they make this world a better place, and they make men better men.

So in sex and love, these are the lessons I have learned: 1) It’s Okay to Say No; 2) Don’t Pretend to Care; and 3) Just Fall in Love.

I wish I had understood them when I was young, but I suppose that is the nature of lessons.


LESSON 1: It’s Okay to Say No.

There is only one type of sexual experience that I wish I could erase from my memory. If you’re a man, you probably know the woman. She’s somewhere between a wee bit “different” and borderline committable. I am not talking about a truly defective person – we are still in the range of reasonably acceptable sexual ethics here. She’s fully capable of making choices in her life, and she can appear to be eminently happy, but there’s a hazy vacuity in her eyes, like she is going through the motions on some level. She seems resigned to her fate; if a guy hits on her, or in some cases just happens be around, she feels obligated to have sex with him.

When you’re young, and still mistakenly believe that more sex is better than no sex, it can be hard to turn down the “easy lay.”

I was a counselor-in-training at a summer camp in northern Wisconsin. A small group of us were on unsupervised R&R in the little town a few miles away from the camp. We were huddled around a picnic bench in a park on the shores of Lake Michigan, smoking cigarettes and trying to look cool. She approached us and asked for a cigarette.

She was in her mid twenties and already a tad battle-worn, but she had a Sissy Spacek-like prettiness if you looked long enough. She asked what we were doing in her town, and we talked, but she didn’t seem all that interested in our conversation. I thought she was bored, frankly, and I wondered why she didn’t leave. I was sitting on the table, and she asked if she could sit next to me. At some point she whispered in my ear, “You wanna go for a walk?”

At the time I thought she must have picked me out as the coolest guy in this group. I know now it had nothing to do with that. It was purely a matter of logistics. I was on the end; there was a place next to me to sit.

As we walked up the beach she patted my crotch and squeezed my ass. When we were out of sight, she set me down in the grass and kneeled in front of me.

“Do you want to see my titties?” She said matter-of-factly. She unbuttoned the top few buttons of here housedress and pulled my hands up to her breasts.

As I petted her breasts she pushed a hand between my legs and rubbed my burgeoning bulge. When she went to unbuckle my pants I flinched. I was nervous.

“It’s okay;” she said with that same detachment that made me think she wanted to be somewhere else, “I’ll take care of you.”

I had nothing to compare it to at the time, but I can now say that her technique was excellent. I remember looking out at the lake and thinking, wow, now this is interesting, her head all the while bobbing in my lap. I came relatively quickly. I tried to warn her, but she didn’t care. She spit it out, but not like it was unpleasant. It was just a detail to take care of, like having to spit out a watermelon seed.

“Wanna to kiss me?” she asked.

What did she say? I was stunned, and I looked at her with a furrowed brow and probably something like fear in my eyes.

“Never mind,” she said with resignation. Then she got up, adjusted her dress, and left me with my flagging dick still hanging out.

I have never been able to figure out what to make of that experience. My co-counselors-in-training couldn’t believe my good fortune.

“Did you get laid,” they asked.

“Nah, just a blowjob,” I replied thinking I had minimized the event. I hadn’t. They were wildly impressed and congratulatory. I wasn’t a virgin (barely), but it was my first real blowjob. Still, I didn’t feel like congratulations were in order. I felt confused.

I have tried, without success, to imagine what circumstances in her life would cause her to do what she did. I probably don’t want to know. I have gone over it in my head, trying to rationalize it, but I can’t think of a way to describe her conduct, our “moment together,” as anything other than weird and unfortunate. I was in a daze for a week wondering what had happened to me. I can truthfully say I wished it wouldn’t have happened, that I could have prevented it from happening, but a few years later that memory would serve me well.

I was in college. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, and I was rooming in a fraternity. The house held thirty-five men when school was in, but during the summer anyone could rent a room. There were seven men living in the house. One day a woman inquired about a room, and the house manager showed her a room on the third floor.

“You could have the whole floor to yourself, with your own bathroom,” he said, convincing her to take it.

Her name was Kathy, and I guessed from the first scratches of crows’ feet on her eyes that she was about thirty-five. She had rusty-red hair, a pleasant, freckly face, and large, shapely breasts.

