Every time someone says ‘20 years ago’ I immediately assume they’re talking about sometime in the 80s. It’s quite unbelievable to a generation of 90s babies that the 2000s were so long ago. And guess what? A lot can happen in 20 years.
It’s kind of hard to see it now, but we’ve come a long way, and our changing attitudes towards sex have been one of the major parts of our societal development. Here’s the lowdown.
No Right Way To Be A Girl
Ah, the sweet golden era of the problematic chick flicks. Back then, we didn’t realise that the era we were growing up in was still pretty backward. We compared it to our mother’s and grandmother’s eras, who would explain how ‘back in their day’, women couldn’t do this and women couldn’t wear that.
The present day felt progressive within its moment. It’s only when we look back now and see how the media simultaneously shamed and sexualised Britney Spears to the point that it destroyed her, and we realise that we too grew up with these societal opinions being instilled into us.
As Constance Grady expresses in her article about 2000s misogyny, ‘There was no right way to be a girl. There were only different ways to fail.’
Sexism Accepted In The Media
The 2000s featured a surge of virginity phenomena with the likes of household names like Britney, Miley Cyrus, Jessica Simpson being proclaimed virgins and the media obsessively sexualising this idea. However series like Sex and the City were fast normalising the idea of casual hookups.
It was an undeniably overtly sexual decade, with Pornhub launching in 2007, Cosmopolitan dishing out racy sex tips, ads that sexualised ‘barely legal’ girls such as American Apparels’, fashion trends like the whale tail, the Bratz Dolls-the hyper-sexualised version of the Barbie Doll were launched, reality dating shows became popular, The Pussycat Dolls rose to fame – plus The Black Eyes Peas released ‘My Humps’.
The Internet Was Still Fun
The internet and all of its excitement was at our fingertips, and not yet so accessible that it simply made everything feel boring. We were liberal enough to be overtly sexual, but it was all still through a biiiiig lens of male gaze.
Although it might have seemed like it was cool and fun to be openly sexual as a woman, the reality was that there was still a mountain of judgement from society if a woman was sexually promiscuous.
Words like ‘slut’ and ‘slag’ were still widely used and using ‘gay’ as a derogatory adjective was also super common. Which is pretty wild when we think about how those terms are received today.
Dating Apps Got Big
In my opinion, the 2010s changed a lot for sex. It was also the decade in which I became a woman, being 12 at the beginning and 22 by the end. It was a decade where sex in all forms began to feel abundant. By the time 2010 began, porn was booming and watched without thought by all of the boys of my generation.
As for the girls, I myself watched porn and I later found out that a few of my girlfriends did too. The point is, by the 2010s, it was something we naturally grew up with. The 2010s was also the decade of dating apps. Grindr and Tinder took over, ‘Netflix and chill ;)’ dates popularised and having sex with anyone at any given time for free became very easy.
However as the 2010s progressed, people started to get tired of the constant and evermore thoughtless dating. Access to sex and porn almost became so easy that it became clockwork and lost some of its fun.
Seeking Stranger Excitements
Along with this generation exposed to unlimited porn, came a rise in porn addiction and erectile dysfunction, and the growing need to find more and more obscure forms of porn, hence the increasing consumption of the likes of manga and Japanese porn in the Western world.
Perhaps within this gradually more open sexual climate, people who had always felt gender-fluid or non-binary felt comfortable enough to openly express this, which led to a huge movement of gender fluidity.
Also possibly springing from a more sexually open society, came the rise of ‘daddy’ phenomena with the boom of sugar dating sites, Lana Del Rey reaching a global audience with her sultry songs about old men and young women, and Tumblr having a cult-like following of teens all over the world romanticising Lolita-esque relationships (plus other questionable ‘aesthetics’).
Hidden From The Public Sphere
Whilst these sorts of fetishes and fantasies were very much present, they were becoming less and less acceptable in the professional world and the sort of overtly dirty ads like the 2000s American Apparel ones would be thought obscene if published in the late 2010s.
It’s the same with casual sex. The 2010s didn’t have the same overly sexual feeling as the 2000s, as people were able to express their sexuality more privately Tinder etc. plus through the launch of Instagram in 2010 and cam sites Omegle (2009), ChatRoulette (2009) and Chaturbate (2011).
I remember some of my first sexual experiences, like many others my age, was an online one, where at our girly teenage sleepovers, we would chat on live webcam to random men around the world and sometimes strip off, a perfect representation of how sexual experience turned digital for Gen Z.
#MeToo Reduced Everyday Sexism
The late 2010s saw the blow up of the feminist #metoo movement, which highlighted everyday sexism, which was thought to be ‘casual’ sexual come ons from men to women but in reality was unwanted sexual advances. Since, there seems to be more of an understanding from men in society that this sort of behaviour, like catcalling and harassment is unacceptable.
