50 Shades of Grey is about to swaddle America in some light, flirty torture -- silken knots, flexed abs, sappy dialogue -- as we feel pleased with ourselves for our sexual sophistication. And by "sophistication," I mean "being over it."
High school, 1977: The only thing my friends and I worry about is losing our virginity. We talk about it incessantly, but we make no progress -- we can't even get girlfriends. Deciding I can't start college as a virgin, I return to high school for a second senior year (where I continue to fail to make any headway with girls).
The point is -- sex in the late 70s was a big deal. The country was weary from Vietnam and Watergate. Food, clothing, and TV were pretty terrible. We didn't have the internet or home computers. There were no video games. We were done going to the moon. Sex was about the only awesome thing. And America wasn't fat yet. Clothes were tight, and people were skinny from jogging and cocaine.
Four decades later, we still think of ourselves as being into sex. But honestly, we're not. We're mostly done with sex being number-one in awesomeness. Let's look at what happened.
1. Sex is no longer an achievement. In the 70s, sex was for cool people, not for lonely nerds. Sex validated your elite status. Today, it's kind of adorable to be a nerd. Anyone, nerds included, can find like-minded people and clues about life via social media. I doubt that current high school students are as worried as my friends and I were about never, ever having sex.
2. We got fat. People in the 70s often had trim bodies, which were good for disco dancing, roller skating, and sex. We're bigger now, and the sex is still good, but it's two people with a combined weight of 385 pounds who just ate at Ruby Tuesday's modern sex, rather than two people with an average weight of 132 who've just split a gram of coke 1970s sex.
3. Other things got awesome. Today, food is irresistible, TV is having a golden age, movies and video games are spectacular, you can stream whatever you want whenever you want, and you can turn yourself into a star across a dozen media platforms. Getting a desultory dorm room hand job just doesn't compare.
4. Porn ate our brains. If you own a phone or iPad or computer, you own an all-you-can-surf porn superstore. It's hard to maintain a raging appetite for sex when you can gorge on millions of images on demand. Sex with another person isn't very intimate when you're both playing clips from your mental porn libraries. America's best sex is now sex-by-proxy, performed by skilled professionals.
5. We see how stupid and destructive sexual acting-out can be. Tiger Woods, Anthony Weiner, teachers getting with students, politicians getting with interns -- sexual misconduct seems so not worth it, even old-fashioned. For creepers, the cornucopia of sexual imagery on your computer isn't enough -- they need their orgasms to come with a side of ruined lives.
6. Secrecy is evaporating. Sex used to be an intriguing mystery. Now we have our pick of leaked nude celebrity selfies. Our biggest reality star became famous via a sex tape that's just too boring for most people to watch.
It might be a good thing that sex has lost much of its power. The old system of Jocks (who got to have sex) vs. Nerds (who didn't) made people miserable. Our more inclusive culture feels a little wimpy to us old guys, but it's an improvement. The 'It Gets Better' movement tells LGBT people that growing up helps. Similarly, our entire society is growing up and becoming more accepting.
Sex isn't modern -- it's an ancient evolutionary drive making you its bitch. As we advance into our transhuman, biorobotic future, we should probably lose the hardwired obsession with humping and shplooeying. Sex gets much of its oomph from being dirty and hidden and forbidden -- it's evolution's way of tricking us into acting against our own interests by reproducing. By bringing sex into the open, we've made it less compelling.
Sorry, sex. We still love you, but we're no longer in love with you.
Signs That Sex Has Become Less of a Priority
You haven't groomed below the waist since the Bush administration. (But good news -- hair down there is making a comeback!)
All your underwear is laundry-day underwear.
More nights than not, you and your significant other share the bed with a pet or child.
You say "Let's just snuggle" more than twice a month.
Most mornings, you wake up to find a TV remote or digital device in bed with you.
You're more excited by what's new on Netflix than by seeing your significant other naked.
You don't know what "Swipe right" means.
You shower together just to conserve water.
Your partner has fallen asleep while you watched the dessert round on Chopped.