Some women contend that any sideways glance by a male co-worker automatically diminishes their effectiveness on the job and their likelihood of advancement. While others worry that unless they can score a sideways glance, they’ll never get anywhere.

In earlier messages, Michael Masterson advises women not to “use” our sexuality for political gain at the office. But if we “have” sex at the office … well, that might be okay. Women fume at the implication that our sexuality is a factor at all in our career advancement, while men struggle to find the right place to rest their eyes during a team meeting so they don’t get slapped with a lawsuit.

Lost in this debate is the simple fact that most men and women find the opposite sex attractive (and sometimes members of the same gender, but we’ll leave that for another time).

In a business environment, we are removed from the sanctity of our home and family, asked to exercise our brilliance and creativity, and generally try to look and act like successful, confident people while at the job. That’s a pretty sexy combination of factors on just about anyone.

So how do we manage this balancing act between the most natural outgrowth of attraction and the abuse of power, manipulation, and control – also known as sexual boundaries? Very carefully.

Only the Asexual Need Apply – Yeah, Right!

The truth is, your sexuality is a healthy expression of who you are. It is often a reflection of the same qualities that make you excel at your job – drive, energy, even the power to seduce another person. (Also known as marketing!) Leave those personal powers at home and you’re likely to go down a notch or two in the eyes of your colleagues, not up.

A sexually charged environment can be highly productive, can urge us to work harder than we might otherwise, and can even bring out the best in us creatively and intellectually. Rather than trying to be a stripped-down (or buttoned-up) version of yourself, it’s a better idea to simply channel your sexual energy into the work you do … as long as you stop short of sharing it with your co-workers.

But asking anyone, male or female, to leave their sexuality out of the business environment is not a viable solution. It’s time, instead, that we all ‘fess up to the reality: We turn each other on all the time every day…and most times, we shouldn’t act on it. And if we do, we should be prepared to accept the consequences. How’s that for a cold shower?

Simple Attraction vs. Office Prostitution

Very few women today are so naive as to think that we could sleep our way to the top, even if we wanted to. Only men who like to indulge in the fantasy that they have the power to hoist a woman to the top by the sheer act of sleeping with her believe this is a plausible success strategy. (Sorry, Michael!)

The last thing a woman wants is for people to think that her advancement is a result of a sexual favor rather than a reward for hard work – and most attempts at handing out a promotion to reward such a favor are so transparent that a workforce revolt usually follows. Truthfully, most women want to come by their success honestly, and are more than qualified to do just that.

Sexual indiscretion generally comes with a price, not with extra perks. (Just ask Monica Lewinsky how it worked out for her in the long run.) So when a woman crosses the line at the office, it’s usually despite her desire for career advancement, not in pursuit of it.

Is this illicit and secretive game part of the attraction? For many, it is. But is it a calculated move to score a quick trip to the top of the heap once you re-apply your make-up? If you think so, go ahead and try it. Within a couple of months, I guarantee you’ll be looking for a new job, in a new industry, maybe even in a new town. Not to mention picking up the pieces of your personal life if your indiscretion also compromises your marriage vows.

Which I suppose goes back to the distinction between “using” and “having” – namely, prostitution vs. attraction. While I don’t believe there’s as much prostitution going on across the landscape of corporate America as Michael Masterson implies – there’s a heck of a lot of good old-fashioned attraction.

For the purest, most natural reasons, women and men in offices around the country regularly cross the line of intimacy. Sometimes before they even realize it.

The Difference Between Sexuality … and Sex

The problem many of us have is not so much that we are playing a power game of advancement in the bedroom, but simply that we don’t know where to draw the line between sexuality … and sex. And in some cases, we don’t even know when we’ve crossed it until way too late.

Recently, a colleague of mine confided that a crush she has on a co-worker has grown into occasional phone conversations on the way to and from work. Now the pair, both married, have opened the door to a level of intimacy that is, shall we say, edgy.

The bottom line is this: She wants him. He wants her. And neither one is strong enough to leave the fruit on the vine. Most likely, they will both suffer for it, and so will their co-workers, bosses, company, and families – the whole agonizing ripple effect we all know so well.

Are they engaging in gender politics? Prostitution? Or simple attraction and desire? To me, the answer is obvious. And, at the same time, it hardly matters. What matters is that the consequences are likely to be more damaging than the sex will be worth.

Just Say No … or at Least Don’t Get Caught

The sad truth in almost all cases where the line between a healthy expression of sexuality blurs into an active sexual relationship is that neither party cares about the consequences until it comes time to face them. And then, how you face those consequences becomes a test of your character. Because you failed the initial test by crossing the line in the first place.

If we’re being honest – rather than political or legal – there are only two options when faced with a boundary challenge. Do whatever you can, including changing companies or moving out of town, to resist acting on your attraction. Or go ahead and indulge, knowing full well that you’ll take responsibility and pay the price without crying foul or harm if and when your consensual house of cards comes crumbling down. And vow to behave better next time.

[Ed. Note: Monica Day is an occasional contributor to ETR who spent 20 years in business environments … alternately avoiding and giving in to romantic temptation on the job. Today, she’s a successful freelance copywriter who was trained by AWAI and mentored by Michael Masterson. Her latest adventure will be to launch a bi-weekly e-letter with another copywriter, Krista Jones, called The Copy Protege. Go to www.copyprotege.com to find out more.]
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