I’ve sometimes wondered why the early 90s were so awful, sexually speaking.
Part of it, I imagine, has to do with demographics. In the early 90s, the baby boomers were no longer young, and the “echo” generation (those now in their twenties) were toddlers, so there was a smaller percentage of people at the age of sexual exploration. This may account for the anti-sexual vibe. People are less likely to be pro-sex when they aren’t exploring their own sexuality.
And there was AIDS, for which there was no effective treatment. Very few middle class heterosexuals got AIDS, of course, but the possibility, however remote, cast a pall on sexual relations. And rape, in theory, could kill.
And there was crime, which didn’t really decrease until the mid 1990s. I know someone who lived in New York in the 1980s, and recently went back to visit. He said that people in the street looked a lot more relaxed and less on edge. The fact that sexual assault was such an issue in the early 1990s was in part a reflection of the larger crime problem. And there is some evidence that there was in fact more rape twenty years ago. (I hope this is true, and I hope that, if there has been a decrease in rape, it reflects not only a decrease in the overall crime rate, but also a decrease in the social acceptability of sexual coercion.)
And there was Andrea Dworkin. I’m not an expert on her life or her philosophy. I’m sure she did some good things and probably had a few good ideas. But she also had a problem with men and male sexuality, and that’s putting it in the most charitable way I can. And an awful lot of prominent feminists back then supported Andrea Dworkin.
And there was homophobia, which lent credence to the notion that male sexuality was inherently predatory. In a welcome contrast to the early 1990s, the lessening of homophobia in recent years has given straight men an opportunity to “prove themselves,” so to speak. As gays have become more empowered, this has not been met with a large amount of homophobic bile from straight men. This speaks well of men’s attitudes toward women, I believe, because if men actually believed their own sexuality vis-à-vis women was predatory, you would expect straight men to react to gay men with an insanely virulent degree of homophobia, as they would project predatory desires onto gay men. This hasn’t happened. (Or, more precisely, when it has happened it’s been the exception rather than the rule.)