Is sex going out of style?
Yes, according to an op-ed from Erica Jong published in the New York Times over the weekend. Jong, author of the 1970's novel Fear of Flying and longtime proponent of women's sexual liberation, says kids today are "over" sex: While their mothers embraced the novelty of sexual freedom associated with the women's movement, young women today long for a more nostalgic, Betty Draper-esque return to conservative sexuality, motherhood, and monogamy.
Just as the watchword of my generation was freedom, that of my daughter's generation seems to be control. Is this just the predictable swing of the pendulum or a new passion for order in an ever more chaotic world? A little of both. We idealized open marriage; our daughters are back to idealizing monogamy. We were unable to extinguish the lust for propriety.
While young women find real-life sex passe, Jong claims, they are increasingly finding other ways to sate their sexual desires. According to Jong, the tidal wave of the one-click sexual gratification that technology affords has only added force to the pendulum swing away from real-life, unbridled sexual passion. Within the safe confines of our computers and smart phones, we've discovered a "sterile way to have sex, electronically."
The Internet obliges by offering simulated sex without intimacy, without identity and without fear of infection. Risky behavior can be devoid of risk, unless of course you use your real name and are an elected official.
Jong says this "backlash against sex" has reared its head in politics, as well, as laws governing the availability of both contraception and abortion come under close scrutiny in many states. Apathy for the sexual liberation that the first wave of feminists fought so doggedly to attain, Jong writes, threatens to "destroy women's equality" altogether.
Oh, please, says Rosie Gray in the Village Voice. "Let us be clear: sex is not over, it is not "passe," and people are still having it. "Is eating passe? Is breathing passe? Is the New York Times' opinion content passe?" While Jong's "boilerplate" logic about the differences between generations of mothers and daughters holds together for a while, writes Gray, it misses the mark in that it fails to recognize that women are, indeed, having sex - and enjoying it. Maybe "we're not doused in patchouli, braless and rolling around in the mud with some hairy fellow at Woodstock‚ [but] people are having sex, the way people tend to do."
And young women aren't replacing real sex with visits to the .xxx pages of the Internet, writes Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel. "I've not yet met one woman in my age group who has divulged to me her extreme preference for internet porn and sexy texting, to the point that she's chosen to forego real sex," Ryan says. While younger women may enjoy the occasional OKCupid interaction or sexual SMS exchange, "Internet sexual interaction isn't an end in itself; it's a means to an end. It's a form of foreplay that hopefully culminates in actual sex."
What undermines Jong's "sex is over" claim most, Ryan says, is the reality that Jong's op-ed is based largely on observations taken from her 30-something friends, women far likelier to be removed from the sexually liberated mentality of women's twenty-something years and more taken with the concept of lasting relationships and, ultimately, motherhood:
People who are in their mid-30's and unmarried aren't put off by the idea of sex because they're bored with it; it's because dating is exhausting, and they've been doing it for the better part of two decades. Eventually, most of them would like to settle down with someone who understands them and doesn't annoy the shit out of them.
Young women today are having just as much sex -- if not more -- than their liberated mothers did, Ryan argues. But that's become the norm, not the exception to the rule. Liberated sex didn't stop being exciting -- it just stopped being news. "A lot more people paid attention to the space program when we were going to the moon for the first time," says Ryan.