Future Sex by Emily Witt
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016; 224 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
Palpable undercurrents of unease cut through Emily Witt’s Future Sex that I had not expected, nor expected it to shake me up as much as it did. Just as author Gay Talese explored the sexual revolution 35 years ago in his book Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Witt seeks to follow his lead by catching up to how sex has wildly changed in by 2016 in the age of the internet, people marrying later in life, and relationships becoming increasingly casual in nature. The author herself is at a crossroads when the book begins. In her thirties and unmarried, she moves across the country from New York City to San Francisco where she investigates the ways in which changing sexual mores have impacted people.
Witt’s a smart, engaging writer and wisely doesn’t turn her collection of essays into think pieces, nor does she allow herself to become the primary focus of the story. When possible, she sticks close to her subjects including a couple who traveled the country performing webcam sex shows in their van, a polyamorous couple and the other man in their life, porn stars performing kinks as public spectacle, and a variety of other stories. For many of her subjects, their sexual practices have opened them up and given them happy lives. But what about the rest of us? Many traditional ideas about how sex and relationships work don’t fit with the way people want to live, but what about that great unknown ahead of us, the future of sex, and what it will bring for those who want something else?
That unease that I mentioned earlier is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s the kind of sensation that anyone who has pushed themselves from their comfort zones or bucked the norms of what was expected of them. It’s a future with no clear definition, and Witt is doing everything she can to keep her bearings.