How do we learn how to have sex?

I mean, not the basic Tab-A-into-Slot-B business but the subtler stuff. Style. Technique. Daddies and mommies don't mention this in their cautious spiels about the birds and the bees. And it isn't taught in middle-school sex-ed classes -- at least, not when I was twelve. Nor, back then, did friends exchange such details, e.g. "I did this, then he did this, then I said this." (No way!!! Gross me out!!!)

As did our ancestors, nearly all of us learned in the most private way possible how to do it, generally with only one other person present at a time, and usually in the dark, without mirrors. With the passing years, we continued to refrain from comparing notes on this with friends. We might spill our guts about everything else -- recounting our intimate experiences of childbirth, illness, ultimate joy and ultimate sorrow -- but on the sights and sounds and choreography of sex, we're mum.

That's fine with me. You don't tell, I won't tell, we spare each other potential mega-embarrassment. But what motivates us not to tell? What would cause that embarrassment? And how archaic are those causes? Do we keep silent about our sexual performances simply because we don't want to shock or be thought inappropriate? Or is it that we don't want to appear to brag? Is it that we fear being labeled promiscuous, "too" avid, "too" transgressive, "too" desirous? Or do we fear being mocked as timid, backward, retro, dull? Which, in our minds, is worse?

Performance anxiety expands beyond the performance itself. That's one reason for our silence. Others are cultural. Talking about such personal subjects is offensive: That's how most of us over a certain age were brought up.

So it's fascinating to read about a new survey revealing that increasing numbers of teenagers are learning how to have sex from watching internet porn.

A TV program that aired on Britain's Channel 4 last month covered the study of 14-to-17-year-olds, in which nearly nine out of ten participants said they had viewed graphic images online. Nearly one in five customarily viewed such images more than once a week. Many female participants in the survey said they felt "pressured into stripping on webcams for their boyfriends," the Daily Mail reports. "In one frightening confession, a girl of 15 told how her friends performed sex acts on webcams, replicating what they had seen on the internet or TV."

One-third of the participants described porn as "a good thing," though "good" in what way was not specified. Many male participants said they share pornography at school, typically on cell phones and computers. Thus we are living in a different world than the one in which I grew up. Sure, porn existed back then as well. My male classmates ogled their older brothers' copies of Playboy and Hustler, no question. But I'll venture to say that most girls, back then, didn't. Even so, the pictures in those magazines were stills. The huge difference between now and then is that in those days we didn't have free and easy access to sexual moving pictures. We couldn't study those scenes, replay them, freeze-frame them, or listen through headphones and memorize their soundtracks to practice-makes-perfect, later, the way kids practice gymnastics or their favorite comedy routines or the guitar.

What will be the long-term effects of today's youth having unlimited access to video porn? Will sex, practiced as ever in privacy, and usually in pairs, take on a new look, becoming more theatrical as new generations of the sexually active base their behavior on how paid actors perform onscreen? In his classic 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism, social critic Christopher Lasch noted that Americans had begun acting as if they were perpetually being filmed. Thirty years and a thousand technological leaps later, how is this playing out in postmodern humanity's most intimate, passionate, private, raw moments?

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