A few days later the word got out that one of our housemates had brought a bottle of wine up to her room, and he had gotten laid. Within a week or two she had had sex with every man in the house except me. She was nice enough, but I suspected she was a little “off,” and I was wary.

I was sitting on the patio one day drinking a beer on the porch swing and she sat down next to me and started a conversation. I discovered that she had been recently “released” from a halfway house and she didn’t want to go back to her parent’s home. She was just biding her time until she could find a job, and the room was cheap. I was scared to ask.

“You mean like a prison halfway house?”

“Oh no,” she said, and I was only momentarily relieved. “I was under court-ordered psychiatric care, but I’m fine now.”

I told some of the other guys in the house about this, but it didn’t seem to affect their behavior.

I was painting houses that summer to save up for the school year, and everyday after work I took a long shower and meticulously scrubbed my hands and face and neck.

While Kathy had a toilet and sink on the third floor, there was only one shower room in the house. It was a locker room-like stall on the second floor with five showerheads. We had devised a “Girls” sign that Kathy could flip over on the door, but I heard she often failed to use it. I was showering early one evening when I heard the door open. I was suspicious. I was the only one who routinely showered at that time.

“It’s just me,” I heard Kathy’s voice. There was a partition just inside the door, and I couldn’t see her. “You don’t mind, do you?”

I didn’t know if she meant she needed an emergency shower and wanted me to interrupt mine, or if she was planning on joining me, and I didn’t know how I felt about either situation. I turned off the water.

“Oh no, that’s okay,” she said. “I just need a quickie. You don’t have to stop.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I turned the water back on.

She stood where I could see her and took off her robe. I swallowed hard. She had plump, milky-white breasts with perfect pink nipples. She tiptoed into the large shower stall and set her plastic basket of toiletries on the floor, arching her back away from me as she bent over, intentionally giving me a view of the wispy red hair that tickled her puffy crease. I was at the middle showerhead, but instead of taking one on the end, she turned on a showerhead next to mine.

“I love the smell of turpentine,” she said with a smile. “It smells so manly.”

I had been working in oil-base that day, so I had scrubbed my hands and face and neck with mineral spirits and the scent was still in the air. I liked that she didn’t mind an industrial aroma, and then I remembered she was probably crazy.

I felt awkward. I had worked so long on my hands and face that I was just getting to my torso.

“I have a big job interview tonight, so I really appreciate this,” she said, all the while running soapy hands over her body in a salacious manor. I tried not to be obvious about it, but I couldn’t help watching her.

“Think nothing of it,” I said stupidly.

I finally decided to judiciously finish my shower and get out of there. I turned my back to her to soap up my genitals. I was fully erect.

“Do you want me to get your back?” I heard her say. I felt her hand on my back. I removed my hands from my pulsing manhood and stood up straight.

“You have such a strong back.” Both of her slippery hands were rubbing my back. Steam was swirling around us. Then I could feel her breasts against my back as she ran her hands over my hips. One hand started for my erection.

I closed my eyes. My whole body ached with the anticipation of her touch.

And then I thought of the women in the park, and I remembered how I felt afterwards. As good as Kathy’s touch felt, I couldn’t see how this was going to be any different. I knew she had some kind of mental heath problem, and though it might have had nothing to do with her rapacious sexual appetite, it was enough to make me do the right thing.

“I appreciate the offer,” I said as I took hold of her wrist before she could get to my erection, “but I’m just going to finish up in here and get going.” I sighed loudly and gently pulled her hand away, my eyes clenched in the pain of unfulfilled desire.

“Have it your way,” she said, and returned to her shower.

Kathy got that job and moved out a week later. I never saw her again, but her name would come up one more time.

One of my housemates from that summer roomed with me that school year. It was late January and we were just returning to campus for a new term. The first thing he said to me was, “You won’t believe who I saw at the Jackson mall a few days ago.”

It was Kathy, and he described her as “watermelon pregnant.”

I did the math. “Yeah, seven months pregnant to be exact.”

It was 1979, so the only disease risk in not using a condom was easily treated with a little penicillin, and I suppose those boys assumed she was on the pill because of her promiscuity. I have wondered ever since which of my housemates was the father of that baby. I thank God every time I think of her that it couldn’t possibly be me.

