Sex and the superdelegates

It was a flaccid, unhot year in sex, but how about that election! Spitzer and Edwards may have gotten laid, but Barack and Hillary scored.

By Rebecca Traister

Published January 4, 2009 11:50AM (EST)

You want to know how sexy this year was? So sexy that it might as well have been subtitled, "Not tonight, honey, I've got an election to obsess over." So sexy that if you did manage to get it on, I'm going to guess it was only after your partner pulled the plug on your MSNBC feed, and that you might have screamed Nate Silver's name in bed.

That's right, folks. This was the year that sex died -- and a presidency was born.

Oh, calm down, Obama-Tiger, don't get defensive. I'm sure your personal hope-lubed romps were hot, youthful and potent, just like your electoral power! (Your tantric use of's "Yes We Can" was especially ... special. "Si se puede!" Rowr!)

No, I'm talking about America's sex, the year in sex. It was a year that was strangely, anemically bereft of nip slips, in which a bare minimum of celebrity cooter was exposed, in which the only sex tape that seemed to get much play was this pallid spectacle in which two sad advertising rabbits performed a halfhearted hump and pump on the floor of a cubicle.

Seriously. There was no sex, or sex scandal, to be found in America in 2008 that did not somehow affect the Superdelegate count. If you were a woman, the news was blaring from every corner: You don't even want to have sex. As the New York Times reported in December, you would rather haz cheezburger on webnets.

Boys were having trouble, too. Social networking overtook porn as the biggest online draw, and the cold hard flat screen monitor was where most American dads were getting their rocks off. Gentlemen, if you weren't already having a rough year, a look at a bookshelf would likely have undone you: Somewhere between Kathleen Parker's "Save the Males," Gary Cross's "Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity," Michael Kimmel's "Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men," Guy Garcia's "The Decline of Men: How the American Male Is Tuning Out, Giving Up, and Flipping Off His Future," and Simon Dumenco's asinine Details blog post about how feminist women have turned men into unhappy pansies, the American male was being stripped of his pride, his identity and, I'm guessing, his hard-on.

No, this year there was not much to turn us on, besides the hypnotic draw of the presidential stump. Biggest crush object of the year? Rachel Maddow. You know, the smart lady who read you the news every night. The favorite subjects of the gossip rags? Candidates for president and vice-president. Thought people would get excited about the movie"Zack and Miri Make a Porno"? Nope. The porn industry was more excited about the Hustler-produced "Nailin' Paylin"."

The hard, pulsing, policy-heavy truth of the matter is that in 2008, no other area of our culture or consciousness could compete with the political arena. And in some ways, that was OK. After weeks of sweaty-browed exertion, tensed jaws, clenched fists and scrunched eyes, most of you probably enjoyed one of the most profound releases of your lives: You screamed, you cried, you embraced and held hands as a feeling of well-being and joy flooded through you. It was electric, it was emotional; the earth shifted on its axis. Face it, every other sex story pales in comparison to the monumental group climax of Nov. 4.

And yet, the Year in Sex must persevere. So here, divided into random categories, is your year in sex.

The Year in Sucks

One of the bigger Year in Sex bummers was a white-hot vogue amongst teenage girls. No, not just flashin' boob or hookin' up or posin' nekkid and all sexed up in a bedsheet for Vanity Fair in order to make everyone forget that you're a God-fearing, daddy-loving, sex-abstaining star on the Disney network. This was far more worrisome. It seems that some of America's famous youngsters have taken their post-feminist enthusiasm for self-objectification to its next biological step: motherhood!

Yeah, it's been happening since birds were birds and bees were bees and birth control and sex ed were harder to come by, but 2008 shone a particularly glum spotlight on several instances of teen pregnancy, beginning with the birth of a daughter to 17-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears. Jamie Lynn had appeared, from an admittedly wide-lensed distance, to have a good head on her shoulders, every opportunity for success and a looming example of how not to ruin your life. And yet, this member of the Britney-founded, Miley-shepherded culture of erotically packaged, underage abstinence role models got pregnant, made the decision to keep the baby and was rewarded by a celebrity press that paid $1 million for pictures of little Maddie Briann.

So now pretty young Jamie Lynn is back in Louisiana, completing the class- and Christianity-fueled American circle of celebrity whereby we pluck pretty, too-young things from red-state, working-class obscurity, teach them to look hot, make them promise to remain virtuous and then dump them back where they came from once they sin (not to mention when they turn 18, become mothers or get fat).

Something eerily similar took place in the small town of Wasilla, Alaska, late this summer, when a vice-presidential candidate all too willing to preach virtue was plucked from obscurity and, if not exactly "sexed up," then at least given a hefty budget for outfits tighter than those historically seen at a vice-presidential podium. This lady was all about the beauty of life -- especially children's lives. Sarah Palin had five kids and believed that women all around the country should have them, too, under every circumstance, even if those women were raped or made pregnant by incest. She also supported abstinence-only education, a program that was not sufficiently absorbed by her 17-year-old daughter Bristol, who, a week after Palin's candidacy for vice-presidency was announced, was revealed to be pregnant by her "fuckin' redneck," hockey-player boyfriend, a fellow high school student whom Bristol was hastily directed to marry, inspiring one of Tina Fey-as-Sarah-Palin's most inspired lines: "Marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers."

