How to Think About Sex? A Freakonomics Quorum

INSERT DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Mai Le

When it comes to sex, some things change (internet pornography and contraception) while others stay the same (political scandals and teen pregnancy).

The externalities of sex, positive and negative, are so strong that some people even have wondered if a sex tax is a good idea, or wished at the very least that people think about price theory when they think about sex.

We approached a few people who have thought a good bit about sex and society — Taggert Brooks, Andrew Francis, Steve Landsburg, Sari Locker, Rita, Pepper Schwartz, and Wendy Shalit — and asked them the following three questions:

1. How differently do Americans perceive sex now than they did 30 years ago?

2. How do you predict sex will be perceived in 30 years?

3. How should we ideally be looking at/treating sex?

Thanks to all for their thoughts. Comments, as always, are welcome.

Steve Landsburg, professor of economics at the University of Rochester and author of several books including More Sex Is Safer Sex.

“Nineteen-eighty-eight will never come again. Thank God.”

In 1988, as Times Square underwent a (partial, pre-Giuliani) sanitization, the erotic writer Pat Califia famously lamented the disappearance of the corny magazines and grainy movies that served to reassure ordinary people that they were not freaks; that others shared their desires for sodomy or bondage or threesomes; that it was possible to act on these desires, even to act on them with care and safety; that exotic fantasies were not the sole province of the freakish, the outcast, and the reckless. Without the porn shops, feared Califia, sexual ignorance would flourish.

Three years later, in 1991, the World Wide Web was born.

Even sooner, by 1989 or thereabouts, bands of tech-savvy sexual explorers were finding each other on Usenet, an all-text, no-pictures corner of the net that predated the web. Among them was software developer Harry Ugol, who formulated the oft-quoted Ugol’s Law: “To any question beginning with ‘Am I the only one who … ?’ the answer is no.”

Today, thanks to the web, the content of Ugol’s Law is common knowledge — even for those who have never heard it stated quite that way. But a mere 20 years ago, for that first generation of Usenet pioneers, it was revelatory. That’s how much the world has changed.

Compared to the Times Square bookstores, Usenet had the great advantage of allowing two way communication, and soon there were vast networks of interlocking and shockingly intimate public conversations — ranging from psychological and philosophical soul-searching through heartrending personal histories to safety tips for applying alligator clips to the labia. Profound trust and intimacy flourished between people who had never met or even seen each others’ photos.

As late as 1993, Usenet readership was small enough — and self-selected enough — that you could comfortably post an announcement inviting everyone to a party. I do not recommend doing that on the web, but that doesn’t matter anymore.

Anyone who wants information about any sort of sexual variation knows where to look; so does anyone who wants to know where the parties are; so does anyone who just wants a little reassurance along the lines of “you are not a freak.” Welcome to the revolution.

The revolution is not just about sex. Yes, the internet is the place to look for that perfect partner who likes barbed wire, nipple clamps, and electrical play; but it’s also the place to look for that perfect partner who reads Steven Pinker, appreciates Sondheim, and enjoys hiking in the woods. Hundreds of thousands have found love on match.com.

Side by side with the growth of the internet, we’ve had an explosion in wealth, which matters because both love and sex can be enhanced by travel, free time, and in some cases, equipment. We keep getting richer, information keeps getting cheaper, and for both reasons, 1988 will never come again. Thank God.

Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington, past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, relationship expert for Perfectmatch.com, and author of, most recently, Prime: Adventures and Advice About Sex, Love, and the Sensual Years.

“Sooner or later (and sooner than 30 years from now) we will just accept the fact that teenagers are sexual starting at about age 15 …”

The way I see it, there has been a sea change in the way Americans view sex. Thirty years ago, when I was in my early 30’s, I was one of a small group of feminists who were challenging conventional morality. The idea that women could be independent sexual creatures whose reputations should not depend on having a committed boyfriend or husband was brand spanking new — and not widely accepted.

“Recreational sex” and living together were seen as challenges to traditional American values. The sexuality of teenagers was seen as aberrant rather than expected.

At the time, the press handled this as a crisis, making it sound as if everyone had adopted these values and behaviors; however, they had not.

