An interesting opinion piece in today’s NY Times about the norms surrounding sex and how they may have become a bit too lax for our own good. The author suggests that the absolute permissiveness of the modern day has left a lot of people feeling somewhat confused and dejected about sex and relationships. The author starts by pointing to this Pew research published in 2020 which found that despite having more options than ever, many adults found dating had become much harder, especially for women.
Among those who are on the dating market – the 15% of American adults who are single and looking for a committed relationship or casual dates – most say they are dissatisfied with their dating lives and that it has been difficult to find people to date, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2019.
While single-and-looking men and women report equal levels of dissatisfaction with their dating lives and the ease of finding people to date, women are more likely to say they have had some particularly negative experiences. Most women who are currently single and looking to date (65%) say they have experienced at least one of six harassing behaviors asked about in the survey from someone they were dating or had been on a date with, such as being touched in a way that made them uncomfortable or rumors being spread about their sexual history…
Women are also more likely to see risk – both physical and emotional – when it comes to dating. When those who say dating has become harder for most people in the last 10 years are asked to describe in their own words why they think this is the case, women are twice as likely as men to cite increased risk.
And that brings us to the term heteropessimism as a description for those feeling a bit hopeless about how things are going.
Navigating our love lives has always been difficult. But today, the general outlook among heterosexual daters has come to take on a less playful, more depressive tone — manifesting in what the writer Asa Seresin calls “heteropessimism,” a mode of feeling “usually expressed in the form of regret, embarrassment and hopelessness about the straight experience.”…
Getting rid of the old rules and replacing them with the norm of consent was supposed to make us happy. Instead, many people today feel a bit … lost.
“One of the most important pleasures of sexual intimacy,” the Washington University professor and ethicist Fannie Bialek told me when I asked why this might be the case, is “feeling like you have the possibility of the unexpected — but not too much possibility of the unexpected.”
I’m not sure if heteropessimism really exists but the Pew survey does suggest dating is now seen as something of a minefield. The author uses the analogy of a dinner party, a place where people go for a certain experience that is constrained by many norms about behavior. It could be black tie or casual or maybe even a costume party. The meal could be vegan or grilled steak. It could feature conversation on politics or an attempt to avoid politics altogether. And there might be alcohol or it could be alcohol and drug free.
Granted, a good dinner party might violate some of those norms and thereby become memorable. If someone stands on the table as a joke people might enjoy that. If everyone stands on the table or throws food at other guests, that may not be as enjoyable. The point of all of this being that most people might hesitate to attend a dinner party where there are no norms at all, at least none that you know about beforehand.
…some new understandings may be in order. Maybe even casual sex is significant, an act unlike any other. Maybe some porn-inspired practices — those that eroticize degradation, objectification, harm — shouldn’t be mainstreamed. Maybe we do have a duty to others, not just to our own desire. We need norms more robust than “anything between two consenting adults goes.”…
In every other situation common to the human experience — eating, drinking, exercise, even email — we have come to realize that limits produce healthier results. It’s unlikely that sex and relationships are exceptions to the rule. An unrestrained sexual culture hasn’t necessarily led to better sex for all or to better relationships. In many cases, it has inspired numbness, callousness, hurting others and being hurt. And rather than being titillating, sexual overload has become boring.
None of this seems terribly surprising to me and probably not to most regular readers either. But I’m guessing it is novel to some NY Times readers. Diving into the comments I found a surprising number of people expressing agreement. One of the most upvoted comments came from a grandmother.
I am a 77 year old French immigrant whose oldest granddaughter will be a college freshman this Fall. While I have fond memories of my student years in Paris, when having sex was called “faire l’amour” (making love) or by the slang word of “baiser” (yes, as a noun the word means “kiss”, so, as a verb, it keeps a sweet connotation), she is going to a scene where the term for this is “hook up” (great when it applies to refueling of a plane mid-air but, when applied to human behavior, it makes me a bit nauseous). I have trouble imagining that hooking up gives as much pleasure as baiser, but I am an old coot after all.
This is a bit snarky but he may have a point about the impact of phones on dating.
So millennials can’t figure this out? Too busy charging their Tesla’s and buying crypto. You want to find a meaningful relationship? Put down the phone, delete FB and IG, and ask someone you think is cute out. Buy them dinner, show some interest in their life. Wait, millennials don’t cook or know how to show interest in anything but themselves. It’s not rocket science.
This one seemed interesting.
Years ago, I told a good male friend, “I need to date for a long time before I know if I want to have sex with a guy.” His response: “That’s a problem because I know if I didn’t get sex by the third date, I’d move on.” He’d move on because he knows his dating pool will provide the sex he wants. Women know this. So many women “agree” to have sex before they want to? Because they want a boyfriend. For those who may not believe this, ten years ago there was a study of Duke University students on ‘Hook up” culture. The study revealed that 90% of the women who had sex on the first date (hooked up), didn’t want to. And even 60% of the men didn’t want to either. Why are so many people doing sexual things they don’t want to do? Because they feel they have to in order to fit in, get a partner, be cool. “Sex positivity” has become an imperative, not a choice.
This guy seems like the person the author of the piece was writing about.
Of course more of us are giving up on dating. As an average to below average looking guy in his 20s, where am I even theoretically supposed to meet someone? It’s not considered socially acceptable for me to approach a random woman at the gym/grocery store/whatever, because I’m either viewed as a creep or just annoying. Finding someone to date through a social circle is unlikely with many men having fewer friends than in the past. The only place left is online dating, which is of course miserable for your average man. I keep trying, but it’s hard to not just quit and spend my time and effort on things that seem more possible.
Has technology made it easier to find sex but harder to find a real relationship? Technology certainly offers all sorts of benefits for human interaction but there may be some downsides that don’t always get the attention they deserve.