Forget the dot-com bubble, and forget the Backstreet Boys: 1998 was the year of the blowjob.
America’s Oral Stage, as Freud might diagnose it, arrived with all the trappings of a political scandal. Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr and the infamous blue dress blew up and then faded into the realm of Internet joke Web sites. But oral sex proved to be the long-term player in American popular culture.
Clinton became the father of the baby-boomer’s second sexual revolution — this time on television, rather than the fields of Woodstock. In the wake of the Lewinsky fracas came an era of unprecedented frankness in the media toward previously taboo sexual topics. “Sex and the City” and “American Pie” made their Durex-clad debuts not long after and with great success, proving that blowjobs liked America, and Americans sure liked blowjobs.
But the generation that has truly embraced the revolution are the baby-boomer’s children, who absorbed this media explosion and the changing sexual norms while they were in middle and high school. With it’s cum-in-a-cup, “Pie” is regarded by many college students as the iconic movie of their age.
“I think [Pie]’s an interesting look into our culture and our generation’s outlook on sex,” said Adda Birnir ’07.
The effective desensitization of America can perhaps best be illustrated by the California recall election on Wednesday. It turned out that few people in California cared about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s alleged habit of ass-groping — this, after all, is quite tame in comparison with Clinton’s misbehavior.
As the years pass, it makes sense that the effects of 1998 would become more and more pronounced on Yale’s campus. While current Yale seniors were already high school juniors at the time of the scandal, the class of 2007 — eighth-graders in 1998 — spent the majority of their teenage years in a post-Lewinsky world.
One freshman in Morse College said the Lewinsky scandal introduced her to the concept of oral sex for the first time in middle school.
“I was like, oh — what’s oral sex?” she said. “I definitely came to understand all the jokes.”
Many peer health educators and freshmen counselors said this year’s freshman class seems to be, on the whole, more sexually aware than in years past.
“This in particular was a more mature freshman class,” said Stephen Milbank ’04, who has given the “sex talk” to freshmen at FreshPerson Conference for the past three years. “They just seemed older — and I think that probably translates over into their sexual lives.”
Freshman Counselor and Coordinator of the Peer Health Educators Samira Nazem ’04 said the class of 2007 seemed more comfortable in the Connection Workshops taught by the educators at the beginning of the year. The workshops educate freshmen about methods of contraception and other sex- and health-related issues. This year’s freshmen appeared to be more knowledgeable about less-common methods of contraception, such as dental dams and female condoms, she said.
“I think we all thought [the workshop] was pretty ridiculous,” said Leif Dautch ’07. “I guess there could have been a few people who got something out of it, but I think most of us have heard that lecture hundreds of times.”
In particular, attitudes toward oral sex have changed a great deal since 1998. Following Clinton’s example, a growing number of teenagers do not view oral sex as being on the same level as intercourse. According to a 2003 survey from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 36 percent of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 have had oral sex, and 46 percent believe oral sex is not as big a deal as intercourse.
Janet Yang ’07 said she and her classmates reacted strongly to a high school health teacher who told them they would lose their virginity if they performed oral sex. Yang said she feels there is a big difference between oral sex and intercourse.
“Really, oral sex does not equal sex,” said another freshman, who admitted to having performed oral sex ‘casually.’ “It’s the last threshold of clinging onto their virginity.”
Whether the media directly influences behavior is still up for debate, but it certainly affects levels of awareness. In history classes and on TV, oral sex and other graphic sexual discussion became a visible part of public life for the class of 2007 at a younger age than for the class of 2004.
“By the time that [the class of 2007] are seniors, it would make sense that they would be more open sexually than my class is now,” said Douglas Hausladen ’04, a peer health educator and a Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip leader.
Hausladen, who has also become acquainted with freshmen through his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, said this freshman class definitely seems more comfortable sexually than when he and his friends were freshmen.
Nazem agreed. Most of her friends were not sexually experienced when they arrived at college and did not have sex until their junior year, she said. Dautch, on the other hand, said most of his friends from high school had lost their virginity before they left for college.
“In this last summer [before college], there wasn’t a single person who didn’t smoke pot and have sex,” Dautch said.
But this is certainly not the case for all freshmen.
FOOT leader Meredith Dearborn ’04 said her group of freshmen this year were, on the whole, more conservative and inexperienced than in previous years. Several are very religious, she said.
Although this freshman class seems to talk the talk a little more than in previous years, it is difficult to know whether their knowledge arises from repeated “American Pie” viewings rather than actual bedroom experience. But no matter the truth behind the talk, it is the talk itself that comprises the real blowjob revolution.
“I think each time we go through this cycle of being a conservative nation to a sexually active nation we go beyond where we were before,” Hausladen said. “In the ’20s we saw each other’s ankles, in the ’60s we saw public nudity and now we talk about sex openly.”