It’s good that sexual taboos are broken – but there’s still room for old fashioned romance

Many years ago now I stayed in a four star hotel in Cyprus. It had a pleasant swimming pool surrounded by loungers. On one of the loungers a couple was having sex. Now whether there was actual penetration wasn’t clear but there was certainly some enthusiastic humping. When a waiter brought me a drink I asked him about the couple’s exhibitionism. “Russians” he replied, as if that was an explanation.

My point is that what in my youth would be inconceivable (not just lounger activity) is now quite common. How we explain this to children I’ve no idea. As soon as they are able to use a tablet or a smartphone they can find their way to a porn site. On television they can watch explicit simulated (presumably) sex on the BBC no less – “Normal People” for example which was at times full frontal as well as almost soft porn. “Sex Education” on Netflix is similar – it opens with what I understand is some “Classic Cowgirl” action.

I doubt that there’s more sex today than there was in the past or more extramarital for that matter. We’re just more open about it. On balance that seems to me to be a good thing. “Normal People” is actually both a moral and a loving story despite (maybe because of) the bonking. “Sex Education” is very funny and, I thought, harmless.

Sally (not her real name) a good female friend of mine half my age talked openly about her sex life to me as, I think, a sort of therapy – for her! Her love life was entirely recreational and remarkably varied. Fifty years ago that fabulous film “The Graduate” had the following exchange between Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and the husband of Mrs Robinson (his much older lover):

  • Benjamin : Listen to me. What happened between Mrs. Robinson and me was nothing. It didn’t mean anything. We might just as well have been shaking hands.
  • Mr. Robinson : Shaking hands? Well, that’s not saying much for my wife, is it?

This is hilariously funny but like my friend it recorded the recreational nature of many sexual experiences. In “Normal People” the relationship between Connell and Marianne is much deeper than the purely physical almost from the start. The sex aside we are almost in Jane Austen country. I found it utterly charming and a remarkable mix of modern sexual freedoms and timeless romance.

So what am I saying? Well that it’s good that the taboos are broken and that there is openness. Back to Sally. She fell in love, got married and now lives a monogamous life. I make no value judgment about this but she said to me “Sex with someone you love is different, and better”. Call me a big softie but that brought a tear to my eye.

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