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July 15, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby.

It would seem that for some of us, our internet footprint is becoming more of a worry than our carbon footprint. A quick google of your name indicates a lot about you to prospective employers, admirers, parents. Achievements at school, where you work, friends, and social-media profiles—everything is on show, forming your internet impression. Unless you’ve broken the law, what’s the worst thing that could show up in a Google search about you? Sex.

Unfortunately for me, the fourth hit when searching ‘Stella Blake-Kelly’ produces a news story The Dominion Post ran about a study of students’ sexual exploits, which I was kind enough to volunteer for a friend to comment for. What a mistake it was thinking that it would be easy to bring a bit of honesty, maturity and sex-positivity to the topic of sex in the media.

“A national survey of university students reveals risky sexual behaviour among the country’s brightest young people,” the story read. The survey had produced results that supposedly revealed “an indifferent attitude to safe sex among students aged 17 to 24, including low condom use, multiple sexual partners and unintended pregnancies.” These results don’t seem too surprising to those of us in this age category, although I’ve not come across behaviour as bad as the sentence implies. But then came something which appeared to be somewhat symbolic: there hadn’t been any representative information collected on sexual health from the New Zealand general population in over 20 years.

Despite sex being absolutely everywhere, as businesses make billions tapping into our raw lust to entice us to buy things, talking about the actual act remains rather taboo, and those who do so openly are ridiculed, frowned upon—or in the case of myself and the other students featured in the article, receive reactions like “man these three look like a bunch of weirdos”.

According to our national psyche, discussions about sex should be confined to the bedroom; the act itself cut from romantic scenes in our TV shows; the juiciest details hidden within the sealed sections of your Cosmo, as if talking about the ins and outs of sex is something that should be hidden away. Look, but don’t touch. The reality is that, for all its hype, sex can be scary, and embarrassing. Sure it can be great, but given how the media constantly portrays it, is there any wonder the thought of it can make us a bit anxious at times? And is it any wonder that perhaps we are a bit risky with our sexual health, as the article implied, if we aren’t used to open discussions about sex?

After outlining the sordid details of the survey, The Dominion Post’s story quickly introduced its ‘real-life’ component, adding in a student perspective. Of the three of us students who were open enough about sex to go on the record about it, I was lucky to have one remark from the 45-minute interview plucked out and trumpeted as the ‘youth perspective’: “No one has sex unless they’re drunk.”

Winning quote of the day from the paper’s Editor, and scores of social-media shares, that comment was extracted and turned into click-bait as a sign of triumph for once again managing to sensationalise not only sex, but youth sex, with binge-drinking thrown in for good measure. Predictably, commenters jumped at the opportunity to voice their confirmed assumptions on the youth of today, who waste taxpayer dollars partying and not studying. Students jumped on the bandwagon too, ridiculing the thought of requiring any Dutch courage to carry out their biological imperative.

“For students, alcohol is not just a social lubricant,” the author claimed. This is true. Truer than many people realise. When our behaviour is so normalised and accepted, it doesn’t seem odd, and it doesn’t seem memorable—often in more ways than one. Alcohol makes your brain slow down, reducing your intellectual capacity to that of our cave-dwelling ancestors. Eat (we all end up at McDonald’s at 3 am), fight (a paddy wagon is a permanent fixture on Courtenay), and mate. It is so ridiculously common to end a dry spell with a bit of liquid at a party, have a drunken pash, which sometimes turns into a romp, with inebriation forming half of the equation. This isn’t just for singles—many a monogamous relationship has relied on a) Dutch courage to overcome fear of rejection, b) actually realising you have a lot in common the next morning, or c) an unplanned pregnancy. We don’t have the dating culture the US-dominated media presents to us, so for us it’s often these drunken encounters which, if you’re lucky, develop into romantic involvement.

The media entrenches unattainable perceptions of beauty and sex appeal; that’s not news. It makes most of us feel insecure, which can lead to eating disorders and surgical enhancement; again, that’s not news. Being naked—or even the thought of leaving the light on—can feel like a nightmare. The sex that we are exposed to, should TV producers be able to find actors without too many wobbly bits, is hardly an accurate portrayal of the awkwardness that comes with many a sexual encounter. Where is the cringe-worthy ‘Let’s move from fondling to intercourse’, ‘Have you got a condom?’, ‘Ouch, that hurts a bit’, or ‘Why haven’t you come yet? I’m getting tired’?

The reality is that, for all its hype, sex can be scary, and embarrassing. Sure it can be great, but given the high standards set by media portrayals of sex, is there any wonder the thought of it can make us a bit anxious at times? Is it any wonder that so many of us feel we have to rely on social lubricants from time to time, driving us to make risky decisions?

So to answer your question, Stuff commenter #4, “who is this that can only have sex when they’re drunk?” Not me, but it certainly helps.

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