19 May 2022

The destruction of sex

Caveat:  because of the topic, this post will contain some fairly explicit references to sex acts, something which I don't often have on this blog.  Readers who are uncomfortable with such references may prefer to skip this post.

(What I say here applies to the heterosexual world.  I know very little about gay pornography or sexuality and thus cannot comment on it.)

It's been reported for quite a few years that sex is on the decline in the US; young people, especially, are having less sex than people in the same age range did a generation ago (example).  At first glance, this seems mystifying.  Since the sexual revolution more than half a century ago, most of the taboos which discouraged mainstream sexual behavior or restricted it to marriage have lost their grip on most people, while the laws and social conventions which enforced those taboos have fallen away.  Sex is a strong and innate biological drive, especially in young people.  Since the drive remains constant from generation to generation, shouldn't less inhibition mean more activity?

I think that a major factor in this decline is that sex has become less appealing because it has been rendered disgusting.

A few months ago I posted about how almost all the pornography easily available nowadays depicts sex in ways that are ugly, formulaic, dull, unrealistic, disgusting, devoid of affection, and sometimes cruel.  Even depictions of what purports to be normal, mainstream, "vanilla" sex are full of choking, ass-slapping, hair-pulling, deep-throating, anal, and suchlike degrading and painful practices.  Before writing that post I watched a few videos on various mainstream porn sites, to verify that porn really is as bad as I remembered; but I found this stuff to be so repulsive that it was actually very unpleasant to watch, and I didn't keep watching any given video any longer than needed to confirm that, yes, it really is that bad.

But what about younger males today, who are just becoming interested in sex and have easy access to the internet?  Since our country remains unusually prudish by developed-world standards and in many areas doesn't provide clear and explicit sex education, they naturally turn to the internet to satisfy their curiosity.  And what they find there isn't loving or healthy sex or any remotely realistic depiction of how female sexuality works.  It's -- that stuff.  And it shapes their sexuality because it's pretty much the only influence available to do so.

This situation has actually been a reality for a couple of decades now, and over the years it's become apparent that many younger males are indeed getting their sense of what sex is supposed to be like from internet porn (see for example this post and this comment, but I've seen a lot of such observations in many forums).

I can just imagine what it must be like for a girl or young woman nowadays who starts exploring sex.  She gets to know a guy she likes, their relationship progresses to the point of having sex -- and suddenly he turns into an alien.  He wants to slap or choke her.  During oral sex, he tries to shove his penis down her throat.  He wants anal.  Depending on how assertive she is, she tries to refuse the worst of it (but young men can be very insistent) or endures it as best she can; eventually she realizes he isn't going to change, and moves on.  But the next guy is the same.  And the next.  So she gives up.  Who would want to have a sex life at all if it's going to be like that?

The guy, meanwhile, finding that most women are repulsed by or flat-out refuse what he has been deluded into believing is normal sex, decides they're "lame" or "boring" or whatever the current applicable epithet is.  It's all too easy to just go back to masturbating to porn, as he's been doing for years anyway.  In the worst cases, this leads to the "incel" phenomenon, males with irredeemably repulsive habits and personalities who marinate in a festering resentful hatred of women and congregate together in online forums of their own to reinforce each other's delusions of victimhood (sometimes culminating in actual terrorist violence).  More commonly, it just leads to isolation and a crippled capacity to form normal relationships.

Not everybody is like this, of course.  Many young people still form lasting sexual relationships and even get married.  Likely the males in such cases had less exposure to internet porn for whatever reason, or were viscerally repulsed by it from the start, or were smart enough to realize it bore no resemblance to actual normal sex, or had parents who were fully engaged in their lives and were able to counter its worst influences by educating them about reality, or were rescued from those influences by women in their lives who wouldn't put up with such crap and cared enough to educate them.

