How Sex Changed During The 2010s

Every generation seems to think that they invented sex. We get it. For many people, sex truly is revelatory. The reality, however, is that people have been boning for our entire human history, and we doubt it took our ancestors long to figure out all the configurations. Still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t new trends, important conversations, or tech innovations that change the scope of sex. The birth control pill? What the Butler Saw? Vibrators? Legal cannabis? These were all enormous influences in the development of modern sex. As the longest decade that most of us have ever endured grinds to a tortured halt, we think it’s time to look back and recognize the sexual evolutions that have shaped the way people are hooking up moving into the Roaring ’20s.

We could have come up with some ideas on our own, and it’s not like we didn’t privately spend some time brainstorming and reviewing our sex diaries. But ultimately, we figured readers would prefer some experts to weigh in, and there were some liability issues about frankly discussing getting it in on our work slack channel. Experts, you say? Yep, Yep. Sex educators. Sex researchers. Sex workers. Sex toy manufacturers. Sex podcasters. These people debate sex on the daily from analytical, anatomical, and recreational standpoints. Plus, they not only looked to the past, they observed how the adjustments we have already seen will affect the next decade.

Sure, you could look back at the best films of the decade or the best albums. We support that nostalgia fully. But wouldn’t you also be well served by spending some time thinking about sex?

Fifty Shades of Grey brought kink mainstream but left a legacy of consent issues.

Focus Features

Fifty Shades of Grey had a massive cultural influence on human sexuality over the past decade. It opened millions of people’s minds to kink and BDSM and freed up a lot of people to start exploring their sexual proclivities more openly. The first novel came out in 2011, and we’re still feeling the shockwaves of its effects on our culture today.

Kate Sloan, sex writer and host of The Dildorks podcast: Lots of kinky activities have also been popularized over the past decade because of Fifty Shades of Grey. Choking and spanking are big; Kegel balls and remote-controlled vibrators are flying off the shelves; we’re seeing kinky sex pop up in more and more media properties. There’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of educating people about safety and consent when practicing kink (especially since Fifty Shades author E.L. James hardly addressed either point in her novels, and, in fact, basically wrote about an abusive, non-consensual dynamic in many ways), but it’s encouraging to see these things at least being talked about.

Dr. Justin Lehmiller, research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want: As much as people (myself included) lament Fifty Shades of Grey for offering an inaccurate depiction of BDSM and the people who practice it, it undoubtedly marked a significant shift in American sexual culture by helping to bring kink and BDSM out of the shadows and into the mainstream. It helped to normalize conversations about BDSM fantasies and desires, and it encouraged many people to explore their kinkier sides, which we directly saw in terms of increased sales of BDSM-themed sex toys on the heels of the Fifty Shades books and films.

What’s interesting is that just as people started becoming more comfortable talking about kink and BDSM, the #MeToo movement began, which fundamentally changed the way that Americans think about sex and power. Some started feeling conflicted and weren’t sure how to reconcile the fact that, on the one hand, they are turned on by forced sex fantasies, but on the other, they have a strong desire to believe and support victims of sexual assault. This is something I see a lot of people still grappling with – some say they feel like traitors to the #MeToo cause due to the fact that they fantasize about being “forced” to have sex. Going forward, I think we need to do more to help people understand that a fantasy about forced sex (or a so-called “rape fantasy”) puts the fantasizer in a position of power—the scenario is consensual and unfolds on their terms. In that respect, it bears no resemblance to a real-life sexual assault, so we should not be equating these things.

The #MeToo movement started conversations that will continue making waves into the next decade.

Getty / Uproxx

Kate Sloan, sex writer and host of The Dildorks podcast: The #MeToo movement was huge. It is so much bigger than just Weinstein and the other celebrities it implicated. The very public nature of #MeToo has led to far more discourse about consent and the lack thereof – and although it’ll be a while before we have much useful data on how the movement has affected sexual violence rates (if at all), I still think it’s encouraging we’re talking about this issue at all.

Alexandra Fine, CEO and co-founder of Dame Products: The #MeToo movement has been important. For the first time in history, women feel safe enough to call out men’s bad behavior. It’s a small first step. I mean, we have a lot of work to do (look at our president…). But at least this time we are having public discourse about his inappropriate behavior.

Ela Darling, Director of Marketing at ViRo Club and adult film performer: Sex positivity and consent have become central in discussions about relationships, due in large part to the MeToo and Time’s Up movements which have emboldened victims of abuse to speak out.

Forget the way you had sex before the internet and smartphones; it’s never going to be that way again.

