No Sex For You: Apparently, Sex Has Consequences

June 3, 2007

The cover of today’s “Week In Review” is all about sex–but not the fun kind.

Randy Kennedy reports on a recent trend in art and literature of sending increasingly severe messages about sex. Instead of having sex, people are “waiting and wondering, longing and thinking,” and probably also agonizing and regretting. Caution and denial shade the portrayals of sex in such works as Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach or Tom Perrotta’s upcoming The Abstinence Teacher. Nowhere near this grim but still sharing some of the same hopes about sex, we find Judd Apatow’s recent hits, The Forty-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up (a post on this last film is forthcoming). Kennedy writes:

“There is a sense that these recent artistic creations are partly a response, maybe partly unconscious, to the current state of sex in our society, where it can often feel like just another form of the cheap entertainment and distraction that now pushes in from all sides. That impression is fed by proliferating cable channels and the Internet, where the leak of the latest celebrity sex video already seems like a weary ritual, not more much [sic] momentous than the latest short-lived reality series.”

I think we find similar sentiments in Mark Grief’s “Afternoon of the Sex Children.” Kennedy cites Alan Wolfe, the Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, as suggesting that Americans are looking for something more restrained, and more ethical (even as they click on the next tantalizing Paris Hilton link?), without wishing to return to that “era of repression.” Hence the interest in innocence as something to be valued and explored. I can understand the wish to make sex more meaningful–to return meaning to acts of intimacy. I’m just awfully suspicious of that word “innocence,” especially when it’s used in such optimistically gender-neutral terms. When someone says that “society” needs a return to innocence, all I can hear is “women.”

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