The weirdness of 2016 is nearly over (thank heavens), but it's been a seminal year for a lot of things sexual, from STD testing to our understanding of sexual behavior, the legislation of pornography, and sex scandals. In fact, sex got itself into virtually everything, and not necessarily in a fun way (Anthony Weiner, please take 2017 off and never come back). Overall, however, it was a good year for pleasure, as we discovered new science, packed up stereotypes, emphasized the importance of HIV testing, and wondered what on earth the problem with shaving pubic hair is.
Sex happens regardless of the year, and long may it remain that way; but 2016 has brought new ideas about sex and new challenges, from groundbreaking advocacy to intriguing legal issues to heartbreaking abuse scandals. The basics of good sex — communication, consent, and keeping it safe — remained in the headlines, but beyond the normal slut-shaming and wonders of sexual double standards between the sexes, 2016 gave new complexity to old issues and raised new conversations. It almost gives you hope for 2017. Almost.
How 2016 changed the way we talk about sexual assault is a whole other article, but here are some of the ways the year changed the way we talk about sex in general.
We Found Out That Millennials Aren't Actually Getting So Busy After All
The millennial generation are all lazy, selfie-obsessed neurotics who only care about artisanal coffee, Pokemon Go and sex, right? Well, the rest of it may be true, but the last part is, according to new science published in 2016, actually wrong.
The study, which surveyed over 26,000 American adults, found that millennial (who are defined as born between 1980 and 1994) were having less sex in their 20s than virtually any other generation in recent history. Sexual inactivity and virginity are highly common in high school students and people at college, which means that the stereotype of the oversexed young studs and babes may well belong to decades past, and that these days we're all too busy, too worried about money and careers and adulthood, or too well-educated about sexual health and consent to get into each others' pants. (Or, as VICE notes above, we're all still living on single beds at our parents' house.)
Pubic Hair Removal Was Linked To STDs
In news that made every woman who chooses to go au naturale in the bikini area breathe a sigh of relief, a study found that shaving pubic hair raised the likelihood of contracting an STD. The main reasons why are threefold: regular shaving or waxing may damage the skin and create tiny cuts that allow for easier transmission of bacteria during sexual contact, people may share their grooming equipment with others and transmit infection in that way, and there may simply be a link between increased shaving of the genitals and a greater likelihood of getting down and dirty. (And yes, the findings are gender-neutral.) Until further research is provided, it's an important reminder for everybody to stay protected and take precautions, shaven or not.
Underage Sexual Abuse Scandals In Sports Made Worldwide News
Just as sexual scandal ruptured American politics, so it also caused chaos in the world of sports. The two big sporting stories of the year after the Olympics were centered on underage sexual abuse in sports: the abuse of young gymnasts in American gymnastics, and of promising young soccer stars. The first was uncovered by a brutal investigation by the reporters at IndyStar, who found that USA Gymnastics had covered up previous sexual abuse incidents and allowed accused coaches to continue to work. Coaches and other gymnastics workers have gone to jail for crimes as diverse as "romantic" relationships with 13-year-olds and filming young girls in changing rooms.
The second was broken open when the ex-soccer player Andy Woodward gave an interview to a major British newspaper about his years of abuse, a frank revelation that opened the floodgates for hundreds of new victims to come forward and report their own experiences. The ensuing police investigation, public hotline for information and potential national enquiry are shaking the entire sport, with one coach since taken into custody by police.
Prop 60's Defeat Shifted The Conversation About Condoms In Pornography
The appearance of Proposition 60 on the ballot in California in November raised an illuminating cultural conversation about pornography, safety, sexual health, and what we can and cannot legislate about sexual performance. Prop 60, as it was called, required mandatory condom usage on porn sets (which is already the case, but rarely enforced), producers to pay for health costs and check-ups for performers, and all films to have permission from the government to be created.
Sounds good on the surface; but the ensuing furore pitted porn performers against one another, with anti-Prop 60 activists arguing that enforcing condom usage was governmental overreach that took artistic control out of the hands of the actors, reduced their choices, and risked their privacy if a member of the public sued a producer for a condom-less film (a key part of Prop 60). The measure was defeated at the ballot box, but how to keep pornography safe and its actors autonomous and protected remains an open conversation.
Male Contraception Seemed So Close — And Yet So Far Away
Male contraception made big news throughout 2016: a major new breakthrough centered around the discovery that cell-penetrating peptides, a kind of protein delivery system, could get inside sperm and stop them swimming, providing a temporary male contraceptive.
And there was another, less positive headline, in which a hormone-based contraceptive seemed to have odd side effects in men and would likely not make it to the finish line. Overall, though, while it seemed to be a positive year for this kind of science, things still remained in early development stages without much funding to push for more testing or to get them onto the market. The burden of contraception is still on condoms and on female decision-making.
Big Names Stepped Up To De-Stigmatize HIV Testing
The sex hero of 2016 is Prince Harry, not because he's a delicious hunk of man (though I'm sure Meghan Markle has her own opinions on that front) but because he kickstarted one of the biggest spikes in HIV testing in years after having a test live on Facebook in July. He then went one better and did it again while visiting Barbados in December for World AIDS Day in December, this time in the company of Rihanna. HIV testing remains highly recommended and is incredibly quick (new tests can have results in 15 minutes), but publicity for it remains seriously valuable. Good on you, Harry.
Anthony Weiner's Indiscretions Changed The Face Of American Politics
Did anybody really think that Anthony Weiner would continue to shape the face of American political futures after the colossal way in which he made his own downfall? A series of ridiculous sex scandals, an uncomfortable and extremely critically-acclaimed documentary, and surely he was going to be consigned to history, right? Nope.
FBI director James Comey's announcement heard 'round the world, that emails that "appear to be pertinent to the investigation" into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as Secretary of State, threw the presidential race into chaos and may have clinched it for Donald Trump; and, as we now know, the emails concerned were found while the FBI was looking through the devices of Weiner and his ex-wife Huma Abedin. They were concerned because Weiner had allegedly been sexting a 15-year-old girl. There have been cases in history where sexual proclivities have changed the course of history (the Roman Emperor Hadrian attempted to spread a cult devoted to his dead teenage lover Antinous throughout the Roman empire), but this is the most modern, and likely the most ridiculous. What a year, indeed.