It seems close to a truism to state that every generation lives within the prevailing sexual laws, morals and social niceties of its own era.
Take Britain for example – and my apologies for the imminent sweeping generalisations – King Henry VIII plainly ‘put it about a bit’. In the Restoration times of Charles II things were pretty free and easy – the King himself had numerous ‘semi-official’ mistresses including actress Nell Gwynn. The late 17th and early 18th Centuries were full of libertines like Byron and the Duke of Wellington to mention but two famous names. These days the Victorians are routinely ridiculed for their straight-laced prudery (allegedly draping curtains over piano legs to avoid rousing male lust etc.). We are led to believe that the Edwardians tended to put off ‘doing the evil deed’ until they were safely married. During WW2, on the one hand, droves of young sweethearts rushed to get married in order to sample the joys of the bedroom before either of them were packed off to war and maybe death, whilst – on the other – maiden aunts were horrified at the phenomenon of our young ladies left at home falling into the arms of the thousands of US soldiers who were ‘overpaid, oversexed and over here’. In the early 1950s the marketing world was awash with the most laughably sexist, non-PC, advertising slogans and commercials of all time. In stark contrast, the arrivals of Elvis in the late 1950s – and then the birth control pill in the early 1960s – heralded the onset of ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll’, bra-burning and ‘free love’, when the old adage that ‘nice girl don’t’ went by the board because plainly now they did.
And so on.
Each family will have its own take on the issue. There was a famous occasion at which my grandmother delighted, when we were teenagers, in telling my female cousin and I of how her mother never once mentioned any of ‘the facts of life’ to her and of how her wedding night was the first time she had ever seen in the flesh – other than on babies – a human male penis, let alone in a state of tumescence (“It was quite a shock!”).
Around the same time, at a cocktail party hosted by my parents, I was standing with my father and the wife of one of his best friends when the subject of sex came up and my father suddenly came out with the line “All I know is, I haven’t had my fair share …”, to which said lady responded “Ooooh, Michael, you must have – you’ve got three children!”
About twenty years ago – at a noisy family party – I was chatting with my former parents-in-law. In one statement, quite by chance, the lady concerned mention the dates of their wedding and then the birth of their eldest child. They were only about six months apart. In an attempt to tease, I turned to her husband and mentioned first the one and then the other and raised my eyebrows quizzically. He immediately shot back:
“Well, you know how it is, Arthur – you never buy a new car without taking it out around the block for a test drive!”
I mention all this today because human sexuality is a strange and wonderful thing.
Returning to my opening trawl through history above, for example, things may have been pretty lax in Byron’s pomp – take the cartoons and etchings of the political and social satirist James Gillray for example – but it was also the age of genteel romance, strict etiquette and Jane Austen.
The Victorians may have an enduring reputation for priggishness but theirs was also a period of record prostitution, vice, opium-smoking, squalor and child slavery.
The 1960s and 1970s may have been the time of a global ‘let it all hang out’ explosion but it also boasted Mary Whitehouse of the self-appointed National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association who constantly attacked the Permissive Society and the BBC for ‘promoting it’.
Let’s face it. Even in periods of history in which prevailing social attitudes swung way towards extreme prudery and sexuality repression, people still got together, had sex and procreated.
We who are lucky enough to be alive today wouldn’t be here otherwise.
I alighted on this topic today because it occurred to me that recently there have been many quite contradictory stories circulating in the world’s media and many a person – young and old – might be forgiven for getting confused.
Let me give a few examples:
There have been calls for kids as young as five or six to have school lessons on LGBT issues in order to promote politically-correct awareness – and yet there are other commentators stridently complaining in general terms about the increasing early-sexualisation of children.
If some things I’ve read are to be believed, kids as young as ten or eleven are ‘sexting’ [whatever the definition of that is] and/or sending unrobed pictures of themselves to each other, either because it’s the latest ‘thing’ or ‘everybody else is doing it and nobody wants to be left out’.
Apparently youngsters of both ages are also watching so much hard core porn on the internet these days that certain sexual practices (not too long ago regarded as rather weird or ‘far out’) are now considered the norm and expected of everyone from Day One.
A few days ago I read a piece detailing the phenomenon that females these days have so many notches on their belts, and are so confident in their sexuality, that many men are becoming scared of being thought inadequate in the bedroom.
Only this week, a school in New Zealand reinforced its rules on the length of its female pupils’ skirts ‘in order not to enflame male thoughts and promote the best possible environment for learning’ and has since been buried under a mountain of attacks by feminists the world over.
To finish on this subject I call in evidence the following media articles that I spotted on the websites of the British press today:
Charlotte Gill writing on the effects of porn on young people – see here – THE INDEPENDENT
Sexpert Tracy Cox on how many often people should be having sex – see here – DAILY MAIL
Maya Oppenheim reporting on the singer Erykah Badu’s support for the New Zealand school’s stance on short skirts and the reaction it has provoked – see here – THE INDEPENDENT
Clare Goodwin on why women are more likely to get pregnant when having a noe-night stand than at other times – see here – DAILY MAIL