Trendy Sex Not So Hot

Every new year is a time for trend prediction and, in 2009, even sex isn’t immune.

Karla Tolstoy, an Internet entrepreneur from Oakville, Ontario, and regular “Sexploration” reader, recently e-mailed asking about sex trends for the coming year. Karla is starting a Web site for couples and she wanted in on the next big thing.

The idea of a “sex trend” may strike you as odd, as if sex were like hemlines, or reality shows, or top 40 music — one of the fizzy bubbles that float pop culture — but in recent years there has been a lot of churn about sex. It’s all latex! No, wait, it’s goth! Swinging is back!

Even Candida Royalle, the pioneering erotic actress, director, author, and sex toy designer tells me she is amazed at how sex has been “gobbled up and spit out as just another trend.”

So here’s my 2009 prediction about trendy sex: It’s over.

While more information is good, sex-as-trend imposes pressure to conform. Never heard of a sex toy called “The Cone,” never been flogged by a dungeon master, or have yet to invite six strangers over for a little observational masturbation, also known as a Jack and Jill? How square. Hipsters have been so busy mining every tiny seam of our erotic underworld for nuggets of obscure novelty, and then feeding those nuggets into the crusher of pop culture, that those of us who have yet to attend a CFNM — Clothed Female Naked Male — party can feel hopelessly mainstream. (OMG!)

I recently guest edited and introduced a collection of sex writing selected by Rachel Kramer Bussel (“Best Sex Writing 2009”) and one of the most hilarious pieces in it is called “Silver Balling” by Stacey D’Erasmo. It’s the story of her quest, prompted by fear of being deemed uncool for not knowing the latest sex technique, to decipher the meaning of what proves to be a meaningless phrase.

Waning of hypersexual age
Every generation thinks it has invented sex. But now high school girls can accurately define “shibari” as Japanese rope bondage and tweeners, like, totally get that Katy Perry is fashion-quoting Dita Von Teese, who, in turn, made a living quoting burlesque strippers and the late, great Bettie Page.

We live in a culture of quotation. True sexual invention is practically an oxymoron and fashion has turned sex into pop style with such ferocity we have begun to mistake riffing for true creativity. Is there a designer left who hasn’t used bondage elements?

But the trendy erotic payload is especially heavy on the Internet where medium is mistaken for thought. A lot of sex on the Web is there simply because we can put it there. Once you get over the idea that the guy with the studded leather strap around his scrotum who is doing the ironing under his wife’s stern supervision looks suspiciously like your seventh-grade science teacher (Hi, Mr. Grunwald!), much of it just isn’t very interesting.

We are sold sex the way we are sold giant flat-screen TVs, computers and beer. Sex is like Times Square, filled with Sephora and Disney and Nike and Virgin, and if you fly to Paris and walk down the Champs-Elysees you will find Sephora and Disney and Nike and Virgin. We live in a kitschy world. Sex has now been completely subsumed into it.

As a result of such overkill, there's an atmosphere of ennui seeping into “trendy” sex. Porn companies are scaling back. FriendFinder Networks, the family of sex hookup sites that was purchased by Penthouse Media, has been losing millions and is at risk of going out of business. Edgier sex writers at publications like The Village Voice and have quit or lost their jobs.

There is more to this than the economic downturn. These are signs of a waning hypersexual age.

The prediction does not ratify a phony moral revival. The end of sex trendiness has a lot to do with the fact that efforts to enforce religion-based sexual conservatism are over, too, at least for now. Defiance helped animate the rise of sex trends. With less force pushing in, there will be less force pushing out.

Recent studies showing that abstinence pledges can be harmful because they don't stop teens from having sex, especially unprotected sex, is only further evidence that religious ideology makes for bad public policy. With any luck, we are about to install a government that will actually listen to the data.

Doing it, but not so much talking about it
Neither does it mean we are about to stop having sex, or trying things new to us, nor will we stop needing solid information about sex or having fun exploring it.

Rather, people are going to choose their own sexual paths but not talk about it so much. Some will choose abstinence until marriage and monogamy and intercourse strictly for procreation. Others will experiment and explore. To each his own.

This reflects who we are. We are much more live-and-let-live when it comes to consenting adults having sex they way they want than most people think, despite the success a few culture combatants have had in ginning up fear.

But it does mean that sex is about to lose its patina of trendiness. Instead, I think we’re about to return to what has always been most interesting about sex — that moment when two people find themselves in a room, naked and full of anticipation.  

Brian Alexander is the author of the book “America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction," now in paperback

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