In July, the National Institutes of Health announced that the pregnancy rate in the United States had crept up for the first time in 15 years. And there could be no sadder embodiment of that trend than in the economically depressed fishing town of Gloucester, Mass., where it was reported that 17 teenage girls made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. As one of their classmates heartbreakingly told Time Magazine in June, "No one's offered them a better option."

Meanwhile, in India, the opposite: Two 70-year-old women were reported to have given birth in 2008, both through in vitro fertilization.

The Year in Sucks II: Sucks Harder

America and gay people, an ode. Ahem:

We like them answering our financial "whys,"

We like them on the Enterprise,

We love it when they're loud and bossy,

We like them living with Portia de Rossi,

We like them as crooners who don't lead their fans on,

We like them on air, sparring with Pat Buchanan,

We like them spinning records and getting hit by bikes,

We like them being Wanda Sykes!

Apparently, though, we still really don't like them getting married. And so, in Election Day's crushing-est news, Californians voted "yes" to Proposition 8, an amendment that would change the state constitution to define marriage as an institution strictly between a man and a woman. That's right! We live in a nation in which we believe that God smiles on the marriage of Madonna and Guy Ritchie more benevolently than he does on that of Simon Doonan and Jonathan Adler. What a country!

But the good news is, this country is changing, and anyone with eyes or ears or a sense of smell can attest to it. Pop culture figures like the ones above make a difference; so do movies like "Milk"; so does increasingly open conversation about sexuality; so does Ellen DeGeneres grilling John McCain on why he opposes her right to equal happiness and partnership. Kids -- even fundamentalist ones -- are far more open to homosexuality than their forebears, and the churches are losing their ability to oppose gay unions by the minute. So enjoy the death rattles, fear monkeys! God may love you better now, but it's just a matter of time before we'll all be forced to gay-marry, and acts of pro-creative sex will be made illegal in several Southern states! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

The Year in Texts

Hold on to your lunches: The most talked-about literary sex scenes of the year took place between fictional characters who were barely veiled knockoffs of ... George and Laura Bush! Arrrooooooo! That's right: The sex you never wanted to believe ever happened (except that one time). Curtis Sittenfeld's longtime fascination with our still-current first lady led her to imagine an engaging, readable, almost sympathetic life for her in "American Wife," a sad but lovely novel that tells the story of "Alice," a small-town librarian who marries into a political dynasty. Sittenfeld graciously thought to include some dirty bits: "Back in bed, he knelt on the mattress -- I was lying flat, and he was above me -- and perhaps it sounds crude to say that this is the moment I knew I could love him, when I saw his penis ... I felt a great devotion to Charlie when I first got a look at his, the ruddy-hued, upward-pointing shaft, its swollen veins and cap-like tip."

That's right. You just pictured George Bush's penis. But this is a big moment: the last Year in Sex (we most certainly hope) to feature the word "George" in front of the word "bush." So we had to go out with a ruddy-hued, veiny bang! Just be glad we didn't quote the part about him eating her out!

The Year in Sacks

In this libidinously arid year, there were a number of stout-hearted media attempts to squeeze a little love juice out of the news cycle, to pretend there was a sensual silver lining to the storm clouds gathering in everyone's bank accounts.

Perhaps you like ... Recession Sex? You got no job, and you want nookie? You got laid off, and you want get laid? Methinks you want ... Recession Sex!

Oh, not so much? You feel flaccid and unmanned? Scared and unwanted? Feel like crawling under your bed, not on top of it? Even hookers in Europe are out of work, because everyone is poor and miserable? Sorry. Never mind. No Recession Sex for you!

The Year in Socks

Once, New York had this governor who had been the state's biggest hard-ass attorney general in memory -- smashing Wall Street corruption to smithereens, telling white-collar criminals where they could stick it. He became governor and proposed a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry and wanted to give illegal immigrants the chance to get drivers' licenses. This guy was a star. A fucking steamroller.

Then, in 2008, it turned out that he was just a putz. A married putz who liked hookers and paid exorbitant amounts of money to partake of their services. In March, Eliot Spitzer starred in the most jaw-droppingly sordid sex scandal of the year, having been caught arranging for and then participating in a sex session with a prostitute named Ashley Dupre, who worked for the ridiculously expensive prostitution ring Emperors Club VIP. According to some reports, Spitzer had paid more than $80,000 for hookers over the years. It was an ethical failing. It was a moral failing. But mostly, dude, what a style failing! Among the fascinating details to emerge during the Spitzer case was that the dude liked to do it with his socks on -- and the raincoat off. Just call him Eliot "Shpritz her!"

