Over the past few years New York magazine has done us the enormous favor of publishing “Sex Diaries” of the sort of citizens who would be game for this sort of thing. This week New York engages Wesley Yang to review the activities of its Sex Diarists, which he claims “cracked open a window into the changing structure, rhythm, and rhetoric of sex in New York.” Will it surprise you to learn that his findings conform with those of hopeless romantics since the dawn of sex (approximately 1963)?
We are warned that “The social technologies that assist in dating and mating” have “changed the nature of the game.” For instance, they have effected a “distinct shift in the way we experience the world,” as shown by cell-phone messages in which one subject is asked for sex by three women. “In the face of this enormous pressure,” says Yang, “many of the Diarists stay home and masturbate.” This is indeed a change, or would seem so, as we have only experienced even prospective three-ways in fantasies — which, come to think of it, usually end in masturbation, so maybe Yang in onto something….
When “Diarists find themselves at the brink of enjoying one sexual experience, only to receive a phone call or text from another potential suitor,” complications ensue. For example, one receives a text: “Wanna fuck?” Straightforward as the offer seems to us, the subject nonetheless later texts a separate person, “Let’s get out of here and go back to my place.” Finally, she mournfully concludes: “I have no idea what I want, clearly.” Yang’s analysis: “This compulsive toggling between options winds up inflicting the very damage it was designed to protect against.” From the full transcript, however, in which she tells us the prior suitor is “a 4” in bed, while the latter the day before “falls into my bed, asks me to take care of him, promptly starts snoring,” we’d say the poor girl just needs more options among which to toggle.
The next circle of hell is “The anxiety of not being chosen.” A Diarist experiences “clothes off, oral sex given and received,” with an IM received during “deliciously illicit activities which turn into both intercourse and mutual masturbation.” Yang’s judgment: “The back burner is a confusing, destabilizing, and exhausting place to be.” We aren’t seeing that, except maybe the exhaustion. But what if you wind up “betraying a level of emotional enthusiasm unmatched by the other party”? This is exemplified by a Diarist who has made out with “Mike” on a doorstep, but at a later 3 a.m. encounter offers only to “kiss him on the cheek.” Later she tells Mike “I can never tell what he wants from me,” and subsequently reports, “I haven’t heard from him since.” We may be missing some nuance here, as may commenters who, Yang reports, “have no sympathy for these emotional miscalculations.”
Other awfulness is recorded. “The experiences of the lonely and the overstimulated by too much sex,” Yang reports, “converge in weirdly affecting moments of intimacy.” Example: “Wake up with porn on my laptop and cock in hand. I guess I was really tired.” Must be all that pressure. Also, “If any of the Diarists have felt the sting of disappointment in finding an Internet correspondence go dead, they are immune to it now,” as shown by a particularly immune couple who meet and promptly “do a 69.”
“True love!” sighs Yang. “Who could say these words in public without acute embarrassment? It is nonetheless something that the Diarists keep referencing, despite the impression they convey that it is an ever-receding ideal.” We wonder what he was expecting from New Yorkers enlisted as Sex Diarists — bridal shower announcements? Yet Yang’s own soul is not yet deadened by his review of 800 pages of this stuff; he finds himself reduced to “tears in the reading room of the New York Public Library” at the words of a diarist who is sufficiently enamored of a new boyfriend to rebuff a guy at a softball game who “hits on me.” This entry has been optioned by Judd Apatow, with Sandra Bullock and Aaron Eckhart attached as leads. The role of the cynical New York friends may be filled, we imagine, by any of our readers.