In this social media saturated age, it’s easy to think that others are having more fun than you. On Facebook and Instagram, users serve as curators of their own lives, only sharing the details they deem important. Inundated with a barrage of smiling faces and party scenes, it’s easy to misconstrue the truth.
Image courtesy of Simon and Schuster
In her new book, The Sex Myth, journalist Rachel Hills argues that the same is true for our sex lives. Conditioned by the society that we should be having the most and best sex at all times, we curate our statements and tailor them to align with these expectations. In the resulting chasm between expectations and reality lies what Hills calls “the sex myth.” Over the course of seven years, Hills spoke to people from all walks of life across the United States, Europe, and Australia to uncover their true sex lives and dispel common false beliefs about sex.
In general, Hills discovered, people grossly overestimate the amount of sex other people are having. In a study of American male college students, subjects assumed that 80 percent of their classmates were having sex every weekend; in truth, 80 percent was the number of graduating college students who had ever had sex. While attitudes and expectations surrounding sex have changed over time, the pressure to conform to these expectations remains strong. In 2015, a woman can assert her confidence and control through sex, having more than one sexual partner is not only okay but rather expected, and “vanilla sex” is seen as basic in favor of slight infusions of kink.
When people fail to meet these expectations, the resulting value judgments can feel disappointing. As Hills points out, society conflates one’s sex life with one’s own identity. In subject Cara’s case, her lack of sexual desire leads her to believe that there is something wrong with her; she spends much of the book searching for a new identity and, for a time, believes she is asexual in an attempt to label her feelings. While she later eschews the term, Cara’s identity crisis illustrates a possible outcome of what happens when we fall short of these internalized expectations. Are you doing it enough? When you do it, is it exciting? Is sex the magical, mythic transcendently life changing experience the media leads us to believe?
Hills argues that the answer is “probably not, and that’s okay.” While sex can be important on an individual level, she explains, “…if we actually want people to engage in sex in whatever way is right for them, we need all forms of consensual sex between adults to be OK.” As individuals, we perpetuate these myths based on what details we include and what we omit when discuss our own sex lives. Hills cites a conversation with a friend in which she renamed the post-one night stand “walk of shame” as the “stride of pride”; later, she catches herself and acknowledges that while her own sexual history does not include a string of one night stands, her statement suggests otherwise. By presenting our sex lives in a more honest manner, we can transform the definition of what a “normal” sex life looks like.
While Hills’ interviews throughout the book are strong, the final chapter would benefit from some conversations with people putting this theory into practice. The lead-up clearly illustrates the gap and the underlying dissatisfaction with the current state, but Hills ultimately charges readers to start the conversation themselves.