"The Joy of Mass Intimacy": the New York Times reviews Future Sex
A handsome gay couple discussed the rules — nearly broken after some day-drinking — of their open relationship. A young Bulgarian woman lamented to a friend that she hated her summer job, and wondered whether she could make more money webcamming for lonely men instead. ... And, after the bars let out, some gay and bisexual men biked, skipped and stumbled to a notorious cruising spot where strangers and couples looking to spice things up meet under the moonlight for an orgy on the beach.
Before moving to San Francisco in her early 30s, Witt didn’t think of herself as the orgy-attending type. ...
Most of Witt's book, it turns out, is her personal exploration of, if you're a classifier and word person like I am, CNM: consensual non-monogamy. Sociologists use this broad term because it is precisely defined. Polyamory is a special subset of it — as both the author and the reviewer understand.
Denizet-Lewis sets up the review's conclusion with a scene of women in an orgasmic meditation group, as follows:
One, Witt writes, “cried like someone who has been unhappy for a long time, has unexpectedly found solace, and now can hardly conceive of the darkness to which she had previously confined herself.”
There is very little darkness in what is probably Witt’s best chapter, a deep dive into polyamory in San Francisco. By the time she arrives in the city... it’s a playground for successful, bright-eyed young adults who have “grown up observing foreign wars, economic inequality and ecological catastrophe, crises that they earnestly discussed on their digital feeds but avoided internalizing as despair.” At first, Witt isn’t sure what to make of their sexual appetites. “Their sex lives were impossible to fathom,” she observes, “because they seemed never to have lived in darkness.”
Witt anchors this chapter inside the relationship of the young polyamorous newlyweds, who like going to Burning Man with their tribe of relentlessly cool and open-minded friends and who seem to have figured out, through trial and error and countless difficult conversations, what makes them happy in and out of bed. Witt can’t help envying their close-knit friendships and sexual frankness and openness.
Witt’s [own] sexual future — as well as the future of free love in America, which Witt only gives tangential attention to — seems less promising in comparison. “America had a lot of respect for the future of objects,” Witt writes, “and less interest in the future of human arrangements.”
Read the whole review (online October 18, 2016). A version of it will appear in print this Sunday (Oct. 23 ) in the Sunday Book Review section with the headline "The Thrill of Mass Intimacy."
A review just appeared in the UK's Financial Times: Emily Witt’s ‘Future Sex’ — an intimate history of American sexual mores (Oct. 21. May become paywalled).
...The resulting book succeeds in talking about sex without guile, vulgarity or swagger, and achieves something that is rarer than it might be: it suggests how old ideas about women and love might be put aside in favour of newer, truer, freer ones.
...Witt finds some answers in her later chapters. “Polyamory”, written in limpid, enviable sentences like a non-fiction short story, follows twenty-something Elizabeth in high-tech San Francisco and her navigation of non-monogamy from sexual jealousy to open marriage. ... Elizabeth marries in a white dress and face paint at Burning Man with the knowledge that she will have sex and even fall in love with other people. But is she simply signing up to a lifetime of delicate emotional negotiations? Witt attends a sex party with the couple and witnesses Elizabeth’s husband agree to let her go home with someone else: “It was a conversation that was difficult to listen to.”
In Future Sex, Witt has written a book that is actually about loneliness, intimacy and love’s elusiveness; capitalism, Californian utopianism and feminism; family, memory and loss. Her book expands the possibilities for women’s lives in the 21st century, and for sex’s place within them.