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Emily Witt and the Next Sexual Revolution:
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Emily Witt and the Next Sexual Revolution

Orgasmic meditation. Webcams. Nonmonogamy. Emily Witt immersed herself in these worlds and many more for her book Future Sex, an eye-opening survey of the ways we come together and get off in 2016. The Brooklyn-based writer spoke with us about the big questions we’ll be asking ourselves as we enter the post-Tinder phase of the sexual revolution and made a few guesses as to the pleasures and trials we’ll encounter. All of us—especially straight men—should take heed.


Is there anything you learned in the process of writing this book that you would want to impart to straight men—better ways to navigate the sexual landscape of 2016?
I do think it’s really important for men, and for women, to do a process of self-inquiry. We have this cultural idea of coming out for gay people or queer people, and straight people tend to think that they don’t have to do that process of inquiry because society gives them a firm view of who they are and how they’re supposed to be and how they’re supposed to love. I think it’s beneficial to everybody to go through and examine your fantasies—where they came from, what informed them, whether they’re healthy, whether they’re really rooted in your physical feelings and your physical desires or they’re something that was handed to you. The bad side of pornography is that we have so much of it and they can help you go through that process, but when you’re in real life with a partner, it’s also important not to just kind of inflict something you saw on the computer, assume that that is pleasure for the other person.

With straight men, there can be a video-game-like rubric of sexual achievement: ‘I need to press this button and reach this level and then I’ve won the game.’

Yeah.
It’s harder now, maybe, because we have so many images to work with that they didn’t have before; so many ideas about what you can do or can’t do. One thing I’ve noticed in my sex life with straight men is that there can be a video-game rubric of sexual achievement where the men think, “I need to press this button and then this button and reach this level and then I’ve won the game.” But, really, if you’re on the other side of that, that might not be the maximum version of your pleasure. It might now look like that, or you feel like the person is not actually paying attention to your responses and just wants you to get to this video-game level of your body.

Is it possible that all this variety is ultimately steering us back toward more traditional structures?
I mean, personally speaking, I don’t really see myself getting married. It seems impossible to me now, having gone through this process of inquiry about my sexuality. To put it in this patriarchal box just seems silly. But that doesn’t also mean that I’m poly and I have a primary relationship and a secondary relationship. In the book, I guess the only conclusion I came to is to try not to inherit a structure because it’s there and it’s comfortable and there’s a lot of language and governmental structures and affirmation around it. I’m interested in a better way of living, and for me that would be not shutting down the possibility of sexual exploration with other people for the rest of my life.

At the end of the chapter Birth Control and Reproduction, you talk about a persona that’s outside the marriage template, “whose place apart from the householder is assured not by celibacy but by contraception. Is this not also a vocation?” This is a persona that hasn’t gained much ground in human civilization; do you think its time might finally have come?
Yeah. Well, first of all, birth control that’s been separated from the act of coitus is only 50 years old, and it’s easy to forget how drastic and how new that still is. Contraception has drastically changed the family and has especially changed what it means to be a woman. It has lengthened the time of your life in which you are not domestically oriented or caretaking. That’s a big demographic shift. And now something like 40 percent of births in the US are to unwed parents. So for me, one of the things I kind of realized in writing the book is that there’s a machine bias in futurism: People tend to think of the future of sexuality as virtual reality porn and teledildonics and stuff like that, but actually it’s much less glossy and robotic. It’s much more about how you define a family if you never get married or have kids. How do you take care of elderly people that way? When you change the way that you organize your sexual relationships in a society, the whole structure of that society changes.

Do you have any thoughts on what sexuality might look like in another 50 years?
Well, polyamory is getting really mainstream. I feel like so many people I know are considering open relationships or they’re in open relationships and they’re talking about it. They’re using new vocabulary. I think that’s going to become something that people can talk about increasingly openly. It’s going to be much less of a subculture and much more of a mainstream practice. I’ve noticed that straight men get a little, like, touchy when the subject of women having babies on their own comes up. I think those discussions are going to be happening a lot more between adult friends who want to have kids, whose lives have not fit into this marital thing, and that’s a place where the role of straight men is just going to be really interesting. For women, it’s now a pretty common thing to go have a baby on your own one way or another. I know a lot of women doing that in their early thirties, and I wonder what the masculine experience of that is. I think some men have this idea that they can just always date younger and have a baby, but it doesn’t quite work out that way for a lot of men. That’s an area I’m just really interested in: what the male equivalent of a woman having a baby on her own is, and how fatherhood can exist outside of marriage.