This suggests, though, that American society is splitting into sexual haves and have-nots -- a "privileged" class engaged in healthy sexuality within stable monogamous relationships based on strong emotional commitment, vs the deprived who exist in a chaos of shallow transient hook-ups, "kink", and anonymous encounters, disdaining those who live stable lives ("lame" and "boring"), and eventually sinking deeper and deeper into a morass of ever-weirder perversions in pursuit of the inchoate something that they know, deep down, is missing -- never realizing that their way of life is dragging them inexorably further and further away from it.  I don't even want to think about what their old age will be like.

I don't know what should be done about this.  Censorship is not the answer -- it never is.  The fact that so many people still emerge from adolescence sexually normal shows that it is possible.  Better sex education in the schools, designed to explicitly counter the influences of online porn, would probably help (it would be interesting to know if countries which have better sex education have less of a problem with porn-warped male sexuality), but would encounter strong resistance from the shrinking but politically-powerful fundamentalist minority.  There's no substitute for strong and self-aware parental involvement, but this is difficult when our modern capitalist peon-wage economy so often requires both parents to work outside the home, and one wonders how many parents are fully aware of this problem anyway.

In my original post on pornography, I expressed bewilderment at why pornography is like this.  Surely there would be a bigger market for more realistic, less degraded depictions of sex?  At the risk of sounding paranoid, I'm starting to wonder if the warping effect on actual male sexuality was foreseen and intended all along.  At least as far back as Orwell, it's been understood that unrepressed sexuality is a problem for authoritarian regimes, which prefer the masses to be in a constant state of agitation and dissatisfaction, easily whipped up into unhealthy hysteria.  But one could argue that it's a problem for capitalism too; it enables people to achieve a profound feeling of satisfaction without spending money.  The system wants a dissatisfied population whom it can persuade, via advertising and marketing, that whatever expensive thing it's selling at the moment will finally bring them fulfillment.

Returning American society to a Victorian state of sexual repression is probably impossible, and would strengthen the "forbidden fruit" appeal of sex anyway.  But if sex can be made so ugly and degrading and disgusting that millions don't even want it, then that will achieve the desired effect just as well -- perhaps better.


Blogger Jack said...

It does seem like sex education would be one way to address this. Of course, many states still aren't providing anything like reality-based sex education so expecting them to address pornography might be a stretch. The idea that watching pornography might be harmful in the ways you've described was not one I encountered until graduate school. That's too late. At least we could make sure more children are exposed to the idea that pornography rarely presents accurate depictions.

19 May, 2022 03:57  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

And to think I was convinced that heterosexuals had the upper hand in what concerns sex. After all, we are bombarded with the man/woman thing from birth. Apparently they're going through some issues? Also, anal is a kink?
Fascinated, I am.


19 May, 2022 03:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: It would definitely take sex education specifically targeted to counteract the effects of porn, and given our present culture and the influence of religion, it's very hard to imagine that ever getting general approval. So I don't see the situation improving in the near future.

Sixpence: Anal sex was not at all a common practice among heterosexuals before internet-accessible porn became a pervasive influence. In all the writings by women I've seen on the internet about the effect of porn on male behavior, the sudden increase in demands for anal sex is probably the most common complaint. Certainly every woman I've personally been involved with was clearly relieved when she found out I have no interest in it.

As I said, of course I don't know enough about gay sexuality to comment on it.

19 May, 2022 09:27  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

I can see how internet porn would have a detrimental effect on heterosexual men's expectations toward females. I applaud the strong women who refuse to participate in such behavior. Unfortunately, I suspect too many women will submit, either willingly or by force. I had a crush on a married man in my early 20s (therefore, long before internet porn) who told me he had anal sex with his wife to avoid pregnancy. Maybe he just couldn't bring himself to wear a condom. Poor, poor hetero man.

As for homosexuals' expectations after watching internet porn, I suspect it might be similar, except for the gay men who find those activities to be to their liking.

19 May, 2022 10:31  
Blogger Mike said...

I just watched a George Carlin clip on another blog. When I read "Even depictions of what purports to be normal, mainstream, "vanilla" sex are full of choking, ass-slapping, hair-pulling, deep-throating, anal, and suchlike degrading and painful practices," I could hear Carlins' voice in my head.

