Two trend pieces today allege that young people are turning celibate in droves. But maybe they're just having a dry spell.
Mandy Stadtmiller opens her piece on young New Yorkers "going celibate" with a description of one Katie Jean Arnold's anonymous hookup. She writes, "It was then that she made her Big Decision. No. More. Sex. She's led a sex-free life ever since." Except that was two weeks ago. And while Stadtmiller acknowledges that that's "not a long time to remain chaste," her piece treats anything less than constant sex as a little anomalous. She quotes Arnold: "Not having sex is like giving up junk food. Sex in New York for me had become like the 99-cent package of Ding Dongs on the corner." And "media personality" Julia Allison, after a breakup: "I decided to codify my unofficial gut reaction of ‘I really don't feel like dating' into an official ‘No Dating, No Sex' stance, at least for the next month, and perhaps beyond that."
Eschewing dating or sex for a month following a breakup just sounds like "taking a break" to me, something relatively common in the dating lives of people young and old. And despite talk of sex being as easy to pick up as a package of Ding Dongs, most single people I know have had dry spells longer than that. The word celibacy connotes a big, life-altering decision, but many of the people in Stadtmiller's piece seem to simply be going through normal fluctuations in their sex lives. What's abnormal is assuming that everybody's getting it 24/7 unless they make a formal pledge not to.
Slate's Jessica Grose, who has called millennials "generation scold" when it comes to sex, also sees young people today as tending toward celibacy — or at least restraint. She writes that "a handful of women bloggers [...] are sobering up quickly after their youthful indiscretions, and lately, the sober seems far more prominent than the indiscreet." One such blogger, 22-year-old Sex and the Ivy scribe Lena Chen, helped organize Harvard's Rethinking Virginity conference — at which, Grose writes, "It was striking to hear young adults call for a government-mandated safe area to save a hypothetical virgin from the risks-and the joys-of youthful trial and error. That abstinence was even being considered as a solution to the young adult sexual minefield is a surprisingly conservative shift."
If Chen or other young feminist bloggers were really offering abstinence as a "solution," that would indeed be conservative. But Chen's comments at the conference may have fallen short of that — Grose quotes her as asking only, "What if an 18-year-old virgin needs to learn how to talk to his partner about how he's never had sex before?" Chen maintains on her own blog that "I was/am not preaching sexual abstinence (or ANYTHING for that matter)." And while some of the "shaming" Grose reports from the conference is troubling (Chen disputes this to some extent too), she may be seeing less of a sea change in young people's attitudes to sex, and more a diversity that has always existed.
I didn't believe that young people were leading crazy lives of constant anonymous sex back when hookup hysteria was at its height, and now that Grose and others are calling out a new prudery, I'm not sure I buy it either. Backlash against a few female bloggers (Grose mentions Emily Gould) may have changed the character of the online overshare, but I don't think people's actual lives are any tamer — or naughtier — than they've ever been. Grose also links to a New York sex diary Chen wrote in 2008, titillatingly titled "The Ivy League Co-ed Who Has Orgasms in Her Sleep." But although the weeklong diary includes "two hot dreams; one hot dream resulting in orgasm," one thing is notably absent: actual sex. Celibates, voluntary and involuntary, take heart: even sex bloggers have dry spells.
Image via Manuel Fernandes/Shutterstock.com.
No More Sex In The City [NY Post]
Why Is A Former Sex Blogger "Rethinking Virginity"? [Slate]
Slate: Why Is A Former Sex Blogger "Rethinking Virginity"? [The Ch!cktionary]