Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Flunking out at love

Writing in the Daily Mail, Olivia Lichtenstein worries about the future of ''generation sex'', and then goes on to describe a wide variety of sexual behaviors that don't really strike me as being sex. 13 year olds film themselves having oral sex to share with others. Empty symbols that become celebrities by appearing nude. Rape and assault posted on Youtube. Claire knows therapists whose clients describe ''rainbow parties''; something I took for an urban legend. There's also a lot of what I'd call oversharing. Lichtenstein writes ''Sometimes, they’re so busy creating drama and tension in the movie of their own lives that they’ve forgotten to be human beings.''

Ah, but one has to learn to be a human being, usually from parents or other authority figures. Lichtenstein vacilates on the question of parental influence, sort of thinking it would be a good thing; but, only if we don't come across as Mary Whitehouse. In response, the comments section features a cross-section of angry Americans who blame vaguely-defined ''liberals'' for killing Christ, and say we need a return to ''shame''. The answer's always more cops, isn't it?

What's striking to me in a lot of these stories about teenage libertines isn't that they're having sex at age 14- historically, that was the norm. What's strange really isn't the sex; it's the utter lack of affect. There's an inability to see others as fully human, as different than images on a screen, that strikes me as bizarre. It's dissociative- narcissism taken the point of being a personality disorder. Relationships with others are instrumentalized. I also disagree with the idealized notion that mysogynistic boys are inflicting empty sex on girls, who are taken for natural born romantics. I'd say there's a pretty even distribution of pathology. Lastly, even the prevalence of emotionless hook ups doesn't strike me as the problem. There's something to be said for meaningless sex. But the inability to also have meaningful relationships when they're called for is what strikes me as the pathology.

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