You Can Get Laid Without Being a Jerk

There are a lot of ways to be a jerk when you’re trying to get laid. Emily Heist Moss writes a letter to her brother about how to make hook-up culture be about pleasure and consent, instead of “scoring.”

A letter to my brother, and all his college friends,

College is awesome, right? No parents, no curfew, no rules, and there are girls everywhere. It is an alcohol-fueled, school-spirit-enhanced buffet of ladies, and it’s hard not to want to sample everything on the menu. So you should! Seriously, I’m not going to rain on what could potentially be a literal parade, so just be safe and have fun.

You’re waiting for the “but,” because I’m your nagging big sister and that’s what I do. Here it is: Be safe, have fun, but don’t be a manipulative, coercive asshole about it. There’s story after story about on-campus sexual assaults, astoundingly high rates of date-rape, and even more terrifying estimates of unreported incidents. I’m not worried you’ll be that guy, but there are still dozens of tempting and legal ways to be a douche when you’re trying to get some action. Forgoing these “techniques” requires recalibrating your hook-up goals to emphasize consent, respect, and yes, pleasure, instead of “scoring.”


There are strategies to get laid that are violent and criminal, and there are methodologies that are just mean-spirited and misogynistic. You can find the drunkest girl in the bar and hand her another shot. You can physically back a girl into a corner at a party until the only way out is through you. You can cut a girl down to size with backhanded “compliments,” belittle her until she thinks the only way to feel good again is to win your attention. You can taunt her with insults about prudishness, until she thinks she needs to prove something. You can taunt her with insults about sluttiness, until she thinks she might as well confirm what you already think of her. You already know that these dick moves are beneath you.

There are milder forms of deception and coercion, though, tactics that are dangerous because of their efficacy and subtlety. These are the ones to which I want to draw your attention. You can lie about your feelings for her. You can promise things you can’t deliver. You can agree to commitments you know you’ll break. You can hear hesitation or uncertainty in her voice, and ignore it. You can play with her emotions, knowing full well that if you were honest about your lack of intentions, you’d lose your shot at a hook-up. You can know that if she were sober, she wouldn’t be doing this, and you can go for it anyway. A court might not convict you, but I hope you know that these are dick moves, too.

The pronouns in this essay thus far would suggest that I think only men can be coercive when it comes to sex, and we all know that’s patently untrue. We know male rape is a real issue, and that the stigma against victims can be excruciating. We know that women can lie and scheme their way into sex just as well as men. We know that insults to masculinity, epithets like “pussy,” or accusations of homosexuality can compel guys to do things they don’t want to do, just to prove a point. The toolbox may look different, but we know that girls can wield emotional manipulation and social coercion with expert dexterity.

All these strategies work more often than we’d like. I hope someday we can better teach teenagers (and adults) to call bullshit when they see it and to let the insults roll of their backs instead of eat at their self-esteem. But in the meantime, the fact that those manipulative moves might work doesn’t mean you should use them. These are tools for weak people, people for whom sex is a contest and winning matters. Sex can, and should, be fun. It can be playful, it can be casual, but it isn’t a game. Whether enacted by men or women, these bullshit strategies are not sexy, they are not cool, and—quaint as it may be—they are not very nice. There’s nothing wrong with a little push-pull, a little back-and-forth banter with a prospective partner, but assigning a winner and a loser to a sexual encounter sets us all back a couple decades.


You should never feel like you’ve been convinced to have sex, and you should never feel like you’re doing the convincing. You want partners—one-night-stands or long-term relationships—who want to have sex with you as much as you want to have sex with them. The culturally established “no means no” is too low a bar. Only yes means yes. And I’m not talking about an “I guess we could…” or an “I don’t really care….” or an “Only if you really want to….” or a “Might as well…” I’m talking about an enthusiastic, excited, sustained “Yes!” Are those “yesses” less frequent than the non-committal, hesitant “not-nos?” Yeah, they are, but it’s worth it to know that the people you’re fooling around with really want to fool around with you, too.

