Why Women Say Yes to Booty Calls

August 5, 2010

The post you are about to read was not inspired by the events of the past few days. It reflects two timely pieces of writing that showed up in my inbox this morning. Call it a happy coincidence.

The first is a post by John Ortved, Glamour magazine’s Single-ish columnist. In When Is a Booty Call a Good Idea? he responds to a letter written by a concerned friend named Kelly:

Basically, a guy my friend Alexis used to date, and still hooks up with, ignored her all night, chatted up other girls, left without her, and then texted her to come over once he was home. And she went!

If my friend was just hooking up, I would have zero problem. I like sex. I think everyone, including and especially my friends, should have lots of it. And it’s really none of my business when, where or how they go about it (perv confession: doesn’t mean I’m not a little curious). But this wasn’t just a hookup for her. She likes him. I can tell. And for some reason it’s not clear to her that she’s being used, or it is, and she’s OK with it.

She gave the following rationalization, “I just want a warm body (to sleep next to).” I think this is totally legit. New York is a lonely place. Your twenties can be lonely. Life is lonely. I can’t hold this against her. My problem isn’t with the core of this rationale, but with its application—the fact that it wasn’t true. In this case, she didn’t want a warm body to sleep next to, she wants a warm heart to beat in sync with her own.

I like my friends. I want them to be respected, and even more importantly, to respect themselves. It bummed me out that someone I’m close with would have that little regard.

Maybe there’s a post-feminist argument I’m missing here.

Kelly ends by asking the readers what they would have done:

AGAINST: 19

  1. Why not actually have sex with someone who loves and respects you? That’s a lot healthier than sex for sex’s sake.
  2. I had a booty call for a while that I eventually dumped for not wanting to date me exclusively. He knew I really liked him and he would’ve let it go on if I hadn’t ended it.
  3. I re-watched “He’s just not that into you”. Very therapeutic.
  4. If someone keeps getting what they want with no effort, there’s no motivation for them to change the situation.
  5. Unfortunately I agree with a lot of commenters here… some girls just won’t get it until they’re ready. Your friend is lucky to have an honest friend like you, rather than an enabler!
  6. ‘when is a booty call a good idea’– NEVER. eVER! baaaad idea always
  7. I wish I could share your comment with my friend. She has been doing this with the same guy for TWO YEARS! Maybe its fun in the moment, but what happens the next day?
  8. Some tough love for your friend (and other commenters): TAKE YOUR HEART AND RUN.
  9. She should be treated with respect, not like that…ugh…good luck to her.
  10. a bootycall is never a good idea..been there done that..all you feel is emptyness when the pleasure is gone..
  11. Been there, done that, way too many times than I care to admit.
  12. Make it easy on him, set up a picnic, see each other during the day and see if you still have that same chemistry.
  13. I was your friend for a very long time (6 years) and no matter how many times my girlfriends tried to get me to see i was being used and that i deserved better it didnt stop until i saw it for myself…i sure wish i had listened though and saved my self years of heartache lol
  14. Let’s learn to take better care of our hearts than our hormones!! 😉
  15. Wow, I was in this exact same situation for over a year and All it lead to was heartbreak.
  16. Yeah my best friend is going through this. her “boyfriend” in her mind treats her like nothing but a booty call and she doesn’t see it. she’d like to think she’s the one with all the power but when they only get together on his terms, that isn’t the case.
  17. Ugh…this sounds like a situation I’m in. I like this guy (and hook up with him on occasion), but he puts zero effort into hanging out AND contacting me. It’s annoying and complicated.
  18. it’s something she’s got to work through herself… she’ll keep doing it until it hurts too much, or until there’s some kind of resolution to it all. everyone has to learn their own lessons the hard way.
  19. agree w/ jessiellen. I have a friend who does similar stuff, even though I try to persuade her otherwise. It’s her lesson to learn. 🙁

FOR: 1

  1. I was just hands down having too much fun having sex with my FWB. We were totally compatible in bed but outside of that we didn’t have much in common. When someone was ready to move on there were no hurt feelings…that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Keep in mind, this is not the CYA newsletter. This is Glamour magazine. I was hoping for a clean sweep, but I’ll take 95%. The vast majority of women don’t want to be a slampiece for anyone.

Ortved follows up with 5 Rules for Booty Calls. Here’s the best of what he had to say:

1) Know What You’re Getting Into
If it’s an ad on Craigslist in which the dude casually mentions an interest in bdsm, or “toys,” you can be sure that this story will probably not end with marriage and “happily ever after.” The point is, know the waters in which you’re swimming. Chances are, you’re not browsing Craigslist for your hookups to begin with (from what I can tell, it is only men and “professionals” in the Craigslist personals). No, chances are your booty call is coming from someone you know and have slept with before. That being said, I think it helps to be emotionally and physically prepared.

SW: BWAAAAHHHHAAAAAH. The irony!

2) Beware of Friends
I am totally guilty of this. On some lonely nights (usually in the winter time), I will send out a text—personalized, no blasting—to some female friends, looking for some company. These aren’t strict booty calls—I’m usually looking for a cuddle, not so much a role in the hay—they’re in the same family. I’m not passing any judgment here, just saying that when you get a call or a text from a pal at 12, he’s probably not looking for someone to play Monopoly with.

3) Pretend You’re Sober
We make bad, bad decisions when wasted. When you get that call, or when you’re about to make it, take a second. Pretend you’re not wasted, and try to apply some logic.

4) Watch Your Heart

I only disapproved of my friend responding to the booty call because I thought her heart was in it. She likes the guy and he was only calling her as his last option, after leaving without her. I feel for anyone getting her heartstrings played with. It can be so hard to resist when you like someone, but again, step back and try to be logical—is this going to hurt more than it’s going to feel good?

(5 says wear a condom. Duh.)

Like many of the male readers here on Hooking Up Smart, this dude acknowledges that booty calls are a bad deal for women. All of his recommendations have to do with being smart and thinking longer-term.

I’ve been thinking about the role of respect in casual sex. Respect for one another, and respect for oneself. I don’t think it’s possible for a booty call to be respectful, as it is a sexual summons, really. There’s a power imbalance when only one party (usually the guy) is texting for sex late night. Of course, no woman has to consent, but it’s clear that women often participate because they have already caught feelings, and they’re hoping to prove to the guy that they are relationship worthy.

We seem to have reached a point where a guy can sidle up to the vending machine of sex and punch your number. And you’ll roll on down the chute, no deposit required.

If booty calls only benefit men, why do women keep participating? Why do we never learn?

Tracy Clark-Flory, writer for Salon’s Broadsheet tackles that question in The Science of the Booty Call. For the article she interviewed Peter K. Jonason, a psychology professor at the University of South Alabama. He’s apparently a booty call expert of the academic variety. Who knew? Jonason is the author of Positioning the Booty-Call Relationship on the Spectrum of Relationships. Clark-Flory, a feminist, finds his work unsettling:

Those of us who like to believe that we are more than our primal urges, and that men and women are not mortal enemies, may find his conclusions, which rely heavily on evolutionary psychology, a bit unnerving.

I decided to give Jonason a ring to chat about the science behind casual sex, and to flirt with political incorrectness. The resulting conversation had me seesawing between indignant outrage and fatalistic despair.

I must say I’m encouraged by her openness here. She admits to anger at hearing something so at odds with her world view, but she also implies his work just may be legitimate. Excerpts follow.

On the difference between booty calls and one-nights stands:

They are more sexual, as in they include a wider range of sexual acts than one-night stands do. But they are also less emotional than one-night stands. In booty-call relationships, people don’t seem to to do things like hold hands and other emotional acts…they don’t want to do anything that would…connote a desire for a greater emotional connection.

On his past work indicating that the booty call is a compromise between men’s and women’s ideal mating strategies:

Men and women have divergent biological interests, so they are in conflict. How do you solve that conflict? Well, if you engage in a one-night stand, the man essentially wins, and the woman loses. The opposite of that is a committed relationship: A guy puts all his potential mating effort into a single partner and she wins, she gets all of his investment.

The booty call is a compromise, because neither partner wins and neither partner loses. A man’s attitude is often “I’m not gonna commit until we have sex,” and a woman’s attitude is “I’m not going to have sex until you commit.” With the booty call, a woman gets some degree of longevity and potential access to mates who wouldn’t be willing to commit. In return, men get low-investment sex.

Sex is a common commodity exchanged in heterosexual negotiations. No one is getting exactly what they want but they’re getting something close.

SW: Whoa! Did you see that? Economics!

Clark-Flory wondered how to “explain exceptions to this rule, like men who don’t have much of an interest in casual sex or women who are only interested in casual sex? And what about love?”

On women who seek casual sex:

The statement that women are less interested in casual sex doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in it, it just means that on average women are less interested and less willing to go to bed with a complete stranger than men are. There are, of course, women who do engage in casual sex and there are lots of reasons why they do it. Sometimes they’re using men, “gold-digging” being the popular term, or they’re indexing their mate value by determining whether they’re still attractive.

On men who aren’t into casual sex:

If I’m really ugly, I don’t really have the value to go out and get lots of women to have sex with. I have to commit to the first woman who is willing. I have to settle sooner because I don’t have value in the negotiation process.

On women’s tendency to rationalize behavior:

We like to lie to ourselves, and I’m sorry to say this is one of the problems with women’s magazines. You actually lie to one another and perpetuate these myths because it makes you feel better.

On women’s tendency to shame one another for promiscuity:

Women also punish other women for engaging in sexual acts. Women have a vested interest in keeping the availability of the commodity of sex low because they can ask for more from men. It’s microeconomics — if the supply is low the demand can be high.

SW: Please join me in a moment of ecstasy here. Close your eyes and imagine the 1812 Overture accompanied by fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl.

On why women would ever pursue short-term mating strategies in view of the social costs associated with “sleeping around”:

One, it provides women access to men who may not have been willing to consider her before. It can also be a way for her to figure out if she’s still attractive.

And finally, the whole damned argument in a nutshell. Feminists vs. Biologists:

TCF: A lot of what you’re saying is obviously very politically and philosophically … unpleasant. I think most of us have a desire to escape our basic biology, to evolve, to be better.

Jonason: As much as you want to escape your biology, there it is, in your face. Humans have the illusion that they can escape their biology, but we’re just like any other animal, the difference is our leash is longer. It appears that we have all this freedom to make these choices, but we really don’t.

All in all, a rather interesting look at the booty call, don’t you think? As Gloria Steinem once said,

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”