This is one of those subjects where even the title could be misconstrued, and the blog stats go up disproportionately. The reporting of the Shannon kidnapping, and reference to her mother, who is alleged to have a string of children, five of whom also allegedly have five different fathers, prompted me to go back into my mental archives and view the changes in sex and romance over the last roughly 100 years.
My mother was very Victorian, sex was definitely the taboo subject, she didn’t even appreciate slightly salacious jokes on the two valve radio, but thankfully my grandmother did. I remember at the age of about seven I accidentally went into the bathroom, in our African home, and she was naked. The rage that followed has lived with me for 80 years. In the middle 30s, I remember having a friend, when I was in primary school, who used to tell me jokes that he thought were hilarious, and with hindsight I realise were mildly blue, but to me I could never see the point, I was that ignorant. Like every other generation, boys and girls from single sex secondary schools would meet up going home, but my experience was that any fumbling was not even in the mind, let alone an urge. Our relationships with girls were, I think, governed mainly by a level of ignorance probably fostered by our parents. We tended to pair off, and took the whole business quite seriously, but the outcome was defeated because she would be evacuated to one part of England and the bloke to another.
In the services the attitude to sex, and to women, was still dictated to some extent by the values that had been instilled at home. I remember sitting at a table in a chiefs’ and petty officers’ mess, where one of the men was carrying on a typical naval conversation scattered with swear words. Somebody protested, because the people serving were WRNS, he replied, with startling logic, ‘if she has never heard it before she won’t understand it, and if she has, it won’t do her any harm to hear again.’ There was no shadow of doubt that casual sex was quite common, for I remember a girl I knew who was in the ATS, who would be asked by the other women with a great deal of hilarity, when she returned from a night out, if she been introduced to Fagan. When I left my ship, totally drunk from having been given ‘Sippers’ of rum throughout the ship, when I came too on the dockside, surrounded by my kit, I found that my friend the sick bay tiffy, had filled my pockets on one side with aspirin, and on the other with contraceptives. After the war, when I returned home, while I was married, from my own experience I would say on average the mores of the 30s had not been seriously tarnished.
The freedom loving 60s changed all that. In the meantime jokes, references on the radio, and in the magazines had steadily become less censored, and sex in all its aspects was becoming more recognized. The 60s introduced drugs becaming more common, society itself was less critical, to the extent that by the 80s sophisticates thought it rather fun to play the key game. I was reliably informed that married couples, or couples comprised of single people, would go to a standard party where there was drink, food, dancing and party games; at the end of the evening the men put their car keys in a hat and the ladies would take a gamble on whose key they lifted and they would be paired off with one of the men whose car it was. What happened after that, presumably, was a joint decision. My informant said that some of the ladies knew the tabs on the rings and when they fumbled in the hat, selected the person they wanted, and who was expecting to be selected. At this time casual sex was still disapproved of by parents, but was nonetheless increasing, and often portrayed graphically on television and in the cinema.
We now come to our present condition, where only 50% of the children born are of parents in wedlock, that the government has had to advertise in order to try to reduce the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, the number of single-parent families has increased dramatically and casual sex, while not yet quite the norm, is no longer frowned upon. It seems today, for reasons I’m not clear about, the sexual act, or the directors idea of it, has to be included in practically every other film. The question is, where will we go from here, and what will be the long-term affect on society generally?