You know what's the most awesome part? The ease with which everyone continues to congratulate this guy on being confident and brash, as a Financial Times columnist did recently, noting how "unabashed" Spitzer was when he showed up at a media party. "I rather admired his chutzpah!" writes John Gapper. Meanwhile, the prostitute is still apologizing to his wife!

The Year in Sketch

You know the candidate who always spoke most eloquently, and with the deepest understanding, about the oft-ignored divisions at the very root of so many of America's problems? The guy who talked most compellingly about class? That was former North Carolina senator John Edwards. John Edwards was a classy guy.

Until he had sex with another woman, while his wife, who had guided and supported his political career, possibly to the detriment of her own health, was sick with cancer, and then he hired the other woman, and then the other woman got pregnant and he tried to pass off blame on one of his loyal staffers, and then he denied to the press that he ever knew the other woman, and then he was caught in really weird pictures with the other woman, holding the baby with a sweaty ring around his blue T-shirt, and then he decided that he would go on television and make a spectacle of his own confession, but then he only confessed to, like, half of what obviously was going on, and he just kept on lying and didn't even bother to apologize for the disaster that would have occurred if he had been chosen as the Democratic presidential nominee and it had turned out he couldn't keep his pecker in his pants while his wife had cancer, and he had a baby out of wedlock, and John Edwards, I believed in you, I was going to vote for you, and you make me madder than anyone ever ever ever in the Year in Sex.

And that's all I have to say about that.

The Year in Sex: Summation

With all the political smut being flung, you'd think someone could have come up with something that would stick to that swaggeringly handsome young community organizer we are about to call our president (Squeee!). And oh, people tried! Wackadoo Larry Sinclair tried to sell a remarkable tale about Obama, limousines, drugs and a murdered gay choir master. Strangely enough, it didn't take. The British press made a go of it, alleging that Michelle Obama had shipped off a comely young senate aide after a flirtation or affair -- or maybe just after being a comely young senate aide. That story went nowhere either.

It was a little ironic that the most physically and emotionally arresting candidate of our lifetime seemed to be scandal-proof and, truthfully, a little sex-proof. I'm not saying the guy isn't handsome, debonair, charming, charismatic, swoon-worthy. It's just that, weirdly, Barack Obama did not ... sizzle.

In fact, for all the lame efforts of the smear press, there was really only one person who could raise the temperature on our Barack, who could truly hot him up: a cackling, nut-cracking, shirt-ironing broad in an array of jewel-toned pantsuits.

Yes, it's true. American voters have never had it so good as they did for six months of 2008. His mellow ease to her spiky ambition. His cool confidence to her bellowing honk. Yes, I know, I know: that grating, wrong-note-hitting, not-conceding, change-resisting, healthcare squawking, Bobby-Kennedy-invoking bitch! And: that cocky, strutting, hope-peddling, smooth-talking, shoulder-brushing, sweetie-calling, poetry-spouting bastard!

Have you people never seen an episode of "Cheers"?

Now, out of respect for Michelle Obama, I want to make explicitly clear that in no way am I suggesting that there is, was or ever will be any actual carnal attraction between the president-elect and the future madame secretary. I'm merely speaking on a performative, narrative level about the way that the characters on our stage have played against each other. I'm just pointing out that in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about the rub and chafe of like-minded opposites attracting.

Admit it, you Hillary haters who consider her nomination to Foggy Bottom as big a betrayal as FISA. You too, you still-snarling PUMAs who think she's going to do all the work on the science project and he's going to get all the credit. During the months when La Clinton stepped -- er, you know, with some light encouragement -- off the stage, the Democratic Party got ... well ... booooring! So boring that everyone flipped the channel to "So You Think You Can Moose Hunt?"

Obama mania just wasn't as fun without Hillary. And after Nov. 4, this whole new blissful upcoming administration was perfect and groovy and everything, but really a little dullsville until he picked her. By then, no one even bothered to hide the allusions to the pair's chemistry anymore. According to CBS, "They've become so close that it turned into a strategic courtship, leading to Clinton being at the top of his short list for secretary of state," while the New York Times described Clinton's "passionate" speeches on behalf of Obama and the stage at which "the wooing was complete."

And so, the Year in Sex thanks you, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, for providing us with the sparring smolder of a 1940s romantic comedy, if black people and women senators had been allowed in romantic comedies of the 1940s. For the first time in years, the heat on our televisions and newspapers and magazines didn't come from shorn celebrity beav or reality stars who taped their doggy-style antics so that we could have something to watch at our cubicles while we ate our Subway sandwich. In 2008, it came from the head and the heart, from the old-fashioned sizzle of strong minds bumping up against each other, from the gimme-more friction of big ideas and hearty disagreement, a fight for dominance, a see-saw of control.

Our only warning for 2009: Don't get too chummy. Remember what happened after Sam and Diane got together.

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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2008 Elections Bristol Palin Hillary Rodham Clinton John Edwards Love And Sex Proposition 8 Sarah Palin Sex