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Daughters of the Sexual Revolution and their Mothers

July 17, 2011 | Karin

There has been an interesting debate in feminist circles on Erica Jong’s New York Times op-ed, Is sex passe?, that was published earlier this month.  She writes:

People always ask me what happened to sex since “Fear of Flying.” While editing an anthology of women’s sexual writing called “Sugar in My Bowl” last year, I was fascinated to see, among younger women, a nostalgia for ’50s-era attitudes toward sexuality. The older writers in my anthology are raunchier than the younger writers. The younger writers are obsessed with motherhood and monogamy.

Why the “nostalgia?”  She offers two reasons, neither of which provide much satisfaction.  She blames mother-daughter rebellion and the internet:

It makes sense. Daughters always want to be different from their mothers. If their mothers discovered free sex, then they want to rediscover monogamy. My daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, who is in her mid-30s, wrote an essay called “They Had Sex So I Didn’t Have To.” Her friend Julie Klam wrote “Let’s Not Talk About Sex.” The novelist Elisa Albert said: “Sex is overexposed. It needs to take a vacation, turn off its phone, get off the grid.” Meg Wolitzer, author of “The Uncoupling,” a fictional retelling of “Lysistrata,” described “a kind of background chatter about women losing interest in sex.” Min Jin Lee, a contributor to the anthology, suggested that “for cosmopolitan singles, sex with intimacy appears to be neither the norm nor the objective.”

Generalizing about cultural trends is tricky, but everywhere there are signs that sex has lost its frisson of freedom. Is sex less piquant when it is not forbidden? Sex itself may not be dead, but it seems sexual passion is on life support.

The Internet obliges by offering simulated sex without intimacy, without identity and without fear of infection. Risky behavior can be devoid of risk — unless of course you use your real name and are an elected official.

Not only did we fail to corrupt our daughters, but we gave them a sterile way to have sex, electronically. Clearly the lure of Internet sex is the lack of involvement. We want to keep the chaos of sex trapped in a device we think we can control.

Just as the watchword of my generation was freedom, that of my daughter’s generation seems to be control. Is this just the predictable swing of the pendulum or a new passion for order in an ever more chaotic world? A little of both. We idealized open marriage; our daughters are back to idealizing monogamy. We were unable to extinguish the lust for propriety.

Jong seems to only recognize two views of women–either the stereotypical 50s prudish woman or the 70s Woodstock free-love woman.  I can see why some younger feminists are frustrated.  One feminist blogger writes:

Either we’re too focused on sex, and therefore frivilous, female chauvanist pigs, or we’re not focused enough on sex, and therefore frigid, control freaks who are missing out on the best part of life. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t–even by our own feminist foremothers. How frustrating.

You can read the rest of Jong’s article here.

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