Image: Tiger Woods and his wife Elin Nordegren watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals basketball game in Orlando
HANS DERYK  /  Reuters
Tiger Woods' tally of known mistresses entered the double digits in December, including one who said they enjoyed "crazy Ambien sex," causing the phrase to become a top search term. Here Tiger Woods and his wife, Elin Nordegren, watch an NBA Finals basketball game in Orlando, Fla., on June 11, 2009.
By msnbc.com contributor
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/31/2009 9:39:43 AM ET 2009-12-31T14:39:43

As 2009 dips its depressing self into a sea of welcome oblivion, let us pause in our collective finger-crossing that 2010 and the decade to come are entirely more peaceful and prosperous. And since we’re pausing, why not pass the time by thinking about sex?

The past year in sex was not only entertaining, but we learned some things. Maybe even a few life lessons.

Phrase of the year
Take hiking, for instance. Thanks to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford , who claimed to be on a nature trek instead of meeting his mistress in Argentina, married men across the country can now say “Sorry, boss, I can’t work over the weekend. I’ll be ‘hiking the Appalachian Trail.’”

An awful lot of people were out hiking the Appalachian Trail this year. There was, for example, South Carolina (what is it about South Carolinians?) assistant state attorney general Roland Corning who was hiking in a Ford Explorer — in a cemetery — with an 18-year-old stripper. Like any good Boy Scout hiker should be, Corning was prepared for unexpected emergencies while out on the trail. The Ford contained Viagra and sex toys. Corning always had those in the truck, he told the police officer who pulled him over, “just in case.” After all, a fellow never knows when he’ll need a battery-powered friend.

Image: Mark Sanford, Jenny Sanford
Brett Flashnick  /  AP
When South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford claimed to be "hiking the Appalachian trail" when he was with his mistress in Argentina, a new euphemism was born. Calls went out for Sanford's impeachment but first lady Jenny Sanford, shown with her husband on Dec. 3 — a week before she filed for divorce, was named one of Barbara Walter's "10 Most Fascinating People."

California Assemblyman Mike Duvall liked to tell tales about his own adventures. Unaware he was sitting near a live microphone , the conservative family values advocate regaled listeners with details about his treks with two women-not-his-wife, including that one of the women wore “little eye-patch underwear.” Woo-hoo! When one of the women turned out to be a lobbyist with business before Duvall’s committee, some suspected sexual quid for legislative quo. Duvall quickly resigned.

Kinky political scandals of the year
Political types had something of a banner sex year as they expanded their horizons beyond the usual Sen. John-Ensign-schtupping-an-employee’s-wife kind of episode we have all come to know so well. Tres passé!

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Jane C. Orie is an anti-tax Republican — unless, that is, you happen to run a business selling erotica, in which case she wants to impose a special 10 percent levy. Orie is also known for proposing ever-tougher penalties and restrictions on those convicted or accused of sex crimes, a group that now includes one of her key aides, Alan Berlin.

Back in May, Berlin was charged with using the Internet, specifically a Web site for furries, to solicit a teen boy for sex. For the uninitiated, "furries" are people who enjoy dressing up as animals, often in order to engage in sex.

"I'm a Daddyfur and Caretaker and I am looking for a babyfur to be my mate and my companion in a long-term committed relationship," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Berlin’s solicitation said. He suggested the two could “yiff” at the boy’s home.

In November, Rod Jetton, a former speaker of the Missouri house who ran a political consulting firm specializing in electing conservative Republicans, beat up his female lover as part of a bondage, discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM) scene. He was charged with felony assault. Jetton claimed his lover had failed to use the agreed upon safe word: “green balloons.” BDSM aficionados accurately pointed out that “green balloons” contains two syllables too many to make a good safe word, which would indicate that former Missouri house speakers should head down to their nearest dungeon and take a lesson before trying BDSM at home.

Sex enhancer of the year
Ambien? Who would have thought? Not Sexploration, which proves we learn something new all the time in this job. Thanks to the Tiger Woods scandal, though, Ambien sex is all the rage. It may or may not be true that Woods used Ambien with a paramour — and frankly we don’t care — but there are now myriad Web sites exploring the question of whether or not sex really is better with a sleeping pill. Too bad Ambien has gone generic or Sanofi-Aventis would be raking in the cash. Perhaps it could use a famous sports superstar as a spokesman. There is room for a new corporate logo on Tiger’s bag. Just one problem: Dr. David Greenblatt of Tufts University Medical School says the idea of Ambien (generically called zolpidem) as sex enhancer is “absolutely absurd.” “There is absolutely no reason to expect that specific effect of zolpidem,” he told me, unless it, like any sedative, might somehow lower inhibitions “but even that is debatable.”

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Can you say “placebo effect”?

Panic of the year
Every year requires a subject to instill a national sex freakout, and this year that job fell to “sexting.” Americans, led by my intrepid press colleagues, were shocked — shocked — to find that kids, newly enthralled with their bodies, armed with technology supplied by their parents, and surrounded by a culture that worships erotically-charged imagery, would actually use said technology to photograph said bodies.

Instead of asking how every 13-year-old who ever lived on earth managed to survive without a cell phone until this generation, police charged children with producing and possessing child porn because they took, and sometimes shared, pictures of themselves. We here at Sexploration feel safer already.

True, there have been tragic consequences, including two suicides, linked to “sexting” after images were used as bully ammo. But there is nothing especially unique about sexting as a trigger for childhood suicides. Any form of bullying will do. This is not to argue that a kid sending sexy photos is a great idea; it’s not. But did we adults forget “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine?”

Year of the sex tape
Meanwhile, the kids’ parents and their would-be role models were busily using all their new digital toys to record themselves having sex. The year past was the year of the sex tape. Anybody who did not make a sex tape this year, or have one revealed this year, raise your hand.

From former Miss California USA and religious conservative heartthrob Carrie Prejean to former Democratic icon and presidential hopeful John Edwards (John, you were frolicking with a videographer , for crying out loud!), to a "Real Housewives of New Jersey" performer (who, remarkably, was apparently more embarrassed by a sex tape than by appearing in "Real Housewives"), to the Atlantic City councilman and Baptist minister, to the California fifth grade teacher who sent her students home for the summer with a video of class memories that also contained six seconds of her having sex , Americans were sex-tape obsessed in 2009.

Does this mean we like watching more than doing? We hope not, but why immortalize your self having sex? Do you realize how funny you look when you’re doing it? The way your face scrunches up and you get that goofy, grateful look right after? Do you really want to see that again?

Duh: Silly sex studies of the year
This year, various research teams announced startling findings showing that 1) “cheap drinks at college bars can escalate drinking among college students” and 2) “consuming more drinks on a given day was associated with a greater likelihood of oral sex and with experiencing more positive consequences of sex that day,” and 3) “men are far more interested in casual sex than women.” Science has now conclusively explained the $1 Jagermeister shot.

So, put it all together and what do you get?

The December expose in the Arizona Republic that fingered married Arizona city councilman Dave Rioux. The councilman suggested to a female town employee that they make use of his hot tub to hike the Appalachian Trail. He made the suggestion via a sext, but in reply to the paper’s story said he didn’t mean to suggest any such thing.

It was the Ambien talking.

Brian Alexander is the author of the book “America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction," now in paperback.

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