Sex seems to be everywhere, but unfortunately, the same goes for creepy behavior, sexual misconduct, and shame.
But why is that?
Sometimes I wonder what the feminists of the 70s would say about online services like OnlyFans. Would they welcome it as a safe space for sex workers, or would they criticize it as a display of toxic masculinity?
I mention OnlyFans because this company just announced that they would kick pornography out of their service—which seems like an odd step, as that was the most popular content on the platform.
A few days before this announcement, I read an article in Elephant Journal about the dangers of the growing “Incel Movement.”
So, on one side, we have angry sex workers who demand the opportunity to make money with sex on the internet, and on the other side, we have sexually frustrated men who are not able to fulfill their sexual desires.
I feel sorry for both of them. And I wonder how advocates of sexual liberation from the 60s feel about these developments around sexuality. It seems that our societies are hyper-sexualized, but at the same time, there are statistics that our generation has far less sex than previous generations.
We talk about sex, we see sexy content all day—but we don’t have much sex anymore. Why is that?
Of course, I don’t have the ultimate answer to this paradox, but I feel that capitalism has something to do with it. Let me explain why I feel this way.
First of all, sex is something most of us are interested in. Some folks are even joking that the internet was basically created to share sexual content. I wouldn’t go that far, but there is some truth to this joke.
Let’s take a look at the availability of sexual content throughout the past generations. Ask yourself how many naked women our grandfather saw until he was 20 and what kind of images 12-year-olds of today are exposed to. What were the expectations of our grandparents before their first sexual experiences, and what are the expectations of teenagers nowadays?
One could say that we achieved sexual liberation because sex seems to be everywhere these days—but is that really the case?
Freedom to do something also carries the danger of creating pressure on those who would like to opt out of these freedoms. How would you react to a friend in his or her 30s telling you that they are a virgin? What would happen if a 20-year-old woman decides to show up at spring break in a full-body swimsuit?
Where does freedom end and peer pressure start?
Let’s take a look at the availability of potential partners. Ask yourself how many potential partners our grandparents met as young adults, and then ask yourself how many profiles you checked out on dating apps in your 20s.
The seemingly endless number of potential hook-ups makes it hard to choose for some of us—but at the same time, there is a large number of folks who never get chosen. Again, we are talking about expectations.
Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about sexuality. Some watch pornography, others read articles on how to boost their sex life, and many of us spend our weekends with meaningless sexual interactions—is that the freedom our hippie friends from the 60s had in mind? I am not sure about that.
Capitalism hijacked sexuality, and most of us didn’t even notice that.
Sex-positivity is awesome, I am sex-positive, but I am worried about making sex a product. The moment sexuality becomes a product; it becomes exclusive to those who can afford this product.
And at the same time, it will leave behind those who can’t satisfy their desires. These folks might turn to pornography, which possibly leads to creating new desires that also won’t be satisfied in the real world—but create a billion-dollar industry that allows young women to drop out of university and make a six-figure income on a webcam (nothing wrong with that, if someone wants to do that).
But if we create a situation where single moms sell their bodies online to pay their bills (and feel shame for doing that), and dudes going into debt to pay for online sex (which also creates shame), then we have a problem as a society. The problem is that none of these two sides of the game actually enjoy what they are doing. The only ones profiting are the companies behind these services.
When sexual partners become exchangeable, folks don’t care as much about the individual they are interacting with—instead, they only want to maximize their “profits.” If we apply capitalism to our sexual encounters, there is not much reason to be authentic—just as most of us are not authentic at our workplace.
There is too much danger of lowering our “worth” by admitting our fears, shortcomings, and traumas. Capitalistic dating dynamics almost force us to deny our true nature and promote ourselves as the perfect partner to have fun with at a low price.
The pressure to be attractive that is driven by the fear of ending up lonely creates a whole bunch of problems for men and women.
So, what can we do to avoid these dynamics in our own lives?
Again, I don’t have the ultimate answer to this, but I have a suggestion coming from one of the most known (and controversial) psychotherapists of the 20th century: Siegmund Freud.
Freud described culture as the result of sexual sublimation. What? Let me explain.
Freud saw sexuality as one of the driving forces of human behavior. But that didn’t lead him to suggest that we should just have sex all day. Instead, he labeled the ability to suppress our sexual desire as the source of culture. Dancing, playing music, creating art, and writing are the result of transforming sexual energy into culturally accepted forms of expression.
But why would we hide our sexual desire underneath these culturally accepted forms of expression? Well, we don’t have to, but we have the freedom to do so—and it might be healthier.
Culture gives us the opportunity to express ourselves in an authentic way. We can choose our hobbies, connect with others who share the same interests, and develop a personality that makes us unique. The more diversity exists in our societies, the likelier it will become that we cherish meaningful connections with others who share similar values and desires.
But if we all just focus on being the sexually most attractive person in the world, we will end up chasing stereotypes of what we think potential partners expect from us. In a capitalistic dating world, we run the danger of women overfocussing on their physical appearance and men solely banking on their ability to pay for sex.
What if we change that narrative and listen to Freud?
Instead of asking, “How do I attract men or women?” We could ask ourselves, “How do I connect with my true self and find ways to connect with others who love me for who I am?”
Instead of asking, “How do I become more attractive?” We could ask ourselves, “What do I like about myself, and where do I meet others who appreciate these parts of my personality?”
What if we shift our focus toward developing our cultural identity instead of consuming dating advice on how to present ourselves as the perfect sex-mate?
There is a difference between someone playing music, writing a love poem, or performing a dance choreography and someone showing their butthole on OnlyFans. Nothing wrong with showing our bodies (if we want to), but ask yourself what kind of potential partner one or the other action will attract.
When we find our passions that have nothing to do with sex, we will automatically attract others who share similar passions.
If culture is just a way of sublimating our sexual drive toward other activities, it won’t be surprising if those who enjoy these activities turn out to be potential partners who love us for who we are.
But as long as we only focus on having more and better sex, we make sex a product that we try to get at the cheapest price.
All of this reminds me of the conversation around body positivity. I am not a fan of body positivity, but not because I suggest body negativity as an alternative—I would suggest body neutrality. Why not spend less time thinking about what we look like and spend more time thinking about who we are.
I would apply the same to sex. Sex-positivity and sex-negativity are two extremes—and I feel the truth is to be found in the middle.
Sex is a beautiful thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we live for. If we create the life of our dreams, build a strong personality, and identify our true desires, we are far more likely to enter meaningful relationships with loving partners who actually care about who we are.
Once we found someone who loves us for who we are, we don’t have to worry about our “market worth in the world of dating” anymore—and wouldn’t that be awesome?