Streams

The Paradox of Sexual Freedom

Thursday, March 28, 2013

In her private practice & research, Leslie Bell, Berkeley-based sociologist and psychotherapist specializing in women's development and sexuality, finds that 20-something women have more information, more choices -- and more confusion -- over sex and love. She discusses this puzzle in her new book Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom.

Guests:

Leslie Bell
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Comments [44]

lester rawlings

for what it's worth,the first caller could have made his point in one-third the time. to guest host, -it's called moderating a program. one does not have to be rude, either.

Apr. 13 2013 11:36 AM
lester rawlings

why does one have to be looking for something,or knowing what one wants? it sounds like a pre-programmed,materialist construct. plus,what we think we want,is referenced by our surounding culture. and,what we consciously want,is not often what is best for us in the long run. this whole conversation is rather limited,if not outright insane.

Apr. 13 2013 11:27 AM

Freedom -- sexual or otherwise-- is altogether considerably paradoxical.

To take just one example, let us consider the matter of noise laws. Such laws, prohibiting the playing of loud music and other noise that could reasonably be considered excessive/inordinate during the time when most people are sleeping, are absolutely essential to any civilized society.

One could say such laws restrict freedom and, in one sense, they certainly do. Those who are want to blare music (or, what often may more accurately be described as a cacophony of obnoxious, abrasive, assaulting noise that is euphemistically called "music"...) and carry-on with rowdy, drunken bacchanalia into all hours of the night are clearly and considerably restricted under the laws in question. At the same time, however, such laws are necessary in order to protect the freedom of everyone else; to protect their right not to be disturbed. And this will ultimately include even the very same /revelers themselves/, as they will inevitably find themselves on the other side of that fence at some point.

This inherent conflict and need to balance is not limited to the legal, societal and inter-personal realm. Consider the area of personal indulgence. Who is freer: The one who eats with abandon and pays the price in terms of the effects on his health and appearance? Or the one who exercises restraint, often depriving himself of immediate pleasure but enjoying far greater health and appearance than the one who indulges wantonly?

Thus we see that in addition to being highly paradoxical in its very nature, the very concept of freedom is also an entirely /relative/ and, ultimately, quite illusory concept. It is only through some degree of restraint that any /degree/ of true, enduring freedom can be achieved.

Mar. 29 2013 01:01 PM
JM from Queens

To Noach
of course you have no idea what I am referring to and seek to denigrate it. How else can you uphold the biblical hypocrisy? YOu have obviously never experienced what I have and I could care less if you want to or not because you start out by assuming that sex is debase, dirty and evil unless it is part of some so called moral contraption that you think is fit.
Why don't you mind your own business... make your way to your own heaven and keep judgements to your self. They have done enough damage to everyone .....

Mar. 28 2013 10:21 PM
Peg

To jgarbuz from Queens 2.59PM - actually, I have no idea what c&c means nor did I know what you meant. Sorry, I'm too old to keep up with all the abbreviations - so I look them up when I'm confused, but there were several options to choose from. What is hypocritical about asking for clarification?

Mar. 28 2013 03:02 PM

Bob from Huntington, 11:36 a.m.:
"It's not all a matter of personal choice. It's often a matter of circumstances."

I'm quick to make just this argument when people speak of our having a "volunteer" military.

But in this case, it is absolutely "a matter of personal choice" whether people exercise restraint and prudence with regard to intimate behavior or act in a manner that is beneath even abbits and alley cats.

"fuva from harlemworld", 11:40 a.m.:
"Western women seem particularly conflicted with objectification. They don't want to be objectified, but they dress to draw attention to their objects."

Quite true and well-stated.

Mar. 28 2013 02:25 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Pam

>jgar buz, I'm so sorry that you have such a limited view of women. You may want to open your mind and explore why you only know these kinds of women. I know they're out there, but there are many more of us who want much, much more than "c and c" <

Like what, for example? Command and conquer? :) A warm and fluffy teddy bear? :) "Family?" :)

>and having this believe will only hurt you in the long run. <

Too late.

Mar. 28 2013 01:04 PM
Pam

jgar buz, I'm so sorry that you have such a limited view of women. You may want to open your mind and explore why you only know these kinds of women. I know they're out there, but there are many more of us who want much, much more than "c and c" and having this believe will only hurt you in the long run.

Good luck!

Mar. 28 2013 12:48 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Pam

Ask Noach. He knows. I guess women either can't figure it out, or are just plain prevaricators.

Mar. 28 2013 12:43 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Noach

"So, basically, sex and money."

