The real secrets those sex diaries reveal

Photo: Joshua Allen for New York magazineEvery Monday since April 2007, New York magazine’s ‘Daily Intel’ blog has posted an anonymous, seven-day sex diary from one of its readers. Contributors have included a gay commodities trader, a therapist in a relationship with an almost-divorced family man, and a semi-retired engineer who has discovered nudism, Tantra and internet porn. There is even a twenty-something, temporarily celibate actress.

More than 140 weeks on, trends have begun to emerge from their saucy, sad, and sometimes plain strange stories. As journalist Wesley Yang puts it, ‘They cracked open a window into the changing structure, rhythm, and rhetoric of sex in New York’.

From the experiences of this admittedly self-selecting group of chroniclers, Yang has identified 10 key trends, all of them anxieties. Their polarities encompass the eternal (from the anxiety of too much choice to the anxiety of not being chosen), and the peculiarly modern (from the anxiety of appearing overly sincere to the anxiety of being unable to love).

Yang notes that taken together, they pose a single question: ‘Are the digital tools that make it easier to find sex compounding the confusion that accompanies it?’

This is the question that the New York Times’s David Brooks chose to run with in his recent op-ed column. His answer? Yes.

It’s the influence of cellphones and texting that he zeroes in on. They encourage compartmentalization and contingency, he says, promoting a utilitarian mind-set that is ‘naturally corrosive toward poetry and imagination’.

Poetry! When did you last hear that word uttered in connection with sex? The imagination is of course crucial, yet the mainstreaming of ever more explicit imagery denies it a role.

In such an environment, Brooks writes, ‘a coat of ironic detachment’ is required to survive the marketplace hurly-burly. ‘In today’s world, the choice of a Prius can be a more sanctified act than the choice of an erotic partner,’ he concludes.

The reader response is also well worth checking out. Plenty disagree, but the thought they’ve given his column confirms that Brooks is onto something. As, indeed, does the very fact that New York magazine’s readers have been so eager to (over)share details of their conquests in the first place.

Whatever else they suggest, these diaries – along with websites such as IJustMadeLove.com and the British craze for ‘dogging’ – indicate a group of people failing to connect with one another through that most intensely personal human activity, sex. Instead, they require an audience in order to fully inhabit their own intimacies.

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