Love? Nil. / Agree to do nothing

close up on zendaya’s fierce eyes, which are squinted in concentration. Her eyebrows are furrowed.
Screenshot: YouTube

Today: Terry Nguyen, essayist, critic, poet, and author of the newsletter Vague Blue; and Jennie Rose Halperin, digital strategist and librarian at NYU's Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy.

Issue No. 79

Challengers: The Pleasure of Holding Back
Terry Nguyen

The Rules of Divestment
Jennie Rose Halperin

‘Challengers’: The Pleasure of Holding Back

by Terry Nguyen

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: America is in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, which is fueling a crisis of sexlessness. For years, the dearth of sex among the raised-on-smartphones generation (Gen Z) and their terminally-online forebears (millennials) has been a source of panic. The societal slide into lonesomeness, the story goes, has manifested itself in a puritanical aversion to sex; not only are young people having less sex, or no sex at all, they’re increasingly uninterested in depictions of sex on screen. Hollywood, once a steady supplier of steamy erotic thrillers and romances, has evidently lost its libido. A recent report commissioned by The Economist found that the amount of sex in top-grossing feature films declined by 40 percent from 2000 to 2023, while depictions of drinking, drug use, profanity, and violence remained constant. 

The decline of on-screen sex has made movies less pleasurable and less real, wrote Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday in 2019: “The new chastity on screen feels like a prudent but not entirely welcome new normal.”

Enter Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers (2024). It’s been called “the year’s sexiest movie,” “an absurdly sexy sports film” and “the sexiest love triangle movie in years”—salacious descriptions of a movie in which there is no on-screen sex, and very little nudity. 

[SPOILERS, this movie is streaming starting today, apparently.]

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