No, GOOD sex and LOTS of money :)

Mar. 28 2013 12:39 PM
Pam

Wow jgarbuz! Hypocritical? That's a little harsh. Now I really want to know what c & c means too! You can't assume everyone knows what you're talking about when you're using abreviations.

Mar. 28 2013 12:36 PM

jgarbuz from Queens, 11:34 a.m.:

"I know exactly what women want. Both start with the letter "c" but one ends with "k" and other ends with "h." That's as far as I can go."

So, basically, sex and money.

"As long as a man can deliver one or the other, or preferably both, there will always be a woman around who will want him."

Actually, I'm sure a lot of men would say that they only /wish/ it were that easy...

Surely, you are being at least somewhat facetious.

Michael Bergelson from Morningside Heights, 11:34 a.m.:

"Brenda's comment is spot on. This is partly a result of leaving the old ways behind, without any road map into unchartered territory."

Will you concede, then, that the "old ways" had at least /some/ merit? Reflected some wisdom?

"Plus, decades of trying to erase or pretend that there are little or no differences between the sexes have left males & females without clear roles as they relate to each other."

Another example of politically correct insanity.

JM From Queens, 11:35 a.m.:

"some of the greatest and richest experiences in my life."

Really? As soon as the momentary thrill is gone, what is left?

"If you are intimate challenged and don't relate to that fine."

Having some basic moral (and health) standards is now being "intimate challenged" [sic] ?

"But we are al taught that it is good to know others and here in the biblical sense as well."

We are /all/ taught? Who is "we"?

Many of us are still not taught that fornicating with as many people as possible is at all "good".

"If you are a decent person and you seek out others that are the same be a "slut" have asa many intimate relationships as you like as long as you receive and give respect"

What you describe essentially amounts to using others for sexual gratification. How does amount to "respect"?

" ... it's all good. "

Until you contract or give someone else the gift of an infection (or mechanical damage, especially from the increasingly promoted, increasingly sanctioned yet empirically gruesome, dangerous and predatory act of buggery)....or until an unwanted life is created...or until it hits someone that they are being used simply to satisfy carnal lust...until someone feels the emptiness of such a lifestyle...

"As long as you keep your self centered in respect and non extreme love all with be good"

What do you mean by "non extreme love"?

Mar. 28 2013 12:32 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Peg

Stop being hypocritical. You know what it means.

Mar. 28 2013 12:28 PM
Peg

To jgarbuz. What does your C&C mean?? Command and Conquer, Cash and Carry, Comments and Criticism... or something else???

Mar. 28 2013 12:12 PM
Pam from manhattan

This was something that was spoken about within my circle of friends when I was in my 20's, but there was no public advise/forum for women who were trying to carve out a different life for themselves. I had never wanted marriage or children, but couldn't quite put my finger on what it was that I did want. I didn't have an example of what a healthy relationship looked like from my broken family. Exploring sexual freedom left me feeling confused and at times dirty and used. We're not equal to men in this way. Physically, we are letting another person enter our bodies. For men, it's external. Meaningless sex for this strong, independent, whole woman, often left me feeling incomplete and craving the return of a man who I knew I didn't want anything to do with. When I finally got more clear about what I wanted in my late 30's, I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful man who I have had and continue to have a fantastic relationship with. Although we talk about the future, our elder years, we are not planning to marry, live together or even see each other more than once a week. Since we're not creating a family, we have the luxury of romance. Weekly dates and romantic emails keep us hungry for one another and allow us the independence we need to accomplish our career goals. We are both self employed and this allows us to have a fufilling life, without sacrifice. It's not for everyone, but it's the most loving, supportive, wonderful relationship I've ever experienced and I think it has a lot to do with having enough time for myself.

Mar. 28 2013 12:11 PM

It's vital to have a foundation of peace and confidence in who you are as a person before falling in love and committing to someone. But it's a myth that that can't happen until you're older and that you should put off marriage until you have a great career. Most of us want love and someone to share life with. Why put that off intentionally? My husband and I met at 18 and married at 22. We're 37 now. Our 20s were tough, because it's a tough time of life when you're trying to find a career path and get established financially. But I'm so happy I got to go through all of that with my best friend. We helped each other find our best path. Not to mention all the hot and passionate sex you can have in your 20s. Why waste all that intimacy and energy on people you don't truly care about? Besides, careers can change dramatically when you eventually have kids anyway. I'd rather be committed to a person than a job. They give back much more love.

Mar. 28 2013 12:10 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Men want R&R. Women want C&C.

Mar. 28 2013 11:55 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

I'm in my 40's, and faced this same conundrum in my 20's; it's great to be sharing this information with young women, and to provide them with a guide.