Uproxx / Tinder

Kate Sloan, sex writer and host of The Dildorks podcast: Believe it or not, Tinder only launched in 2012, but in the few years it’s been around, it’s completely revolutionized how dating and hookups work. It’s easier than ever to find sex and dates “on-demand,” but it’s also easier than ever to fall victim to negative social phenomena that have arisen largely from Tinder, like “catfishing,” “ghosting,” and “breadcrumbing.” Concerns have been raised about whether Tinder’s commodification and gamification of dating has resulted in people sexually objectifying each other and denying one another’s personhood; some theorists also wonder if the “paradox of choice” offered by Tinder results in harder (or worse) dating decisions.

In any case, it’s clear that the worlds of dating and sex will never be the same as they were pre-Tinder.

Sam Riddell, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: In the ’00s it seemed like online dating had an “ehh, that’s a bit weird — meeting a stranger online?” or “looking for love online is for losers!” stigma attached to it. Now it’s almost the only way we date.

Smartphones and the internet have significantly changed not just how we connect with others, but also who we’re connecting with. Over the last decade, the number of people in relationships who say they met their partner online rose. What we’re seeing is that online spaces are increasingly supplanting physical spaces when it comes to making new sexual and romantic connections. And we’re meeting people who we might not otherwise meet in person.

Dr. Justin Lehmiller, research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want: In the past, people tended to partner-up with those they lived and worked near, which meant that they largely ended up with partners who were pretty demographically similar to them. However, what we’re seeing in the era of dating apps is that people are dating and mating outside of their bubbles. So, for example, we’ve seen significant increases in rates of interracial and inter-religious relationships and marriages. In other words, we’re seeing a rise in people of different backgrounds getting together and a more integrated society as a result of the growing popularity of online dating.

Ela Darling, Director of Marketing at ViRo Club and adult film performer: In addition to sex, dating, and relationships, there has been a lot of technological progress in the fields of interactive sex toys and VR porn. VR Porn was born and brought to life in the past several years, offering people a chance to explore their desires and kinks. It has given realistic experiences of intimacy and sex to people who otherwise don’t have access or opportunity to seen romantic relationships. The combination of teledildonics, haptics, and VR adult entertainment have created immersive, deeply engaging opportunities to try out experiences that one might be too nervous to experience with a real-life partner. The growth of this industry has been massive in the past decade and I think it will continue to thrive in the next one.

The definition of “sex” is expanding, but it will take more time to fully shift from a hetero-penetrative mindset to a broader one.

Uproxx / Unsplash

Kate Sloan, sex writer and host of The Dildorks podcast: I hang out with a lot of queer and kinky people, so I have a skewed perspective on this, but I think the definition of sex has shifted substantially for young people. In no small part due to the work of queer and kinky sex educators like Dan Savage, many of us now understand that oral sex, anal sex, hand sex, and sex involving toys all fall under the umbrella of “sex.” I think there’s also greater freedom now for people to define what sex means for them personally.

There’s also increasing discourse about whether phone sex, Skype sex, and sexting “count” as sex. I think right now, most people would say that they don’t, but that will likely change over the next decade as these practices become even more commonplace.

Sam Riddell, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: With all the sex-positive advancements that I’ve seen in this past decade within myself and others, I still think society as a whole has a long way to go. There are certainly pockets of folks who view all kinds of sex (tribbing, oral, pegging, mutual masturbation, etc) as sex but for a lot of folks, it is still largely reserved to penis-in-vagina penetration.

This can be demonstrated places like Twitter where lesbian sex is constantly called into question by cis het men and even by the recent conversation around T.I. and his daughter. Aside from the fact that T.I.’s sentiments were disgusting and disturbing — the whole conversation centered around his daughter being a “virgin” because of a perceived lack of penetrative sex — when in reality she could’ve been engaging in a whole host of sexual activities outside of that.

Rebecca Louis, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: Over the last decade, sex and sexuality has evolved to mean so many things and is not absolutely not limited to penis in vagina penetration. I think we’ve learned that pleasure comes in different forms and flavors and to limit to just penetration of two specific genitals is limiting. I can’t even begin to list the different varieties of sex that fall under that one term.

Alexandra Fine, CEO and co-founder of Dame Products: I bet most people in the world will tell you sex starts when a penis enters a vagina and ends when the man ejaculates. I still feel that our collective understanding of sex is centered in the hetero-normative male perspective. For people who do not have PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex, the definition of “sex” has never meant that. However, I do think that more people of all sexual orientations are starting to embrace more fluid definitions of sex as well, even if we still have a long way to go on that.

