New York Times
September 9, 2016
Back when adultery and gay sex were widely criminalized in the United States, when masturbation was thought to make you crazy and fellatio was taboo, the Kinsey Institute famously revealed that Americans were secretly less faithful, more gay, more various in their sexual practices and more perverse than most wanted to think. Sixty years later, many of us have come to regard sex — preferably passionate, hot, transformative sex — as central to our lives. In the time of Tinder, our sexuality feels anything but secret. But romance is still mysterious — what does it feel like for everyone else? — and three new books try to explain modern mating.
Rachel Hills, an Australian journalist who lives in New York, argues in “The Sex Myth” that there is a new gap between what we believe and what we do: Americans are secretly having less and worse sex than everyone thinks, and feeling bad about it. She cites a recent study, which shows that on any given weekend, 80 percent of male college students think their schoolmates are having sex (it’s actually 5 percent to 10 percent). Hills argues persuasively that when our value is tied to sexual desirability and performance, we live with a new kind of shame: If we’re not having good sex, all the time, there’s something wrong with us. In this way, the liberation of sex actually regulates us.
Motivated by her own sense of falling short of some sexual ideal, and by conversations with friends who felt the same way, Hills attempts to show how we moved from “a culture that told us we were dirty if we did have sex to one that tells us we are defective if we do not do it enough.” She examines social science literature and media, and interviews hundreds of people to contrast the “myth of a hypersexual society” with our lived reality. “The Sex Myth” provides a clarifying framework for understanding new versions of old contradictions — that women must choose between being “wholly ‘pure’ or ‘empowered,’ innocent Madonna or self-assured Gaga.” Hills makes a smart argument against that strain of neo- or anti-feminism that would have women rebel against objectification by objectifying ourselves: We might be better off, she argues, to stop identifying ourselves primarily with our sex lives.