This article more or less tests the biblical hypothesis contained in Ecclesiastes 1:9: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." Nevertheless, despite the adage, social commentators have frequently - it seems to me - postulated a new hypothesis: with the advent of internet pornography, video games, and their mother's basement, modern technology has achieved the true Fall of Man.
Indeed, these articles have become so frequent that it is unnecessary to catalogue them all here. For an example, though, I turn to a recent article in GQ: Dinner, Movie, and a Dirty Sanchez. This is not, exactly, an article for polite company --- which is, in some ways, the point of the article. It is a spirited argument written by a woman under the pen name of Siobhan Rosen described as: "One woman offers up a few tips on proper sexual etiquette for a generation of Internet-addled guys." Fine so far. Then the point: "For starters, 'dirty whore' is not actually a term of endearment."
The article is written with a certain kind of gusto which deserves to be read in full, for the not-easily offended reader. The basic point the author makes, though, boils down to a single statement: "almost every female friend of mine has had an experience with pornified sex super-early in a relationship." The longer version of this argument is easily contained in this analogy: "But more likely, the buffet of fetishistic porn available twenty-four-seven has made age-old sexual practices seem unexciting. Insufficient, somehow. To compare it to another genre of online video: Why watch a clip of one puppy frolicking in a field when you can watch eight different puppies cuddling with a sweet-faced baby armadillo tickling a panda bear? And after seeing that, why ever settle for a boring ol' puppy frolicking in a field again?"
Reading this article, I had a few thoughts. First of all, is it true? Reading an article on the internet about how young men should not believe everything is realistic that they read (or see) on the internet seemed a bit ironic. It's the old "I always lie" phenomena. It would be an error to immediately assume that the sort of person who writes articles about modern sexual practices for GQ is a typical American. I know little about the author, of course, but it seems unlikely that an article of this sort would find its way to publication:
"I have had few interesting experiences worth relating. I've dated a little bit but nothing has really worked out yet. I've joined match.com and hope to soon meet another ornithologist."
That said, I was curious. While the article did not explicity lay it out like this, I have noticed a trend of articles over the years - and the usual 'comments from friends' - that actually contain two distinct, but related, hypotheses.
- Assumptions: a. the number of successful men is falling (obesity epidemic, joblessness among under those under 30, lower proportion of men in college) and the number of successful women is rising (higher incomes, increasingly better collegiate success) and b. while successful men are willing to date less professionally successful women, successful women are not necessarily willing to date less professionally successful men. Therefore, this argument runs, there is fierce competition amongst successful women for the few successful men, giving men more market power and allowing them to set the sexual agenda. On a related note, proponents of this idea often argue that pornography has given men an "outside option" which is - generally speaking - free. Proponents of this belief argue that pornography decreases overall male incentives for success and exacerbates this market imbalance.
- Assumptions: people develop sexual habits and preferences by observing the world around them. Therefore, the increase in pornography - and the ease of access to it - has (as the author of the GQ article mentioned) exposed a generation of men to sexual practices that would have been beyond their wildest dreams if left to their own devices. Additionally, this part of the argument goes, exposure to pornography "normalized" these activities.
There are many assumptions that go into these hypotheses. I neither reject nor endorse them here. I merely report the general sense of this social commentary. This is, in the broadest sense, "conventional wisdom."
As a 20-something male myself, there is a serious reason to be interested in this issue beyond just the "oh, ha ha, look what that person did" angle that drives much of the traffic on the internet. If we assume that I am concerned with "right action," as I think I am, I thought it made sense to investigate a little bit and ponder the issue. Simply put: Am I an ass?
I will spare you the answer to that question, taking the comments from The Great Gatsby to heart: "for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions."
Instead I will merely relate the results of my unscientific poll. Curious about the issue, I surveyed a large number of my male and female acquaintances. This is, of course, not proper science: it is not a random sample, it is not a statistically significant sample, and it is not an anonymous survey.
To the women, I asked:
- Does the article sound accurate? i.e., does this match with the sorts of experiences you or your friends have had?
- Do you also find the behavior of the modern young gentleman less than gentlemanly?
- Do you think this has changed over time?
- What do you think is the cause?
- What are your strategies for dealing with it?
To the men, I asked:
- Does this article sound like the way you and your friends go about doing things?
- Do you think this represents life getting better or worse?
- Do you think this is new, or have guys always been this way?
- If you think behavior has changed, what causes it?
- How are girls trying to fight back?
I was surprised by the results. At first, of course, I was particularly worried that I would get no female responses whatsoever (it was, after all, quite a personal question) and that I would only get jokes from the males in reply. Instead I actually got quite thoughtful and heartfelt replies from both the men and the women, with about half of the people of both sexes responding.
The first response was terrific: "In case I hadn't made that clear over the last 9 years or so, men are toads."
The next sections outline the men's reponses, the women's responses, and my own conclusions.