Now, oddly enough — when just about everyone has adopted early entry into sexualized relationships (more than 80 percent of teenagers have had intercourse by age 19) and the majority of Americans live together before they consider marriage — there still seem to be strong political and religious movements to pathologize and condemn these behaviors.

Premarital and adolescent sex is threaded through every media outlet, half of all teenagers are sexually active by age 16, and most young women and men will have more than 10 sexual partners by the time they marry. All the condemnation that public opinion could muster didn’t stop the tide of the growing separation of sex from the context of marriage. Still, abstinence education is funded (despite a mountain of evidence that it doesn’t work) and you can’t advertise condoms on network TV. What a world!

I predict that sooner or later (and sooner than 30 years from now) we will just accept the fact that teenagers are sexual starting at about age 15, that sex is both an appetite and an emotional expression — but not necessarily concurrently — and that various kinds of hook-ups, commitments, and institutional relationships will happen at every stage of the life cycle.

I think we will also realize that sex isn’t just for the young and beautiful: the ardor of the aging and aged won’t be such a joke as the baby boomers hit their 80’s and 90’s. If we could just accept sex as a fabulous gift that should occur with mutual consent, protecting each person’s health, it would be a great jump forward for personal happiness and a civilized world.

Wendy Shalit, author of A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue and The Good Girl Revolution: Young Rebels With Self-Esteem and High Standards.

“The young girls who were raised to feel they had to be sexy and ‘hot’ at age four are going to be giving their daughters very different advice.”

Although the prevailing attitude towards sex has shifted to the exhibitionist extreme — with 3- and 4-year-old girls crooning, after the Bratz cartoons: “You’ve gotta look hotter than hot! Show what you’ve got!” — we are also at the end of this exhibitionist experiment. Perhaps precisely because things have gotten so bad, we are now closer to a more wholesome attitude towards sexuality.

Thirty or forty years ago, the sexual revolution was in full swing and modesty and fidelity were equated with sexual repression; without sexual boundaries and reticence, supposedly we would usher in a kind of full flowering of sexuality.

Today we have the grim answers from this experiment and most Americans — at least those who don’t think ideologically — can see plainly that this experiment failed.

Very young girls are now sexualized under the guise of empowerment, but who is benefiting from the spectacle? Creepy older men. Children of divorce and families shattered by infidelity tend not to see adultery in the sexy way it’s portrayed in the media. Colleges abandoned in loco parentis to give students more autonomy, but today many students feel quashed by the pressure to “hook up” and report being depressed by the lack of any dating scene.

Our new repression is emotional repression — the repression of romantic hope — and its burden rivals the old repression. At least with the old parietal rules, those who wanted to have sex could sneak into the dorms; but today a girl who objects to the new doctrine of “flaunt your body” and “be jaded about sex” is ridiculed and labeled a prude (and not infrequently by her elders). Paradoxically, total sexual freedom has led to a narrower range of sexual choices for many young people.

Nonetheless, brave souls at Princeton, Harvard, Notre Dame, and Arizona State are rebelling and launching student groups to restore the idea that sexuality is significant. I think it’s tremendously encouraging that these students are standing up to the cultural and media pressures and saying it is possible to wait for the right person to come along.

We’re definitely going to see more of these groups cropping up in the coming years. Moreover, I predict that the young girls who were raised to feel they had to be “sexy” and “hot” at age four are going to be giving their daughters very different advice. We’ll also be seeing more mainstream sex therapists like Dr. Ian Kerner speaking out against casual sex — not for religious reasons but because “the more casual the situation,” the “less likely” you’ll achieve satisfaction or “any emotional state of happiness,” as he puts it in a recent popular book. (If someone doesn’t give a hoot about you, it turns out he doesn’t care very much about your emotional or sexual needs either.)

In short, America is waking up to the failures of the sexual revolution, and not even Russell Brand’s publicly mocking the Jonas Brothers’ virginity can stop the fact that we’re on the cusp of a much-needed correction.

Andrew Francis, assistant professor of economics at Emory University, and author of “The Economics of Sexuality: The Effect of H.I.V./AIDS on Homosexual Behavior in the United States.”

“AIDS brought sex into the light.”

Thirty years ago, sex was in the dark.

