We Have Always Been Very Horny

Illustration for article titled We Have Always Been Very Horny
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Horniness is not new, though the winds that blow across the internet would indicate that we are in a renaissance of sorts. Women’s desire is not new either, despite a recent trend piece in Vanity Fair that attempts to excavate the reasons why. It is a constant and is in fact a scientific imperative for the continued persistence of life on this planet, whether we like it or not. But the current iteration of “horniness” as a trend is not about the feeling itself but the performance of it.

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Writer Rachel Dodes takes on the trend of performative horniness by pinning the locus to, as ever, Donald Trump’s election and the possibility of his re-election on the horizon: “Women have decided it’s high time to say the unsayable: In spite of everything, or maybe because of it, they’re horny.” Arguing for the blunt expression of sexual desire in the face of humanity’s eventual end is a subset of nihilism that I can get behind, but framing female desire as a newfound emotion that women in 2020 are only now allowing into their loins and onto the internet is disingenuous. In parsing the things people are supposedly horny for—not sex, necessarily, but universal healthcare, Beto O’Rourke, a sale at Everlane, crying—and noting the platform upon which they express their horniness, a pattern emerges. Horniness as defined in the piece and interpreted in 2020 is a meme—another example of the irony poisoning that runs rampant on platforms like Twitter, where everyone has an opinion and no one wants to listen.

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Dodes notes that horniness is perhaps becoming “soft,” in part because the feeling itself is ascribed to so many things that, traditionally, do not arouse desire. Being horny for Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels doesn’t necessarily mean that the presence of this snack food arouses actual sexual desire. But public displays of horniness, like casually objectifying Timothee Chalamet or begging Jeff Goldblum to run you over with a dump truck, are not quite the radical act Dodes describes, in part because true horniness is about lack as well as desire. We are horny for the things we want, be it dick or universal healthcare, but we are also horny for the things we don’t have. To be truly horny in a sex way, not a comedy way, means that there is a genuine desire for connection.

Reclaiming horniness as a female emotion in an attempt to, as Dodes writes, “defang a culture of rampant misogyny” quite simply ignores the fact that women have been horny for years, and have been trying to find ways to deal with that horniness in a world where women’s desire is viewed as frightening rather than a matter of course. In an interview with Jezebel, Katherine Rowland, author of The Pleasure Gap, considers the fact that the sexual revolution’s great promise has actually failed, especially for straight women, who frequently report fewer orgasms and less sexual pleasure across the board. The sexual revolution has not been won and so shame, which goes hand in hand with horniness, persists.

But disregarding the importance of shame to desire, as the 2020 iteration of horniness does, takes away most of the fun. Maybe you’re not actually a dirty slut in your everyday life, but engaging with the part of your sexuality that allows for having your hair pulled during a blow job is a nice bit of role play that elevates sex from quotidian to somewhat enjoyable. Wanting someone to cum on your face doesn’t mean that you’re a bad feminist; it just means that you like what you like and are ready to ask for it. The advent of public horniness in the way that Dodes champions doesn’t mean that everyone is more comfortable being open about their desires. Public declarations of horniness are only useful if they are honest—and that is much more difficult to achieve when the medium is a joke tweet constructed for maximum engagement.

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Jokes about climbing the milk-fed body of Adam Driver abound because objectifying men in the same way women have been since time immemorial is, I’m sorry, quite funny. But simply doing so is not an act of empowerment or transgression in and of itself. Real horniness considers intimacy as a factor and intimacy, unfortunately, requires vulnerability. Cuffing season horniness—the desire to fuck and get fucked by someone who is interested in fucking you—is a baseline horny impulse that can be solved with a vibrator and Pornhub in a pinch, but it still means trusting the other person you’ve chosen enough to do the things you want in a space that feels both safe and comfortable. Embracing performative horniness of the sort that Dodes celebrates in Vanity Fair is low-stakes. The detachment required to fire off a tweet about licking the latissimus dorsi of a shirtless Diplo is the antithesis of horny! If presented with the DJ on a silver platter, game and ready for anything, would it be easy to tell him where your clit is and what he should do with it? The irony of tweeting about being horny is that it is so far removed from the actual act itself.

To conflate horniness with enthusiasm is a dangerous game, because it simply strips the fun out of the act of being actually, truly horny. “Today, being horny is about having a lust for life in spite of all evidence that we should dig a hole and hide in a fallout shelter,” Dodes writes. Horniness in 2020 is simply a catchier way of being enthusiastic or earnest about your want for something that is decidedly non-sexual—it is about the intensity of your desire and not the desire itself, therefore making it even more shameful to actually express desire in ways that feel meaningful. Tweeting about how horny you are for vegan cheese is much easier than tweeting about how horny you are for getting lightly choked during sex, though your enthusiasm levels for both might be the same. Telling someone you’re actively having sex with that you want them to call you a slut not because you are but because you like it is tough work! Trust makes for good sex, but so does a healthy sense of humor.

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As a writer, I have considered my own horniness in a way that, at first glance, gestures towards the performative horniness that proliferates on Twitter. To set the record straight: I would still fuck an entire baseball team but not in one day, and yes, this rugby man can and should still blow my fucking back out if there is mutual consent. This kind of horniness is, I’m sorry to say, genuine.

Managing Editor, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

This is incorrect. In fact there’s no scientific evidence that anyone ever had sex before 1983. It’s a recent invention!