I was at a very cool party of sorts the other night with a range of feminists of various generations, and we started dishing about the sexual revolution. I don’t know about you, but to me, the sexual revolution always brings about a sort of foggy cloud of confusion and longing in my head. On the one hand, I understand that it emerged from a perfect storm of societal shifts—the legalization of the birth control pill, the de-shaming (at least in part) of sex outside of wedlock and not for procreation, the feminist, gay, anti-war, and civil rights movements all flaring up in big and beautiful ways. On the other hand, I remain confused about what, exactly, it felt like and whether it really had a lasting impact.
“It was amazing!” my older feminist friends exclaimed, when I asked. “It was really the first time we felt free to explore and have pleasure and have fun.” There was “the clap,” they said, but other than that one felt largely liberated to have sex without fear of consequences to either health or reputation. (Of course this is a very white, privileged interpretation of the sexual revolution.)
So it’s obvious why we don’t feel as free with regards to the health consequences these days. We’ve got AIDS. We’ve got HPV. We’ve got a whole range of STIs.
But why are the consequences of reputation (all that stud/slut business) and just general toxic bullshit surrounding sex still so prevalent? Why do I know so many people who have sex in ways that make them feel terrible? I’m thinking of hook-ups that seem liberating and pleasurable at the start, that turn out to be dehumanizing. I’m thinking of friends who have set out to have sex without ties, but ended up feeling like they played themselves by not being honest about what they really wanted out of an encounter. I’m thinking about friendships ruined by sexual encounters that simply weren’t worth it.
Is this just a natural part of the corrupting and incredible power of connecting sexually with other human beings or is there something criminally undone about the sexual revolution we still need to enact?