Magazine October 19, 2020, Issue

The Sex That Ruins Everything

The Abduction of Helen, by Luca Giordano (Bridgeman Art Library/Image Partner/Contributor/Getty Images)
How seduction became indistinguishable from coercion

In the 1970s and 1980s, when the sexual revolution was still in its heyday, a number of romantic comedies hinted that trouble was ahead. Among the best was When Harry Met Sally (1989), written by Nora Ephron in collaboration with Rob Reiner, about a man and a woman who become friends and, as Ephron later wrote, “make a deliberate decision not to have sex because sex ruins everything; and then they have sex and it ruins everything.”

While writing the film, Reiner, who became the basis for Harry, revealed the dastardliest secrets of the male psyche to Ephron (who was the

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