Alcohol clouds everyone’s decision-making abilities, but it doesn’t make us deaf. Even at frat row, bar crawls, or crowded house parties, you need to listen for that “Yes!” And you need to be saying it too! If you’re a “Yes!” and your partner is a “Yes!”, then I revert to my original advice: be safe, have fun. Consent is not a traditionally sexy concept, but I absolutely guarantee you that two enthusiastic, excited, sustained “yesses” is what it’s all about.


Your big sister,



—Photo taberandrew/Flickr

About Emily Heist Moss

Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works at a tech start-up. She's a serious reader and a semi-pro TV buff. She writes about gender, media, and politics at her blog, Rosie Says. (Follow her: @rosiesaysblog, find Rosie Says on Facebook). 


  1. reg schroeder says:

    if you watch animals “court” you can learn a lot about humans. watch as the bull nudges the cow and she withdrawls. watch how she resists his advances but always leaves a little room for possibilities. then watch how she gives in as he climbs on her back.
    there is always a “maybe” in regards to mutual sex. males leaning to turn the maybe into a yes is very much a part of the dance.
    many times if a women initiates sex it is a turn off to the man also. if the the penis says no then “yes” does not matter.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Yes, but WHICH animals are the best models for human courting behavior? In my experience, there’s more than one praying mantis out there…. : – )

      • reg schroeder says:

        i don’t know what that means?? more than one praying mantis out there.

        • Female praying mantis bite the head of the male praying mantis and eats him during the mating ritual. using animal courting behaviour isn’t necessarily the best example to model human courting behaviour

    • Actually, sometimes there is no “maybe”. I’m not going to elaborate. This should be obvious.

      Also, if a man is sexually interested in a woman, yet turned off if she initiates sexual contact, then don’t worry, I will back right off from that dysfunctional shell of a man.

      • Sorry, that was harsh. Such a response is probably involuntary, learned through decades of being bombarded with traditional gender roles.

        • I don’t think that was harsh. I agree with you completely. A man getting an unwilling woman to eventually consent to sex with him is a just a misogynistic power trip. Sex is much more pleasurable when both parties are excited to be doing what they’re doing. The energy is better, the mood is better, and the sex is better.

      • I am not sure where any of these posts are going. I can’t find the most current posts.
        so I’ve become lost in whatever conversation we might be having. no matter, I believe sex is pointless without a real connection. but, I believe one can have many connections in a lifetime.

    • An Ethologist says:

      Are you seriously trying to compare human sex for pleasure to animal mating? Do you actually know anything about animal behavior or biology? Because going here to support this point of view tells me you haven’t spent much, if any, time actually studying either. And do you know anything about evolution or why our bodies are designed the way they are sexually? It’s because, for the most part, we AREN’T like most other animals when it comes sex. And while it’s not always true (because there are always exceptions, yes we know that because I assume we’re all capable of some rational thought so let’s not jump to those like they prove anything) the general rule is that the more intelligent the animal, the more pleasurable the sex and the more likely they are to engage in mutual courtship. On top of this, while I’m actually pretty fond of evolutionary psychology, I’m pretty sure that as humans we can move above and beyond the base instincts of creatures that were bred to be fairly docile and not nearly as intelligent as their ancestors so we could cultivate them for our own nutrition. There are things we can and should look to the animal kingdom to explain about ourselves and there are places where we should actually throw that out and start utilizing the morals OUR species has evolved to believe. Specifically the places where we actually treat each other like we’re part of the same species and worthy of respect. “Because I think this is how cows work” is a lazy and irresponsible excuse that enables people to be jerks, not a legitimate reason for any sort of social interaction.

