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People ride paddle boats on a hot day at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles, California
Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
NGBCs in progress on Echo Park Lake?
COME CORRECT

The Nice Guy Booty Call mindset is the right way to fix bad casual sex

Kristen Rae Lepore
By Kristen Rae Lepore

If there’s one thing the #MeToo movement has reinforced, it’s that many men—even the seemingly good ones—can be creeps. This national moment of reckoning is bringing to light something many of us have known for decades: When it comes to sexual encounters, just because a man doesn’t explicitly force you into something or physically assault you, it doesn’t mean you’ll have a fulfilling or even acceptable romantic experience.

Men in power are finally being held accountable thanks to the Weinstein effect. And the Times Up campaign is helping those without a voice. But how do we fix the day-to-day power dynamics and the overall creepiness women endure while dating and in the bedroom? Even if it’s only sex, not love, that’s not an excuse to treat the other person like an object. The current dialogue has exposed how much work we have to do on gender relations, and our messed up sexual culture is part of the problem. Amidst this growing understanding of what it means to be an ethical adult, I turn to my friend James (not his real name), who seems to hold some of the answers.

James is attractive, but he’s no Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s smart and in decent shape but not the most stylish. If you saw him on the street, you probably wouldn’t say: That guy must have a rotating bench of women. But, guess what? He does! James is a Nice Guy Booty Call (NGBC). He’s thoughtful on apps, he plans dates, he asks questions, and he pays attention to body language. He’s a companion plus a sex buddy, but not necessarily a boyfriend. He’s also a glimmer of hope for anyone who’s casually dating and sick of all the BS that comes along with it.

James was a serial monogamist up until his divorce. After he and his wife ended their marriage, he had two goals: To get in shape, and to meet more women. I was surprised to see how he beautifully executed the latter. From his inquisitive intro message on Tinder to his eagerness to travel to his date’s favorite neighborhood bar, James crafted an approach to dating that took into account what’s missing in today’s casual sex culture: respect. “It’s engagement, and women—especially I think in their 30s—have had a few too many disengaged boyfriends,” James said about his approach.

Turns out, in a sea of assholes if you’re simply a nice and attentive person, you’re a catch!

* * *

In a recent study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common, 27% of 18 to 25-year-olds surveyed admitted they don’t even know “how to begin a relationship.” It makes sense considering many of us will experience some sort of sex education in our lifetime yet no instruction on how to date. And then when you factor in misogyny, a zillion modes of communication, STDs running rampant and an overall lack of commitment, finding a reliable booty call can be a hot mess. It seems like we’re all hard up for a little TLC, even if it is no strings attached.

Ironically entitled The Talk, the Harvard study argues that sex education in schools and from our parents lacks crucial conversations around what it means to be in a caring, lasting romantic relationship, and as a result, people are anxious about developing them. Of the 2,195 respondents aged 18 to 25 who responded to the national online survey, 70% said they wished they had received more information from their parents about some—any!—emotional aspect of a romantic relationship, including “how to have a more mature relationship” (38%), “how to deal with breakups” (36%) and “how to avoid getting hurt in a relationship” (34%).

So as a society of people looking for love and intimacy, does this mean we’re completely screwed? It does mean we’ve lowered our standards on college campuses where women outnumber men, said Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist who co-authored the study. As he puts it: “It’s partly a supply and demand issue.” And that trend only persists for college-educated straight women after they graduate, according to demographic research.

Here’s the good news: Weissbourd and his colleagues are pretty confident that if we can effectively integrate these conversations about love and relationships into parenting and educating at schools, we’ll create a society of “ethical adults” and mend all sorts of problems: We’ll avoid badly wounding and scarring each other while dating, we won’t repeat destructive relationship patterns, and we’ll improve our ability to develop and maintain a wide range of close relationships.

In the meantime, what about us adults who missed our chance for a course in dating and emotional intelligence? Are we left in the wild to fuck and fend for ourselves? Weissbourd said we can ask for more from our sexual partners; he makes it sound so easy: “…People need to do the minimal amount of checking in with each other to make sure that this is something that both of them are going to feel gratified and good about. I certainly think you can be a nice guy or a nice woman and be a booty call. You have to know your partner. You have to do it in a respectful and transparent way.”

There’s also a list of resources in his study because it’s never too late to learn how to be a moral human being.

* * *

The study goes on to point out how normalized misogyny and sexual harassment are today on college campuses and among young people in general. It says no one is teaching us right from wrong, and to fill this “perilous void,” we’re turning to pop culture and porn to fill in the blanks.

I saw glimpses of how this plays out in casual sex when I interviewed millennial women in Los Angeles.

Alysa, a 26-year-old who works in digital advertising and is now married, said she dated men in LA’s comedy scene, and frankly, many of those men made her feel like total shit. Not only did one guy make jokes about her on stage after they slept together but: “I had a male friend—who I thought was a friend—literally say to me during a [comedy] show when is it my turn,” she said.

Eventually she did meet her own NGBC. He was a comedian, and unlike James, he didn’t even need to take her on dates or make her dinner to win that status. It was his companionship she appreciated. “He even hung out after [sex] once and made shadow puppets on my ceiling with me. Just for fun,” she said. “The best times I’ve had with, you know, men in my life is when they’ve treated me like a person, not like some object, something you can throw away. He treated me like I was a person, like I had feelings—and that’s how my husband treats me.”

They only slept together for two months and it was never anything more than a booty call but that short term intimacy left an impression. He helped her realize her own self worth.

“It was like this comfort—and it definitely made me feel better about myself like, ‘wow maybe I deserve people to be nice to me,’ because at the time I was so lonely and down on myself. It had been after I had been treated like crap over and over again … and it was like this person came in and was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to be nice and laugh with you,’ and you know, that’s it.”

* * *

In the uber-gentrified neighborhood of Echo Park, hipsters and others peddle boats around a manmade lake. Those people include James, who oftentimes takes women there for a third date. His objective: To plan “an experience that you probably haven’t had dating, this week at least.” Even mini golf, picnicking and bowling work, he told me. It’s like The Bachelor but for regular people. Generally, he waits until date three before sleeping with the woman. And he always plays it cautious when going in for the first kiss, because it’s all about body language, he said. “I look for signs, I pay attention. You can tell if it’ll be well received if you’re paying attention.”

Yes, it’s calculated. But why not? The whole point of these sexual experiences is to feel good about them afterwards. Believe or not, casual sex with a nice person can be an unexpected stepping stone to self-respect, and for some of us, it’s the exact experience we need to cultivate long-term, healthy, romantic relationships in the future. This isn’t just about men and the way they treat women. James happens to be a heterosexual male, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all learn something from him. Wouldn’t it be great if standards were raised across the board? James’ way of dating online and in real life shows how little effort it takes for all of us to not be jerks. Go on, be a Nice Girl Booty Call; someone is bound to appreciate it.

There have been instances when a woman he’s dating wants more than he can give. Rather than ghost, he’s honest. He’ll say something like: I enjoy spending time with you and want to keep hanging out. I’m just not interested in a serious relationship. Notice he never said “right now.”

Communication has to be clear for his strategy to work, and yeah, it could still lead to hurt feelings if both people aren’t on the same page. But more times than not, James says the woman sticks around. Eventually it might fizzle because they want different things, but when it does, everyone still has their dignity intact.

“I’ve kept in touch with most of these women even after romance, or whatever you’d like to call it, is off the table. …honest intimacy that doesn’t necessarily have a future kind of was the goal,” he said. “I hope if I did it well, no one felt like they got the short end of things.”

These days, that’s a worthy—and even attainable—goal for us all.