Let’s talk about sex, baby

Sunday 14 October, 12:0013:00, Frobisher Auditorium 1Sexual revolutions

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what young people want from relationships today. We no longer live in a society that sees sex outside of marriage as taboo, and yet, in many ways, today’s generation seems more preoccupied with sexual etiquette than their parents.

Where social norms once dictated how men and women went ‘courting’, now dating apps like Tinder and Grindr have redefined sexual relationships in contractual terms. There are even ‘progressive’ apps like Bumble, which only allows women to make the first move in heterosexual matches, and Hinge, which prompts users to keep chatting to prevent ‘ghosting’ (being ignored). There are strict rules that apply to the dating-app world, and anyone who falls foul of them can be ‘blocked’ and stopped from dating. There are questions about how this might be having an effect on intimacy. A recent survey conducted by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service even claimed that young people, sometimes referred to as ‘generation sensible’, were ditching sexual intercourse in favour of ‘sexting’.

Some argue that this desire to formalise relationships could also be indicative of a general nervousness about sexual interaction itself. Consent classes are being taught at a number of universities and schools, and calls to improve sex education argue that we need to be teaching young people about how to have good relationships as well as the basics of ‘the birds and the bees’. While the #MeToo campaign began by focusing on allegations of sexual violence, it soon shifted its focus to how people interact within sexual relationships. All of a sudden, people were talking about a perceived imbalance of power between men and women, and broader issues of sexual etiquette.

However, many argue that ‘hook-up culture’ has become the norm for many young people, suggesting that they are more carefree about sexual etiquette and norms than their parents. Many young people seem to think that monogamy has become passé, with fewer than ever saying they see getting married as a life goal. Every year, thousands of Brits travel abroad for alcohol-fuelled promiscuous holidays, where young men and women enjoy one-night stands and other less formal sexual interactions. Far from being nervous about sexual etiquette, these groups of young people seem to flout taboo without much concern at all.

Is this new concern with consent and sexual etiquette simply rewriting the sexual norms of the past? While the sexual revolutions of the 1960s seemed to make sex a lot more free, are we really living through the age of ‘anything goes’, and does that pose a threat to genuine intimacy? Is #MeToo going to change the way we have sex? And, if so, will it be for better or for worse?