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10 Things the American Media Really Need to Learn About Sex

The sexual conversation often turns otherwise professional journalists and pundits into alarmists and preachers.

Of all the national conversations suffering for lack of rigorous debate and actual facts, the sexual conversation is one most likely to turn otherwise professional journalists and pundits into alarmists and preachers. 

When editors and writers aren't just playing to America's persistent sexual ignorance, they're deepening it: pegging stories to stereotypes, slip-sliding over science, even recycling their own sketchy trend pieces. This is how female desire can be rediscovered every month, while women are shamed for actually acting on it – sometimes just a few pages away. 

“A lot of journalists just get a pass,” says sex educator  Cory Silverberg. “The bar is so low, and our expectations are so low when it comes to covering sex." But why, as a load of awful sex advice pieces have asked before, should we  settle?

1. Sex is not a trend, a style...  

First, let's assume there is a desire on the part of journalists to produce  journalism on sexuality, the kinds of stories that don't need to be labeled, like so many dildos, “for novelty use only.” Let's imagine that all those times sex gets assigned just a few sheets ahead of the back pages, it's not because there was nothing to report and no one to report it. (The  Washington Post  still uses its Style section to cover “women,” after all.)

Our sexuality is such a fundamental part of our lives, and yet, how many stories cycle through announcing the “discovery” of female sexual desire? That adultery is popular? That people use the Internet to find sex partners? The media should accept that what it continues to “discover” might actually be norms. Instead of running lightly rewritten “sexpert” press releases on this thing called a vibrator and how to get one, dig deeper. Where's our expose on the Foxconn of Chinese sex toy factories?

2. ...or a slideshow.

The new ways we pass news around on the Internet has done a bit to dislodge sex stories from their gutter. But social media hasn't don't much to speed the demise of the worst cliches in sex writing. If anything, now that they've got more news real estate, otherwise reasonable outlets that could treat sex with some seriousness are still thwarted by the twin demons of search engine optimized headlines and slideshows of whatever sort-of smut a celebrity has generated that week. 

The sideshow atmosphere of these story packages sometimes run to the advertorial (“Five Hot Bars To Pick Up A Guy Tonight!”), but even real, sober human interest stories get wedged into what someone thought would run best alongside an attractive series of headshots. While this happens across the media, sex fluff has little sex investigation to balance it. Until then, maybe we can creatively infiltrate these listicles. To “Ten Ways To Jump Start Your Love Life Now!“ why not add "Number 8: the government getting out of the way when I need the Pill, hello!”?

3. There is no reason to panic.

If the dominant trope in writing about technology is that everything is always new, in sex, everything is always  worse: the kinds of sex people have, and the people having it – especially women, and young ones even more so. At what point in history was sex better, simpler? 

Take what's come to be called “hookup culture” in the last few years: young people have no feelings and no ability to connect with one another anymore, because they are too busy occupying one another's beds without swapping blood tests and rings first. “These media pieces or social panics have always happened around sexuality and young people,” says Heather Corinna, founder of  Scarleteen, a sex education Web site for young people. “In the 1920s, some young people engaged in 'petting parties,' group hangouts where everyone was making out or having 'everything-but' sex, what the term petting used to refer to.”

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