Sex in the Millennial Era: Commodification and the Disappearance of Intimacy

This content contains some profane language. 

By Logan Hall

The incredibly blunt but perhaps most accurate description of the commodification of sexual relations adopted and encouraged by millennial culture is, “Never catch feelings, only flights.” The older I’ve gotten and the more sexual experience I’ve gained, the more I’ve come to understand that all too often millennials perceive intimate moments as a form of transaction. When I do stumble across someone who finds me physically or intellectually appealing, or both, and the feeling is mutual, the physical interactions that follow often resemble an exchange between two business partners. There’s a qui pro quo: physical validation for physical reward. In fact, I have only had a few relationships where the bedroom didn’t feel like an exchange, the most significant of those being my first boyfriend. However, the heartbreak that resulted from the relationship’s collapse altered my perceptions of physical and emotional intimacy. Undoubtedly, my first heartbreak was the catalyst of my more guarded, emotionally detached approach to sex and intimacy.

That sounds admittedly callous but I cannot be alone in feeling this. I have a plethora of friends who, either reluctantly or willingly, would admit that their sex lives are shaped by a similar paradigm. Some have claimed to regard their sex lives through a lens of efficiency: scheduling hookups into their day just as they would a spa appointment or a workout, checking the item off their to-do lists shortly following climax. The modern age has streamlined the commodification of sex through apps like Grindr and Tinder, which make having sex as easy as ordering food to your apartment.

In many cases, the people we have sex with become defined by their “value added” to our lives, quantified on a scaling of the amount of physical, not emotional, pleasure they offer us. Some may call the purely physical focus in millennials’ intimate relations “dehumanizing” or “degrading”, but if both parties are upfront and consenting, is it really? I’m personally on the fence, but I do agree this trend may have a negative effect on spontaneity, intimacy, and openness to different types of people and sexual experiences.

The root causes of this sexual evolution are hard to pin down, but it is likely related to the fact that, in this day and age, there is more emphasis on the self than ever before. Social media has cultivated a generation fixated on its image rather than building intimate relationships. However, humans still have wants, fears, and passions, but the commodification of sex virtually eliminates the possibility of in-person rejection, while the emotional capital one must risk to acquire sex can be greatly reduced.

It’s streamlined: when you match with someone on Tinder, the question of mutual attraction is already eliminated. But what is the real cost? Are we missing out on experiencing another person’s intelligence? Are we failing to cultivate genuine desire? When having sex is as simple as buying an iPhone case on Amazon Prime, does it become less enjoyable, less passionate?

Yes. As reluctant as I am to admit this, even to myself, it does. It makes our idea of our ‘types’ much too rigid, confines us to a persona, not a person. When we are basing our assessments of people in the sexual and intimate realms of our lives mostly on appearance, we lose sight of what actually sparks our genuine interest in someone. When we eliminate the risk of rejection in intimate interactions, we also greatly decrease the possible return. The element of surprise – the possibility of something greater than we could have imagined, a spark like one we’ve never before experienced – is extinguished.

Not only does this commodification dampen the flame that could be, but often in the process of commodification, gender based stereotypes have become reinforced. This is what has given rise to the dreaded, but all too common, ‘fuckboy.’

‘Fuckboys’ are the stereotypical man, preoccupied with sex, aroused by everything, and equipped with the emotional intelligence of a snail. Incredibly, the commodification of sex is leading many of them to willingly accept this stereotype, even to embody it. It’s a type of emotional insurance. If you are perceived as only wanting sex, then you have essentially no emotional vulnerability. It’s a double-edged sword, though, in our society, trapped by the gender binary. When men are largely perceived as purely carnal creatures, beings that feel nothing except orgasm, popular culture castes women as hyper-emotional.

This is problematic as it maintains a fallacious idea of the opposite sex on both sides. And women, shockingly enough, don’t all crave intense emotional connection. Rebecca, a University of Delaware Senior Interviewed by Vanity Fair, put it beautifully: “Sometimes we just want to get it in”—have sex—“too. We don’t want to marry you.”

In a world where you’re either perceived as a fuckboy, emotionally vulnerable, or slutty, how do we address the importance of an honest emotional connection? How do we learn to look deeper than 140 characters? Perhaps we should all take a moment to realize that, although we may seem to each other like tough sex animals (maybe that’s just me), we’ve all got feels on the low?

I, for one, am willing to admit that. Despite the fact that I have, more than I would care to admit, indulged in the convenience of dating apps, they cultivate a shallow, calculated approach. As appealing as the risk-free platform that they offer is, by taking the easier route, I’m losing something valuable. Casual sex is still sex, so it’s fun, for sure. But finding someone’s mind as attractive as his body opens a whole new dimension of experience. And, as scary as it is to admit, I want that experience. Hell, I think we all do! I know I want that because it happened to me a little less than two weeks ago. And maybe it shook my tilted world off of its axis, and the imbalance was inexplicably exhilarating. In that moment, the imbalance forced me to consider a new equilibrium. It pushed a dormant part of me back into the forefront of my awareness, a part I had been purposely neglecting simply because it terrified me. In that moment, I willed myself to embrace it – and the boy in front of me.

Since then, I’ve felt a rush I can’t shake. I know this is the part of me that has an unfathomable capacity for intimate love. That’s not to say its happening over night. I’ll be honest: I’m afraid, and there’s no convincing myself that tapping into this part of my psyche again isn’t without substantial risk. Yet still, when I feel this uncertain, inviting fear, I remember a saying my dad always told me as a boy: “Fortune favors the bold.”





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