We first started Dame Products with a mission to close the pleasure gap – the disparity in satisfaction that people with vulvas experience in the bedroom, versus their cis male counterparts. The fact that the majority of people with vulvas need clitoral stimulation for pleasurable sex is more widely understood than it was a decade ago. This is opening up doors for so many people with vulvas to explore sex with clitoral touch as a focal point – with or without penetration.

Ela Darling, Director of Marketing at ViRo Club and adult film performer: I think that many people still hold a heteronormative view on sex, but there has certainly been a growing understanding that the myriad of ways we identify sexually has broadened the scope of what it means to have sex. In some cases, it’s comfortable for people to maintain that definition because it allows them to craft a narrative that the sexual practices they engage in are semantically different from penis-in-vagina sex.

I think we will have a much broader understanding of the definition of sex in the next decade, but this decade has certainly planted the seeds.

It would not be out of line to consider this the decade of the ass.

Uproxx / Unsplash

Kate Sloan, sex writer and host of The Dildorks podcast: The big one shift that comes to mind for me is eating ass! There’s been a lot more ass-eating discourse in recent years. I don’t really know why, but I would like to think it stems from greater acceptance of queer sexuality (since analingus is an act traditionally associated with gay men) and more general sexual openness in our culture.

Sam Riddell, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: Eating ass for sure. That was an entire movement with a song reference by Janae Aiko, a viral clip by Kevin Gates, and several memes.

Dr. Justin Lehmiller, research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want: Pegging—and anal play more broadly—have definitely gone more mainstream in the last decade. For the few who aren’t yet familiar, pegging is a sexual practice in which a woman anally penetrates a male partner with a strap-on dildo. In the research on sexual fantasies I did for my book Tell Me What You Want, I saw that a heck of a lot of women and men were fantasizing about this. In fact, I surveyed over 4,000 Americans and found that 60% of male participants had fantasized about what it would be like to receive anal sex, while 40% of female participants had fantasized about what it would be like to give anal sex.

I suspect the growing popularity of this practice can be tied to a few things. One is a growing recognition of the role that the prostate plays in male sexual pleasure. Another is that gender norms are changing and people increasingly feeling free to break away from traditional roles, as well as traditional ideas of what “sex” means.

The ways we engage with sex work (and stigmatize it) have evolved.

Uproxx / Unsplash

Kate Sloan, sex writer and host of The Dildorks podcast: Unfortunately, the new-ish SESTA/FOSTA laws are making sex work harder and harder to do – and it was already extremely hard. Sex workers’ lives and livelihoods are at stake because of these laws. For all the progress our culture has made in terms of accepting queer identities and kinky sex, it still really doesn’t accept sex workers or the importance and validity of their work. Puritanical laws claim to take aim at sex trafficking but mostly just end up criminalizing sex work and making sex workers’ lives far more difficult and dangerous.

Sam Riddell, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: Sex work has been around since time immemorial and sex workers are clearly quite marginalized in society to this day. However, with social media (and the level of safety that comes with conducting business online) it’s not uncommon to come across someone with an OnlyFans, a private SnapChat, an account on Seeking Arrangement, or a Twitter account that sells foot photos. In those ways, sex work has reached a level of visibility in the past few years. Also, there is a level of accessibility via apps and sites to allow potentially more folks to engage in sex work than would have without the advent of these spaces.

However, despite this accessibility and visibility (or perhaps in response to it) sex work remains largely stigmatized and devalued. It’s interesting that in the age of screen recording, screenshots, and pirated porn websites how many people are okay with consuming stolen porn despite the detriment that it causes the sex workers who created it. The concept of devaluing sex worker’s labor isn’t exclusive to this decade but the methods of devaluing sex work are.

Alexandra Fine, CEO and co-founder of Dame Products: I think the conversation about sex work is more centered than it ever was before. We have presidential candidates discussing it! But we certainly have a lot of work to do to ensure the public is fully educated on the issues that affect sex workers – and prioritizing their safety overall.

Ela Darling, Director of Marketing at ViRo Club and adult film performer: FOSTA-SESTA was a standout moment for sex workers that negatively impacted the support, resources, and sense of safety we feel as a community, but I don’t think it impacted American sexual culture, which is a disappointment. While the past decade has seen a huge uptick in the inclusion of sex workers in feminism and progressive ideals, FOSTA-SESTA was a hard dose of reality to the sex work community that the leaders we support don’t necessarily support our right to safety and security.

