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The Rise of the Unhorny Man

As we’ve reached peak ‘horny on main,’ men are retiring the long-held assumption that sex is the only thing they’re capable of thinking about

Earlier this year, Instagram model Jessie Sims took to Twitter to post a thirst trap in which she leans butt-out against a kitchen counter, with the caption, “You walk into your kitchen & see me like this, wyd? ;)” Sims’ call and response format is typical on social media, where influencers rack up engagement on their pictures by encouraging responses from horny men. And some guys reliably took the bait, replying with thirsty comments like “Ask if I’m dreaming because you are a goddess!” and “Grab that bottle of olive oil and get you nice and shiney.”

But the most popular responses took a different tack, responding with a complete lack of horniness. “Pour myself a giant bowl of cereal and then head back to the living room to continue watching Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany,” reads one response with almost 7,000 likes. Another user replied, “Move right past you to reach my Cap’n Crunch box.”

On Twitter, humor that turns on men being surprisingly unmoved by sex is having a moment, and unhorny men are increasingly seen as hilarious and endearing. Take, for example, this screenshot of a man turning down the offer of a sex tape in favor of skate videos (36,000 retweets, 283,000 likes), and this guy saying he’d rather talk about his day than sext (54,400 retweets, 311,600 likes). This stratospheric engagement is typically accompanied by praise for these sexless men, like “my guy the goat” and “a true chad.”

Now that sexless men are being described as chads of all things, it’s worth asking: How on earth did we get here?

It could be that jokes about unhorny men are landing because they reflect a new reality, which is that despite talking about it near constantly online, young adults, and especially men, aren’t having very much sex. As Kate Julian reports in The Atlantic, people currently in their early 20s are two and a half times as likely to be abstinent as Gen Xers were at that age, and 15 percent report having had no sex since they reached adulthood. “In the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t,” she writes. “Signs are gathering that the delay in teen sex may have been the first indication of a broader withdrawal from physical intimacy that extends well into adulthood.”

Given these facts, jokes that turn on the idea that men are sex-hungry just don’t correlate enough with reality to land, at least not among a younger cohort.

Jokes with male sexlessness as their punchline could also be a backlash against traditional gendered humor, which for decades has centered on the idea that men are perpetually horny, and that women are frustratingly uninterested in sex and deny it to willing men. Take, for example, the old quip that “Men have two emotions: hungry and horny,” or the endless reservoir of jokes about marriage being sexually frustrating. In our current times, this style of humor feels stale, and so it’s no surprise that an alternative joke format based on the polar opposite assumption has arisen.

But more immediately, the popularity of jokes about unhorny men probably signals that the pendulum is swinging back from peak “horny on main” culture, which reached a fever pitch during the first few weeks of quarantine. “The entire world is now horny on social media,” my editor Alana Hope Levinson wrote at the time. “Sharing that your wife’s ‘clit/brown/taint area still pOwns your dick’ or asking Drake to murder your pussy has none of the taboo it had in the past.” This level of public horniness, in which users repeatedly threaten to post hole on main (or actually do), is becoming increasingly passé. Levinson noted that the “horny death rattle [sounded] the second Netflix got in on the action,” and according to veteran horny tweeters she interviewed, it’s now a played-out form of clout chasing.

It’s not just that over-the-top horniness has become kind of uncool, though, it’s also flatly unsustainable. When the timeline is full of hole pics, jokes about microdosing cum and talk of sucking a guy’s dick after he fucks you in the ass, where else is there left to go? Peak “horny on main” culture has left us exhausted, overstimulated and a little horrified, like Alex with his eyes clamped open in A Clockwork Orange, except our punishment is an endless barrage of cum jokes and hole pics.

It’s no surprise, then, that we’ve come to relish jokes about men who are totally uninterested in sex, because there’s an element of recognition there. There’s pretty much no surprise or shock value left to wring out of being horny on main now, and like the sexless men of the jokes we’ve come to love, we’re refusing to take the bait.

Yet another godforsaken cum joke on the timeline? Zzzzzzzz. Pour us some cereal and cue up Master & Commander instead.