We’ve been discussing the balance between freedom and responsibility in the societal emotional process, particularly regarding issues of dating and sexuality in the 21st Century. These issues have some particular implications for young adults that don’t apply as much to mid-lifers.
With her book The Second Sex, published in 1949, Feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir introduced the idea that sex isn’t biological, it’s a construction of culture and conditioning. “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman,” she said. At this time, the word gender came into parlance in place of sex when it referred to male and female. Fast forward 50+ years and young people today hardly question that gender is a mere construction. Whatever your feelings about it, it’s today’s reality.
Teaching About Sex
Many parents don’t even realize that the concept of gender construction is “a thing” because it’s so far outside of their own comprehension to think that the gender of their child is mere conditioning. Furthermore, most parents feel awkward talking to their children about sex, so conversations about these issues don’t easily cross generational lines. This leaves young people to find out about sex in other ways…and find out about it they will!
For example, although the words fornication and adultery were used with utmost disdain in the extreme fundamentalist religious system of my childhood, the word sex wasn’t mentioned in the home, which left me vulnerable to learning about it through my big brother who offered me to his friends as a sex toy. What I learned about then was sexual abuse, not sex or intimacy, and it took me my entire young adult life to come to understand the difference, a process that cost me much time, energy and money spent in psychotherapy. The impact of my confusion about sexuality eventually cost me my marriage, as well.
Pornography as Teacher
Add to this picture the mass proliferation and accessibility of pornography, another by-product of the emotional process in society since the 1960s called the Sexual Revolution. Pornography, to the tune of $4 billion per year, is the main way that children learn about sex these days, and in case you’re not aware, the porn of today isn’t the same as the porn of the 20th Century.
A therapist with special certification to work with sexual issues, I could curl your hair (or straighten it) with the stories I hear about the pornography available today and its impact. Hentai porn, for example, depersonalizes particularly perverse and bizarre sexual acts through anime. Just the other day, I learned of a 25-year-old female who’s unable to be aroused by anything other than Hentai porn. Real human sex is no longer appealing to her, and she’s seeking help.
A young man told me the other day that he used his unusually large penis to become a porn model. The money was good, he said, but he had to continually masturbate to remain erect for many hours on the job. Now he can’t stop compulsively masturbating (several times a day), and he can’t engage in the kind of relationship he wants because of the impact of his porn acting on his sexual psyche.
I recently learned of young lady who was proud of herself for not letting a boy kiss her because she wasn’t interested in him, so instead she gave him a blow job. No lie.
These are some of the by-products of sexual freedom without sexual responsibility, and they’re the unique dating and mating issues that face our young adults in the 21st Century. If you’re a young adult in the dating world, I encourage you to seek information about intimacy, not just sex. Intimate connection is still a beautiful human possibility—different from all other species that engage in sex by primal instinct alone.
If you’re not a young adult, perhaps you wish you could be again, because of the easy access to porn and crazy, fun, free, primal hook-up sex without regard for responsibility or the future. But let’s not forget the costs of such freedom. The young adults I know would give an arm and a leg to have truly intimate connections; they just don’t have a clue about how to make them happen.
A Sorry State of Affairs
I feel I should apologize to young adults who haven’t had intimate relationship modeled for them or taught to them. Porn is simply sexual acting, and its exploitation of real people is damaging. Sure, porn helps a few, but for every individual or couple it helps, there are millions whose relationships it destroys.
Gender construction and pornography have certainly changed the dating and mating landscape for young adults, and their parents are somewhere between horrified and befuddled by the rapid social and sexual changes. Mid-lifer conflicts over sex roles are vanilla in comparison…and so last century.
Fortunately, into this upheaval, we can inject some wisdom. Tomorrow we’ll look at what solid romantic relationship can look like for young adults and for mid-lifers. It turns out that solid human relationship looks pretty much the same for people of all ages.