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Welcome to another Mindf*ck Monday, the only weekly newsletter that can accurately predict what goes on in your bedroom. Each week, I send you three potentially life-changing ideas to help you become a slightly less awful human being.
1. The Pandemic Baby Bust – Last year, when the pandemic started, you may recall that there were many think pieces, articles, and jokes across social media about a potential pandemic “baby boom.” With so many couples stuck at home together, looking to escape the pervading anxiety about the state of the world, why not fuck?
As I wrote in a newsletter last March, I thought this “baby boom” prediction was unlikely. Constant exposure to your partner does not increase sexual tension, it removes it. Sexual desire thrives off novelty, spontaneity, distance, and challenge—not to mention, people dressing up and looking hot for each other. A pandemic provides opportunity for exactly none of these things.
It’s now been almost a year since the pandemic began. If there were a pandemic baby boom, we would begin to see the birth rate rise in various countries beginning in December (approximately nine months after the first lockdowns in March.)
Well, the data is in, and not only has the birth rate not risen, it’s fallen off a cliff. Google searches for information about pregnancy and family planning and sex in general are also down. Not only are people not having babies, they’re hardly even getting laid.
Perhaps this is simply another trend accelerated by the pandemic. For years now, the birth rate has been declining in most developed countries. We also know people are having sex less often. Teenagers are having sex later and less frequently. And nobody really knows why.
Well, as usual, I have a theory for that… but first, we need to take a quick detour to talk about divorce and daughters.
2. Daughters and Divorces – Every once in a while I come across a study with a shocking result, but once you dig a little deeper, you discover it’s not that shocking at all. It actually makes total sense.
This happened the other week when I came across new research that surveyed households in the US and the Netherlands and found that having a teenage daughter raises the probability of divorce.
Well, that’s kind of fucked up. I thought to myself, “Geez, are teenage girls really that bad?”
But, sure enough, the researchers dug deeper and found that it’s not the daughters who are the problem. It’s the parents—and usually, the fathers.
What the researchers found was that fathers with traditional beliefs about sex and gender norms (i.e., “no daughter of mine will ever leave my house looking like a whore”) was predictive of family problems and divorce once their daughters reached puberty. As soon as the girls are old enough to become interested in boys, fathers become judgmental pricks, mothers get caught in the middle, and the whole family becomes a mess. Whereas families with fathers who were cool with their teenage daughters being, you know, human, saw no uptick in divorce.
But this works both ways. It’s not just that parents with traditional beliefs about sex fight the most with their teenage daughters, teenage daughters with parents who have traditional beliefs potentially have more premarital sex. Surveys regularly find that the teen pregnancies and sexual activity are highest in US states that are the most religious. When I grew up in Texas, abstinence was the core of our “sex education,” yet these “abstinence only” programs have been shown to increase teen pregnancy rather than decrease it.
It appears we have another Law of Unintended Consequences situation here. Discouraging sex in teenagers makes teenagers more interested in having sex. And encouraging sex in teenagers makes teenagers want to, like, stay home and post TikTok videos or something.
3. Robbing the Youth of the Taboo – This brings us back to the pandemic and how people have stopped boning each other. Surveys consistently show that young people today have less sex and wait longer to have it. They also do fewer drugs, smoke fewer cigarettes, drink less alcohol, and are more likely to finish school and go to college.
Yet, for some reason, older folks often have conflicted feelings about this. Cranky boomers have spilled a fair amount of ink, complaining that “the kids these days” are missing out on the formative experiences of illicit sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll the previous generations enjoyed.
I’m not going to lie, I harbor a tinge of this lament myself. When I think back to my teenage years, its greatest moments were invariably times when I was breaking some rule, crossing some boundary, broaching some taboo. I’m talking about the times I snuck out of my parents’ house at 2AM. The times I raided my parents’ liquor cabinet and stole a handle of vodka without them ever knowing. That time I got high on a boat dock and serendipitously discovered the girl from chemistry class wanted to make out with me and let me stick my hand up her shirt. Those moments were the rare highlights of an otherwise bland, dreary suburban teenage life.
I find myself getting sad at the thought that kids aren’t having these sorts of experiences as much anymore. But then I question myself. Why?
I’ve come to two conclusions. The first is that there’s something sad about the fact that screens have largely inserted themselves into these touchstone adolescent moments. Smartphones and social media sanitize these experiences in a strange way that I can’t explain. Facetime at two in the morning doesn’t have the same effect as sneaking out, stealing your parents’ car and meeting in the Wal-Mart parking lot at two in the morning.
But the other reason is that I think there’s something socially beneficial about having behaviors that are taboo. There was a mischievous joy that came with those rebellious activities. They were formative in a way, in that they gave teens some boundary to test themselves against.
I mentioned earlier that sexual desire thrives on novelty, spontaneity, challenge, and taboo. While we have made the world a more sexually open and accepting place for everybody, at the same time, we’ve removed that sense of taboo and scandal that made these experiences so attractive and exciting when we were young.
Please do not interpret this as a call to go back to the way things were—things are undoubtedly much better and healthier on the sex front today. I suppose all I’m saying is that the growing sexual indifference happening around the world appears to be an unexpected side effect of that openness and healthier approach to sex. As we remove the emotional and psychological barriers to physical intimacy, we somehow appear to be less enthused about crossing them.
Until next week,