      • This was an old post and having you respond is a complete surprise.
        I would suggest that there are similarities between man and animal. Just a difference in courtship rituals. How is human dancing different than a mating ritual of swans?
        Obviously our experiences have been regards to courtship. But in my experience the female is often reluctant to engage and the male pressures her by his being persistent. It is because of his persistence that she will not deny his intent and “gives in.”.
        Sorry if that is not how you see it or that you think being human somehow elevates you to a level above this behavior.
        I don’t think we are dogs but I am pretty sure intercourse would not happen if the “animal” in us were not present.

        • Reg: perhaps you and I are using certain words differently.

          If a man pressures a woman for dating or sex, and she eventually gives in, that sounds… awful. Are you saying this is normal? I go out with guys if I feel that I would like to, and if they have the same interest in me; not because they pursued me so relentlessly that they wore me down.

          True, the man has historically been the puruser. But in a healthy courtship, this involves the man taking one step forward, and the woman matching him, and so on and so on.

          I should mention that I believe “playing hard to get” is one of the most damaging things women can do, as it perpetuates and necessitates the scenario you described.

          • no I don’t think that is what I am saying. I am saying, if one person does not make a sexual advance, nothing is going to happen. so, in my twisted experience MAKE A MOVE with someone you like and tell them that.
            funny thing is watching some guy put moves on a girl seems way different than doing it myself. it seems contrived. such an awkward dance.
            I love women. Reggie suggests to read the book “The Women.” amazing story about Frank Lloyd Wright.

            • Okay, good. I think we were not on the same wavelength. I interpreted, “there is always a “maybe” in regards to mutual sex. males leaning to turn the maybe into a yes,” as very, very creepy.

    • My wife and I have a fantastic sex life and I have to say I agree with this concept. She ROUTINELY says ‘no’ even (especially?) when she’s in the mood, and she gets really turned on (and so do I) when I push a little harder for sex. I think some part of her is saying, “no, I don’t want sex… unless you REALLY mean it, in which case, f**k the shit out of me!”

      This blurs a lot of lines that shouldn’t be blurred by new partners though. It just isn’t safe for anyone. When she and I first met, we both definitely said “Yes” and I was still plenty turned on =)

      • I admit I also wasn’t thinking about two people who knew each other well.

      • Keilah speaks plainly about creating sexual tension. And Andrea, I have forgotten some the stupid things I probably said early on in this thread.
        One thing I have learned is many women feel as if “planned sex” is not ok. So, they wait for a “S.O.” to be a little pushy. In that way they can justify what happens as being spontaneous.
        I hope this makes sense to someone. This is just my experience with “some” women.

        • I reads a LOT differently when I consider two people who are in a relationship, and who actually DO want to have sex with each other! I had only thought about people who were (say) starting to see each other, or hadn’t yet, as is the tone of the article.

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  3. circlebill1 says:

    It’s a nice article, but it’s basically useless! All it really does is tell you to be just another caring, courteous nice guy! Unfortunately, being a nice guy is a well known recipe for failure!

    • The above only deals with consent, and making sure you’ll know it when you see it. There’s a little more to courtship, though — to have people interested in you, you have to be interesting.

      Why wouldn’t I go for the interesting nice guy over the interesting douchebag?

    • An Ethologist says:

      Except when it’s not.

    • Be interesting! I’m dating a really interesting, and also very nice guy. I was attracted to the niceness. There are a lot of “nice guys” out there that think they deserve the girl just because they’re in no way offensive. Consider that most of the jerks out there are getting laid not because they’re jerks, but because they tend to have opinions and hobbies and such.

      • I think that is true. Being interesting is more important than being nice for sure. But, in the long run, being an interesting jerk will not be tolerated as much as a polite wimp.
        That’s why we have affairs. So we can be with the jerk once in while but come home to the wimp for the long term.

