Changing society and sex

Concerns about sexualization often depend on a sense that there have been significant changes in the way that sex is now experienced, understood and represented. The assumption is often that more sexual activity is taking place outside of long term relationships and that a greater variety of sexual practices are becoming common. Concerns often focus on teenage pregnancies, abortion and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Other worries are that the sexual exploitation and abuse of children is becoming more prevalent, that sexual violence against women is increasing, that large numbers of women and children are being trafficked for sexual purposes, that increasing numbers of people are involved in sex work, that people are suffering from more sexual problems such as sex addiction and difficulties with libido, or that people feel pressured to use drugs, surgery or new grooming procedures in order to feel sexually ‘normal’.

Often, it is assumed that these perceived changes in sexual behaviour are caused by the way we use technology. Media appear to be more sexually explicit, more sexual products and services are available online, mobile technologies are used for cybersex, sexting, and hooking up, and medicine offers us Viagra and genital surgeries. Behind worries about these developments may be a general feeling that sex is becoming more commercial in all kinds of ways, and that the place of sex in people’s private, intimate lives is under attack.

In this section of the report we address questions about the way sexual practices and experiences may be changing; about sexual commerce, sex work and trafficking; and about sexual problems that regularly hit the headlines.

Are views about sex and sexuality changing?