Studying Sex: The Sex Myth Works To Demystify
In her debut book, The Sex Myth, author Rachel Hills delves into a topic that can often feel sensationalized: sex. But Hills takes a more earnest approach, reaching out to and interviewing a wide breadth of people on their own sex lives, insecurities, identities, and beliefs. The result is a compelling read that provides readers with interviews to find themselves in, and a sociological reading how our cultural assumptions and codes surrounding sex affect us both in and out of the bedroom.
Rogue Valley Messenger: You note in your book that this myth is seemingly ubiquitous, so what is the sex myth?
Rachel Hills: The sex myth is the idea that sex is uniquely powerful and transformative, and that the choices we make when it comes to sex have profound consequences for who we are. We live in a culture that tells us that sex is the measure of our desirability and of how well your relationship is faring, and that the details of our sex lives determine whether we are upstanding citizens, morally suspect perverts, or losers. It’s a lot of pressure to invest in one act, and I argue in the book that it is this belief that sex defines us that serves to regulate our sexual behavior, more so than any specific progressive or conservative moral code.
RVM: The Sex Myth broaches a topic that’s often either taboo or made into a joke. What was your impetus for it?
RH: I started investigating the ideas in The Sex Myth because of the discomfort I felt about my own sex life (or lack thereof) in the first half of my twenties. At the time, there was a lot of media discussion about “hookup culture” and the idea that young people were more promiscuous than ever been before, and I was interested in the way that this cultural story of unlimited sexual opportunity—excess, even—didn’t match up not only to my experiences, but also to the experiences of most other people I knew.
RVM: You interviewed 200 people over the span of 3 years. Did you find people were open in speaking to you?
RH: That was probably the most surprising thing about my research, actually—how eager people were to talk with me! When I did my first big call out for U.S. interviewees, I was inundated with something like 800 emails in 48 hours.
RVM: You also discuss how for men the sex myth may be even more toxic than for women currently, why is that?
RH: Female sexuality is a subject of constant debate in our culture—are women being empowered, are we being oppressed, are we being irresponsible, should people be concerned for the fate of “our girls”? But male sexuality—and straight male sexuality in particular—is treated as something that just “is.” This can be a bit of a double bind. Obviously it’s not much fun to have your sexual choices dissected, but women also benefit from the fact that there is an open conversation about female sexuality, whether it be on feminist blogs or in women’s magazines. The fact that male sexuality isn’t discussed in the same way also means there’s less space to critically interrogate it, and less space for counter-narratives. But I really waver on the question of whether the sex myth is worse for men or for women. In retrospect, it’s interesting to me that the women I interviewed for the book seemed to monitor their sex lives more closely, which suggests to me that the sex myth could also affect women more potently. Let’s just say it affects us all!
7 pm, Thursday, Sept. 17
Bloomsbury Books, 290 E. Main, Ashland