(I write this fully conscious of the fact that it will bring a lot of very interesting spam to this post, but it has to be said.)
I became conscious of this when reading comments on a blog yesterday, where people seemed to be under the impression that fifty years ago most kids didn’t know sex EXISTED or what it consisted of. This is something I run into over and over again. For instance, in A Touch Of Night people were shocked, shocked that Lizzie would believe Bingley and Darcy were having an affair, because “how would she know about such things?”
This is very silly. Heinlein said that each generation thought they’d invented sex. He’s probably right, just like every generation thinks the next one is going to h*ll in a handbasket ever since the old testament was written and possibly before. (At some point we’ll decipher the scrawls in caves and come up with “things aren’t as they used to be. New generation can’t hunt, can barely gather. This newfangled agri thing will be the death of us. By next winter, no humans.)
It is however fostered by rule two of sex “everyone lies about sex.”
This is perfectly understandable, heck, acceptable to us today when we can look at surveys that say most boys are active and most girls aren’t and roll our eyes and go “and all of them lie.” BUT we tend to go misty eyed and think the past is another country where everyone tells the truth. And since what tends to survive puts their best foot forward, we assume we invented sex. We are the wicked generation and now our kids will pay…
Some reality checks: first, until our current generation where we are isolated from the animal kingdom and nature in general (but have the internet as a compensation.) Someone in that same blog yesterday was outraged that we thought “children in the past stood around watching animals have sex.” Look, even if they weren’t in farms, they had pets. They didn’t castrate their pets. It was inevitable they’d see something. And no, they’re not stupid enough not to know what it was. Plus, kids listen to adults talk and who knows? Perhaps there is such a thing as instinct.
The chances of a girl of Lizzy’s intelligence not knowing about sex and its “usual” variations are zilch. (And before you tell me that household pets aren’t homosexual, yes they are. Okay, not exclusively, and usually it’s a dominance thing, but she’d have seen it or heard of it.) Oh, she might have no idea of the exact mechanics between humans, but the concept would be there.
Okay, there are always unreally innocent people. Perhaps it’s a gift or a grace or they just lack instincts. However, growing up in a very traditional society and not paying much attention to what animals do, I’d worked out the basics of sex by the time I was eight. Not in practice of course, and I’d gotten some things laughably wrong (one or two of them didn’t get corrected until I got married and I think my husband still chuckles about them) but they weren’t in the essentials. Mostly they had to do with details of male anatomy and such. Still, I did have a friend who in the last year of highschool was COMPLETELY puzzled as to why a neighbor wanted to borrow her parents’ siamese cat “so that their cat could have kittens.” It wasn’t a put on, she really was flabbergasted and no, I don’t understand HOW, since she wasn’t stupid. Not the brightest bulb, perhaps, but she’s now an MD, so she couldn’t be completely dim. I suspect her mom, a very pious woman, just blocked off her intent to even enquire.
But this is not normal. This is not sane. Most sane kids, no matter what class and era, work out what happens by adolescence. It’s impossible to be that oblivious to one of the central preoccupations of mankind. And if you care to dig into Victorian biographies (or earlier. The regency was far more daring) you’ll find out that the lives of people were often as complex as they’re now, they just kept a better facade.
So, why does it matter? Well it matters for two reasons: one is that if we think we (or in the case of our generation the boomers, because it’s impossible to ignore the fact that they claim to have invented it. They’re so intent on telling everyone) invented sex we tend to give the discovery way more importance than it deserves.
The boomers fell into this trap. All the ills of the past were due to that evil thing “repression.” If only one destroyed traditional marriage and screwed around everything would be fine, great, hunky dory. Even more interesting, most neurosis and problems were because one didn’t screw around enough and if one JUST did it, everything would be fine.
Since most of civilization consists of putting the appetites we share with dogs to a useful social purpose, or at least put a good face on them, this view leads to dismantling civilization at its base. (Note here that I’m not advocating pushing gays back into the closet. Our treatment of homosexuality is as insane as anything else since the beginning of time, but as homosexuality has persisted and existed from the beginning of man, and as it exists in all the great primates, I don’t think just shoving our fingers in our ears and saying “lalalalalala” will take us back to where it didn’t. That too is part of believing that homosexuality was invented – with sex – yesterday. I do believe in gay marriage. No, I’m not going to debate it here. If you feel up to my opinions – and they’re profoundly traditional, not to say moralistic in base, even if I arrive at a very unique conclusion – look here. I don’t see any reason why all the appetites we share with dogs shouldn’t be socialized and made civilized.)
It also leads to thinking of sex as a cure all. If I had a dime for every time an adult informed me during my messed up teen years that if I just had sex I’d be fine, I’d be a very rich woman. You know what? They were wrong. I needed self-confidence. I needed knowledge of the world. More importantly, perhaps, I needed to know that I was normal (in ways other than sex.) Introducing sex to that equation would just have screwed me up more because sex brings instinctive feelings of attachment with it, and no man needed the ball of instability I was at the time. And no boy would be able to deal with it. Splendor in The Grass is not only a fairy tale, but one that deals with humans as they never existed.
Next, it causes us to give up hope in our time, and to view the generation after us as even more wicked. I mean, lookit, sex was invented yesterday, and look what they’re ALREADY up to.
So, let’s admit sex was not invented yesterday. It is not a cure all. We don’t need to evangelize the older generations with it. It won’t solve all our ills. It should never be the center and fulcrum of anyone’s life, unless their life is very poor of other interests.
It is also not the end of the world that young people are fumbling around and having sex too early. Some percentage always did. We can guide them. We SHOULD tell them that it is not a cure all or the solution to all their problems. Most of them will figure it out, mind you, anyway. We can stop pushing the weirder stuff at them.
But in the end sex is part of the human condition. It’s one of those friction points between man and beast. One of the bits that is not like onto the angels. Shoulder it as one more of the burdens of all too mortal flesh, make it sublime with love, repress it and turn the drive to something else, or indulge in it to clear the mind BUT don’t think you’re the first to do any of it. Or that you’ll be the last.
Oh, yeah and GRUMBLE let’s stop writing books where everything turns on sex and where the climax (eh eh eh eh eh – what, I never said I wasn’t juvenile) is when someone realizes someone else is really good in bed and therefore the plot is resolved. Unless you’re writing a porno (if you are, how does it pay?) this is just stupid and boring. Sex is just one of the primary colors, and not even a very good one. All you’re doing when you’re only writing with it is imitating pre-schoolers who finger paint an entire sheet in black because it’s the most visible color. Stop that, wash your hands (eh eh eh eh eh eh eh) and bring out the other paint pots. Love, charity, tenderness, hope, or even intellectual curiosity are far more satisfying as plot motors.