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Daphne Merkin

When Sex Becomes Unsexy

Girls,Grey, sexting, porn—in this erotically charged moment, Daphne Merkin wonders: Whatever happened to great sex?

A group of young women—ranging in age from their early twenties to early thirties—have gathered in my apartment ostensibly to talk about fundraising for an online magazine, but along the way we segue into a discussion of Girls, Fifty Shades of Grey, Internet porn, the manda­tory denuding of pubic hair, and all the rest of the phenomena that seem to characterize the present erotic moment. These young women routinely refer to men as dudes and appear to be at ease with casual sex—speaking dispassionately about their experiences, reducing them to amusing anecdotes—in a way that was once seen as more true of men. I find myself wondering whether this has been all to the good, whether some essential frisson has been lost along with the traditional self-consciousness about sex. I think of the film director Luis Buñuel's famous statement, "Sex without sin is like an egg without salt," which I've always taken to mean that sexual satisfaction requires an edge—that without some sort of impediment to bump up against, we risk vertigo-inducing psychological free-fall.

What strikes me as truly strange, however, is this: I'm older than these women and should by all rights be envious of their paradise of sexual opportunities, but I find myself feeling sorry for them instead—just as I winced when I watched Girls, finding it as sad as it was funny. I've read various defenses of the show's de­flated rendering of sexual engagement, and I'm still not convinced that the pivotal scene—in which Adam (played by Adam Driver) masturbates over the awkwardly naked body of Hannah (played by Lena Dunham) to the tune of a vocalized fantasy about her being an 11-year-old druggie—is impressive for its candor so much as dreary in its implications.

Elle | September 19, 2012


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