David Brooks is terrified of voluntary sexual relationships

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If you’re about to have sex with someone you love–or just a person you’re lucky enough to be able to have sex with on occasion–don’t read this column.  Or, rather, read it once you two (or more) are done with your business.  Nothing sexy is going to happen in what follows. 

The same must be said about David Brooks’ column today in the New York Times, which, if read by accident in the midst of a romantic encounter, would kill the mood faster than a quick viewing of Hotel Rwanda

Though it’s certainly uncomfortable to read Brooks’ seemingly unintentional sexual innuendo, such as when he writes, “the atmosphere is fluid” (ugh, shudder),  the real problem with the column runs deeper.  The problem with Society Today, sexpert Brooks would have us know, is this:

Once upon a time — in what we might think of as the “Happy Days” era — courtship was governed by a set of guardrails. Potential partners generally met within the context of larger social institutions: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families. There were certain accepted social scripts. The purpose of these scripts — dating, going steady, delaying sex — was to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment.

A better way of saying this might be: Once-upon-a-time, society shackled unwitting couples with the “unbreakable” chains of monogamy, from which there was no escape save alcohol or the sweet release of death.  These are known as “The Good Old Days” because everyone was miserable (but drunk!) and nobody was getting as much sex as they should have been.   


Brooks, of course, has no problem with this arcane and idiotic societal arrangement, because it offers him the illusion of control over a very scary thing: human sexuality.  He goes on:

Over the past few decades, these social scripts became obsolete. They didn’t fit the post-feminist era. So the search was on for more enlightened courtship rules. You would expect a dynamic society to come up with appropriate scripts. But technology has made this extremely difficult. Etiquette is all about obstacles and restraint. But technology, especially cellphone and texting technology, dissolves obstacles. Suitors now contact each other in an instantaneous, frictionless sphere separated from larger social institutions and commitments. 

Can you smell the fear coming off the page?  How will society function if people are free to engage in a series of pleasurable, voluntary relationships without the crushing social pressure to stay with somebody regardless of how unhappy you are?!  Why, if your partner is free to leave at any time, and it’s relatively easy for him or her to find other people to fuck, why would anyone stay with David Brooks?!  AAAAHHHH!!!!

Also worth noting from the above paragraph is the choice of the term “post-feminist” to describe the era in which all the problems began.  Brooks could just have easily written “after the sexual revolution” or even “post-60s America.”  Using ‘post-feminist” is a kind of dog-whistle term, which, either intentionally or not, signals to his readers that the REAL fear he has is not of human sexuality, but feminine sexuality.  He concludes:

Today’s technology seems to threaten the sort of recurring and stable reciprocity that is the building block of trust.

Trust–in a “post-feminist” world–has been eroded because the oppressive institutions that formerly ensured that women could never leave a man have become obsolete.  It never occurs to Brooks that trust actually comes from communication, not social norms.  And the technology that Brooks so derides is a fantastic way to communicate, and, you know, develop trust.

So go back to your sexy time now, and remember that we live in a society in which people can leave.  That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.  It means that if somebody stays, they really want to.  Enjoy it.

I can’t believe he wrote, “the atmosphere is fluid.” 


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4 Responses to David Brooks is terrified of voluntary sexual relationships

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