COVER

SEX IN THE EIGHTIES

JOHN BARBER January 12 1987
COVER

SEX IN THE EIGHTIES

JOHN BARBER January 12 1987

SEX IN THE EIGHTIES

COVER

The 1972 pornographic movie Behind the Green Door was a classic of its kind, a raunchy but uncomplicated tribute to the pleasures of casual, loveless sex. But in the jaded 1980s, with the subject of sex surrounded by fear, doubt and anger, such a message seems naïve. And one graphic illustration of the far-reaching changes in sexual attitudes is the newly released Behind the Green Door— The Sequel. Made by the same producers, the film is intended to promote socalled “safe sex,” and all the male characters make prominent use of condoms to prevent infection. Said producer Jim Mitchell: “It’s a whole new sexual world out there.” The message, even in the porn industry, is that in

the 1980s, carefree sex can kill.

At the height of the sexual revolution, when contraceptive technology seemed to have removed the last barrier to truly free love, such a notion would have seemed absurd. Now it is a central fact of life. Sexually transmitted diseases, including herpes, have reached epidemic proportions. And the worst of them all, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), has cut like a scythe through the North American homosexual community, once exceptionally promiscuous and now fearful—and counting the mounting losses from the fatal disease, AIDS has not affected heterosexuals in North America to the same extent, but its long shadow has cast an undeniable chill

over all sexual terrain.

Indeed, the new fear is everywhere. In the schools of Abbotsford, B.C., with a heavy concentration of fundamentalist families, students are not taught contraception in “life skills” class, but they do learn about AIDS. Owners of bars where single people meet blame the fear of sex for lagging business, while, on some Canadian campuses, the 1950s custom of extensive dating is replacing casual sex. In Ottawa, the federal government is quietly implementing a $39-million campaign to combat AIDS over the next five years. In Britain, a similar government-sponsored advertising campaign, encouraging people to moderate their sex habits, has provoked the ire of church and community leaders for its lack of moral content. “Why do homosexuals freely engage in sodomy and other obnoxious sexual practices?” asked James Anderton, chief constable of the city of Manchester. “Why don’t they ask that question on television every day instead of telling people to wear condoms?”

Cautious: Most heterosexuals in North America so far show little sign of giving up on sex. But in extensive interviews many told Maclean's that sex is not nearly as simple—or enjoyable—as it once was. One of those people is Magda, a 32-year-old Toronto graphic artist, who spoke on the condition that she would not

be fully identified. Like many members of her generation, Magda says that she has rarely been out on a classic 1950s-style date. But she adds that the number of lovers she has had is “beyond counting.” As a student in the 1970s, Magda said, she was part of a crowd that easily accepted casual sex. But now she finds one-night stands to be “neither right nor worthwhile.” Of her two remaining single friends, she added, one has recently converted to cautious dating and the other has become celibate.

One of the biggest threats to nonmonogamous people now is the threat of infection from sex. In 1985 Health and Welfare Canada statistics showed that the number of cases of such traditional sexually transmitted diseases as

syphilis and gonorrhea have, in fact, declined slightly in Canada since 1981. But the consequences of infection have risen dramatically. Five years ago the deadly impact of AIDS was largely unknown, and most concern centred on genital herpes, which causes recurring sores. Experts say that one-quarter of all adults have herpes, although the majority do not realize it. Although incurable, herpes is often more emotionally than physically threatening—a “media disease,” according to Dr. Ste-

phen Sacks, director of the University of British Columbia’s herpes clinic.

But that is not the case with other infections, including chlamydia. Like herpes, chlamydia often goes undetected by its victims, but the consequences are usually more serious, ranging from painful urination to permanent sterility. Although the true extent of chlamydia infection is still unknown, experts fear that it is spreading rapidly thoughout the adult population. Now many women who delayed childbearing until their 30s are discovering that they are infertile due to chlamydia.

Worried: Different types of sexually transmitted disease have also been linked to cancer of the cervix. Among

them are genital warts, which until recently were considered benign. Declared Dr. Gordon Jessamine of the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control in Ottawa: “Ten years from now we may be more worried about genital warts than AIDS. It could be that bad.” Dangers: To most experts, the implications of such trends are clear. “We have to limit the number of partners that we have in the future,” declared Sacks. “It is not a question of morality; it is a question of disease.”

That distinction is unnecessary for the people who marry as virgins—sociologists estimate they constitute about one quarter of those getting married. But there is conflicting evidence about whether the message of the dangers of promiscuity is getting across to the majority of young people.

