“Sex between two consenting people is wonderful,” Woody Allen wrote. “Among five, it’s fantastic.”
And yet, even the adventurous Mr. Allen would have to admit that sex isn’t what it used to be. At least that’s the conclusion drawn by three authors of new nonfiction books. Despite the ubiquity of sex in our celebrity- and marketing-driven culture, sex has become a bore and a chore … and not much more.
Consider The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy (2013, Basic Books), Donna Freitas’ study of sex on college campuses. Relationships are things smart kids avoid because they take too much time from the pursuit of credentials. Instead, practically the sole form of sexual interaction consists of hooking up-alcohol-fueled, online pornography-inspired, random encounters typically unspooling around 3 a.m. It’s bad form, in Hookup World, to feel any emotional involvement or, God forbid, to evince interest in your sex partner the morning after.
Freitas argues that hooking up equals emotional disconnection masquerading as the latest great leap forward in women’s sexual liberation. Much of the time, hookup sex comprises oral sex with the male as the beneficiary. For this, she asks, did Gloria Steinem really die for our sins?
(Author’s note: That’s a metaphor. Gloria Steinem is still alive.)
“The cost of hooking up is high,” Freitas writes, “and students need something to brick up all of that vacancy inside. Regardless of what students brag about or tell their friends, most are terrible at shutting out the emotional dimensions of sexual intimacy. Yet they feel as if they have to pick themselves up from such dark epiphanies and carry on as though nothing is wrong.”
So that’s what your kid’s getting for your $60,000 a year.
You might think sex gets better once you get your diploma, but according to Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, author of Why Men Fake It: The Totally Unexpected Truth About Men and Sex (2013, Henry Holt), you would be wrong.
The good doctor candidly admits to seeing 50 penises a day in the course of his men’s sexuality practice. This amounts to 250 penises a week, 1,000 a month, and if you allow him two weeks a year in Boca Raton, where the only male genitalia he has to examine are his own, 12,000 penises per annum.
Some of his patients have developed a new and startling phenomenon: They fake their own orgasms out of a sincere, if misguided, desire to demonstrate sexual satisfaction to their mates. They are stressed by work, money, comparisons to super-penises in online pornography, and various physical and emotional maladies.
Such men are the antithesis of those encountered by Lili von Shtupp, the European courtesan in Blazing Saddles, “Coming and going and going and coming/And always coming too soon.”
These dudes aren’t coming at all.
Their partners are increasingly aware of this odd fact. One woman, according to Dr. M, examines the contents of her mate’s condom to insure that he has actually ejaculated.
Maybe things would be better if you were young, attractive, and loaded. Or maybe not, says Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy (2013, Penguin). His most surprising discovery: A number of young, stunningly beautiful, über-rich daughters of Manhattan’s wealthiest and most prominent families are working … as prostitutes.
The more enterprising among them are madams, instead of starting art galleries or charitable foundations with Daddy’s filthy lucre.
So at least somebody’s enjoying sex, right? Wrong, Venkatesh concludes. The socialites’ clientele, typically preppy Wall Street types, frustrated in their own marriages, only have sex with these opulent call girls every second or third time they meet.
The rest of the time, they just want to talk.
So there you have it. Dehumanizing college sex; one doctor alone seeing 1,000 dysfunctional penises a month; and the daughters of the cream of New York society practicing the world’s oldest profession with the world’s wealthiest professionals, who half the time don’t even undress.
Forty years ago, at the height of the sexual revolution, Ernst Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for his nonfiction classic, The Denial of Death. In it, he wrote that people were asking more from sex than it could provide. Sex, Becker argued, can offer recreation and procreation, but not salvation. Man’s real quest is not for orgasm but immortality, and you cannot achieve immortality through a connection to another human being.
Perhaps Woody Allen was only partially correct. Between two people, sex is wonderful.
But among five?
Dr. Morgentaler will see you now.