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Body talk

Oklahomans on sex and dating in 2019



Ayilla

Valerie Wei-Haas

The subject of the following paragraphs is sex. Love and relationships, too—but this article is about real sex and real people. The stories that follow are from actual Oklahomans. Some names have been changed to protect their privacy.


Last spring under the I-244 overpass by Cain’s Ballroom, a curvy white woman in her late 40s wearing a shiny black latex bodysuit walked towards my sister and me, smiling like a cat with a bird in its mouth. It was around midnight. We were headed to Soundpony. I was definitely tipsy.

The woman held a leash whose bridle was wrapped around the neck of a grown man in a furry bear suit. It may have been a dog suit. He was crawling on all fours in front of the smiling woman and wagging a bushy little tail.

“Looks like you’ve had an awesome night,” I said.

“I did,” she responded. “My husband and I found someone fun to play with tonight.” Her husband was wearing blue jeans and a baseball cap, walking a few steps behind them, absentmindedly looking at his smartphone. They hopped into a white F-150 pick up truck with a Broken Arrow Public Schools bumper sticker and drove away.

Sex is changing in America. In fact, we may be living squarely in the middle of a new sexual revolution—but this isn’t just happening on the coasts or in the most populated cities. It’s happening right here in the middle of the country.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s was driven at least in part by new technologies at the time, like the introduction of the combined oral contraceptive (birth control) pill. This breakthrough provided women personal and economic freedoms their parents never could have imagined, changing the average age and rate at which people married.

The internet represents another seismic shift in the world of sex and dating. Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and all the other dating apps have created entirely new cultures. Each new social network has distinct customs
and taboos. 

Consider, for instance, the modern phenomenon of “swooping.” This is when someone tells a Tinder date to meet them in some general part of town without giving any specific location. Then they watch these “dates” circle the area on their phones, sometimes for hours. Sometimes they meet them. Often they don’t. One friend of mine left a guy wandering Brookside the whole time we watched one of the “Avengers” movies. I thought she forgot about him, but she was dutifully tracking his GPS location on her iPhone.

The internet also offers new options for connecting with like-minded people. A loving polyamorous couple named Eve and Rayne who enjoy “pony play” and who both describe themselves as “kinksters” introduced me to a fetish social network called Fetlife. It’s sort of a Facebook for kink. On the site, you can see how many people are using the online network from your state. When I last checked, there were more than 63,500 users from Oklahoma alone.

“Oklahoma is as fun as the people you know in it,” Eve said. “While exploring the BDSM community I’ve met every type of person you could imagine. These are people I may have nothing else in common with: judges and teachers and police officers. There are people with every type of fetish all around us.”      

Perhaps these new changes are great. After all, some of these apps seem to be trying to empower women in a way not entirely unlike the technological advancements of the past. These brand-new American courting rituals are worthy of some discussion. To find out more, I talked to a variety of Tulsans from all walks of life to see how they’re navigating this changing landscape of sex and dating in 2019.

Tizzi, Kate & Kat

Tizzi doesn’t like labels. She was adopted and raised in Tulsa by her grandmother, and she went McLain High School before graduating from Central in 2014. “I’m myself. I’m not in a box. I’m not heterosexual. I’m not gay. I am myself,” she said. “I’ve been with women. My last relationship was with a girl I played basketball with.

“I used to see her on the court and just notice little things about her like the way she tied her hair back. I can’t even explain how it happened that day. She’d given me her number and I just felt like I needed to call her,” Tizzi

 said. “I’m led by the Holy Spirit, so when he tells me to do random shit, I don’t question it. It felt like it was supposed to happen.

A lot of people think if you’re a woman who says you’re a free spirit in relationships you’re a ho,” she continued. “I want to be able to do me. If I want to turn right don’t make me turn left. I’m a light that shines bright and some people don’t like that.”

Kate is a 24-year-old law student at TU who has had deep and loving relationships with male and female partners. She’s a natural romantic and a passionate feminist with the type of complex narrative that seems more common among the LGTBQ community in the Bible belt.

“When I look at movies I liked as a kid … I was equally attracted to the male and the female lead,” Kate said. “The old cartoon Peter Pan was the first time I realized it. I was little, and I didn’t understand why I liked Wendy so much, but I also really liked Peter Pan too. There were tons of movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Princess Bride, and I look back on them now and I realize it was both. It was
always both.”

Kate came out to her mom at Red Lobster over cheddar biscuits to ease the tension, and it took some time, but eventually her mother came around. Today Kate has a male partner. Their relationship is one of many these days that began on Tinder.

