There used to be a tiny elite of men in London who, whenever their names came up at a dinner party, people would say, “Oh him! He’s slept with everyone!”
Women would laugh — and then confess: yes, they had too. In those days they spoke of these men with great affection and even admiration. They were seen as lovable lotharios; incorrigible and irresistible. Men like me, racked with envy, would sit silently with forced smiles on our faces wondering: how did they do it?
These men weren’t necessarily great-looking, super-successful or rich. They didn’t have charisma or much charm either, and yet they dated one beautiful woman after another. (One of these men dated both the young Rachel Weisz and Gillian Anderson.) What did these guys have that we didn’t?
When I asked a woman about the appeal of one of these men she said: “He really loves women!” “No wonder he loves women,” I replied, “they’re always sleeping with him!”
So who are these men? The legendary ones include Warren Beatty and Leonard Cohen. Beatty bonked the beauties of Hollywood while Lenny worked his way through his fan base. But Lenny was never known as a mere lothario or a playboy. No, our Lenny was known as a “ladies’ man” — which is a fancy term for a male slut who writes farewell notes to women in iambic pentameter.
More interesting are the men who were not well-known outside of small metropolitan circles. There’s a certain American journalist more famous for his conquests than his copy (yes, him!). He personifies The Man Who Slept With Everyone — smart, sexy, dashing and desirable. But here’s a sign of the times: not long ago I was with a group of women and each one proudly boasted that they’d never ever slept with this man.
Once a lovable lothario, he was now seen as a loathsome sleazebag. He hadn’t changed, but the times had. It’s not cool to be a ladies’ man or a lothario nowadays.
I recently ran into an old friend who was one in the 1980s. We all envied him; looking at him now we’d all pity him. The hair is gone and so has his confidence. I mentioned his former reputation and he told me he spent ten years in therapy for his “sex addiction.” I told him I spent my whole life trying to be so lucky. He didn’t smile. He’s ashamed of his past.
One obvious explanation for this is the impact of the #MeToo movement. Today the lothario looks tacky, toxic, a touch sleazy and totally sexist — at least to a younger generation. For some this is progress, but it comes at a price. Contemporary sex gossip — the kind you share with friends — has gotten very safe and bland.
The other day I was told by a reliable source that a certain leading British politician — close to Boris Johnson — has a big penis. What makes this story funny is that he doesn’t look like that sort of chap. But when I brought my prized bit of gossip up at a dinner party, nobody was interested! Nobody asked for a name, a measurement, verification or a phone number. Instead, the table went right back to the topic of the war in Ukraine. What is wrong with people?
There was a time back in the early 2000s when we all gossiped and speculated on the well-endowed; suspects include a famous right-wing historian — no, not Niall Ferguson — and a presenter of an important BBC current affairs program. The #MeToo link between penis and patriarchy has put people off. It’s not seen as funny anymore, or a suitable topic for table talk. Or maybe we’ve all just grown up? I hope not.
The funny thing is that the spirit of the lothario is actually alive and well — just not among heterosexual males. Today’s lotharios are young lesbians. That’s right — to be a ladies’ man you have to be a lady. My lesbian friends tell me about their amazing romantic lives. They’re always having sex on the first date, multiple partners and mind-blowing orgasms all the time! Once again, I’m reduced to silence, a forced smile and total envy.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s July 2022 World edition.