I would say the single most thing young women could do while having their "sexual freedom" and trying to pursue their own goals is to recognize what their primary objective is at that time, and to make it their priority without feeling guilty. If you're really driven to achieve a career goal, arrange your life around that without guilt. If all you really want are casual hook-ups, go for it, and don't feel guilty. If casual hook-ups don't feel right for you, and you feel more comfortable being monogamous - even if you can't devote huge blocks of time to a relationship - don't settle for casual sex, hoping that guys who are in super casual mode will "come around." Women simply need to burn into their brains that there is no one way to live or be, but to embrace the mode that feels the most comfortable for them.

Mar. 28 2013 11:53 AM
Alex from Jersey City

Thank you for having this conversation!
There are so many pressures, and I feel that we do need to be truly liberated to accept who we are and what we want.

I know that I want a successful career, but I've had a hard time figuring what I want that to be. In the meantime, I found an amazing man and got married (at an age much younger than I thought I would!). My husband and my marriage have become incredible cornerstones in my life - and I might not have had them if I wasn't able to let go of my own internal stress and the external pressures surrounding my decision to marry before having "made it" in a profession.

Now, I'm still unsure of what I truly want to persue as career (doing odd, but good, jobs in the meantime). But while I'm looking, I'm choosing not to put the rest of my desires on hold - especially motherhood. It's the one thing I've ALWAYS known I've wanted. And while the thought of it freaks out most of my friends, it's the one thing I'm sure of. It's taken me a long while to get truly comfortable with the idea - to let myself accept that I know I want a baby, even though I don't know what to do with the rest of my life. I figure the other things will fall into place when they're meant to.
My new personal motto is "Go with what you know" - because you have to keep moving anyway.

Mar. 28 2013 11:51 AM
Jess from Brooklyn, NY

This book and conversation would have been MUCH more useful if you talked about what is it to be in a relationship. The dominant narrative we're told in media from the time we start watching Disney movies is not reality. In the past 10-15 years, a sea change in popular culture has been for women to give up sex asap without any commitment or frankly effort by the guy. Further, this book should have covered women and men as well as LGBT relationships and how they are the same and different. Focusing just on women is yet another crack at the blame game on one gender.

Mar. 28 2013 11:50 AM
Tony from Canarsie

Growing up, I always heard that women were delicate, sensitive and ethereal, and men were level-headed and industrious. In my thirties I realized it's actually the other way around. Now that I'm in my fifties, I can't tell anyone apart anymore and couldn't care less.

Mar. 28 2013 11:48 AM
jm

Ralph: unless you were a 20-something woman in a previous life, you can't speak for their experiences. You're wrong.

JM: exactly. I'm far more comfortable in a relationship with someone who has had experience. Exes with only a few previous partners under their belt were consistently lacking in confidence, and such conclusions were always disastrous.

Mar. 28 2013 11:46 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Anybody care what a man wants? I know what I would want if I were younger. I would want my own womb so that I could have my own child without having to be entangled with a woman. Nobody could ever figure out what they want. No, I actually do know what women want, but few men have both of "it."

Mar. 28 2013 11:42 AM
Gi from nyc

Women have and are always condemned for being sexually free/"sluts & "hos"---

When is this sexism going to end???

Mar. 28 2013 11:42 AM
Sarah

I agree 100% with Brenda. I'm just out of my 20s and glad to leave them behind. Lots of mixed signals in the 20s. I want a partner, but I want freedom to pursue my career. I want children, but not until I'm financially ready. I want my own source of income so I'm not dependent on a spouse. I feel like women delay marriage, because we want different things from a marriage than our parents did. I don't need to be married to have stability.

Mar. 28 2013 11:40 AM
jm

In my 20s, my romantic life was an extension of my development and attitude toward my academic and professional life. I never had the "traditional" college experience, and worked full time during school until my eventual move to NYC. I was much more serious, and therefore had a series of long-term monogamous relationships. My early 30s was the first time since childhood I'd had a chance to relax, so my sex life followed. Other women I know seem to have had the same trajectory. Of course, I never wanted biological children (still don't), so this might have been a factor.

Don't stress. There's no "one size fits all" for women OR men. You'll know what's right when it happens. The only advice I have to women is to push your comfort level; if you live in a place like NYC, you have the opportunity to meet wonderful men from all over the world. Don't pigeonhole yourself into one type (especially if they're similar to you).

Mar. 28 2013 11:40 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Western women seem particularly conflicted with objectification. They don't want to be objectified, but they dress to draw attention to their objects.