19 May, 2022 13:17  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

I want to tell you that there is another explanation for this phenomenon. I am going to base what I have to say here not on the long experience with fringe political views that you know I have, but what I have seen from my two sons, in their early thirties, and their friends, by no means a right wing group. This explanation is almost bound to infuriate a lot of your readers, but it is true nevertheless.

Yes, they and their friends seem to have had less sexual opportunity than males of my generation did. The reason is that they are so threatened by the very real possibility that any woman they ask for a date or show any interest in, let alone touch, is a potential source of criminal accusations against them, for sexual harassment or even attempted rape, for behavior which would have been considered perfectly innocuous throughout the entire history of the human race, up until a couple of decades ago. This is a consequence of feminism and, whether intended or unintended, it is real. And society is so immersed in a "believe the woman" mentality that there is almost no chance that their account will be believed. They have all seen men they know subjected to this kind of abuse; even the immense sexual drive that most men have is defeated by it.

19 May, 2022 19:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an outsider, I can provide some insight. But it can be painfull (without my intention, I just do not know much about your culture taboo triggers to avoid it)
It seems that is result of ALL american culture. Not just some part of it related to sex.
Culture centered on power, control and commercial success.(Am I wrong here?)
That is the reason of all that "choking,deepthroat and anal" repulsivness -- that is obvious, because of depicting "sex as subjugation".

Other then that. There is yet one culture I know. With sexual education and very frank attitude toward sex -- Japanese.
They have all that same "choking,deepthroat and anal" fetishes...
but it looks more like cosplay, than actual practices.

And they have same decline of interest in "healthy sexual life" and marriage. But, they seems like recognized symptoms themself -- going into "adult lifestyle", like merring, giving birth -- that is hard, costly and time-consuming.
While there is many and only more and more activities that is less costly, while much more pleasing. Without regrets and sorrows to boot.

PS Well, I'll add, to rise child today, to be productive member of society is much more troublesome today -- not just give it birth and feed it, but giving education and prospects in further life.

20 May, 2022 01:49  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ricko: I don't know how many women just put up with such practices for whatever reason vs how many just give up on sex or hold out for a man who isn't "pornsick" (that seems to be the common term), but I suspect that just putting up with it is getting rarer with time. Women are traditionally socialized to be submissive, but times change, especially with education.

Mike: Not being familiar with Carlin, it's hard for me to interpret that.

Green: I've heard of that, and I know it happens, but I believe it's a much smaller part of the explanation than the "pornsickness" I describe here is. First, it really is much less common. Only a very tiny fraction of innocuous male sexual advances result in accusations or charges, and in some cases where the woman makes such accusations, I suspect harassing behavior that wasn't so innocuous may have been involved -- persisting in asking for dates after the woman makes it clear she's not interested, for example. By contrast, by all accounts, pornsickness afflicts a pretty large fraction of the young male population, maybe even a majority.

Second, even if some males are afraid to approach women because they fear such accusations, there don't seem to be many. Among all the stuff I read on the net about why women are unhappy with sexuality today, I practically never see complaints about men being too timid to approach them, but very often complaints about men demanding anal or other unpleasant stuff.

Anon: I suppose it's possible that violent and hurtful sex is a manifestation of a culture of control, but I think the main problem is the porn, because the rise in prevalence of these practices among young men pretty closely tracks the rise in ubiquitous availability of porn which is full of the exact same practices. American culture forty years ago was just as "centered on power, control and commercial success" as it is now, but there weren't substantial numbers of men who thought that slapping, choking, anal sex (with women) and suchlike were part of normal sex.

I have some exposure to Japanese pornography/erotica. I know it tends to feature themes like rape and violence much more openly than Western porn does, but the thing is, scenarios like that are by definition not depictions of normal sexuality. I certainly had the impression that brutal sex practices are still not common in Japan as an expected part of "normal" sex.

