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Missing the 1970s

If you live long enough everything can happen. Cloning, Honey Boo Boo, a feature movie based on “The Brady Bunch,” Twitter…

“I miss the 1970s,” a friend says at a party.

As I say, if you live long enough, everything can happen.

Her comment inspired choruses of “Muskrat Love” and “Sister Golden Hair” from the overly-festive guests.

We’re clueless about what muskrat love is, but I know what she meant. I miss the 1970s, too. 

The 1970s are remembered in caricature for wife-swapping and swinging, but the decade as I remember it, growing up, was sepia-toned and tender. It was the tail of the sexual revolution, the astronomical coma to its more turbulent comet in the 1960s.

The self-conscious sensitivity of the decade makes it easy to mock, although I wonder why that’s so--why efforts at tenderness sit so vulnerable to ridicule on the historical page.

The 1970s were the wellspring for some of the most familiar, middlebrow tropes of modern romance—the sunsets, walks on the beach with two silhouetted figures hand in hand, roses, bubble baths, champagne, and the fascination with soft-focus photography. Its iconic, risqué pop culture offering was Farrah Fawcett in a red swimsuit with perky breasts.

When personals ads in city papers became popular, all prospective suitors claimed that they most loved “sunsets” and “long walks on the beach.” If they were honest, they might have written that they loved Doritos and football. But they were taking the 1970s as their romantic muse.

Remember that 1970s t-shirt, “If you love something, set it free…?”  The equivalent t-shirt today would read, “If you love something, stalk it until it slaps a TRO on your ass.”

The affirming 1970s gospel, I’m OK/You’re OK, would be updated in 2013 as “Shoot to the Death at the I’m OK/You’re OK Corral.”

Coming of age in the late 1970s, I had ready access to all kinds of resources. There was Love Story;  nice, non-judgmental, antiseptically informative materials in the public school health curriculum that mapped out the basics about birth control and reproduction; and there were the revelations of Our Bodies, Ourselves, a feminist authority on sex that I dog-eared, and that wasn’t just about sex, but about how to live contentedly in our bodies. The book contextualized sexuality in politics and social relations. And there was the blockbuster Joy of Sex, with sketches of various sexual scenarios. It was sort of a Kama Sutra for mildly sophisticated, bourgeois Americans still steeped in Calvinism.

If the 1970s were like a curious, guileless, open-minded 6-year old, then the 1980s were like the wise-cracking, faux sophisticated 14-year old he grew in to.

We were on our way to a fascination with Madonna in a dog collar and bullet bra, and the “porn war” among feminists, as if one’s stance for or against sex generally boiled down to one’s censorship views about low-budget, bad porn.

I think back on Joy of Sex now, and realize that it was trying to do something bravely unique.

Actually, quite radical. The book was trying to show, with its illustrations, “this is what people who are neither sexy Hollywood stars, nor actors who get paid to have sex, look like when they’re having consensual, non-violent, mutually pleasing, erotic encounters with each other.”

And what’s the Ur love story, and sexual vibe, of our time?  The most wildly popular, iconic ones are a disorienting chimera of eroticism, cruelty, power-as-dominance, and piety.

There’s Fifty Shades of Gray, and the Twilight series characterized by righteous abstinence and blood-sucking, would-be murderous vampires. It’s a hard, hard world. Meanwhile access to misogynistic and/or violent porn has never been easier or more ubiquitous.

A friend tells me about a freshman at an elite college. He sought a counselor’s help. He’d been trying to have sex with his girlfriend. He tried to do what he’d learned through porn. He couldn’t understand—genuinely—why hair-pulling and other porn moves didn’t appeal. He wasn’t uncaring. He wasn’t doing what he did out of a misogynistic impulse, or at least not an indigenous one. He just didn’t know much about what actual sex with a female who wasn’t playing a role in a porn movie could be like.

If you don’t like those options, you can always opt out of sex with abstinence programs, a makeshift “modesty” movement, and virginity pledges. I’m a big defender of celibacy, and of people who identify as asexual—those who aren’t all that interested in sex, and don’t want to have their lack of interest pathologized so that it can be treated profitably by Big Pharma. A defense of celibacy is part of a pro-sex culture that respects consent unequivocally, and sets a high bar for it. But most abstinence programs work instead on a gross-out, misogynistic factor that once a woman relinquishes her virginity, she has nothing of value left to give. They’re predicated on a loathing of the dirty or “polluted” body of a sexually active, unmarried woman.

The campus hook-up culture of pro forma micro-relationships—a world of mile-wide and inch-deep unions—isn’t that tantalizing for many, either. Just remember: You must not care! You must not get mired in a sexual relationship that would involve deepening intimacy and, with it, attachment, and risk.  True, some variation on free love and illusions of “no strings attached” sex was a strain (much criticized) in 1970s culture. But at least it was tied to a self-conscious utopian principle, however naive, that it promoted a social ideal of personal freedom, liberation from marital convention, and a quest for mutual pleasures.

I get the sense that the hook-up culture today is more just the expedient fashion of a larger postmodern culture that borders on collectively sociopathic in its attachment issues.

