Reviews | No, a “right to sex” is not the cure for what afflicts so many men
But think again. “Young men don’t have sex!” tweeted Activist and former Democratic congressional candidate Alexandra Hunt from Pennsylvania last week sparking an internet storm.
Hunt cited a graph from a 2019 Post article. “Almost a third of men under 30 haven’t had sex,” she continued. “And a higher percentage aren’t having sex as much as they’d like – not really surprising, but those sorts of stats are a sign of much deeper issues.” (It should be noted that the graph was misinterpreted: the statistic refers to men who have not had sex in the past year, not their entire life. Hunt also did not mention that 18% of women said the same.)
She continued note that men who do not have sex are less likely to be employed and more likely to feel nihilistic and to suffer from depression and other mental health issues. This raises obvious questions of cause and effect, but it was Hunt’s proposed solution that sparked the ire of his audience.
“We should move towards a right to sex” Hunt said. “People should be able to have sex whenever they feel like it, and we need to develop services that meet people’s needs without attaching the baggage of shame or criminalization.”
The phenomenon that Hunt saw in the graph indicates a negative and significant social trend. But redefining sex as a “right” isn’t the solution — in fact, it obscures the deeper issues at play.
Christine Emba: Consent is not enough. We need a new sexual ethics.
Moreover, given the context of the dysfunction that supposedly results from declining rates of male sexual activity, the implication is that violent or antisocial behavior in response to sexual denial is predictable, understandable, and possibly even justified.
Hunt suggested that decriminalization or perhaps even state sponsorship of sex work could prevent this outcome – a hypothesis that many sex workers understandably did not like. Like a tweeted in response: “it *seems* that you are saying that we should decriminalize sex work so that violent incels can have more access to sex workers and no, that is not our plan. We are not sex catchers sex balls.
But not only is Hunt’s solution the wrong prescription; that’s not even the correct diagnosis.
Modern society tends to confuse intimacy with sex, to suggest that they are interchangeable or that the latter, perhaps, is even a bit superior. To propose that a “right to sex” will cure men’s ills mistakenly assumes that the depression, nihilism, and economic dislocation that Hunt correctly identifies as serious problems will be eliminated by more sexual encounters.
Letter to the Editor: This New Sexual Ethics Isn’t All That New
In interviews for my own book on the evils of our sexual culture, a psychotherapist described to me how many of her young male patients compulsively pursue sex (and often succeed in getting it) but still find themselves dissatisfied. In many cases, their underlying desire was not the act itself, but the chance to be with someone – to feel intimacy and closeness, to wake up next to someone. another.
They weren’t struggling from a lack of sexual rights, the therapist explained; they were alone and atomized.
A record share of young American adults are living without a spouse or partner, according to the Pew Research Center, and men are less likely to be in a relationship than women, a fairly recent change. About 61% of Americans are measurably lonely, according to a 2019 survey using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, but men’s share exceeds women’s. According to the 2021 American Perspectives Survey, including information collected since the start of the pandemic, 1 in 7 men in the United States have no friends.
Connection is a universal human need. But there are avenues of intimacy other than sex — and that might be even more valuable to pursue. We could elevate friendship, family, community, even the sex associated with real relationships, rather than dispensing them into one-off “services” or playing Tinder and Grindr dating slots. Of course, no one has the “right” to these relationships either, any more than they have the right to sex – some things are to be given rather than demanded. But tackling the crisis of loneliness and isolation at its root would go much further to restore well-being than theorizing a new justification for sex on demand.
“A guy needs someone – to be near him,” says a character from John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” “A guy goes crazy if he has no one. . . I tell you that a guy feels too lonely and he gets sick.
This is a line truer than fiction. But sexual rights are not the remedy.