I'm not surprised that Japan has better sex education, but it too could probably use education more focused on preventing bad behavior. I'm thinking of things like the chikan problem on commuter trains, for example.

The decline of marriage in Japan, and the catastrophic fall in the birth rate, seems to be mostly due to the very high cost of living and the cramped nature of most Japanese housing -- as you seem to be saying. Much of the US population suffers from an analogous situation due to wage stagnation and insane housing costs. Yet such problems by themselves wouldn't stop people from forming sexual relationships, even if marriage and children are out of the question for economic reasons.

20 May, 2022 03:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before the 70s0, with oral being most common. For straights, the rise of porn made it common around the 90s.

Conversely, casual same-sex acts, such as mutual masturbation, took a backseat in the straight world. So, normally, before you were married, you might relieve tension by jerking off with another guy, and nobody thought anything of it. And not just teenagers, but in the military and college. But in the 80s and 90s, that became verboten in the straight world.

Perhaps more interesting is how during the 70s and 80s, "everything but anal" became decried for gay men, that anal became the central focus of male sex.

20 May, 2022 04:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And now I'm reminded of Russia trying to play the victim. "See? We had no choice but to invade."

Defaulting to taking one side without facts is dangerous. The point of "believe her" was to remove shame about being raped, not to make snap judgments.

20 May, 2022 04:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

normally, before you were married, you might relieve tension by jerking off with another guy, and nobody thought anything of it

I've heard about that kind of thing ("trade") in the Navy, but aside from that, I find it a bit hard to believe. The taboo on any kind of homosexual behavior was very strong.

If you choose to comment again, please provide some context for what you're referring to. It is difficult to tell what point you're trying to make.

20 May, 2022 12:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of the really out there stuff is animated and sequential art, or manga. Safer if nothing else, if your fetish is something like cannibalism.

20 May, 2022 18:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon: Yeah, most of the Japanese stuff I've seen was manga.

Other Anon: The post is about effects of porn on sexuality in the US in the present day, not about homosexuality in the 1970s.

20 May, 2022 20:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blogger Infidel753 said...
\\Anon: I suppose it's possible that violent and hurtful sex is a manifestation of a culture of control, but I think the main problem is the porn,

What I mean here? I assume that young males in USA is the same as everywhere. And that mean that very first, theoretical still, information about sex and sexuality they recieve from peers. Through dirty jokes. Through suggestions of "older"(who can be just years, months older, or even actually younger but "with experience") and their examples.
And porn too.
But well, porn by itself do not give directions.
While, and that is natural for a young males. Especially in groups. To compete with each other. And that what motivates em -- competition.

And what they'll compete about -- defined by culture.

Young males of african tribe would compete with who will jump higher.

While males in USA... (write your choice here)

That's how I see it. It can be wrong. That's why I like to discuss it.

\\I'm not surprised that Japan has better sex education, but it too could probably use education more focused on preventing bad behavior. I'm thinking of things like the chikan problem on commuter trains, for example.

That's good example.
As it shows same structure of a problem. "Chikan" or "inspired by porn sexual norms" that is different manifestations of same problem.

And it gives me a chance to direct it into more scientific corridor.
From antropology we know that there is constant struggle. "Battle of sexes" so to say. Where each sex trying to prevail in that game, with no stable rules.
Very basic is desire of male to leave own sperm in as many females as possible.
While females want to recieve as much as possible of good treatment. For their progeny. And for themself.

Plus, our evolutional branch -- apes. Have quite complicated bridal habits too.

It would be great, if that'll be interesting for you too -- to discuss this porn-blem in such framing.

21 May, 2022 06:19  
Anonymous WeWantPie said...

"But one could argue that it's a problem for capitalism too; it enables people to achieve a profound feeling of satisfaction without spending money. The system wants a dissatisfied population whom it can persuade, via advertising and marketing, that whatever expensive thing it's selling at the moment will finally bring them fulfillment."

