Tagged: romance

Jul 02

Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned roll in the hay?

Sexuality is, to put it mildly, a convoluted subject. From a process of reproduction, sex has become something of labyrinthine complexity. It is far more than just our sex organs. Whether we’re aware of it or want to, we bring to sex our pasts, desires, preconceptions, prejudices, morals, insecurities, and emotions. There are expectations of both men and women – everyone wants to be thought of as good in bed, but what that involves has become increasingly demanding. We’re all to be porn stars. Girls as young as eleven are pressured by their peers (their female friends as much as the boys) into replicating the sex their boyfriends have seen in porn. Admit you like the missionary position and you might as well declare yourself a Puritan and get thee to a nunnery. No, we’re all supposed to be as limber as a Cirque du Soleil contortionist. Sex isn’t just a fun way to spend the afternoon, it’s a competition. We try to be better than the last lover – or, indeed, anyone the other person has ever had sex with. Sex is to be mind-blowing, ne’er before known heights of ecstasy, unforgettable and impossible to surpass. We count our orgasms, rating our lovers by the number of times they make us come in a night. Even if we wouldn’t want to venture into the world of slings and hardcore S&M, we’re blasé about the more extreme sexual practices because that’s the fashionable way to be. We buy into the highly lucrative concept that our sex lives need to be spiced up – thrilling at all times. At the mellow end of the market are scented candles and a romantic dinner; role play and dressing up usually make the list; then there’s a little light bondage of the Ann Summers handcuffs and whipped cream variety; and sex manuals are a must, though nothing of the boring old Joy of Sex sort – they have to be fun fun fun. On and on it goes in the quest for the perfect shag.

No matter how modern all this might make us feel, there remains the double standard between men and women regarding sexual mores. There are no derogatory words for a promiscuous man, but innumerable ones for a woman. How many men a woman has sex with and how soon after meeting shouldn’t be worth even mentioning, but it is the subject of countless, and constant, debates. Living by The Rules or by one’s own ought to be a given, but women frequently lie about the number of lovers they’ve had and the extent of their experience, downplaying both to their partners. I don’t think anyone quite knows why we do this, why we have such contrasting views of male and female behaviour, but it’s a practice that every generation adopts, to a greater or lesser extent, and has done so over centuries. Porn encourages us to act like a slut in the bedroom, but apparently we’re not supposed to actually be one out of it.

I’m not arguing in favour of mediocre sex. No one wants that. I don’t think men should, à la Christian missionaries, pray for god’s forgiveness for taking carnal pleasure and their wives’ bodies be concealed by full-length white nightdresses with a hole embroidered in the shape of a cross over their vaginas. Sex is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be about people – real life ones, not the ones pornography, magazines, adverts, and billboards tell us we should be. The anal sex her boyfriend saw onscreen shouldn’t be a part of an 11-year-old girl’s life. Her life should be about her – what she wants to do and what she enjoys – not what porn told her boyfriend she ought to be. You’d think we’d grow out of that, but the idea that sex is a performance to impress our lover surrounds us and, inevitably, affects the way we view ourselves and those with whom we have sex. In attempting to emulate the moves of a porn star, women are understudying to others paid to fake orgasms and pleasure. Role play is one thing, but if women are faking it, in whole or in part, all to seem like the person they believe their lovers want them to be, then it begs the question of who everyone is sleeping with – the person we know or the one they’re pretending to be for our benefit because that’s what they believe we want and, possibly, what we’ve come to believe we want, too. It’s no wonder we’re confused.


Jun 18

Romancing Traditions

Courtship rituals have long been an interest of mine, in their many peculiar permutations and, Hallmarked-out, I decided I’d do a little reading up on them. Started on Valentine’s eve, actually. I appreciate the irony of sitting in reading about courtship on that particular date – with a lack thereof. With all the fuss (and furore if, heaven forefend, a man should forget the date), I was intrigued to discover that, in modern-day West civilisation, we get let off remarkably lightly.

The card is bought, the flowers arranged, the champagne on ice, the restaurant is booked, the jewellery glitters, the perfume is sweet, and the chocolates so pretty in their heart-shaped gold-wrapped box. You’ve done it: every tradition fulfilled, every symbol of a romance that time will not fade, and every token of love everlasting is there to see. You could do no more.

But, really, you could. Flowers, cards, jewellery, chocolate, dinner, champagne, and perfume are perfectly nice. They’re pretty and pleasant – a delightful way to say ‘I love you’ – but in romance of yore, they would have won you neither maiden nor squire.

Devotion required a little more than a bunch of flowers, a card, and some chocolates. It had to be proved via feats of remarkable invention and questionable sense. You could, for example, raise a rooster til it was 11 months old then chop off its head, cut out its heart and eat it. If you could get hold of a wild duck or dove, your intended would be equally impressed, though only if you pointed at the ground and held their shoulder while you swallowed it. It would take a little more if all you could get your hands on was an owl – to impress with an owl’s heart, you’d have to cut it out, dry it, and carry it round in your pocket. Attempting to woo a gentleman, a lady could win him by secreting a teaspoonful of ground fingernail into his beer. He would have to come by the web of a wild gander’s foot to dry, crush into a powder, and sprinkle in the coffee of the woman whose affections he sought to ensure she would both marry him and stay faithful. To make himself irresistible, a gentleman could pull out some of a lady’s hair, hide the dried tongue of a dove in his bedroom, or chew a piece of gristle while standing on his head. Continuing the livestock theme, if you and your friends wish to know who will marry first, put a cat on a quilt and fling it up in the air. Whoever it lands nearest will marry first. Or have her eyes scratched out. If you meet THE ONE at a party, whisper his or her name twenty times (it has to be done in front of him or her so try to find a way to work it into the conversation) then before you go to sleep (most likely alone) wish twenty times that you’ll be together forevermore and you shall. Assuming the muttering hasn’t put them off. Should you have any concerns about your husband’s fidelity, simply cut a lemon in half, rub the pieces on the four corners of your bed then put them under your pillow. If you dream of him, he is faithful; if you don’t then all this Valentine palaver is for naught. Should you want to prove your undying devotion to your husband, run three times round the block with your mouth full of water. If you succeed, he will know that your affections are true. Presumably, choking, asphyxiating or spitting it all over him for making you take part in such a ridiculous activity when you’ve already made your feelings perfectly clear proves he’s better off without you.

Going to such bizarre and strenuous lengths to prove one’s feelings does sound more impressive than stopping by the shop on the way home to pick up some flowers, but I’m not sure that all the muttering, gargling, heart-swallowing, hair-pulling, and cat-flinging is indicative of devotion so much as serious disturbance. Ground fingernails and gander’s foot don’t sound half as appetising as champagne and chocolates; and if we all sought out an owl, duck, dove, goose, or rooster to fillet every Valentine’s, they’d soon become endangered species. Personally, I’d rather not come across the dried tongue of a dove in a man’s bedroom and would be perfectly happy with a card. I suppose it depends on just what sort of feelings you wish to convince your beloved.