The people who do still engage in these forms of sexism are more often than not, men from an older generation. The younger the men, the less overtly pervy they seem to be. Women also changed after the #metoo movement; it became more clear that online dating felt like a safer way to get to know somebody without the possibility of certain boundaries being crossed.
So overall in the 2010s, whilst sexual attitudes became increasingly open and casual sex became increasingly acceptable, these things were much hidden within the world of the internet, and a world becoming more progressive and outwardly politically correct.
Sex Was Solely Digital
There might have only been two years of 2020 thus far, but plenty has taken place. Coronavirus saw us turn even more online, sex included. OnlyFans was the answer to both the financial difficulty and the need for sexual connection that the pandemic brought about.
It became so big that it helped to (at least slightly) normalise online sex work, helped by the fact that celebrities such as Bella Thorne had accounts on it. There are way more online content creators than ever, who have become ‘sex work celebrities;’ with their online presence making people much more likely to pay for their content.
Late 2019 saw the release of incredibly popular teen series ‘Euphoria’, which has received backlash for its sexualisation of school kids plus the Netflix drama ‘Sex Education’. 2020 gave us the openly sexual show ‘Normal People’ and 2021 gave us another Netflix made drama ‘Sex Life’.
TikTok also had a huge surge of users during lockdowns, and although the content largely ranges in variety, a large portion of it has become, like Instagram, centred around sex appeal.
Craving Human Connection
The pandemic forced many of us to find sexual satisfaction through digital means, but we have still come out the other end craving human touch. It seems that Covid has tired people of online dating, with the number of global downloads of dating apps gradually decreasing over the past two years.
The realisation seems to be that meeting people organically is a lot more exciting. The growing acceptance of more taboo fetishes like BDSM in 2010s has continued to the point that BDSM is almost considered boring.
The latest trends have been ‘conscious sex’ ‘tantric sex’ and even a reverting back to ‘vanilla sex’ with an overall understanding that we should have whatever sex we want however boring or raunchy, without it being shamed.
Noughties Nostalgia = Sex in the Air
One of the changes that I personally find interesting is a shift back to 2000s trends. The overt 2000s nostalgia is present in fashion, back to the daring ‘whale tale’ trend, low rise jeans, bras as tops, basically just out-there, sexy fits that were sort of dormant in the 2010s.
But the 2000s nostalgia also extends, in my opinion, to attitudes. There’s more of a fun feeling of being shamelessly sexy in the 20s. I believe that again, TikTok has played a big part in this.
There’s certain trends on the app like the viral Doja Cat ‘Pussy Power’ music, the idea of bimbo-fication reminiscent of the Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears era, the excitement of romanticising the idea of being feminine and all the different types of ‘girl’ you can be. There’s a real sense of excitement in the air that seemed to have been missing for at least a few years.
Online Sex-Ed and An Increasingly Open Society
The internet including TikTok, Twitter and Instagram also allows for information to be circulated quickly and in digestible formats, meaning that we seem to be becoming more and more progressive at a faster pace than ever before. We have reached a point where education really is working well within the realms of social media.
Infographics, Twitter threads and TikTok videos provide insightful information about all sorts of topics. We are more LGBTQ inclusive and gender fluid than ever, young girls are less ashamed of being sexual and are more forward in sexual advances than before.
We have more conversations about female menstruation and sex after menopause, fun and forward thinking sex apps like Rosy have launched, and sex toys are being sold in ‘everyday’ stores like Boots and Holland and Barrett.
Therefore, so far, after the hell of the pandemic, the 2020s seems to be emerging as an era with a fun and outwardly sexual vibe with people keen to connect once more, not dissimilar to the liberating vibe of the late 90s early 2000s, but this time it’s a lot less problematic. But of course, there’s still work to do…
Sex Positivity and Futuristic Sex
Overall, as a society it seems that we will only become more and more sexually open, with new sites like Sensuali creating online spaces that are genuinely sex positive and work to open minds and conversations not only about sex work, but about the idea of sex and pleasure in general.
Experts also predict that by the start of 2023 there will be a digital sexual healthcare revolution via subscriptions and discreet online testing. Of course there is also a revolution of sex robots and 3D printing predicted. Other musings are a rise in male prostate toys as the stigma around them is starting to die down.
Personally, I hope that as a society we do become more open, and more consciously trying to understand why we like the things we like. My biggest qualm about sexual attitudes today is that I think we still live in a world that is largely influenced by the patriarchy.
Sexism is still very much around, but in subtler forms in more private spaces, the objectification of women and the hyper-fixation of female beauty standards is still very much a problem, and many people, especially men, don’t want to admit it, because they feel that they are being blamed.
I really hope that not only women, but men too will learn to be more sexually vulnerable and open to conversations about these issues, so that as a society together we can continue to progress and have healthy and open-minded sex lives.