With increasingly better internet and technology in the past ten years, more and more people are entering fields like camming and softcore clip production as a means to make extra money. On the flip side, the availability of work in safe environments and the challenges in succeeding in the adult entertainment space have made it difficult for performers to thrive and remain financially stable. Sex work seems to be more socially accepted by progressives and youth culture, but politically and legislatively it has become more dangerous, thanks to SESTA-FOSTA and the work of the anti-porn organization AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Steve V. Rodriguez, host and executive producer of the Talk About Gay Sex podcast: Sex work has changed dramatically in the last decade particularly for gay men. In the previous decade, it was still a hush-hush topic and practically looked down on by many. In the 2010s, many porn stars have limited their studio film performances and opted for Only Fan pages where they offer adult content to monthly paying subscribers. There are still ways to find a sexy male massage or escort if one desires, but today, it’s all about meeting other guys online easily or following someone, porn star or not, on sites like Just For Fans or the previously mentioned Only Fans.

Trans and non-binary identities are becoming more commonplace, but there’s a long way to go.

Uproxx / Unsplash

Kate Sloan, sex writer and host of The Dildorks podcast: The average person knows more about trans and non-binary identities than they would have a decade ago, and that is excellent news. Elizabeth Warren talks about murdered black trans women on TV; there are trans and non-binary people in TV shows and movies; several celebrities, like Caitlyn Jenner and Sam Smith, have come out as trans or non-binary in recent years. The “T” in “LGBT” has been extremely marginalized for a very long time, so it’s good to see that community getting more visibility – although, sadly, more visibility doesn’t necessarily lead to more acceptance or more safety for the people in that community. Trans suicide rates, sexual assault rates, and murder rates are still alarmingly high, especially for trans people also marginalized on other axes like race and disability. I’m eager to see how trans rights will progress in the next decade.

Alexandra Fine, CEO and co-founder of Dame Products: We are seeing a rise in gender-neutral language entering the mainstream. Sex and gender can be complicated, but I think it’s important to distinguish between them when you’re talking about genitals, and when you’re talking about a person’s identity – they aren’t one in the same! The adult industry definitely wasn’t using gender-neutral marketing language a decade ago. With more companies embracing this, we’re opening up the opportunity to safely explore pleasure for so many more customers.

Steve V. Rodriguez, host and executive producer of the Talk About Gay Sex podcast: The transgender community has seen wider visibility in a positive way in the media with the likes of Pose, Transamerica, Caitlyn Jenner, and Laverne Cox. Unfortunately, the rise in hate crimes towards the trans community is still on the rise as are their rights at risk of being taken away.

People are getting comfortable being hoes.

Uproxx / Unsplash

Sam Riddell, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: I’m not sure what to call this specific movement but the rise of the term “hoe” being adopted and claimed by sex-positive folks, in particular among Black women, femmes and queer folks who use it as a term of endearment. My earliest recollection of this in this decade was around the same time that the Toronto Slut Walk of 2011 occurred. There was a lot of internet discourse from Black femmes about the word “slut” not fitting because of differences in Black American and White American cultures and the differences in how Black femme folks are perceived within the context of sex as opposed to White femme sexual folks.

That discourse laid the groundwork for Black femmes to adopt the word “hoe” as a means of denouncing sexual shame placed upon us whilst celebrating our sexual agencies. It also led to mainstream conversations on the internet about advocating for one’s pleasure and one’s own sexual health. Then of course, like with many things introduced into the cultural zeitgeist by Black women and femmes, the word “hoe” and this pro-hoe movement was adopted by women and femmes of all races.

This decade has been more sex-positive than the last, and in part, the hoe movement (the hoe uprising if you will) certainly fostered that.

Rebecca Louis, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: The word “hoe” is being embraced and reclaimed by femmes and is just one of the ways that show how language and reclaiming words has had a widespread effect on the language surrounding sex in this decade. There are new words to describe identity, sex, gender, kinks, etc. that have popped up in this decade that truly change the language with which we talk about sex for the better.

Ela Darling, Director of Marketing at ViRo Club and adult film performer: I think the Slut Walk movement has had a profound impact on the way we treat sex this decade and has been a strong part of the cultural rejection of slut-shaming amongst young people.

Tech has allowed previously marginalized folks to find community and identity.

Uproxx / Unsplash

Sam Riddell, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: The internet and smartphones have made the world smaller. Groups of people with particular interests are now, more than any other point in history able to connect with one another, find community, and exchange information.

Smartphones and the internet have allowed folks who were previously unable to identify and explore aspects of their sexuality because of marginalization to find others who feel similarly to them and foster better and less stigmatized sex lives.

Rebecca Louis, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: The use of smartphones, in my opinion, has greatly widened our perspective on the range of sexual practices. Knowing that others are interested in similar things, helped knock down barriers and deconstruct taboos that were largely present before the use of the internet.