**Author Emily Witt** Noah Kalina

Author Emily Witt Noah Kalina

Internet dating has evolved so quickly. It’s funny that your book starts with OkCupid, and Tinder didn’t exist yet. Do you think it’s going to keep going at this rate, or have we reached a terminus with how internet dating works?
I think people are just getting better at knowing how to successfully meet somebody on these platforms. The etiquette is becoming more established. Yeah, I think it’s going to become—there’s going to be more rules and more awareness of how to make yourself attractive on those platforms and how to successfully pursue the thing that you want to do and how to express whether you want to hook up or whether you want something more long-term.

Do you think the coyness will be completely zeroed out at some point and it’ll be way more direct and businesslike?
I think people still want romance, so I think there will still be flirting and I think there’s still a lot of room for being charming and funny and coming up with a good date. I think people still like that. We can’t just all be like, “Let’s meet at a bar” and then go home together. Life has to have a little more inspiration, fun and creativity to it. Although that’s fine, too, but it’s still a place where charm matters. And, like if it were Hugh Hefner, that would be what Playboy would be showing people how to do—whatever the equivalent of knowing how to make a good martini is.

There’s pretty much none of your backstory in the book; it just starts with a bang in 2011. How did you explore your own sexuality in your twenties, before social media?
I grew up in Minnesota. I had a really pretty awesome high school boyfriend, and he’s the first person I had sex with, when I was 18. It was a really positive experience. I feel really lucky about that. I had a pretty hard time in college, trying to kind of play it cool, I guess. I would often find myself attached to somebody, kind of, and having to like actively suppress that, and it seems like a lot of the discussion about internet dating and so-called “hookup culture” is really about that—and I think it’s wrongly attributed to the internet. Maybe it’s just a really hard part of being young. When I was in my twenties, I had a series of relationships, not very successful ones, and I just wanted to get married. I was really absolutist in the way that I approached dating. I couldn’t take people as they came to me. I wanted them to fit into a box because of a story I had been told my whole life about romance and about what valuing a woman or something looks like. I had a lot of really wrong ideas that sex was a kind of currency—that sexual attention was cheap and commitment was valuable. So all of that cumulatively meant that at the end of my twenties I was really unhappy. The process of writing this book helped me discover my own sexual agency. It made my dating life so much less fraught and so much more fun. I just learned to value the instability of it rather than, like, wanting to get married.

I’m searching for some kind of commitment that allows for sexual freedom but still allows us to build sustainable relationships and keep each other safe and happy.

To what extent did that come from your parents? Were you raised in a traditional household?
Yeah. My parents are married; they’re baby boomers. They got married in their mid-twenties, so they had a much different sexual experience before they got married. They’re both really liberal but essentially still believe in marriage. The ideological space that I saw their generation as having carved out for mine was that sexual experimentation is good—you can talk to your mom about birth control when you’re a teenager, you don’t have to hide any of your sexuality as a young person, you can bring home different boyfriends and stuff—but that eventually you got married. That was just what I expected was going to happen automatically. And so there was a degree of freedom that I felt like I had inherited from them, but then when I started going through it and writing about it and trying new things, you know…I think they wish I had written about something else.

You’ve mentioned that you’re fairly convinced that you’ll never get married, but in the introduction to the book you say that in the process of all this experimentation, part of you was still expecting that this sort of marriage destiny would meet you halfway. So what happens if that still does happen?
Yeah, it’s a big question mark. How do you continue to live an experiential life of inquiry and exploration while also maintaining relational stability and something that is bigger than instant gratification and that builds over time and that still reflects a higher order of commitment? What does that look like? That is like the great experiments of our time, and we’re going to fuck it up, you know? But that’s the thing that I’m searching for: some kind of commitment that isn’t just an inherited set of expectations that allows for this new technology that we have for the openness of our social mores or that allows for sexual freedom but still allows us to kind of build sustainable relationships and keep each other safe and happy. That, I think, is the big question that everybody my age and younger is trying to figure out. And for some people, the answer to that is just still going to be just marriage. Thousands of years of history have perfected this structure that maybe is still the best structure. But I think there might be something better out there.