This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
In the second season of HBO’s smart and sassy sitcom, Insecure, which chronicles the dating adventures of young urban black women in Los Angeles, the protagonist, Issa, embarks on what she terms her “ho phase.”
Her ho phase predictably includes random hook-ups, Tinder disasters, a blow job that, um, shoots off in the wrong direction, and a promising first date that Issa carelessly sabotages by the time the second date unfolds. The man—not a boy, but a man—seems to be relationship material, preferring to invest the time to get to know Issa over dinner and conversation. Unfortunately, Issa is in a hurry to get to fourth base as soon as possible, sidestepping all the niceties in order to score a home run and move on to the next player.
Also called a slut phase (which can apply to both men and women), it could count as a rite of passage for some women, in which the goal is to have casual sex with as many people within a certain amount of time. While often looked upon as a reflection of misguided morality and promiscuity, it may also be a journey to self-discovery. A ho phase may not be absolutely necessary, but it does serve its purpose, as Issa and countless many other women discover in due course.
A friend of mine went through her own phase when she was living in Italy in her early 20s just after her first marriage, which was hasty and doomed, and before her second, which turned out to be enduring and successful. She was seeing someone who was more of a regular hook-up than a potential husband; a f*ck buddy in other words, though the term hadn’t quite entered the lexicon of dating culture in the mid-80s.
She never once considered that her dalliance with her Italian stallion would lead to the altar, but she is grateful to him for being a generous lover, which in turn gave her the confidence to be a good lover herself. But most importantly, she told me at the time, he demystified sex for her, in the sense that he showed her it was possible to have sex for pleasure, free from the promise of matrimony or the fear of pregnancy, and absolutely free from judgment.
A rather clichéd trope these days is that of the gay divorcee going out on the town, hanging out in bars, dressing half her age, unleashing her inner cougar and bedding oh so hot but oh so unsuitable younger men (at least on paper) in a wonderland of one night stands or brief liaisons. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. At the very least, it’s probably a refreshing contrast from the uninspiring predictability of married sex, if not the total absence of copulation altogether, as anecdotal evidence seems to suggest sometimes. For a lot of women, the novelty is exhilarating—to be so wanted and desired by other men after years of feeling invisible or just bored is a heady feeling. And the experience of enjoying sex for it’s own, without the baggage of emotion can be liberating.
One girl friend contemplating divorce some years back lamented the downgrading of her marriage after 25 years to nothing more than a brother-sister relationship, with her husband completely uninterested in sex but totally engrossed in his iPad. At 45, she still felt young, attractive and vital, if somewhat parched, and considered having a ho phase of her own, so she went to New York, ostensibly to take up a short course at Sotheby’s, and a master class in Tinder. It turned out that New York found her young, attractive and vital, too. When the first Tinder date to progress beyond coffee, drinks, then dinner revealed ripped abs and a decidedly hair-less chest, she almost fainted, so daunted was she by the prospect of actually laying underneath an unfamiliar body, however undeniably hot and sexy, that she chickened out and fled even before he’d pulled down his pants.
It took a few more swipes and a few more cocktails to make her more adventurous, yet she couldn’t help but feel there was something so manufactured about a “ho phase,” whether enabled by dating apps or not. Towards the end of her one-month course, she did meet someone slightly older than her at an art gallery opening. Like Issa’s attractive and promising older man he preferred a more old-fashioned approach to dating, which she responded to. This time, it wasn’t his abs she found daunting, but the logistics of a long-distance relationship, something neither he nor she were prepared to invest in at this point in their lives. She did, nevertheless, make sure that her new lover f*cked her brains out, and she went back home to her family feeling even more attractive and vital—and supremely satisfied. And sated enough for the dry spell that surely lay ahead of her.
A ho phase may be prolonged, or it may be fleeting, and any woman who decides to embark on one should feel confident enough to define whatever couplings ensue on her own terms. Sometimes it’s a means to and end; other times it’s the end in itself. The creator of Insecure herself, Issa Rae, admitted in an interview with the New York Post that her own ho phase was interrupted because she fell in love.
“I had all the intentions of being a hoe!” she said. “Dudes were finally checking for me at one point. But I ended up meeting somebody… Now it’s too late to go back.”
In a piece for XO Jane, the author Alicia Lazzarro wrote, “Despite it being called a Slut Phase, I learned more than just sexual things. Being alone gave me the chance to bond with myself and master how to be independent. My confidence came back and I learned to love everything about myself. I also learned about the not-so-good things about myself, like the fact that I am super impatient and a control freak. The end of my Slut Phase had the best ending possible—I met the perfect person.”
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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