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False Liberation

What has sexual liberation meant for young people? This is the question Thérèse Hargot asks in her newly-released book, Une jeunesse sexuellement libérée (ou presque),  which translates "Sexually Liberated Youth (Or Almost)". Her answer is that “liberation” has in fact created a new kind of oppression for young people, where performance and the drive to please others visually or otherwise is creating anxiety and unhappiness.

A sexologist with a philosophy background, Hargot sheds light on a phenomenon she observes from various vantage points: her job  at a  Parisian school, her couples counselling work, or as a mother (see her blog). At the core of her book is the observation that in the past sexuality – from the way we dressed to the way couples once formed - used to be  more about no than about yes. There were explicit rules provided by social and religious authorities and for many, these rules were experienced as a type of puritanism and negative view of the body.

Fast forward fifty year and here we are – liberated – or almost. As Hargot points out this liberation is an illusion. We may no longer be blindly accepting the “no” of the past, but today’s yes culture is now making many young people feel like hostages to sexuality. The explicit rules  that came with "no sex before marriage" have given way to  the implicit demands of  a "sex of performance" that accepts everything, endures everything, and allows everything in the name of liberation. Cultural outlets from fashion to the entertainment industry are showing girls and young women in particular, more and more ways to perform, to be “hot” and to see it as liberation even though it often doesn’t feel that way.

In her book, Hargot addresses questions raised by teens and young adults who  face the demanding  task of constructing their own  identity and relationships in this new and challenging pornography-informed context. Hargot challenges the mainstream approach to  sexuality and offers  a new and refreshing perspective on a  delicate but critical matter. Hargot, Thérèse.  Une jeunesse sexuellement libérée (ou presque), Les éditions Albin Michel, 2016.

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