Fear of Flying author Erica Jong argues that this generation of young people have grown bored with sex. She knows this because she hangs out with young female writers sometimes, and they're apparently gazing wistfully to the morals of the 1950's, back before Erica Jong and her ilk made pre- and extra-marital sex fun and exciting.
In her NYT op-ed, she opines,
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.
Here, it's important to consider the fact that the "young people" she's discussing aren't in their teens and twenties; Jong's daughter and her peers are in their mid-30's, some of whom are unmarried. Her perception that this demographic is collectively less enthusiastic about sex may be true, but her assertion that they're all bored with sex is off base. 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, and reached dating age right about when the AIDS epidemic had everyone convinced that having unprotected sex was like playing genital Russian roulette. Most of the unmarried thirtysomethings I know are advanced enough in their careers that dealing with the trivial side of fledgling relationships seems petty and not worth the emotional toll it takes. Eventually, most of them would like to settle down with someone who understands them and doesn't annoy the shit out of them.
She's right to say that "punishing the sexual woman is a hoary, antique meme," but then goes on to invoke it on wait for it- sexual women! Starting with a tongue-in-cheek Cold War vision of the consequences awaiting the sexually liberated woman ("Sex for women leads to madness in attics, cancer and death by fire."), she segues into genuine contempt for the sexual woman who is now choosing to use sex to bear children. "Better to wear one's baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don't belong to him." So Freud is once again calling the shots on women's intimacy in relationships in the context of motherhood? "With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion?" she intones, invoking another hoarier, larger meme for women: damned if you do, damned if you don't. Be "sexual," achieve intimacy, bear a child, let the child destroy the sexuality simply by paying attention to the child, lose intimacy. Don't be sexual, forego sexuality, never find intimacy. Okay.
Furthermore, in applying the term "young people" to a group of people who are closer to middle age than to teenagerhood, Jong betrays her disconnect with actual young people and ignores an entirely new generation's discovery of and fascination with sex. Rave culture, which is basically large groups of youths getting together to listen to Deadmau5, drop E and rub up on each other while having all sorts of weird youth sex, is experiencing a resurgence. More people under 30 are experimenting with oral and anal sex than ever before. A new smorgasbord of birth control options and effective medications against even chronic STD's, including a vaccination against HPV, has removed much of the danger surrounding sex in the 80's and 90's. It's a good time to be young and sexually active. Perhaps sex doesn't have the taboo novelty it once had, but just because sexual acts are no longer revolutionary doesn't mean that they're not enjoyable or sought en masse.
A lot more people paid attention to the space program when we were going to the moon for the first time.
Jong also writes,
The backlash against sex has lasted longer than the sexual revolution itself. Both birth control and abortion are under attack in many states. Women's health care is considered expendable in budgetary negotiations. And the right wing only wants to champion unborn children.
What she fails to point out, however, is that the backlash against sex that she mentions isn't perpetuated by the generation she blames for it; John Boehner is hardly a millennial and I doubt the old white men spearheading the anti-choice, anti-woman political impetus that's all the rage with today's octogenarians are versed in the language of youth. I bet they can't even name one Lady Gaga song.
Jong continues attacking her Frankenstrawman she's pieced together from sexless married couples, exhausted single women, and old Republicans, offering the Internet as a possible culprit for what she perceives as an entire generation being over boning.
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.
Not only did we fail to corrupt our daughters, but we gave them a sterile way to have sex, electronically. Clearly the lure of Internet sex is the lack of involvement. We want to keep the chaos of sex trapped in a device we think we can control.
Wait, what? Women my age are foregoing sex in favor of OKCupid and receiving sexted pictures of congressional bulges? This must be going on in a world of women who are entirely unlike me and everyone I know, because 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. The internet can be an adequate substitute for many interactions- calling to order pizza can now be avoided with a few mouse clicks, for example- but it's certainly nothing close to an adequate substitute for sexual contact, nor does it seem that we're moving in that direction. To my generation, 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.
"The backlash against sex has lasted longer than the sexual revolution itself" she writes, but the so-called "backlash" against sex isn't limited to a response to the sexual revolution in which Jong participated. Sexual awakening has faced pushback in the form of prudery, moralizing, and hand-wringing since the dawn of human civilization, from Cleopatra to The Scarlet Letter (which she actually mentions in the article, right before she contradicts herself by implying that current Puritanical attitudes toward sex are the result of the sexy actions of the last 50 years or so) to this site's namesake, the Biblical Jezebel.
While Jong makes some good points, ultimately she's not really making an argument; she's bringing up several unrelated points and unsuccessfully attempting to knit them together to fit her vision that her generation was the generation that did sex the best. It's another case of an older generation declaring something over for everyone once they're done with it. If AIDS can't ruin sex, I hardly think modern ennui will, no matter how many horrific Match.com dates her daughter and her exhausted friends experience.
Is Sex Passe? [NYT]