SEX IS NEWS
On his Facebook page, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof wonders why there isn't more coverage of "sexuality and relationships" by news organizations. ("Don't always like the guy, but I love this," observes Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory, a friend of mine, which is how I found the post.)
The previous day, Kristof had shared a link to a New York Times article by Natalie Kitroeff, "In Hookups, Inequality Still Reigns," a thoughtful piece on why, it appears, young women are less likely to reach orgasm during one-night stands than in relationships.
"[C]ome on, Nick, raise the bar a bit higher on topics," one commenter wrote on Kristof's Facebook post sharing the link, suggesting the subject of sex was nothing more than salacious.
The next day, Kristof wrote:
I reposted a story here yesterday by Natalie Kitroeff about research on women's sexuality, and had some pushback from followers who thought the topic was beneath me, low-brow sensationalism. Hmm. Let's talk about that. Actually, I think news organizations probably should cover sexuality and relationships more than they do. These are issues that humans spend a great deal of time and worry about, and that relate greatly to happiness. If there's scientific research that can offer insights, why isn't that as important for news organizations to cover as recent events in Eritrea? I think this is completely different from the kind of celebrity sex gossip that TV spends way too much time on. But maybe I was just leering as I read it. Your thoughts?
Nearly 1,500 people liked Kristof's considered question, and nearly 250 people commented on it. Which would suggest sex and relationships deserve serious discussion. Which would suggest they deserve serious coverage.
So, perhaps you are an active reader of the reporter dedicated to sex coverage at the New York Times, or the one at the Washington Post, or the one at the LA Times. Or, perhaps you are not. Because, of course, they do not exist. Sex gets packed in with other things, to sell it to the masses. It is something we all do (fuck, that is), it is something we all share (relationships, you know), but we do not address it directly. We treat sexuality and its complexities as if we are children, hiding our curiosity, pointing and rolling our eyes. Sex? You can't be serious.
Online, it's a bit of a different story. There's Clark-Flory at Salon and Amanda Hess at Slate. They cover the sex beat -- and, at the same time, gender, culture, politics, business, science, too. In print, they have no equivalent (not that I'm aware of, at least). Too much sex makes advertisers twitchy. Newspapers have to produce a product that can be spread across the family breakfast table. Too much raciness and you risk alienating your readers. Surely, you will be accused of pandering to the lowest common denominator.
And that's too bad. By sweeping sex under the rug, the media perpetuates our ignorance of it, underscoring the anxieties around it, dooming to silence productive, interested conversations about it.