Now that the country is waking up to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, sex is going to change. Not overnight. But the conversations that had been happening on college campuses — about how to get consent before getting physical, about what’s okay and what’s not — are spreading well beyond the ivory tower. Sex in 2018 will be more deliberative, cautious and confusing.
Women and men are relearning how to interact with each other. In my interviews with singles, women talk about how each new revelation of sexual assault or harassment erodes their trust in men and makes them less likely to want to take a chance in their dating lives. “I have no desire to be romantic with someone, or even put myself in a romantic situation, because all the news is so disheartening,” said Claire Meneer, a 25-year-old in Washington. And regular guys — not just misbehaving politicians, filmmakers, sports figures, chefs — are confused about how to let women know they’re interested. Many of them aren’t sure what crosses the line in courtship.
As people get more thoughtful and cautious about sex, we will probably have less of it. According to studies of sexual frequency, Americans were already trending in this direction — with married people showing the steepest decline. Even singles, commonly thought to be promiscuous, are falling out of love with casual encounters. Laurie Watson, a sex therapist in North Carolina, thinks the hookup is dead. “In order to ask permission in a way that is sexy, you actually have to know somebody before you want to have sex with them — or ask to have sex with them,” Watson says. “I think it’s going to change the culture back to where people get to know each other. It turns out that listening is sexy.”
Hopefully that means sex in 2018 will be more consensual and collaborative, too.