It’s recently come to my attention that I am wildly out of touch with modern sexual norms. The other night over drinks with friends, I learned that one was snap-chatting naked pics with an (engaged) co-worker, one had slept with the same guy for a year but still called him a ‘friend,’ and one, who lives with her fiancé, hasn’t had sex in 3 months but watches lots of porn.
… And these are my professional, put together, totally normal friends.
After fleeting concerns about my taste in social company, I realized that these scenarios aren’t all that radical. We’re increasingly in an era of sexual “openness,” a time when we don’t have to be ashamed of our desires, preferences, or personal history. Social norms are lax to the point where for some, sex is primarily about recreation, not expressions of intimacy.
This is all well and good, but I’ve started to wonder — Even if women and men are totally free to have sex for sex’s sake, does that make it the preferred M.O.? If nothing is taboo and everything is on the table, where is there to go? Are we headed down a dark road of sexual disillusionment, boredom, or unprecedented kinks?
Most people agree that taking the stigma out of sex and sexuality is healthy, and that individually, it’s allowing us to embrace and enjoy that aspect of human nature all the more. Still, the public nature of sex is a strange dichotomy, where we sexualize everything but keep official reference to the act a major taboo (see: Congressional hearings on birth control).
I was raised in a fairly conservative household, the type where premarital relations were synonymous with “one way ticket to the fires of Hades.” The only way to learn about sex or pleasing a man was the occasional contraband Cosmo magazine.
In the long-term, this had its pros and cons. The cons were mostly that parents — or even a frightening Old Testament God — couldn’t match the hormone-paved highway of teenage sexual preoccupation. Sex still happened in my conservative high school, and everyone was doing some form of hooking up by graduation. Kids weren’t totally promiscuous, mind you, but they had sex. The “abstinence only” mindset just stopped teens from talking about it with adults.
On the pro side, all the parental condemnation gave sex a sense of consequence, and made it clear that choosing the right partner was important. Sure, we might not have held out till marriage, but our parents got the general message across — This isn’t a game. Don’t play it with just anyone.
Being reminded about the seriousness of sex encouraged me and others of a similar upbringing to exercise caution — and discretion — in our conduct. We didn’t sleep around. We didn’t talk about what base we were on. We certainly didn’t wear bracelets that showed which sex acts were willing performed, or (geez) take pictures and videos and send them to high traffic porn sites. These days, though, that’s an increasingly antiquated approach…more and more it seems that publicly “putting out” in any and all forms is the thing to do.
A quick glance around the Internet reveals an endless deluge of Chivettes with their bodies on display, and college girls who talk about having more partners than years in their lives. Then there are the men, blogging and bragging about their every weekend conquest and the $7K they dropped on strippers to bang a friend at his bachelor party — really anything to become a hero to the other male masses. For teen and even 20-something guys, masturbating to virtual girls seems more prevalent than conversations with real ones, and any references to *actual* sex between two people is just a punch line for jokes.
Maybe it’s good that people are becoming more comfortable and open, since historically we’ve been absurd and naïve, e.g. the days when Corn Flakes were the solution for masturbation, a condemnable deviant behavior. But… are a barrage of memes about “fapping” and overt displays of sexuality the result of healthier boundaries?
While I wouldn’t recommend the fire and brimstone approach to birth control (sorry, Mom and Dad), it seems possible that we’re going too far towards the “casual” side. Color me prude, but I can’t imagine those 18-year-olds in naked sorority initiations on YouPorn will head towards a life of fulfilling intimacy. Yet… What’s the alternative? Is there a middle road between sex tapes and Scarlet Letters? Why have we lost any regard for intimacy, or at least pretending to be some semblance of chaste?
For current adults and upcoming generations, lax attitudes toward sex aren’t just a result of how we’re brought up. If anything, it’s more a problem of the Girls-Gone-Wild social and cultural norms. Pick-up guides teach guys how to lure women from the “Browser to the Bedroom,” women are encouraged to use sexuality as some pocket-Ace power play, and both genders are told to get what they want and get moving on. We’re constantly emphasizing sex as a form of entertainment: Girls receive critique if they’re unwilling to amp it up, be crazy, adventuresome or do it like the gal in some video. Boys are told to embrace some ancestral need to achieve sexual diversity, that women are just gazelles on the prairie, and either “teases” or even a “waste” of time if they aren’t putting out.
I mean, I get that snap-chatting your boobs might be fun (actually that’s I lie, I really don’t see the appeal), but doesn’t it seem kind of…lacking? Do all the jokes and porn flicks and virtual high-fives build up to anything fulfilling, or just leave us restless and pursuing the next big thrill?
Maybe a warped view of sex — and thus other people — as just a commodity for consumption is symptomatic of larger, more pervasive problem: we’re disconnected socially and emotionally, and have become obsessed with making ourselves “happy.” Emphasis on ourselves. With the way things play out now, rather than seeing others as objects of affection, they are just objects — a means to an end. But, I don’t think being totally self-serving and adequately intimate is possible at the same time. As much as we are sexual creatures, we are social ones, too. We need connections to other people in order to be happy, and to really enjoy sex like it’s meant to be.
That’s just my opinion of course, but observing fellow young adults, it seems that trying to serve up one without the other (i.e. sex without any real importance on the other person involved) is usually all for naught, and pretty unsatisfying. After two years in a monogamous sexual relationship, I am starting to embrace my inner prude at the ripe old age of 26. I see the emphatic teachings of my parents in a strangely amenable light — the reasons we have sex are critical, and far more than the act itself. Perhaps all the lectures about mortal sin should have emphasized that who and the why give sex an amazing power (not terrorizing danger), but personally, I’ve never been happier than I am now. Sex finally feels…real. I am *with* someone, and all the conservative teachings finally make sense. On its own, sex is an act, and nothing that remarkable. As part of a genuine relationship, it’s more than what I expected or even understood.
While I don’t think it should go back to the Fight Club mentality of earlier generations, it’s possible we are destroying the true potential of sex by making it too open. Again, this isn’t to say that casual intercourse is evil, just that there might be such a thing as TOO casual, and that we can (or should) still show some restraint about it for our own self-preservation.