Every year, I take a group of students to Amsterdam for a course on sex and culture. As part of this class, we visit the Museum of Sex, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. It provides an opportunity to explore how sexuality has evolved and changed over the centuries. Every time I go, I’m always amazed at how little the sex has changed. For example, BDSM and fetishes, threesomes and orgies, oral and anal sex (heck, even tentacle porn) have captured the erotic imagination for centuries. We have dildos that date back to the Stone Age and condoms that date back to the 17th century. We even have guides like the kamasutra dating back thousands of years and detailing hundreds of different sexual positions. For as long as humans have had sex, they have been highly creative and often quite perverted. That being said, while there are many common threads when looking at human sexual practices over time, there are obviously many differences as well. So let’s take a look at some of the major ways that sexual behavior has evolved over the last century or so. We’ll focus on the last 100 years here because this marks an era of revolutionary change in our sex lives, due to various technological and medical advances, along with the relaxation of cultural restrictions.
Sex is safer than ever in many ways
One of the most significant changes that have occurred recently in our sexual lives is the increasing development and accessibility of highly effective tools for safer sex. This began in the 1940s with the widespread use of penicillin to treat syphilis and the introduction of hormonal birth control in the 1950s. We often hear of the pill as the driver of the subsequent “sexual revolution” in the 1960s and 1970s, but the advent of effective antibiotic treatments for bacterial STIs also contributed notably to this. Today, we have even more tools than ever to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STIs. There are dozens of contraceptives available today, with hormonal variants (including pills, implants, and injections) offering more than 99% protection with perfect use. On the STI front, bacterial STIs can still be effectively treated with antibiotics (although, admittedly, there are growing concerns about antibiotic resistance); we have vaccines to prevent HPV and hepatitis and PrEP to provide high levels of protection against HIV. While there is regional and cross-cultural variability in the availability of these tools (due to things like local laws and insurance coverage), we have more tools available than ever to protect our sexual health, which has had the net effect of making than many people more comfortable and confident in exploring their sexuality.
Porn Has Never Been More Accessible
Pornography has changed with the advent of every new technology, from the printing press to the development of photography to the invention of film. In the last century, the format of pornography has shifted from being more photo-based to more film-based. Watching a pornographic movie actually used to be a rarity, and in the early days, it was often a social experience. For example, in the first half of the 1900s, if you saw a porn video, it was probably at a clandestine showing of a “bachelor movie” to a room full of men. They were movies made by men, for men, and shown at secret gatherings. Following this, the “porn chic” era of the 1970s brought people to theaters to watch pornographic movies with a plot (think of deep Throat). However, it wasn’t until VCRs became widely available and affordable that pornography began to retreat into a more private and solitary experience that occurred in the home. And then computers, the internet, and smartphones came along, forever changing the way we access pornography. As a result, pornography is easier to find than ever, and there is now an endless supply. In the span of less than 100 years, pornographic videos have gone from being a rare and shared social experience for men to one where anyone can now access the world’s largest collection of pornography in the palm of their hand. which you can view on demand. .
Sexual attitudes are the most liberal on record
One of the major changes in sexual behavior that we have seen in the last century is that an increasing proportion of the sexual relationships that people have occurs outside the context of committed romantic relationships. Data shows an increase in the number of people having casual sex, hookups, and friends with benefits compared to decades past. There is a caveat to this, which is that today’s younger generation (Gen Z) seems to be having less casual sex and less sex in general. But that is a story for another article. That said, a big part of the reason casual sex has grown is because sexual attitudes, in general, have become more liberal. For example, in the last 20 years alone, the percentage of American adults who think sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable has risen from 53% to 76%. And that’s just one of many changes in sexual attitudes. For example, public opinion polls in the United States indicate that a record majority now thinks same-sex relationships, divorce, having children out of wedlock, and birth control are morally acceptable. These shifts in public opinion have paved the way for people to be more open about their sexual identities and to pursue the kinds of sexual and romantic relationships that are right for them.
Technology is giving us new ways to explore our sexuality
Finally, another key way that sex has changed in the last 100 years has to do with various technologies that have been introduced. For example, before the internet and the advent of dating apps, most people knew their sexual and romantic partners in person. They were people you met in public, or friends or family who introduced you. Today, the most common way that people meet their partners is online, and this seems to be changing the types of relationships we are developing. For example, as online dating has increased in popularity, more people have entered into interracial relationships and long-distance relationships. Online dating simply creates a more diverse dating pool. Technology is also changing the way we experience sexual pleasure. Sex toys have gone high-tech, offering new sensations. This includes toys that can be controlled remotely, toys that provide customizable vibration (and even temperature), as well as toys that sync up with VR porn and let you feel what you see. Gone are the days of basic dildos and single speed vibrators. We now have toys for every hole and every target.
In some ways, sex hasn’t changed much over the years. Our fantasies and desires, our sexual positions and even our kinks are things that have a very long and rich history. Novelty and creativity have been the hallmarks of human sexuality for centuries. At the same time, however, human sexual expression has changed considerably, perhaps no more than in the last 100 years. since 20he century in the 21ststreet, there has been a remarkable change in social attitudes towards sex, as well as technological and medical innovations of great importance for our health and sexual pleasure. When it comes to sex, we are always innovating and attitudes are constantly changing. We can’t say for sure what the future holds, but we do know that sexual expression will continue to evolve.
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