By Annie Tomlin, Refinery29
What's new in sex? A lot, actually - and the news is definitely not what you might expect. Right now, sex is more daring, more complex, and more surprising than ever. From rethinking one of the biggest taboos (we were shocked!) to virtual sex (not kidding), this is need-to-know info about getting it on. Want a grown-up lesson in sex ed? Keep reading to get schooled.
1. Think Kink
One of the last sexual taboos is having a major moment - bondage tape, handcuffs, and all. BDSM (that's bondage, discipline, submission, and masochism, for folks keeping score at home) may not be mainstream, exactly, but it's inching out of the underground. Harvard has its own officially-recognized group for students interested in kink, while social networking site FetLife nearly doubled its membership in the last year. And, tourists can visit the San Francisco offices of Kink.com, the subject of a James Franco-produced documentary that premiered at Sundance.
"There has been a growing interest in alternative practices like BDSM, pegging, and non-monogamy for several years, and that growth has only increased," says sex-positive writer and activist Tristan Taormino. "Coupled with more mainstream media coverage of these issues, I think we're likely to see more people come out about their sexual identities and practices that don't reflect the cultural norm."
So, is everyone getting kinky now? Not so fast, says sexologist Dr. Jill McDevitt. "I think mainstreaming of S&M will be a long road, mainly because it's misunderstood," she says. "I'm not sure 50 Shades of Grey has helped with that, because it largely misrepresents BDSM as abusive and controlling - which it's not." So, even though pop-culture interpretations might not always get kink right, one thing's for sure: Collectively, our sex lives are a lot less vanilla.
2. Adult Social Media
This may come as surprising news, but pornography is popular on the Internet. (Shocking, we know.) The newest developments are less silicone, more Silicon Valley. Whereas adult entertainment used to revolve around high-gloss pay-for-play sites, some startups are creating XXX versions of popular sites that don't allow T&A in their TOS.
Snatchly, for instance, is basically Pinterest for porn; instead of hair-braiding DIYs, though, its boards include "Amazing Boobs" and "MILF." Then, there's Offbeatr, a crowdfunding site for adult projects. It's like Kickstarter, but it has funded projects such as an online game for furries and a NC-17 take on World of Warcraft.
The 'net effect: more X-rated entrepreneurs. "The Internet has radically shifted the ability for independent porn producers to exist, and sites like Offbeatr help promote a different financial model and encourage people to take the reins of production," says Taormino. And, she says, this is just the beginning: "Indie porn has been on the rise and will continue to be."
3. The Personal Gets (Really) Political
If you're not outraged about what's happening with reproductive rights, you must not be paying attention. Need evidence? The North Dakota House of Representatives just passed a bill that defines life as starting at conception. A Kansas Senate committee approved legislation barring public schools from using sex-ed materials provided by health care providers that offer abortion. And, in our nation's capital, Republican senators tacked on five anti-abortion amendments to the budget resolution. All of those developments happened just this week.
This push to restrict access to family planning and women's health care is unprecedented and relentless, says Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President and Chief Experience Officer for Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "The attacks we're seeing in states right now are a wake-up call for women across the country," she says. "Politicians are passing laws that are blatantly unconstitutional and that seek to erode and take away rights that we've had for decades."
Women are fighting back, though. Planned Parenthood has gained two million new activists in the last two years, and new groups such as UltraViolet are leading the charge against attempts to restrict the Affordable Care Act's birth control coverage. "Women need to be aware that opponents of women's health continue to work tirelessly to chip away at or ban access to birth control, family planning, preventive care, and safe and legal abortion," Laguens says. So, if you don't want someone else having a say in your reproductive rights, get active - now.
4. No Sex? No Problem
Our culture may seem sex-obsessed, but that doesn't mean everyone is interested in sex. Around one percent of the population is believed to be asexual, meaning that these people don't experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a sexual orientation. And, as a number of asexuals will tell you, they're perfectly okay with that.
Asexual pride is gathering momentum. Once a nearly-invisible minority, asexuals are gaining visibility - and using their collective voice. (There's even a social networking site, Acebook, for those interested in nonsexual romantic relationships.) "People used to be shocked that we exist," says David Jay, founder of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), which now claims 70,000 members across the globe. "Now, they're exploring the ways that asexuality creates a new perspective on the relationships between love and sex."
5. Future Sex
The term "virtual reality" sounds so 1996, but it may finally live up to its promise in the next year or two. Video game fans are geeking out over the forthcoming Oculus Rift headset, which will place gamers in a navigable 3D world. For those interested in playing with, uh, themselves, an Irvine, CA startup called Sinful Robot is developing a virtual reality experience that promises "fully-immersive erotic encounters." While there's still a long way to go before computer-generated sex can live up to the real thing, this project will be more realistic than any of its predecessors. Leisure Suit Larry, we hardly knew ye.
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