Almost all young heterosexuals interviewed across Canada by Maclean’s dismissed AIDS as a distant threat— “something in the back of the mind, like nuclear war,” according to freelance film-maker David Albiston of Halifax. Louise Hume, 23, a student at Montreal’s Concordia University, said that the risk of disease has dampened her sex life and that she now insists

that partners use condoms (page 36). But she added, “It is just a cycle we i are going through. It’s the ‘in thing’ to J be monogamous. AIDS is a real threat, but changing sexual attitudes are all politics.”

Messages are equally mixed in Canadian -singles’ bars, which are still thriving, although they are now less obviously mere staging grounds for sexual encounters. Alison Wear, a waitress at Pat and Mario’s in downtown Toronto, said that the once-fren-

zied action at that bar has diminished. In her three years on the job, Wear has developed a theory that the people who visit the bar in search of sex partners secretly dislike their prey. “They resent the position that the other sex has put them in—making it necessary : to come to a place like this to meet them,” she said.

Drinks: In Montreal, Derek Johnson, owner of Derek’s Pub on Crescent Street, said that his customers have Í become more cautious since the outbreak of AIDS and herpes. “There | seems to be a swing back to chastity,” he said. But he added that diseases will never kill promiscuity—especially in settings where liquor is flowing. De-

dared Johnson: “After a few drinks the brains go into neutral and common sense takes a back seat.”

But while singles’ bars are generally quieter, striptease has made a powerful comeback in Canadian cities—five new strip bars opened in Toronto in the past two months alone. The trend includes such gimmicks as Plexiglas shower booths in which naked dancers perform to the rhythm of hard rock music and “Jell-0 Olympics,” where two opponents try to knock each other into a pit of gelatin. That act emerged at the Austin Hotel in Vancouver, where former B.C. Lions linebacker Paul Giroday works as operations manager.

Giroday also imported U.S. porn actress Marilyn Chambers, star of , the original Behind the Green Door, to Vancouver.

Spectacles: Some observers see the proliferation of the voyeuristic spectacles as a substitute for promiscuity.

The number of sex-advice shows on the airwaves also is on the increase. Following the runaway popularity of the U.S. radio and television programs hosted by sex therapist Dr.

Ruth Westheimer, some Canadian broadcasters have rushed in with local versions that frankly dispense intimate sex information to callers.

Toronto’s Susan Johanson, who hosts both a radio and a cable-TV show, routinely and dispassionately tells teenagers about such subjects as anal intercourse. In Vancouver, another sex-show therapist named “Sue”—in real life family therapist Rhona Raskin—observed: “I have had girls of 12 call and say, T don’t have an orgasm when my boyfriend and I have sex. What’s wrong?’ ”

Such frankness on public airwaves was rare even at the height of the sexual revolution, which suggests that rumors of that event’s death have been exaggerated. Indeed, according to University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz, the sexual revolution is still underway. But, she added, “people are now more cautious and worried. What has happened is that the responsibility of sex has caught up with the pleasures.”

Schwartz, coauthor of the book

American Couples, has studied U.S. sex habits in depth and has concluded that some key assumptions about recent trends are erroneous. One of them is the notion that promiscuity was rampant in the 1970s. In fact, she said, most sexually active people at the time only had a few partners. Added Schwartz: “The separation of love and sex never happened.” But the current sexual chill in North American society

is no illusion, she said, adding: “Young people don’t have the sense of infinite possibilities and the sense of play they once did. The job crisis has made them more serious and less active sexually.” Mythology: Schwartz said that media emphasis on the promiscuity of a relatively small number of people created a mythology of a sexual revolution. One of those people was a 32year-old Toronto teacher who asked to be identified only as Peter. Now married and monogamous, he says that he is still happy about the extent of his former exploits. “There is a popular notion about one-night stands—that the sex is cold and mechanical or that they are unfulfilling,” he declared. “Well, I almost always found them thrilling.” He said that at the time, no social stigmas were attached to casual

sex. But he added, “I feel sorry for kids these days. Aside from AIDS and other diseases, they have to deal with a huge backlash against casual sex. In that respect we had it easy. I’m sure that lots of people are still having lots of sex— it’s just less clear-cut that it can be fun.”

