Writing about sex means inevitably touches nerves. This week I obviously hit many of them, with a frenzied response to my recent article on casual sex.
And a carefully written article it was too, pointing out that most young people have occasional casual sexual encounters which most report they enjoy and which result in no emotional harm. (Of course it is true that many take other risks – like not using contraception, not practising safe sex and ending up, often as a result of too much grog, in the wrong bed.)
I suggested the constant attention paid to research linking mental health problems like depression and loneliness with casual sex is most likely misguided because there no telling whether indulging in too much bed-hopping causes young people to get depressed, or, the more likely explanation, that people who are depressed may go in for more self-destructive behaviour.
My main aim was to counter some of the scare stories about the “hook-up culture,” providing the evidence that less than a quarter of young people indulge in frequent casual sex – frequent being 2-3 times a year! Over half of all first year university students are virgins – according to the Sex in Australia study of almost 20,000 people. The sky is not falling in.
This was hardly some scare mongering tirade against casual sex yet the barrage of 239 comments published about the article included the usual nonsensical attacks on me for being too conservative. “Let’s rediscover repression/self-denial again,” suggested one.
“Whilst we are at it, reintroduce the cane, beheading people in public and believing the world is square,” said another. Comment after comment attacked me for mentioning there are problems for women who end up loving men who struggle with their sexual histories: “I’ve spent my life counselling young women through sexual confessions that come back to bite them. Confronted with the knowledge that his loved one has slept around, many men gnaw at the bone, overcome with insecurity and jealousy. Maybe these unreconstructed men deserve only contempt. The problem comes when you happen to love them.”
This met with the usual glib comments from women suggesting such men be given the flick. It isn’t so easy. Confessions about sexual histories are often made early in the relationship when everything is rosy and love colours all. But I’ve found there’s no predicting when a man will struggle with this issue later on, when walking away is not an option.
My comment about “unconstructed men” was meant with a certain irony, a nod to the feminist assumptions that all men need make-overs. Anyone reading me regularly would know I am very sympathetic to men’s struggles with relationships – many would say overly so. But sure enough, the irony passed readers by and I was attacked also for being anti-male.
Not that I take any of this social media commentary seriously but the inane debate that greets discussion of controversial issues such as sexuality has certainly taken the shine off the pleasure of journalism.