There is a very good chance, that you, being a reader of this newspaper, are a civilized person and so are not at all aware of the popularity of the Instagram hashtag #aftersexselfie. You maybe don't even know what it is, let alone that it is a Thing. (I will give you a second to Google it now before going on.)
So now you have found that it is a tag people give to pictures of themselves and a romantic partner, taken immediately after having sex, and posted to social media. The two people are usually in bed, discreetly covered (owing to the strict anti-porn rules of Instagram and Facebook), looking rumpled and contented, smiling or sleeping, sometimes giving a thumbs-up sign. Their friends comment with likes or happy emojis.
Some of these are humorous – there is a subset of this hashtag that consists of people making sad or fearful faces beside a sleeping partner they claim not to know. (Often the caption is "I can't remember anything" or "who is this guy?"). But I am not interested in those; I am intrigued by the serious ones, the boastful ones, the romantic ones.
Because romantic they are: They are announcing a successful coupling, and therefore a specific kind of partnership, with pride. Sometimes they are just announcing youthful beauty. Many people, particularly older people, react to these with annoyance. They say the after-sex selfie is exhibitionism of a peculiarly modern kind – thorough, relentless – and that the young are naive in their shameless promotion of their private lives. It could get them in trouble! And perhaps, too, that revealing every sexual encounter becomes just as boring as snapping every meal and every beer and your boarding pass for Paris.
But the announcing of a new relationship is not at all new in society: Facebook has a "relationship status" feature that attracts joyous attention when activated or changed. This replaced the wearing of pins at U.S. colleges and high schools to announce "going steady" status, which in its time replaced the announcements of engagements in newspapers, which in its time replaced the posting of marriage banns on church doors.
And what does "new relationship" mean these days but "having sex"? I am always faintly awkward about these phrases. Someone says "I have been seeing so-and-so" and I know that it means they are doing very intimate things together; I picture those intimate things (am I weird?) and I am slightly embarrassed. The young are merely being more honest and open about what relationships are. At the centre of relationships is going to bed together.
Perhaps this sexual shamelessness upsets the old. But there's something else to it too: boasting is boasting, whether it's about sex or expensive restaurants or new Allen Edmonds shoes. People get similarly annoyed at friends who have too many holidays in Capri, and remind us of that photographically too many times. We get annoyed at the very fit people who post pictures in their bikinis all the time. It is unpleasant, if you are not having sex, to be shown your friends happily having it, just as it is unpleasant to see their engagement announcements if you are unhappily single. After-sex selfies are simply another form of happiness porn.
And there have been studies on this too: Facebook leads to depression. (A few researchers have come to similar conclusions; the most recent was from the University of Houston.) The problem is "social comparison": Constant envy, constant competition, a constant sense that everyone else's life is working out more calmly and elegantly. The more you use Facebook, the more likely you are to be depressed. Instagram, for its part, is largely a cataloguing of hedonistic pleasures, leading one to forget that there are other pleasures.
Yet, if we say we are more serious, deeper, than these smugly naked people, we face a fundamental dishonesty. W.B. Yeats explains this best: "… here's a travelled man that knows/ What he talks about,/ And there's a politician/ That has read and thought, /And maybe what they say is true/ Of war and war's alarms,/ But O that I were young again/ And held her in my arms!"