Henry Gargan is the Opinion Editor. He is a senior journalism and global studies major from Chapel Hill.
S ex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll are popular, but not just because they’re fun. Each carries valuable social capital. That’s why stoners can’t stop talking about weed, why your roommate can’t stop talking about his band and why you can’t wait to tell your bros in faux-sheepish tones where you were last night.
The social value of having lots of sex — or at least appearing to — cannot be overlooked when it comes to evaluating incentives for binge-drinking and sexual assault. That we discuss sex in terms of competition and personal achievement (“scoring”) rather than as an intimate shared experience says a lot about how we value it.
The commodification of sex makes currencies out of alcohol, dinners or just being a nice guy. Sex is pretty great, and I’d never ask people to have less of it. But it’s important to think critically about why sex happens and divorce it from the ritualism that tends to ruin it for everyone. Perhaps then we can solve some of the problems that arise from extreme efforts to fulfill misguided expectations about when sex happens and what it looks like.
During my first year at UNC, the desperation was palpable. College, we thought, was a place where people did sex things, and we wanted to be doing them, too. Our college years presented themselves as a swiftly closing window in which to become acquainted with our sexuality, and no opportunity to do so could go to waste.
But this comically sad approach was egged on by a similarly tragic asymmetry of information: People don’t talk about bad sex, and they definitely don’t talk about not having sex at all.
This is the same principle that makes Facebook so sad: It’s a repository of people’s finest moments and wittiest insights, and we tend to spend hours scrolling through them when we’re at our lowest. Something called the sleeper effect, which causes us to unconsciously dissociate messages from their sources, ensures we forget that these gold-star moments aren’t happening to the same people. So when hear about anyone having sex, this effect teams up with our insecurities to turn that into “everyone.”
The solution is to talk about sex more and to talk about it better. Not just the good stuff, but the embarrassing, awkward, didn’t-actually-quite-happen kind. Let’s talk about not having sex, and why we aren’t. Let’s talk about the interpersonal context in which it does or does not occur. Let’s talk about how it makes us feel.