For those who didn’t grow up in this digital ecosystem, the new realities can be disorienting to say the least. Kat is 53 and recently divorced. She was born in Wagoner, but she moved to Tulsa with her ex-husband in the late 80s. Her divorce got pretty ugly, so it took Kat some time to try dating again.

“We split up about two years ago, and I never felt comfortable enough to go out. Everything felt tougher. Going to bars felt crazy. The idea that I’d meet someone … I tried Tinder and went on some really crappy dates,” Kat said. “The guys never seemed interested in anything real. We’d meet somewhere, and it would feel like a clock was ticking. Like they were rushing to get through drinks so they could get past the boring talking part. I just wanted to meet someone nice.”

Kat recently met someone on a different dating site. “Tinder wasn’t right for me, but there’s plenty of other places. I’m really grateful I met someone I’ve really like. The whole internet thing’s a gamble, but it pays off
sometimes.”  

Ayilla, Braden & Carol

Ayilla is a 23-year-old woman from North Tulsa. She grew up in Grove before becoming a star basketball player at Memorial High School. She’s a typical member of Gen Z in some ways. She communicates a lot of herself in Instagram stories. She’s also a young rapper/singer who bemoans the dating culture in 2019.

“Dating’s gone now. You go to college. You find one person you’re attracted to. You probably end up sleeping with them. Then you start an intense immediate relationship,” Ayilla said. “Once you’re out of college everyone just wants to Netflix and chill. My DMs are popping, which is a problem because so many people are urky. They just keep trying to slide in, and I’m like, you didn’t notice the last five ignored messages?”

Ayilla says most of the people “sliding into her DMs” get nervous and quiet in real life. If she actually approaches them, they freak out and run away. Ayilla describes her current relationship cryptically as a “situation” which is a reference to a song by Erykah Badu.

She’s been open to experiences that were still fairly taboo in the African American community until recent years. “I’m just glad we’re not shunning people for being gay anymore,” she said. “My situation is complicated, but I’m trying to build something real. I don’t care about someone’s gender. If you’re not a person who wants to build a better future together, then what are we doing?”

Braden is a 19-year-old from Owasso who likes Tyler the Creator and The 1975. He feels like modern dating culture has strengthened his relationship with his partner. He says they are deeply committed to each other, and he feels like his views on relationships have changed a lot in the year or so since high school.

“My friends in high school were all guys who played sports. I was swimmer, and I think I did and said a lot of dumb things about women to impress guys on the team,” Braden said. “I like my friends better now because we’re not so segregated between boys and girls. The group I hang out with the most are about half and half of each.”

Carol is a 58-year-old transgender woman from Sand Springs. She remained in the closet for most of her life out of fear—her father was a Methodist preacher, and Carol was always terrified of how he might react. Today, Carol has found a partner and a community of supportive friends using the same technology that leaves so many others feeling isolated.

“I met my boyfriend online. He’s from Lawton, and even though our lives were really different we just get each other,” Carol said. “We like to hate-watch the same shows on Netflix. You wouldn’t believe it if you met us separately, but it just works.”

The big picture

Some people feel like the basic structure of sites like Tinder make relationships seem more disposable, but that seems like an oversimplification. Tinder magnifies people’s tendencies. Since the app’s creation in 2012, the often-bemoaned hookup culture has changed a great deal.

According to a recent study in the “Archives of Sexual Behavior,” Millennials are less sexually active than Gen X and Baby Boomers. People born in the 80s and 90s report having fewer partners on average than older generations. There isn’t consensus as to why this is happening, but one of the more positive possibilities is that this new, hyper-connected environment is making younger Americans more empathetic. This might make some people more interested in a deeper emotional connection during sex.

The picture of dating in Oklahoma in 2019 is multifarious. Straight-laced PTA members have transformed their basements into sex dungeons. Polyamorous families are raising kids. People are pursuing “non-traditional” relationships, and communities of color are beginning to see freedom that seemed unimaginable
decades ago.

Each of these stories is about wonderful people who love each other. Sex is simply a part of that equation. I met a woman over 60 with six regular sex, partners, and she says she loves them all. As long as it’s consensual, whether you love monogamy or polyamory, pony play, vanilla sex or you enjoy some type of sexual expression that the internet hasn’t even named yet, you are valuable and worthy of love and respect.

Perhaps frightening to some, the boundaries of sex are always changing. That isn’t new. The nice thing about the present is that more people have the chance to safely express their real selves, their real gender identities, and their individual desires. There isn’t a blueprint anymore. Everyone’s just building the best life they can in the world they were given.

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