"Do These People F*ck?"
Exploring how we contribute to our sexual culture, physically and spiritually, in real life — in this case, at a Substack party.
The problem with the sex recession is that it’s abstract. Even if it plagues your personal life, it’s difficult to gauge whether it’s something you share with the people around you. But even more abstract is how the sex recession and the erotic decline it’s brought has shaped the culture: we can attempt to quantify something like the number of intimate scenes in mainstream films, yes, but what about something like the vivacity of a party? The energy of a room?
We have some language to address this. I particularly enjoy the joking sentiment of the phrase “this guy fucks,” originating from a 2015 episode of Silicon Valley. As a Lifehacker explains, “In “Bad Money,” first aired on April 26, 2015, Mark Cuban-esque venture capitalist Russ Hanneman takes a look at the wan nerds that make up Silicon Valley’s cast, zeroes in on the (arguably) nerdiest—sunken-eyed CEO Jared Dunne—and declares, ‘This guy fucks. Am I right? ‘Cause I’m looking at the rest of you guys, and this is the guy in the house doing all the fucking. Am I right? You know I’m right. This guy fucks.’”
What’s funny about the scene isn’t that he points to the nerdiest guy and is wrong about the idea that he “fucks.” It’s funny because even if we never see this character actually have sex, we just get the sense that he’s absolutely right. There’s an ineffable quality — a vibe, if you will — that makes it true. It’s not even about sex in the literal sense, but rather a vague sex appeal.
The phrase has since taken on a life of its own, said without reference to the show but with the same ethos in mind. One can look at a group of people and wonder, “do these people fuck?” and not necessarily be referring to intercourse. Do they have any sexual energy? Are they contributing to the liveliness of the world around them?
Recently I had the thought of writing about how this phenomenon plays out in the events I attend. It was partially in jest, partially in seriousness, mostly stemming from the desire to justify going to more parties or silly excursions. My interest isn’t in doing any type of identifying scene reporting, of singling people out and questioning the details of their specific sex lives. I really, really don’t want to become some sort of individual sexvestigator. This is just for fun. But I do want to find a better way to explain and explore what it is I’m getting at here as it manifests in real life. And so, occasionally, I will do that here.
Last week, I went to a party hosted by Substack, home platform to this newsletter. It was hosted in Cobble Hill, a neighborhood I would say does not fuck but holds a solid population of people who at least previously have. It is arguably one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city, replete row after row of tree-lined filled with homes that make you wonder exactly what jobs the owners are working that allow them to afford this, each running perpendicular to a quaint commercial avenue populated by Eileen Fisher stores and restaurants selling natural wines by the $16 glass. It is also the neighborhood in which I see the most strollers. I’d be lucky to live there some day.
At the event, which was held in an art gallery, I wrote my full name nearly illegibly on a name tag. I soon realized that most other people there wrote their first name and the name of their publication, but I decided against changing it. Waiting in line for my first drink, a small but strong vodka soda, I began talking with another writer. She asked for the name of my newsletter, and looked it up on her Substack app. Nothing. She tried my name — J. initial included! — and still, the results yielded nothing. Naturally, I suspected I was shadowbanned, and carried this with me as the evening progressed. Among the next people I spoke to were Substack employees, with whom I shared my suspicion in a way that I thought was casual but was really more like, “haha, I don’t care, I just think it’s funny…”
Eventually, I had spoken to something like six different Substack employees, reminders were made in their phones, emails were sent, and I discovered that I may, in fact, have been shadowbanned for adult content. That does not fuck! But it’s not like I entirely don’t deserve it. While it is purely for educational purposes, I am pretty sure some of my previous posts included screenshots that feature bare nipples. Use of the word “gooning” alone ought to warrant removal from the Internet writ large. In any case, the whole debacle made me a deeply annoying feature of the party, I’m sure.
Everyone I spoke to, though, was a total delight, and I am not just saying that because they control one of my streams of income. I told many about the topic of this newsletter, and the general conceit of the book proposal I am steadily making progress on. When I tell people you write about sex and sexual culture, many are surprisingly willing to offer up their own opinions relating to their personal life or outside world. This is one of my favorite things. I got into a conversation with one woman, not Substack affiliated, about these themes. We talked at length about one of my most Boomer-y takes, which is that our phones are largely responsible for the degradation of our sexual culture. We’ve come to turn to our phones for quick blips of pleasure, be that sexual or otherwise, and often see little need to turn to other people in real life for fulfillment instead. We’ve isolated ourselves from our physicality. She told me that she’d long been someone who enjoyed casual sex, but was now entering what could be a more monogamous relationship. Her struggle, however, was that as they became closer, her desire for sex with this person waned, as if it made her feel uncomfortable or anxious. She had an inverse relationship between sex and true intimacy, viewing them as two separate entities: the stronger the emotional bond, the less she saw him as a sexual being. She was considering posing an open relationship. I suggested that maybe she approached sex similarly to how we approach our phones: a quick (and in many ways addictive) source of dopamine, but not a place of true substance.
Obviously, this woman has sex. She is not a part of the sex recession. But her situation highlights how none of this is necessarily literal. One can have plenty of sex and still feel the consequences of our current sexual culture. The saving grace in all this is that she is introspective about it. Everyone else I spoke to about my work was similarly in agreement that there is something going on in our broader sexual life, whether it relates directly to their own practices or not. In that sense, I’d argue that the Substack party did indeed “fuck.”
The following day, I received an email from a Substack employee stating that whatever search limitation was put on my account had been lifted. Now, hopefully, anyone trying to find me on the platform can do so. Unless, of course, this whole venture here gets me in trouble again.
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