    • I think that caring about the other person and being a “nice” guy is only a recipe for failure if you are going after the kind of girls with so little respect for themselves that they expect you to be a jerk. Which is probably most girls these days… more than half of the other women I’ve met have been sexually abused in some way before the age of 16. Which means their idea of what a “real man” is, is likely messed up. So they go after the guys that are likely to abuse them – because that’s what they’ve been taught. They wear clothing that makes a guy want their body first and foremost because these girls legitimately believe their body is their best asset. When you believe that being a jerk is the only way to get ahead with women, it perpetuates their idea that they should expect men to be jerks. It might get you somewhere – but is it really where you want to be? Personally, I was never abused and I believe I’m worth someone’s time – and the right guy is worth mine. I get whistles and guys calling me “hot” all the time – but I choose to dress in a way that encourages them first noticing my face. I like it when guys treat me with respect and legitimately want to know about my hobbies and my life. No matter how sexy us girls are, there are always going to be girls with bigger boobs, but there’s only one personality exactly like mine. And I become crazy about the guy who takes the time to know ME. It doesn’t mean I want a wimp. A friend showing up on a Harley to take me for dinner is awesome. If his goal is to get to know me – not to get into my pants.
      There are still some of us girls with self respect out there! And the ones without self respect are more likely to gain it if guys stop believing their only option is to be a jerk!

  4. Great letter – if only I always remembered to NOT READ THE COMMENTS I’d be feeling pretty good right now! I don’t understand how every well reasoned, thoughtful article I ever read seems to also be read by loads of people who then use the comments to spew utter rubbish that shows the most basic grasp of the topics behind the article are completely beyond them. Case in point – “It’s a nice article, but it’s basically useless! All it really does is tell you to be just another caring, courteous nice guy! Unfortunately, being a nice guy is a well known recipe for failure!” *headdesk*

    • Right?!

    • I feel your frustration……..

    • What I find most frustrating about these comments is that there aren’t more men responding to this article, and the ones that are seem to be disagreeing with it — which is fucked up beyond belief. This article defines a standard that all of us guys (and girls) should adhere to- both for our own personal well-being, and the well being of all of the women (or men) in our lives. Nobody should be persuaded to have sex. Sex really is a beautiful thing when it’s between two people who wholeheartedly want to experience it together. Also, any guy who thinks its a turn-off for women to initiate sex is just messed up. There’s nothing sexier in the world than a strong, independent woman who knows what she wants.

  5. Except we all know that women under the age of 30 can’t tell the difference between a$$hole and confident.
    It makes for a real conundrum.

  6. So, let me put this out there. I have heard it said by professionals in human behavior that “what a women wants most is to be desired.” Do you all think this also??

    • well hell. anybody?? I guess its just you and me Andrea.

    • Well I think that’s a bit hard to gauge AND define. I’d prefer to be thought of as attractive, but it’s not my #1 priority. And does desirability in this case mean as a partner, taking into account my personality and abilities, or is it more/purely physical?

      • Yes, desire is hard to define. I suppose it takes all into account. But, to be wanted, is at the core of desire. And to be wanted is very powerful. I don’t think desire is limited to lust.

        • Well how can you say that all women want the same thing? Everybody is different, you can’t say that is every woman’s big turn-on. I mean, most people do want to be desired, but I seriously doubt that that’s what attracts a woman to a man every time. And again this has the same implication of men always being the initiators. It’s 2013 everybody, women and men should be thought of as equals, and it should not be a surprise for a girl to initiate, they have a sex drive just like men do, its a bond that all human beings share.

  7. i can’t thank you enough for posting this.
    i just broke up with someone for this very reason.
    whether you are male or female, it’s just important to really listen.
    It’s painful when someone you’re crazy about is hesitating, but if you genuinely care for someone then you honor their right to hesitate and you back off.
    Control and coercion can never co exist with love.
    I feel like, a lot of people are groomed to be go-getters, salespeople and “overcome obstacles” — these may be good strategies in the workplace or the marketplace, but in personal relationships they spell doom.
    The last thing i want is to be ‘won over’ through sales tactics or otherwise manipulated.

    I guess i’ve come to realize it takes a very secure, emotionally strong person to allow another the freedom to choose without any type of pressure.

    As they say, set it free. If it comes back, it’s meant to be.


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