The 1970’s were about free love, big hair, and disco. Risky sexual behavior was on the rise among young Americans, as suggested by increasing rates of gonorrhea during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Even so, most adults remained sexually conservative, believing that sex should only take place between a man and woman in the context of marriage.

However, perhaps surprisingly, not much else was known about American sexual practices 30 years ago, as nationally representative surveys of sexual behavior simply didn’t exist. And even less was spoken about sex.

The H.I.V./AIDS epidemic changed everything.

Since the early 1980’s, more than one million Americans have been diagnosed with AIDS, and it brought sex into the light.

Nowadays, Americans approach sex with cautious curiosity. This is evident in our hunger for information about sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and our own H.I.V. status as well as that of our potential sexual partners. AIDS has also spurred researchers to conduct nationally representative surveys to further illuminate the intricacies of sexual behavior.

Without a doubt, we are headed for a second sexual revolution in which Americans will have unprecedented sexual freedom in a safe, socially responsible, and tolerant environment.

Not only will Americans enjoy more sex but also more sexual diversity — though not necessarily at the expense of monogamy. This will involve a significant broadening of what constitutes personal, fulfilling, and morally legitimate sexual interaction. Such diversity might entail interethnic dating/marriage as well as same-gender dating/marriage.

Several critical factors will bring this about: 1) education about sex, S.T.D.’s, and sexual diversity; 2) social tolerance of sexual diversity and, in particular, the liberalization of attitudes toward gay and lesbian populations; 3) new treatments to treat or perhaps even cure AIDS; 4) sensible laws to encourage testing and reduce the reckless transmission of S.T.D.’s; and 5) new technologies, such as the internet, to facilitate matchmaking.

Sex is a gift and a responsibility.

An individual’s prior choices about sexual behavior and S.T.D. testing are associated with significant externalities that arise, in part, because sexual behavior occurs in the context of intricate sexual networks.

An individual should consider the impact of his choices not only on himself, but also on his partners and his partners’ partners and so on. Therefore, it is crucial that society first provide adequate sexual education and second, craft effective public policies (both public health programs and statutory law) to give individuals incentives to make socially responsible decisions regarding sex.

But society’s role should stop there. To be clear, all forms of fully informed consensual sex should be permissible, because, in the end, sex is and should be freedom.

Sari Locker, adjunct assistant professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amazing Sex, and her own blog.

“[Americans] worry that if they don’t boost the intensity, their sex life will be about as exciting as Ned Flanders’s.”

In the 1970’s, Americans perceived sex as exciting and offering the thrill of freedom. In the 1980’s, we viewed it as a scary precursor to disease. In the 1990’s, we were shocked but titillated as pop culture broke boundaries and exposed every type of sex imaginable. Now, in the 2000’s, too often we see sex as a source of pressure and confusion.

Because of the oozing exploitation of sex on television, movies, magazines, books, and the internet, in the 2000’s we’ve entered what I deem The Era of Sexual Pressure. Few Americans hold remnants of a sexually repressed, puritanical mindset that views erotic pleasure as sinful. Rather, they fear that their sex experiences are not daring enough! They worry that if they don’t boost the intensity, their sex life will be about as exciting as Ned Flanders‘s.

Americans are falling prey to a sexually explicit culture that gives the impression that everyone — from pop stars to average teenagers to so-called desperate housewives — is enjoying outrageously wild sex all night long. Because the internet provides a constant tell-all and show-all of sexual interactions, fewer couples today explore and discover erotic pleasures together. Instead, they are spending more time alone online seeing what feels good to others, and they feel pressured to measure up to unrealistic standards. Many people may feel alienated from their bodies — afraid of being sexual failures, disconnected from their partners, and shut off from their true sexual selves.

At the same time, they have access to quick fixes that allow them to hide from the real causes of their sexual dissatisfaction. Why analyze the reason behind a lost erection when there’s Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra? When your email inbox is filled with promises of porn-star stamina, the warning label of an erection that last for hours sounds less like a medical side effect than a bonus feature.

In all my years as a sex educator, I’ve never seen such a huge gap between the reality of ordinary people’s sex lives and the myths about sex from pop culture that they’re taking to heart. The true challenge is to sort through the sexual “spam” that preys on anxieties, distracts individuals from discovering their unique desires, and blocks them from genuine intimacy with a partner.

