Thursday, 20 September 2007

The Sex Lives of Us

Radio 4 have recently been running a series of programmes entitled The Sex Lives of Us, which aims to "explore sexuality in modern Britain". A bit of early morning titilation never hurt anyone, but I'm puzzled as to how some of the episodes have been billed.

Today, for example, we have Mariella Frostrup chairing a discussion on "whether our current propensity to start having sex earlier, more often and more randomly in the past means that we treat it as just another pastime rather than a duty to maintain the species". I mean: what?

Firstly, I've always been suspicious of claims that we now have sex earlier, more often and more randomly than in the past. I might be pursuaded to give you more randomly (more randomly than in the 1960s, though?), but how on earth does anybody know how often people in the past had sex? And the idea that people in modern Britain start earlier is preposterous: during the industrial revolution girls were commonly married by the age of 14. In the Victorian era and the 1950s people perhaps talked about sex less often, but that's hardly the same thing.

Secondly, when have human beings ever had sex out of "duty to maintain the species"? When has it ever not been an enjoyable pastime in its own right, that people want to do because it's pleasurable?

It seems utterly bizarre to suggest that at any time in the past people felt any "duty to maintain the species" - they might have felt a duty to maintain their family, but it seems more likely that they procreated for the same reasons we do: because of what children signify and the fulfilment they bring to a marriage. The underlying reason is, of course, because producing children is the way our genes copy themselves from one generation to the next. But even that isn't "maintaining the species": it's maintaining the DNA. And nobody has ever used that as the main reason for making love.

Sometimes I really do wonder about some people. Why assume that human beings fifty, a hundred or a thousand years ago were fundamentally any different in their attitudes and emotions than we are now?


Amanda said...

I've always thought that people have ALWAYS been doing it as early as and as frequently as and as randomly as now. Its just a matter of whether other people heard about it back then.

noisms said...

Exactly. Public discussion of sex might have been frowned upon at various times in history. But it should be common sense that habits of talking about sex and habits of having sex are completely different things.

mattiecore said...

"Secondly, when have human beings ever had sex out of "duty to maintain the species"? When has it ever not been an enjoyable pastime in its own right, that people want to do because it's pleasurable?"

That was my first thought after reading the second paragraph...

Caffeinated Librarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caffeinated Librarian said...

Okay, let's try this again.

"Secondly, when have human beings ever had sex out of "duty to maintain the species"?"

Oh, I imagine that there were (and are) some folks who have sex solely for this reason (or one similar to it) - but I also image that they'd be the last folks you want to "do your duty" with. But maybe that's just snarky of me.

(There we go...MUCH less confusing.)

Random Magus said...

I think each generation likes to think that their generation is different or worse than the earlier ones whether it be in sex or how kids behave. The difference with this age is communication and the breaking of down taboo topics. So it's not like the same things weren't happening earlier - they were just not talked about/broadcasted/blogged etc as much

Bilbo said...

Nature made sex pleasurable so that we'd keep wanting to do it, and thereby ensure the survival of the species. That said, I sometimes think we make too much of it (or is that just me speaking as a broken down old guy whose sex life ain't what it used to be?). I think I agree with the man who said of sex that "the pleasure is momentary, the position is ridiculous, and the expense is damnable." Nevertheless, I'm still interested!