There was once a time in American culture where the media couldn’t even acknowledge that sex existed, let alone happened between wholesome scenes of family dinners and fishing trips. An average episode of “Scandal” would’ve horrified audiences in 1965, who were used to seeing a married couple sleep in separate beds on “I Love Lucy.”
Without a doubt, sex on TV has come a long way. We no longer bat an eye when Kevin Spacey goes down on Kate Mara in “House of Cards” or when Glen Quagmire raises the bar for sexual debauchery on “Family Guy.” By all accounts, we’ve become a lot more accepting.
That being said, is it possible that we’re becoming more sexually uptight? Bear with me. I promise I’m not being sarcastic here. This is part of an ongoing observation that I’ve explored in other posts.
Some of it has to do with trends in feminism. Some of it has to do with the various peculiarities of the gender dynamics in our sexual culture. I’m not saying what I’m seeing is definitive, but as an aspiring erotica/romance writer, this does concern me because it may very well affect my industry.
Now when I ask whether we’re becoming more sexually uptight, I don’t mean to say that we’re regressing to a point where women can’t show their ankles and men can’t acknowledge that the female orgasm exists. In an era of internet porn and Photoshop, that sort of prudishness just isn’t possible. Never-the-less, there are other ways for Puritan attitudes towards sex to manifest in new ways.
Picture the following scenario:
There’s a beautiful woman walking around topless on a sunny beach. A young man takes a moment to stare at her breasts and admire their beauty. The woman notices the man and is appalled. The woman points at the man, calls him a misogynist pig, and rallies every woman around her to scold and shame the man for daring to look at her exposed breasts.
What I just described isn’t necessarily something that happens on a day-to-day basis. It’s more a manifestation of the kinds of sexual attitudes that are evolving. We no longer censor sexuality or deny that it exists. Instead, we shame people who dare to appreciate it in ways we don’t approve of.
In many respects, this is just as bad as any censorship by the FCC because it isn’t imposed by a government body. It’s something that we’re doing to each other. Unlike government bureaucracy though, shaming actually works. In fact, shaming pre-dates government because it uses the built-in system of guilt that every human who isn’t a sociopath has hardwired into them.
Now trends in being sexually uptight aren’t new. For much of human history, civilization has gone through various cycles of sexual attitudes. Some ancient cultures, like Egypt, were relatively liberal in their sexual attitudes. Others, like Victorian era England, were so famously uptight for their sexual repression that visible ankles were considered scandalous.
Even in modern times, there are some parts of the world that are more sexually repressed than others. Places like India and Saudi Arabia, despite being thriving modern economies, have some very backwards attitudes towards sexuality. They don’t need shame to shun someone who has sex in a way they don’t approve of. They have the authority to just throw those people in jail, which they believe is sure to kill their sex drive.
What makes this trend in the west so disconcerting, though, is that it’s emerging from a society where equality and justice are among our highest values. Countries like America pride themselves, despite protests to the contrary, in their values towards gender equality. The problem is that, for some, equality just isn’t enough.
Here’s a real-world example that illustrates this issue. Back in 2013, an incident occurred at Occidental College wherein two freshmen had consensual sex while drunk, but only the man ended up getting expelled. Why did he get expelled? Well, by their standards, a woman cannot consent to sex while drunk. Therefore, the man committed sexual assault.
Think about that for a moment and try to make sense of it. Two people get drunk, but they’re not so drunk that they can barely stand. In this story, the two people involved could not only send texts. They could also talk about using condoms and practicing safe sex. How can such responsible behavior constitute assault?
It didn’t matter though. By the standards of the school, the man still committed sexual assault and was expelled. The woman didn’t get charged with anything. She was a victim who was traumatized by the act of having consensual sex after a few drinks.
Again, think about that for a moment. Think about what that kind of mentality indicates. Our sexual culture is becoming unequal again, but this time in a different way. Instead of women being shamed for their sexual practices, it’s men who are being shamed.
Today, a man who lusts for a woman and expresses his fondness of sex is considered a pig, a deviant, and a sexist. A woman who lusts for a man and expresses her fondness of sex is considered liberated, free-spirited, and strong. That is not equality. That is a recipe for repression and injustice, albeit in different way.
Ironically, this trend is regressing fashion trends among women. We’re already seeing it in superhero costumes. Female characters are less likely to show off their breasts or female curves. It’s as if highlighting the physical traits of women is now considered an act of misogyny.
As a man, I find these trends troubling and insulting. Am I somehow wrong, immoral, or sexist because I enjoy the sight of beautiful naked women? Are my attitudes towards women somehow flawed because I dare to admire their beauty? I wish those were rhetorical questions.
This troubles me even more as an aspiring erotica/romance writer because it means some of the novels I want to write might be rejected as being sexual in the wrong sort of way. I can easily imagine rejection letters saying “this book doesn’t have enough diversity” or “the man enjoys the sex too much” or “the woman is too feminine.”
I can just as easily imagine such regressive attitudes turning the erotica/romance I love into this target for those who claim it’s an affront to women. Never mind the fact that I write these stories to enchant, entertain, and titillate, some will still see it as some sort of egregious act of sexism.
This really does concern me. I’d rather not return to the days where people don’t even acknowledge sex exists and any attempt to discuss it is somehow taboo. We’ve already experienced that kind of repression and it doesn’t work. Let’s at least try to remain sane on matters as important and intimate as sexuality.