You probably don’t need me to tell you what an insane time it is to explore your sexuality right now.
We have entered the age where almost everything you could possibly want is at your fingertips, one where at any given time your next sexual encounter could be just a few swipes away on Tinder, or you can witness, for example, an Icelandic woman named Elisa Death Naked fellate a dildo whilst wearing a horse mask via her live webcam channel.
We have virtual reality porn, sex robots that can be programmed to kill and vibrators that can be controlled via apps… my Fitbit could even tell you how many calories I burned masturbating last night. Put simply: it’s weird out there, and I’m only just scratching the surface.
The possibilities for exploration are as exciting as they can be alienating and as boundless as they are accessible, but just how many of us take advantage of them? Or how many of us are still anticipating finding our next monogamous, vanilla relationship, by organically catching the eye of someone across the room of the café, library, gym, bar, lecture hall we’re in?
Enter Emily Witt, one such hopeful who in 2011, found herself in her 30s, straight, single and looking for love in New York City – a regular Carrie Bradshaw who couldn’t help but wonder where this great love was that her friends assured her would arrive someday, ‘as if love were something the universe owed to each of us’. It was after an ended relationship, a one-night stand with a friend who was seeing someone else and a subsequent chlamydia scare that Witt began to think about the trajectory of her sex life and whether there were parts of her sexuality she was yet to explore.
Her 2016 book Future Sex is just that; an exploration of what it means to be a sexual citizen in the modern world (though she apologises for the lack of sex robots) wherein Witt is both a willing participant and a wise spectator in the worlds of internet dating, orgasmic meditation, live webcams, polyamory and feminist pornography… with a brief stint at the epicentre of futurism and sexual experimentation; Burning Man.
The book is wryly, bawdily funny, laden with Witt’s curiosity and moody sarcasm as she finds herself at polyamorous sex parties, ‘orgy domes’, live ‘Public Disgrace’ porn screenings and orgasmic meditation ‘rituals’ where she allows a stranger to describe her vulva and touch her ‘poetically’ for fifteen minutes… all in the name of experience.
In August this year I attended Emily Witt’s Future Sex seminar at the Melbourne Writers Festival. In conversation with Amy Gray, the session delved into an exploration of how the technological advancements of our modern world have shaped the way we now pursue pleasure. Witt expressed her jealousy of the new generation of ‘responsible hedonists’ that she met in San Francisco; a group of young, privileged, healthy polyamorists who talked openly about their desires and carefully managed their relationships via Google Docs.
Witt went on to reveal the discomfort she felt at being smiled at ‘knowingly’ whilst being asked about her desires by the orgasmic mediation seminar attendees (observing that she preferred the company of people who smoked and drank and didn’t seek uncomfortable conversation).
She discussed her changed understanding of sexuality and of futuristic sex as simply a different way of talking about sex, rather than, “a new kind of historically unrecognisable sex.” This new wave sex conversation is detached from the stories and heteronormative narratives we are told about love, monogamy, families and marriage. It is simply an open conversation about desire, where sexuality is differentiated by, ‘ideation and expression of intent… not the actual sex.”
Following the ‘Public Disgrace’ shoot, Witt asks porn actress Penny Pax if she had experienced any, “Moments of genuine pleasure,” throughout the shoot, “Yeah. Like the whole thing!” Pax replies, looking at Witt as though she was crazy. “To have a sexuality was to have a body that pursued a feeling,” Witt says, and each of us possess our own notions of pleasure that we can cultivate, openly and honestly in the modern world. So if like Witt, the thought of not examining all the possibilities invariably fills you with dread… then the future is your oyster, dig in.
Words by Emily Osborne
IG – @em.osb