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Sex is Not a Transaction
Another Reason Andrew Tate is Wrong
Sensitive friends, this is not quite an “oversharing” on the scale of some in the past, but there are sexual references here and a meme with vulgarity in it.
My friends on left and right bemoan the influence of one Andrew Tate. A British-American kickboxer-turned-masculinity guru, Mr. Tate and his brother are currently under house arrest in Romania. They are charged with rape and human trafficking.
Mr. Tate is famous for appearing with beautiful women and expensive sports cars. He touts his extravagant lifestyle as an attainable reward for young men willing to adopt his philosophy — itself a weird but familiar amalgam of self-help, self-discipline, and rank misogyny. His contempt for feminism and his bleatings about the “deep state conspiracy” (yawn) to silence him have won him a few fans on the fringe right — and legions of young male followers, who hang on his every word.
Most of the rest of us just think the Romanians have a very lax view of what constitutes house arrest, and it would be ever so nice if they unplugged the routers at the Tate Brothers house, so we wouldn’t be treated to piffle like this:
It is to our collective shame that something so inarticulately expressed and so spectacularly wrong managed to get millions of views. It is to the shame of some of my friends on the right that in their eagerness to agree with Mr. Tate’s view that women shouldn’t sleep with lots of men, they look past his view that very powerful men have slept with “endless” women.
It would seem that none of this is compatible with the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic, but we live in an era where too many of us fall into the trap of supporting grifters merely because they infuriate our opponents. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is never a good strategy in love or war or politics, not for long, but some people just can’t help playing by that most cynical of maxims. (Tate makes feminists mad, and therefore, he can’t be all bad, etc. Most feminists I know don’t think much of serial killers either, but that’s hardly an argument for a rehabilitation of John Wayne Gacy.)
I wouldn’t bother calling out Tate’s nonsense if some people who should know better didn’t suspect there is a grain of truth in what he says. Some folks still cling to the market value theory of human sexuality, one in which men gain something at women’s expense. A woman who has many partners somehow loses value, a man who has many partners gains the same, because the “magic value” is found somewhere inside the vagina. Intercourse constitutes an irrevocable transfer of that value. That people still believe this in 2023 is astonishing, but a brief tour of contemporary America will reveal that odd superstitions abound, metastasizing and growing weirder by the moment.
I have slept with somewhere between 125-140 women. (I don’t have a list, and given that the most promiscuous period of my life came at a time when I was also drinking and using drugs the most, there’s some uncertainty built in to that count.) My number is no doubt less than Mr. Tate’s, but it is also well above the American average. The number does not say I was especially desirable. It says I was a man who very much loved being wanted, and would do a great deal to prove to himself that he was desirable. I will not say I was indiscriminate or foolish, because there are some whom I slept with who read my work still, and I would rather not suggest that I regard what we did together as a failure of discernment on my part. (They are free to regret as they choose!)
My point is this: I had low self-esteem before I had my first kiss. I had low self-esteem after my “number” moved into triple digits. Self-loathing was not a cause of promiscuity, nor the reverse. I received no “magic” and no power from any woman I ever slept with, no matter how lovely she was, how good the sex, or how enduring the friendship that followed. That is not because these women failed me. It is because, as I am in a position to know, men don’t take anything from women when they sleep together. Love may result —or babies, or diseases, or hot memories, or bitter regrets. What doesn’t result is a permanent transfer of the ineffable and the sublime from a woman to a man.
Anecdote is not evidence, and even a lot of “anecdata” are not evidence. My story is in some ways unusual because I don’t fit a traditional pattern. (Mr. Tate, upon learning that I was a teen sex worker who serviced older men, might say, “Aha, Hugo, that’s why it ended up being a wash for you.” Who knows.). On the other hand, I am friends with a great many people whose “body counts” exceed my own, and they do not seem to have either gained or suffered quite as Tate believes they should.
You might think this Substack ill-advised, and perhaps it is. I am tired and worried and stressed. (But not so stressed I can’t deliver for new clients! Ahem!) Perhaps you think this is a very convoluted but predictable way of bragging about a past of which I evidently can’t let go. Hey, I’ve been diagnosed by folks with more degrees than you, so have at it. But to my mind, I am making an important point, and it goes way beyond sex.
It is true that humans are hardwired for relationship. Perhaps that is by divine design. Perhaps that is by evolutionary adaptation. Perhaps it’s both. Regardless, we aren’t just the sum of our loves, our obligations, our intimate connections. I am a son and a father and a friend, and those are important things. To be a father, as a friend put it in an email recently, is to be “lashed to the mast.” We are made for love. But — and here’s the paradox — we are also made radically individual. We are wondrously self-sustaining, and we each have our own particular call we must heed, even if it bewilders those who love us. We are, in the end, meant to be in relationship and meant to be independent. Living in that tension is exhausting, isn’t it? It is also necessary.
It is true that every woman who has ever taken me into her body has helped make me who I am. Every teacher who taught me, every friend who counseled me, every student who asked for help, every cousin who walked with me on the ranch road, they too have helped make me who I am. Being a father to Heloise and David has become the Great Fact of my life, my happiest and most important obligation.
But no love I received, no matter how intense, could change the most basic part of my story. No love I made, no matter how passionate, could alter a woman’s story. Nothing was taken. To say otherwise is a fiction, albeit a compelling one.
My favorite spiritual as a boy was Lonesome Valley. It is even more my favorite now.
Everybody's got to walk this lonesome valley
We've got to walk it by ourselves
There's nobody here can walk it for us
We've got to walk it by ourselves
We are meant for society and relationship, but at the end of things — and sometimes, long before the end — we must learn to walk alone. Our job is to raise our little ones to walk the lonesome valley by themselves; our job is to hold an elderly parent’s hand as they prepare to head out on the final, solitary journey. We cannot walk it for them.
My number is what it is because, while walking the valley, I wanted to feel less alone. That is equally true for my friends whose number is one, who have built a life with a single partner to whom they have always been faithful. I live as the sum of my choices, as we all do. I am quite sure, however, that the “innate power” with which we are born is not lost through sex. I am quite sure that women who have many partners have not lost what was their birthright, just as I am sure that men who have slept with many women have not stored up a vast treasure for themselves.
I am also sure that Andrew Tate is a scoundrel, and little deserving of our time and attention.
The best version of Lonesome Valley remains the Carter Family’s.