Where do you go? Mainstream sexual culture isn’t imprinted with a sex-positive, feminist stance. It seems caught between a misogynistic regime of abstinence and a misogynistic regime of hip, undeluded, toughness and in-your-face abrasiveness that passes as outré, emancipatory candor (I pick up my free city paper today, browse its pages, and encounter this putatively cool, abrading, out-there headline: “How to Eat Pussy Like a Porn Star”).

So, yes, I miss the 1970s. I don’t know exactly what “muskrat love” is, but I bet I’d prefer it to 21st-century sexual cruelty.

Live today! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT today.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

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Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Two-thirds of parents say technology makes parenting harder

Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.

Sex & Relationships
  • Today's parents believe parenting is harder now than 20 years ago.
  • A Pew Research Center survey found this belief stems from the new challenges and worries brought by technology.
  • With some schools going remote next year, many parents will need to adjust expectations and re-learn that measured screen usage won't harm their children.

Parents and guardians have always endured a tough road. They are the providers of an entire human being's subsistence. They keep that person feed, clothed, and bathe; They help them learn and invest in their enrichment and experiences; They also help them navigate social life in their early years, and they do all this with limited time and resources, while simultaneously balancing their own lives and careers.

Add to that a barrage of advice and reminders that they can always spend more money, dedicate more time, or flat-out do better, and it's no wonder that psychologists worry about parental burnout.

But is parenting harder today than it was, say, 20 years ago? The Pew Research Center asked more than 3,600 parents this question, and a majority (66 percent) believe the answer is yes. While some classic complaints made the list—a lack of discipline, a disrespectful generation, and the changing moral landscape—the most common reason cited was the impact of digital technology and social media.

A mixed response to technology

children using desktop computer

Parents worry that their children spend too much time in front of screens while also recognizing technologies educational benefits.

(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

This parental concern stems not only from the ubiquity of screens in children's lives, but the well-publicized relationship between screen time and child development. Headlines abound citing the pernicious effects screen time has on cognitive and language development. Professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issue warnings that too much screen time can lead to sleep problems, lower grades, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image, and the fear of missing out—to name a few!

According to Pew's research, parents—which Pew defines as an adult or guardian with at least one child under their care, though they may also have adult children—have taken these warnings to heart. While 84 percent of those surveyed are confident they know how much screen time is appropriate, 71 percent worry their child spends too much time in front of screens.

To counter this worry, most parents take the measured approach of setting limits on the length of time children can access screens. Others limit which technologies children have access to. A majority of parents (71 percent) view smartphones as potentially harmful to children. They believe the devices impair learning effective social skills, developing healthy friendships, or being creative. As a result, about the same percentage of parents believe children should be at least 12 years old before owning a smartphone or using social media.

But a deeper concern than screen time seems to be what content those screens can access. An overwhelming 98 percent of those surveyed say parents and guardians shouldered the responsibility of protecting children from inappropriate online content. Far less put the responsibility on tech companies (78 percent) or the government (65 percent).

Parents of young children say they check the websites and apps their children use and set parental controls to restrict access. A minority of parents admit to looking at call and text records, tracking their child's location with GPS, or following their child on social media.

Yet, parents also recognize the value of digital technology or, at least, have acquiesced to its omnipresence. The poster child for this dichotomy is YouTube, with its one billion hours played daily, many before children's eyes. Seventy-three percent of parents with young children are concerned that their child will encounter inappropriate content on the platform, and 46 percent say they already have. Yet, 80 percent still let their children watch videos, many letting them do so daily. Some reasons cited are that they can learn new things or be exposed to different cultures. The number one cited reason, however, is to keep children entertained.

For the Pew Research Center's complete report, check out "Parenting Children in the Age of Screens."

Screens, parents, and pandemics

Perhaps most troubling, Pew's survey was conducted in early March. That's before novel coronavirus spread wildly across the United States. Before shelter-in-place laws. Before schools shuttered their doors. Before desperate parents, who suddenly found themselves their child's only social and educational outlet, needed a digital lifeline to help them cope.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents to rely on e-learning platforms and YouTube to supplement their children's education—or just let the kids enjoy their umpteenth viewing of "Moana" so they can eke out a bit more work. With that increase in screen time comes a corresponding increase in guilt, anxiety, and frustration.

But are these concerns overblown?

As Jenny Radesky, M.D., a pediatrician and expert on children and the media at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told the New York Times, parents don't always need to view screen time as a negative. "Even the phrase 'screen time' itself is problematic. It reduces the debate to a black and white issue, when the reality is much more nuanced," Radesky said.

Radesky helped the American Academy of Pediatrics craft its statement about screen time use during the pandemic. While the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences and maintain limits, the organization acknowledges that children's media use will, by necessity, increase. To make it a supportive experience, the statement recommends parents make a plan with their children, be selective of the quality of media, and use social media to maintain connections together. It also encourages parents to adjust their expectations and notice their own technology use.

"We are trying to prevent parents from feeling like they are not meeting some sort of standard," Radesky said. "There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don't be on it all day."

This is good advice for parents, now and after the pandemic. While studies show that excessive screen time is deleterious, others show no harm from measured, metered use. For every fear that screens make our kids stupid, there's a study showing the kids are all right. If we maintain realistic standards and learn to weigh quality and quantity within those standards, maybe parenting in the digital age won't seem so darn difficult.

How meditation can change your life and mind

Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.

  • There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
  • "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
  • "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
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