One afternoon in the spring of 1988, Porter Williams, then aged thirty, was driving down a busy boulevard near his Baltimore home when he noticed a Grand Prix parked on the shoulder. Passing it, he caught a glimpse of two women leaning over the engine compartment. "Honestly," Porter told me, "what I saw was a pair of yellow shorts and two fine legs. I decided to make a U-turn."
Porter, a middle-school teacher, was not handy with cars but hoped the problem was merely a dead battery or a loose wire. Unfortunately, he couldn't fix the problem. But while tinkering unsuccessfully under the hood, Porter learned that the car was rented and offered to ferry the women back to the agency where they'd picked it up.
Unlike Rob Reilly, Porter was not shy when flirting with women. He'd been a high-school football star, and he remained handsome and muscular more than a decade later. He believed in his ability to charm. And he'd had plenty of practice. Porter, an African-American man, told me he grew up in the inner city with a father who was prone to infidelity. In his father's mold, Porter also came to objectify women, he said. Throughout his twenties, Porter hung out with a group of friends at strip clubs and bars, looking for sexual relationships. Before meeting the woman in the yellow shorts, Porter told me with regret, he'd had two children by two different women.
Sex, he acknowledged, was on his mind as he drove to the rental agency. In the car, he began the seduction of Sara, the woman in the yellow shorts. He flattered her, let it be known that he was unmarried and available, and eventually asked for her phone number. A week later, he took her to dinner on their first date. Then he invited her back to his apartment, poured drinks, filled the room with soft music, and, in his words, "tried to get her to spend the night."
That's when she rebelled. "If you think I'm a one-night stand, you can forget it!" Porter remembers Sara declaring. Then she did something that floored him. She opened her purse, counted out the $80 that he'd spent for dinner and drinks, and thrust the cash toward him. "If [having sex] is why we went out, I'll pay for my dinner," she said, "and I'll pay for yours too."
Porter refused the money and apologized. As he now recalls, "I didn't try anything else that night, and she did go home." It took some convincing to get Sara to date him again, but gradually, Porter gained her trust. Two years after meeting, the couple married. Today, they're parents of a twelve-year-old daughter; they're raising one of Porter's other children too. Sara's offer to refund his meal money on that first date "made me respect her," Porter says. "I've never lost that respect." While in this case self-respect and chastity were linked, they are not the same thing. Most men, in fact, are not looking for virgins to marry. Indeed, several told me that they specifically did not want to marry a sexually inexperienced woman. A survey of couples that has been repeated several times over fifty-seven years confirms the relatively low priority that American men place on having a virgin bride: The survey showed that among eighteen "mate characteristics" that men desired, chastity was 10th most important in 1939, 13th in 1956, 15th in 1967, 17th in 1977, 17th in 1984, and 16th in 1996.