This post is part of the February SynchroblogCross Gender Friendships.  See all contributions at the end of this post.

I read Anna Latimer’s amazing article on Gold Star Sticker Sex (“I used to give out sex like gold star stickers and I’m glad I did.”) at xoJane after a Soulation follower (thanks, H!) forwarded me the link.  Why amazing? Latimer pulled back a curtain on what’s really happening for women who have casual sex.

Anna Latimer

xoJane may be the #1 fastest-growing women’s lifestyle brand online for a reason. They’re marketed with a cozy girlfriend tone and they’re bolder about personal (read genital) stuff. xoJane is a statement that “women are just as selfish as menfolk” (their words, not mine, About page).

Still, despite the assurance that I’d get honesty at xoJane I wasn’t convinced until I read Latimer’s article. Here’s a sampler:

We had sex with friends we liked and trusted, almost as a prize for being awesome. It was our seal of approval: “You’re an attractive and accomplished person, and I admire you. Congratulations! Gold star for you . . .

Many, although not all, of my girlfriends have had Gold Star Sticker Sex, or they wish they had. Twenty-six-year-old Charlotte is one example. She’s engaged now, but she feels the tug of wanting to share more intimacy with her best guy friend, Dave.

“I want to give myself to him, because the only way I know how to be more intimate with someone than I am with [Dave] is to make love to him,” Charlotte told me in an email.

She continued, “I know that ‘give myself to him’ is a very old-fashioned way of putting it, but it’s the most appropriate. It is a reward, of sorts. It’s a thank-you, certainly. And in some strange way, it’s also a blessing — a benediction to sanctify our relationship.”

Meanwhile, 27-year-old Molly told me about a conversation she’d recently had with an English friend of hers. “She said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t sleep with Isaac because I am sexually attracted to him, but because I adore him as a friend and I want to be closer.’”

Multiple examples later, Ms. Latimer proves rather well that the hook-up culture and making love are not the only ways to ‘do it’.   I wanted more background, so I asked Anna Latimer for an interview. She kindly obliged. There was one thing she wanted to make very clear,

I did not write to give programmatic Cosmo-style sexual advice, but as a pushing back against the idea that young, single women are on the whole having debased, damaging sex, unaware of its profound connective and spiritual properties.

I agree with C.S. Lewis’ basic interpretation of what Jesus has to say about sex: it’s less of a problem to be promiscuous than a prig, though of course it’s better to be neither. I’m not okay with the way many branches of the modern church interpret what Jesus (and Paul) said about right sexual conduct. Nor am I okay with the disproportionate emphasis some put on sexual morality respective to other concerns of Christian life and service. 

Close-minded sanctimony–i.e. pride–seems like poison for the soul, the most important thing for any spiritual seeker to avoid. Giving of yourself–heaping people with love–strikes me as its opposite–the soul’s nourishment, vital to its health. I don’t mean to say that “giving of yourself” need involve sex…or even that it should. But I think it’s better to give that love in a slightly sloppy and imperfect way–if that’s the only way you can do it at a certain point in your life–than it is to hold onto that love, to be a perfectionist about its method of delivery.

I have to admire how Latimer takes the religious virginal cult language (“You will wish you had saved yourself!”) and turns it on its head. Now, you might regret saving yourself when you could have been more generous.

Even if sex with guy-friends is (what Latimer admitted to me) a “sloppy and imperfect expression of your love”, it can give you life-long friends, good giggles and a happy marriage to boot. Sounds pretty good to me. I’m already thinking of all those guy-friends I should have sex with to underline my appreciation.

Yes, that was a joke. So is “saving yourself” for marriage a sign of a sanctimonious prig? Are virgins perfectionist and stingy? Is sex sometimes the only way some women can heap their guy-friends with love?

Gold Star Rating

Five Stars: Latimer gets how sex is more than “soulless rutting.” She shows that screwing is actually sacred, when you mean it. While Latimer wouldn’t agree with me she’s giving evidence for the Biblical view. As she puts it “Every day, women in their twenties have meaningful, intimate, sober, relationship-enhancing sex that is also (gasp!) casual.” More on casual sex in a moment.