Mar. 28 2013 11:40 AM
The Truth from Becky

Girls want what the Guy wants...they think it will keep him faithful and monogamous, they learn real soon that this is NOT so.

Mar. 28 2013 11:40 AM
Amy from Manhattan

It sounds as if the caller Michael's son expects all women to want the same thing. Maybe "what women want" is to be treated as individuals who have different answers to the question of what they want.

Mar. 28 2013 11:39 AM
Beth from Brooklyn, NY

'what do women want'? Well, you could start by not treating us like a monolith.

Mar. 28 2013 11:39 AM
kp

maybe women are looking for a man and not a boy who's daddy tries to solve his problems...

Mar. 28 2013 11:39 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Like guys know what they want? Guys are 10x more confused and indecisive.

Mar. 28 2013 11:38 AM
John A

Thank-you for working the problem, Ladies. Kinda late, but keep up the effort.

Mar. 28 2013 11:37 AM
Peg

"What does Woman Want?" ...Her own way - (at least 1/2 of the time)

Mar. 28 2013 11:36 AM
Bob from Huntington

Please do not overlook the role that the dreadful economy and the significant decline over the last two decades in the economic security of the middle class has had in decision making among both women and men in their twenties.

It's not all a matter of personal choice. It's often a matter of circumstances.

Mar. 28 2013 11:36 AM
The Truth from Becky

Young people are NOT dating they are "hooking up" in the new world and NONE of the old adage applies..they are same sexing, 3 way sexing you name it! Sad

Mar. 28 2013 11:36 AM
Lynne

I was in my 20's in the late 60's and I adore watching "Girls". I find it uncannily like my own experience in those years. I think nothing has changed between men and women for women out there experimenting. The changes, in my opinion, are only in the career-opportunity area.

Mar. 28 2013 11:36 AM
JM from Queens

I like "sluts" as a man I can relate to them because I am a "slut " also. I see nothing wrong with being open to being intimate with people it is the source of some of the greatest and richest experiences in my life. If you are intimate challenged and don't relate to that fine. But we are al taught that it is good to know others and here in the biblical sense as well. If you are a decent person and you seek out others that are the same be a "slut" have asa many intimate relationships as you like as long as you receive and give respect ... it's all good. Don't pay attention to the "moralists" with their ideas of what you should or should not be doing. As long as you keep your self centered in respect and non extreme love all with be good

Mar. 28 2013 11:35 AM
Ralph

I am tired of hearing about the problems of 20 something women and about women's dating issues in general. Women have always had it made in terms of dating. Any women if she wants to have a one night stand or any kind of frivolous relationship they can get it today. The same is not true for a man. It is extremely frustrating and ego deflating to be out trying to meet women. All they want are the cool guys who will lie to them to their face not and care at all about them. And, when these women get to late 30s then they are willing to "settle" for the beta male. So the alpha male had relations with these women in their prime without responsibilities.. The Beta males get them after their prime when they have slept with the jerks, and get all the responsibilities of supporting the families, changing the diapers etc.

I am sorry but this is not fair.

Mar. 28 2013 11:34 AM
Michael Bergelson from Morningside Heights

Brenda's comment is spot on. This is partly a result of leaving the old ways behind, without any road map into unchartered territory.

Plus, decades of trying to erase or pretend that there are little or no differences between the sexes have left males & females without clear roles as they relate to each other. Therefore, every individual has to make up his or her own rules.

Except for guys, we have to follow the woman's lead -- what she's comfortable with, else we scare them off. And they all have DIFFERENT sets of rules and they often change over short periods of time!

So, if you think women are confused, think about men, who are STILL expected to initiate and pursue. (And be rebuffed and often put down!)

And think about the fact that men don't have all these choices.

Mar. 28 2013 11:34 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I know exactly what women want. Both start with the letter "c" but one ends with "k" and other ends with "h." That's as far as I can go. As long as a man can deliver one or the other, or preferably both, there will always be a woman around who will want him.

Mar. 28 2013 11:34 AM
Gi from nyc

This is exactly the same confusion, mixed messages and conflict I experienced around "healthy" and socially accepted(?)sexual expression/intimate relationship... and continue to! Born in 1960

Mar. 28 2013 11:34 AM
The Truth from Becky

Uhhm did she say "ho"? LOL real mature convo

Mar. 28 2013 11:31 AM
Brenda from New York City

Dating in your 20s has never been more confusing. There are no rules, there's often not even dates. It's difficult to know if there's even a relationship going on! How ironic in this time of uber-communicating that couples don't have the means to communicate their desires.
http://dearauntiemame.com/

Mar. 28 2013 11:04 AM

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