Reports from sex therapists appear to corroborate that impression. Many of them say that patients are increasingly complaining about low sexual desire, and the profession is struggling to develop explanations for the trend. Toronto therapist Marianne Keystone said that the problem often indicates the presence of deep underlying tensions in a relationship. But she added that sometimes the explanation is simple, especially with busy, two-career couples. “What these people hate most for a counsellor to say is, ‘You have to make time for sex.’ ”

Surrogates: One controversial therapy for low desire and other sexual problems is the use of trained surrogates, who often engage in sex with patients to teach them confidence and technique. Sex therapist Dr. Frank Sommers of Toronto said that he has trained about 10 individuals as so-called “sexual therapy practitioners.” Sommers claims to cure between 80 and 90 per cent of all sex problems when using sex surrogates, a method that he said is “a treatment of last resort for people who do not have partners.”

One of the biggest impediments to the enjoyment of sex in the 1980s has been a revolution in the use of contraceptives. The advent of the birth control pill in the 1960s seemed to make fear of pregnancy a thing of the past. But the latest research has shown that, although it is safe for some women, use of the pill is unacceptably hazardous for many others—especially older women and women who smoke. At the same time, the use of intrauterine devices (lUDs) has come under a cloud due to the experience many women had with one brand, the Daikon Shield, made by the A. H. Robins Co. of Richmond, Va. It was removed from the Canadian market in 1976 af-

ter it was linked to inflammatory disease, blood poisoning, infection, sterility, spontaneous abortion and even death. In the United States, many women have sued IUD makers, including the Illinois-based G. D. Searle & Co., which produced the Copper-7, Tatum-T and Mark-7 brands. Although it has not lost any of the suits and the devices were never proven to be unsafe, Searle withdrew them from the U.S. market in 1986. As a result, lUDs are now almost impossible to obtain in that country.

For Peter, the Toronto teacher, those changes have been a disappointing development. His wife, as a smoker over 30, has decided not to use the pill. She suffered from excessive cramps with an IUD. And although she owns a diaphragm, she finds it messy and distasteful to use. Said Peter: “That leaves us with condoms, and they are absolutely the worst.”

Incredible: A striking number of Canadian couples who are finished with childbearing are choosing sterilization. A recent national fertility study conducted at the University of Alberta found that 49 per cent of women respondents were either sterilized or had sterilized partners. “That is almost incredible,” said Prof. Karol Krotki, the study codirector. “It is a higher rate than any other society that I know of.” Another fact that sets Canada apart is the kind of sterilization most often chosen. In the United

States, couples choose male sterilization (vasectomy) twice as often as the female operation (tubal ligation). But in Canada, tubal ligations outnumber vasectomies by about the same proportion.

Shift: For many women, the fact that condom use is once again making contraception a male responsibility represents a welcome shift in the battle of the sexes. But in other ways, the feminist goal of sexual equality is proving more elusive than ever—or at least more complicated. Indeed, recent social research supports the old notion, once dismissed as sexist, that men and women have fundamentally different sex drives. One account of that difference is the socalled “pink and blue sex theory,” which basically holds that, for the most part, the sex drive of men is “blue”—they enjoy sex for its own sake—while women are “pink”—they want cuddling and romance. Other researchers have arrived at similar conclusions. Said Shere Hite, author of The Hite Report on sexual practices in the United States: “Men still haven’t understood this: women connect sex with feeling.”

Some of the most persuasive evidence of such

a distinction was gathered by Schwartz and her colleague Philip Blumstein in their research for American Couples. They found that among married couples, men were much more likely than women to approve of sex without love; they were less possessive and more likely to believe that their relationship could survive a casual affair with someone else. Most interestingly, they found that men and women in homosexual relationships shared the same attitudes as their heterosexual counterparts. Many lesbians said that they rejected monogamy on ideological grounds, although in practice ¡ they found that lesbians “have trouble with casual sex,” and their relationships are least likely to survive adultery. By contrast, they found that monogamy was rare among homosexual men, who traditionally have been exceptionally promiscuous and adapt easily to sex outside loving j relationships.

Quest: Now, the homosexual community is rallying around a new slogan—“make love, not sex.” Heterosexuals have not yet been faced with making the same choice, and if science succeeds in finding a cure for AIDS most never will be. But regardless of how far AIDS eventually spreads into heterosexual society, the real challenge for the 1990s has already been made clear. For people of both genders and all sexual orientations, the quest will be to save the love without completely sacrificing the sex.

-JOHN BARBER with MARK LEIRENYOUNG and KERRY BANKS in Vancouver, MIRO CERNETIG and ANNE STEACY in Toronto, NANCY McHARG in Montreal and DEBORAH JONES in Halifax

MARK LEIRENYOUNG

KERRY BANKS

MIRO CERNETIG

ANNE STEACY

NANCY McHARG

DEBORAH JONES