Latest Sex Hysteria: Everyone Worried Young People No Longer Having Sex (Don't Worry, They Are)
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No matter how young people (defined in American culture as “anyone younger than the Baby Boomers”) are doing it, they’re doing it wrong. That’s the message I’ve been getting from the various mainstream media hysterics over young people, especially young women, and sex. If we’re not subjected to panicked articles about a supposed surge in blow jobs or anal sex, we’re subjected to articles claiming young women aren’t getting busy enough. As Tracy Clark-Flory chronicles at Salon , there’s been a mini-trend this year of articles claiming young and young-ish women have given up on sex, an assertion that is unsurprisingly backed up with zero statistical evidence. Instead trend stories about sexless singles and youthful but sexless marriages rely mainly on anecdotal evidence.
The most shocking contributor to this trend has to be Erica Jong. Yes, the same one who made a name for herself by aligning feminism and sexual liberation. Her evidence-free claim that young women are turning their nose up to fun sexy times is coupled with a standard and typically fact-free assertion that young women also don’t care about feminism, and that our asexuality and a-feminism are intertwined. Jong studiously ignores Slutwalks, the overwhelming show of support for Planned Parenthood, and the largely sex-positive feminist blogosphere when making her argument that young women today have abandoned both sexual liberation and feminism.
Interestingly, a common cause tends to be cited for the competing claims that young women are doing it too much or that young women aren’t doing it enough. In both instances, the finger points at our sex-saturated culture. People panicking about “the hook-up culture” allege that all the sex in the media is giving young women ideas, and people panicking about the supposed sex strike tend to argue that sex saturation causes over-familiarity and boredom with sex. Jong suggests that young women are turning their nose up to sex to reject their mothers’ freedom. Trend articles usually invoke internet pornography and media distractions, as well, suggesting these are drawing people away from their beds and towards their digital devices.
Is there truth to these claims that young women have had so much exposure to sex that we’ve lost interest in it? There’s a strong reason to be skeptical.
To begin with, the claim that over-exposure to sex is causing boredom all too closely resembles conservative arguments in support of abstinence-only education. In both views, sex, or interest in sex, is a finite resource that can be used up. Abstinence-only materials often compare female sexuality to a rose that loses a petal every time a woman has sex with a different partner, or to a lollipop that disappears as it’s used, or to a toothbrush, which is used by one man and becomes therefore disgusting to everyone else. Most of the people writing the “women are bored with sex” articles would flinch at the comparison, but aren’t they invoking the same model of sexuality as a finite resource? Jong suggests that the constant ability to titillate yourself online somehow makes women less interested in having actual sex, and quotes Elisa Albert saying, “Sex is overexposed. It needs to take a vacation, turn off its phone, get off the grid.”
Once you start playing footsie with the idea that sex becomes boring once titillation is easy to access, it’s a short leap to agreeing with religious fundamentalists who insist that sex is better if tightly controlled.
Leave it to Naomi Wolf to make the leap. She's taken to adopting pseudo-science usually peddled by right wingers to argue that heavy exposure to sexual materials makes people (in this case, men) less interested in actual sex, and she openly longs for the modesty rules of religious fundamentalists , on the grounds that depriving men of a view of women’s cleavage, legs and hair increases male longing. Most writers peddling the “sex is boring” trend stories are unwilling to make that leap, but it’s a glimpse into where this argument is headed.