A few months ago I was out on a weeknight with my group of friends. We were at a bar that’s unprecedented late-night happy hour and chalkboard walls have lured us through its doors so often that we refer to it as our “Cheers.” I was perched on a bar stool next to a dude I’d known since freshman year. We’d never been very close, but our brains were steeped in half-priced Bumpercrop IPAs and as our gaggle of friends flitted around the empty bar scrawling “Red Rum” and drawing pictures of genitalia on the walls in chalk, we’d somehow tumbled into an easy and enthusiastic conversation. I’m not sure what we were talking about — maybe our lists of ex-lovers or our childhoods in Michigan or the way pieces of discarded gum meld with the sidewalk over time — but it doesn’t matter. We were enjoying each other’s company and it felt good.
I sat facing the exit and when my eyes wandered past the guy I was chatting with, I saw a mutual friend of ours slip on her coat by the door. We made eye contact and she immediately brought the “V” of her fingers to her mouth and garishly wiggled her tongue between them. She then brought her elbows to her hips and gave the air a few slow, sensual thrusts. With a wink and a cigarette behind her ear, she strolled out of the bar.
The guy didn’t notice and we went on talking about lead paint or the history of rubber production or whatever it was that fascinated us at the time. However, the conversation didn’t feel as simple as it did only moments before. I was suddenly tainted by embarrassment and scrutinizing every giggle and smile. ‘Wait, am I into him? Is he picturing me naked right now? Does he think this is going to happen? Is it obvious to everyone?’
I quietly scanned the room and realized we were being watched by several of our friends, many of whom gave us knowing smirks or performed their own cunnilingual gesticulations. Maybe I slipped into enchantment with the guy before, but I was shaken out of it once I realized my peers’ blatant sexualization of the experience.
I wouldn’t be surprised if any of this sounds familiar to you. If you’ve been to school between the ages of 12 and 22, you’ve probably been the witness, recipient or unknowing subject of “get-it-in” gestures along these lines. I’ll admit it’s a generally harmless and common scenario, but it did make me think about how much friends tend to police each other’s sex lives.
It seems like sex has become the encouraged, and even expected, result of two people spending any time together at all. I can’t tell you how many times a friend has witnessed me exchanging coy glances with someone and almost immediately pulled me aside for an interrogation beginning with ‘Is anything happening between you? How’s the sex?’ Questions about feelings or potential for later dates aren’t asked until the sexual secrets are spilled.
Of course, like most other behaviors that peeve me, I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. I know this interest often comes from a loving place — we want our friends to be happy and have endlessly fulfilling love lives and all that — but these good intentions can be eclipsed by a selfish satisfaction. Despite the fact that our culture is oversaturated with sex, it’s still a fundamentally private and personal endeavor.
There is something delicious about being privy to those intimate details of a friend’s life. It’s invigorating to hear the hilarious or steamy particulars of another person’s sex life. Plus, it can be personally validating to receive that information; on some level, this divulgence confirms the closeness and trust you have within a friendship.
But I think it’s important that we all examine these personal interests and recognize how our sexual policing can negatively affect the people we’re “encouraging.” Our vulturous gazes can put a new relationship into a sexual pressure cooker and convince fledgling couples to make moves before they’re ready. We can make things awkward by projecting sexual tension onto truly platonic friendships. And, most importantly to me, we can perpetuate the theory that our generation places more significance on sexual acts than meaningful, personal connection between humans.
As you’ve probably heard elsewhere, our generation is becoming infamous for the invention of hook-up culture and I believe sexual policing is a side effect of this phenomenon. We seem to care so much about who’s having sex with who that we belittle the importance of the potential emotions behind these actions. Sure, we want everyone to bone — it’s fun and we’re young and why not use these hot bodies while we’ve got them?
But we should also recognize that the sexual pressures we place on our friends can be unnecessary and even uncomfortable. If people want to have a sexual relationship, they will. They don’t need us winking or air-humping from the sidelines in order to realize and act on their own desires.
Emily Pittinos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.