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Why Sex Is So Much Better Today

Our sexual world is not perfect, or even that great. But things are so much better now for sex than they were 50 years ago.
 
 
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Today, I am putting on my Incurable Optimist hat.

I want to talk about the sexual world we have today. And I want to talk about how vastly, immeasurably better it is than it used to be. Not that long ago, either. I want to point out some of the ways that, as painful and terrible as our sexual world can be, it is so much better than it has been . . . in ways that we sometimes take for granted.

When you’re fighting for social change — whether that’s for racial equality or sexual liberation, ecological consciousness or LGBT rights, free speech or feminism — it’s easy to get despondent. It’s easy to focus on how lousy things still are, how slow the going is, how much further we still have to go. So today, I want to take off the Cranky Pants, and put on the Incurable Optimist hat, and remind us all of how very far our sexual world has come in a remarkably short time.

I started thinking about this for two reasons. I was reading a recent “Savage Love” sex advice column, consisting of letters thanking Dan for specific, practical ways his advice has made people’s sex lives better. And I was watching “Mad Men,” the excellent TV series about life — including some of the more appalling aspects of sexual life — in and around a Madison Avenue ad agency in the early 1960s. Right around the time I was born.

And it started to strike me: Damn. Thing are so much better now for sex than they were when I was born. In so very many ways.

I want to talk about some of those ways.

When I was born, vibrators and other devices for female sexual pleasure were sold underground, with their true purpose disguised . . . if they were sold at all. Today, an astonishingly wide variety of vibrators and such are readily available to anyone with a computer and a credit card . . . giving millions of women easy access to orgasm at the touch of a finger.

When I was born, the very idea of female sexual pleasure, and the idea that women had as much right to sexual pleasure as men, was shocking and controversial. Today, the notion that women actually enjoy sex, and that we have a right to ask for the kinds of sex we enjoy, is generally understood and accepted. (At least, more so than it was 47 years ago. Even right wing Christian evangelicals are pushing the idea of sexually satisfying marriages . . . satisfying for both partners, not just men.)

When I was born, it was generally assumed that women in an office were there (a) for the sexual enjoyment of men, and (b) to catch husbands. Today, it is generally assumed that women in an office are there to get some work done.

When I was born, birth control was still illegal in about half of the States in the U.S . . .. and the birth control methods that were available were ineffective, dangerous, or both. Today, birth control is legal, widely available, available in a variety of forms, and much safer — thus enabling women to enjoy sex without the constant fear of unwanted pregnancy.

Ditto abortion.

When I was born, kids and teenagers looking for information about sex mostly got it from their friends . . . who didn’t know any more about sex than they did. Today, kids and teenagers looking for information about sex can talk to San Francisco Sex Information, or Scarleteen, or any number of other sources of accurate, anonymous, non-judgmental sex information.

 
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