To avoid a bleak sexual future, I’d like to see Americans develop healthier attitudes toward sex, free from the influence of pop culture and product promotions. Creativity is great, but let’s strive for balance by looking inward to develop positive sexual selves. Let’s not wait decades to celebrate the simple pleasures of two people having a shared sexual experience and basking in the afterglow.

Taggert Brooks, associate professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin and author of the paper “In Da Club: An Econometric Analysis of Strip Club Patrons.”

“Who knows, one day we may view sex as an act of patriotism, as we may be asked to literally do it for our country.”

The best data on Americans’ perceptions of sex come from the General Social Survey. Assuming Americans don’t suffer from extraordinary cognitive dissonance, we would also expect their perceptions of sex to change with their behaviors.

Sexual behavior since the introduction and legalization of the female contraceptive pill in the 1960’s has changed dramatically from what was once an act that carried the risk of pregnancy to an act which could be accomplished with the risk of pregnancy approaching zero; importantly, it was a technology controlled by women rather than by men (as was the case of previously available condoms).

The primary result of this technological change was the sexual revolution, which started a very slow cultural shift towards a general acceptance of premarital sex.

For the most part, I think a majority of Americans have come to embrace sex as an intimate act primarily for the pleasure of the participants, instead of an act with the primary or even secondary purpose of creating a child. This has led to several other changes in society. No longer is premarital sex as shunned as it once was because no longer is it as likely to result in pregnancy.

And if sex isn’t about creating life, but solely about creating pleasure and intimacy between consenting adults, then homosexual sex — for some people — can achieve that desired end. It is one reason why homosexual relations are gradually becoming socially accepted by many Americans.

There are of course pockets of Americans, generally religious, who still view the primary function of sex as procreation: a view the Catholic Church surprisingly continues to promote 40 years after the encyclical “Humanae Vitae.”

How do I predict perceptions will change 30 years from now?

The one caveat to the previous question might be the general decline in birth rates around the globe. Falling fertility rates have put strains on social insurance and retirement systems that rely upon the pyramid scheme of population growth. Italy has talked about subsidizing sex for procreation purposes. Who knows, one day we may view sex as an act of patriotism, as we may be asked to literally do it for our country.

As in the case of the pill, new technologies are probably most likely to facilitate future shifting social perceptions of sex. I think many Americans perceive a dramatic drop-off in sexual activity among the elderly, but I think innovations like Viagra will force us to rethink that stereotype. In fact, there is already evidence that the little blue pill has led to a dramatic rise in S.T.D.’s among older Americans. Senior living situations are likely the next battle ground against S.T.D.’s.

I’m not implying senior living environments have become bastions of sex, akin to college coed dorms, but nonetheless, the technology has allowed for increase in sexual activity — and with it the transmission of disease.

I think we should view sex as a loving, intimate, fun, and pleasurable connection between consenting adults. As such it should not be regulated by the state. Failing that utopian dream, the government should at least let women (and men) in Alabama buy and enjoy their sex toys.

Rita [last name withheld], a pro dominatrix, burlesque performer, sex educator, and writer who is currently studying to become a women’s-health nurse practitioner.

“I’m sort of afraid to even think about what the public attitude about sex will be in 30 years.”

There is a lot of shame regarding sex. I don’t think that’s changed. So many of the clients I had when I worked as a pro dominatrix didn’t feel comfortable sharing their fetishes or fantasies with their partners, so they came to me (and others in my industry) to enjoy them. This was often coupled with a heavy helping of self-loathing, which never ceased to make me sad.

While I was happy to offer my clients the opportunity to play out their fantasies without judging them, I still wished these guys could have shared this part of themselves with their real-life lovers. Of course, that would have had me out of a job.

Publicly, sex is very glossy and commercial these days. The term “sex sells” seems to grow truer by the day. I can’t compare now to 30 years ago, but expectations today for females to be “hot” in a particular way (Skinny! But not too skinny. Tan! Shiny!) seem rampant. Of course, despite this, America still manages to remain as puritanical as ever.

