In The Observer’s all-day mission to provide solace to the Valentine-less, we give you this: The bitter and the undersexed can now binge on the voyeuristic delights (or is it the anthropological horrors?) of New York magazine’s weekly online Sex Diaries. The concept has been expanded beyond the five boroughs in a book, The Sex Diaries Project, published by John Wiley & Sons. With the contextualizing essays by former New York sex diaries editor Arianne Cohen, we might even figure out how we got to this sad state in the first place–or why it’s not so bad after all.
Ms. Cohen first collected sex diaries as a freelancer for the magazine’s Love and Sex issue in April 2007. When journals left over from the issue performed well online, Sex Diaries became a weekly web column, which Ms. Cohen edited until 2010. The book has no affiliation with the magazine and draws from all new diaries—1,500 of them, penned by North Americans ages 18-94.
Though Ms. Cohen enjoyed her time with New York’s archetypal 27 year-old professional who is spreading her sexual wings (among other things), she saw a more thoughtful end for all that data. In 2010, she struck out on her own, collecting British and Italian sex diaries and publishing volumes in those countries.
Ms. Cohen was willing to indulge in a little comparative sexuality, with the caveat that there are many exceptions to these broad generalizations.
Italians, for instance, are physically flirtatious but “exceedingly conservative” when it comes to defining a relationship.
“To a heterosexual Italian, a relationship is a man and a woman who are going to get married,” she explained. “They spend a lot of time trying to squeeze themselves into that box.”
Brits are wordy, with diaries coming in at twice the length of their American counterparts.
“They like to explain very basic sex acts in eighteen to twenty-two words,” she said. On the other hand, they’re also much more florid in their fantasy lives than Americans, who tend to stick to a porno-realist script.
“Americans take their power in their relationships very seriously,” she said.
What about the local specimen?
“New Yorkers are very transactional,” she said, due to their busy schedules. “They do a lot of rating, like ‘I would give last night a B+.’”
The American volume differs from the New York magazine column in that it’s not strict surveillance. There’s a lot of analysis in there too.
“You’re getting a snapshot of how Americans connect and disconnect,” she said, “how Americans do relationships.”
The finding that blew Ms. Cohen’s mind and actually changed her life is this:
“Although we think of a ‘relationship’ as a stable term, there are three completely different types of couples. Readers can determine which they’re in, and the pros and cons of each. Bonus: you’ll understand all your previous and future relationships.”
According to The Sex Diaries Project, there are the lovers, who want a deep emotional, intellectual, and physical connection; the partners, who want to cook each other dinner, greet each other at the door and plan camping trips; and the aspirers; who want “three kids, $100,000 per year, and sex twice a week.”
Ms. Cohen—though she has previously been in a partnership—said she and fiancé Nate are definitely lovers.
“He is very tolerant of me saying, ‘Do you wanna do this thing that I just read about in a diary?’”
For the truly unimaginative, it gets even easier. The project has been adapted for television by Ms. Cohen, with the help of Left/Right Productions (which worked on This American Life’s television series) and four sex diarists equipped with Flip Cams.