Bad Boys, Nice Guys, Good Girls, and Sluts

Sexual stereotypes have always been with us. Do they hold true?

Posted Jun 15, 2020

There are certain iconic opposites that each of us wrestles with for ourselves. No one else’s resolution will help. Will you run the race to win vs. stop along the way to smell the roses? Will you work toward a career in the family footprint or follow your heart? Will you, young man, give in to your attraction for that sexy dim bulb or go for the woman who would make a docile wife and good mother?

For eons, women have come in two stereotypes—virgins or whores. In the 21st century, it’s more likely to be dampened a bit to the "good girl" vs. the "bad one" or "slut." The slightest perceived manner of dress or behavior will tip a woman from one to the other, irredeemably. The choices in men seem to be the "bad boy" with the glint in his eye or the "nice guy" who is yawningly dull. The problem with these age-old dualities is that they reduce a whole sex to a simplified polarity, which by no means encompasses all the varieties of people or even the subtleties of the personality of one who seems to be one of the stereotypes.

It is true that when our hormones run at their height in adolescence, bad boys who mouth off, who swagger, who will meet a girl’s wondering glance with a knowing nod rather than a blush, hold an air of danger, of excitement, of risk. It’s that air of danger that surrounds the bad boy that is the appeal. No paperback novel has cover art of a hardware store clerk or a plumber. It’s usually a pirate, a cowboy, a bandit leader, some symbol of excitement, and therein lies the appeal. For men or women, the one who goes against our everyday expectations, the one who isn’t like mom or dad, is the one we want to play with before we settle down with the other kind—the good woman or the nice guy.

The appeal of the sexy and dangerous other is very understandable to a young person testing his/her wings: “Do I dare? Is it worth it taking the risk?” If the bad girl winds up with an unwanted baby or the bad boy with a police record, their appeal is likely to be considerably dampened, because it’s the fantasy that holds the appeal, not such sad realities.

If one escapes youthful experimentation and makes “good” (societally approved) life choices, this does not confer future immunity. Mid-life crises often involve her affair with the tennis instructor or his with the masseuse, again someone with an appeal of the sexy, forbidden, or exciting.

Of course, I have been writing of stereotypes here. I myself know of good girls who have coupled with nice guys and made a happy life or married folk who have run off with a neighbor, thereby trading one nice guy or good girl for another. I write this essay to point out that these stereotypes are still very much alive—just take a look at any romance novel that flies off bookstore shelves—and there is an appeal for most men and women, no matter how straitlaced their nature, to look at the dangerous potential playmate at some point in their life.

Do you personally, reader, harbor the desire to be one of the stereotypes that are not yours? If you’re quarantined right now with a closet full of clothes, I urge you to go play. If you have a partner there with you, so much the better. Think what a good surprise it would be to face a newly emerged bad boy or good girl across the table tonight.