Urban legend pet peeve alert
Okay, Broadsheet has another example of what might be my least favorite trend story of all time: Event X causes people to do it. And by “it”, I don’t mean settle down on the couch to watch sitcoms.
Sept. 11 gave us the desperate grope for end-of-days closeness dubbed “terror sex.” Nov. 4, reportedly, has given us hope sex: the ecstatic urge to, you know, like our man in Grant Park, connect with regular people. The drive to make love, not a $6 billion war. The panting anticipation of an administration that, with the possible exception of Lynne Cheney, is not completely weird about sex.
I remember that spate of “terror sex” articles and my reaction was, “Do people really need a terrorist attack to remind them that their nether regions have a use besides sitting on your ass?” It’s the same thing now. I don’t doubt there’s some people out there that wait for deadly disasters or major elections before they blow the dust off the condom box, but I fail to see why that sort of thing really demands a cheeky trend story, because such people are few in number and their story sounds more sad than fun.
You get the same problem with legends like “Nine months after the citywide blackout, there was a rush of babies born.” The implication is a) that a whole bunch of people had sex during the blackout that wouldn’t have otherwise been fucking within that same week or b) a whole bunch of people thought that they couldn’t use a condom without the condom charger being plugged in and so went without. Or even jokes about how the big feature of an anniversary celebration is the sex, like it’s an annual event. I am (surprise!) skeptical.
The implicit assumption in these stories—and therefore the belief that tellers are trying to transmit—is that most people don’t have much sex at all, and need major reasons for it. But that’s really far from true. Estimates of how often Americans have sex range from a little over once a week to a little over twice a week. Yeah, a lot of people had sex on November 4th. A lot of people had sex on November 3rd. And a lot will do it tonight. It doesn’t take a whole lot of research or just thinking to see that these elbow-poking giggly legends about how all of a sudden a bunch of people did it doesn’t really make sense. So why do people spread these legends?
Probably because no matter who you are or what you do, spreading the “most people are sex-starved” legend makes you feel good. If you’re not getting any, you feel less alone. If you are getting laid regularly, it makes you feel superior. So people participate in these legends that we have to know on some level are a lie because of the ego boost. But there’s a serious drawback to promoting the idea that most Americans are relatively abstinent, which is that it makes it all the more reasonable sounding to promote abstinence. Telling kids, “Just don’t do it until your wedding night” sounds reasonable in a world where most people wait for momentous events like elections or anniversaries to have sex. But in our world—where people tend to squeeze it into the corners of even busy lives at least every few nights if not more—it’s a lot harder. Because in the latter case, it’s obvious that sex is just part of being a human being, and going to great lengths to suppress it is just retaliating against life.