Of Being a Sex Obsessed Society
One day, a couple of years ago, I was watching an episode of Haven the SciFi network. As I was watching the show and commercials for other SciFi shows, I could not help but notice the most recurrent theme was not science fiction, it was sex; more specifically young pretty people having sex with new partners.
Now, since I try to keep an eye out for how sexuality is presented in media I began to make a point not to mute the commercials and pay attention. As I've written before, part of my life I was in the world of fundamental Christianity and I began to think about that recurrent theme of young unmarried people having casual sex and how it is seen by religious conservatives. I know full well that the evangelicals and Catholics see such things and decry loudly that our society that has become overly sexualized. The more extreme even proclaim that mass shootings, natural disasters and even AIDS are punishments from God for the sexualizatoin of American society.
So I considered that charge and here is my response.
First, it is completely fair to say that sex has become ever more common on television and the movies. Even on the ABC Family Channel, young people are fucking up a storm. Compare that not just to the 50’s when even married people did not share a bed on TV, but to the sexy 70’s. Even in the ultimate T&A show, Charlie’s Angels, there were lots of braless beauties, but I can’t think of a single bedroom scene involving one of the sexy angels actually doing the deed. Perhaps my memory is weak, but I’m of the generation that lusted over the Farah poster every night, but for all the titillating, there was little or no overt reference to the angels getting laid. Yet on the episode of Haven I was watching, not only did it show the main character get undressed before sex on her 1st date, she later talked about her sexual experience that night. And, if we include hit cable TV shows, the sex is so explicit that shows such as Game of Thrones would have brought on police raids even in my lifetime.
However, unlike the Christian Right, I don’t say that as a criticism, just as a contrast. If I were to make a criticism, it would be that the nudity and sex on TV is almost entirely confined to incredibly fit & attractive people between eighteen and about twenty-five. Of course, the world is not just full of pretty young people. In fact, an ever growing portion of society is made up of people over 65, and even though this age group is more sexually active than ever (thanks to better health and Viagra), they are nearly entirely excluded from media portrayals of sex. That I find offensive.
It is true that youth sex on broadcast television is driven by the fact that advertisers are not interested in senior citizens, but on young people who have not developed long term consumer preferences. The one exception to this was the classic TV show the Golden Girls which featured a very sexually active 50’something woman who was a central character. But that show went off the air over 20 years ago and I don’t know of anything similar since. But cable television is under no such constraints and yet they still limit depictions of sex to attractive young people. To my mind an HBO version of The Golden Girls where the sex is shown would be very well received.
In the very mainstream Chilling Adventures of Sebrina, teen sex is a key theme with one of the important plot points that every female witch has sex on her 16th birthday and orgies (such as this one) are implied to be common among the teenage witch community.
An image from the smash hit Game of Thrones. Not too many years ago this would be illegal's to show in most of the US, but now it is very much mainstream entertainment in the US.
As for the idea that our society is “oversexed”, I ask compared to what society is America "oversexed"? Sure, in ages past mere survival meant long hard days, crippling diseases and early death. So, I guess it is likely true we now, as a society, do focus more on recreational sex for more years than ever before. However, if you compare modern western society to the leisured elite of any society in history, we are no more sex obsessed than any of them. Those wealthy enough to have time and health to play sex games well into middle age, have done so from the beginning of recorded civilization. Contrary to Maslow’s hierarchy, I would suggest history proves that once the basic needs are met (including sex for procreation), recreational sex quickly becomes a priority in all societies.
Thus, the forces of anti-sexualization of society are just another form of Luddites: looking back with fondness to a fictitious wonderful and simple past. Their rose-colored glasses just forget that for most of human history life expectancy was very little more than thirty years old. For the first time in world history, we have an enormous population of people over the age when sexual desires are their singular driving force.
Historically we know that people who do live beyond their 30’s tend to become progressively more sex-negative. I would suggest this is due to the fact they do not like to be reminded that they are no longer young and virile. The greatest example of this is the architect of Western sex-negative morality, St. Augustine (354-430AD). After living his young life with wine women and song, he later decided that sex is bad. He even went as far as stating that a man’s erection was inherently sinful. My guess is he said that after he ceased having erections himself. I will confess, that at times I can get that pang of jealousy of young people’s sexual abilities, but I try to stamp them down. I’ve had a good life even if my health has put strictures on my sexual activities. I have no cause to resent those who can still do the things I once could.
So, yes it appears to a populace that is aging that there is an undue focus on sexuality. But that is not a function of a change in young people, but the combined effects of an aging population and the ability (via media) for older people to be reminded of the fact that people in their late teens and twenty’s fuck like rabbits.
So Viva to our sexualized society!
Those of us who are past our randy youth will just have to deal with it. But it would be nice to see more mature sexuality on television and movies.