On one hand, I’m sort of afraid to even think about what the public attitude about sex will be in 30 years, with things being the way they are now (tons of plastic surgery, rigid and bland standards of what is “sexy,” people being sexualized at younger and younger ages). I am terrified about the spread of abstinence-only education in schools. I’m dedicated to the cause of promoting real sex education — comprehensive, with information about, and access to, safer sex supplies; access to clinics like Planned Parenthood that offer services and counseling to young people; and discussions about body image, self-esteem, and the role of sex in the media.

Sexuality should be respected, but also revered; it’s awesome. That’s how it should be treated.


Dan Wylie-Sears

I suspect the "trends" of being exaggerated. What people tell a person taking a survey is just as likely to reflect what they think is an approved-of answer as it is to be the truth.

Peer pressure was a big bad bogeyman when I was a teenager too, and it was greatly exaggerated then so I suspect it is now. You don't have to have sex just because "everybody" is doing it. "Everybody" has been doing it a lot more than 99% of actual people, ever since our distant ancestors developed language and started talking about it.

carol fox

Kudos to Special K. and any woman(or man) who dares to be different - to buck the tide and assert another point of view. To be free means choosing a way to behave -to conduct one's life. Both electives should be respected.

Reverting to name calling and derision shows a lack of faith in ones own convictions.

The power of NO should not be dismissed. From my own experience it was rare for the need for no to be spoken. My own self respect and ideals were easily, subtly transmitted to guys. It raised the bar for them too.

If sex is so free and easy why bother wih any efforts to get to know the person?

If YES is taken for granted, where's the choice? Wheaties

JPP

Maybe, just maybe, in 30 years' time women will have attained sufficient equality in everyday life that there will be fewer characterizations of them as brainless (and rights-less) large sex toys? Maybe they might be free to choose their own paths in life and their own ways of enjoying their sexuality? Maybe not, in fact certainly not within only 30 years.

Patricia

As a university student and a young woman I raise a toast to Wendy Shalit. Well done! is all I can say and take a long drink out of that cup. Why? Because it is true: women my age are emotionally repressed, it is also true we settle for abusive relationships, it is true that "creepy old men" follow us (and myself) on the subways coming home. Most importantly, it is true that we are on the verge of change.

I think we should recognize the wisdom Shalit offers and reject an new ideology worse than the last. One which addicts us to sexual pleasure, disabling our ability to love and form lasting relationships. Before it was the man and woman who ran after money who gave up relationships, now, I think it would be the man or woman who is chasing sex.

ET

"Price theory" question: Is there a connection between (un)healthy attitudes towards sex and the rates of violent crime?

I'm asking from one of the least crime-ridden areas of the world (Northern Europe), which, coincidentally or consequently, has an open and honest attitude towards sex.

Dutch

I think you're going to see less extremism in 30 yrs when it comes to sex. Ultra conservativism and those pushing for "free for all" sex under the guise of "sexual liberation" are both going to be ignored and society will embrace a healthier, well-adjusted middle-ground in what it means to be sexually healthy... The writings of sex expert Dr. Yvonne Fulbright are coming to mind. She has been providing this perspective, the most challenging of which has been with Foxnews. If you can be a guide about healthy sexuality for that crowd, you can lead anybody!

kristine

c'mon - ANOTHER story inspired by the Palins? It seems like you guys can't help but mention it every chance you get (economics of amnio, politics of amnio, sex, teen sex, taxed, sex, etc. etc. etc). I'm gonna have to take this off my RSS feed. BORING -- I want interesting info & discussions . . . not PEOPLE magazine!

Rebecca

I agree with you, Shadrach (and with Wendy Shalit) that the misogynists and creepy older men are winning, not women and girls in this culture. Alex B, I think you are on to something that male sexuality has not changed, but I looked into the study Wendy referenced about college students because we studied her book in university and the disatisfaction with the hookup scene is among men as well. But I definitely agree that it's up to women as a group to change things if things are really going to change. . . re the guy with "dozens of girlfriends," like we don't all know where he's coming from. . . LOL

Shadrach

I have often wondered if the greatest victors of the female sexual revolution were the lechers, predators, and misogynists of society. Women may be the closest they have ever come to being completely objectified.

