The Washington Post ran an article on May 7 entitled, “Cupid’s Broken Arrow: Performance Anxiety and Substance Abuse Figure into the Increase in Reports of Impotence on Campus.” In it, writer Laura Sessions Stepp reports on complaints of “erectile dysfunction” among college-age men, and cites experts attributing this problem to (among other things) “demands from their female partners.” What is striking about the examples given in the article, however, is that the young women in these (failed) interactions were neither “partners” nor “their[‘s]”in any meaningful sense of the words. Rather, the disappointed women appear to have (1) proposed themselves as a “friend with benefits” to men who do not want a relationship with them; (2) expect sex at men’s first expression of interest in them, before an interpersonal relationship is established; or (3) allowed themselves to be “charmed away from bars and into …bed” with strangers. On the men’s part, Stepp quotes sexuality consultant Judith Steinhart, who told one young man complaining of impotence, “’Your partners wants to be with you because you’re a man, not a machine.’ He said, ‘But I want to be more of a machine.’”
In my book, The Redemption of Love, I note that, “In the 1970s, men blamed their inability to perform at such [high] levels on the aggressiveness of the newly liberated woman. In the 1980s, [Naomi] Wolf blamed it on the unrealistic images in Playboy magazine, with which real women couldn’t compete. But the blame for sexual anxieties might be most appropriately laid on a…culture in which one is expected to have satisfying sexual relations with an unlimited number of people about whom one does not care and who do not care in return.”
Reading this article, however, I see that I am behind the times. Our culture separated sex from marriage several decades ago. To insist on caring as a prerequisite for satisfying sexual relationships is apparently just as old fashioned, as we seem to have progressed to divorcing sex from desire itself. If young men are experiencing more problems with erectile dysfunction today, perhaps it is because they are reaching the logic limits of what they can leave out and still function as sexual beings. And our only concern is that the men can't always perform? Sex without desire can perhaps be achieved by machines, but not by men.