There are probably many disconnects in modern American public discourse. I’m not referring here to our polarized political discourse. (And on that score: Holy moly!) Rather, the disconnect I’m most interesting in talking about (and then seeking to heal) concerns our fractured public discussions on how to talk about love and sex.1. Consider the denigration of romance novels, a subject I have discussed in many of my blog posts over the past two years. It’s common knowledge to everyone (except to the readers of romance) that these novels are cheesy, formulaic, of no literary interest, and merit the ridicule they routinely receive.
Romance novels depict people falling in love, and many of them describe their characters having good sex. Physical love is Eros inside the context of care and commitment.
Talking About Love and Sex to Youth
The first fracture appears when the narrative form devoted to portrayals of love and good sex is open to scorn and dismissed as worthless.
2. In an article appearing in the New York Times on March 20 this year Peggy Orenstein recounts her findings from three years of interviews about sex she conducted with young women in high school and college.
She discovered that discussions between adults and teenagers about how to talk about love and sex, and specifically what happens after “yes” are rare.
Orenstein says the problem starts, whether intentionally or not, in infancy. Parents, when naming infants’ body parts (“here’s your nose,” “here are your toes”), will include a boy’s genitals but not a girl’s. “Leaving something unnamed, of course,” Orenstein writes, “makes it quite literally unspeakable.”
The problem continues with sex ed. Orenstein notes, “Even the most comprehensive classes generally stick with a woman’s internal parts: uteruses, fallopian tubes, ovaries.” They tend to overlook the outside parts girls might like to know about, for instance the clitoris.
“And whereas males’ puberty is often characterized in terms of erections, ejaculation and the emergence of a near-unstoppable sex drive, females’ is defined by periods. And the possibility of unwanted pregnancy.” Orenstein laments, “When do we explain the miraculous nuances of their anatomy? When do we address exploration, self-knowledge?”
In What Country to Invade Next Michael Moore goes to France in order to lay claim to two things French children from all socioeconomic backgrounds receive in school: healthy food and meaningful sex education, which includes discussion of emotions and how to talk about love and sex in an open way.
Where does Orenstein say girls in the U.S and Britain get their information? By consulting pornography, which they know is as realistic as pro wrestling. Pornography is Eros outside the context of care and commitment.
Normalizing Talk About Love and Sex between Genders
The second fracture opens up when: girls are distanced from their own bodies and their own desires; they think it’s okay and even normal for their boyfriends to have pleasure but not themselves and may even experience pain; and they are offered no reliable sources of information.
- Here’s a shocker: young men want love. The title of the March 21starticle inSlate by Nora Caplan-Bricker tells the story: “The Myth That Young Men Don’t Want Love Is Spoiling American Sexual Culture.”
In reality, young men want a meaningful and mutually pleasurable connection as much as young women. But young American males are hemmed in by the pressure to fit in and be one of the guys – and being one of the guys in our culture means engaging in casual sex.
Caplan-Bricker quotes Alan Berkowitz, a psychologist who has done pioneering work in the field of sexual assault prevention. He says his research shows the majority of young men are uncomfortable objectifying women and speaking of their sexual conquests in inappropriate ways but think they’re in the minority. The “boys will be boys” guys who like to brag about sexual conquest are in the minority but think they’re in the majority.
The third fracture comes into view. Most young men want the emotional side of sexuality and that means love. However, they’re pressured into turning their sexual lives into empty encounters and away from feeling comfortable to seek love openly.
What a strange closet to be in!
Men want pleasure and love. Women want love and pleasure. We all want the same things, and we shouldn’t have to feel bewildered or apologetic about our desires, especially because we don’t know how to talk about love and sex.
Love is all about connection, so let’s connect the fractured pieces.
The first step is to acknowledge the powerful creative force that is Eros inside the context of care and commitment. When we acknowledge this force, we can come to respect not only those who seek love but also those who write about it. This is the first step in learning how to talk about love and sex together.
Final note: For a related blog, one that focuses on Thanatos rather than Eros, check out: Thanatos and Eros
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Categorised in: Scholarly Analyses
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen