One morning a couple of years ago, Tyler Barnett woke up with a woman he barely knew. No surprise there: He was just your garden-variety twentysomething guy, a P.R. man in Los Angeles who enjoyed casual, commitment-free hook-ups. Yet sometime before dawn, something in him shifted. And once the sun was up, he decided he was over casual sex. He chased her out with a flimsy excuse: that he had to get to work.
Sure, Barnett was concerned about STDs and pregnancy. But mostly he'd gotten fed up with putting out. And he's not alone. These days, in seeming defiance of male sexual stereotypes, the guy is suddenly the one saying no.
Is a man who rejects casual sex a freak of nature? Increasingly, he's not. Putting aside any situation-specific reasons—she's too drunk, she's a stalker, she's got a goiter—some guys are finding they don't like how casual sex makes them feel.
Barnett, for one, has no qualms about screening a booty call. "I got a text this weekend from a girl: 'What are you doing tonight, I miss you, I want to come over.' We've had sex a couple times, but I didn't want to go through the whole song and dance, having to worry about her sleeping over. So I didn't respond."
Ben, a 30-year-old account manager in Cleveland, says that in his twenties he used to screw "like it was shaking someone's hand," but now, he says, he's had it with sleeping around. "To do that consistently over a long period of time," he says, "you really have to be emotionless, like a robot." Ben came to loathe the ambiguity of casual sex. "After going out a few times with this one woman, she let me know we'd be better off as friends—but two days later, we're having sex for the first time," he grouses. "It's like, Where are we now?"
Feeling vulnerable, that's where. "It's hard to have casual sex without getting emotionally involved," says Ben, who occasionally goes so far in his just-say-no approach as to abandon a girl at a crowded bar when he senses an impending hook-up. "Eventually, one of you is going to get involved. And in my experience, it seems to be me."
Vulnerability is hardly the only reason a guy might take a rain check. Maybe he doesn't want a gift that keeps on giving. "The number of women who will just sit on a condom-free, erect penis without any kind of announcement or discussion is just shocking," says "Isaac," a 33-year-old L.A. artist who recently finished a one-year sabbatical from casual sex. (Some names in this story have been changed.) "They would just go for it: no latex, no discussion of STDs, not even 'It's okay—I'm on the pill.' Dude!"
Isaac says he won't have sex with someone he's not emotionally attached to. He once walked away from a no-brainer—when a "gorgeous" former student "told me she sucks really good dick"—because he felt he couldn't be giving, as he was emerging from a bad break-up. Another time, turned off by a former lingerie model's excessively dental oral technique and her weird pillow talk, Isaac did the unthinkable: "I just pulled on my pants and made a run for it—out the door, down the steps, onto the street, and into the car."
When a guy hangs up on a booty call, he might be responding to simple biology. "As men age, the refractory period, or the interval between when they are physically ready for sex, gets longer, so they might not be as easily stimulated," says Jean Elson, a University of New Hampshire sociologist who studies voluntary abstinence. Harry Fisch, the author of The Male Biological Clock, says, "Testosterone starts to decrease at age 30"—so your sex drive decreases as your spare tire inflates.
Chemistry might also awaken feelings a man wants to avoid, further deterring him from casual encounters. "Sexual stimulation increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with feelings of romantic love," says Helen Fisher of Rutgers University's Center for Human Evolutionary Studies. "And orgasm causes a flood of oxytocin and vasopressin, hormones associated with deep attachment. So a man stands a chance of falling in love or getting attached when he doesn't want to." In other words, according to Fisher, "there's no such thing as casual sex."
But don't mistake a guy's unwillingness to score for an inability to seal the deal. "I never regret not going home with someone, but I frequently regret the opposite," says Brian Battjer, 30, a product manager in New York. "When you've had too much casual sex, it becomes enough to know that you could've taken a girl home—you don't have to actually end up going through with it."
Another New Yorker, "Greg," says he's forced himself to disengage from about 20 near hook-ups—sometimes naked, as when he suddenly found himself showering with a girl before deciding whether he was into her. (Nope.) "Sometimes I can't imagine whether I'll be turned on or off until we're in the moment," he says. "There's plenty of hot girls I've hooked up with who I should be turned on by, but in the moment I'm not." He once claimed cat allergies but got busted two weeks later at a mutual friend's house, where the Cat Lady caught him snuggling a tabby.
No matter what the excuse, a single woman spurned is likely to sound pretty miffed. "I had set my sights on this drummer boy who'd been giving me the eye," says "Amy," a 39-year-old comic. "He acted like we were going to do it, but when we were mid-make-out in his loft bed, he suddenly sprung on me that he'd only had penetrative sex with four women and wanted to keep it that way. I was pissed—because unlike most women, I really only get off from penetrative sex," she says. "What a stupid fucking night that was."
Women, it seems, just aren't used to guys not wanting sex. They rarely believe that no means no when it's the guy who's saying it. "One woman was like, You're kidding, right?" Tyler Barnett says. "And then for hours she tried to convince me to have sex." Another woman challenged his sexuality, he says. "If I acted that way, that would make me a monster."
Here's another double standard: Guys can be made to feel like dicks for withholding theirs. "There have definitely been times I wanted to turn down sex but couldn't bring myself to do it," says "Jeff," a 27-year-old grad student in New York. "We're socially conditioned to feel like pussies if we don't live up to the guys-will-fuck-anything stereotype. And because of this stereotype, women take sexual rejection more personally than men do."
"Being on the other side of someone going through the motions—I know how miserable that is," Greg says. "I'd rather go without."