Maybe that was the lesson that the woman in the park was meant to teach me. I say I wish it had never happened, but I suspect she spared me from any number of ill-advised trysts over the years. I am quite sure she wasn’t intending to educate me, but I owe her a debt of gratitude.

It’s okay for a man to say no, and sometimes he really ought to.


LESSON 2: Don’t Pretend to Care

There are only two kinds of guys that can handle multiple ongoing sexual relationships with women.

1) The first kind is very rare. I’ll call him “Don Juan.” He genuinely LOVES women. He worships the very concept of women, and he is a great lover because of this. He is most fond of attractive women, but in the end he loves ALL women. He’s not pretending to care – he really cares. This is why women fall for him, and this is how he gets into trouble. He’s not very careful in juggling his lovers. They often find out about the other women, and all he can do is throw up his hands – “What can I do; I’m helpless.”

This type of man exasperates women, but they love him nonetheless and tend to be forgiving when he strays. They also resign themselves to the fact they will never have a long-term, committed relationship with Don Juan. Thankfully for the rest of us men, these guys are few and far between, and, what’s more, this lesson has nothing to do with him.

2) This lesson does have something to do with the other kind of philanderer, and he is much more common. I’ll call him… hmm, how about “Egotistical Asshole”? Deep down, he doesn’t like women. On the surface, this doesn’t show. He can be romantic, considerate, self-deprecating, a seemingly decent guy. But don’t be fooled; it is always about him. He’s only pretending to care – always!

He will juggle relationships expertly. His girlfriends never know about the other girlfriends, and if they do find out through some strange quirk, he swears to each one of them that he will break it off with the other. When he gets married, he cheats – prodigiously! And not just one night stands. To his mistresses he portrays his marriage as a hollow shell. It’s not. He and his wife get along fine, and they have sex all the time. He is only using his mistresses, and there is usually more than one at any given time.

I don’t know why women have such a hard time spotting this type. I can pick them out from a crowd. When I meet a new boyfriend of one of my wife’s unmarried friends, I know instantly if he’s a cad, and my track record is perfect. At first my wife didn’t believe me, but after two or three correct IDs, my wife is a believer.

Somewhat off subject, but ladies, these are the top ten telltale signs that you are dating, or God forbid married to, “Egotistical Asshole”: 1) he is meticulous about his grooming – not in a gay way, he’s just good at it; 2) he has a nice car and it is always clean; 3) he buys you little gifts; 4) he’s fairly good in bed, but primarily because he has a large penis; 5) his relationship with his mother isn’t the best; 6) he wears an item of jewelry, like a simple gold chain bracelet or a thin rope necklace, in addition to a tasteful watch (and, if applicable, a modest wedding band); 7) in his own words, “I’m not a big sports guy”; 8) he has a cell phone with him at all times, and he’s constantly using it; 9) he likes nice restaurants, but he orders cheap; and 10) he occasionally refers to you as “babe” or “baby.”

Be forewarned; if your boyfriend or husband has five or more of these traits (especially the first five!), I’d be suspicious. Trust me. And if he has all ten – well, my condolences.

In any event, back on subject…

I bring up “Egotistical Asshole” only to make the point that the vast majority of men are not this guy. We are, however, fully capable of the occasional “only pretending to care” relationship.

I wanted to start this section by saying that this is another type of sexual experience that I’d like to erase from my memory, but I can’t. This lesson involves sex with some of the nicest, sweetest, most caring women I have known. I don’t want to erase those memories, but if I could do it differently, I would.

These are women who were physically attractive, but I didn’t feel anything emotionally for them. Maybe she was too loud or too quiet or not all that bright, but I went out with her anyway, even though I knew there was no chance for us to become true lovers. They were committed to me; they cared for me; I not only didn’t love them, sometimes I didn’t even like them. The sex was good; I was an asshole.

Some of these women knew where they stood, and I wasn’t a total dick; I treated them well, and I never told a woman I loved her when I didn’t. But I let them believe love was possible, capable of blooming at any moment, when I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I also knew that as soon as I was honest, it would be the end of our sexual relationship. I don’t wish that I had been honest with them before we had ever even experimented with sex. It wasn’t the first or second time that I feel bad about. It was weeks that sometimes turned to months. That was selfish and hurtful.