This is an excellent insight. I have long believed that one of the greatest frustrations among rightwing conservatives, since literally forever, is that sexual pleasure is not 100% monetizable to the point where poor people cannot access it in any form. They have always hated the idea of poor people being able to enjoy consensual sex without having to pay money to a corporation or a rich person.

In their ideal world, it would cost money to be born with sex organs/erogenous zones, and people would have to pay a monthly user-fee upon puberty if they wished to masturbate or have consensual sex with someone who was not a paid sex worker.

Anything that can give human beings joy, pleasure and fulfillment for free is a threat to capitalism - sex, art, music, spirituality, physical activity, you name it. Capitalism has been striving to monetize all of those things for at least a hundred years, and has succeeded in many instances -- but as long as people are born with the free-of-charge potential to enjoy sexual pleasure, the rightwing conservative plutocracy will be frustrated and enraged about it.

21 May, 2022 10:23  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Better sex education would be good since not all parents are willing to talk to their kids, teens, adult children about sex. Being open about sex with my own kid was something I had no problem with. Making sure she knew that the scenes seen in pornography is not realistic was a real convo we had. It should be said more often. Talking about what makes up a healthy relationship and sex is something more parents should talk to their teens about.

21 May, 2022 11:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon: Again, boys have been getting (mis)information about sex from other boys for as long as language has existed. The specific bizarre behaviors I'm talking about here became common only after porn depicting those very same behaviors became widely and easily available.

Pie: Thanks. It's remarkable how many odd things about the world become more understandable when you look at them from the viewpoint of who is making money off of them, or trying to.

Another thing porn seems to be doing is normalizing the use of various objects, tools, and fetishistic items during sex so supposedly "enhance" it. Those things need to be bought, so there at least, someone can make money from it.

Mary K: Your daughter was fortunate to have you willing to be frank about those things. Unfortunately, many people aren't willing to do the same with their kids. It's really no different then teaching them how to be safe crossing the street or riding a bicycle.

22 May, 2022 01:48  
Blogger Daal said...

a few years ago I attended a memorial service where the teen-aged chubby granddaughter of the deceased got up and discussed how much she'll miss him for his honesty -- her example was of when she'd asked him, "Grandpa, am I sexy?" and he'd answered, "No." -- & she was completely serious -- so sad...

23 May, 2022 21:05  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

There certainly is such a thing as too much honesty, especially in cases like that.

24 May, 2022 00:34  
Blogger CAS said...

The Internet is isolating people in so many ways, it's mindboggling and very difficult to understand where the problems are stemming from and how to get things under control. Do kids have difficulty relating with each other because of porn? Social media? Video games? Online school? Billions of pages of content and videos that can keep them in front of a screen for hours upon hours?

Sexual dysfunction is indeed disconcerting but I think there are a host of mental problems that the Internet is exacerbating. Young people have record levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide that simply didn't exist when I was growing up. I don't see this getting better anytime soon with so many people earning money by creating addictive sites and games and selling the pills and services to make all of the resulting maladies go away (that is if they don't trigger suicide first).

24 May, 2022 13:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I'm sure social media and video games are contributing to problems relating to other people, but only porn is fueling the fetishization of what used to be rare, fringe sexual practices. So on the specific problem which is the topic of the post, that seems to be the main causative factor.

As to the anxiety, depression, etc, advertising and marketing largely work by creating feelings of deprivation or inadequacy which can supposedly be alleviated by buying whatever product (or ideology or belief system) is being sold. Obviously a steady diet of this stuff is harmful to immature minds. It would surely be advisable to ban the targeting of certain kinds of internet advertising to minors, or even certain kinds of content -- as we do with alcohol and cigarettes in the physical world, though it's hard to see how this would work online.

I still think education to make young people (and everyone else) more consciously aware of how this kind of manipulation works would help. And there's no substitute for strong parental involvement. Limit kids' internet time and give them more exposure to reality. Parents used to limit their TV time. It's doable.

24 May, 2022 20:09  

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