Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of columns discussing healthy relationships and sex lives from The Daily in partnership with the Gender + Equality Center, Goddard Health Center and Norman’s Adam & Eve. Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Sexuality and sexual intimacy didn't just appear out of nowhere.
Although it's been around since the beginning of time, sexuality wasn't greatly accepted in the United States until the "Swinging Sixties."
Meredith Worthen, an associate professor of sociology and women and gender studies at OU, studies and teaches deviance, feminist criminology, sexualities, adolescent LGBTQ identities and stigma, according to her website.
The Daily asked Worthen about sexuality and intimacy, how it became accepted in the U.S. and how it's changed over the years.
When did the United States really embrace sexuality and what led up to it?
Americans have a complex relationship with sexuality. Especially during the Victorian era, sexual repression was often deemed to be the norm. However, during the 1950s, Alfred Kinsey's scientific study of 10,000+ men and women revealed some surprises to the general public, namely that our sex lives were much less "vanilla" than we all thought. Then a huge wave of changes happened in the 1960s including Second Wave Feminism and the invention of the successful birth control pill and copper IUD, which gave women more control of their sex lives than they had in the past. We also saw a focus on "The Joy of Sex" (as the top-selling book title proclaimed) and a focus on enjoying sexuality more so than in the past.
How did this impact how sex and sexual intimacy was perceived?
People were able to celebrate their sexualities in ways that they hadn't in the past. Sex was not as taboo as before, and the idea that we could/should enjoy sex was becoming more normalized.
How has that perception changed over the years (and how is it perceived now), and what would you attribute it to?
One major shift during this time occurred after the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, which put a halt to the "free love" ethos of the 60s/70s. People were scared of sex (again). However, fast forward a few decades, and we are in a time where LGBTQ rights have become a dominant conversation. People are generally more aware about sexuality, our sex education programs have been strengthened (though there is still much room to grow), and people are talking about sex more openly and more frequently. These shifts are in the right direction, toward a healthy sex-positive culture.
How has social media impacted the perception of sex, and how has it impacted relationships and the strength/type of those relationships?
One major change has been the introduction of these YouTubers and their sex education channels (for example, Laci Green). Now kids, teens and adults can watch short clips to learn practical information in an informal, relaxed manner. This is a tremendous difference in the way we learn and can also help us to explore questions we may never have asked as teens. Exploring asexuality and LGBTQ identities are accessible topics now with social media. This changes the landscape of our abilities to learn about sex and to feel comfortable about our sexualities.
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