So here at The Hotbed Collective we spend a lot of time focusing on sex after having kids, but what's it like for younger couples without? We spoke to Katharine Hill who is not just a talented illustrator, but is also a cultural expert. We asked her some questions about sex and millenials...
So do you think your generation is more confident sex wise? Are you happier than all us knackered parents?
I don't think my gen is happier about sex, no. There seems to be something holding people back - i'm not sure many of my peers are having much sex. maybe it's stress, or tiredness, or the fact more people are in long term relationships now, but it's very rare that we gossip about the pleasures of sex in the way i feel we used to, or maybe in the way previous generations used to.
Now sex is either a problem or an absence - people seem to be more pragmatic about it and it's disappeared from our conversations. i notice that when we do talk about sex it's about the various emotional tensions that come with not having it, rather than positions or new ideas or anything exciting.
It's weird as I think we're under the impression that younger couples are having very sexy times indeed! What are some of the challenges for young women then?
Partly the language around sex still isn't there. as much as we're told that we're 'empowered' to ask for sex in the various ways we might want it, there still lacks a useable vocabulary. i can't think of many sex words that feel good to say, even to my close friends. it all sounds ridiculous.
i don't want to describe something intimate and secret to my friends in either formal medical jargon (invented by men) or pornland lingo (invented by men). and yet there isn't that much in between. so i think in order for women to talk more about sex we have to create better words to describe all the bits and pieces, and where they go.
i also wonder also whether there's something in the zeitgeist which is itself anti-sex. i feel a lot of contemporary femininity is about inwardness, self protection, self care, and strong isolation. this narrative goes against the old model of cheering yourself up with lots of vigorous sex. i was watching 'bridget jones' recently and felt surprised by the presence of so much sex - the characters plan it, talk about it, think about doing it, and then hump each other constantly. it felt old fashioned in a funny way - as if without smartphones, instagram, boxsets, online shopping - sex was all they could do for fun. it felt sweet but a bit irrelevant to today's strong female protagonist, who would probably be focusing more energy on social entrepeneurship or developing a breakthrough beauty business model or something.
That's interesting - yes Bridget has a very playful relationship with sex which was pretty common in the 90's. It was also the struggle between bad boy and good boy that comes up in just about every female romcom.
So if we park Bridget, it sounds like we're actually facing the same kind of issues in many ways?
Yes and there's also something about women having been taught by media and culture to feel their sexuality through objectification. so we 'feel' sexy when we look sexy to men, etc, rather than feeling sexy when we are sexually aroused. this process of women being distanced from their own pleasure (that naomi wolf first warned us of in the 90s) has now been completely realised i think.
porn, and social media has cemented it through the reinforcement of women as false, unfeeling images. there are too few places for women to feel sexual pleasure away from the male gaze and this makes it really difficult for them to understand sex as something in which their own pleasure will get prioritised. this is definitely something that's changed since my mum's generation. i feel the second wave feminists were brilliant at pushing back against the male gaze and understanding that the power which comes from gratifying male desire = NOT the same thing as embodied sexual pleasure.
i think the biggest challenge the younger generations face will be pushing back against the crazy expectations of sex that porn equips young men with and realising that emulating female porn stars will come at the expense of their own sexual pleasure. the other big challenge will be fighting against the sexualisation of AI (artificial intelligence). the fact that men are already being encouraged to buy their very own robot sex slave is extremely worrying. the cultural impact that will have on human women's sexuality, and the role women play in the gratification of male libido, is unavoidably HUGE.
Yes a future of sex robots doesn't feel like progress at all...thanks for sharing. It's depressing to hear the commonalities here but also positive to realise that we all need to talk about own sexual needs & find our own language to express what we need...
(image by Katharine Hill 2017)