Americans Aren’t Sexy

Using an attempt to patent a Viagra for women as a hook, Camille Paglia muses about sexuality among the WASP UMC:

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.

The elemental power of sexuality has also waned in American popular culture. Under the much-maligned studio production code, Hollywood made movies sizzling with flirtation and romance. But from the early ’70s on, nudity was in, and steamy build-up was out. A generation of filmmakers lost the skill of sophisticated innuendo. The situation worsened in the ’90s, when Hollywood pirated video games to turn women into cartoonishly pneumatic superheroines and sci-fi androids, fantasy figures without psychological complexity or the erotic needs of real women.

Furthermore, thanks to a bourgeois white culture that values efficient bodies over voluptuous ones, American actresses have desexualized themselves, confusing sterile athleticism with female power. Their current Pilates-honed look is taut and tense — a boy’s thin limbs and narrow hips combined with amplified breasts. Contrast that with Latino and African-American taste, which runs toward the healthy silhouette of the bootylicious Beyoncé.

An intriguing hypothesis.   My alternate hypothesis:  With both partners working full-time jobs and then running the kids around from organized activity to organized activity, they’re just too damned tired.

Thers, Echidne, and Ann Althouse offer yet another explanation:  Paglia will use any excuse to regurgitate her two-decade-old talking points.  Also plausible.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Science & Technology, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    . . .they’re just too damned tired.


  2. Mike P. says:

    Sleep and simple reading time is at premium. With (good) sex, there is a lot of startup time, and ending time, too. Kids stay up later now. When I a kid, 7:30 pm. My daughter is awake til 11 most nights. Plenty of mystery left. Plenty 🙂

  3. Kenny says:

    I appreciate that she’s trying to be ethnographic — because that’ll confuse NY Times readers into thinking she has a fresh, hip argument, or, failing that a substantive point. But, man, I’m glad I’m not Paglia. It must just be exhausting.