A Belated Frankness

Hard as it may be to believe, I was over sixty when I first kept company with ladies who were frank about their sexual needs. Their bodies seemed to work on the hydraulic model that throughout recorded history has been taught about males, namely that pressure builds up until released. If there were an obvious female equivalent for the word “despunking”, these ladies would probably have used it to describe what they required.

This may seem blindingly obvious, especially to the modern young. The fact remains that in the time and place in which I grew up, nobody talked like this. Dorothy Parker may have spent an Atlantic crossing not under the weather but under the steward; well, not only had I never been anywhere near New York, but I very much doubt that anyone in my family would have even heard of Dorothy Parker. The British aristocracy held house parties for what they called “indoor decorating”, and nourished conventions about a gentleman never refusing a request to do his hostess; but we were a long way from aristocrats.

In fact, the provincial English middle classes were so in love with the Merchant-Ivory version of the past as exhibiting their prissy selves but in more expensive dresses that they would have been hard put to it to find any sex in the Bronté sisters, let alone in Jane Austen. Because “sex” would have to mean something explicit, which of course those writers never were. Of Byron and his predecessors, the great libertines of the 18th century, they knew absolutely nothing. The verb “to bowdlerise” refers to an edition of Shakespeare with all the dirty bits removed; well, for those growing up in my time and place, the entire past was bowdlerised, starting yesterday. For my parents were of the generation that had sometimes copulated with strangers on Underground platforms. A perfectly sensible thing to do when German bombs are falling overhead, but this was not at all what they meant when braying about recovering the “spirit of the Blitz”.

As I have written elsewhere, the conspiracy of silence about female need suited both sexes: the women because it raised the price of their favours and enabled ready positioning as the victim of every transaction, the men because the idea frightened them. I can hardly emphasise too often, however, the stupendous effort put into this. Nor can I imagine growing up in a time and place where girls can call themselves horny and openly admit to masturbating.

What I understand better is Camus’ remark about the petit-bourgeois opposite of the Absurd: that everything is what it seems to be, and the meaning of life is what the neighbours will say. That rings completely true: I grew up in a different world, where everything was exactly as it appeared to a proudly ignorant person.

Posted on August 6, 2011 at 18:39 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

Leave a Reply