It definitely is my age. I’ve been thinking about sex more than recently. Well, my age and other stuff, anyway.
Back in the impossibly long-ago days when Ben scored his hat-trick, having sex with (always called “sleeping with” when everyone knew sleep was not involved) three separate girls in a month and only one of them his official girlfriend, sex was supposed to be part of the revolution. In Ben’s parents’ world of doodlebugs and rationing, sex was something people did in wartime because they thought they might die the next day. After the war, when people regularly died from a host of things that would make headlines today such as tuberculosis or measles or smog in London, decent people didn’t until they were married, all through the 1950s. As the poet Larkin (not to be confused with Lorca, quite a different thing altogether) noted, sex began with the Beatles in about 1963, which was quite late for him.
Poppy’s happy, enthusiastically guilt-free bisexuality was illegal until she was ten years old in 1969. Or rather if she’d been born a boy it would have been. The story goes that nobody could think of a way to tell Queen Victoria that girls left on their own when their men-folk went out for a spot of peasant-shooting sometimes found novel ways to keep themselves amused so when male homosexuality was made illegal (man, how straight is that?) there was no mention of female hom0sexuality on the statute because it officially didn’t exist. Like most stories it’s probably at least half wrong. In certain circles an Albert is a male piercing with attaches the penis to the scrotum with a small chain. Its name comes from that of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha. The reader may draw his or her own conclusions about how restrained the late Queen’s sex life actually was from that fact alone.
Of course, there were dangers. The biggest one was unpleasantness when a girlfriend found out their boyfriend was nobbing someone else, a devastating event which ended sometimes in tears and occasionally even outright public sarcasm. At least in Ben and Claire’s circles, the idea of attacking anybody because two people had got temporarily mixed-up about where one ended and the other began never crossed anyone’s mind. The other not-very-huge risk was clap, the joke non-specific word for what usually turned out to be Non-Specific Urethritis, a bit of an itch, a genital irritation which a ten-day course of antibiotics cleared up with no further ill-effects provided the patient remembered not to drink alcohol and took all the tablets. Unbelievably now, that really was about as bad as it got. There must, somewhere, have still been people with real, really mess-you-up sexually-transmitted diseases, but back then a lot of people thought the worst one you could get was marriage.
Sex was revolution. Sex was not being your parents. Not-death, a loose, wild, necessarily messy stain-on-the-HP sofa Richard Brautigan un-death, the totally naked rejection of the suffocating not-in-front-of-the-children, please-and-thank-you mind-your-manners Terry and June suburbia of the soul that no-body could be bothered to realise was the only sane reaction of a 1940s generation for whom heaven really was a place where nothing ever happened, because so much else already had. To their children, the Bens and Claires, Theresas and Petes, the Lizs and Poppies, each in their different ways unchained if not unhinged by free prescriptions of oral contraceptives, sex was kicking out the jambs, which had nothing at all to do with the Women’s Institute. Suddenly, nice girls did, enthusiastically, shamelessly, happily, almost entirely because they almost certainly wouldn’t get pregnant by accident. It was stepping over the traces, changing everything for freedom, if not for god, Harry and St George and in those days at least, freedom wasn’t just another word for nothing left to lose. Someone of Ben’s generation still believed at least one party had to say they loved the other one before they got their kit off; at least one of them was genuinely shocked when after they announced they were quite keen on a boy they’d met but didn’t know what to do about it another girl simply said ‘why don’t you just fuck him?’ It wasn’t Poppy, although it sounds very much like her. In fifteen years, half a generation, from the introduction of oral contraceptives the world changed from one where officially no-one did to everybody did. As Wordsworth said before Thatcher invented AIDS and condoms and girls who went to Art School, bliss it was in that dawn to be alive. And in that respect at least, to be young was very heaven.