You know a lot about sex. You have access to more accurate information than any human has ever had. And, as a society, we are more informed than ever. It is no longer the mystery it once was, and for that, we have the sexual revolution to thank. Fifty years in, it's easy to think of the sexual revolution as something that began in the '60s and ended by the '80s, something that we'd be unintentionally pregnant and sexually frustrated without. It was built on the research of sexologists like Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the duo that Showtime's Masters of Sex is based on (check out its third season July 12 at 10 p.m.). While their findings became the factual underpinnings for busting so many myths, we're still parsing what we know about sex, how we have it, and how we feel about it today. Because a revolution's work is never done, we've rounded up five things that need to change about sex in the 21st century.
First, let’s all say a prayer of thanks that we now have more options than condoms, diaphragms, and crossing our fingers. For women, it’s one thing to know about the pleasure that sex can bring you; it’s quite another to be able to experience it without fear of unwanted pregnancy, which didn't really become possible until the FDA approved the pill for contraceptive use in 1960. The decoupling of sex and pregnancy was essential to the sexual revolution, but despite a few wins — like Plan B becoming available over-the-counter to women of all ages — access to hormonal contraception is continually under attack as anti-choice activists and politicians try to keep it out of the hands of women and teens.
For everyone who doesn't identify as one of the two options provided by the gender binary — and there are many people who don't — progress is not happening fast enough. We've come to understand sexuality as a continuum with heterosexuality on one end and homosexuality on the other. Fortunately, society is beginning to recognize that gender doesn't necessarily fit neatly into one of two dictionary definitions either. Once we can accept and celebrate that, we'll be in a much better place.
There are a lot of ways to come, but if you're a woman sleeping with men, chances are you're not coming as often as your partners are. Despite the work of Masters and Johnson, and despite a greater understanding of women’s pleasure as a necessary part of sex, there’s still a huge orgasm gap. According to a New York University study that surveyed 24,000 college students over the course of five years, only 40% of women had an orgasm during their last hookup, compared to 80% of men. Let's all move past the theory that there's something wrong with women's bodies that prevents them from achieving orgasm ("achieving" as if it's the top grade in physics class).
The Supreme Court's decision last month to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide was enormous. It's the result of decades' worth of effort on behalf of gay rights' activists. But, as we celebrate the landmark ruling, we can't ignore the fact that same-sex marriage is still not welcome everywhere in the U.S., even if it is legal. Alabama's Supreme Court has said it's okay to not issue same-sex marriage licenses (it's not), and some counties around the country have stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether. Until same-sex marriage is just plain marriage — legal, binding, and celebrated everywhere — we still have work to do. Fortunately, we believe we'll get there.
Stunningly, just telling people not to have sex doesn’t stop them from having sex — and educators who try to instill fear of STIs and pregnancy without providing information on ways to avoid them don't do students any favors. Quite simply, abstinence-only sex education doesn't work, despite the fact that it's received more than a billion dollars in government funding. Comprehensive sex ed, which teaches kids about contraception, makes kids less likely to have sex and more likely to wait longer and use protection when they do have sex. Now, with more light being shed on the scope of the sexual violence problem on our college campuses, there’s a push for middle and high schools to teach kids about consent and healthy sexual relationships as well as how to roll a rubber onto a banana.