Alexandra Fine, CEO and co-founder of Dame Products: It has never been easier to connect with other people about sex. And I don’t just mean to connect with potential sexual partners (although apps like Tinder have made that easy, too). I mean connecting with people who want to have deep and vulnerable conversations about sexuality.

While Instagram has given us challenges (we can’t advertise on the platform, which is a huge disadvantage to businesses like ours), it does give us an incredible opportunity to connect with our community. When people send us DMs with questions about sex and pleasure, I often think about where else they would have gone for an answer. Our presence on the internet signals to people that it’s okay to talk about sex publicly – and should even be celebrated. For all those offline conversations about sex that come with shame and judgment, this digital community is a welcome reprieve.

Ela Darling, Director of Marketing at ViRo Club and adult film performer: Smartphones have made it incredibly easy to subtly access adult content in private spaces and have given people more control over the content they view. With the increasingly competent cameras on smartphones, people can now shoot high-quality sexy photos, videos, and even produce decent porn which can be shared with partners or used to make a profit.

As more people use their smartphones to shoot nudes and sexy clips of themselves, I think people have become more accepting of nudity and people who have nude photos of themselves. Our favorite actresses had their private photos and videos leaked; pop culture conglomerates were formed around the success of women who made sex tapes, and in one study, 78% of millennial women have received an unsolicited dick pic. The saturation of phone-shot content, while it has pros and cons, has relaxed the stigma surrounding being a naked person on the internet.

Steve V. Rodriguez, host and executive producer of the Talk About Gay Sex podcast: Smartphones have transformed sexuality in the 2010s. One might say the usage has deterred many from going out to the bars to meet people and hookup. For gay men, many prefer to meet their sexual hookups on the meetup/hookup apps. Smartphones have allowed many of us to lose our prudish attitudes by freely sending dick pics and ass picks at the drop of the hat, often unsolicited. As with all new technology, those that meet total strangers on the apps, should exercise some discretion and alert a buddy to whereabouts to avoid dangerous situations.

The way people self-identify has expanded.

Uproxx / Unsplash

Sam Riddell, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: With queer, trans, kink, and non-monogamous movements gaining momentum – folks have more access to language to ID themselves in online spaces like their dating profiles. For example, demisexual, asexual, non-monogamous, polyamorous, queer, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, dom, brat, kinky, etc.

Ela Darling, Director of Marketing at ViRo Club and adult film performer: People have become much more open and up front about their sexual desires. As our culture has started to understand and accept that gender identity is a vast spectrum rather than a confined binary, the language we use to self-identify sexually has become more fluid and inclusive amongst younger people. There has been a slow shedding of shame around having sex, wanting open relationships, and expecting sexual reciprocity over the past decade. It’s easier to weed out incompatible partners when you are able to directly discuss sex, identity, and relationships rather than shying away from the dialogue out of a misguided sense of propriety.

Steve V. Rodriguez, host and executive producer of the Talk About Gay Sex podcast: For gay guys, the language around sex has always been pretty relaxed, but with so many people on apps like Grindr and Scruff, I’ve noticed guys expressing their sexuality in a more free manner in their social life. Being a top or a bottom isn’t a bad thing to express as it was in the past and people really do believe it when someone says they are versatile in the bedroom unlike in the past. It’s refreshing!

Sex toys have become everyday

Uproxx / Unsplash

Sam Riddell, host and executive producer of the Inner Hoe Uprising podcast: Sex toys (especially for women, femmes, trans folks and queer folks) have become way less stigmatized this decade. Folks are using them and are very vocal about doing so. I think that in the decade to come we will see the rise of personal companions (like sex robots but without the uncanny valley) that will provide some sort of sexual and emotional comfort.

Alexandra Fine, CEO and co-founder of Dame Products: In the past, sex toys have been seen as novelty items. Now, I think the public is starting to understand that they’re a part of our sexual health. When we first started, Dame Products was one of few companies making sex toys led by people with vulvas – who understood firsthand the anatomy we were designing for. Now, we’re being joined by so many women and nonbinary folks looking to disrupt sex tech. Not only is this raising the standard for the toys and products we see on the market, but also shifting the conversation to a less cismale-centric view on sex.

The LGBTQ Community has enjoyed some wins.

Uproxx / Unsplash

Steve V. Rodriguez, host and executive producer of the Talk About Gay Sex podcast: As a gay man, I have seen multiple positive changes within the LGBTQ world like the introduction of RuPaul’s Drag Race culminating to Rupaul winning an Emmy Award at last year’s ceremony is monumental. With the introduction of PrEP for the gay community, HIV infection rates have lowered dramatically and those living with HIV are experiencing less stigma as more and more are undetectable.