We're still struggling to define it. Hills, with an extensive background in writing for women's magazines, admits in The Sex Myth that mass media continuously sends mixed messages regarding sex. How much kink it should contain, how frequently we should be having it, who we should desire to have it with, and the way in which we should present our sex lives to friends.
The Sex Myth is the product of author Rachel Hills's quest to investigate where young people stand publicly and privately, in regards to their sexuality. The collective work reveals how these cultural standards shape and affect actual human sexuality, if at all. To summarise: yes, they do.
Hills travelled the English speaking world in search of interviewees willing to discuss intimacy and sex. Her subjects span people in late teenage-hood to those in their early 30's. Their stories are interspersed with a light sociological narrative with a bit of personal commentary mixed in.
I was thrilled to read about the glorification, and sensationalising of kinky and sex-positive people at various points throughout The Sex Myth. Hills directly addresses the hyper-sexed down-for-anything kinky stereotype by drawing from the perspectives of real kinksters to debunk it.
Exposing the falsities that contemporary culture use to glamorise kink is integral to Hills's argument for The Sex Myth as a concept. Her findings are used as evidence not only of its existence but of how it (as well as other facets of The Sex Myth) are perpetuated by mass media and established cultural pre-conceptions.
Nyn is one of the handfuls of kinky and/or poly subjects serving as a comparison against the kind of kink and non-monogamous lifestyle branded by mainstream women's mags and entertainment. BDSM and alt-sex/relationships are utilised here as one example of how culture attempts to be permissive of certain sexual behaviours once (and to some, still) considered devious. But promoting any one brand of sex-positivity is constrictive, not permissive.
Hills goes on to say that part of the designated role of kink and alt-sex/relationships in mainstream culture has been to serve as a “counterpoint” to what is normal. Now that certain facets or expressions of kink, gender fluidity, and non-monogamy are viewed as trendy, others will by default, be viewed as abnormal or unhealthy.
As Caitlyn Jenner has exemplified, one of the key factors in determining what kind of kink, gender fluidity, and non-monogamy are mainstream acceptable is class–and by class, I mean financial and social. And for those who feel marginalised, attaining a certain rank of social class is a recurring motivation among Hills's interview subjects in seeking out certain types of sex and romance.
Many of Hills' subjects in The Sex Myth are interested in promoting a vision of themselves projected in their sexual and romantic pursuits. And showing interest in specific brands of people (attractive, generally of the opposite sex) help bring that vision to life. This vision of a culturally deemed perfect self is sometimes so overpowering that people will disregard their actual desires to achieve it.
'A lot of gay guys don't like ¨gay guys'' very much,' Yusuf observes...'[They're] trying to redefine being gay as something that is also very masculine and identifying more with straight men than with gay men.''
Like several other interviewees in The Sex Myth, culture (particularly religious and familial) motivates Yusuf (who is gay) away from an entire socially perceived demographic of people. Furthermore, Yusuf's environment tells him that being gay might mean a loss to his masculinity. For him, “identifying more with straight men” is a means of fitting into a more culturally ideal picture. This is one example Hills provides of the cultural branding of good and bad ways of being sexual.
While sexual minorities may not be the focus of this text as a whole, they certainly have a recurring role that is integral to this book's theme. But among all the virgins, those into kink, asexuals, poly folk, trans people, frat bros, sorority girls, openly gay, and sexually deprived interviewees, it is nearly impossible to distinguish those sexual minorities from the rest. The problem is that each subject feels just as marginalised as the next, for their own unique and often relatable set of reasons.
Zoë Tersche is a New York-based writer focusing on fetish sexuality and the freedom of sexual expression. Follow her on Twitter @ZoeTersche and find out more about her here.
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