Four Stars:  Latimer nails the risk of sexuality. It will change everything. But riskiness is not identical to creativity or even love. Even if you have open, honest relationship, sex will recast your friendship and replace friendship-intimacy with lovers-intimacy. If Don Draper had causal sex with Peggy Olson, if Jack Donaghy had casual sex with Liz Lemon wouldn’t their friendship lose as much as it gained? Sex has not stood the test of time as a good fall-back to discover happiness and pleasure. Aren’t there enough modern life Fantines (Les Miserables) to show it does the opposite?The leisure of casual, intimate sex without pregnancy, disease and abandonment is more often a luxury of the upper classes.  I’m alarmed that Latimer and friends see sex as their best or the most natural way to bless a male and female friendship with intimacy.  If you plan ahead and know your guy-friends beyond their sexual drives, there are other creative, embodied, intimate ways to show appreciation. Just a short brainstorming session opens up many ways to find sensual happiness and pleasure between guys and girls without producing your genitals: cooking, eating, concert watching, movie-making, beach running, painting, photo-shooting, hunting, jeeping, moonlight snowshoeing, sailing, swimming, caring for children, teaching, cleaning, moving, road-tripping, singing, worshipping, crying. Sometimes sex is even the easy (lazy) way out. Remind me of Roy on Valentine’s Day who makes up for his forgetfulness and stinginess by announcing, “Get your coat, Pam. Tonight, I’m going to give you the best sex you’ve ever had!” After seeing everyone else’s balloons, flowers and candy, Pam wants more than a roll in the hay. She wants more than reward sex because sex, for all it’s ecstasy, is only one color in the pleasure spectrum.

Three Stars: “Sex works as a reward.” I have serious trouble here. Last I checked, rewards were what my mom or teacher gave me when I behaved well.  Latimer’s reward system, her “seal of approval” is a little bit too greater-than-thou for me (NOW you are good enough to get sex!). Latimer is not alone in believing “reward-sex” is part of a woman’s domain.  In fact, I would imagine most sexually active women know that sex is one of the oldest rewards.  Granting sex is the ultimate reward for many men. But not all men.  I’ve offered sex as a “thank you” and “gold star sticker” to my husband and had my offer spurned.  My husband wants nothing to do with sex when it’s in gold-star-sticker form.  He wants to know that I’m more about wanting him than rewarding him.

Two Stars: “Casual sex is relationship-enhancing.”  For a long time we’ve been told that you can’t have cross- sex friendship, you can’t even have intimacy without sex.  Latimer and many of her commentors have bought into this norm.  I part ways with her and most evangelicals right here. I believe in a third way, intimacy without eros, or as C.S. Lewis would put it, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my friends rather than face-to-face as lovers.  This work of intimacy with my guy friends (without sex) is much harder work than anything I’ve known (it’s plowing against culture). But it is worth it. Sex with my guy-friends would decrease our relationship’s intimacy compared to what I have now. Pardon the crassness, but there’s a closeness between men and women that outruns pussy + cock. Harry and Sally are Wrong, sex doesn’t always become a good part of guy and girl friendship. This April, I’ll be joining a dream team of writers and speakers who believe in cross-sex friendship (without sex). Join us for the Sacred Friendships Gathering.

One Star: I’m stumbling over the connection Latimer wants to make between casual sex and sacred sex. Sacred means “to dedicate or set apart.” If a prayer rug is used as a door mat, if a prayer shawl is used to dust the banisters… is it still sacred? If I use something as sacred as sex in a casual way, is it still sacred? I realize Latimer is still making sex a special thing for some guy friends, but how much can you casual-ize sex and keep it set-apart?  One last note, I’d like to challenge Latimer’s assumption that virgins before their wedding day may be simply perfectionist, priggish, selfish prudes. I was none of these (more here: God Wants the Broken) even though I was a virgin. What my husband and I share is a place no one on earth can step foot, it is a sanctuary where we honor the sacred space of body and soul. It is a place that is always holy ground.

Other synchroblog posts on Sacred Friendships

Chris Jefferies – Best of both

Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible

Lynne Tait – Little Boxes

Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age

Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs

Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine

Alise Wright - What I get from my cross-gender friend

Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church

Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships

Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers

Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women

Maria Kettleson Anderson - Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships

Bram Cools - Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?

Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women

Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul

Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship

Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight

Doreen Mannion - Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians

Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I

Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship