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A Critical (But Highly Sympathetic) Reading of New Yorkers’ Sexual Habits and Anxieties


You could argue that this playing-to-the-audience is a product of unique circumstances—the Sex Diaries are written for a readership, of course—but postgame narration and color commentary, like rigorous self-analysis, are a constant element of New York mating. Sometimes it feels like the principal reason we have friends.

7. The anxiety of appearing prudish.
The Diarists are eager to show themselves to have conquered modesty—as if anyone is still insisting they be modest. This is particularly true of the young women—and the Diaries are full of them—who operate at the weird place where male pornographic fantasies and their own fantasies of self-empowered pleasure converge:

11:39 p.m. Dance with a couple of my girlfriends. We spot some cute guys in the corner checking us out. Decide to give the guys a show and lock lips with one another. Watch guys’ jaws drop to the floor.

As for pornography, it plays a role in an extraordinary number of Diaries. Still, few Diarists of either sex are willing to betray any discomfort with it, per se. (“See, I have no issue with porn,” one Diarist assures us when discussing his friend’s enormous collection.) Instead they worry about everything related to porn. Its price, for instance. Or a partner’s overindulgence. Occasionally they do fear that the consumption of it may be wearing them out. This, it seems, is incontestable. The experiences of the lonely and the overstimulated by too much sex converge in weirdly affecting moments of intimacy. Picture the montage—a series of apartments in the soft, gray light of dawn:

10 p.m. Contemplate masturbating, pass out before I can summon the strength to find my vibrator.

3:01 a.m. Attempt to masturbate. Pass out with the vibrator still going.

3:30 a.m. Wake up with porn on my laptop and cock in hand. I guess I was really tired.

8. Internet-enabled agoraphobia
For some Diarists, online dating has become not just a supplement to their social lives, but a replacement for it. They prefer to game out all the angles of each prospective seduction ahead of time—to “control the environment and the message,” as one Diarist puts it—and regard the social world itself as “asinine bullshit/social Kabuki.”

The most practiced online daters have mastered the paradoxical etiquette of meeting strangers online and attaining swift mutual satisfaction:

11 a.m. I come across an ad from a sincere-looking South Asian fellow and respond. The fellow responds with a number. I call and we agree to hook up for drinks.

6:17 p.m. The fellow and I do a 69.

Simple. But a certain callousness toward the merchandise is an unavoidable side effect of entering a marketplace as both buyer and seller. If any of the Diarists have felt the sting of disappointment in finding an Internet correspondence go dead, they are immune to it now. They refer to online solicitations as if they were bidders on eBay, and browse potential options without the slightest titillation:

2:30 p.m. Cruise Manhunt, Craigslist, and Adam4Adam in a desultory manner. I’m not really horny. It’s kinda like picking up takeout menus from neighborhood restaurants. I just want to know what’s available.

The loneliest Diarists, seeking a respite from their loneliness, often find people even lonelier than themselves:

1 p.m. Kick off my weekly Sunday-afternoon tradition: “Find Steve on Craigslist.” Steve is a disgusting person I slept with back in April, who attributed my lack of an orgasm to his use of a hair-replacement product. Every Sunday, sure as the rising sun, he posts an ad where he comments about the weather and requests a “beautiful companion” to go to the beach/take a walk in the park/get a coffee/see a movie. He sickens me.

9. Separation anxiety
Collecting all of your friends onto a single page, as all social-networking sites do, alters the way you think about experiences. Formerly, you met people, did things with them, and selected a handful to carry forward into later stages of life. Life was a linear sequence of relationships that began and ended.

But just as Facebook has become an instrument for meeting and seducing new people, it is now also an archive of people you had once seduced or been seduced by:

2:30 p.m. Trying to put off my homework even more, I scan through my Facebook account, my BlackBerry, and my in-box trying to think if I am friends with any guys who I haven’t hooked up with already. Zilch.

And just as the new technologies keep reminding us of the existence of these old relationships, so they make the temptation to relationship recidivism irresistible to many of the Diarists. It seems as if half of the Diarists are either texting or being texted by old flames:


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