There is a four-letter word in the English language that is so subtle yet insidious, it has single-handedly managed to pervert relationships, mangle trust, and thwart the happiness of humankind.

That word is “just.”

When I was a blossoming teenager, my grandmother gave me a piece of dating advice that would cloud my perception of men for years to come.

“Don’t trust any man,” she cautioned me, with protective intentions. “Guys will just want you for sex.”

This warning was echoed by feminist mentors and prematurely bitter girlfriends. Pretty soon, I had heard it enough times that I started to believe the conclusion myself, even though I had no experience of my own to base it on.  For pleasure or power, I accepted, guys would only want me for my body.

Before I had even lost my virginity, I started to view sex as something stripped of emotional intimacy: a mechanical act that primarily benefited males. Guys just wanted to get it in—it didn’t matter with whom—and I was merely an appliance for jacking off: an upgraded hand, with self-secreting lotion.

And that’s when things started to get really twisted.

Sometimes I would meet guys I really liked, but I was afraid to act on my physical impulses for fear of turning myself into a sexual object. They may have wanted me for sex—but, I realized, I wanted them for sex, too.

So, why couldn’t I get past this notion of guys as sexual predators if, as I began to admit to myself, I wanted sex as much as they did?

Blame that treacherous word, “just.”

Of course, I didn’t JUST want a guy for sex; there were numerous factors that played into the desire to get naked in bed with someone, including his sense of humor, education, kindness, financial stability, etc., but once enough of those qualities became apparent in a guy, the inevitable outcome was that I became stricken with the primal urge to have his babies. Why shouldn’t it be the same for guys?

Any man who just wanted me for my mind and personality might as well be my father or gay best friend. But if a guy wanted me for sex, did that mean that sex was all he was after? There’s kind of a major difference between the phrases “he wants to have sex with me,” and “he just wants me for sex.”

I realized that the word “just” had completely distorted my perception of guys, their intentions, and the role sex plays in building a healthy relationship. By assuming that guys only wanted to use me for my sexuality, I had been suppressing it for fear of being exploited.

After I took the word “just” out of the equation, I began to see sex as something more than an anonymous bodily function. Once I was on the same page with my first boyfriend, physical intimacy became part of the natural progression of making a human connection. We both wanted each other for sex (among other things)—and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Sadly, female use of the word “just” continues to hijack many otherwise promising relationships, provoking misperception and hostility between genders. Granted, I’m also not surprised that there are men out there who actually do just want women for sex.

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