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Future Sex Investigates How We Hook Up Now

As someone who has spent a better part of the new millennium going on first dates, I can attest to how fast that landscape seemed to shift after online dating hit a fever pitch. The way we date now is inextricably linked to the way technology has infiltrated our lives. If you've ever swiped right, or used an emoji to text a potential boo, or even intentionally decided never to join OKCupid, then you've been impacted by the way that tech has changed the dating game. So how exactly has the digital age reshaped how we think about courtship?

That's one question Emily Witt explores in her book, Future Sex, an investigative look at the modern landscapes of sex, love, porn, polyamory, and so much more. Witt embarked on the book after realising that the milestones she'd been plotting for herself since she was a little girl — courting, marriage, kids — didn't seem to be showing up on the schedule she'd originally thought they would. That observation continued evolving as she looked around and realised that the experience of her peer group was much the same.

As Witt explains it, she came to realise that there's a false correlation between the way we think about adulthood and what it actually looks like today. "It could still look like having roommates. It could still look like hanging out with your friends," she says. "Part of that was, and is, an economic story. It's harder for people [my] age, by which I mean millennials or people in their 30s and late-20s, to achieve the kind of middle-class milestones that many of our parents had. We have to kind of refashion what adulthood is.

"Part of that is looking at what we have: our group of friends, the houses that we do have, the fact that we might be childless or single, and finding new forms of commitment and stability that might not look like marriage. We're supporting each other, we feel supported: We have 'kind of' families, we take care of each other when we're sick. All of those things that we used to delegate to the nuclear family now have to happen outside of that, for many of us."
Photo: Noah Kalina.
Author Emily Witt
Future Sex isn't a memoir, but it isn't not one, either. In it, Witt acts as a participant seeking to understand this new romantic landscape we're operating in and how she fits into the picture. She dedicates a section to Orgasmic Meditation, a practice founded and popularised by the organisation OneTaste. She attends a porn shoot where audience participation is encouraged and the evening ends with anal fisting, and objectively contrasts that experience against the current tenor of porn culture in America.

She also thinks hard about how she presents herself in online dating profiles, and how hard it is for women to be honest and get what they want on those platforms. "In some ways, these apps reveal how difficult it is for a lot of women," she says. "It revealed how difficult it was for me to overtly state my desires — to overtly present myself a sexual being. It was so much easier for me to present a somebody interested in books who wanted to go to museums, than it was to say on one of these platforms: This is what I like in sex, this is the kind of sex that I'm looking for.

"I just kind of became aware of a certain false presentation of myself," Witt adds. "I was on this app to look for somebody to have sex with. But I was not going to talk about sex — ever — on it."

At Public Disgrace — the event where the porn shoot she attended was filmed, which she describes as a sort of "ritual humiliation of a woman" — Witt also confronted some of her own deep-rooted feelings about the kind of porn people engage with now, as well as the judgements that come to the table. At the shoot, she says she wasn't sure that she wanted the world to look like what she was seeing.

"I don't want these guys that are here, calling this person the c-word, thinking they can harass and humiliate her," Witt says. And yet: "The fact is we live in a democracy. This is legal. The [performers] say they wanna be there. We have to believe them. So then the question becomes: What does it mean to have these kinds of fantasies available by a simple Google search?

"That stuff is out there, and I believe the women who make it [when they] say that it allows them to explore parts of themselves that they would never be able to explore. I don't know that the viewer watching it is coming to it with that same consciousness — that's what makes me nervous sometimes. But also I think it's important to separate fantasy from reality."

Separating fantasy from reality — and breaking reality down into its digestible parts — is exactly what Witt does in her book, which we'd highly recommend diving into if you're even the littlest bit obsessed with the way that hookups intersect with our data-driven lifestyles. Smart, sexy, and exhaustively researched, Future Sex offers new insight into how we search for sex, and even love — and what that means for us in 2016.

Future Sex was released on October 11, 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.