Amy Sohn will join Esther Perel, Ian Kerner, Leonore Tiefer and Cory Silverberg for a conversation called "Sex in America: Can The Conversation Change?" The symposium is co-sponsored by the Huffington Post and Open Center and will take place in New York City on Friday, February 20th. Click here to register.
In the fall of 2001, following the attacks on the World Trade Center, New York was struck by a phenomenon called "terror sex." Some called it "apocalypse sex." The world felt dangerous and frightening, and people wanted to feel close. They went out to bars and took home strangers. They called up old boyfriends and girlfriends and reunited, some for a night, some for good.
These days, following the Obama inauguration, New Yorkers, many of whom have already lost jobs due to the flagging economy, are engaging in a different kind of sex. Optimistic that change will come - economic and political, these New Yorkers are engaging in what Breakupgirl.net calls "hope sex." (Insert the requisite joke here: "Change you can conceive in," "Yes! Yes! Yes I Can!")
One reason that New Yorkers are having more hope sex these days is because of the endless parties and celebrations - many of them alcohol-fueled - that accompanied the election and the inauguration. Regime change leads to partying, and partying leads to . . . well, you know.
Take my friend Ellie, for example. On Election Night, the 34-year-old literary agent invited over an ex-boyfriend with whom she's still friendly. They smoked marijuana while watching the returns. She cried when Obama won Ohio (partly due to the pot). "As I listened to Obama's acceptance speech later that night," she recalls, "I was surprised to find that I was sexualizing the experience. I felt like hope c*** on my t**s. That feeling was so exhilarating that I had hope sex with my friend that night, although the pot put me in a good mood all around. The sex wasn't all that memorable in and of itself, but it was comfortable and comforting."
Stephen, 34, a recently-married Manhattanite musician, has been feeling a renewed sense of commitment to his wife of late, and thinking about making a baby - even in the wake of financial uncertainty. "My wife and I are feeling optimistic and thinking about procreating. We did canvassing for Obama, which was a fun thing to do together. There is something about Obama that soothes the nerves. He's like a horse whisperer."
"Hope is a physical as well as mental state," says Pepper Schwartz, PhD., professor of sociology at the University of Washington and author of Prime: Adventures and Advice About Sex, Love and the Sensual Years. "When we feel hopeful we produce positive hormones, such as adrenalin and dopamine, that energize and uplift our spirits. Making love is both more desired and more poignant... These are complex, troubled times and we need hope to keep us going in our relationships and in our day-to-day life, so we can repair, progress and even love."
Stephen, the musician, suggests some hope sex may be fueled by the sexual appeal of the Obamas themselves. Handsome (but not too handsome), confident, and affable, the President-elect is popular with men, who like him but are not threatened by him. Obama is to men what Sarah Jessica Parker is to women.
"I've seen him with his shirt off and I feel like I could take him," says Stephen. "He is something my wife and I can both agree on, and I can be Barack and she can be Michelle. Maybe I'll suggest that tonight."
Ernie, a gay 43-year-old translator, has been having more sex than usual in the past few months because his Obama-supporting boyfriend has been in such a good mood. "He was an Obama supporter and I was for Hillary," Ernie says, "so what's hope sex for him feels like sadomasochism to me."
The real question is whether all of this hope sex - at least, the heterosexual variety - will lead to a baby boom in August, nine months after Election Night, and perhaps again in October, nine months after the inauguration. Obama himself, as the Huffington Post has pointed out, was born almost exactly nine months after John F. Kennedy's 1960 election.
Annette, an ad exec in Brooklyn, is already expecting an Obama baby. "I had been pressing my boyfriend for procreation," she says, "since I'm almost 37. I was also pressing for marriage but that evoked nothing but a frown. We were in the break-up-or-get-married stage. Election night was very emotional for us because we had gone to Pennsylvania together to campaign for him and made phone calls to battleground states.
"My boyfriend cried for a good five minutes when the Obama news came. We went home and had a serious unprotected hump, without acknowledging that we were making an Obama baby. That was followed by four more days of unprotected rolling around - all without speaking of it. Now I'm ten weeks along. We're spreading the rumor that we're naming it Hussein, regardless of gender."
Justianna, 35, a schoolteacher in Brooklyn, had hope sex a bit earlier, in July 2008, after Obama won the Democratic nomination. She wound up getting pregnant with her fourth child - but her first with her new boyfriend. "I see the baby as a member of a new generation, one which my current three kids (ages 11, 9, and 6) are not a part of: a generation where people see proof of the messages of equality and hope. I am excited to have a baby in this very special, politically thrilling, financially frightening time. Can we get pregnant? 'YES WE CAN!'"
But if all this talk of hope and optimism turns your stomach, never fear. In a city as big as New York, some people never get action. Mike, a 55-year-old headhunter, says he's not getting any lately, though he has been eating more chocolate out of financial anxiety. "Forget about hope sex," he says. "I'm just hoping."
This piece first appeared in Grazia magazine (UK).