Future Sex

So I just finished Emily Witt’s Future Sex and I don’t always know what to make of it. It is at once an inviting exploration of 21st century sexuality through a feminist lens, while also mildly voyeuristic or naive at times. The latter, I think is due to Witt’s own personality; she’s pretty tame, especially when compared to the subjects she writes about as well as myself or other poly women who came to mind while I was reading her book. Maybe that viewpoint gives her a useful perspective though. The book feels like both journalism and memoir, and even though there are huge swaths of it where she isn’t even a character at all. I’m interested in the very subtle way she depicts her own change from beginning to end; the complications and contradictions of it aren’t hard to find, she doesn’t hide it as I might have expected from the start of the book. The openness with which she speaks of her own feelings in relation to the way she’s been trained to think about female sexuality by the society we live in, mirrors the way many of her subjects–from porn stars to average people in open relationships–speak about sex to each other. Her voice, interestingly, reminds me of dating a stereotypical midwesterner, who eventually conceives that god might not be real and that M&M doesn’t stand for monogamy and missionary.

I wanted the book to be more of a memoir, to divulge more of her insides, but that was clearly not its intent. Instead, the personal moments seem to have come out of her own awareness that implicating herself, especially given her own subject position, might be necessary in order to give the book validity and strengthen her understanding of the culture she was reporting on. Not like in a Tom Wolfe kind of way or anything, but she does a little more than just dip her feet in. At times, the balance between reportage and the personal seems off, especially towards the end. The sentence structure got much more simple, though it was in the midst of a long chapter following three friends who worked at google through their polyamorous relationship. I suppose that the more complex sentence structures from the beginning and middle of the book might have made the three individuals and their partners as well, difficult to follow. It did get tiresome though, when say, twenty sentences in a row begin with “I” or another proper subject to which the reader doesn’t feel close enough to.

It was definitely a worthwhile read though, if anything for the way in which she moves through and explores the discomfort, and consequently the unthought in our sexual experience–that it’s still difficult to get people, even the most liberal–to speak honestly about, including the depth to which Witt does and simultaneously does not speak of herself. I’m left mostly with considering how best to drop most of the journalistic endeavors in my own memoir though. It’s funny because I’m constantly worried about the limits of personal experience, but when reading Witt’s book all I wanted was to see the balance between reportage and interiority flipped.

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