The Sex Myth: A Review

One of the recurring ideas in The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills addresses our basic impulse to chase and encompass some idea of normal–in everyday life, dating, and particularly as it pertains to our sexuality.

But what is normal?

the-sex-myth-3In 2015, we're still struggling to define it. Hills, with an extensive background in writing for women's magazines, admits 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. To make matters worse, many of these lifestyle suggestions contradict each other. Too much kink makes you weird but not enough makes you boring, too much of a desire for sex makes you a slut but not enough makes you a prude.

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 summarize: yes, they do.

Hills traveled 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 intertwined with lite sociological narrative with a bit of personal commentary mixed in. As a kinky person myself, this subject's story stood out the most:

'There's this idea that because you're kinky, you're vastly experienced and up for anything,' Nyn says, jokingly referring to what he calls 'the Land Where People Have More/More Interesting Sex.'

'People who believe in this land, and believe that they are outsiders to it, don't want to offend people who live there by saying the wrong thing,' he says. 'They realize that a lot of what they might have heard about could be wrong. But they assume there must be something interesting happening. So if you try to ask people what they expect of you. Or why they jump towards thinking that sleeping over at a friend's house means some kind of kinky orgy; you end up with a weird miscommunication. Where they are trying to allude to this Big Secret which they are sure you know about and demonstrate that they are accepting of your wild ways. At the same time, you actually had a Disney film marathon. You don't think there is any Big Secret, because even if there is a mysterious Land Where People Have More/More Interesting Sex, you certainly don't live there. After all, your experience is just normal for you.'

I was thrilled to read about the glorification and sensationalizing 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 glamorize 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 handful 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 utilized here as one example of how culture attempts to be permissive of certain sexual behaviors 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.


¨In order for something to be normal, there must be a counterpoint that is abnormal.¨

¨And in order for new groups to be folded into the mainstream, there must be others that are defined as unacceptable or dangerous.¨ 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 marginalized, 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 her subjects 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 in order 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. 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 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, kinksters, 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–because each subject feels just as marginalized as the next, for their own unique and often relatable set of reasons.

To hear Hills speak further on these issues, catch her on tour in a city near you.

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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