MD

I agree with Wendy Shalit, based on years of experience as a middle school teacher- BEFORE I started dating! I waited until I was ready, and from the first time on it was multiorgasmic. Sex for many women is part of the glue that holds a marriage together. Not a business partnership or a temporary crush. A lifetime, monogamous commitment that allows true trust and drastically decreases the chances of disease. When a man meets a woman's emotional needs, she responds. All the "sexual diversity" in the world did not keep my college dorm-mates from great emotional and sometimes physical harm. My fellow female teachers were stunned that I enjoyed sex so much when I had it at last, when their "liberated", young first experiences were so miserable that they still only "did it" to make their men happy! Liberals won't believe it, but some things ARE worth waiting for.

Lee

I find the picture quite ironic as the guy preaching "NO UNLAWFUL SEX" is sitting on top of a fire hydrant. It begs the question "is he enjoying it?".

The problem with this issue is that private ethics and morality cannot be legislated. The moment a society does, it becomes a theocracy that imposes its own standards and control private thoughts and activities. Social pressures and standards also change over time and they are more effective in modifying people's behaviour.

David Chowes, New York City

Excellent introduction to blog. Yes, the last line,

"sex is awesome" is true.

God [think metaphorically] created sex for reproduction. As humans became increasingly in control and with their quite sophisticated brains,

all sorts of behaviors began to be practiced and it

beacme a modeling devise for others.

Yes, when I was in college, girls were to keep their 'precios gift' until the wedding night; guys, too -- but almost only in theory. [The double standard.] Since really Kinsey, the 'pill' and AIDS, sexuual attitudes have changed quickly and radically.

But, most of the 'generic churches' continue to preach the same message about sex have did for many centuries... Few parishoners comply...

Two comments: I believe that sexual behavior is intertwined with aggression. [POTENTIAL FOR DANGER!] And, as people explore 'kinky' behaciors, to gain incresed satisfaction, these behaviors have to keep being made to go further and further -- sort of 'raising the bar.' (If you know what I mean?)

There are many implications in the blog introduction and in my comments...

I agree no one knows what the new norms will be as the years go by. Yes, religion and the law forbade

certain behaviors which all of us have potential impulses which can or cannot emerge -- given the zeitgeist and other variables.

These legal and religious constraints did a caused a great deal of repression. Well folks, so does civilzation!

I have no answers -- just questions...

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dallas

I think we should offer every man and woman over 18 $50,000 if they will remove themselves from the gene pool. That right, $20,000 to be spayed or neutered. We don't have to worry about the money- we would make that up in reduced educational costs alone with in 10 years, with no problem.

Think about how great that would be. First, it is completely voluntary. There are no limits to how many children you can have. This system strongly encourages people do decide how many children they want. I would do it. After my wife and I have our 2.1 kids, snip-snip, $20,000 please! Hey, prostitute! I've got $20,000 for ya'! Hey welfare mom, here is a tax free check for $20,000 if you will stop burdening society. Who cares who they sleep with after that. They can't do any more harm.

Special K

Anonymous -

I am a 21 year old woman, and I relate completely to what Wendy Shalit says. However, from conversations with my parents, colleagues and friends that I have who are older than early 30s, I understand that people who are not in my age group (30 and younger) tend not to see or understand the social phenomenon that Wendy is talking about. Perhaps it is a generational thing -- older people can remember the "way things were" and so can still feel the need to combat sexual "repression" and whatnot. But for the younger women and girls of today, all we've known is the pressure to be sexually active starting in early high school -- or sooner. We can't appreciate, in a concrete experiential way, why our mothers' generation is so keen on abortion rights, free condoms in school, having many sexual partners "just because", and so on. We simply experience this as not taking our own needs into consideration as we try to impress guys by the only way we've been told works: having sex with them, no strings attached.

This attitude and behavior is damaging and painful to us girls (not being a guy, I can't speak for them, though I would be interested to see on a large scale what they think about this). We're not sleeping around because we are strong and self-assured, it's because we know it's a way to have power over a guy temporarily. And in the absence of being taught HOW to have strong character, high standards, and genuine self-respect, we simply revert to what our elders teach us: that as long as you're "educated" and you both "consent", all sexual experiences are good and should be pursued in an almost reckless fashion as an integral part of the journey towards happiness.

My generation is discovering that this is simply wrong. We are starting to make better choices for ourselves in the long run. I think that this is a healthy development and should be encouraged.

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jblog

"This liberal pro-choice woman loves to see those right wing republicans hypocrites on display!"

That same liberal pro-choice woman probably spouts mindless "progressive" bromides like "hate is not a family value" while in fact she is boiling over with hatred.

Sad. Hypocritical. Pathetic.

Anonymous

I'm impressed and grateful that contributers were able to frame these issues independent of the campaign season frenzy. The comments are reasoned; when's the last time blogged comments about such contentious issues *didn't* devolve into a red-blue mud fight? Impressed. Goes to show how far mainstream politics has to go before meaningfully addressing American's evolving attitudes toward and problems surrounding sexuality.

America isn't a homogenous place by any standards - income, ethnicity, religion, etc. The above predicts a uniform evolution of sexuality. I think as things stand we have every reason to believe that new technologies and better education will bring freer, safer, more satisfying sex - but for those who are better off. Looking at how HIV increasingly disproportionately affects the disadvantaged in our country.... The optimist in me hopes the future of sex in America - whatever it is - will be equally bright for everyone.

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mn _in_NY

Although I did not read all of the contributors comments, I do have a view I would like to express.

First the comments "sex is both an appetite and an emotional expression" is really all you really need to know.

As a person who has lived in USA (NYC) for over 30 years I must admit how upset I have gotten after watching sex in society and the media become more and more prevalent. I find the American society "over-sexed". There is sex everywhere in the USA, its inescapable. What's depression is the influence it has on increasingly younger and younger women.

There should be a check somewhere for sexually appropriate material, but I don't where it should be.

Something of a shock for me during reading this article was the thoughts I had about my time in Bangkok. (I have lived in Bangkok for over 4 months and never really compared the two societies sexual exposure closely)

In a country where prostitution in legal, sex is amazingly widely available, but I was able to turn it off when it got too much for me. Try to do that in the US or really NYC.

Although prostitution is permitted in Thailand you don't see sexual ads of every form everywhere, like you do in the US. If you stayed away from the red-light districts in Bangkok you might think your in a slightly conservative country (albeit with an Asian twist).

I don't know if I made much sense, but I guess what I am trying to say is that I am more sexually offended (and I'm no light-weight) by what I see in the US (in terms of sexually sophisticated explicit sexual material) then what I see in Bangkok (barring child prostitution which I never saw) and I think that says a lot about the state of American society.

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Johanna Clearfield

I don't want to interrupt anyone with something as tacky as social studies but sex and sex for sale are very much in play here and the elephant in the living room. Madison Avenue massages and manipulates and pushes sex for sale - or that is to say pushes products that guarantee sex or ooze sex or suggest sex and -- judging by the commercials -- we all need to be sexually in play 24/7 going on into our 90s assisted by botox, plastic surgery and viagra. Corporations thrive on selling products that sell sex and push sex and then some writer for the times and/or other journals ask this question -- Why in the world is everyone so sexed up? And to say that teenagers begin getting sexual at 15 (as in this article) is hilarious. We are sexual creatures and we are sexually aware at puberty -- 12 or 13. or earlier. And that is not a bad thing. What is bad is the sexploitation of that natural awakening. SEx is not bad but sex with zero perspective, zero restraint, zero awareness is bad. Madison Avenue and it's friend, Big Corp, want sex to take us into the grave. Personally I would like a break.

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Steve

1) Even more than in 1978, sex is used as a way for women to gain economic status or the respect of their peers. To snag Mr. Right, one cannot be too demure. Even the "taught abstinence only" crowd understand this, as Bristol Palin has clearly demonstrated. (however, they are more likely to get pregnant, due to the lack of effective advice) Developing good technique at a young age is necessary to stay in the game and have a chance for success before the best catches are gone.

2) With the price of houses (generally) going up while the wages and salaries of most Americans are stagnating, in the years to come, I foresee an even more extreme version of my point above.

3) Sex should be part of a sharing of intimacy between two people who bond because they are both decent people who share other interests and attributes.

But there's no money or prestige in that, is there?

Lisa Anne Santiago

No matter how much intellectual analyzing is posted I am still tickled pink that a woman who wants to call abstinence sex education, has a pregnant teen at home. This liberal pro-choice woman loves to see those right wing republicans hypocrites on display! It's better than sit-com TV, Thank you