Why has boring sex become cool?
I’m not talking Hannah Horvath-like awkward facial expressions and timid pleas to change position, but plain disinterest.
Amy Schumer is a proud starfish. In her recent Netflix ‘Leather Special’, she explained her very beige sex style: akin to one of those silver-painted statue mimics in a town square.
So too is Sophia Marlowe, played by Britt Robertson in Girlboss. The sixth episode opens with Sophia living out her fantasy of “doing like they do this the movies”. For her, this involves lying prone on her dollar bill-strewn bed while her boyfriend (‘Shane’, played by Johnny Simmons) does all the work. When her alarm goes off seconds into the act, she giggles and Shane reliably rolls off: sex over.
Boring sex may seem radical, but it evolved naturally from the cultural notion of the female slacker. This began in 2012, with GIRLS and Charlize Theron in Young Adult. Then came Amy Schumer, playing herself. Most recently, Anne Hathaway rocked dropkick vibes in Colossal.
Fictional women being as slovenly and hopeless as their male counterparts is an act of defiance. No longer confined to being preened sexual objects, waiting to be saved by cashed-up knights, they are mistresses of their own, sweatpants-clad destinies. Boring sex has extended this concept. Then, women could be employed, overweight, wine swigging and frizzy-haired. Now, they don’t have to care about pleasing men in the bedroom, either.
Lingerie trends have seemingly caught on to the boring sex phenomenon. For instance, the burgeoning high-waisted panties fad promises maximum coverage of your bits. In enveloping the female form, they defetishize women’s bodies and, in doing so, avert the male gaze. Newish and growing underwear brands like ThirdLove prioritise comfort and fit over man-drool. Their tagline — The best bra is one you never think about — is unsexy to an asexual degree. Even brands like Lonely Lingerie, whose undergarments feature sultry (but not slutty) lace trimming and peek-a-boo mesh, are all about the girl. The proof? Their advertising campaigns featuring real women, from the lithe to the large, always alone. Even the label’s name evokes the self, and self-pleasure, rendering men superfluous.
The current 90s fashion revival takes this DGAF, don’t-need-a-man aesthetic further. Women have reclaimed desexualised mom jeans, flat, sporty slides and prepubescent-style crop tops. Gender-neutralisation didn’t start with this trend, nor with its predecessor, normcore. It’s probably been around since day dot (brown biblical rags, anyone?) but gained documented traction in the Victorian era. According to Suzanne Keen, dean of and English professor at Washington and Lee University, the reason Charlotte Brontë clothed Jane Eyre in loose-fitting, drab garb, like “a black merino cloak, a black beaver bonnet”, was to make her appear sexless and classless.
Appearing classless, like intentionally being boring in bed, is de-individualising. The sameness of nude seamless briefs, or plain white Adidas kicks means their wearer’s socio-economic status is indistinguishable from identically clad others. Thanks to the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing political and economic instability, we live in an age of austerity and newfangled conservatism. Standing out on the streets or between the sheets is either crass or dangerous, depending on, respectively, your social class or religious affiliation. Melania Trump, once only snapped naked and bejewelled, toned down her outfit for her official FLOTUS portrait: her black tuxedo was both mannish and understated. Even Kim Kardashian has covered up, albeit in spandex.
We see current iterations of modest Victorian dress in the U.S. in the Muslim hijabs and abayas, as well as in Amish and Mennonite pastel-hued ‘plain clothes’. We also view it on the streets of Gilead, the imagined dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale, where red cloaks envelop the titular handmaids’ bodies, and white caps hide their tresses.
Curiously, there’s no boring sex in the Margaret Atwood adaptation. When there is sex, as opposed to rape, which the show also frankly depicts, it’s a case of woman on top. Though while June/Offred assumes this dominant position with her former husband because she can, she straddles Nick, a government informant, because she must. In a society that utterly subjugates women; perhaps she feels sex is the only channel through which she can assert any agency.
In the real world, since the feminist revolution’s wheels still turn and a fanatical Christian sect hasn’t yet hijacked the state, we don’t feel the need to titillate.