Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Euphoria Generation

You have probably heard about the new shocking television series called, Euphoria. It depicts teenage angst over sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. It is ugly and depressing. The story is unstructured, at best. And the acting is consistently mediocre. If you haven’t seen it, you are not missing anything.

But then a larger question has been looming over the proceedings. Does the show portray teen sexual angst correctly or does it exaggerate for sensational effect? Is this the world that American teenagers are navigating, or is it an older person’s caricature of a life that he does not understand?

Those who pray that it’s an exaggeration note that today’s teenagers are less sexually active than were their predecessors. Others have a different perspective. If they have read Kate Julian or Olga Khazan in The Atlantic they will already have learned that many college age young women are experiencing sex as a painful experience, even when they have consented to it. According to Khazan, they associate it more with fear than with pleasure. So much for strong and empowered.

This is bad news, indeed. Apparently, the sexual revolution did not turn out as promised.

To be more precise, Khazan writes that far too many women have been choked during sex. The number includes adults and even high school students, the cohort mostly depicted in Euphoria:

In a recent study, Debby Herbenick, a professor and sex researcher at the Indiana University School of Public Health, found that nearly a quarter of adult women in the United States have felt scared during sex. Among 347 respondents, 23 described feeling scared because their partner had tried to choke them unexpectedly. For example, a 44-year-old woman wrote in that her partner had “put his hands on my throat to where I almost couldn’t breathe.”

Sex can involve consensual choking, but that’s not what’s going on here, as Herbenick explained to an audience during a panel at Aspen Ideas: Health, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. Instead, “this was clearly choking that no one had talked about it and it got sprung on somebody,” she said. Many sexual-assault cases among students at her university now center around nonconsensual choking. According to her research, 13 percent of sexually active girls ages 14 to 17 have already been choked.

It makes a certain amount of sense to blame it on porn. Apparently, porn has taught men that women want to be choked and that they like anal sex. Some women believe it too. If such is the case, sexperts believe that schools should be providing children with better sex education. And, according to Khazan, men and women should take lessons from gay men about how best to have anal sex.

For reasons that escape me, no one seems to suggest that perhaps these couples should not be doing what they are doing. And that they should not be indulging in violent sex acts. There is or there ought to be more to sex than delivering the maximum amount of pleasure.

Khazan manages to omit another salient point. She does not ask about the nature of the relationship between the two sexual partners. I trust that this will sound retrograde, but are these people engaging in hookups with near strangers? Have these sexual partners committed to each other as something more than machines to deliver sexual pleasure? One hates to have to say it, but casual sexual encounters are far more likely to be designed to please men, not women. Is anyone telling women not to hook up? I have my doubts.

Consider this. Eighteen months ago Kristen Roupenian wrote a story called “Cat Person” for The New Yorker. It was not an especially well written story, but it struck a nerve. In it, Margot and Robert met, got to know each other and ended up having bad sex. Scratch that: they did not really get to know each other. They saw each other once in person and communicated mostly via text. So, if we wanted to be fair we would say that they did not know each other.

When they started to have sex, Margot was repulsed. She had consented, however, and she chose to go through with the act. As for the act, it seems to  have more closely resembled bad pornography. There was no communication, no affection, no real connection.

Since they did not know each other, since they had made no commitment to each other, they were effectively strangers. They did not even indulge in what the escort world calls the girlfriend experience. In that case, their sexual acts will inevitably feel more like a cheap porno than like a part of a relationship.

But why did this couple and why do many young couples engage in sexual activities when they really do not want to do so? What forces in the culture have told them that this is normal or good behavior?

Instead of asking gay men how best to have anal sex, might it not be better for these young people to ask gay women how best to have sex within a committed relationship? Strangely, the question does not arise. Thus does the promise of euphoria produce dysphoria.


Anonymous said...

The defeat of biology by the birth control pill turned sex into something other than an act of procreation. Instead of encouraging reproductive responsibility and functional human relationships the result is what you see.

trigger warning said...

"Consensual choking".

Sounds like an urban trope to me. What's next? Consensual curb stomping?

Anonymous said...

1950 While in her 80s, Margaret Louise Higgins underwrote the research necessary to create the first human birth control pill. She raised $150,000 for the project. 1960 The first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as contraception.

William Sanger (November 12, 1873 – July 23, 1961), was a German-born and American-educated architect and artist. Born in Berlin, Sanger came from a devoutly Jewish family.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Stuart.

UbuMaccabee said...

This is nothing that a new round of drug resistant syphilis can't cure.